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Category: Istanbul -> Paris (page 1 of 3)

Day Twenty One

The End.

At least, of our trip. Three weeks and over 15,000 miles of travel would see us back in Pittsburgh. But not after a day full of flights and layovers.

We got up at 4 in the morning to finish getting ready and get our Taxi a bit after 5. We made great time on the empty streets of Paris and arrived at the airport before our goal of 6. Bags checked, hoping that all the liquids would make it safely, we made it to our gate and grabbed some quick airport pastries. Which were still better than 95% of what we have at home. This is going to take some getting used to…

Our flight was uneventful, and saw us in Iceland a bit over 3 hours later. As a side note; Icelandic is an incredibly odd language. But they also have a great sense of humor with odd descriptions in their in flight magazine and menus, and their safety video was very clever, taking place in the natural surroundings of the country, and not on the plane itself. Oh, and the landscape was beautiful when we landed, showing us a huge rainbow ending at the airport terminal. Neat. We will have to come back.

We had the lucky chance for additional screening here before our US bound flight, something we were assured was random. Just as random as us having come from Turkey, right? The Icelandic agents were polite enough about it, and kept assuring us they were only doing this because the TSA said so, which was some humorous international finger pointing.

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Our lengthy flight to Boston was equally uneventful. We proceeded through customs and border control without an issue, and our bags appeared to not be leaking. The Boston airport is a disaster of a layout and wayfinding, resulting in a frustratingly long time to get to our gate, requiring going back through security. All the while, english shock occurring, the sudden ability to understand with 100% clarity every conversation around you. It wasn’t much of a surprise that we stopped for a meal (timezones confusing us as to which meal it actually was) and two large beers.

A short jaunt had us back in Pittsburgh just in time to hit rush hour in our taxi ride home. Over an hour later and with the credit card getting one more charge in there, we were back at home. Needy cats, an overgrown yard, mail everywhere. We did the necessary rounds of cat cuddling, and then promptly went over our checked bags to discover we had no casualties amongst our 20 glass bottles full of various forms of alcohol. Woohoo!

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We had made it. There will probably be a few more “summary” type posts following this one analyzing some overall trends and general reflections on the trip. But one thing was clear: Every step had exceeded every expectation we had, shattering misconceptions and concerns both we and others had before our departure. We can’t wait to go back.

Day Twenty

The final countdown. 

And we both agreed that was no reason to feel rushed. We had a bad habit of wanting to see so much we’d forget lunch, or get super tired walking, or not stop and see a small shop or sight. Not on this last day! 


We had planned on getting to Notre Dame for its opening at 8. We didn’t get out of bed until after 9. Oops. The line was short, and we were inside the massive church shortly after. It was just as impressive inside as it was out, and it was refreshing to have a quiet look at something for a change. 


After we decided to do the tower tour since our museum pass included it. The line moves incredibly slowly, but an hour and a half later we finally started out ascent. 320 stairs to the top, with some stops along the way for things like seeing a 13 ton bell. The view from the top was tremendous, affording unobstructed vistas from the center of the old city. 

A brief visit to the crypt beneath the square in front of Notre Dame showed off remains from the Roman era settlement predating Paris. We then swung by a few shops, bought some more wine, grabbed lunch, and headed to Berthillion to have some incredible ice cream. More walking and shopping brought us back to the hotel, now a few pieces of cheese heavier. 


The sad task of packing took place to free up our evening for dinner without stressing over such an annoying task. Two bags to be checked full of French wine, beer, cheese, macarons and so many souvenirs, all of which we hoped would be under the weight limit and make it back home safely. 

For our last night in Paris we opted for…Vietnamese. The historical connection between these two countries can create some excellent culinary collaboration, and this meal was exactly that. Delicious spring rolls, noodles and Pho, with copious wine as usual. We reflected on the evening, the day, the weeks, the whole trip. 

It had been great. 

Day Nineteen

The louvre. 

It was so daunting, we may have been putting it off subconsciously. We had also hoped that by going on a weekday, and during rainier weather, we might avoid some crowds. We were partially right. 


We arrived right around opening time and still had to face a line. The knowledge of the entrance from the carrousel underground was handy, saving us from the rain, unlike the winding line that was out in the elements, three times as long as ours. Pays to research! 

Once past security, entering the museum was easy with our passes. We headed straight to the Mona Lisa on some advice to beat the crowd. While busy, it only took a few moments to reach the front of the crowd clamoring for a glimpse. Impressive, but we still only lingered for a bit. 


We spend the morning and part of the afternoon wandering through gallery after gallery. We loosely focused on areas of interest, but still barely scratched the surface. Our tour guide on the bike tour told us if you spent 30 seconds in front of each painting, you would still need nearly two weeks of back to back days to see every piece. We didn’t doubt him. 

A short break for some snacks and coffee refueled us for our final push through the Islamic arts section before leaving. It was interesting seeing work here from where we had started our trip, great bookends of historical significance on our whirlwind tour. 

After hours of wandering through such impressive works, we had to give our eyes and brains a rest. We headed out with an aim for one of our last conquests: wine luggage. We had struck out a few times with places that were supposed to carry the type we were looking for, and unfortunately our search on this day went just as poorly. So we gave up and decided to just buy some cheapo hardshell luggage from a street vendor. It would work. 


We did our typical evening refresh at the hotel and headed back out for dinner with new guests: my parents and brother. They had also decided to go to Paris, and it happened that our dates slightly overlapped. So we headed to a local restaurant recommended by our Airbnb host called au Phil du vin. As with all meals, it was quite delicious. As were the copious types of wines. It was great to catch up and swap stories, and we left quite content. 

Heading to the hotel and then to bed slowly felt bittersweet. Tomorrow would be our last day in Paris, our last day on the trip. The only destination next in our whirlwind tour was home. 

Day Eighteen 

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! 

Something about Sunday makes it easier to sleep in. I can’t put my finger on it specifically, but there is probably some scientific reason. Needless to say, we got a late start. 

Eventually we headed back over to Montmarte. Our waiter at Oggi had told us about a car show there that morning that would have some quite old European models, so we decided to head back. 


Fortunately this also have us a great excuse to try out another recommended brunch spot, la bascule. And a solid recommendation it was. Poached eggs with salmon gravlox were incredibly delicious, along with yet more wonderful coffee and baguette. 

Finishing brunch, we walked around our old stomping grounds and started to panic. We couldn’t find the cars! After 20 minutes of wandering we decided to go say hi to our favorite waiter and get more coffee, and perhaps glean the location of said cars. The coffee was a success, but our fears were confirmed that the car show was an earlier morning event, supposedly ending right around the time we were having our coffee. 

Slightly bummed to have missed the one reason we came back to this side of town, we headed for the Seine, figuring we could at least make a long walk out of getting back. And surprise! Cars! We had misunderstood the location on the street, and were greeted by over a dozen old renaults, peugeouts and everything in between. They were gorgeous, and we were allowed to get right up to them. It was great seeing some different car history than what we would get at home. 


Our walk to the Seine took is down rue de martyrs, which was quite scenic. We also made it past the opera house, and of course I had to spend five minutes in the great Apple Store there. We continued down to the Tuileries and decided we had enough time to visit the decorative arts museum. 


And what a fun museum it was! We had seen so much painting and sculpture by this point, it was refreshing to see all the other objects that filled in the daily lives of the last 200 years. While confusing at first, the museum does a great job walking you through the developments and changes chronologically, ending in rooms of 50s and 60s furniture that I could barely stop drooling over. 


A quick walk brought us back to the hotel where we changed and got ready for our bike tour. A gift from friends at home, we booked the Sunday evening tour that included a boat cruise. 

Despite looking daunting, the streets were easy to ride around, and our guide took a very leisurely pace, stopping to give some very interesting history and trivia along the way. Eventually it started pouring, so we took cover and ate ice cream, fearing the rest of the ride would be miserable. Fortunately the rain cut back and we made it to the boat. Our guide had brought wine, so we used that to warm up while taking in the city of lights at night from our river vantage point. 


The whole experience had taken four hours, putting us back at the hotel very late, soaked and exhausted and cold. We begged a waiter at a place down the street known for pizza (and still being open at 11 on a Sunday night) to give us food. He obliged, we demolished, and then promptly wandered home to pass out. 

Day Seventeen

Hello Saint Germain! 

We spent the morning getting our luggage packed back up and cleaning our home away from home. Eventually we lugged ourselves and heavy bag to the metro, descending the 92 steps we knew so well to the platform. 

Once again we left bags at the front desk while waiting for our room, and set off to figure out our new neighborhood. We grabbed some quick sandwiches from the Boulanger across the street, and walked down to Luxembourg gardens. Did I mention it was grey and rainy? 


The gardens were still impressive, but we didn’t linger as long as we could have. An interesting exhibit was open due to the weekend, so we had the opportunity to see the greenhouses that keep the whole place running, and old varieties of orchids and fruits dating to the gardens creation over two hundred years ago. 

We wanted to do the catacombs tour next, but our arrival showed us how popular that was on a cold rainy Saturday, with a line wrapping around the block. Fortunately our walk there was nice, and we got to see the Paris observatory along the way. So rather than spend our time in Paris waiting in line, we headed to the Rodin. 

The museum was quite impressive, highlighting his ability to create similar works over and over to seek perfection, numerous models and studies accompanying his final pieces throughout. Seeing all of these along with well curated paintings to support the theme of each room was great, as was the sculpture garden outside. 


We went back to the hotel to check in and unpack so we could freshen up a bit. With that accomplished, we set back out for food, starving. Yet again we had skipped lunch in an effort to see more, a reoccurring, often subconsciously, theme of our Paris portion of the trip. 


The restaurant we had in mind wasn’t open yet, so we grabbed a small entree and two glasses of wine at a cafe around the corner. We slipped back to la reserve de Quasimodo, supposedly the site of the oldest wine cellar in Paris, and enjoyed a dinner in the enclosed terrace. Delicious smoked meats, and a huge bowl of French onion soup to warm up on a grey day. Oh and a great wine selection. 

Having bought several bottles post dinner, we headed home for some rest before another day of adventure.

Day Sixteen

Start your museum engines! 

We picked up a six day museum pass to bring us through our day of departure (sad!). The previous evening was spent calculating, probably too much, what days to see what in an effort to miss crowds. 


Which meant we were headed to Musee D’Orsay. Putting a museum in a train station was of course going to be attractive to me, but beyond that was an excitement to finally see the real works that I had only ever read and seen pictures of, all too often reproduced onto coffee mugs and key chains. 


But these were real. Manet. Monet. Cézanne. Sisley. What made the trip so great was not just these names, but all those that I didn’t recognize, or pulled at some long ago forgotten piece of art history. It’s wonderfully curated (duh) and pulls together great themes from room to room. Not a bad start for the museum offerings. 

Starving, we stopped at one of the first places that served food that we could afford and knew we would like. Which ended up being a burger joint. A comics themed burger joint. Which meant it was stacked high with French comics to go through while waiting for your food. Quirky and odd, it was perfect before trekking it across the city to fit in a second museum in one day. 


We plotted a careful route to go past a few attractions along the way, including Pompidou center and Saint Jacques tower, before reaching the Musee de arts and metiers. Which is basically a scientific artifacts museum. 


Almost two hundred years ago, Paris saw the need to preserve the tools that were leading to incredible advancements in everything from mechanisms to communication. So they started collecting and preserving these objects, and bam, really nerdy museum of some incredibly important items. Like the first battery. Ever. First camera. Ever. First pendulum to prove the earth spins. Ever. See a theme? The list could go on! The whole museum has great descriptions and text (in English too!) to guide you, but definitely under represents how important some of these things were. 

Having tickled both sides of the brain, it was time to head back to Montmarte. Having rekindled our desire for beer, we decided to swing by a brewery on our way home. Goute d’or brewery is Paris’ first craft brewery, which opened in…drumroll…2012. No wonder we can’t find beer here! Obviously wine is what is up, and we have no complaints about that, but it was nice to see a brewery doing well too. And everything that were making was delicious. So we bought twelve bottles after thoroughly sampling, and then lugged them back to our Airbnb. 


Then it was time for our final dinner there before we switched to a hotel in Saint Germain the next morning. It was a cold, windy, rainy evening, so we opted for something very near by that we knew wouldn’t disappoint: Oggi. The weather really kept people away, and we had the restaurant nearly to ourselves the whole evening. This led to great conversation with both waiters, finally letting us stretch our French in a slow and not intimidating way. A great meal ended with coffee and grappa. 

Content, we headed home and collapsed into bed, not wanting to think about packing and moving locations until tomorrow. 

Day Fifteen

Time for some R&R. 

This is a vacation too, isn’t it? We felt stretched pretty thin after all of our travels the past few days and now two weeks past since being at home and in a normal rhythm of things. So we slept in and took things slowly. 


We went back to Marcel for a late breakfast before seeing some more Montmarte sights; the incredibly cool, very urban, cemetery and a brief walk past the Moulin Rouge and all the sex shops the Pigalle area brings. 


We swung back up numerous Montmarte side streets to poke in small shops, picking up souvenirs and practicing French along the way. 


After dropping bags off at home, we set out for another important item: beer. There is plenty of 1664, Leffe and Carlsburg around, but we were craving something different, something, admittedly, more American. In this case, we settled with German, and went to a beergarden that we read about. It was empty when we arrived, but still quickly had great German beer brought to us. A pale ale. Hops. Glorious! 

Filled up on beer, we headed home to finish snacking on some food at our Airbnb, and plan out the final days of our trip, which included the great museum plunge. 

For dinner, we had a wonderful surprise. Our mutual friends from Apple were also in Paris during some over lapping time, and we were able to meet them for a dinner. The locale was Esens’all, specializing in gastronomy and French cuisine. A six course meal accompanied lovely conversation about all things travel we had all seen over the previous weeks. It was great to catch up, and the hours flew by. Eventually we had to part ways, but with wide smiles and full bellies. 

Day Fourteen

Normandy. 

We needed an even earlier start. We left while it was still dark, sun rising while we left Paris on our speeding train to Caen. Once there, we got our rental car and grabbed some sandwiches. Even train station baguettes are awesome here. 


We stopped at the world war 2 memorial museum in Caen first. A must visit, it does a great job of starting with the end of world war 1, and following the timeline up through the conclusion of world war 2. With a much different perspective than American history books and museums, we uncovered lots we didn’t know, and saw large collections of posters, weapons and uniforms, and other artifacts left from the war. We finished by exploring a bunker underneath the site of the museum left from the Nazis attempt at defending the area. 

In the right mindset, we hopped back in our Golf and headed for Omaha beach. Abby was thrilled to be driving a manual car, and I was certainly happy to be navigating through small French countryside roads and villages. After about 30-45 minutes on the road, we arrived out our first top, the memorial cemetery at Omaha Beach. Nearly 10,000 soldiers lie there, a somber spread of stark white crosses going on as far as you can see, the beach off in the distance. 


After a respectful and quiet visit, we headed down the road so we could make into the beach itself (access was closed at the museum/cemetery for some reason). We stopped at the monument dedicated for that beach’s landing more than 70 years ago, and took a long walk. It was a beautiful day, and it was amazing how quiet and peaceful it felt. I have a feeling anyone who visits there knowing what had happened in that same spot probably finds the contrast as extreme as well. 


After a delicious lunch, we headed up to Utah Beach. We were limited on time, but knew we had to go. There was enough time for a quick walk on the beach there too, and the drive back was lit by a beautiful sunset. Places we had only seen on maps, villages made famous after we watched Band of Brothers, they were all real now, we were going through them with our own eyes. 


Tired physically and emotionally, we made the hour drive back to Caen, returned our car, and hopped back on the train. It was a lot of travel for a day trip, and it would be easy to spend a whole week in Normandy, but it was worth it for the hours we got. 

We bought some cheese and fruit before heading home, and munched on crackers cheese and smoked meats while drinking wine, reflecting on the day. It had been a busy couple of days, I think we will sleep in tomorrow. 

Day Thirteen

Versailles. 

Knowing we faced similar line issues as the Eiffel Tower, we woke early and grabbed our assortment of Metro and commuter rail to get us out to the suburban palace. At least we had tickets bought ahead of time. 


We arrived and quickly made our way the few blocks to the main gate. We hopped in line just in time, large tour groups lined up behind us, quadroupling its length in a few minutes. It was 10 am and already super busy. 


We were inside quickly after, and began our self guided tour. Words can’t describe how over the top this place is. Check out the Instagram photos, which I feel like a broken record saying yet again. It’s not much a wonder there was a revolution, superfluous opulence surrounded us. 

It was also busy. Very busy. So much so we did feel a bit rushed and actually relieved when we made it to the open expanse of the gardens. And they are expansive. We spent hours more wandering outside before our stomachs got the best of us. We grabbed a quick lunch and then headed to the Trianon and Marie Antoinettes estate. 


The grand and petite Trianon are both spectacular. They may not drip with gold leaf like the main palace, but they are every bit as impressive structures. They were also empty. The journey to a far corner of the ground must be daunting for enough people that we could finally take our leisurely time and take in these great surroundings. 


By the time we made it to Marie Antoinettes estate and village, we were exhausted. It was over 90, sun out this whole time. So we began the almost hour long walk from this far corner of the grounds to the train station. 

This put us back in Montmarte early enough to shower and head back out to dinner at a place that caught our eye the night before. It seemed slightly silly to come all the way to Paris and then have Brazilian food, but after our first bite we knew we had chosen wisely. 

Chicken beignets. A seafood curry unlike anything else. Caramel pudding. And some thorough exercises in speaking French with the waitress who spoke nearly no English. A solid dinner. 

We could get used to this. 

Day Twelve

Eiffel Tower Day!

We knew it would be busy. We were told, and tried, to buy tickets online. But the first availability was almost four weeks away. So we got up early, hopped two metro trains over, and got in line 45 minutes before ticketing opened. 


And all was fine. The signage and directions were a bit lacking, but we eventually found ourselves past initial security and waiting for ticketing. Once the window opened, we were through security point number two and waiting for one of the famous double decker elevators not 15 minutes later. We quickly changed to the second elevator to take us to the top, knowing it would only get more crowded. 


And that second elevator is fun. I’ve been in plenty of tall buildings before, but never one so open and minimal surrounding you. Heights normally don’t affect me much, but this was a very interesting experience. To be clear: absolutely worth it. Especially when we stepped out at the top. 

All of a sudden you realize how big this thing is, and how few skyscrapers there really are in one of the worlds biggest cities. Kilometer after kilometer of winding streets bellow head off in every direction, dotted by wonderful landmarks. And we had luckily picked a gorgeous day weather wise to make the trip. 


After sufficient tourist photo taking, we went back down to the “second” floor where it was less crowded and we could spend more time poking around. Being closer to the ground out everything on a surprisingly different scale, and so we had to take just as many photos. 

We descended to the “first” floor via stairs and grabbed a few more photos. The open center allowed for some great admiring of the structure, including walking across the more recently added glass floors. Stomachs thoroughly turned, we took the stairs back down to solid ground and had our leave. 

Heading across the Seine, we went to our first of many museums on our list, Musee l’homme. Exploring humanities past, both scientifically and culturally, it takes an incredible journey through where we came from, where we are, and a brief look of where we might end up. There isn’t a lot of English, so bone up before your visit, but it’s very worth it. Incredibly thought provoking, and wonderful artifacts on display. 


Starving, we headed for the champs elysee in search of food. Swinging by the Arc de Triumph, we sought out a small cafe and grabbed some food. Abby also found out what 100 cl of beer looks like. I didn’t complain, the metric system is great! 

We hit up a few stores along the way, people and car watching the whole time. Several blocks of gazing and shopping later, we hopped the Metro back home to freshen up before dinner. 


We stayed local for dinner, having eyed a place the night before while researching. Not wanting to miss out, we wandered down a bit earlier than necessary, and grabbed a table at Le Vache et Le Cuisiner. Dinner was incredible. 

Ratatouille that was like vegetable pudding. Perfectly poached eggs with mushrooms. Quail fillets with amazing fingerling potatoes. Perfectly cooked fish that fell off the bone. I’m hungry writing this all over again. Oh and we finished with great creme brûlée and plum sorbet. 

What a day. We slept very well. 

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