Since I've been back, I've been getting a ton of the same questions - how was it? what did you do? where did you go? Etc., etc., etc. To help myself from being on constant repeat, for the next week I'm going to devote my blog to recapping my trip, posting photos, and telling you all about what went down.
Each day this week I'll recap one of the aspects of my trip. Enjoy!
Update: read all the recaps back to back! An Overview (and how to pack), Stop One - Amsterdam, Stop Two - Paris, Stop Three - Munich, Stop Four - Rome Day One & Second Day Bike Tour, and of course a follow up summary.
My European Vacation - Stop Two, Paris
After enduring two days of touring in Amsterdam with tremendous jet lag, by day three we were finally starting to adjust to a more European time table. Good thing, because we had to be up bright and early for a high speed train ride to Paris!
As I packed up all my things that morning after dressing, I had to admit: I wasn't really digging the fact that I was traveling with a back pack. I mean, living out of a suitcase is hard enough. But doing it out of a back pack is even worse.
But the moment I had to catch a train with my luggage, my back pack was redeemed, because not only did we have to catch one train that morning, we had to catch two - one train to get from the airport to the main train station, and then another train to get from the Amsterdam to Paris. Whew! I can't imagine trying to do all those transfers with a roll aboard. Or two. Or five.
Actually, I can. I saw quite a few others doing it. And it did not look fun.
Since my husband and I could easily board and sit down without fighting a roller up a flight of stairs and onto the train, we burned our spare time taking selfies.
Admittedly, the selfies he took were much more romantic / serious. But mine, although stupid, are sure a lot more funny.
Or at least I think so.
Finally, everyone was on board, and the train started rolling. And that's when the fun began. Let me tell you something about European train tickets: you have a seat number, but you also have a wagon number, and you have to carefully check both points of information prior to boarding your train. We had a ticket for wagon 17, seats 73 and 74, so we sat in them. Our neighbor had a ticket for wagon 17, seat 72, so she sat in it. And we were all three Americans riding a European train for the first time, and we figured it out. But yet, for some reason, multiple AMERICAN tourists just could not get it right. Both my husband and I, as well as our neighbor, were approached by people and told we were sitting in their seats.
When my neighbor looked at their tickets, she gave them a look like "really?!" and proceeded to say "This is wagon 17, you idiots. Your ticket is for wagon 18. Move on back."
Heh. I think she took a little pride in the fact that the three of us got it right, because she looked at me and said "It's not that hard, really - how do you get that wrong? It's clearly marked!! It says on the door as you board your train which wagon and seats are in this car."
Hahahaha, I had a good time talking to her for a few minutes after that.
Although the train was fast, and we were going close to 200 mph, there was still a good 2-3 hours of train time to kill before we arrived Paris. I burned some of it by using the - surprisingly free - wifi on board. It was painfully slow, but it allowed me to message a few friends on Facebook and update them on my adventures, so I endured the suffering. I also enjoyed the scenery out the window.
Somewhere along the route, I realized we had some welcome cookies from the Amsterdam hotel in my purse (since we didn't eat it the day we arrived and it was in a sealed pouch), so I pulled them out and offered one to my husband. As soon as I bit into mine I was immediately chagrined - it was a famous stroopwafel cookie and it was delicious!! But I had just left Amsterdam. How could I live the rest of my life never having one of those again?! Sigh. The thin waffle like wafers with a chewy caramel filling were so good...
I pretty much got over it as soon as I set foot in Paris, though. Because ... Paris, duh!
As I mentioned in my overview, in Paris we stayed at the Le Meridian Etoile. To get there from the train terminal, we purchased a 10 pack of metro tickets and hopped the subway. Note: at 14 euros for a 10 pack, each trip on the metro cost us a nominal amount. We ended up buying a second 10 pack to allow us to wander the city fully the two days we were there. Also, pro tip - save your ticket, you have to use it to get both IN and OUT of the metro stations.
After transferring to a second subway line in order to get to our hotel from the main train station, we hit our stop and exited the metro ... only to pop up to one of the most beautiful and notorious monuments in Europe. I almost died of excitement.
Granted, it was daytime when we came out of the metro and we took this photo later in the evening, but you get the idea. And note my awesome sunburn in that photo. When my face is that red at night, you know I've got a good singe going. (Ok, to be fair, we did split a bottle of wine at dinner that night, so it may not be 100% sunburn ... heh.)
Anyway, the walk from the Arc de Triomphe to our hotel was just over a kilometer. Not too bad when you're empty handed, but a little tedious when you're carrying a 30+ pound pack. By the time we got to the hotel, I was a little bit sweaty. Thankfully they were not full, and a room was available for us immediately, despite our early arrival.
The room was different that I am used to, with a long entry hallway and a separate room for bathing versus toilet:
It was also 100% haunted. I'm not kidding when I say this. The first night we stayed there, something was using our bathrooms and opening/closing the doors while my husband snored away next to me. Whatever it was even opened the doorway that separated our bedroom from the bathroom/hallway, which I had closed prior to going to bed (yes, I awoke before my husband did, and he did not get up in the middle of the night). Even more hair raising was that this "force" also visibly wiggled the security latch to the main door of our room for quite some time when I was zipping up my boots the next morning, which my husband even saw and had absolutely no explanation for.
At least whatever it was decided to leave us in peace the second night, as we did not have a repeat performance.
Heading Out to See the Sights in Paris
Once we finished marveling over the cheetah printed carpet of our hotel room, we decided to make the most of our first day in Paris. But first, some lunch.
Just up the block from our hotel, on the corner where another metro stairwell was, conveniently there was a restaurant. And it looked decent. So we gave it a shot.
My husband ordered a rotisserie chicken that was very good, and I had the equivalent of a chef's salad. Let me just tell you, if salads in the US tasted as good as my lunch there did, we would have no obesity epidemic in this country. That is all.
With full bellies, we were good to go. And that is what we did.
Our first stop was the Notre Dame cathedral. I had been hoping to catch a tour, but we were a hair late and missed it. Since the church is free to all who wish to enter, and the guy working the info desk was an absolutely stereotypical Paris douchebag, we decided to just walk through on our own.
As I walked the church, I found myself emotional beyond belief. I was here. I was really here. I started to get teary eyed.
When we exited the church, my husband asked me what was wrong, and I lost it. I started to cry, trying to explain to him: After years of wishing, I'd somewhat given up hope of ever making it to Europe. This tour of Europe had been something we talked about doing years ago, before the economy tanked and I used to have a higher paying job (so we could afford it). At that time, we were hoping to do it within the next year or so. Then I got laid off from my job. At which point, I had let the string go on that balloon and watched it float away.
But now I was there. And I just couldn't believe it.
I took a minute or two to compose myself after that, and we both just stood in awe in front of the church before moving on. After which, we roamed the area, window shopping and leisurely crossing bridges to enjoy the view of the river.
Eventually, we decided to head to a nearby metro stop to take in this:
I have to admit, the Eiffel Tower is HUGE! I just couldn't get over how massive it is!! Isn't it funny how you see photos of something and you get an idea in your head what it's like, but then when you see it in person your brain kind of explodes when you realize how wrong you were? That was me. For like ... at least half an hour while we walked the park around the tower.
And, I have to add something here. I don't know what it is about Paris, but it just seemed like everything was more enjoyable there. Even something as simple as the park at the base of the Eiffel Tower felt amazingly relaxing - I could have stayed at the Eiffel Tower's park for the rest of the day.
Eventually, though, we decided that we'd had enough for day one and headed back to our room to relax and research dinner options. With the handy-dandy assistance of Yelp, we found this place:
And were amazingly pleased with their food and friendly service. My husband enjoyed a puff pastry appetizer filled with escargot (I told him that was alllll him and had no interest in trying), we both had delicious entrees, and I finished my meal with a poached pear in an amazing fudge chocolate sauce.
The next day, we opted to take another bike tour to help us see the sights in a more meaningful way (Paris Fat Tire Bike Tours), since walking around on your own doesn't give you the greatest historical perspective on what you're seeing. The tour was absolutely fantastic.
From left to right, top to bottom, the above photos show: the current resting place of Napoleon, the square where the guillotine was during the French revolution (which had to be moved several times due to unstable footings when the soil was saturated with blood - eeek), the same square from another angel showing the obelisk of Luxor (which Egypt writes France for yearly, requesting return of, and is refused), a close up of the obelisk's base (which features a diagram of how to reconstruct the old crane used to place the massive statue ... fun fact - it took 3 years to get the monument from the Turks to the river just feet away form it's current resting point, and another 3 years to get it off the river and hoisted into place), a photo of me standing in front of the Lourve Art Museum, and a miniature Arc de Triomphe just across from the Lourve which was built due to Napoleon not being able to get the original done in time for his troops to march home/through (another interesting fact - Napoleon married his second wife under the mini arc to legitimize the child she was pregnant with for the throne, which required him to divorce the love of his life who was barren. He was quoted during the ceremony as saying "I am not marrying a wife, I am marrying a womb." Romance, eh?).
The midway point for the tour included a stop at the park leading up to the Lourve, which did not allow bike traffic through. We paused there for a short lunch before continuing on. By the way, it was worth walking our bikes to get there, as the croquet monsieur sandwiches they served were fantastic.
After completing the bike tour mid afternoon, we took the suggestion of our tour guide and headed towards the Montparnasse Tower to enjoy the Paris skyline. I had originally figured I wouldn't do this, at least via the Eiffel Tower, since I heard it was a rip-off and not worth the time in line. But ... Montparnasse is less known to tourists and was a fantastic experience, with no wait! I highly recommend a stop.
The most unique part of the view at Montparnasse was being able to actually SEE the Eiffel Tower from above (as opposed to standing on it, which is what happens when you tram up to the top of the Eiffel Tower). Plus, it was interesting to see the view of the central train station, and the remarkably large grave yard that took up a sizable portion of downtown Paris.
Oh, I suppose I also enjoyed Montparnasse because they served champagne by the glass there.
Hey, it was our anniversary week!! Why not celebrate?
Champagne aside, something I've lost in the above recap, now that I'm thinking through all the details, are my many stops to patisseries while in France. Seriously, I think we ended up going to three in less than 48 hours. The first day we stopped at a place called Guest, where the server was tremendously friendly. The second day we stopped for breakfast at one near the tour agency, after many failed attempts to locate an open crepe restaurant (FYI - I later figured out that a crepe is a mid day treat in Paris, not a breakfast option). The third ... hm, I forget now. Maybe it was an afternoon snack after the tour or something. Whatever. All three were AMAZING, and I am forever ruined for pastries, and coffee for that matter, in the US.
And speaking of food, eventually it was time for dinner again. After roaming around at random, just wandering the streets of Paris, somehow we settled on a restaurant maybe 4-5 blocks away from our hotel, on a main intersection (although unfortunately, I don't recall the name of it). Regardless, the dinner we had there was easily the best meal of our entire trip:
Essentially, it's just a simple mixed greens salad with sliced apples that is served with an herb crusted, warmed goat cheese. But the flavors! I simply cannot put it into words! (Don't worry, I made a knock off recipe that came pretty close when we got home, so I'll post it next week.)
Oh, and that crepe that evaded us at breakfast? Yeah, we ordered one with a Grand Marnier flambé for dessert. Fantastic.
As we enjoyed our dinner, my husband and I remarked on how much we surprisingly enjoyed Paris. I think we had both been expecting it to be just so-so, as you hear so many bad stories about Parisians being rude to tourists, especially Americans. I'm willing to hazard a guess that we were treated fairly well because (1) we didn't dress like a sloppy, sporty American and (2) we made a conscious effort to speak softly and blend into our surroundings. I even had a French woman approach me when I was with my husband on the street prior to our bike tour, trying to ask me something in French, so my guess is we played the part of a European at least somewhat ok.
When in Rome ... or rather Paris, right? (Since Rome came later in the trip, ha!)
Finally, after another long day of touring and eating, my husband and I were ready for a good night's sleep, so we tucked in and prepared for our next early morning train to Munich...