Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Paris: Day Five, Thursday

Alright, let's get back to it. On Thursday, I left Han's flat alone and had cafe au lait and a apricot tart for breakfast. The only reason I didn't eat pain au chocolat on this day was because it was my second consecutive breakfast stop at the same little cafe (it was such a convenient location to Han's flat). It is also right across the street from this cafe with a bright red awning whose name is written in white cursive: Cafe Chic. I spotted Cafe Chic on the first day when I went exploring around the neighborhood, and I really wanted to eat there because it seemed so stereotypically...French. It became a joke throughout the week that we were going to eat at Cafe Chic. It was such a cheesy-sounding cafe name, and we assumed that the food probably wasn't that good (judgmental of us, I know), but every time we walked by there at night, it was crowded, and the only comment we could muster about it was, "Everyone looks so chic!" And I'm not exaggerating. Unfortunately, we did not get to visit Cafe Chic on this trip, but the next time I go back to Paris, I plan to dine at Cafe Chic.

After breakfast, I rode the train down to Musee d'Orsay. Musee d'Orsay is kind of known for its extraordinary Impressionist masterpieces, and that was my reason for visiting.

Inside Musee d'Orsay:

A sweet clock at the top of Musee d'Orsay from which you can look out into the city:

So at 10:45 a.m., I found myself standing about ten inches away from Vincent van Gogh's 1889 self portrait (y'all, I know he's post-Impressionist, but they had a lot of his stuff too). The texture of this painting was amazing, and I love the colors of his eyes in it. I don't even know what else to say about it but, wow. Seeing it up close and in person was a wonderful experience.

I went up to the fifth floor to the Impressionist portion of the museum and I really enjoyed it. I loved seeing Claude Monet's "Bras de Seine pres de Giverny" (aka "Arm of the Seine at Giverny") painted in 1897). I am always finding myself attracted to blues and greens. They also had a handful of Camille Pisarro pasture paintings of grazing livestock. My favorite Monet painting was "Essai de figure en plein-aire: Femme a l'ombrelle tournee vers la detroite." I was especially struck by the movement in the painting; it's shown only in the blue-green wind-rustled scarf and her skirt. It's what gives her life. I'm no art critic, but I read that Impressionism in general captured the moment, or rather, the paintings did. I thought this was a good illustration of that.

My favorite painting I saw in Musee d'Orsay was Gustave Caillebotte's "Les raboteurs de parque" (aka "The Floor Scrapers") painted in 1875. I wonder how long it took him to paint this; I imagine it took a while. There's something about labor that I think is beautiful, and that's why I loved this painting. There is an art to labor.

Around 11:30, Musee d'Orsay started getting crowded, so I decided to peace out and do what was next on my list: go back to Montmartre and buy a piece of leather I'd found in a tissu shop two days prior. Perhaps I should have felt hesitant about doing this because I had gone to Montmartre with Han and J. and there was a slight chance I wouldn't be able to find this tissu shop by myself. However, I kept a very detailed account of everything we did on the trip (or I wouldn't be writing about it on here) and I have a pretty good sense of direction (as well as a trusty Paris map). I had the address of the shop from which I had purchased the cotton and linen fabrics, and the shop with the leather I wanted was just right down the street. Anyway, I got off the metro at the Anvers stop, which spits you out directly into what I'm calling the fabric district of Montmartre. I found the dusty pink imprinted Burmese leather I was looking for after all and snatched it up, and when I walked around the corner, I realized that Han, J. and I had missed the majority of the tissu shops one street over. 

I briefly went into this woman's shop; she was chatting away with her customers, telling them all about the textiles they were holding. It was all in French (obviously):

I went into one ribbon store called Doration Passementerie (24, rue d'Orsel), and it was exactly how I would imagine an old school ribbon shop. There were spools of purchase-by-the-meter ribbons from the floor to the ceiling, everything was perfectly organized, and the shopkeeper was a very elegant older French woman who was very friendly. Oh, and the grosgrain! I could have spent my entire life's savings in that place. This transaction was my third favorite shopping experience (my favorite will be on Friday with a local French fashion designer and my second favorite on my last day in Paris). I bought some beautiful grosgrain ribbons at this shop. This lady did not speak English, at all, and we kept getting tickled because I was trying really hard to say something comprehensible to her even though I don't speak French at all. I was giggling and apologizing in French every other breath, but she was so sweet about it. 

Another memorable experience I had in the tissu district was when I walked into an upholstery store owned by a married couple, er, I think they were married. I presume they were married because the woman was screaming and yelling at the man, and he in turn would bicker right back at her. In between he would come over and talk to me in broken English and she never stopped yelling at him. I  immediately thought about the "Bonjour" scene from Beauty and the Beast (yeah, the Disney movie) where the woman hits the guy over the head with a rolling pin when he helps a young lady at their produce stand. I didn't spend much time in there before I walked into a leather/fur shop, which had gorgeous pieces in it. The young woman in the shop wasn't interested in me because I didn't speak French. She wasn't directly rude, but she was so aloof that I felt kind of uncomfortable. Maybe that was me being self-conscious. I did buy some leather from her because I had touched everything in the shop (and it was really pretty). One shopping faux pas in France putting your paws on everything in the store. When it comes to textiles, though, I just can't help myself. I did get a 3-meter-cut of some beautiful padparadscha-colored silk in a different tissu shop before departing Montmartre for the last time.

I met J. outside of Galeries Lafayette, a French department store on Boulevard Haussman. I'd read a lot about this department store, and its 10-stories of shopping do not disappoint. They have various eateries throughout the store as well as a Dom Perignon bar where you can order a glass of champagne to drink if you need to cool your heels mid-shopping. I could've spent an entire day in this place. J. and I had a snack and then hit up three floors of women's clothing before going to the first floor which was filled with shoes, shoes and more shoes. I got my first piece of Parisian apparel here, which was a short-sleeved, cream lace dress that ties in the back. The lace is scalloped on the hem and the nude slip underneath hangs below the scallops. Be still my heart, I love that dress!

These are some photos I took while J. and I were cooling our heels (with complimentary cups full of water, not Dom Perignon):

For dinner that night, Han, Ken, J. and I went to a local pub called Bouclier de Bacchus in the 9th. This place was a gem. It's where a lot of locals go (according to our hostess Han), meaning there were no tourists. I'd go back there in a heartbeat! It's a small joint, and when you walk in the door, there is a small wall to the right with bottles of white wine from the floor to the ceiling, and on the left, a huge wall with bottles of red wine from the floor to the ceiling. We got a bottle of Grand vin de Bourgogne's Chorey-les-Beaune (a yum red wine) and a meat and cheese plate to share. Since the tables were all so close, we made friends (one of our goals while in France: to make French friends, check) with a couple who talked to us for a while. During the conversation, J. jokingly asked the man how to get a French man, and he said, "Go to L.A.," laughed (because he met his wife in L.A.) and then went on to say, "It's a choice. Open your eyes and your ears." Thank you, insightful Frenchman, we'll have another bottle of wine on that note! Later, the couple asked us if we wanted to try a dab of their wine, and J. had a touch of our wine left in her glass. When she consented to trying the new wine, he grabbed her glass and threw her Chateau de Valmer Vouvray onto the floor of the restaurant before pouring her a taste of their wine. It was a very entertaining experience. That's all I've got for today, folks.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Paris: Day Four, Wednesday

On Wednesday, J. and I headed toward le Musee des Arts Decoratifs (Fashion and Textiles museum, which is attached to the Louvre). It was our first metro ride without Han, and we were able to navigate it very well! I need to feel oriented in a place, and I knew that was starting to happen for me on Wednesday when Paris didn't seem so big to me anymore. In fact, it was starting to feel more and more like a quaint, small town. Anyway, back to the Fashion and Textiles museum.

It was in this museum where I saw my favorite exhibit: Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs. As per the museum norm, photography was prohibited, but I really enjoyed just being in this exhibit. It was a two-story exhibit. The downstairs was about Louis Vuitton, and the upstairs housed Marc's world. Here are some images from the exhibit taken by Vogue UK. I learned so much about Louis Vuitton (both the man and his company). One such thing I learned was that he specialized in the packaging of haute couture. Maybe everyone else knew that except me, but whatever, R.'s rocking a new appreciation for LV. My favorite part of the exhibit was Marc's world. It was very colorful and loud, and there were audio recordings of him talking at different intervals. Very cool. He said that he always likes to start with a dialogue, that's he's really bad with a blank piece of paper; I liked that. I enjoyed LVMJ so much that I went through it twice while we were there. To be frank, I didn't really enjoy much else in the museum.

After a mealtime conundrum which ultimately lead J. and I to a lunch at McDonald's, I thoroughly enjoyed some Micky D's. It was actually delicious (familiar/comforting food halfway around the world was a plus for me during aforesaid conundrum). It took us a few days to realize that we needed to decide what we wanted to eat before we both became hangry, but we finally got the hang of it. After lunch, J. and I split up for the afternoon so she could hit up Centre Georges Pompidou (aka a famous modern art museum) and so I could go to Musee d'Orsay (aka a famous Impressionism art museum). Here's a tip, don't go Musee d'Orsay right after lunch. It's way too crowded. When I took one gander at the line outside, I thought, Forget it, walked away and never looked back. After that, I literally got lost in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area. I had a map, but I had no intentions of going anywhere in particular, and that was one of my favorite afternoons in Paris. I really enjoy aimless strolling.

So, J. had an international cell phone, and I was using a pay-as-you-go cell phone that belonged to Han during the day. Our intention was to call each other and meet up, but it's a good thing we had a back-up plan, which I had to implement as soon as I realized that my phone was out of minutes/texts. Through a string of events where my phone would receive a few thirty second telephone calls prior to a lovely French operator saying some incomprehensible stuff to me (weird), I gathered from Han that she and her beau Ken would be home between 6:30-7 and that we were going to a place near where J. was (they had spoken apparently) for dinner. So I met them back at the flat before going to meet J. at the Pont Neuf stop. Looking back, it was kind of awesome that all that worked out the way it did because we were all able to meet in the right places and then go to this restaurant of amazingness:

Han and Ken walking through Saint-German-des-Pres on the way to Le Relais de l'Entrecote:

Le Releais de 'Entrecote has only one main dish: steak frite (steak and fries). They bring you a salad with lettuce, walnuts, parmesan cheese and spicy mustard vinaigrette, they ask you how you want your steak cooked (rare, medium or done), they bring you the bottle of wine you order, and an amazing experience commences. Below is my amazing plate of steak frite (they bring you seconds, too, yay). The green herb and butter sauce is very delicious and super interesting...we read some recipe recreations online of this dish, and everyone seems to think they use chicken liver to flavor this stuff. Whatever they do, it's out of this world delicious.

Next stop after steak frite, a Seine river tour that started at 10 p.m.!

Ken and Han on the river tour:

J. and I on the river tour:

Some Eiffel Tower action with J. on the river tour:

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Paris: Day Three, Tuesday

Tuesday morning, J. and I checked out of the cute Hotel d'Albion and walked our bags over to Hanban's place. Since May 8 is Victoir 1945 ("Victory in Europe Day"), Han had the day off from work, so she could show us around Paris. Han was in Paris for a three-month-long work project and when we arrived, she had been there almost two months, so we were excited to see all her favorite spots in town! After the daily cafe au lait and pain au chocolat, Han showed us how to buy Metro tickets and how to navigate the Parisian Metro. Y'all. I became obsessed with the Metro; it's such an amazing train system! First stop, Pigalle. Pigalle is the stop right outside of the Moulin Rouge. Pigalle is kind of the red-light district of Paris, so we didn't spend much time there. Instead, we walked north and uphill into Montmartre. I've read that Picasso and van Gogh lived in this part of Paris (and artists such as Renoir and Matisse hung out in the area), but we did not pursue their digs on this walking tour.

Han and J. walking up one of several flights of stairs in Montmartre:

The ultimate goal was to get to Sacre-Coeur (I could not get a good picture of this basilica.) and check out the gorgeous view of Paris, but we slowly wove our way through a maze of sex shops, boutiques and wonderful-smelling brasseries, stopping for a crepe on the way up. We sat  by a cool house to eat our crepes and catch our breath, and I really liked the gate so I took a picture of it. The house had an informational monument-esque sign outside of it, but it was in French; I gathered that some important man influential in the development of Montmartre lived there.

It was cloudy for the majority of the trip, but I didn't mind at all. I actually really enjoy cloudy/rainy days because it feels magical to me in some way. I'm weird, don't judge me. Here is the view from Sacre-Coeur:

Below is a picture of J. and I outside Sacre-Coeur. I have laughed at every picture of myself in Paris because after all the careful and meticulous outfit-planning I did, I have on the same jacket, scarf and bag in every single photo. I promise I changed my clothes every day on this trip, ha.

After checking out Sacre-Coeur, Han pointed out a few fabric stores she'd been into in the past. Do I even have to tell you I made a bee-line for those places? I think not. This portion of the day was so fun for me. I first spotted a red, oatmeal and cream striped linen that made my heart flutter. I instantly wanted to mass-produce beautiful napkins when I saw this fabric. The best part: it was a 3 meter cut for 5 euros! That's a steal! Clearly I had to snatch it up. I also bought a pretty white cotton fabric with some neat eyelet designs on it (3 meters for 10 euros, another steal!). I want to make a shirt out of this one. Here's the thing about many of the "tissu" shops we went in that day, they all sold fabric in 3-meter cuttings and they were organized by textile (coton, soie, etc.)--so it was like buying fabric remnants. The only places I saw that were consistent in selling "tissu" off the bolt were upholstery shops. Anyway, we couldn't spend forever fabric shopping (well, I could have, but I didn't want to be a bore to Han and J.), so we went down to the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area by metro, which was lovely and very different than Montmartre. 

If Montmartre is bohemian, then Saint-Germain-des-Pres is swanky. We walked into boutique after boutique, but I have to be honest, I was discouraged by the lack of wow-factor clothing that wouldn't make my bank account hate me. Before I went to Paris, I decided that I wanted to buy a few clothing items when I went there. I've been bored with all the stores I normally shop, so in my mind, Paris was to redeem my spring and summer wardrobe. As much as Paris is a fashion capital of the world, it took me several days to figure out where exactly to go to find nice, affordable fashions. I love all different types of textiles, and sewing has made me become somewhat of a textile snob. With the rise of textile prices over the last few years, silk shirts are way more expensive than polyester shirts. I know you already knew that, but the thing is, I hate polyester and I don't like the way it feels on my bod. So the first couple of days shopping around kind of freaked me out beyond all belief. My shopping experience in Saint German des-Pres went like this in retrospect: every other shop was either filled with elegant, French-country style garments that were way out of my price rang or neon colored, cheap lace-trimmed dresses that looked like they came out of Barbie's worst nightmare. The lack of a middle ground agitated me. Not cool. I had to find somewhere in between (and I did, but later in the week). 

Overall, I enjoyed this day because every part of Paris is beautiful to me, and the experience of walking down the sidewalks and window-shopping while grinning and nodding at waiters enticing you to sit down at their cafe or brasserie was just the kind of experience that makes me smile and sigh. I drank a Coke at some panini place that afternoon, and it was delectable. It's the little things in life...

Oh, we randomly went to this sweet grocery store called La Grand Epicerie at Le Bon Marche (Le Bon Marche is the big department store on the left bank) that was like Whole Foods on crack. Their million-varieties-of-tomatoes were in crystal clear trifle bowls on tiered tables, what the what! I could've spent my entire life savings in that place on swanky groceries (but I didn't). On Tuesday night, we made some delicious salads for dinner, ate some yum cheeses and drank a glass or two of wine before heading to bed for another big day. Oddly, we did not buy supplies for dinner at La Grand Epicerie, but instead at a Monoprix, which is like a Parisian Target with groceries in the back. Below is a picture of Han walking out of the store. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Paris: Day Two, Monday

When I travel, I really like to get up and get going in the morning so I don't miss anything. Sleeping in makes me feel like I've wasted that day; needless to say, I was at a complete loss of what to do and how to feel when J. and I didn't wake up until almost noon on Monday. In short, I got ruled by jet lag, y'all. It obviously took us a day or two to get on Parisian time. We showered quickly and set out on foot toward the Louvre down the Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, which was a pretty swanky street with many designer boutiques. We stopped in a cafe, and it was crowded because everyone was there on their lunch breaks. I ordered a cafe au lait and my first pain au chocolat (American translation: "chocolate croissant"); ordering food became something which made me nervous at first because I don't speak French. My ordering in French-style became saying the product I wanted followed by "s'il vous plaît." It seemed to work pretty well for me, and I got better at ordering throughout the week, but talking to people in a language I didn't understand was stressful at times. My only back-up plan was to just start roll calling French pastries and desserts because I know a lot of those. 

According to a pastry student I met (you'll meet her later), the term "chocolate croissant" is an unheard of item in France. You either order a croissant or pain au chocolat. When I asked her why, she said that the different shapes are used to differentiate them in a bakery; otherwise, it'd be easy to mix things up. I ate pain au chocolat at least once a day from the second day until my last day in France, and the best part was, all of them were different. This one, for instance, had the best quality chocolate in it from what I could tell. Some were flakier, others had more chocolate in them, others had less, etc. I enjoyed trying the different variations of pain au chocolat, because well, it doesn't get much better than buttery pastry and chocolate (duh). Anyway, J. and I people-watched for a while before strolling on down to the Louvre. Check out this couple who was enjoying a lunchtime smooch (they're the couple that give the French a romantic reputation) about fifteen feet away from us. Oh, and that's J. there front and center:

And we finally made it to the Louvre! Here's J. looking all I'm-getting-ready-to-walk-into-one-of-the-most-famous-museums-in-the-world-like-I-own-the-place:

Let me share a few preliminary thoughts I have about museums in general. I call myself a museum cruiser because I don't love the idea of spending hours upon hours walking around museums. So while I thought I should go to the Louvre while in Paris, I wasn't really looking forward to it that much other than to say I'd stood in the presence of Mona. Also, I think it's a much better plan of action to go into a museum with the intention of seeing a particular exhibit or work of art instead of aimlessly wandering around all day (put me on the street, and I have the exact opposite feeling). When we went inside the Louvre, I was instantaneously miserable. It was so crowded and loud, two things I never want to be descriptive of my experience in any museum. J. and I looked at each other and almost simultaneously declared our disdain. Henceforth, the plan was simple: get to Mona, check her out, find a bathroom, peace out (and that's what we did). Being in front of Mona was like being paparazzi at a press conference; we had to fight the crowd to get a decent picture of it. 

I'm not hating on the Louvre at all. In fact, I thought the facility itself was magnifique! It was absolutely beautiful inside. The floors, walls, doorways, ceilings, etc. were all gorgeous. In retrospect, I wish I would've gone to see Napoleon's apartments. I did not know he used to live there; how cool is that! I kept finding myself drawn to windows and lights on this trip. Here are some shots from inside the Louvre.

This is a picture taken from underneath the pyramid. 

And this one is taken of the ceiling of the hallway on the way to Mona Lisa:

After checking out Mona, we high-tailed it out of that place because we couldn't take the crowd any longer. We jetted across the Jardin des Tuileries, which is in between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde and hit up the Musee de l'Orangerie. This museum is famous for Claude Monet's Les Nympheas at Giverny. This place was way more my style than the Louvre. For one thing, it was much smaller, and it wasn't very crowded. It's easily one of my favorite museums I've ever been in. I really surprised myself when I thought, Man, I could sit in front of these murals for hours. Downstairs in the museum, there were lots of Renoir, Picasso and Matisse paintings, which were all beautiful. When I go back to Paris, I will most definitely go back to Musee de l'Orangerie!

Afterward, we walked back toward Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré and came upon Rue de Cambon, the street where Coco Chanel lived. As you may have read on here in the past, I started reading a biography about her back in December (I'm still reading it...), and I have enjoyed it so much. So we decided to go into the store. There are many Chanel boutiques in Paris, but Gabrielle's apartment was above the store at this location, and she slept at the Ritz, which is right across the street. The highlight of this visit to was a gorgeous champagne and green tulle-esque hand-embroidered dress. I wanted to take a picture, but I thought it would be a huge faux-pas and practiced a little restraint. As I was touching this dress, I had a gander at the price tag and whoabackcatfish, it cost 37,000 euros. I quickly took my paws off and J. and I went out for a less-than-average dinner at a cafe near our hotel. I ate free range roast chicken, which was actually pretty good, and French fries. Anyway, Hanban got back into town from a weekend in Italy on this night, so we rendezvoused with her for a little while before hitting the hay. The next day we went to her house and stayed there for the remainder of our trip. More tomorrow!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Paris: Day One, Sunday

My hope this week is to be able to share my Parisian excursion with you on the corresponding day of the week that I was there, so I'm starting with Sunday. We departed Dulles airport in Washington D.C. at 4:45 on Saturday afternoon (May 5) and arrived in Paris at the Charles de Gaulle airport at 6:00 Sunday morning. Admittedly, I am not crazy about flying, so I was nervous about the 7.5 hour-long flight; however, I can happily report that it was the best flight I've ever been on! J. and I rode Air France's Airbus (the double-decker plane), and it rocked. We also befriended a wonderful flight attendant, who I affectionately named Jean-Pierre, and he was a very pleasant fellow who treated us very well throughout the duration of our flight. 

After a nap and a shower at our hotel, I felt like a new woman and was ready to set out exploring Paris. We stayed on Rue du Penthievre the entire trip, and it was a lovely little street. Our first day schlepping around Paris was my most memorable day there. I kept walking around mesmerized by everything, the smells, the sounds, the sheer beauty of it all.

Anyway, we walked along the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, which was absolutely gorgeous, and we had the first of what would become part of our daily regimen, a cafe au lait that changed my life. The Croque-monsieur, while delicious, wasn't a life-changer, but one of my favorite things about the salads I ate was the spicy mustard vinaigrette (it was on every salad I ate in France).  

Afterward, we headed straight for the Eiffel Tower with many stops along the way to take pictures of everything in between. I kept touching buildings to make sure I was really there.

After having a photo shoot at the Eiffel Tower, we had some French onion soup and a glass of Bordeaux and decided to head on back to the hotel. While walking back, we ran into some post-election celebrating on a bridge going across the Seine along with a slew of police cars. At the time, we didn't know that the results from the presidential election had just come out, so it was a little alarming to see riot-esque groups of people as well as passengers hanging out of moving cars shouting and waving along the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. As soon as we realized how jovial everyone was, it was very fun. Those were pretty much the highlights from the first day, and I was exhausted because of the 6 hour time difference. More tomorrow!