An Escape to Paris

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Warning: This is a long one (with a ton of pictures)! But if you’ve ever been to Paris, you’ll understand why ❤

Over spring break I went to Paris! E and I made the decision to visit during break since one of his housemates, Mireille, is an architecture professor at UM and generously offered to let us stay in her apartment in Paris during the week. She’s usually there during the spring and summer so during these cold winter months, the apartment remains mostly unoccupied. One of the things she shared with us before our visit was a piece she wrote for an architecture journal published here called “Postcards from Paris” where she depicts the past and present of her neighborhood and the surrounding areas in both a critical and informative narrative.

Apparently E and I didn’t get the memo that for Americans, Paris is simply a place to propose to your girlfriend. Being in a 2 year serious relationship, we
got A LOT of questions about this from both family and friends. So, to be clear, NO, not this trip.

Day 1-2 | Saturday/Sunday February 25-26, 2017:

It was surprisingly $500 cheaper per ticket to fly to Paris from the Toronto airport rather than out of the Detroit airport so, first thing Saturday morning was the 4 hr mini road trip up to Toronto. After driving and the flight, we finally arrived on Sunday 7:30AM Paris time! We took the underground metro from the airport and arrived at our stop within walking distance to Mireille’s apartment.

When we took the stairs up out of the metro it was like walking into a movie scene. We were in the middle of a brick-paved plaza with a merry-go-round, birds gliding around, and we were surrounded by buildings with vastly different architecture than what I’m used to in the midwest, plus it was a gorgeous day. It took a second for me to take in the fact that I was actually here with my love for an entire week.

We walked to the apartment which was on a narrow street that we later learned used to be the Jewish neighborhood that had since been gentrified. The area is now considered the “high end” shopping district with Michael Kors and other brand name stores just around the corner. The apartment itself was cozy, clean, and warm with a small bedroom tucked away that was just large enough for a full size bed and a dresser. The main area had a vintage wooden table next to two bookcases of titles ranging from French architecture and meditation among others. The apartment was tiny but perfectly proportioned and was clearly an ideal architect’s hideout.

So during our first day in Paris we actually did a lot despite being tired from traveling and feeling like these two days were meshed into one long continuous day. First, we had lunch at this Italian place called Cafe Boboli. It was not bad for our first meal although I might have still been feeling slightly queasy from the plane (despite knocking myself out with dramamine).

Afterwards, we dropped by this small coffee shop. Mireille had told us that the only place in Paris that would ever serve you coffee in a paper to-go cup would be Starbucks. It’s just not a very Parisian thing to grab coffee to-go, in fact it might even be considered offensive. As soon as we greeted the host in our best and practiced French he immediately started speaking to us in English. At least we tried! The convenient thing was that most people in Paris speak enough English to get by with American tourists since there were a lot of us there. (And just as a side note, by the end of the week we actually managed to sound a little bit convincing with our well-practiced “bonjour” and “bonsoir” that most people would actually try to continue the conversation in French)

Since we planned on visiting quite a few museums during our week trip, E and I bought the Paris Museum Pass (~€75 each) that would allow us entry into most of the museums of Paris including the Louvre, Parthenon, Nortre Dam, etc. The first place E wanted to see was the Pompidou Modern Art Museum. The museum itself was an interesting structure that was built in the style of high tech architecture and was completed in 1977. When you first look at the building it appears to be under construction but the intention of the architects was to create a building that appeared to have no outer walls, essentially, you could see the entire foundation, stairs, and pipes, that make up the building.

I can’t pretend that I appreciate abstract art as much as classical art but there is definitely a somewhat eerie complexity behind a lot of modern art that always makes me feel somewhat uneasy. Unfortunately, most of the descriptions about each of the pieces were in French, but google was a helpful guide. One thing I regret is not renting the audio tours they had at the front desk. I think the art would have been a little more “accessible” if we had a little more foundation and information on each piece. The intriguing aspect of modern is always the effort necessary to truly understand the workings behind it in contrast to example, classical art that depicts an image or scene without needing a deeper interpretation. Also, many of the artists of the pieces were already well-known for their previous work before they made their abstract/modern pieces. They really had to know the rules in order to break them.

And of course, my favorite part of the day — dinner. We decided to explore around the Pompidou and found this cozy little crepe place called Breizh Cafe. The restaurant was full with reservations and a long wait list. The host then told us that we could eat at the place they owned next door that apparently had the same menu. We went next door and it was a little condiments/spice shop with a large wooden table right in the middle. There were maybe 2 other couples sitting around the counter and two empty spots right next to each other. It was perfect and we were surprised at how available it was since it seemed to be a better and cozier place to eat minus the crowd. E and I shared a meat plate, a savory crepe, a sweet crepe, and the best hard cider I’d ever had. E even poured some into a cup for the man sitting next to us. It was a great time.

Day 3 | Monday February 27, 2017:

Before we even arrived to Paris, E and I decided not to switch over to their time zone. Paris is just 6 hours ahead of us but since we were only going to be there for a week we didn’t want to be falling asleep mid-day when we got back. So our schedules involved waking up somewhere between 11AM and 1PM and going to bed around 1-2AM. I realized this isn’t actually an unusual schedule for most people…but back home we maintain the sleeping schedule of a 5 year old (9PM bedtime and 4-5AM wake up) so it definitely felt weird for us to see the clock ticking past midnight.

That first morning we woke up around noon and decided to grab some of the famous falafel down the street. Technically Mireille lives on “falafel street” where there are 2-3 restaurants that make the best falafel in Paris. They’re also pretty aggressively effective in grabbing customers off the street. Even if you’re just walking by they will give you a slip of paper with a number and ask what you want to order. I didn’t actually know what falafel was, but apparently this thing that I had initially called a “meatball” (E’s response, “Did you just call this a meatball? This is the furthest thing from a meatball!”) is a vegetarian deep-fried patty made from ground chickpeas and fava beans that LOOKS like a meatball.

With our falafels in hand we then made our way to the Notre-Dame Cathedral. I was a little concerned because Mireille had warned us that the older generation of Parisians may say something if we’re out walking and eating at the same time. She saw it one time when a young student was walking and eating a sandwich and an old man muttered something along the lines of, “Can’t you just take the time to sit down and eat?” Parisians appreciate their leisure time. But apparently not us Americans! We prefer being constantly busy and stressed out.

Anyways while walking to Nortre-Dame it started to rain. It drizzled at first so we pulled out our umbrellas. Then came the wind and the downpour began. Our umbrellas were pretty much destroyed and we were soaking wet. We found cover in a place called Cafes Richard, another cozy, warm coffee shop. We walked inside completely drenched and started laughing at how ridiculous we probably looked. We dried off in the bathroom and yes we did actually order coffee. I also noticed that most places did not have soy or almond milk as an alternative to milk probably because most white people are not lactose intolerant. So most of the time I was in Paris, I drank my coffee black.

Despite the rain we finally made it to the Notre-Dame Cathedral! We waited outside with the line for some time before being let in. While waiting we admired the beautiful gargoyles lining the building. I did not realize this until returning home and talking to Mireille, but “gargoyles” actually refers to the drainage rather than the popular culture definition of “gargoyle” as the little mythical monster. It is a system used to keep the run-off water from destroying the building thus, the gargoyles project a few feet off the building to drain the water that collects after rain.

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The first part of the tour involved walking around and up the stairs of the outside stone and balconies that made up the cathedral. I took a ton of photos from various windows and platforms while inside the building.

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The inside of the cathedral was even more beautiful and so intricately designed. Glass-stained windows, figures of Jesus, the 3 kings. There were also a series of boards that depicted the various centuries of the development of the cathedral starting back from the 1200s to present day. I never imagined something this old could still be standing and still used for the same purpose it was originally built for.

Afterwards we decided to head over to the Pantheon. But first E wanted to grab some coffee. I searched on google maps and found this pinterest-looking place called Nuage Cafe (which means cloud!). When we got there it was just as cute as it looked on google maps and apparently they had a different way of doing stuff. The barista explained to us that this was a place people come to do work which meant that they pay by the hour ($4/hr) with unlimited coffee and snacks included. This sounded like a dream come true since we’d probably eat all the food and drink all the coffee and just stay there for an hour and pay $4. We ended up wandering upstairs and eating in a sunny, decorated room with two other fellow Americans. They were both studying abroad and said that they came to this cafe often and there were a few others with a similar set up.

By the time we got to the Pantheon, it was 15 min before closing and they didn’t accept any more visitors. Instead, we walked over to the Luxembourg Gardens. The nice thing was that all these tourist sites were all so close to one another. The park and the Senate was a gorgeous, royal looking place.

Since the security was kicking people out of the gardens we headed to E’s beer place to have some drinks before dinner. Afterwards we bought metro passes and made our way to our dinner reservations at Le Galopin, a lovely local spot that Mireille had suggested to us.

We literally could not read anything on the menu. But it was great because the only option was to choose the 7 course meal. Every single thing was mind-blowingly delicious. And yes, I took multiple photos at various angles of each and every one of the 7 dishes that came out.

Day 4 | Tuesday February 28, 2017:

So basically our week in Paris consisted of museums and eating. E found this place that was considered the best Thai restaurant in Paris so we had to try it. It was a small restaurant called Tamarind that was just down the street from where we were staying. The first thing I noticed when we first arrived in Paris was how petite everything was, from the close proximity of all the shops, the size of the doors, staircases, sidewalks, everything just seemed smaller and reminded me of something like a movie set or “real life” exhibits in museums. This restaurant was no different. It had a tiny door and a tiny entryway that made me feel like I was walking into a dollhouse. And of course, the food was amazing and better than any Thai food I ever had back home.IMG_7114

Afterwards we didn’t do much for the next few hours besides running errands (replacing Mireille’s umbrellas that had been damaged with the weather the day before and getting some groceries to keep at the apartment). By the time we were done we planned to walk to D’orsay but it was closed! We started realizing we might have to make adjustments to our schedule since most of the museums closed relatively early between 5-7PM. So instead we headed to the Eiffel Tower. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get as many good photos as I had hoped…of course the idea of getting a lens with a wider angle happened AFTER our trip)

It was just as beautiful as I had imagined. It was strange to have known about this famous structure my whole life but only having visited it now. Constructed in 1887 and standing at 984 ft. it was impressive and a beautiful icon representing the city of love 🙂

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The funny thing is we ended up not actually going up on the little elevator thing they had inside the Eiffel Tower because there was a long line. If only we had known about the stairs we probably would have climbed our way up. But it was definitely starting to get a little cold and I couldn’t feel my fingers so we headed back!

We decided to try Ubering rather than taking the metro and my goodness it was literally 3x longer than taking the metro due to traffic. We ended up spending around an hour in the car with the Uber driver, a French girl, and her mother. Coincidentally the French girl was an engineer and actually had spent quite some time in Michigan at the automobile plants. She described Michigan as having very long summers well into September. We were surprised to hear this. She also gave us a few local restaurant recommendations!

Day 5 | Wednesday March 1, 2017:

On this day we were determined to wake up early enough to organize ourselves and our schedule to make it to Museee D’orsay! (As we know…vacations are not necessarily about being super organized).

The museum was huge with something like 5 or 6 floors. Apparently the museum used to be an old train station back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was later converted into a museum in 1978 with the actual pieces placed in 1986. It had a lot of French art including impressionist and post-Impressionist pieces. My favorites have always been Monet and Sisley. These artists’ paintings always gave me a feeling of longing and nostalgia. It’s like looking into a window of the past.

After spending a couple of hours at the museum we decided to find a place to get some food! We stopped by a small, antique-looking restaurant called les Antiquaires for a bite to eat. At this point we weren’t exactly sure whether we were eating lunch or dinner, rather we just ate food whenever our stomach’s told us we were hungry or when one of us was started to get hangry. This was the first time I had escargot! They were quite delicious but honestly I wondered if the “taste” of the snails was masked in the stuff they were cooked in. But at least I could cross that off my bucket-list! The rest of the food was amazing, which seemed to be the standard in Paris.

Our plan was to walk to the famous Angelina for their drinking chocolate but on the way there we noticed the exact location of a scene in a painting that we had observed for quite a while in the museum. It wasn’t amazing to see that the painter had stepped foot in the same place we were standing around 150 years ago. I first noticed it by the bold, bronze statue of Jeanne D’Arc (Joan of Arc) in the middle of the street and further confirmed by the elaborate building of the Musée Des Arts Décoratifs right behind it.

Next stop, Angelina! (I kept calling it “Angelina’s” and apparently adding a possessive “s” to everything is a very midwestern habit). The place was very elegantly decorated. We were seated relatively quickly and we ordered the famous drinking chocolate they’re known for. They served us the drinking chocolate in a medium size pitcher along with our teacups.

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As much as I wanted to love it, it was just a little too thick and heavy. Delicious, but heavy. It kind of reminded me of when you don’t mix powdered hot chocolate properly and end up with this thick residue at the bottom of the cup but without the graininess. I think I probably would have appreciated it much more if it had been in like half a teacup size…or if I had only drank half a teacup size, but we know that would never happen when whole pitcher is placed in front of me.

Since we actually planned our day properly and stuck to a general schedule, our next stop was the Musée du Louvre that was just across the street from Angelina. While we were walking over it started raining pretty hard! We had gotten pretty used to the heavy rains at this point and managed to find cover under the Carrousel Arc de Triomphe just across the street from the Louvre. I later found out that this arc was built in the early 1800s and displays Napoleon and his chariot on top of the structure to commemorate his military victories. We finally decided to make a run for it and I even managed to snap some photos with my camera with E’s help holding the umbrella.

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The Louvre was open until 10PM that day so we weren’t pressed on time. We walked around admiring the hundreds of extraordinarily detailed paintings. Of course, the one thing every tourist wanted to see was the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa. When we arrived in the room with the Mona Lisa, the first thing I noticed was how tiny it was! For some reason I had always expected it to be at least 3×5’ or something along those dimensions but it couldn’t have been any larger than a 2×3’. We couldn’t get too close since they placed rope barriers but it was easy to admire the painting from a distance.

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I thought D’orsay was huge, the Louvre was even bigger. After a few hours I had thought we had covered at least most of the museum but we had just seen around two floors of the first building with two other buildings we had not even stepped foot in. The incredible condition and richness in color of all the paintings amazed me. There is definitely a simplistic and accessible beauty in the paintings found at the Louvre that, unlike the pieces at Pompidou, don’t necessarily have an underlying interpretation, but rather, have a purpose to depict a scene or to tell a story of a different time. Either way, classical art never fails to elicit an emotion I can most certainly relate to.

I was actually texting and snapchatting some of my dental school friends and apparently Tiff had a favorite painting in the Louvre called the “Pilgrimage to Cythera”. We were just about to go so we made it our last stop in the museum. It took us some time to find it but we finally did!

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I swear I thought this painting was of some people taking music lessons but apparently there was a much deeper explanation and story behind the making of this masterpiece. Tiff gave us all a rundown. The artist behind this painting, Jean-Antoine Watteau, always had had trouble with his own love life like many of us and decided to make a masterpiece out of it depicting a fictional and utopic island called Cythera, the island of love. It has been a point of controversy of whether the people are leaving the island of love or just arriving. It was interesting to note the stark contrast between the interactions of the couple on the right side who are very engaged with each other versus those closer to the edge of the island who are hardly paying attention to each other at all.

After dropping by Tiff’s painting we walked around a few more exhibits, one which included all the royal stuff! Aka rubies, diamonds, and (non-dental) crowns!

We finally decided it was time to eat and found this place right across from the Louvre. It actually took us a while to find a place we both liked because we were only “kind of” hungry since it was technically only 4PM EST. The waiter was hilarious. They must get a ton of tourists being right across from the Louvre. He started speaking to us in French and, apologetically, we had to let him know we don’t speak French! He replied, “Of course you don’t!!” We snacked on a meat and cheese plate and actually ordered a few drinks for the first time in Paris.

Neither E nor I are partiers or nightlife people. In fact we are both very much homebody introverts who prefer to lay in bed and watch Netflix BUT we finally decided to “go out” this night to a bar after dinner. We found ourselves at Jefrey’s, a vintage-themed 1950s bar. It was a small space with a second floor, a record player, a table of Americans, and “vintage” drinks.

Day 6 | Thursday 2, 2017:

Finally this morning we made some time to go shopping! There were a ton of stores around the neighborhood that I had been eyeing and apparently E had been eyeing too. But with all the museums and things to do, shopping was not a huge priority. Since we were around the gentrified neighborhood, everything was a little pricey so we didn’t end up buying anything! Which I guess is a good thing when I’m racking up a couple hundred thousands in dental student loans. At the same time, while walking over to lunch we saw some very creative homeless people who had attached a paper cup to the end of a line on a fishing pole. The hung the cup over people walking by. It was amazing. People were either very annoyed or very amused.

For lunch we went to this little brunch place called Le Pain Quotidien (which means “the daily bread”) that the French girl in the uber had recommended. Despite it being a little chilly outside, it was sunny so we decided to eat in the outdoor section to get a bit of fresh air…or so we had thought. We were so wrong!! The outdoor section in Paris = the smoking section. I was surprised when I first arrived in Paris how common it was for people to smoke. Anyways, the food was delicious, I admit a tiny but bland, but it definitely felt home-cooked and healthy.

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And then…we did it. We went to Starbucks in Paris. I know I know, I why would we ever go to Starbucks when there are hundreds of amazing coffee places around us? Basically because we wanted a to-go paper cup coffee and most of the cafes didn’t do that because it’s just not the culture in France to be rushing around with a cup of coffee in hand. In France, coffee is to be enjoyed while taking time to relax. I also did buy one of those collectors mugs to add to my “You Are Here” Starbucks mug collection. (I can’t wait to actually take them out of storage and use them in my future house). Which also means I can’t ever deny going to Starbucks in Paris.

Next stop, the Panthéon. (Not to be confused with the Roman Pantheon). The Panthéon was one of the most, if not the most impressive structure I have ever seen. It stands at 272’ ft. tall and was completed around 1790 to be initially used as a church. (I am still beating myself up over the fact that I didn’t buy a wide angle lens BEFORE going to Paris).

IMG_7449The Panthéon houses the remains of many distinguished French citizens including Louis Braille and Marie Curie. The inscription above the entrance reads, “AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE” which means, “To great men, the grateful homeland”.

Finally we made our way to the Catacombs. If you haven’t heard about what the catacombs are, you will probably be as shocked as I was. The Catacombs is an underground labyrinth that contains the remains of over 6 million French citizens from times past…all stacked up in a nice organized manner that makes the whole thing even more macabre. And did I mention that it spans beneath the entire city of Paris? Yup, there are remains of people long gone even under Mireille’s happy, cozy apartment. The Catacombs was established in 1738 as there was a problem with overflowing cemeteries. The bones were transferred from the cemeteries to the underground tunnels between 1786 and 1788 and more were added to this underground graveyard the following years. The catacombs then became a tourist attraction in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Only a small portion of the catacombs is open to tourists as there had been a number of cave-ins in the past.

For obvious reasons I had been very hesitant about entering these potentially claustrophobic-inducing tunnels that were lined with human remains. But, having experienced “cadaver lab” I figured that maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. Plus, E really wanted to go!

We arrived at the entrance pretty early so fortunately there was no line. They gave us each a little hand-held audio guide and we were down the 130 steps pretty quickly. There were a number of dark passageways (no bones here yet!) with a black painted line on the roof of the tunnel that followed the entire length. The audio guide informed us that back in the day the line was painted there so someone could see which direction they were going with just a candlelight. These tunnels were creepy enough, I could not imagine being down there without the lights they had installed every couple of meters. Apparently, the Catacombs was considered the “negative” of Paris as the tunnels also paralleled the roads and had the same street names as the ones above ground. Another creepy, fun fact…

Right before we entered the ossuary we were welcomed with an inscription about the threshold that read, “ARRÊTE! C’EST İCİ L’EMPİRE DE LA MORT”, which dramatically read, “Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead”. As we walked through the ossuary we found a number of skulls lining the walls along with femurs and tibias. I was definitely a bit spooked at first, but being with E, his mind was not on the creepiness of all this but rather he was busy making diagnoses of abnormalities and diseases he was observing in some of the skulls. Aka a fused C1 to the occiput, a persistent metopic suture, a hole at the base of the skull likely caused by a tumor…his commentary made it a lot less creepy.

IMG_7557The whole distance of the underground tour was a little less than a mile. The audio guide also gave us interesting facts such as that one time in the 1850s when a private event was held in the catacombs when an entire orchestra had an exclusive performance next to all the bones. An interesting venue. Anyways visiting the Catacombs was definitely one of the highlights of the trip and I’m glad I agreed to go!

We also had dinner reservations this night at Les Enfants Rouges (the red children?!). Again, the most delicious meals seem to come from the menus we can’t read. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the best photos here since we were in direct light but every atom of the food seemed to be perfectly and deliberately arranged. It was delicious.

Day 7 | Friday March 3, 2017:

This was our last full day in Paris. I had made a half-hearted effort to study but that plan didn’t work out too well despite having a couple midterms the week after break (and fyi I ended up doing okay!). We decided to take it easy this day and visit the square near the Bastille called Place des Vosges that Mireille had recommended. It is the oldest square in Paris and was surrounded by a number of art galleries, perfume shops, and restaurants. The square itself was pretty lively with children as it was nearby a school. It really looked like a timeless scene straight out of a movie. We stopped by a few of the art galleries and I awkwardly stopped into a perfume store where I indecisively decided if I wanted to buy something or not. I still don’t know if I should have bought that perfume…

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Although it was already 3PM at this time we decided to grab a late lunch at this place called Le Petit Italien, another recommendation from the French girl in the Uber. I was really craving something like truffle pasta and it was perfect because they had exactly that.

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Afterwards we headed back and had ice cream at one of the small stores by the apartment. If only everyday could be a vacation in Paris.

Back at the apartment we did some chores around the place to clean up to make our morning a little easier the next day. We then made our last stop to the Pompidou Center! We came here on our first day but E wanted to go back to see one of the floors we didn’t get a chance to explore.

Afterwards we made the decision to also go back to that same crepe restaurant, Breizh Cafe, we went to on the first day. Returning to the places we visit on the first day of vacation seems to be a recurrent thing we do on vacations. And of course it was just as delicious as it was the first time.

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Overall our trip to Paris was amazing and we might even have learned a little bit of French. In retrospect, one of my favorite things about this trip was the time I got to spend with E just hanging out in Mireille’s cozy apartment pretending that I wasn’t a dental student and he wasn’t a resident. Most days after exploring the city we’d make tea and snuggle in to watch a movie. Back home I do get time with E but because of our busy schedules it can make finding quality time difficult. But during this trip I got to spend an entire week with him in the city of love ❤

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