The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Paris, Je T'aime

I just got back from a 16-day trip through southern France and Spain, so I have a lot of catching up to do. There's no way I can cram it all into one blog entry or photo album, so I'll be dividing it up by city. The first stop was, of course, Paris.

I was fortunate enough to have a travel companion for these adventures. I had known for a while that I wanted to take off and explore the South when I finished with work in late April, but I'd been having a hard time finding someone to travel with. I feel fine about traveling in France by myself, but I felt a little iffy about going to Barcelona on my own. Fortunately, a happy coincidence just fell in my lap. While in London a couple of months ago, I'd met Daniel. He was starting a 7-month backpacking odyssey through Europe, and I met him on the very first day of his trip, just hours after he'd landed from his pond-jump. Actually, I accidentally woke him up from a jetlag-induced nap when I switched on the light and slammed the door to the dorm we were sharing... why he ended up wanting to spend more time with me after that I do not know... ;) Anyway, he asked me the time, I told him (I think it was around 3:00pm) and we ended up hanging out a bit in London. We stayed in touch, and as serendipity would have it, realized that he would be making his way to France the *exact* day I finished work.

Thus we concocted the evil plan of seeing France and Spain together. It ended up working out really well, because we each made things much easier on the other. My mad skillz with French meant he didn't have to worry about communicating (at least until we got to Barcelona, where my usefulness instantly plummeted) and his mad skillz at being a man meant I didn't have to worry (as much) about being beaten/robbed/raped/murdered. I invited him to hang at my place in Berck for a few days, so he could recover from nearly two months in hostels and save some money on lodging. He came the weekend of the kite festival and spent three days dozing on my couch and eating my cooking before heading off to Paris. I joined him at the end of the week and spent three lovely spring days there with him, the first of which was

Thursday

I arrived in the early afternoon to have a drink with Juliette before going to meet him at the hostel. We sat in a sidewalk café near the Canal St. Martin and I had some raspberry juice. I think we talked mostly about men, and travel, and art. She had to go catch a train to Tours, where her parents live, and I had my rendez-vous, so we parted before long. I made my way to Montmartre and climbed about 6,452 stairs with my heavy pack on the way to the hostel. Just before I reached the door, my shoulders snapped back and I nearly fell over; Daniel had grabbed my backpack (I feel like there should be some kind of backpacker's code about this). I got checked in and was pleasantly surprised at how nice the room was--pretty purple wallpaper! Beautiful view of a Montmartre staircase! Ensuite bathroom! Wonders never cease. That was the first nice surprise in what was a truly charmed visit to a city I've always found a little cold. I suppose the spring weather didn't hurt.

He had just put his laundry in the wash, so we got sandwiches from a grocery store and went to the top of Montmartre, the steps of the Sacré Cœur, to eat them. The street performers provided music and entertainment as we looked out over the city we were about to dive into, and the sun made me feel warm in Paris for the first time. We soon went back so he could switch out his laundry, and when it was finished we took the métro down to the Etoile (Arc de Triomphe). We walked all the way down the Champs Elysées, past the Louvre and down to Châtelet to catch the métro back to Montmartre.

He'd kept me in suspense all afternoon by telling me he had a surprise planned for dinner. After climbing the few thousand stairs out of the métro, he led me up a few winding Montmartre streets until we reached a restaurant called Moulin de la Galette, complete with a wooden windmill (the last of its kind) sitting atop the entrance. He ordered roast pork, I ordered chicken, and we split them almost completely down the middle. I was so glad he was a food sharer, it makes eating in restaurants twice as much fun. We had an Opéra for dessert, complete with fresh berries. We also split a bottle of Bordeaux, my favorite kind of red wine, which gave us just enough levity to float downhill on the way back home. As a thank you for putting him up at my place, he picked up the check. All told, it was a completely perfect evening.

Friday

He'd told me the night before that he wanted to spend at least six hours in the Louvre, and I refused to believe him. Even disregarding the fact that I'd already been there several times, I tend to get museum fatigue really quickly, so I was not looking forward to trudging around the parquet for half the day. That's what happened, though; he diligently plowed through his super-dorky-looking audio guide while I slumped around on benches and generally acted like a 5-year-old in a department store. Too bad there were no circular clothing racks to hide in.

When we FINALLY saw the light of day again he promised me he had another lovely evening planned, the first stage of which was sorbet on Ile St-Louis. This perked me up, and we had a lovely walk along the right bank before crossing over to the island. I had some flavor called Mirabelle, which I mostly chose for the name and still can't quite place gastronomically. He had a tart combination of pamplemousse rose (pink grapefruit), passion fruit, and melon. We sat on the Quai, on a couple of steps in front of a door, until the resident who resided therein (no joke) kindly asked us to move so he could "rentrer chez moi" (sure... ok).

We crossed back to the right back and scrambled around the 4th arrondissement looking for something quick to eat. We actually ended up literally getting something Quick to eat (a belgian fast food chain called "Quick") before heading over to Montparnasse, the lonely Parisian skyscraper south of the Eiffel Tower. It was another of his surprises, and though I'd known you could go up in it for great views (the last segment of "Paris, Je T'aime" is in the Montparnasse area) it wasn't something I would have ever chosen to do myself. I was really glad he had the idea, though, because I really liked it. We sat in the observation deck and had vanilla flavored coffee while discussing X-Men and watching the sun set. I was exhausted and had to wait for the coffee to kick in before I could get back on my feet, so it wasn't until it was totally dark outside that we went around to the other side of the room to see the Eiffel Tower. The view of the Tower, lit up at night, was completely stunning. I went up to the glass and gazed at it for a few minutes. He was staying back from the window, and I tried to get him to join me, but he refused. Turns out he has a fear of heights and couldn't bring himself to get within three feet of the "edge" of the building. Still, he keeps climbing up all of these tall things, and Montparnasse in particular I thought was rather brave of him. I joined him at his safe distance, and as we watched the Eiffel Tower broke out into glittering sparkles. The light show only lasted a few minutes, but it was so beautiful and unexpected it took my breath away.

When the Tower finished its hourly dazzle, we went up to the roof. I told him he didn't have to come with me, but he insisted. It was really windy, which just made it harder for him, but he went to the top anyway, though he did stand in the exact center of the roof while I went around the edges taking pictures. We only stayed a few moments before the wind got the best of us both (for different reasons), but to get down we had to take a metal stairway on the side, and the effect was that it looked like you were walking off the edge of the building. That was not particular secure-feeling for either of us, and we were happy to be back inside. He was even happier once we were back on solid ground. After our long métro ride back to Montmartre, I was hungry again. We got sandwiches from a convenience store again and went back to the hostel where we caught a couple of episodes of french-dubbed Sex and the City. I was surprised that he had any interest in watching, but he said he could catch a word here and there, and it was a novelty to see television in another language. Actually, come to think of it, Sex and the City was the first TV show I ever saw in french, when I visited Paris with Mom a few years ago. Clearly, it's a classic.

Saturday

We had just enough time to get Brioche Dorée (a french sandwich chain) sandwiches and eat them in the Luxembourg Gardens before I had to go catch my train to Avignon. He had to take a later train that I because he was using his Eurail pass and wasn't allowed on my train. He also had to go shopping for a new Mac charger since he'd lost his in another room at the hostel before I'd arrived. I took the TGV, and arrived in Avignon, 690km (428 miles) away, in 2 hours and 20 minutes. Did I mention I love French trains (most of the time... but we'll get to that story later...)

All told, it was definitely one of the best experiences I've ever had in Paris. Traveling with someone has many advantages, especially when they're as thoughtful as Daniel is. =)

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