Is it possible for jet lag to hit a week late? I felt totally fine during my first week back in the States, but during the second week I was more tired than I can remember being in recent history. I put these recap posts on the back burner to get some rest, and I’m still struggling to find the time to write them, but I’m committed to documenting this trip before the memories slip away!
I also attended my five-year college reunion last weekend, and I couldn’t believe how many of you told me you’d been reading these posts. Making my heart happy, people! I’m going to squeeze Monday and Tuesday of the trip into one post because they fit together well, and then I’ll still break the rest of the trip into individual posts, so there are two more to come after this.
In this series:
Our first stop Monday morning was Rue Crémieux, which is a whole road lined with pastel houses. We went just to marvel at its cuteness. It looks like Instagram and Anthropologie had a street together. I imagine its homes are inhabited by life-size Polly Pockets who keep My Little Ponies as pets.
After admiring (and maybe envying) the colorful homes, we made our way to Place des Vosges, which is cute but in a different way. It is the oldest planned square in Europe and was also once the home of Victor Hugo. (Going to France really made me want to re-watch — maybe even read!?!? — Les Mis.) Place des Vosges, as far as I can tell, is like the 17th-century version of a subdivision. Not only were the houses perfectly symmetrical, but the trees were trimmed into rectangles. There was something very Alice-in-Wonderland about it.
Because we couldn’t visit two places in Paris without stopping to eat again, we then stopped for some sandwiches at a boulangerie and for some gourmet (another French word!) eclairs from L’éclair de Génie over in the the Jewish quarter.
While en route to pick up our eclairs, a man said something to me in French. When I looked at him bewildered, he accurately pegged me as a tourist and said, “English?”
Want to know what I answered?
I SAID SÍ. TO A FRENCH MAN. WHO’D JUST ASKED ME IF I SPOKE ENGLISH. IN ENGLISH.
There is something about being spoken to in a foreign language that always makes me revert to Spanish. One day I need to visit Spain. I will be in good shape.
After we ate our lunches, we headed to Sainte-Chapelle. If you have one day to spend in Paris, make sure this is on the itinerary. It is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. Louis IX had it built in the 1240s (!!!) to house the purported crown of thorns and other relics. The chapel’s upper level is walled in stained glass, each section depicting a Bible story. Twelve statues punctuate the room, one for each apostle. The crazy part is that the relics cost more than three times what the chapel itself cost, and though I’m no expert on the rates of 13th-century building materials, I’d estimate that the chapel was pretty expensive. Yet again, while in Sainte-Chapelle, I found myself wishing I knew more about French history and church history. Was the glory of the stained glass supposed to reflect the glory of Jesus or the glory of the Catholic Church? I would love to know more.
Musée de l’Orangerie
After Sainte-Chapelle we headed over to Musée de l’Orangerie in the Tuileries Gardens. The highlight of the museum was eight of Monet’s massive Water Lilies paintings. Apparently Monet had given them as a gift to the French government but, in doing so, had provided stipulations about how they must be displayed: in oval rooms with natural, filtered light. Maybe Monet was a little high-maintenance. (I imagine he stipulated this like a pop star stipulates which amenities should be backstage, but I could be wrong.) That said, everyone in the gallery looked amazing. So from here on out, you guys are only allowed to view me in natural, filtered light.
After a French lady shuffled us out of the musée (it was closing, unbeknownst to us), we made our way back over toward Notre Dame to try what’s been called the BEST ICE CREAM IN THE WORLD from a little shop called Berthillon.
You know how in the U.S., “one scoop” is more like three scoops? In France, one scoop is more like a rounded tablespoon, which was somewhat disappointing. The ice cream was good, but I’m pretty indiscriminate when it comes to ice cream. Whatever ice cream I’m eating at the moment is the best in the world. We ate ours in the garden behind Notre Dame and then started the trip back to our apartment, stopping by a boulangerie on the way to pick up more baguettes for another French dinner of bread and cheese in our apartment. It never gets old.
Riding in cars in Paris
Tuesday morning we met up with Marie’s parents to drive to Giverny to see Monet’s home and gardens. They had a rental car, and other than the cars that took us to and from our apartment on our first and last days, this was the only time we rode in a car in France. We used the underground metro system almost exclusively to get around the city. (Culture shock #6: Transportation.)
French cars are tiny, and they’re not all tricked out like American cars. At one point on the way to Giverny, Marie asked her dad if the car had air conditioning, and I thought about what a funny question that would be in the U.S. It would almost certainly be a passive-aggressive jab to get someone to turn on the air. Not so in France. For the most part, the cars we saw were not even brands I recognized, although there were some familiar European brands like Audi and BMW. We rode to Giverny in a Peugeot. Who’s ever heard of a Peugeot??? Not me.
Riding in a car in downtown Paris was an experience in its own right. Intersections often had little squares in the middle of them through which you could go underground to access the metro. Everyone was zooming around these squares to turn down different streets. Sometimes it felt as though, rather than merging strategically, the cars were just mushing together toward their destination. (It was as though the city of Paris had developed long before cars or something.)
Once we got into the French countryside, however, the ride felt much more like America (and the landscape looked much more like America). A notable exception was the cute villages we passed. You know how when you take a road trip in the U.S., you end up driving through a bunch of sad little podunk towns whose only notable structures are rundown gas stations and sketchy motels — and it kinda makes you sad about being alive? Well, this is not the case in France. In France, you also pass little towns in the middle of nowhere, but they are the most PRECIOUS, delectable little villages. They look as though they were built by a gingerbread architect who had only stone at his disposal. We passed a few such villages on the way to Giverny, and I wish I had taken pictures of them for you guys! (Just Google image search “French village,” and you will get a pretty good idea.)
We made it to Monet’s house, and I was surprised to find that it was PINK AND GREEN and covered in artwork. I’ve never been much of an art buff, but I’ve always liked Monet because I think his stuff is genuinely pretty. His paintings make my eyes feel relaxed. That said, the interior of his house did not make my eyes feel relaxed, what with its wall-to-wall artwork. I couldn’t figure out how much of the artwork he’d always had displayed like that, and how much of it was on display for the visitors. He particularly liked Japanese artwork and had multiple rooms full of it, but I got the feeling that Marie Kondo would not approve.
Though I didn’t love the interior of his house, I found his garden magnificent. From the number of gardeners present, I think it must be several people’s full-time jobs just to maintain it. Most people have plain old grass behind their houses, but behind Monet’s house are rows upon rows of different types of flowers and, here and there, archways covered in vines. Beyond the backyard garden is the pond with its famous water lilies and Japanese bridges. You can walk the perimeter of the pond in total shade because the tree branches create a canopy. I kept bending down to marvel at the enormity of some of the leaves.
One random and amazing thing about France is that there are very few bugs compared to the U.S. (Culture shock #7: No bugs! We slept with our screen-less windows open every night.) In the U.S., there would’ve been bugs crawling all over a garden that size, but as it was, I saw only a few bees and one mosquito. I didn’t even get any bites. I would be polka-dotted in the U.S. I don’t know why they don’t have as many bugs there — something about the climate — but it makes me jealous.
We stopped in the gift stop at Monet’s house before leaving, then lunched with Marie’s parents in Vernon before they dropped us off Versailles.
Château de Versailles
There’s something so surreal about driving into what appears to be a quaint little town (not too unlike Versailles, Kentucky, where I am from) and then seeing on the horizon, BAM, the Palace of Versailles. It looks ornate even from a distance, its golden gates glistening. We walked around the town of Versailles just a bit before making our way up to the palace/château. We had to pop into a Starbucks to fuel up before braving the line, and we also went to nearby tourist shop to purchase a laughably ugly backpack for 12 euros just to get our rain jackets out of our arms. We’d prepared for drizzle but instead received a hot, sunny day. (The backpack ended up becoming a running joke throughout the rest of our time in Paris. The laughs it provided were well worth 12 euros.)
After we got through the line to enter the palace, we toured its rooms at our own pace. If we’d had more time, it would’ve been fun to do the audio tour, but we had a lot to squeeze in that day. The Palace of Versailles is just as ostentatious as everyone makes it sound. Gold accents, billowing fabric, huge paintings, canopy beds. This makes Donald Trump look modest, I thought while walking through. Actually, a lot about Versailles reminded me of Trump. Apparently King Louis XIV — or the Sun King (LOL) — had a daily ceremony during which his courtiers would crowd into his bedchamber there at Versailles and watch him wake up. That sounds like egotism of Trumpian proportions.
This was, in fact, probably my primary takeaway from the tour of Versailles and its grounds: that ridiculous rulers (and even ridiculous wannabe rulers) are no new thing. The Palace of Versailles puts Hillary's $12,000 jacket to shame. (And the Grand Trianon palace, which is also on the Versailles grounds and was built specifically for the king’s mistress, puts Hillary’s tolerance of Bill to shame. Just saying.)
Touring Versailles really made me want to get my hands on some books about the time period. If you’ve read any good ones, let me know. I’m so curious about the drama that undoubtedly went down within those walls 400 years ago.
After making our way through the chateau, we took the mini-train (i.e., a glorified golf cart) to see Petit Trianon, which had been Marie Antoinette’s private palace for a while, as well as her hameau (or hamlet), which has a much more quaint and cottagey feel to it. I love that these rulers needed palaces to get away from their palaces and cottages to get away from their secondary palaces.
We also saw, as I mentioned before, the Grand Trianon, which was my favorite palace because it was just the right amount of over-the-top. It’s made out of light pink marble, so it’s ostentatious but in a subdued way, if that makes sense. It’s hard to believe that humans actually lived in these structures. They seem other-worldly, like a Disney movie come to life.
Let it be known that even on the grounds of Versailles, food abounds. When we were about halfway back to the palace, we stopped for a breather — a.k.a., chocolate crepes.
I’m happy to report that my knees never started to hurt until the day of Versailles. Many of my readers know that I dealt with chronic leg pain for years, so this trip would’ve been an impossibility for me in high school and college. My legs never could’ve handled it. During this trip my legs were total troopers — despite the fact that, according to my FitBit, we walked more than 60 miles over the course of the week. My old leg pain didn’t flare up at all, and though my knees gave me some trouble this day and the next (London!), they were amazing overall. I wore these Tevas every day and would HIGHLY recommend them if you want something comfortable, cool, and easy to clean.
After our crepes, we passed the grand canal and the Le Bassin d'Apollo before reaching the palace again, taking a few more selfies at the gates (all the other tourists had finally left), and then hitting up a French McDonald’s in downtown Versailles before catching our train back to Paris. I’d heard that McDonald’s is way better in Europe than America, but it would be hard for me to compare them because, in America, I’m gonna pick Wendy’s over McDonald’s 100 percent of the time. That said, French McDonald’s is not better than American Wendy’s, so let it be known that France may blow us out of the water when it comes to architecture and gardening and art and history, but we’re holding our own when it comes to hamburgers. (It’s the little things.)
We got back to our apartment pretty late and had just a few hours to sleep before we were to get up and head to ENGLAND the next day. No big deal. I’ll detail our Anglo-adventures in my next post.