With our epic France trip behind us, Katie and I have enjoyed a few low-key days in Munich — mostly catching up on emails, work and laundry. After returning from Paris last week, we had a few days in Munich with Katie’s parents, Randy and Amy. We took them to a few of our favorite spots (and beer gardens) and enjoyed the one-on-one time that you rarely get in families as big as ours. We were both really sad to see them go but know that we’ll see them again soon enough when we visit the States later this month. (Can you believe it’s August already?!)
I thought I’d wait a bit on the Paris recap blog because of our many “The other Tour de France” blogs. But if I wait any longer I’ll start to forget some of the things we did. So here goes …
We woke up at our hotel near the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on Thursday morning (July 19) and drove to Versailles where we’d be staying for the next several nights. We chose Versailles because it’s just outside Paris (a 20-minute car ride) and the hotels are much cheaper. Plus, Katie’s parents, who joined us in Paris on Saturday night, were also staying in Versailles. We dropped off our stuff and made our way into the city. We actually chose to take the train on our first day, rather than drive. The central train station in Versailles goes right into the heart of Paris for just 3.25 Euros one way. That part was convenient, but the 45-minute walk to the train station from our hotel wasn’t. We drove into Paris the rest of our time there.
Once in town we went straight to the Louvre and spent a few hours walking around its many exhibits. The place is pretty fascinating, but after three hours, you start to lose focus and appreciation for the centuries-old stuff you’re looking at. We did make it over to the Mona Lisa.
A picture of people taking pictures of a painting. (Oh, the Mona Lisa.)
From there we walked to the small island on the Seine river (which runs right through Paris) that houses the Notre Dame cathedral. Having just spent three hours walking through a museum, we were in no mood to wait in the long line that had formed to get into the church. So we just walked around the outside and talked about hunchbacks and whether or not the American or French pronunciation of “Notre” sounded better.
Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame!
At this point Katie had to jump on a work call, so we popped into a McDonalds to use their free WiFi. We were both amazed to see electronic ordering stations set up inside. Similar to how you no longer need a real person to check in at an airport, this allowed customers to order and pay on their own and then wait for their food to be called out. They still had cashiers at the counter for “old school” ordering, but no one was really using them. The entire system makes sense, though, because it takes language barriers out of the equation (since you choose your language on the ordering machine).
After Katie’s call we walked along the beautiful St. Germain area and marveled at the wide boulevards, the cafes and the people. We stopped in two pastry shops that Katie had read about in a great article that a friend recommended and enjoyed our first taste of Parisian macaroons. They’re small, almost bite-size pastries that come in all sorts of flavors. Our favorites were caramel, coffee and chocolate. They cost about 1.50 Euros apiece and they are definitely worth it.
I’m trying to get Katie to learn how to make these.
After our pre-dinner dessert, we made our way to Les Deux Magots, a well-known street cafe in the heart of St. Germain. You pay a little bit more for the atmosphere, but we wanted to treat ourselves to one authentic Parisian people-watching-while-at-a-busy-street-cafe experience. The food was over-priced, but really good.
After dinner we made our way back to the train station by way of the Eiffel Tower. We would see it a few other times during our trip, including during the day, but I must say that it is much better at night when it’s all lit up. And for a little extra thrill, the entire thing blinks at the top of every hour. We did not go up to the top. Neither of us had much of a desire to do it anyways, but if we had, we likely would have changed our mind after seeing the line. Never in my life have I seen a longer line of people trying to get into something. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of people. It was crazy. The Eiffel Tower impressed me much more than I thought it would. I kind of expected to see it and go, “Oh. Cool.” But its size and majestic presence kind of takes your breath away.
The Eiffel Tower was way cooler than I thought it’d be.
On the way back to our hotel, our legs started aching. We walk a lot each day so we were both surprised that our legs couldn’t handle a day in Paris. As we thought about it, we figured we walked at least 20 miles! Before going to Paris, we were told that strolling the streets was not only a “must do” in Paris, but there’s actually a name for it in French:
“A flâneur is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles thorugh a city without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the place and in covert search of adventure, aesthetic or erotic.” ~ from the book The Flâneur by Edmund White
It really is the way to do Paris, or any European city for that matter.
We drove into Paris the following morning. Parking in Paris isn’t terribly expensive. Street parking takes a while to find (like any big city), but there are always spots to be found. And it’s free after 7 p.m. The weird thing is that you have to purchase a pre-paid parking card at one of the city’s many tobacco shops — the parking machines don’t except any cash, credit cards or coins.
Once we found a spot we embarked on a food tour that Katie had found. Her favorite TV Chef, Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa), recommended doing this exact tour and it definitely gave us a true taste of Paris. It took us through a farmer’s market on Raspail Boulevard, a specialty foods store on Rue de Sevres called La Grande Epicerie, a tiny, tiny, TINY bread shop on Rue du Cherche-Midi called Poilane (amazing bread) and a cheese shop on Rue de Grenelle called Barthelemy. Afterwards, we took our fruit, meat, cheese, bread and drinks and had a nice makeshift picnic on the streets of Paris (well, a curb to be exact). I highly recommend having a lunch this way. It ends up being pretty cheap and it gets you into some of the small mom-and-pop shops that are well known for their products.
The rest of Friday was spent walking the streets of Paris. We swung by Luxembourg Palace and the Luxembourg Gardens and eventually made our way into the city’s Latin Quarter (named for the language, not Latin America), which is the city’s historical “intellectual” center. The university is located there and it used to be filled with educated people who spoke Latin. We had dinner at a small cafe and did some more people watching before making our way back to Versailles for the night.
We initially talked about seeing Stage 19 of the Tour de France on Saturday — a time trial stage. But we decided against it because we knew we’d be seeing the bikers on Sunday and we wanted more time in Paris. So we spent a good chunk of our Saturday morning and afternoon at the famous and truly indescribable St. Quen flea market (“Les Puces”). The market stretches for blocks and blocks and is filled with everything from $5 used Disney VHS tapes to $125 antique hammers to $50,000 original French paintings. They have anything and everything. We got lost in a book store for close to an hour and spent an equal amount of time looking at antiques we could never afford. It was very cool. We eventually forced ourselves to leave because we didn’t want to spend all day there and because Katie knew she’d be taking her mom back there on Monday.
Books, books, everywhere, but not a word to read. (They were all in French.)
From there we drove back into Paris (the farmer’s market is on the north side of the city) by way of the Montmartre district. When we got into Paris, we parked and walked toward a pastry shop Katie wanted to try. Along the way we stopped at a Jesuit Residence when a friend of mine from college, Joe, was staying (he’s training to become a Jesuit). We only had 15 minutes with him because he had to get to a dinner with another Jesuit, but it was good to see a familiar face. Joe was on the final leg of his own European adventure that had taken him to Germany and Poland, among other places.
We made it to Katie’s pastry shop — Laduree (also recommended in the article)– just before it closed and picked up a fresh set of macaroons and a piece of chocolate cake. (This whole “eat dessert before dinner” concept started to grow on me.) We washed down our macaroons with a drink from Bar Du Marche before making our way to Cafe de Flore for a light dinner. I say “light” because Cafe de Flore had the same prices as Les Deux Magots. Why were we eating at a place like that again? Well, one, because it really is an awesome Parisian experience. But more so, because we had learned that the two cafes — Flore and Magots — are rival cafes and steeped in Paris history. Each one claims to have more prestige than the other. They’re among the oldest cafes in the city and used to host all of the city’s intellectuals (and to some extent, still do). At the end of the day, the offerings are the same at both cafes and both are right next door to each other. I saw little difference between the two. But I’m glad we tried both!
After dinner we made our way back to our car and set out to Gare Du Nord, one of Paris’s main train stations, to pick up Katie’s parents who were coming in from England. Katie had just seen them a few days earlier in Ireland, but I hadn’t seen them since early May. We all exchanged hugs and then quickly piled into our rental car. Her parents ended up staying in Paris on Saturday night and Versailles on Sunday and Monday night. So we dropped them off on our way to Versailles with a promise to pick them up the next morning.
The next morning we made our way into Paris, parked on the street and set out for the Louvre area where we were going to watch the Tour. The final stage always has the cyclists doing laps near the Louvre before the final stretch toward the Arc de Triopmhe. We found a spot on the north side of the loop where we could watch the riders pass not once but eight times! It was far more crowded than the other two stages we had seen earlier in the week. But we managed to get right up to the fence and cheered as the riders went by time and time again.
This was our third time seeing the Tour de France in nine days.
Afterwards we decided to walk toward the Arc de Triomphe to see some of the award ceremonies. It was a hot day — in the 80’s — so we stayed in the shade as much as we could. After a long walk (in part due to the amount of people) we finally made it to the Arc where we saw several of the teams take their official pictures. We didn’t catch any of the individual awards, which we assumed took place shortly after the race ended.
Check out Katie’s cool t-shirt.
From there we made our way to the river, near the Eiffel Tower, and walked until we got to the tunnel where Princess Diana tragically died in 1997. There’s an unofficial memorial there (stuff left by people) and a good-sized crowd had gathered for the same reason we had stopped by. We then walked to a nearby metro stop and caught a train to Bastille where we joined Katie’s parents for a walk down memory lane.
This was the fourth time they had been in Paris together. One of their previous visits had them staying in Bastille and they wanted us to see the area and eat at one of the restaurants they had been to — Bofinger. It was a nice ending to a fun day – the first of many we’d get to spend with her parents.
Monday was supposed to be a travel day. Katie and her mom knocked out a visit to the St. Quen farmer’s market first thing in the morning (her mom LOVED it and came back with a few bags full of posters, jewelry and clothes — all bought at bargain prices, of course). When they returned, we learned that Katie and her dad had to tend to some work stuff that couldn’t really be done in the car. So we made the decision to hang out in Versailles for the day and night before heading out on Tuesday morning.
Once the work-related stuff had been completed, we hopped in the car for the 5-minute ride to downtown Versailles for dinner at Le Saint Claire, a fun, low-key cafe that Randy and Amy had also been to in one of their previous trips. The best part about the dinner was the fact that our waitress, who spoke no English, somehow became convinced that I spoke French. I think it’s because whenever someone speaks to me in another language, I nod my head as if I understand, even though I understand nothing. I must have done that a few times with her because whenever Katie, Amy or Randy would say something to her in English, she would look at me for a translation. I would then proceed to say something in English, with very elaborate hand gestures and an occasional French word (like “merci”). We all got what we ordered, so somehow it worked.
The following morning we walked around the garden of Versailles for an hour before jumping in the car for our trip to Munich. Of course, that final part of the trip — the final legs of our vacation — have already been blogged about. We also posted dozens of photos from our 11-day journey through France.