What a whirlwind two weeks. Overall I had a great time, but we did have our ups and downs, as does everyone who travels. Now for a mammoth-sized post.
The flight out
Definitely could have been better. For some reason, my flight was full of babies and toddlers. I guess parents think their kids will sleep, but no one told that to the adorable one-year old beside me. Sitting next to this cute kid was annoying for several reasons:
- The mother’s husband and daughter were behind us so she kept turning around and jostling me. (The man in the aisle seat with the husband and daughter should have switched with the woman. I’d have gladly given him my aisle seat.)
- We were in the very front row of coach which meant lots of leg room. However, one of the stewards put a hanging bassinet on the wall in front of us, which meant even less room than a regular seat.
- The baby, while possibly one of the cutest I’ve seen, fussed ALL night. He slept maybe a few hours, and most of it in the morning while we had breakfast. I didn’t mind the noise too much, but he also kept patting and grabbing me, which would have been adorable during waking hours.
- The woman chastised me for making noise. I couldn’t sleep and was watching movies. I got cold and opened the plastic bag for the blanket. The woman freaked out. “That noise will wake him!” she said. He did stir, but I was tired and grouchy and did not feel like getting chewed out. Plus the kid slept through the entire breakfast service.
The red eye just sucks, especially at the end of a work day. I thought it was smart because the fares were cheaper, I wouldn’t have to miss an extra day of work, and I could leave straight from the office since the airport is so close. But it was also dumb because I can never sleep on flights, I’m extra tired, and I feel gross having not showered for 12 hours.
A good thing about the flight was that there were lots of movies to watch for free. I saw Les Miserables, which was just okay (Amanda Seyfried was a horrible singer), and Pitch Perfect, which was awesome.
My flight got in around 5 PM on Tuesday. YP was kind enough to meet me at the airport. Luckily he did because in my groggy and discombobulated state, I would not have been able to maneuver public transit to our apartment.
The place was adorable. A total artist’s grotto with its sloped ceilings and exposed beams (we were on the top floor). Plus YP kindly (again) gave me the bed while he slept on an air mattress, which at least was queen-size and high off the floor. The bed was soooo cozy and comfortable, particular on chilly Paris mornings.
I only had enough energy to walk around a little and have dinner. We chose a random restaurant, and it was one of the best meals of our trip. I had the rilletes de sardines. I had no idea what it was and was picturing whole sardines, but it was basically like tuna salad with sardines and a billion times more delicious.
For our main course, or plat (I was reminded that in French entree refers to an appetizer or first course, not the main meal), we both had the risotto with fromage, peas, and asparagus. So good.
I was awake at 4 AM. The night before I realized I had forgotten to bring my instant coffee, and was in a panicked state about what I’d do the next morning. I downloaded the flashlight app and rooted around in the kitchen cupboards. Eureka! A jar of instant coffee. A couple of cups of that and a yummy nut and seed bar, and I was a happy camper. And with five hours to kill before YP woke up, I wrote quite a bit and planned our itinerary for the day.
We spent the whole day walking, first to Jardin de Tuilleries, where we sat for a while and enjoyed the fountains and people-watching. (I kept wishing I had brought a sandwich.) We visited the Place de la Concorde and the Obelisque, then made our way down the Champs Elysees and saw the Seine and Eiffel Tower.
Last stop before home was the cemetery Pere Lachaise, which was walking distance from our place. It was pretty cool. I’ve never seem tombs like telephone booths before.
We chilled for the afternoon, then headed to the Jewish Quarter in search of good falafel. Unfortunately the place we wanted to go to was closed so we ate at another one, which was good enough. YP got some tasty Jewish pastries, including one that was like a high quality Fig Newton.
Oh yeah, the weather: it was quite chilly and YP hadn’t brought warm clothes – not even a jacket – despite my telling him about three times that according to a weather website, it was meant to be only in the 60s.
We decided to visit the Parthenon. I bought the tickets online. What do you think when you buy tickets for a museum online? Probably that you can pick them up at the museum itself. But no, not in Paris! When we got to the Parthenon, we discovered that the tickets had to be picked up at another location, which was a subway ride away.
WHAT THE FUCK IS THE POINT OF ORDERING TICKETS ONLINE IF ONLY TO PICK THEM UP SOMEWHERE ELSE?
This was the theme of Paris: this is just how things are, convenience or common sense be damned.
Anyway, YP bought us tickets and I threw away 18 Euro. Fun fun. At least the museum itself, especially the crypts, were pretty cool.
YP wanted to do a guided tour in French to practice his listening skills. I thought I’d tag along and look at stuff and just not pay attention. However, the “intro” for the tour was literally half an hour, AND we left early. I kept thinking, Are we moving yet? Can we please move? Good lord, let’s move. Even worse because I couldn’t understand a word. Eventually they did move on, but not before we left.
That night we met up with YP’s friend, who happened to be in Paris for work. She walked us around, and I was super glad to be with someone who could speak French. She showed us the Bastille (or rather where the Bastille probably once stood) and we stumbled upon what was essentially the High Line of Paris, the Promenade plantee.
For dinner, she took us to a Vietnamese place, which I happened to be craving. There was a bit of a wait but not too bad. My beef pho was delicious. Unfortunately, there was nothing vegetarian on the menu. Nothing! You’d think a place with Buddhist culture would have something. So YP had what was essentially a big plate of lettuce.
This was another recurring Paris theme: almost no vegetarian.
After dinner YP’s friend walked us around some more, and we saw the Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame.
We had a leisurely morning and did our own thing on this day, YP shopping for a jacket and souvenirs, and me at the Musee des Artes et Metiers.
One day it didn’t rain! It was even sunny at times.
The museum was great. It was a mix of science, technology, and some arts and crafts. I liked seeing the history of science and technology, from very simple calculators, to microscopes and telescopes, clocks, weaving machines, paper making machines, printers, typewriters, and finally computers and robots. And there was also a bunch of pottery ware and food packaging, Foucault’s pendulum, an airplane, and some old-fashioned cars.
I had wanted to eat at the museum, but there was only a sit-down restaurant with very slow service. I ended up getting a shitty sandwich from a supermarket and eating outside, which was kind of nice since it was sunny.
That night we met up with YP’s friend again, this time at Shakespeare & Co. We attended a reading, but it was so crowded we had to sit on the stairs, and the reading itself was boring as fuck. The author’s intros were a billion times longer than the readings themselves.
Afterward we walked around and saw St. Michel and had crepes for dinner. I had an Italian style one with cheese, olives, tomatoes, and other good veggies. It was tasty.
It was on this night that we got stopped by the subway police. YP’s French-speaking friend wasn’t with us unfortunately. I had bent my ticket, not knowing that I’d need it for these surprise checks, and the woman’s machine couldn’t read it. She kept saying, “Give me your ticket!” clearly not understanding when I kept saying, in English, “I don’t have it!” Finally I said, “Je n’ai pas mon billet,” although I did have it, it was just bent. Had to pay 30 Euro fine. It was pretty upsetting, if only because I didn’t know what was going on and actually thought I might go to jail.
I know these rules are set up to punish turnstile jumpers, but the thing was I had paid for a ticket. The only thing I did wrong was do origami with mine. I feel like in New York or San Francisco, they wouldn’t have given such a hard time to a tourist who had no bad intentions and obviously didn’t know what they were doing.
Then YP made me feel better by revealing the surprise he had been cooking up.
“We’re going to see a musical version of The Bodyguard,” he said.
“Oh cool!” I said. “In English?”
I flipped. I had been secretly wishing we could take an overnight trip somewhere, and I freaking LOVE London. YP said he got worried that I wouldn’t like the idea after his friend talked about how much she disliked London, not that I would be influenced by that but that maybe I wouldn’t like it as much as he had imagined, which was the exact opposite of how I felt, especially after that experience with metro police. Yay, London!
We visited the Jardin du Luxembourg. “Jardin” is stretching it. While it was pretty, it was mostly sandy. Anyway, after walking around we, or at least I, was starved, and we had a late lunch at a random bistro. Again, a very good meal. There was a hearty salad for YP (he was able to pick out the meat), and I had a perfect cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke.
Figuring out I was American, the waiter asked, regarding my burger, “Medium well? Well done?” I usually get my burgers medium well because American restaurants can’t seem to get the difference between medium and raw, but since I was in Paris, I asked for medium (the waiter looked surprised – hey, we’re not all culinary idiots), and it was freaking perfect.
After that we tried the Catacombs, but there was a two-hour wait, and the place was closing in less than that. We made due with a visit to the Montparnasse cemetery instead.
Another Paris theme: je voie dead people. Crypts and cemeteries galore.
Having only gotten four hours of sleep, I was super tired that night, and stayed home while YP went out with a friend. I had a random dinner: instant noodles with an egg, then a piece of bread and butter with a boiled egg. I had read somewhere that French butter is amazing, and it was. Plus the eggs we got from a “natural store” (read: organic) were so delicious and very bright yellow.
Some things Paris does better.
On this day we went to Sacre-Coeur, which I had missed my first visit. In fact, the only stuff I had seen before were the Champs Elysees and Place de la Concorde. Everything else so far was new.
Sacre-Coeur was extremely crowded, especially since it was a Sunday. But the dome and crypt, which you have to pay for, weren’t bad at all. Climbing the spiral staircase up up up to the dome was a little nerve-racking, but the view is worth it. In the crypt, I saw my first cephalophore, or headless saint, St Denis, I’m assuming.
Afterward we wandered around and ended up at the Museum of Montparnasse, which gives “a history of the multitude of artists who came from around the world to live and work in Montparnasse at the beginning of the twentieth century.” It was nice though a little random.
For lunch we ate at a weird vegetarian restaurant. The food took forever, but it was quite good. I had the soup of the day, which was kind of like light French onion without the cheese, and a variety of chopped up vegetables with a small piece of bread and goat cheese. There were beets, which made me happy.
It rained off and on all day, and we ended up doing dinner at home. I didn’t want another packet of instant noodles so while YP had his eggs and potatoes, I wandered in the rain looking for food. Almost everything was closed, so I settled on this “Japanese” place which was, I soon found out, run by Chinese people. I was glad to be able to communicate with the waiter, but he and the cook weren’t super friendly. I had some gyoza, which were more like dumplings, yakitori, and rice (yay rice!). At first I thought it wasn’t going to be enough food, but it was the perfect amount.
After I got home, YP showed me a Greek card game, bastra. It was fun. He totally kicked my ass. I showed him Spit, and I totally kicked his ass.
My first really good night’s sleep. Did some last-minute packing for London and we both had pain du chocolat for breakfast. I had bought what I thought was one chocolate croissant the day before, but when the girl heard du, I think she heard deux. Or that’s how I pronounced it. But YP appreciated the extra croissant so it worked out.
Getting to the train station in the rain was stressful – I dropped my phone! Luckily just the edge got cracked, we didn’t get lost, and were just in time for boarding.
At first we got on the wrong carriage, and ended up having to sprint all the way to the front of the train while the conductors smiled amusedly at us from the doorways.
Lunch in the snack car! A croque monsieur and mocha. The sandwich was pretty good although the mocha was watery. After I got back to my seat, I was hyper from the mocha and got a little writing done.
Then we were in London!
The location of our hotel was good – not far from Kensington Gardens – but our room was teeny tiny with one double bed. (YP had booked a “double,” thinking logically that it was two beds.)
After checking in we walked to Kensington Gardens and through Hyde Park. Now these were an actual park and garden: lush and green, although Hyde Park isn’t as nice as Central Park.
Then we had an early dinner of mediocre Indian food (which after several days of heavy French food was delicious), and returned to our room to get ready. I thought I’d be freezing in my little dress, but I was actually okay. London wasn’t as cold as Paris, and it didn’t rain.
The show was fun though pretty cheesy. I enjoyed the musical numbers, but YP agreed that the dialogue and plot left much to be desired. Rachel’s son’s lines were particularly eyeroll inducing. And twice there were technical glitches that literally stopped the show. That would never happen on Broadway, but I guess shows often work out their kinks in London.
The woman who played Rachel was very good, although they had her fake-laughing way too much.
When we left the show, we stopped in Pret for snacks. Yay, Pret!
We got up fairly early to ride the Eye, which was fun. While it was chilly and overcast, it didn’t rain, and it wasn’t very crowded. Last time I went on a Saturday in June and it was a mad house.
Afterward, we walked back across the Thames and saw Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Then Pret again, yay! I like Pret in London because it’s not too expensive, the food is good but slightly different than in America, it’s quick, and there’s free wifi. I had a delicious tuna melt and mocha.
Then we were each on our own again. YP was freezing and desperate for a jacket (no luck finding one in Paris) so he went shopping. I went to the Tate Britain, which I had missed my first time to London and which was just an 11 minute walk away.
I really freaking enjoyed myself. All museums in London are free so that was a help. The Tate is billed as “500 years of British art” and do they deliver. The rooms are set up chronologically in 30 to 100 year increments. It was really interesting to see the change from medieval portraits to religious paintings to landscapes to affinity for Greek and Roman stuff to literature portrayed to morality art to impressionism, neo-impressionism, and pointislism, to the influence of World War I, and moving quickly into modern and bat-shit crazy.
I walked all the way back to the hotel – five miles! – and had a rest in Kensington Gardens. I was surprised to find that YP was already back. Jacket procured, yay! Just in time for the end of our trip. :)
That night we met up with one of YP’s former coworkers. Feeling lazy, I almost didn’t go, but then knew I’d be bored if I didn’t. I’m glad I went. We met her at a bar for a relaxed drink. Unlike places we had been to in Paris, this place was spacious and calm. Then we had a yummy Thai dinner. Actually my beef massaman was just so-so – the beef was chewy – but the sauce was delicious, and I was happy again to have rice.
After dinner, his coworker begged off and we got another drink, this time at a gay bar. The place was more like a traditional English pub, save for all the gay men of course.
We discussed Paris versus London. I didn’t want to come right out and say that I like London better because I was glad we spent time in Paris, but I think that is the case. Here are some reasons why:
- The food is way more diverse. There were tons of Asian options for me and vegetarian ones for YP.
- The Underground is really nice. It’s way cleaner and seems easier to maneuver. Plus you use an Oyster card in the exact way that you use a mass transit card in San Francisco, tag on and off. No need to hold onto a tiny piece of paper that may get crinkled.
- I don’t feel like a slob in London. People dress more casually. Everyone in Paris is a hipster.
- Fewer people smoke in London.
- People work more in London. Late into night we saw people getting off work. In this way London was more like the Hellmouth or m current city.
Plus Harry Potter. Hello? :)
After a leisurely morning, we headed back to the train station. This time we got there pretty early, and knew where our carriage was.
By the time we got back to Paris, it was almost five (London is an hour). We just chilled until it was time to leave to meet his friend, who was leaving the next day. We met at this taco place/bar. It was small and very crowded. There was nowhere to sit. A group of Americans got a punch bowl of something, and put it on this little counter in what was essentially the entry way, and stood there drinking. Oh yeah, totally fun.
Luckily YP’s friend, when she arrived, suggested going somewhere else. She had another friend with her, who was also a vegetarian, and she knew where to go. The place was pretty good, although the waitress was quite rude. She took forever to get stuff that we asked for, and after we asked for more water, violently plunked down two full bottles, splashing us.
At least the food was filling. I had a curry risotto with a variety of vegetables.
YP’s friend’s friend was Spanish and was very animated and funny. We talked about the trouble we had with our French, and she relayed her own issues when she was first learning. For instance she couldn’t get people to understand her pronunciation of deux, and so she’d order trois of everything, which made me realize why I got two pain du chocolat instead of one.
The rain held off that night, which was nice.
We got back pretty late, 11 or midnight. Slept great after not sleeping well in our cramped bed in London.
This was the day we got locked out of the apartment.
Aw man, was I panicked. I suggested knocking on a neighbor’s door, but instead YP climbed onto the roof to see if he could get in via a skylight. Very dangerous and no luck.
We knew Chinese people lived in the building because of their names on the mailboxes. I knocked on the door of one.
“Parlez-vous Chinois?” I asked.
“Non,” she said.
“Parlez-vous Anglais?” YP asked.
That teaches me not to make assumptions. Anyway, she told us that next door was a key store.
It wasn’t open but the grate was partway up, and the very kind man tried to help us. He took a plastic sheet and tried to jimmy the door open, just the way the SB’s super opened my door back in New York when I lost my key, except that he used a Venetian blind. However, the old guy couldn’t get it open, and for a while he seemed to tell us that there was no one in Paris who could help us, that whomever could was outside of Paris.
But what I think he meant was that his friend who could help us wasn’t in town, and instead he helped us call a locksmith.
YP was generous to wait while I walked around a little. I checked out the Madeline church, which was pretty, and saw the hotel I stayed in during my first trip to Paris many years ago.
I was about to go to the Museum de L’Orangerie when YP texted that we were in. I was so glad. But it wasn’t cheap. The old guy said maybe 90 or 100 Euros, but the locksmith asked for much much more than that.
What the fuck, Paris?
We salvaged the day by going to the Catacombs. There was a long line but we were there early enough that it didn’t matter. It rained off and on, dramatically. Like it would rain very hard, and then the sun would be shining. Luckily there was a bakery nearby. I got a really yummy salami and cornichon sandwich, and then what was a called a beignet, although it was more like a gourmet donut. I had an apple one and gave YP a cherry one. They were sooooo good.
YP ended up talking to two Mexican girls behind us, and then it ended up that they spoke English really well. They were sweet and fun.
Silver lining: if we hadn’t gotten locked out, we wouldn’t have met those girls. Anyway, chatting with them made the wait go much faster, and soon we were in.
At first I thought it would be just dark tunnels, but it wasn’t. It was bones. Lots and lots of bone piled up on each other. Skulls, and what looked like arm and leg bones. It was pretty crazy.
I also kept my eye out for ghosts but didn’t see any.
Afterward the Mexican girls went off to do their own thing, and we decided to go to the D’Orsay. It’s open late on Thursdays so we thought what the hey. Besides we had just one and a half days left.
The line was pretty long, and it was raining and cold. In fact the rain seemed to turn to sleet at one point. But it was worth it.
I went to the D’Orsay during my last visit, but didn’t stay long. It was toward the end of our trip, and my friend was museumed out. I thought I had missed just one wing, but this time I realized I missed a lot. The place is huge. YP said that the Mexican girls said not to go, that the line would be too long, but he was glad he didn’t listen to them.
“It’s one of the prettiest museums I’ve been to,” he said.
Indeed it was.
We were there until about eight. Afterward we were so pooped, we just each got our own meals, pizza for him and that same Japanese restaurant for me again. This time I tried the fried rice and California rolls. Not bad but definitely more Chinese than Japanese.
Last day in Paris! YP wanted to go to the Louvre, but after waiting in long lines at the Catacombs and D’Orsay, I couldn’t bear it. I had a lazy morning, then walked to the Carnavalet Museum, stopping for lunch in a random brasserie. Had the chicken tikka, which tasted like tikka masala sauce but with far more butter.
I just now realized that I meant to go to the Carnival Arts Museum, and I got the names mixed up. That explains why there was no carnival stuff at the Carnavalet. Dehr. Luckily I went to Carnavalet because the Carnival Arts Museum is only open during the holidays.
Anyway, I really liked the Carnavalet. It tells the history of Paris through art. Plus it was free. I got the audio guide for 5 Euros since all the placards were in French. I was there for a good two hours.
For our last night, we went to the Eiffel Tower. It was raining yet again and very cold, not much above 50 degrees. I was wearing a T-shirt, sweater, light jacket, and another jacket, and was still freezing. YP changed into this costume:
I was mortified at first, but after a while kind of forgot he was wearing it. French people had almost no reaction, kind of like New Yorkers. One drunk guy was like, “Monsieur, vous etes lapin!” The woman who sold us our tickets shook her head and laughed.
“You must be American,” she said.
People on the tower went nuts. These teenaged girls kept wanting to take their picture with him. When we reached the top, which was FREEZING, I went back inside because I knew the picture taking would take forever.
That night we just picked up food again, this time from a Chinese takeout place. I got way too much fried rice. The chicken “brochettes” were pretty tasty.
I was stressed out that night dealing with packing and worrying about how we’d get to the airport the next morning. Carrying three bags, even with YP’s help, was a pain in the ass. But I managed to get down to two bags by consolidating my stuff, and throwing out my duffel bag which I got for free from my old company a million years ago, as well as my towel, which was pretty old. A wedding gift. That’s how old. I was really glad to get my stuff down to my small suitcase, backpack, and a purse.
Getting to the airport wasn’t too bad, but getting to our gates took forever. I hadn’t checked in so I went to wait in line. Only I waited in the wrong line (which at least wasn’t too long) and went to a machine, which I couldn’t figure out. There were two places you could put your credit card, and I kept putting it in the wrong one. Or rather I didn’t even notice there were two places.
WHY WERE THERE TWO PLACES?
A nice woman helped me and I caught up with YP, who was waiting in line to check bags. That took a long time. Then we had to wait in a very long line to get our passports checked. Then we had to get on a shuttle train that would take us to our gate, where we waited on yet another line to get us through security. At least that was quick: airport employees actually helped people load their stuff so that went really fast.
Finally, we were able to go to our gates. I had time to get a water and pain du chocolat, but I didn’t have time to eat it or to pee. As in the Air France terminal in America, they didn’t board by row or group number. Everyone just lined up. This time I knew the drill and got on line early.
While my incoming flight was full of babies, this one was full of retirees of various nationalities. My seat was much better. While it was in the back half of the plane, it was near two tiny young women.
The first half of the flight flew by. I watched Lincoln, which I enjoyed, then slept for maybe an hour. I played a video game, then watched Argo, which I liked a lot. I also watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I enjoyed but couldn’t help thinking Emma Watson’s character was that stereotypical manic pixie dream girl.
The last two hours of the flight were endless. I was very tired and my legs were stiff. I wanted off that plane in the worst way. I watched The Lord of the Rings to kill time but couldn’t really get into it.
Then finally, FINALLY, we were home.
I was so glad to be in a place where I understood the language and knew how to get around. I didn’t even mind the long wait to get my passport checked. I mostly fooled around on my phone (no roaming charges!).
In a way it was good the passport line took forever because I didn’t have to wait at all for my bag. It was already set aside. I caught a cab right away and was back in my apartment around 2:30.
Home home home!
I was so tired yesterday, I didn’t really enjoy myself the way I thought I would. I was mostly out of sorts, thinking I was smelling weird things in my apartment. I did manage to buy a few piddly groceries, shower, eat some instant noodles, and catch up on Modern Family, New Girl, and The Mindy Project before passing out at, get this, five-thirty in the afternoon.
I thought maybe I’d sleep 12 or at least 10 hours. No way. I slept really solidly until 10:30, and then again until about 1:30. I tried to go back to sleep but just couldn’t. Plus I was hungry. I got up at two, made coffee, did the previous night’s dishes, and made some instant oatmeal. Sitting there in the quiet and dark, I felt peaceful and happy. That was what I was imagining as I was aching for home toward the end of our trip.
I read and started writing this blog post. I did two loads of laundry, and had a second breakfast around 5:30, more coffee and a boiled egg on toast. Around seven I went to the gym, then hit the grocery store for more substantial provisions. Showered, had “lunch” around 10:30 while catching up on Mad Men, and worked on this blog post some more.
I don’t know if I’ll leave the apartment again. I had planned on working on my writing as well as work-work, but I don’t know if I want to. I still have tomorrow.