Friday, January 6, 2012

Paris Day 2 OR We're Not That Tourist-y

We awoke to screaming legs and another rainy worries though, neither of these things kept us from having a good time!  We began our morning with the hunt for internet access on our walk to the Christmas market at the Champs-Elyeeses.  We noticed along the way many cute bistros and shops that we didn't see on Sunday a) because we had WiFi tunnel vision and b) because when shops and restaurants are closed (which many were the day before) they pull down gates and garage type doors so you don't see them.

We, of course, didn't choose a direct route and took a walk through the Tuilleries gardens.  Even in the winter the gardens are beautiful with leafless trees and drizzle.  I can only imagine their glory in the spring and summer!

Upon arriving at the Christmas market, we split a ham and cheese crepe and a nutella and banana crepe because we were STARVING! We then discovered hot wine, which is sort of a cross between sangria and cider.  Yummy!  The Christmas market looked beautiful from afar- tiny white wooden buildings, twinkle lights, garland, sweet smells and people milling about.  Unfortunately, it did not have the handmade goods I was hoping for.  It was pretty much a repetition of about 6 shops filled with Chinese goods over and over down the street, interspersed with the occasional creperie or cheese shop.  Oh well, it was fun to walk through!

hot wine!

sausages and kraut on a HUGE skillet

The fromage (cheese) hut. These have a, shall we say, notable smell

Our next stop was the Champs-Elysees, which is a very grand boulevard the extends out from Le Jardin des Tuileries with many LARGE shops- everything from Gap to Louis Vuitton.  The stores are huge and packed with people from all over the world.  To get into Louis Vuitton, people waited in a line outside for their turn at a peak of the merchandise that most wouldn’t be buying anyway.  I found this waiting in line to go shopping a bit silly, especially since we soon found another Louis Vuitton a couple of streets over and then several around town.  The silliest line I saw crept up on me- suddenly I smelled a familiar smell that I could not put my finger on at first.  It wasn’t a bad smell but it didn’t elicit positive memories really. It smelled like walking past Jr. High lockers. Then I saw it- Abercrombie and Fitch.  Now, I’m not knocking A&F, I’ve worn plenty of their clothes in my day (before I graduated high school).  I’m just thinking that for the level of stores on this street this is an odd one to have a line.

Overall, I found the Champs-Elysees to be a little overwhelming and very tourist-y.  I felt like we would be ripped off no matter where we went, and of course we were.  Our first rip off came when we went to the Change center to exchange our currency from dollars to euros.  We have heard many times that a Change center in the city will give you a better exchange rate than those at the airport (although maybe slightly worse than select ATMs) so we thought surely we'd be ok.  Looking back, we now realize that you should only go to a Change center that has their exchange rates posted by the window.  The attendant first attempted to exchange our money at a .70 to $1.00 and we told him no way.  We ended up settling for .73 Euros to $1.00 but we knew the exchange rate was .77.  That translated to us losing about $40 in the exchange!  (*NOTE by Russell: after going back to the airport at the end of trip, I noticed that the Change Center exchange rate there includes a whopping 6.5% commission fee. Yikes)

Next, we were starving, ticked about losing money unnecessarily and still had no internet so we stopped in the first cafe offering free wifi.  We were seated at the very back table with a great view of trashy American music videos.  Russell ordered a pizza and I ordered bruschetta.  We then found out that the internet wasn't working which lead us to feeling like we should lay in the floor, throw a toddler fit and demand someone find us an internet connection...instead we sucked it up and waited for our food.  The good news- Russell had a good pizza.  The bad news, my bruschetta came instead as a pizza.  We were charged more for it and nothing was done to fix the mix up (even though our server acknowledged the error unsolicited).  Oh well!  Got to love the tourist areas!

We continued our way up the Champs-Elysees to L'Arch de Triomphe.  What a beautiful spectacle!  This arch is set in the middle of an enormous roundabout and symbolizes France's Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars as well as honors the "unknown soldier."  We loved admiring this beautiful piece of art and history.

Upon leaving the Arch de Triomphe we stumbled upon a beautiful wide and quiet street lined with the truly luxurious shops.  We were surprised at the lack of activity on this street since it crossed the Champs-Elysees.  We window shopped at Chanel, Dolce and Gabana, Dior, Ferragamo, and Gucci to name a few.  Don't worry, we didn't go in.  There are big scary guards that stand in front of all of the windows that give off the vibe that they don't want you to come in.  That's ok, we weren't in the buying mood (and neither were our wallets).  One thing that we have loved about Paris is that in most windows, the price of all of the items in the window display are discreetly presented in the corner.  This way there are no surprises when you walk in the store.  It's much better to realize that the dress you see in the window is actually a Valentino and it is around 1800 Euro.  I'd hate to walk into a store, go to the trouble of trying on something beautiful only to find out that it costs more than a months rent!

On our way home we stopped in this quiet little park with children playing and couples sitting on benches.  The park had a grand view of a beautiful old church, it was sunny and not too cold so we took the opportunity to rest our bodies and sit in peace.  

beautiful church seen from the park

another attempt at using public wifi

The next thing we know there's a HUGE storm cloud sitting over us and we notice everyone getting up from the park to leave.  We feel a couple of drops here and there so we get up to be on our way...and then the bottom falls out!  As we've said before, coat hoods aren't ideal to keep off the rain.  They restrict our view of the streets and they're not really waterproof either.  I will say, it was pretty cute watching all of the children scuttle around with their mommies- some laughing and excited about the rain and some a little more stressed about the situation.  We ducked into a little cafe to have an espresso, a little snack, some hot chocolate...and of course use their internet!

We headed back to the apartment to get cleaned up for dinner and to use the awesome Paris Trip Adviser app that I downloaded on my Kindle Fire (that's right...a little name dropping of one of my favorite Christmas presents) while we were in the Starbucks the day before.  The awesome part about this app is that you don't need an internet connection to use it.  To this point, it was our saving grace!  Click here to check it out.  Oops, sorry for the divergence!  Anyway we began looking up places to eat.  Our strategy was to look at things in our area that made at least the top 200 (there are thousands and thousands that have been rated).  We found an awesome place, Les Papilles that we decided would be our best option so off we went in search of it!  

As we mentioned before, Paris winds about quite a bit which makes following directions difficult.  We did a little back tracking and retracing our steps.  As our stomachs began to growl we found the restaurant...and it was closed til mid-January!  To be honest, there was some curse words uttered as we realized that we would have to go back on the hunt for a place to eat dinner.  Out came the Kindle and on went the hunt. 

At this point, my hungry monster evil twin was beginning to emerge.  For some reason, anytime we are hungry we find ourselves in a sea of Asian restaurants.  Don't get me wrong, we love Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean food but something about craving sushi in Paris never adds up for us.  Since we had irrationally chosen mediocre (terrible) Thai food the night before, I had to surpress the hungry monster and tell her to be patient until we found the right restaurant.  Good thing my rational mind won over the beast because we found our favorite restaurant in Paris! 

 Au Pere Louis was our kind of restaurant from the start!  Not pretentious yet not dive-y, local, cozy, and reasonably priced.  It sits in the Latin Quarter of Paris near the Luxembourg Gardens and where many students seem to live.  Menus are scattered about on chalkboards and they also have an English menu available that they are happy to share with you (some restaurants are a bit annoyed when you request a menu in English, although Russell gets us by just fine most of the time with his limited French).  Their food is seasonal so this time of year there is plenty of comfort food.  The wine is priced well and there's just enough of a selection that there is plenty to choose from but not an overwhelming list.  

We sat up in a little loft with the perfect combination of seclusion and views of the restaurant and the street.  Our waitress spoke English about as well as Russell speaks French so their combined skills made for easy service.  We settled on a cheese plate; foie gras with jam; cassoulette with white beans, sausage and goose; and a bottle of cotes du rhone wine.  Of course there was a never ending flow of bread at our table.  That good, hearty, crusty on the outside and soft and airy on the inside rustic french bread.

With full bellies and happy hearts we ended the day on a high note and walked home to work off a small amount of the exorbitant number of calories we had just consumed.

Here are some beautfiul shots Russell took during the day

taken near the Place de la Concorde at the end of Le Jardin des Tuileries and right before the Champs-Elysees starts

my favorite picture of the day (Louvre on the left) - courtesy of the hubs!

1 comment:

  1. such a great post! katie - you are such a good writer!! that is so funny about the A&F store having the long line -- apparently it is HUGE in Europe and rather expensive! Crazy. Also so excited about you finding that great Paris app, we will definitely need to download it before our trip!! And the last restaurant sounds amazing -- so glad y'all found it! Can't wait to catch up when you get back!! xoxo