He did all the planning, which was all the harder to do because we only had three days in what some consider the greatest city in the world.
At 42, I had never once used any miles accumulated in all my years of travels...a sin, I know. So we'd figured out we were really close to a pair of nearly free tickets to Paris on American, bought the rest of the miles and wound up spending about $150 each total on our airfare.
Unfortunately, I had an incredibly gross ckicken meal on the flight over, and it haunted me throughout the journey (and still turns my stomach when I remember it). Otherwise, we were able to go from the plane to the train to the hotel almost as if we had been there a hundred times.
My high school and college French was helpful, but in truth we rarely needed it—I would attempt French, drawing out big smiles and English replies from everyone we met in Paris save for one surly museum security person.
NEWSFLASH: Parisians are...really nice!
The first day was rough on me when it came to jet lag. But I was able to walk with José along the scenic Seine and to Notre Dame, where we were fascinated by the infamous gargoyles. I didn't think it could be the actual place until we were right up to the front of it—it seemed smaller than I'd imagined. (I also didn't recognize the top of the Eiffel Tower from our area without seeing its sloped sides.)
The interior was pretty but, after all, just another Catholic church, and we'd already been wowed by the stuff in Italy. Climbing to the top was well worth it for the gargoyles and the lovely view. This first day and the third day were best for views; the second day was foggy. Overall, though, the weather was bearably chilly for off-season.
Our breakfast was quintessentially French—croissants, the softest baguette (caked with half a stick of butter) and preserves. It was probably my favorite meal of the trip. Truth be told, I didn't come away liking the food of France. Certainly it was nothing compared to what I found in Italy.
After a nap I insisted on (that totally rejuvenated me), we walked around the Marais area, shopping and people-watching (and "Guydar"-gathering, not to mention "Ends of the World"-spotting). This was a highlight for José—the shopping is to die for and the atmosphere relaxed. Everyone was chic but not intimidating, and the men were gorgeous.
I also got to visit Lucky Records, the world's ultimate Madonna shop. I announced myself and tried to find the owners, but I think the guys in charge were replacements. Nice, though—when I asked if I could take pictures they were downright puzzled, saying, "Of course!"
We spent the evening at the Centre Pompidou, a really outstanding museum specializing in modern and new art, which also gave us an unexpected view of the Eiffel Tower at night when it's not only lit up but also sporting a razzle-dazzle light show on the hour.
Dinner was at a café called Zimmer across from our hotel. It felt touristy but was pretty good. I had the duck in spite of an unsettled stomach and enjoyed it well enough. Though the food didn't exactly take forever, the lovely maitre d' offered us complimentary cocktails.
Loved our comfy room with its large bathroom and quaint street view, by the way.
The next day was Versailles, necessitating an early wake-up but allowing time for a breakfast feast at our hotel. We traveled by train to the site and were really impressed by the grounds as we approached the famous former residence. The gates of gold really are spectacular, as is the sumptuous décor. I was particularly enthralled with the chandeliers. Being in THE Hall of Mirrors...what a trip.
The gardens were spare due to the season, but still pretty and actually far too gigantic for us to fully explore. Instead, we dashed over to the Eiffel Tower, which appears out of nowhere after you get off the train. It's really remarkable just how massive the thing is, and how few other tall structures exist anywhere within view of it. I just never really imagined it would be THAT huge.
Killing time until our appointment, we walked among the Christmas shops set up in its shadow. We still had a lot of time to kill so unfortunately wound up freezing our balls off. Once we did get in, a pack of tourists managed to wiggle in before us. But still, the ride up to the second level was scary and exhilarating. Even at this lower level, José was fairly panicked—he hates heights. He white-knuckled it through some photo ops, then begged not to go to the top. Thinking I'd be okay with this pretty if mist-clogged view, we walked all the way down to the first level to eat at 58 Tour Eiffel, a fun place with an unsurpassed view of the city. (The walk down was pretty unnerving—you're seeing through all the metal, my own least fave way to handle heights, and it takes forever!)
The restaurant had cute metal picnic baskets that I wanted to steal. I wasn't so excited by the food, but it was okay. When we were done, I decided I wanted to go to the top; I've been to the top of the John Hancock, Sears Tower, World Trade Center and Empire State Building, so why not the Eiffel Tower? This meant I had to climb up from level one to level two; I'm not sure how people in worse shape than I'm in can manage this! I was really huffing my way up.
Once back on two, I realized José had my pass so I had to pay again (it wasn't too expensive) and then wait in line for a bit in order to share a really tiny elevator to the top. I have to confess I was on the verge of being terrified as we made the slow climb—you can see everything around you since it's encased in glass, and as sturdy as the Tower is, it looks flimsy when your life depends on it. I was much more comfortable when we got out and I could take some so-so photos. One cute college boy clinged to the walls when he got out. "What's wrong?" a buddy asked. "Oh...I don't like heights!" he offered. Wasn't he aware of where he'd been heading?
I didn't spend more than a few minutes up there, then headed down, a process in and of itself. God forbid you get trapped up there and need to evacute during a security scare or something!
After we left, we could see how gorgeous the lights were on the tower against the blue-black sky and positioned ourselves a distance away to capture the moment when the sparkly light show began.
Dinner is best forgotten, but we had another nice walk through Marais.
On our final day, we rose early and had an idyllic breakfast near the Louvre before tackling the world's most famous museum. It was no disappointment! We were there so early we had important holdings like Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo all to ourselves, and the crowds around the Mona Lisa were manageable. I'd heard the Mona Lisa was impossible to enjoy it's so protected but I didn't find that at all—it's quite easy to see and appreciate even if its small size makes me wonder if I'd truly choose it as among the most important and interesting works among all the items on display if I hadn't grown up hearing about it on an almost daily basis.
I was most interested in the Greek, Etruscan and Roman statuary—it speaks to me both in presentation and because of the idea that it's so old but still so immediately accessible and so capable of sparking instant emotion.
I also liked the Egyptian treasures and enjoyed finding some of the most recognizable paintings, like Gabrielle d'Estrées et une des soeurs (never realized its creator is unknown). Unfortunately, Vermeer's The Lacemaker had been loaned out.
As much as I appreciated the museum, I was disturbed by how lax security is. As with any museum, most of its irreplaceable holdings could easily be damaged by someone who didn't care about being caught. However, unlike many other museums I've been in, the "DON'T TOUCH" signs were routinely ignored and tourists routinely leaned on ancient artifacts and handled them for photo ops in plain view of the guards. Signs insisting on no flash photography were also ignored with guards' approval. I found myself snarling at a couple of particularly egregious offenders.
I also hated that so many people were allowed to set up canvasses to copy paintings. Not sure if they are students or sell copies through the Louvre, but it was distracting.
The shops outside the Louvre were great, including one with lots of art-related novelties. José found a modernistic nativity set that he fell in love with and promptly bought. Getting him to use the pay toilet, I snuck back and bought him the star to go with it as a Christmas gift that really surprised him a week later during our family celebration in Chicago! He got me a cool, silver Keith Haring pillow.
Exhausted beyond all comprehension, we left and wound up walking through the gardens and up the entire Champs-Élysées, past the famous Ferris wheel (a no-go for José!) and in and out of all the stores. While in the park area, José was filming and a weird, vagrant-looking woman approached him and spit at us twice, cursing us. He had no clue what had happened so I had to spin him around and wipe off the little bit of spittle that had caught him. This freaked him out but I think she was just crazy and thought we were attempting to film her craziness.
Finally, we ended at the Arc de Triomphe, a truly beautiful monument that—of course!—required us to climb all the way to its top via a dizzying spiral stair. I don't know how we did it after all our marching, but we did it, and it was worth it—a really beautiful view of the city awaited.
For the evening, we ended our meals in the city at Au Pied du Cochon. For someone who won't eat pork, this wasn't my best decision—the pork looked great! But I had duck again and was kinda grossed out by the shrimp appetizer, which had tiny crustaceans and a huge amount of mayonnaisey guacamole. The chocolate mousse was like eating fudge with a spoon, but not in the good way. I don't know what's wrong with me, but I just didn't like almost any of the food in Paris.
Our flight back was hellish—we had a nine-hour jaunt to Chicago to connect, had to disembark and take our bags through customs (American really did this smoothly for us, but still) and then had to get on another flight back to NYC.
Considering it was all done in three days, we felt like we'd just spent a month in the City of Light!