September 21, 2014

To the City and Back

It had to happen sooner or later.

I've always tried to pay a lot of attention to non-game weekends ever since coming to Europe. I feel like it's my calling, to take advantage of the ever-disappearing antagonist of time.

We've had a mixture of thoughts since moving to La Fère, but the constant question we have asked ourselves is:

"Will we miss Paris?" 

A good wander.
I took an early morning train on Saturday into Gare du Nord, and metro-ed my way down the line 7 to Villejuif in the south of Paris. My train had been late, so I walked as quickly as I could to find Erika's apartment to drop off my purse and get her keys.

Erika is a new American volleyball player from Colorado who signed a contract with one of the teams I tried out for last spring. Between her and Amy, I will always have American volleyball friends in Paris now! Yes, all I dropped off was my vintage purse because that's all I brought - for 2 nights.

Erika and her Estonian teammate/roommate, Dorit, had volleyball obligations all day, so I got to trek back to Paris my favorite way: solo.

I miss the speed of Paris. 
I miss the proximity of grand things. 
I miss the lighthouse-ness of the metro signs. 

So Paris.
The Abbey.
I sat on the wall of the Seine, eating a crepe while admiring the backyard of Notre Dame. I wandered through the familiar Shakespeare & Company bookstore. I made my way to The Abbey bookstore for the first time, tucked a few streets behind the main road. The Canadian counterpart had better prices, higher stacks, and served us free espresso with a shot of maple syrup. Canada wins.

The Petit Palais.
I had to walk some of the Latin Quarter and Boulevard Saint-Germain to get to a metro to take me north to the Champs-Elysées. The Grand Palais exhibit didn't appeal to me, but the Petit Palais across the street had no line and always has free entrance to the permanent collection. It was small, but every detail was beautiful, and the quaintness of the courtyard café next to the garden is an excellent reason to go here. 

The courtyard café.
Parisian doors are perfect.
I headed north through parks and neighborhoods to get to the Jacquemart-André museum on Boulevard Haussmann. I have heard about this home-turned-museum since my first visit to the Carnavalet back in 2012. 

All of the Jacquemart-André doorways.
The namesakes, Nélie Jacquemart and Édouard André, were an artist + collector couple, and took great pride in collecting Italian art inside their gorgeous 1800s mansion. The building itself held the most charm for me (a winter garden, staircases, furnishings, etc.), but from the intense scholarly concentration exhibited by the other visitors, I gathered that the Italian art collection was very fine indeed.

Hallway to the winter garden.
I never noticed before that Paris is tall. Very tall. 
Like can't-see-the-sunlight-on-certain-streets tall. 
I didn't like this. 

Looking up.
Bring your sunshine.
North was my direction once more, and I walked through the rues and avenues to arrive at another new-to-me destination, Parc Monceau. We had taken a bus numerous times past this green area filled with arches and pillars, and it took me moving away from Paris to finally go to it and see for myself. What I forgot was the fact that any time it's sunny in Paris, every Parisian is in every park with every person they know. I did find a nook to read my book from The Abbey, but was regularly interrupted by some friendly children with plastic hammers and shovels trying to "rebuild" my bench. 

Not really Roman ruins, but one likes to think so.
The canon fountains at the Trocadéro.
My next reading location was better. I took metro line 2 to the 6, and got off on the best stop, Trocadéro. I hastily made my way to claim the feet of the statue facing the fountains that frame the Eiffel Tower, and happily read Hemingway for half an hour. 

We started a trend.
As the afternoon slid into evening, I made my way down to the tourist-free bank to read with my feet dangling above the Seine.

The view from Bir-Hakeim bridge.
I crossed the Bir-Hakeim bridge as the tower began to glow, stepped back into the metro, and went back to Villejuif for the night. 

Erika and I had all day Sunday through Monday afternoon before my train left to return to the Picardy. We took her metro line 7 from Villejuif to the Louvre district, where we enjoyed a classic lunch at Café le Nemours. For "dessert," we walked down Rue de Rivoli to my favorite chocolate destination, Angelina. They have updated their menu to include a cold frappé version of their traditional "Le Chocolat Chaud à l'ancienne dit l'Africain," and it was so delicious and refreshing! I also spent a chunk of euros on an adorable tin with perfect salted caramels inside. If you want the tin, let me know; the caramels are unfortunately unavailable (to you).

Another bridge with the love locks.
We belong on Pont Neuf.
We walked through the Tuileries, past the Louvre, took photos on the Pont des Arts (love locks), laughed about Pont Neuf, said bonjour to Notre Dame, and strolled down Boulevard Saint-Michel to arrive at the Luxembourg Gardens. The park was sunny and full, and we cut through the center to come out on the other side to our afternoon church service at Trinity International. 

People. Everywhere.
I remember Paris being crowded. 
I don't miss the crowds of smells, noises, and personal space invaders.

We had a moving sale appointment with an American expat in the 7th arrondissement at 19h30, and we had planned to walk through the Musée Maillol until our rendezvous. However, the museum was closed for renovations...until Wednesday! We walked around the area and found Le Pain Quotidien, where we partook in the organic bread, organic mozzarella, and organic wine. If you need organic food in Paris...

Sidewalks, take notes.
It was really cool combing through the leftovers of 20 years of another American's life in Paris. Among the many things we found, Erika picked out ankle weights, mosquito repellent, and a beautiful Sake set. I loaded up with two glass carafes, an untouched aperitif bottle, a scarf, and an espresso maker for Marc. For dinner, we went downstairs to the sushi restaurant and lugged our goods back to the metro to return to Villejuif.

To finish off the weekend, on Monday we met up with Amy from La Rochette and Dorit at the Académie de la Bière for lunch. I had the traditional "moules et frites" (mussels and fries), and we all had fun catching up and chatting around the dark wooden table. 

I did more in 3 days than I usually did in 3 months.

The last time I had seen Erika and Amy was during my two weeks in Colorado. Being altogether in Paris is one of those connecting moments, where all of our stories and experiences meet in rhythm. To have made fellow American volleyball friends during these years in Europe means that thirty years down the road, we will be able to reminisce with another insider's perspective. 

I'm so thankful in advance for those future conversations and laughs.

I took the RER B back to Gare du Nord to wait for my train. 
I don't miss the messiness of Gare du Nord. 
I read more of The Sun Also Rises (thanks to my Uncle Ed for the recommendation!) as my train sped deftly through the sunny meadows and shady trees of the Picardy. 

Marc picked me up in Tergnier, the next-door-town to La Fère where the train from Paris goes through. We came back to our apartment, grabbed my volleyball backpack, and I walked down the alley to the empty street to my gym. I unlocked the volleyball cabinet and got out the net with my teammates. I sat down on the bench, pulled on my knee pads, laced up my ankle brace, and tightly tied my volleyball shoes. I stood up, ready for another well-planned practice, ready to get better, ready to work hard.

I like it here.