February 19, 2012

Playing the Travel Game

Part of being an American overseas is making friends with other Americans who have made similar life decisions to be out of the United States for the time being. In Munich, there was another California girl in my hostel, and Eugenia and I spent a very fun day freezing to death and watching a Germanized Super Bowl. Eugenia's vagabonding brought her to Paris this past week, and Saturday we created another memorable day, albeit 30 degrees of Fahrenheit warmer than before.

She had already completed the main sights in our illustrious city: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Champs-Elysées, Louvre, Versailles, etc. I pulled out my pocket pop-out map Friday night and asked myself, "Where to?"

Surgeon General's Warning: the following eight hours are only achieved with Euro Legs.

First quarter: MONTMARTRE
The "Mountain of Martyrs" is one of those places we always associate with Paris, but have no idea what it's called or where it is. But no trip to Paris is complete without it.

Moulin Rouge
It's the Paris with artists, painting and selling their goods. It's that place in Paris movies with the white domed church and great views of the city, but no one remembers this church's name. It's the Paris of steep and narrow cobblestone lanes, and the Paris where the real Moulin Rouge actually exists.

The Basilica
I had only been up to Montmartre one time - the time I got a private tour by happenstance. Despite my anti-sense of direction, we managed to stumble upon all of the sights my guide had shown me: windmills, Basilica Sacré-Coeur, the last vineyard in Paris, and the artists' square. The Sacré-Coeur had a live service going on, and we reverently meandered through the massive halls. To leave Montmartre, we decided to simply wander downhill, and through the luck of the tourist, ended up back at our original metro stop.

Quarter one: done.

This is one of the oldest parts of the city, but it doesn't really have any landmarks, so if you don't know about it, you'll never find it! It's the Paris with restaurants and cafés literally every other storefront, including Le Procope, which claims to be "the oldest café in the world," and The Moose, our favorite-slash-only Canadian pub. We busied ourselves reading every chalkboard menu for an entire block before deciding upon Chalet Grégoire because of it's cheaper pricing options, and promising tagline of "Cuisine de la Montagne et Traditionnelle." (I am not translating that; be smart and figure it out.) We enjoyed salads, duck, fondue, and some spongy fondant au chocolat (not the best I've had, but still chocolate!).

Okay, so our second quarter was more like a really long halftime, but either way, we were ready for the second half to start after our amped-up French coffees (equivalent to caffeine shots).

Third quarter: QUARTIER LATIN

Palais du Luxembourg
Since we were already south of the Seine, we strolled into the Latin Quarter to get our first looks at the Palais et Jardin du Luxembourg. Again, this is another one of those things on the map that just looks like a massive park with a random huge building, but it's too far away from the Eiffel Tower to matter much to normal tourists.

I beg to differ.

This is one of the coolest places I have ever been to in the city! These are not your ordinary Parisian gardens, people. Yes, of course, there is the run-of-the-mill garden stock: fountains, benches, walking boulevards, a museum, and so forth. But the Luxembourg Garden has real things happening there, all against the flawless backdrop of the gorgeous sculptures, trees with orchard-like intensity, and zigzagging footpaths. We passed by tennis courts, multiple full playgrounds, a basketball court, soccer games, covered picnicking areas with chess boards, and a very competitive bocce ball tournament. There were a few tourists around taking pictures, but for the most part, this was a park full of locals enjoying their Saturday. This is the Central Park of Paris - the sacred ground that has been saved from the "citification" of its surroundings.

Some towers and domes were also visible from the gardens, luring us away from the Parisians at play. We first hunted down Saint-Sulpice, the church from the story/movie Da Vinci Code. No, we did not find any clues, but we did find this church in particular to be very majestic in its presentation.

Then we found the Panthéon, and now I can finally explain that while it was first built to be a church, it now houses...a lot of famous dead French people (Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Marie Curie, etc.). We actually found the small church behind it to hold more intrigue and beauty, but I am sure the Panthéon is an interesting trip if your hero is buried there.

Fourth quarter: OPERA
Fitting, as this was our grand finale. L'Opera Garnier is always a beautiful sight, and we arrived with just enough light to still see the golden angels on the corners of the roof shine brightly. We then walked to La Madeleine church, intent on finding the elusive macaroons another tour guide had told me about last year. "Behind La Madeleine church..." was all I ever remembered, and for as many times as I had walked next to it, up to it, in front of it, and whatever other preposition exists, I had still never circumvented the entire building.

This day finally brought us to Fauchon, the maker of macarons, where we spent way too much money on what are essentially flavored cookies. The lemon and salted caramel ones were my favorite, and the chocolate was a serious letdown. But all was not lost because we ate our beautiful macarons on the steps of La Madeleine, watching twilight set upon the Place de la Concorde. We parted ways in the Concorde metro; Eugenia to her next adventures in Belgium and Holland, and me to my favorite loft apartment in Melun.

"Anything, everything, little or big, becomes an adventure when the right person shares it." - Kathleen Norris