Saturday, April 10, 2010


After Andrew's parents arrived, we took a walk around the Ile de la Cité, one of the islands in the middle of the Seine River. Mark and Anne's hotel was very close to Notre Dame, so we started our tour there, where we showed our French savvy by jumping to the front of the “line” that all the tourists were waiting in. While it may not seem good etiquette to cut in front, the kilometer long line that the tourists make is completely self-inflicted, as there is neither an admission price nor an official demanding this line to enter the cathedral.

We exited the cathedral and headed to lunch at a nearby café, where we enjoyed hot bowls of onion soup topped with a slice of rye bread and swiss cheese. Heaven! Fortified, we hopped onto the metro and stopped off at the Moulin Rouge to see if we could get reservations for a show this weekend. Unfortunately everything was sold out.

We trekked up Montmartre, passing by the Café des Deux Moulins, where Amélie was filmed, before getting caught in the rain at Place du Tetre, the lively square where all the artists sit and paint Bohemian scenes and tourists' portraits. We ran for refuge at Sacre Coeur, but the church refused us and the other hundred wet tourists entrance! We stood out in the rain under my poor broken umbrella and waited until the storm abated. Thankfully, that didn't take too long and then we were rewarded with a blue sky and bright sun and a lovely view looking out over Paris. And then Sacre Coeur decided to let us inside. Figures.

We ate dinner at a really amazing little place just at the bottom of the “l'escalier de la butte” called “La Taverne à Montmatre.” Amazingly, they had a three course menu for only 12€! This is completely unheard of in Paris or anywhere else in France I've been, especially for the evening service. I started my meal with another bowl of onion soup, which didn't compare to the one I'd had earlier, but everyone else raved about their delicious salads. I had a salmon filet in a bearnaise sauce and stole some of Andrew's delicious boeuf bourgignon. For dessert there was a heavenly plum tarte and red fruit tarte, which was worth the 12€ by itself! Exhausted, we returned Andrew's jet-lagged parents to their hotel and did a late night trip to Carrefour to buy some supplies for Easter dinner the next evening.

Andrew's parents started their Easter morning by going to mass at Notre Dame. Andrew and I decided to skip it, being neither religious nor inclined to get up super early and make the long trek to the cathedral. But they enjoyed the mass. After a quick breakfast at a café, we walked to the Louvre. I can't describe how much I love this museum. The building is so grand and majestic and beautiful that sometimes I want to cry. The line was outrageous. I imagine the wait would have been over two hours, but being wise to their ways, we had a different plan. There's a secret entrance to the Louvre that not many people know about. You must have a special pass of some sort, such as a Museum Pass, a yearly pass, or a teacher card. Andrew and I both had ours, and we smiled nicely and the guard let us take Anne and Mark with us. No line! No waiting in the cold and rain! And to make things sweeter, it was the first Sunday of the month, so the museum was free!

We spent about 3 hours in the Louvre, visiting the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Hamurabi's Code, Rembrandt, El Greco, and my personal favorite, Winged Victory. For those who don't know, Nike was the Greek goddess of victory, and is where the name “Nicole” originates from, so I have a special fondness for this little angel that could fit in Athena's hand.

Feeling sufficiently artsy, we popped over to the Marais intending to eat lunch at L'As du Falafel, which is my personal favorite for quick and tasty and cheap lunches. My thinking was that being in the Jewish quarter, it would be open on Easter Sunday. Not so. In fact, pretty much everything in the Jewish section of town was closed, which was a little irritating. Jews don't celebrate Easter!!

Instead, we popped into a nearby café, once again to escape from the rain. I ordered a pastrami sandwich which surprisingly came with hard boiled egg inside it. It tasted fine at the time, but made me feel a little ill later. We walked over to the Bastille monument after lunch, which was a little disappointing for Mark, seeing as how there isn't anything to indicate the famous prison once stood there except a very tall pillar. We finally got some bright sun, so we stopped by Berthillon for some of the world's best ice cream, and I have officially decided that they deserve that title. I had gingerbread and honey nougat, and the gingerbread was out of this world good, with chocolate running a close second. It was worth the 15 minute wait in line. We were a little rushed for time after that, so we walked over to the Conciergerie, the former prison where Marie-Antoinette and Robespierre were kept until their beheadings. We once again used our mad skills to sweet-talk the guard into letting us in, since they were getting ready to close and didn't want to let anyone else in. And Andrew and I got in free! There were some interesting parts to the museum, including a recreation of M.A.'s cell and a list of everyone who was executed during the Revolution.

We headed back to the apartment where Andrew and I are staying and I prepared a yummy Easter dinner of herb-crusted lamb, mashed potatoes, and green beans. We also had some bread and cheese and a bottle of Reisling. For dessert, chocolate éclairs and macarons. Andrew then took his parents back to their hotel, stopping to give them a petit tour of the Latin Quarter on the way.

Our final day in Paris was a little rushed and involved a lot of walking. We had a nice, clear day for once, so we headed to the Eiffel Tower and stood in line for 2 hours to ride the elevator to the 2nd floor (the top floor was closed).

Still, at 115 meters above Paris, it's impressive! Unfortunately every other tourist in Paris was also there so it was very crowded. On the way back down we decided to stop at the restaurant on the first floor and eat lunch. We were expecting to pay a lot of money to eat there, but we at least expected to get good food in exchange. It didn't work out that way. The portions were tiny, the selection was small, and the taste wasn't anything exceptional. But for the atmosphere, it was excellent! I would recommend 58 Eiffel for drinks, but not food.

After taking some crazy photos in front of the tower, we went to the Arc de Triomphe and then walked along the Champs-Elysses enjoying the sun and shops.

We made a slight detour to try to find the spot where Princess Diana died, but we didn't really have time to look for it. Instead, Andrew took his parents on a walk through the Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries and I headed back to the apartment to pick up our bags.

We took a 5pm train into Orléans and installed A's parents in a friend's apartment. (These friends are currently in L.A. staying Chez Wallace, as per our arranged house exchange). Mark then took us to dinner at La Petite Marmite, a wonderful little restaurant on rue de Bourgogne. The menu was very local, including game from the Orléans area and wine from Chinon. For 36€ each, we each had a choice of entrée, main dish, salad and cheese plate, and dessert. Because everything was so amazingly delicious, I've included a list of what we ate for your drooling pleasure:

Anne: Peach and white wine kir, foie gras on toast (duck liver paté), duck breast with foie gras in a truffle sauce, pear crème brulée.
Mark: Black currant and white wine kir, apple and foie gras pastry tarte with truffle sauce, veal medallions in a cream sauce, coconut tarte
Andrew: Black currant and white wine kir, apple and foie gras pastry tarte with truffle sauce, scallops in a cream sauce, stewed chilled prunes in a red wine syrup, armagnac brandy
Me: Red port, escargot with roquefort sauce, duck and mushrooms, pear crème brulée

We all had a three-cheese platter consisting of a very sharp brie, a mild goat cheese, and a mild St. Nectaire. My favorite entrée was the foie gras, and Andrew's scallops were so delicious that everytime he took a bite he closed his eyes and sighed in pleasure. The crème brulée was also amazing. What was most shocking about this experience was the service; the waiters were very attentive, we never had to ask for more water or for the next course, and they gave us a free digestif, a concoction of four different fruit flavored alcohols (raspberry, cherry, etc.). I would highly recommend this restaurant for anyone who comes to Orléans.

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