Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Paris with Garrett & Nicole

Last Thursday we left Brussels at around noon on a high speed train bound for Paris. Once we had reached our top sustained speed, we used Garrett's GPS to clock ourselves and found out that we were traveling at a 182 miles per hour! Out of the windows things seemed to be passing quickly, but not that fast! Needless to say, we covered the 187 miles in just over an hour. It was a very nice trip compared to our previous train rides of two and three hours.

We arrived at Gare du Nord in Paris and although Roxi and I had both been there before, we still had to go through our routine of getting our bearings to find the proper Metro line to take us to our hotel. After a few minutes and with the help of the GPS, we found our Metro stop and rode the few stops to Place Blanche directly across the street from the famous Moulin Rouge. Our hotel was literally a few hundred yards away thanks to another great arrangement that Roxi made for us.

After checking into our rooms and getting settled, we set out to the top of nearby Montmartre to see the Sacre Coeur Basilica. I had been there before so I lead the way up the winding streets and stairs much to the chagrin of my fellow travelers. But when we finally arrived at the top of the butte, everyone was pleased with the view from the highest natural point in Paris. There was a bit of haze in the air that afternoon, but it was still a very picturesque panorama. And I have always really loved the look of the church even if it seems somewhat out of place with the cathedrals of Paris.

After taking in the majestic view from the top of Montmartre, we walked around the cafes on the square where many famous artists have spent time and many aspiring artists are at work today. the similarities to Jackson Square in New Orleans are striking.

Our last stop on our trip to Montmartre was a visit to the Salvador Dali museum. In all my previous visits to Montmartre, I was never aware of the museum so it was a nice first for me. The museum has collection of drawings, sketches, sculptures and objects from all periods of Dali's career. There weren't very many of his famous paintings, but aspects of many of his works are displayed such as sculptures of melting clocks and sketches of space elephants. It was a pleasant little museum in a city full of overly large museums and it had a great admission price.

After the museum, we headed back down the hill in search of an Indian restaurant. Following dinner, we went back to the hotel and on the way stopped at a store to get a few drinks and snacks for the hotel rooms. We were all pretty beat, but I thought it was too early to go to bed on our first night in Paris, so I rallied the troops to find a cafe for a drink. We found the perfect establishment in the No Stress Cafe. Looking over the menu, we decided to get a couple of orders of fries and the cheese plank beckoned. So over a couple of glasses of wine and a couple of beers, we ate some fries and enjoyed four delectably pungent cheeses. My favorite was the Roquefort but the other cheeses were also very good. With our bellies full of starch, dairy and alcohol, we returned to the hotel and retired to our respective rooms and slept very well.

On Friday morning Garrett and Nicole took off on their own to see many of the major landmarks in Paris that Roxi and I have already seen. We slept in and relaxed. For lunch, I went on a quest to find a good looking jambon et fromage (ham and cheese) sandwich. If there's one thing that I love about France, it is how delicious a simple ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette can be. They aren't too hard to find in Paris, but I didn't want to go to a cafe or restaurant; I wanted a sandwich from a bakery. After a few minutes of walking, I found the perfect looking little bakery where I practiced my French while ordering my favorite sandwich. And it didn't disappoint!

J'adore jambon et fromage!

After lunch Roxi and I packed a bag with a couple of bottles of wine that we had purchased the night before and headed to Luxombourg Gardens. There are not many Paris landmarks that I have not already been too, but on the way to the gardens, we stopped at Montparnasse so I could admire the view of the city from the top of the tower. While Roxi had a coffee at a nearby cafe, I took the quick elevator trip to the top of the Maine-Montparnasse Tower to admire the panorama.

Not unlike Thursday, it was very hazy so the visibility was not ideal, but it was still clear enough to make out many of Paris' most famous landmarks with the naked eye. Unfortunately it was not clear enough to get good pictures of the Arc de Triomphe and Sacre Coeur Basilica although I could see them from the observation deck.

Eiffel Tower

Les Invalides

Notre Dame and Luxembourg Gardens

The Pantheon

Montparnasse Cemetery

After the tower, Roxi and took a stroll through Luxembourg Gardens. We didn't see anyone else sitting in the park drinking wine so we decided to save it for another time and went to a nearby cafe for a drink before heading back to hotel to meet Garrett and Nicole for dinner.

Luxembourg Palace

Maine-Montparnasse Tower

When we arrived back at the hotel, we looked through a few brochures of things to see and do and spontaneously decided to take a night cruise of the Seine. Just in case, I brought our still corked wine in the hopes that we would be allowed to open them on the boat. Roxi inquired when we bought our tickets and sure enough we were allowed to drink our wine on board. While we waited for the beginning of the hour-long tour, we opened a bottle and started to enjoy the wine when, at the stroke of 9 PM, this happened:

We had a great time on the cruise visiting with each other, drinking wine and seeing some of the sites of the City of Lights. It was very fun but very cold and after an hour, I was glad to be heading back inside for some warmth and some dinner.

On Friday night we had passed an Ethiopian restaurant very near to our hotel and decided to go there for dinner on Saturday night. When I lived in Nashville, Roxi and I would go to an Ethiopian restaurant whenever she visited. It has been a while since I've lived in Nashville so it was nice to get some authentic Ethiopian again. Roxi and I split a meat and vegetarian dinner while Garrett and Nicole chose to split a meat dinner. It was delicious and a perfect cap on a great day in Paris.

Ethiopian meat and vegetarian dinner plate.

Ethiopian meat dinner plate.

We all woke up Saturday morning to take a trip to Notre Dame before Roxi and I had to start our journey back to Enschede. On our way to the Metro, we stopped by a creperie for a French breakfast. Roxi and I split an egg and cheese crepe while Garrett and Nicole tried a Nutella crepe. They were both too rich for anyone of us to eat a whole one. They were good, but like the waffels is Belgium, I don't know how Europeans can get away with eating such rich food.

Upon arriving at the Ile de la Cite, we walked to the front of Notre Dame and took in it's splendor. We walked around the cathedral examining the intricate carvings adorning the doorways and the flying butresses maintaining structural integrity. Next, we walked through the sanctuary and admired the famous rose windows.

Sadly, after our tour of the cathedral, it was time for Roxi and to start our trek back to Enschede. We said our goodbyes to Garrett and Nicole before they left for a walk through the Louvre. Roxi and I went back to the hotel and had lunch at a nearby cafe before checking out. Finally we headed to the train station and bought our train tickets back to the Netherlands. After another seven hours of train and bus travel, we arrived back home at around 1:30 in the morning very tired but glad to be sleeping in our own bed for the evening. Plus Roxi's cat Jupiter was very happy to see us after five nights of no regular human contact.

We had a wonderful time visiting and traveling with Garrett and Nicole. We wish that they could have stayed longer and that we could have traveled more with them. But all good things must come to an end. It was a wonderful week and we can't wait to entertain our next visitors in a few days!

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