Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Part 2: What to Do & See In Paris! Days 5-8 & My Worst Meal in Paris.

Hey All! It is Part 2 of my Paris Trip! (To see my Paris trip Days 1-4, go here!) The latter part of the trip was quite a whirlwind. As my time in Paris came to a close, my days there seemed to fly by. It made me quite somber to think I would have to return home. Paris is quite a different way of life and it had become such a culturally driven city that I fell for it more with each piece of it revealed itself to me.

Breakfast at Cafe Panis was just as wonderful as the prior visits. People watching is one of my favorite things to do while enjoying my meals, especially in the morning. My corner booth ended up being an ideal location to view people in their chic outfits. Everyone seemed "casually cool" while they were en route to work or breakfast. It was like a better version of a movie. It was truly picturesque.
After breakfast, it was time to hit the Metro and onto Montmartre. Montmartre is in the 18th arrondissement, but thankfully is still in Zones 1-3, so there was no paying for an additional ticket to go. This little gem of a mini-city is truly a city build on a hill, so each walkway is like hiking up a steep hill. However, it is very easily to get around on foot. First stop on the itinerary for the day is La Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. It was so beautiful. There was a musician on the steps playing the piano and plenty of vendor which allowed visitors to enjoy a quick bite on the main steps. They do have the elevator (Funicular - the stairs beside this has been found in many movies) and I recommend taking it. While the climb up the main steps are lovely, we found con artists to be there pestering tourists most in the lower main staircase climb (I warn -do not allow them to stop you. Tell them No Thank You firmly and move onward). This is the only place we found them to be in Paris and therefore wish to share.
Continuing on through Montmartre, passing the Church of St Pierre (some say Dante prayed at this very church), I ended up at Musee de Montmartre. It is a really wonderful museum dedicated to the artists that lived in Montmartre. It has priceless works of art from Le Chat Noir, Picasso doodles, and any piece of art from those who lived in the area. They have a very impressive collection of Impressionists art. Included in the price is the Jardins Renoir, and a view of the Clos Montmartre Vineyard (the wine isn't that pleasant, but proceeds go to charity). It will take some time to go through the museum and gardens, but well worth the visit if you have time. They even have a small cafe on the grounds if you wish to grab a bite to eat.
After the museum, I opted to find a place to eat outside of the museum so I began strolling along the streets of Montmartre to find such a place, and I did at Tutti Sensi. While this place is typically reserved for desserts on the particular day I was visiting, they had sausage and onions on a baguette and I was sold! They were rocking out big time and the smell as you walked by had me in their doorway quick. I really enjoyed their take on grilled sausage and was able to enjoy this on the steps of Le Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. It was a heavily discussed treat upon my return to the states. Happiness is street food done right.
Of course, it was time to sit and enjoy Montmartre before adventuring on down the hill further. I found my Montmartre Mecca in Le Consulat. One of the best cups of coffee and chocolate mousse was sitting in this little cafe enjoying the taste of vacation freedom. Next door is La Bonne Franquette. This area is a part of the oldest part of Montmartre village, and La Bonne is over 400 years old! Artists like Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Sisley, Renoir and Monet often gathered here for a meal or a drink. These small cobblestone streets are the quintessential neighborhoods that make Paris as charming and appealing then as she is today.
One of my absolutely favorite spots in Montmartre was the Le Mur des Je T'aime (aka The Wall of Love). I just so happened to stumble upon it before leaving and was hoping I would stumble across it on my walk and I was in luck. This wall has the words I Love You, written in every language. I was excited to see a couple in the middle of a proposal upon my visit! Amour! It is a great piece of artwork added to the park that make it a must-stop in my book to see if you are visiting.
On the way down the "hill", I had finally come back to Boulevard de Clichy (paris' red light district). A more vibrant and bolder neighborhood compared to other "classical" areas. The area is home to people from all over the world, and this neighborhood truly embodies the melting pot mosaic diversity of its people. One of the most famous landmarks in the area is THE Moulin Rouge. I wish I had time to have gone in and seen a Cabaret show, but it was really awesome to have seen her nonetheless.
Heading back into the heart of Paris, I had been patiently anticipating going to Angelina's. I love Audrey Hepburn, and I have seen every movie she was ever in. So, when you hear your fashion icon loved a spot in Paris (and you love chocolate), you go! It has been quite some time since I have had a cup of hot chocolate but nothing prepares you for the richness that is Angelina's. They are famous for their hot chocolate, which is basically a melted candybar with some milk, and they have been opened since 1903! It was exquisite and super rich. I could not believe it - one cup is more than worthy of sharing. Believe me, you will not want a cup for yourself. It was the perfect way to end the day trip to Montmartre.
After relaxing for a bit at the nearby park, it was off to dinner. I have to admit, when it comes to eating in Paris, there are always so many options to choose from. Menu options give you an idea of what to expect. But, after seeing some places have the same options, you want to try something different. Variety is the spice of life and this particular day I did not want a meal I could get at home, especially so close to the end of the trip! Walking by Le Comptoir a couple days prior, I had my eye on their menu. My dinner was another three course meal. It included a charcuterie plate, chicken with fries and french onion soup. I opted to skip dessert because I really wanted soup.  Then it was back to bed since I had to get up early the next morning for the long trek to Versailles.
The morning en route to Versailles was maddening. It was rush hour on the Metro and by far the most overwhelming experience I have ever endured thus far in Paris. Taking the metro to the RER station to head toward Versailles was agitating. On top of the fact this morning I could not enjoy my breakfast at a cafe, I knew as soon as I got to the station I would need to grab something to eat. And, thankfully as I was meeting up with the Bike group, there was a bakery I quickly grabbed a Pain au Chocolat to eat. Before leaving for Paris, I had booked a biking tour with Blue Bike Tours. It was my splurge on the trip since I knew I would not have time for a day trip to Provence, France. And, it was worth every penny spent!
After we all met at the train station, we were debriefed on the day and itinerary. We were given our train tickets to get to and from Versailles and we met our guide. It was nice to see so many people from our country as well as those from our neighboring countries. It was a really diverse, but active group. We boarded the train for the 30 minute ride to our stop.
Our first stop wa the local market to get all the fixings for a picnic- which we would be having on the grounds of Versailles a little bit later on. Let's say up until this point, I had not been to an "authentic" market such as the one we ventured to that day. I had also never seen a black chicken, much less a chicken with his head still attached. I was so impressed with the high quality and variety in the market. There was a lot of options to choose from. I grabbed some duck pate, prosciutto, a block of goat cheese, a crusty baguette, a crisp green apple and juicy nectarine, two bottles of red wine, and a sea salt chocolate bar. I wandered down the street to a nearby bakery for three croissants as well.
After our adventures to the market, It was time to pick up our bikes and head to Versailles. Versailles, if you did not know, is 17 acres! That is a lot of ground to cover and most people were walking (or renting golf carts to get around). After entering the main gate, we were brought around to the fountains on the backside of the palace. As we continued on our journey, we biked around the grounds, taking in the Royal Forest (when oftentimes royalty would go on hunting parties), as Versailles was originally a hunting lodge. They later expanded on it, but its original lodge is still a part of the structure today.
Lunch was magnificent and perfect for the grounds- we stopped at the Grand Canal for a picnic. It made it all that more enjoyable to take in the views of the lake and fountains while admiring how truly amazing Versailles truly is. The Grand Canal is about a mile long and was used for naval demonstrations and even had gondolas that were a gift from the Netherlands! However, geographically, it is at the lower part of the gardens, and became a collection of water that drained from the gardens above. Using a windmill-powered and horse-powered pump system, they pumped water back to the reservoir on the roof of the Grotte de Tethys.

Our next stop was Petit Trianon, the chateau built by Louis XV for his favorite Mistress, Madame du Pompadour. Unlike today's views on mistresses, in French court, it was acceptable to be married for diplomatic reasons and have many mistresses. However, a favorite, such as Madame du Pompadour had great power, and she aided in Austrian negotiations which lead to the Treaty of Versailles. Even though she was only his mistress for 5 years, she became his in-house pimp, and often would interview young girls she thought he would like.  The house itself was stunning. As she was very much into interior decorating, the house was quite lovely.
Nearby the Petit Trianon was Marie-Antoinette's favorite escape,, the Hamlet, a make-shift recreation of her town from her country of Austria. It was build exclusively for her and her enjoyment. She would often bring friends here to escape her responsibilities and structure of court life. While this Hamlet reminded her of home, it was also "staged" with workers to maintain the 'normalcy' of village life, having servants often portraying villagers. It was also during this time she would entertain lovers, one particular was a scandalous affair with Swedish Count Axel von Fersen, who attempted to grant her safe passage out of Versailles.
Next up was the Grand Trianon. This was the "home away from home" for royalty to stay to get away from court. Built by Louis XIV as a summer home, it was one of the most grandeur places to see. One of the most exquisite spots is the marbled hallway, which opens up to the gardens, in true geometric french-style. Louis XIV often dined here with guests that did not wish to be watched at court. However, after neglect, it was in quite disrepair. Later on, it would be the home of Napoleon and his second wife, who would would renovate the home to the emperor's tastes. Today it is used to host foreign officials and tours.
After we returned our bikes back to the warehouse, we walked back for the main palace of Versailles, and luckily we were able to skip the line (thank you tour group!). Our tour guide said goodbye as he gave us our listening guides and we parted way so we could self tour the remainder of the Palace. Thankful our group arrived there when we did and get ahead of a few tours. Every room was insanely ornate (as well as themed) and no detail was left out. The hall of mirrors was quite overwhelming in the best of ways and the views of the gardens were incredible. There was so much to see but our group was able to get through before they closed the gates. We finished our stroll of Versailles and grabbed the train back into Paris.
On the way back, however, I had to stop at Amorino for floral gelato! They were amazing! I got a mix of 3 flavors: mint chocolate chip, espresso and rich dark organic chocolate. I have had a lot of gelato in my life, but Amorino is by far one of the best places in the world to get really amazing gelato. If you find one in your city, try them out. You will not be disappointed. Their gelato is a real treat.
Finally, after a lot of walking around, it was time for dinner. France is known for their cheese - it is one of the things that makes them "them". And, so far up to this point, I had some amazing cheeses added to my dishes. But, I wanted fondue. I had heard that Paris has some of the best fondue joints and it would be sure to please my cheese-loving appetite. So, in search for dinner, I had come across this cute little cafe and decided to give their fondue dinner at Le Symposium a go. I was happy at first with the wine selection and began enjoying my salad, when the fondue came out. I really wish I had read the reviews on this place prior to sitting down, but I had not. This was the worst meal I had in Paris. It came with selection of baguette and steamed potatoes for dipping in the fondue. I found the bread to lack flavor and the potatoes to crumble into mush in the fondue. The fondue itself was lacking; as if you purchased the least flavorful generic cheese you could find and melted it in a pot with a large amount of milk. It was disappointing. The best part of the meal was the wine, as that was the only thing that could help me through the meal. I was devastated. I left and went back to the room and slept.
I woke up pretty upset and went to my favorite cafe (Cafe Panis) to sulk after such a crappy dinner. This is when I knew my day was going to turn around for the better. I had the best breakfast I had so far in Paris. Cafe Panis had a breakfast special of potato quiche that morning and boy was it was delicious! It came with a hefty helping of salad. This was layered with perfectly cooked potato, ham, cheese and egg. It was utter perfection in a soft quiche crust. I loved it.
I really was not sure what I expected when I arrived at the Rodin Museum (Musee Rodin), but I really had no idea how many works this museum actually had. I opted to not tour the museum but to instead just go through the gardens (10 euros/person). While this is not as popular as many other museums in Paris, it is one worth visiting. Before leaving for Paris, there was an exhibit of Rodin at my local museum, so it was exciting to see more of his works in Paris. One of the most exciting pieces of Rodin's was Dante's Inferno - titled "The Gates of Hell". It was massive; if you go into the museum, you will see quite a few sketches of the piece from different aspects of the larger work that sits outside in the garden. It is the size of a large door and shows over 180 figures. Rodin worked on it until his death in 1917. It was a commissioned piece and it is truly outstanding. Also, if you see the single figures scattered throughout the lawn, you will see them together in one large piece by the exit gate. The comparison between them standing alone versus standing in a group is a true reflection of how great Rodin really is as a sculptor. They are as life-like as can be.
After walking around and finally getting to the Seine, it was time for lunch. Faust is a great location -as both a restaurant and nightclub, they are seated right on the main pedestrian/bike path at Pont Alexander. I found a great chicken caesar salad to enjoy for lunch. They have great portions and give you the perfect amount. Their chicken was tender and the salad tasted fresh and crisp, with the best tasting tomatoes I had all trip. While they did not have a 3-course lunch option, their selections are quite decent for the price.
Next stop was a quick walk to Musee D'Orsay. For 12 euros/person, this is a really great museum, and one of my personal favorites on the trip. I am a huge fan of more modern art and this train station turned museum has a ton of collections for modern french impressionists and post-impressionists artists (1848-1914). From the beautiful statues, to the massive art collection and the beautiful clock that still resonates current time in the museum, it is a must-stop in paris. And, no worries about lunch, they have a large cafe inside so you can enjoy lunch or a smaller one for just coffee. One of the cooler sites to see is the renovation of paintings done before your eyes. It was amazing to see restoration of masterpieces as large as the room itself being worked on by professional art historians.
And, you cannot leave Paris without having at least one full meal on the Seine. And, that is exactly how I wanted to end the trip and my last night in Paris. I found this amazing little hot dog stand (I cannot find the name for the life of me), and grabbed a hot dog with ketchup and mustard with a glass of wine and perrier. it was the perfect end of the day. Afterward, it was time to head back to the Air B&B and pack and prep for the early departure the next morning.

The flight home was long and tiring but after landing back in DC, it was time for dinner and our drive home. My recommendation, again, is to park at one of the local hotels and have them bus you over - it saves a ton of money and ensures you are charged less per day to park. I paid $6/day as opposed to $20/day for the parking at the airport. If you can, find a way to do it! I hope you have enjoyed my trip and I look forward to sharing my next adventure with you all.

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