Friday 3 – Sunday 5 February 2012

Term II Paris

Okay I am finally going to do it, I am going to write this Paris blog-a month late, blimey it’s nearly March and the trip was the first week of February. Okay I can do this, I refuse to allow March to come along and still have unwritten blogs from the first weeks of February, that is just lazy and then they will probably never get written and I will have a re-run of last term when it is the deadline for my 15 and I will be racking my brain to find something to write about. Ugh, plus at that point I will have exams coming up and have to start preparing to return to the States…yuck, I refuse to think about that.  Anyway, Paris!

…Note to self: do not polish fingernails and expect to be able to type afterwards.

…Further note to self: when typing is impossible due to wet nails read a school book not free read book which should’ve never been started in the first place. Annoyances. In retrospect I should’ve done what Liz did and make notes about each day before turning in for the night (or rather the morning because we didn’t return to the hotel until 2am each night); I would make a terrible journalist.

I don’t like airports, nor do I really like flying. Airports are too loud for reading, too active for simply relaxing (no wonder why everyone who travels is stressed it’s like being trapped in a spinning class and the instructor keeps yelling at you to go faster when you are already at top speed), and just all around too much. Flying really is no better, sure reading is possibly but the feeling of being trapped in a giant metal object while artificial air is mixing the giant cloud of germs invisibly occupying the entire cabin is just unenjoyably and often a bit nerve-wracking (I’m a bit of a germaphobe), not to mention the bumps and drops due to turbulence. But none of this- the airport, the too-muchness, the plane, the germs- bothered me on Friday 3 March, because I was heading to Paris to spend a fabulous weekend with my fantastic friend Liz, the countdown was finally up! Though, I did get to the airport to early and was nearly pushed to a life of crime due to boredom (Edinburgh airport is quite small), when my flight finally boarded (after a gate change and a ten minute delay). The two hour flight to Paris’ Charles De Gaul airport was spent hopelessly trying to read the Walter Scott novel The Bride of Lammermoor (for Scottish Literature) and when that went nowhere, listening to music and staring out the window at all the little lights. When we finally landed in Paris it was 9pm and snowing! Snow truly is magical and brings good things, so when I stepped off the plane into the cool French air with the soft white flakes dancing down from the heavens I knew that it was going to be a good trip.

It took me about an hour to get from Charles de Gaul airport to the Albe Hotel on the rue de la Harpe in the Latin quarter (Liz flew into the city airport so we decided that we would meet at the hotel). When I finally got my bearings and found the hotel, I stood outside for a bit figuring that Liz hadn’t yet arrived. I stood for a minute or so soaking in the winter Paris atmosphere when I heard my name called and turned around to discover Liz standing in the doorway of the hotel (really don’t know how I missed that the lobby was about the size of my flat and it was basically all glass, she must’ve been hiding in some super-secret corner). With the completion of our party of two we checked into the hotel and climbed the stairs up to our room whose door was situated in the smallest bloody hallway I have ever seen! It was like being in a fun house, the hall seemed to be leaning a bit to one side and I was afraid that if we ventured the two feet into it to get to our door we would start to slide towards the wall and then get trapped in the smallness; but we didn’t, rather we safely entered our fantastically sized room and immediately started to fill each other in on our trips and get ready to go out for a very late dinner (it was by this time eleven). After a quick change and makeup check plus a bit of baggage unpacking, we tromped back down the stairs and returned outside to choose one of the many restaurants all of which looked good. We –meaning of course Liz since I figured that she probably has a better eye for good French restaurants than me- settled on one that was right around the corner from us and both enjoyed a delicious and hot dinner crepe thing that has a special name that eludes me. Over dinner we discussed our living arrangements for the coming year and set down a game plan to convince our fabulous friend Devon to be our third roommate (which he happily accepted a week or so later, woo!). After dinner we ventured out into the cold Paris air again and decided to take a midnight walk along the river, which was quite amazing, in fact, it was so lovely that we did it again the following night. On our walk we caught each other up on our lives some but mostly just chatted about everything and anything as if six months hadn’t passed since we had just seen each other. At one point we decided to leave the street and go down onto the walkway closer to the Seine. Being the over paranoid individual that I am I was a bit skittish and mentioned this to Liz, she responded that she really should be more paranoid but for some reason her ‘freak out’ meter doesn’t go off that often; right as she said this we turned a corner to see a man dressed in a red tracksuit obviously drunk, standing on one of the many benches and just staring at nothing. Liz looked at me and we both quietly but quickly retreated, laughing at the fact that as soon as she had said her ‘freak out’ meter doesn’t often go off we encountered a situation that made it go off. After walking around for a while longer we grew cold and decided to return to the Latin Quarter and have some hot chocolate. We chose a lovely little pub with a cute bartender whom we obviously made uncomfortable with our longing looks. We returned to the room at about two, enjoyed some more conversation and opening of gifts (we were celebrating Liz’s 21st birthday) and then turned in about three.

The next morning we woke up at about half-eight, got dressed and just decided to have breakfast at the hotel instead of wandering around looking for a place. Since both of us had been to Paris and done most of the touristy stuff we didn’t really have any specific places we wanted to go, and were more loosy goosy deciding that we would go where the day led us. Basically the only things we really wanted to do was go shopping (it was the last week of the sales and Liz needed some new boots) and go to the Moulin Rouge. It was a very cold clear day that demanded us to layer and even with a few layers and scarves it was still pretty chilly even though the sun was out. We started off by shopping, which was fun though I didn’t find anything but Liz found some fantastic boots that were on a pretty good sale. After about an hour plus of wandering around the shops we decided that it would be a good idea to head over to the Moulin Rouge (I say we but I mean Liz because she had been to Paris a year or so before during the summer for a month and knew when was a good time to go somewhere) because it got a bit sketchy after dark. So we hopped on the metro and headed to Pigalle (where Moulin Rouge and the sex district are). When we were a few stops from our designated one Liz suggested that we go one farther and stop at Abbesses for lunch because there would be more restaurants there than in Pigalle. We agreed that this was a good choice because as we sat on the metro we both had just hit a moment of exhaustion and knew we should eat so that we could continue to enjoy the day. At Abbesses we found an absolutely delicious restaurant where Liz got duck and I got by far the best spaghetti bolognas I have ever had. After lunch, since we were about a block away, we went up to the stunning white structure of Sacre Coeur which is built on the highest natural point in Paris. Sacre Coeur, like St. Peter’s, is one of those religious buildings that is just mind blowingly beautiful with the light pooling in through every window making the white stone gleam and glow. The building does what it is supposed to do, make one feel the presence of God (I am not religious so this statement doesn’t really apply to me but the purpose of the windows in churches is to let in the light of God). After dragging ourselves out of Sacre Coeur – could spend my entire life in there and it still wouldn’t be enough- we got back onto the metro and headed from the holy to the centre of sin; yes indeedy the infamous sex district of Paris and home of the red windmill: Moulin Rouge.

I have been told a few times that the Moulin Rouge isn’t what most expect and some even say that they are disappointed, I don’t agree. Though the Moulin Rouge wasn’t as mystical as I had believed it would be (and the movie starring Nicole Kidman makes it out to be) it was still a really cool building that I would say is worth seeing. For goodness sake it is a giant red windmill on top of a building, how is that not cool. Since we were in the sex district, Liz told me to choose a sex shop to go into (makes perfect sense, just like when you are in Amsterdam you should at least go into a pot café, in Paris’ sex district you should go into a sex shop). I finally chose one that had obviously gotten its outside decoration ideas from Sex and the City (chose it because I love the show), ended up being a pretty good choice…as sex shops go I suppose, because it wasn’t completely seedy but it wasn’t classy and they had a good variety of things. I felt strange looking at all the sex videos, toys, etc. but it was fun none the less only because I was with Liz though, with anyone else it would just have been uncomfortable. (Rule 1: about the sex district, go with people you feel completely comfortable with and who are comfortable with sex themselves because if you don’t then you just don’t get the full experience). The only really just shocking and awkward thing about the shop I chose was that they had porn playing, so when I entered the store and looked up my eyes were scolded by the indescribable-ness of it. It was funny when two men walked in because they did the whole look down and avert eye contact thing, oh the shame that comes to those entering a sex shop for an actual purpose. We wandered around Pigalle for a while (we planned to go back to Abbesses for dinner) we went into the Moulin Rouge official store which was really cool because they had a video of the show playing and it was cool to see what the show consists of , though it looked like something you could see in Vegas. We then ventured into a really cool nick knack store with all sorts of strange things like a sexy leg lamp (like the one from ‘A Christmas Story’), Elvis, Betty Boop, Simpsons memorabilia, etc. By now the sun was beginning to descend so we decided to head back to the metro and back to Abbesses to watch the sunset and then go have dinner. But of course before we left we had to stop into another, classier, sex shop that was aimed primarily at women (which was probably why it was classier, men don’t need class to be comfortable in a sex environment, women are less primal…though…that is an arguable statement). This store was a lot more enjoyable than the last one because it had really pretty lingerie with small gems and lace, plus fun dirty things like a penis shaped ice mould and the whole upstairs was covered in different pleasure toys, and in one corner they even had S&M supplies. It was all pretty funny though I am far too uptight for any of that stuff; it’s like looking at designer things: you enjoy looking at it but would never buy any of it.

By the time we got back to Abbesses and Sacre Coeur it was downright freezing and we had a few minutes before the sun really started to go down so we decided to try and locate the Eiffel tower, this was an embarrassing moment in my life. As we walked in the direction of the tower Liz suddenly said ‘there it is!’ I looked around frantically but couldn’t find it and asked ‘where?’, ‘there’; I kept looking around like a lunatic when at last I looked right in front of me and there it was rising high into the pink and orange sky; the majestic symbol of Paris. By this time the sun was on its full descent and there were quite a lot of people bracing against the arctic cold to watch Paris, arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world, go from day into darkness. There are no words that will ever be able to describe that sunset, it was truly amazing and I urge everyone to put on their list of ‘things to do before I die’ watch sunset from Sacre Coeur. The air was hazy despite the cold (pollution probably but that is not in any way romantic, so it needs to be ignored) and like Monet’s water lilies, but with pinks and oranges instead of blues, greens, and purples, the whole scene seemed utterly unreal and magical; I can still see it. With the sun’s final wave before it disappeared the reality of the temperature drop hit both Liz and I with an astonishing force so our hopes of watching Paris light up (specifically the Eiffel Tower) were dashed against the iceberg that had just formulated in the air and we decided to go to a café for a warm drink and just warmth in general (it was too early for dinner). We found a lovely café full of character and life in which we enjoyed some hot tea and finally caught up on things from the previous term.

After tea we once again ventured into the freezing cold (to give an idea of the cold, last year at my home institute we had a day during which it was negative 15degrees F and I could literally feel my lungs freezing within as I breathed, it was close to feeling that cold, I was concerned that I would lose my fingers to frostbite because I has to keep taking my mittens off to take pictures) to look at the Eiffel tower all lit up and to see Sacre Coeur light up (if our trip had a theme to it it would be: Paris light up –or Paris at night but that is over used). We then did a very minimal amount of gift shopping – I have a serious postcard addiction and needed to get some for all of my people, of course I ended up buying double the amount I needed- before we were both so cold again that we just decided to go to dinner. We chose this really cute little place that had a deal of three courses: a starter, entrée, and desert for 19 euro (that is really good), it was one of the best meals I have ever had. If you are going to Paris the best thing to spend money on is food, they have the most amazing food there; I have been to Italy and I by far think French food is better. After a mouth-watering dinner of cheese ravioli, duck, and a type of French chocolate cake, we bundled up again and headed back to the metro and back to the Latin district to go back to the hotel and get ready for our final night, luckely enough since it was a Saturday night the place was alive and pulsing with activity. We returned to Notre Dame to see if it was lit up (the night before it wasn’t) and were pleased to see that it was. we then ventured over to the Pantheon around midnight (but stopped for a nutella crepe on the way – well I did- and Liz got ‘chatted up’ by the older crepe maker) and were stunned by the magnificence of the Pantheon as it was bathed in the cool light of the full moon. Liz made a few rebellious poses in front of the building and then told me some interesting history and facts about it (which she had been doing all day, it was like a fantastic personal Paris tour) before we started back down to the river to find a pub for some mulled wine (for Liz) and some non-alcoholic drink for me. On our way back Liz decided that she now wanted a nutella crepe so we stopped at a completely different crepe place for fear of the other crepe master who wanted a piece of Liz and were chatted up by the that crepe maker (I really don’t know what it is about Parisian crepe makers they are just forward with American girls, haha). Back by Notre Dame the Latin Quarter was pulsing with the Saturday night life and after wandering around a bit we decided on a very busy pub but as we sat waiting to get served we both decided that we didn’t really like that place so we left and just went back to the place we went the night before, mostly for the cute bartender. This ended up being a good choice because the place was busy but it wasn’t ‘yell to be heard’ loud and the live band from the night before was playing, plus the waiter remembered us; so did the bartender (I caught his eye at one point and he acknowledged that he remembered me with a nervous nod, oh yeah). We stayed at the pub until about two and then dragged our tired selves back to the hotel and were in bed by three.

On the final day of our weekend holiday we woke to snow!! It wasn’t a violent, angry snow that shot quickly down from the clouds making people run from the open into the closed warmth of nearby buildings; but rather a soft, gentle snow that would be described as ‘dancing’ from the white heavens, fluttering and falling softly on the quiet, peaceful city below (snow like this usually brings a sense of calm and quiet). The scene was so beautiful that we could hardly draw our eyes away from the window (but another reason why we couldn’t look away may have been our thirst for the cool air that we knew awaited us outside because our room was absolutely BOILING hot and no matter what we did we couldn’t seem to get it to cool down, we were sleeping in a bloom’n sauna). The picturesqueness of the snow and anticipation to see the city with this new backdrop made our departure from the hotel that much faster and when we finally did get outside the snowflakes welcomed us with wee cold kisses.

For our final day in Paris –we had both arranged evening flights out so that we would have two days- we started off by going right around the corner from our hotel to the British owned bookstore ‘Shakespeare & Co.’. By far one of the coolest bookstores I have ever been in; it was a two story building with bookshelves from floor to ceiling in every room. In the back there was a little hidden staircase big enough for only one person at a time, which led up to the interestingly decorated upstairs. In the children’s section upstairs there was an alcove where people had written notes on whatever they had and stuck them to the walls and ceiling with mostly Band-Aids but some with stickers or tape or a tack here and there (though why someone would be carrying a tack around with them is beyond me). Liz and I decided that we would add to the collage, my note was written on the back of one of my many recipes from the University of Edinburgh library. The ‘Shakespeare & Co.’ is a very cool bookstore and should definitely be on everyone’s ‘go to’ list for Paris, though the books are expensive it is worth going just for the décor; but of course being the book addict that I am I did end up buying a used book (Muriel Spark’s Not to Disturb).

After the bookstore we walked over to Notre Dame because no matter how many times you have been to Paris you always need to make a visit to Notre Dame (by this time it had stopped snowing). Since it was a Sunday when we went into Notre Dame Sunday service was in progress and I will say that even though I’m not specifically religious, the effect that the candles and incense added to the beauty of the building was amazing; there was a sweet smelling, warm haze all around. We then decided to walk down the Seine to the Louvre and then turned around to go to the modern art museum, Pompidou. On our way to the Pompidou we stopped in a patisserie and got five different delicacies which we consumed outside of the modern art museum with our Starbucks. All of the pastries were delicious but they were so rich that we couldn’t finish them.

We spent the rest of our day in the museum (which was free because on the first Sunday of every month mostly all the museums are free), which for a modern art museum was pretty good, I usually am not a fan but I really enjoyed this one. Pompidou is not only a fantastic art museum but it also has some of the best views of Paris (apart from the Eiffel tower and Sacre Coeur) and we spent the majority of the two hours or so we were there just looking out at the city. Before we knew it though it was time to head to the metro station, say our goodbyes and return to our designated international homes.

Paris was amazing! Though I have been there a few times before with my parents it is a completely different thing when you go with a dear friend because you just see the city in a different light (literally in this instance since we wandered around after midnight and observed the city lit up).  Okay so it is over a month since the trip and I have FINALLY finished the blog! WOOO I knew I could do it.