Vive La France! (Day 2)


On Friday morning, May 23rd, we woke up in Paris. Let me just say that again: we woke up in Paris. Pinch me! This can’t be real. It was 7:50 AM, and though our bodies thought it was the middle of the night, we couldn’t wait to go explore the city and visit the Louvre Museum.

First stop – breakfast. We chose a cafe on our hotel’s side street, mostly because it was close and open. Inside it looked like a standard cafe – black tables and chairs, food and coffee on display, large windows to allow the sunshine in and patrons to view the streets of Paris. It was nice. We approached the lady at the counter and began with “Bonjour Madame!” Even though I’m pretty sure our attire screamed “We’re American tourists!” she spoke to us in French, and we made an attempt to muddle through with her. Muddling involved a lot of pointing and butchering of the French language (sorry Mom), but we ended up with a café au lait, a café allongé (espresso with added water), a gaufe (think waffle, no syrup), a salade nicoise, and 2 bottles of water. Success!

We strolled the Champs Elysees in the opposite direction of the previous day, away from the Arc de Triomphe and toward the Louvre Museum. We’d purchased a museum pass the day before in a convenience store, so we did not have to wait in the ticket lines. I’d like to take a moment to thank my brilliant husband for finding out about this pass beforehand, because it saved us many hours of precious time that otherwise would have been burned waiting in long ticket lines. Thank you, brilliant husband.

When we got to the Louvre, it was about 9:15, and that is apparently THE TIME to go, because there were very few people. By the time we left, the tour buses packed with people coming from outside Paris had arrived to storm the place, so it was packed. But when we first arrived, it was fairly quiet. Which was nice – always easier to enjoy art when you aren’t trying to elbow your way through a crowd. Anxious to get into the museum proper, we did not stop to enjoy the gardens.

You may be shocked to hear that we saw the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. Who knew those two pieces of art were in the Louvre? The funny part is, even though there were signs pointing toward the Mona Lisa everywhere, the Louvre is so ginormous that we got lost trying to find her and Venus. Yes we did. But! Getting lost turned out to be a good thing, because we discovered some art in the quieter areas of the museum that we both really enjoyed. Giovanni Paolo Pannini (I will not make a sandwich joke), Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Four Seasons, and Napoleon’s Coronation by David were wonderful. The painting by David was wonderful enough to inspire my husband to buy a 1,000 piece puzzle of it. You too can bring a piece of the Louvre home for 20 euros!

We found the crowds when we finally found the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. Mona was underwhelming in size, and there were barriers to keep the crowds from getting anywhere near her. Venus was also roped off. But we came, we saw, and we took a selfie.

Next stop, the Musée d’Orsay. Once again, we bypassed the long ticket lines, flashed our museum passes, went through security, and visited with Monet, Manet, Degas, and Renoir. This museum was decidedly less mobbed, so I felt comfortable spending a little more time standing in front of the paintings that struck me. Damian enjoys the French impressionist painters, so he appreciated this museum as well.

We sought out a street cafe/brasserie for lunch, off the beaten path, and sat at a cute little table outside, right on the sidewalk, watching the people go by. We shared a fromage plate – our first experience with fine French cheese! – and a sandwich while listening to the people around us laugh and fire rapid-French phrases at one another. That was fun, but just a bit disconcerting, because we figured everyone around us could likely understand us, even though we couldn’t understand them. I refrained from saying things like, “Egads! Look at that lady’s horrible shoes!” though, and the other tables pretty much ignored us.

After lunch we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral. Though it was packed with people, it was spectacular. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of walking into a building that old, with ceilings so impossibly high, filled with detailed carvings and stained glass, knowing it was all made by humans without the benefit of modern machinery. I loved the place so much that we came back again another day.

Afterward, we wandered the streets for a bit, snapping pictures and enjoying the scenery, made our way back to the hotel, cleaned up, and headed out for the event of the evening: dinner at Spring. I brought a dress and a pair of high-heeled ballroom dance shoes for the occasion. The dance shoes, I figured, are built to withstand major impact, so I thought I’d be able to walk around Paris without killing my feet in such shoes. We did metro over, but there was still a lot of walking involved. You’ll be happy to know that, because of those shoes, I did not die.

Our reservation was for 7:30. Since 8:00 – 8:30 is really when most people begin their evening meal in Paris, we were worried we’d be the only dorks there. We weren’t. Other dorks had arrived before us, most likely at 7:00. Spring is a small restaurant, and they appear to do a seating at 7:00/7:30 and another at 9:00/9:30. The reason being that everyone in the restaurant is served the same meal, so they do two rounds. The entire dinner is a chef’s tasting/wine pairing event with no menu. You just walk in, sit down, and prepare to eat whatever the chef decides to throw at you.

Being adventurous eaters, and not being able to read French menus, we were excited about this concept. And the chef did not disappoint.

The first course was a creamy cold pea soup, frogs legs (served fried, tasted a bit like rich dark meat turkey), finely sliced cucumbers in a tangy dressing, and champagne. Delicious. The second course was white and green asparagus with ahi tuna and smoked butter served with a Pouilly Fuissé white wine – mouth-watering and perfectly paired by the friendly sommelier. The third course featured red snapper with the skin on in a light crispy fashion, served with Swiss chard, caramelized onions and a frothy wine/stock reduction and paired with a Côtes du Rhône crispy chardonnay. The fourth course was tender lamb with roasted carrots, shitake mushrooms and a marsala wine glaze, served with a deep red wine (I don’t recall the specifics of this wine – can’t imagine why).

Finally, as we were about to start waving our white flag of surrender, dessert arrived. I learned that, while I don’t tolerate sugar well in general, I was able to eat desserts in France with little trouble. Nothing we had was particularly sweet, which was perfect for my palate. Dessert consisted of four tiny little dishes: a lemon meringue, a lemon sorbet, a raspberry cheesecake, and a blackberry mousse, all paired with a light dessert wine. It was one of the best meals of our lives, and I’m glad to be able to say that, because it was nearly $450.00, making it THE most expensive meal of our lives.

Another interesting tidbit about this meal: I could see the kitchen from our table, so I was able to watch the wild food preparation while we ate. Closest to me was the guy whose sole purpose was to plate the food in an artistic manner. This guy had a look of intense concentration on his face as he chose various items and garnishes to place on all of the dishes in front of him. A coin-thin piece of toast here, a swirled squirt of sauce there – it was entertaining as well as delectable.

We stumbled home afterward and slept our way to our next day, a visit to Versailles…..


10 Days in France/Switzerland, Day 1



To celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, Damian and I visited France and Switzerland. There aren’t adequate adjectives in English to describe how incredible this trip was. Maybe in French, but not in English. Alas, je ne parles pas francais (save a few key phrases), so I’m going to muddle through in English and try to do justice to our experiences. (Note: no we did not take the kids. They were in the capable hands of their wonderful grandparents, whom we are eternally grateful for.) I’m going to talk about the trip one day at a time.

We flew from BWI to Charlotte, NC and then over the pond to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on Wednesday, May 21st. It was a red eye, so we landed in Paris at around 7 AM on Thursday, 5/22. We found our bags without much ado, which was fortunate because we were pretty delirious from the flight. Passports in hand, we took our bags and prepared to deal with French customs.

This is where I got my first lesson on the French. I’m used to US customs where you are required to complete paperwork, go through several checkpoints and answer multiple questions before they’ll let you into our country. The French, not so much. I was all prepared to smile and assure whomever was helping me that my reasons for entering the country were all on the up and up, but the guy didn’t even look at me, or my passport, as he flipped to a random page and stamped me right on into his country. Next! Any Dick or Jane can just stroll on into France, I guess.

Our next challenge was figuring out the French train system. We had no Euros at this point, and to purchase train tickets you need either a human at a ticket counter or Euro coins to buy the tickets from the automated machines (or a chip & pin credit card, which we don’t have). No problem – we’ll just break out our two key phrases of “Bonjour Madame!” followed by “Parles vous anglais?” and get some train tickets to our hotel. Seems reasonable, right?

Wrong. Here’s where I got lesson two on the French. They go on strike all the time. Guess which day they decided to strike? That’s right! The day we arrived.

So we’re in France, we’re delirious, we don’t speak French, we’ve got no human and no coins with which to purchase train tickets. We can’t walk from Charles de Gaulle to our hotel, which is steps off of the Champs Elysees.


I felt like we were in an episode of The Amazing Race. Luckily we didn’t panic. I think we were too tired to panic, really. We eventually found a ticket counter on the lower level of the train station with a human (and a huge long line of tourists like us trying to buy train tickets). The signs were in French, but we managed to get in the right line, buy tickets, and take the SNCF train (which was bigger than the metro trains, but not as big as the high speed trains) about 30 minutes to the Paris metro.

Let me just say, thank God we know how to ride the DC/New York metros, because obviously all the maps were in French, but once you’ve ridden a metro, you can figure it out anywhere. And we did. We found our destination, found our metro trains, lugged our luggage on board, and zipped off around the Paris underground to the Franklin Roosevelt exit on the Champs Elysees. Which we almost missed, because “Franklin Roosevelt” pronounced with a heavy French accent sounds like “Fronk-Lynne-Rose-Felt” – what? Who’s that?

Fortunately our hotel, the Elysees Mermoz Hotel, which is literally steps off of the Champs Elysees, was not hard to find. Unfortunately check in was not until 2 PM, so our ideas of a snack and nap went to hell in a handbasket. We were able to check our bags with the friendly receptionist, though, and we struck out to wander the streets of Paris in our semi-delirious state.

We meandered up the Champs Elysees all the way to the Arc De Triomphe, which we had seen in movies and many times while watching the Tour de France. It was fairly quiet that morning, perhaps because it was chilly and rainy (or maybe it was just early), so we were able to pause and really take it in without being mobbed by other tourists. Seeing the street paved with cobblestones and looking at the shop windows along the Champs Elysees gave me my first real feeling of “we’re in Paris!” We were so in awe of our surroundings that we just wandered around, soaking in the feel of the place.

Eventually we decided we were hungry, and though we knew the food would be overpriced on the Champs Elysees, we decided to stop at a brasserie/café right on the street and people watch while we ate. We wanted the experience, and it was worth it. I whipped out the other key phrase I know in French, “Un cafe au lait, s’il vous plait,” and was rewarded with a delicious, if itty bitty, cup of coffee. Damian enjoyed his first crepe and a 14-euro coffee/liqueur drink with whipped cream in a fancy glass. And, like we love to do in Las Vegas, we watched the people stroll by.

We saw a lot of high-heeled shoes on the ladies. Bright colors, from teal to yellow, regardless of the color of the rest of the attire. Even the sneakers had high-heeled wedges. Lots of black tights with black shoes as well, which was the one in-fashion way that we seem to line up with the French at the moment. The French businessmen wore suits which were short and tight. An interesting look, if you can pull it off.

Two o’clock finally arrived, and we checked in at our hotel. The Elysees Mermoz Hotel is a boutique hotel, with only 20 rooms, decorated with colorful modern art by local artists. Our room was small but very nice, and the location was unbeatable. We had a king-sized bed and lovely windows that opened up to the street. I enjoyed sticking my head out of that window and just looking up and down the street, watching the people bustling by.

We had tickets to go up the Eiffel Tower at 4 o’clock, which Damian pre-purchased back in the US to save us two hours in the ticket line (he had to get up a 2:30 AM to buy them, because they sell a limited amount, and they go on sale at 8:30 AM in France, selling out within minutes). We zipped past the ticket line and got in line for the elevator ride up. We did wait for a bit on the second tier of the tower, but that was nothing, and the views from the top were everything we hoped for. Beginning the trip with a spectacular panorama of the city we were visiting for the first time was breathtaking and informative. Nothing like a bird’s eye view.

When we hit the street again we found a stand selling wine and bought some to enjoy in the gardens at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Sitting down in a little rose garden area and looking up at the tower while sipping a glass of French red wine was a beautiful moment in the day. We slowed our pace to relax and appreciate the beauty around us.

Afterward we found a local dinner place called Le Royal off a side street that offered a prix fixe menu for only 13 euros that included an appetizer, an entree, dessert and wine! It was delicious and the by far the best value we found anywhere on our trip. I had foie gras, chicken and rice, and a small chocolate/orange mousse, and we shared two carafes of red/white wine.

After that, we crashed for 10 hours into a world of oblivion. The next day we moved on to tour the Louvre……