Europe: Second Leg

The train to Paris was an early one. It was a bullet train travelling at 200 miles per hour, but we could only really register the speed by how objects flew by the windows. We all donned our sunglasses and jackets over heads to sleep out the ride. I awoke to find us in the middle of a picturesque French countryside, rolling green hills topped with cream and brown colored chateaus, free roaming animals.

Europe Second Leg 1We wandered from the train station and out onto the streets of Paris, magical from first sight. For the first time, we were in a place foreign to my brother, with a new language. Most spoke English, although some perched a sneery eyebrow while doing so. Starving and unsure of where to go, we popped into a café straight away. We each took a traditional petit dejeuner (small breakfast) consisting of a croissant, baguette, crepe, orange juice and coffee. The French love their bread.

Paris is huge, and we deemed cabs being the best way to travel. We had disposable income. We were in Paris for crying out loud. Let’s live in style and not exhaust ourselves! We took one to the hotel that Zack had arranged with a high-class credit card. The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome stood grand before us, a lap of luxury beyond those doors. Doormen, chandeliers, marble floors, gold accents, soothing music and aroma…. Then we reach the guest services desk to check-in. Monsieur, Madame, oui oui, yes, welcome to our hotel, come in and be lavished. Oh, you’re a Gold Card member? Extend this man some cash, bring a trundle bed to his room, hand him vouchers for breakfast and cocktails – now.

The staff was very accommodating, to say the least. And then the room. I can’t recall many times when I’ve felt the need to take photos of a hotel room, but here I certainly did. The room was a reflection of the elegance from downstairs. Attention to detail was paid. White and gold, palatial décor with fluffed pillows, an armchair and ottoman, sheer metallic drapes. There were these svelte metal figures of men on the walls under light fixtures and as handles for the windows. The bathroom suite was my favorite. Stone from floor to ceiling, same gorgeous accents and lighting, steps into the “water” area with soaking tub and waterfall shower, a mirror and tiny sink in there. We also had a water closet with bidet, of course – heat, rinse, dry cycles. Ha!

Europe Second Leg 2

We each had our own soft terrycloth robe and complimentary bottle of still water (which does not come cheap in Europe). We lounged around sipping from gold-rimmed porcelain teacups with saucers. The windows actually opened so you could let in a cool breeze, and you could see so much beauty right outside. Even the standard office or apartment buildings here were visual pleasure. The ordinary was the most extraordinary IN MY LIFE.

Day one in Paris and not a minute to waste. We walked a block up to an impressive square with traffic circle. Joe consulted a map. Ventured toward some major attractions. First was the Louvre. We decidedly did not have time to go inside with our short stay in the city, but even the exterior was worthy. We strolled around the perimeter. Various courtyards, greenery, statues, birds, people laughing or sitting pondering. We suddenly felt the presence. We are in Paris.

Next was La Seine, one of the most famous rivers in the world. We walked alongside it. Observed all the pretty structures on the banks and boats passing by. We hung our toes over the edge. So close. We came upon a bridge full of lovers’ locks. There was a man selling locks on the street a ways before. And I thought, what is this man doing? Then I saw and regretted not buying a lock. What a tradition. What impact to see these symbols of love so abundant. How could I forget this right of passage? I stood in bemusement for a while here. The boys pushed forward.

Europe Second Leg 3

It started to rain hard. I was in the one pair of shoes that sucked for this, my sneakers. We fled to a nearby café for shelter. Hmm… We’re hungry again. Okay, let’s have a toasted ham and cheese sandwich and French fries, and another coffee, with double-sided handles on the cup so I can look sophisticated while drinking. We asked the server how to get to our next stop Pont Neuf. He said, “That’s not here. That’s in Australia.” I made a face. He smiled. He was joking. It’s hard to tell when the French joke. Zack and Joe pretended like they got it. They had been cracking on my all day anyway. Muster a tough skin for boys bonding.

Arrived at Pont Neuf, which is on the Seine, a point of land under a bridge passage that juts out into the water. It was a garden with pathways. Not in bloom because it was February but beautiful nonetheless. It was drizzly and cool. Joe and I walked out to the end and had a sweet moment. We were distracted by a woman walking her cat on a leash.

We made it to Notre Dame, a track-stopper. We stood back for a bit taking it in full frontal. Zack and Joe practiced a Beatles synchronized walk across the street. Under this towering beaut, people were everywhere. There was a birdman sprinkling seeds on bystanders’ shoulders and letting the pigeons flock to favorites. There were kids running with glee. There were couples embracing. There were young girls taking selfies in weird poses. This was a place to be, and no one wondered why. Extravagant history and architecture and a place of camaraderie.

Europe Second Leg 4

Hotel for a daily nap and sprucing up. Zack was still sick, relentlessly looking to Dutch cough syrup for relief. Sip, sip, sleep, Bubbles. Joe and I took the opportunity to be alone. We wound up at a sidewalk café sipping red wine instead. The dream of Paris – lovers and wine nuzzled under an awning and glow of heat lamp. After dinner at Le Poin Care with the fabulous deviled eggs, we stood at Place du Trocadéro, a renowned viewing platform for the Eiffel Tower. Man, did we see it. The majesty is hard to put into words. We were struck by that modern marvel just beneath us, all lit up and lone in the darkness. The top of the hour came, and the whole thing shimmered. We were so happy. Hugs and kisses and photos. We had to say no to buying stupid figurines from vendors about 15 times.

Day two was another exciting one. We started with breakfast at the hotel, the finest spread I’ve ever seen IN MY LIFE. The decorum was impeccable. We saw a server get chastised for not knowing how to use a cheese-carving wheel by the uptight supervisor. Dammit – Don’t not know how to use that device or you’re fired, missy! We also had cappuccinos, croquettes, berries, yogurt, olives, prosciutto, fresh-pressed juices and more. Fresh flowers and pastels topped this experience off.

The rainy walk after was actually very bright to me. Casually down the bustling streets sharing an umbrella. Parks and monuments. The ferris wheel, cheery in a cloudy sky. A reflection pond where a mother and daughter sat in patio chairs side-by-side, under their own umbrellas.

Europe Second Leg 5

Our must-do museum visit was to Musee de l’Orangerie, where the Water Lillies of Monet make you escape to tranquility and loveliness and then below the works of great masters preside. Renoir – I love his people. They’re so tender, so rosy and assured. Picasso – The shapes are famously odd. There was this one painting of a muscular women with the most piercing eyes. Marie Laurencin – She created fantasies of women with animals. I bought a silk scarf with a portion of her Portrait of Mademoiselle Chanel, featured in pinks, blues and grays. Chaim Soutine – Scenes of his surroundings turned sinister. His people were more caricatures, and you could see their true intentions on canvas.

Next began the Metro Situation. I was hell-bent on using the metro in the city, as a thing to do. Frankly, it turned out to be a rough ordeal. We had to ask instructions and directions. Joe got his fill of maps. We had to change lines a lot. The Yellow Line? The Purple Line? Solferino!!! I insisted on seeing the Eiffel Tower at daytime. Yet the guys were thoroughly awed once we finally got there. Worth it, they said. It was the masterpiece we’ve always seen in photographs and in movies right before us, above us, living up to the hype entirely.

As the day was getting long, we had to only see the Arc de Triomphe from a distance and head to our final stop. We climbed a great hill, all winding cobblestone streets and small shops. We reached what was to be my favorite spot of the entire trip – Montmartre. The end-all-be-all for Parisian artists. Where the greats we had seen at our museums all once lingered. The sqaure where today connoisseurs still paint and sell and hang out. I was quietly thrilled. I bounced from stand to stand to see landscapes and portraits on display. Moved by Renoir, in fact, I bought an acrylic painting from a local man of a nude woman. Her parts are covered, as Joe claimed that would be better when we one day hang it on the wall. She’s the epitome of what I was meant to do in Paris, an everlasting reminder of the magic, in a simple 8×10-inch canvas. True to form, we hulled up at a bistro on the edge of the square to have a drink. Montmartre is also marked by Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart church), outstanding street graffiti and a sweets store Biscuiterie de Montmartre where we bought goodies to bring home.

Europe Second Leg 6

Poor Zack had to coma again. Joe and I went to be romantic. Even though it could be considered cliché, we were destined to the lock bridge. We purchased a tiny gold lock from a convenient store, as well as a corkscrew. We didn’t have a marker, so the corkscrew was going to be used to scratch our initials in the lock. Joe manufactured it – A + J. When I told him I was worried, he said, “Don’t worry, girl. There are a hundred things I could have used to scratch this lock. I’m an American.” A riot. We picked a spot that we think we can remember and hung the lock. We stood in the center of the bridge and had a truly special moment, the most storybook moment IN MY LIFE.

Our last night in Paris called for fancy cocktails at the hotel bar. Surprised that most normally cost 30 euro (that’s about $35.70 U.S.), but vacation and half-off coupons consoled us. I mean, my drink did have a handful of garnishes including a chiseled log. Next was dinner at a cool Japanese-French fusion place Pascade. A pascade is a pastry shell both flaky and doughy at the same time filled with deliciousness. Mine was salmon and potato, and I think, the winner. This was a four-course meal completed by pureed leeks soup, julienned salad and trinket cupcakes.

A good sleep to morning. A quick hoorah down the street to collect final souvenirs. A kamikaze cab ride to the train station. (Side note… On this drive I saw a real life street graffiti tile piece on a wall from Space Invader!) One more petit dejeuner. Then we were off, back to Germany. Je T’aime Paris.

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