Thursday, July 28, 2011

La France

Now I can finally say that I have been to France (or, more accurately, now I have actually been to a location in France other than Dunkerque or the Charles de Gaulle airport, neither of which really count).  This past weekend, Anna and I (have you noticed a traveling theme since I made it to Deutschland?) went to Paris to see the city and visit some assorted friends and relatives.

The trip began after class on Friday.  Long after class, considering that we were taking the night train and didn't even leave for the train station until almost 11pm.  We made the train with time to spare.  Our reservations initially had Anna and I sitting in different compartments (yes, sitting.  We were too cheap to reserve beds, which, as you will see shortly, made for quite an unpleasant night), but my assigned seat had a dog sitting in it and Anna's compartment had some empty space so I joined her.  The compartment was dark and stifling.  The heat had been turned all the way up, the windows and door were shut, the other three inhabitants of the compartment were sleeping with their shoes off, and the result was a rather fetid atmosphere.  We survived, however, and when I woke up for the last time and pulled aside the curtain I was greeted by a view of the Parisian suburbs passing by.

Anna's twin sister Emma met us on the platform, and the three of us made our way through the Metropolitan to her apartment on Boulevard de la Madeleine to drop our bags and recover a bit before striking out to explore the city in earnest.

The view from Emma's window.

Also from Emma's window: My first view of the Eiffel Tower (that counts)!

As it was still fairly early in the morning at that point, Anna and Emma and I walked into La Marais to find some breakfast, which turned into lunch by the time we finally ate.  After a lot of strolling through the winding streets, the three of us decided on a bakery.  There we found delicious tartes (as far as I could tell, they were undifferentiable from quiche), which we proceeded to eat in a little park in an out of the way corner of the neighborhood. 

Later that day I met up with Rob, a friend from Bologna who was spending the summer in Paris.  After some catching up over 2 euro happy hour cups of sangria, we met up with Anna, Emma, and Emma's roommate Valerie for dinner in Saint-Germain.  When I ordered le poisson, I couldn't help but think of the French chef in The Little Mermaid.  Once we had eaten, Rob and I again split off and walked over to la Place Dauphine for another glass of wine or so.  The (triangular) square was quietly beautiful, and from our little table outside we were able to see the beginnings of a spectacular sunset over the Seine.  Our waiter was also fantastic, allowing Rob plenty of chances to practice his French and allowing both of us to sample several of the wines before making a final decision.

Sunset over the Seine.

After briefly going out to with a few of Rob's French friends (including an amusing little episode in which the only one who spoke no French--that is, myself--was left with the only one who spoke no English.  We spent a lot of time politely smiling at each other and shrugging), I took the Metro back to la Madeleine to sleep of my cumulative exhaustion on one of the most comfortable pull-out couches I have ever experienced.

The next morning Anna, Emma, Val, and I walked over to the 9th arrondissement for a lovely brunch at a cute little bakery run by a British ex-pat.  Drinking a pot of Lapsang Souchong made me miss Molly Moog and wish that she were there to share it with me!

After brunch, we walked past the Paris Opéra (Opera House), which is the setting for The Phantom of the Opera.  I wish that we had had time to see the inside as well, but the outside was spectacular by itself.

L'Opéra de Paris

Unfortunately, that was the last bit of beauty that Anna and Emma and I were able to enjoy for quite a while, as we spent the next almost three hours at the train station trying to obtain return tickets.  There was no space on any train going anywhere, it seemed, let alone to Göttingen (we found out later that it was because we had happened to pick the weekend in which the Tour de France would be ending in Paris to come).  After lots of conversation (all through Emma, since the woman behind the counter didn't speak much English and Anna and I didn't speak much French), phone calls, poring over maps, and bringing out the manager (several times), we managed to secure reservations for a train leaving early the next morning for Mannheim, which is about a three-hour train ride from Göttingen.  It was quite an ordeal, but fortunately the woman working with us was incredibly helpful, consistently going out of her way for us and shattering Parisian stereotypes in the process.

Exhausted after so much time in the sterile, train station environment and realizing that we we had some serious tourism to fit in if we were going to be leaving almost a full day earlier than we had anticipated, we decided to make our way over to Saint-Chapelle, a private chapel commissioned by Louis IX to house his collection of precious relics and a breathtaking example of Rayonnant Gothic architecture and brilliant stained glass.

The interior of Saint-Chapelle.

The starry ceiling.

The large rose window on the back wall.

An exterior view.

Fortunately for our tourist-selves, the Notre-Dame happens to be right around the corner.  We didn't have the time or the money to go inside, but taking a turn around the exterior was spectacular enough.

Proof I was actually there.

The facade, with a glimpse of the steeple behind.

A small corner of the famous rose window.

Flying buttresses!


By that point we were all quite hungry, so we made the trip back to la Marais in search of crêpes.  We found them, and it was well worth the wait.  I sampled the miel (honey) and a savory crepe full of cheese and mushrooms, complete with a crown of crispy cheese spilling from the edges.  Delicious!

We had initially planned to complete our touristic spree with a stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (Avenue of the Elysian Fields), which finishes at the Arc de Triomphe, before making our way south to have a small picnic dinner under la Tour Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower).  However, it was at this point that we became aware of the presence of the Tour de France (when we emerged from the Metro to find barricades, policemen, and enormous crowds in yellow baseball caps), so we decided to skip the Champs-Élysées and head straight over to the Eiffel Tower.  We met up with Gabby, a friend of Anna's from Wash U who lives in Paris, there and enjoyed a lovely meal of baguettes, cheese, and wine while watching the sky slowly darken around the Tower. 

Anna and I picnicking.

The best part?  Enjoying a long conversation in Italian with Emma with this in the background.

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