Friday, December 24, 2010

2010: Travel Lessons Learned

I didn't travel as much this year as I usually do (Miami, Russia, Paris) but I felt like between planning and anticipating and actually going, I had a whole lot of travel on the mind. Looking back, I've come up with a few lessons learned.

1) No matter how many times you've been somewhere, it can still feel new again. Honestly, I had lost count how many times I've been in Paris. I know, that's a terrible problem to have. But looking back at my passport stamps, I count six, so this time was seven. As much as I relished being able to hit the ground running without having a learning curve, going at Christmastime lent itself to a completely "new" Paris. No tourists, no English spoken here, no crowds, but in their place there was cold weather and snowy fringes left behind after an earlier storm. The Christmas scene in Paris was breathtaking. It was not suffocating like a Hallmark-induced, Labor Day-onward commercial explosion. It was rejuvenating, liberating, and dare I say, spiritual. Paris was looking beautiful for a completely different reason this time of year. It felt new to me again, and it carved its own special memories in my heart.

2) I indulge greedily in the differences. Russia blew me away. That, in fact, may just be the understatement of the year. Perhaps, the understatement of my travel life. Looking back now, I think about what struck me most, what made the biggest impressions on me and what are the fondest take-aways from that time, and it was realizing and appreciating what made Russia and its culture different. I love that the language and the written word are so different (and that I managed to figure them out, even a little). I love that their art and culture is rooted in a history so different from ours. I love that what survives there is based on a spirit that has twisted and suffered under unimaginable influences but somehow persevered. Everything from the pastel colored palaces in St. Petersburg to the grandiose Russian living room of Red Square to blini with caviar and vodka shots makes me smile. No, I can't see that at home, or many other places I travel to, which is why it is all that more precious to me now as I look back.

3) Sometimes, travel changes just work out for the better. American Airlines tore me away from my weekend in Miami unexpectedly early. At first I was disappointed and then frazzled, but I was also relieved. It had not been the best weekend for me; I'd been suffering through it quietly, and I really welcomed the opportunity to jet home early, no matter how hot, sweaty and inconvenienced I was and how many delays and plane changes were ahead of me. I will never look upon a travel diversion again as a bad thing...sometimes, they are the lucky twist of fate.

4) Don't listen to the haters. As people found out I was going to Russia, I got all sorts of unsolicited advice. A docent at the Museum of Russian Icons said "I would not go there now with all the bombings." Friends of my parents said I was crazy for flying on 9/11, another said "I would never go there alone." Well look folks, I went and I came back safe and sound. Instead of thinking that my experience was just a stroke of luck, I instead tend to believe that their perceptions and my actual experience are a reflection of the differences between us and how we approach travel. Honestly, if I didn't do something out of fear or concern for things real or imagined, I'd never go anywhere. Seriously. Travel smart and lean on your common sense.

5) Never say never. Paris was not even on the short list this year, or the next few years even. Russia was always a "bucket list" dream destination. But the desire to celebrate my 40th year in style and also my wanderlust and craving for Monet all played a role in how my travel itinerary played out this year. I've never outwardly ruled out a destination (well, perhaps Iraq or Afghanistan, for now) but it's just sort of funny how my destinations come about. Right now, I'm thinking Croatia or Poland for next year. I wonder what I'll be talking about 12 months from now...

6) Don't try to recreate perfect. Twice I was tempted to recreate what was, to me, a perfect experience. The first came in Moscow when I had the meal to end all meals. I mean really, it was unbelievably good. I remember every detail and recall that the next day I wanted to go right back to have the same meal again. It was that good. My guide encouraged me not to. "Don't mess with perfection", she warned me, and pointed me in the direction of another really, really good meal. She was right. What if I'd gone back the next night and it was sub-par? What if I ordered something else, or worse, the same thing, and it just wasn't as good? She had a point. A couple months later, my sister and I returned to rue de Buci to find our favorite eclair shop, only to find that our little nook of pastry perfection had been converted into an upscale boutique furniture shop. Distraught, we walked away remembering our last time there, and knowing that it will forever be "perfect". Sometimes remembering experiences as they were is far better than trying to recreate the magic.

That's it for now...wishing you merry travels and lots of destination dreams!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Paris Day Three - Last Day

How crazy is that to read...Day Three, Last Day? Believe me, it has gone by way too fast, but on the other hand it also feels like we have been here for a week at least. The ground we have covered, especially the ground we have covered on foot is just ridiculous. Abby keeps saying we need to get a map and mark out everywhere we walked. But I'm not sure she really wants to know, especially as she sits here next to me with cold, wet towels around her swollen ankles and my bottle of Aleve in hand.

This morning we made a bit of a nutritional error. We thought we'd be smart and have an omelette instead of the carb laden breakfast of cereal, croissant, etc. The girl who works the breakfast room whipped up three-egg omelettes for us and served them with a slice of ham. We ate them fine enough (with a croissant or two slathered in Nutella, of course, and a fine pot of coffee) but it wasn't long before both of us felt not so well. Neither of us actually got sick but there were moments this morning when I had my doubts about living long enough to see the Monet exhibition. Seriously. I should have known better than to trust a small hotel kitchen with potentially toxic eggs and breakfast meat. Never again.

That aside, we still managed to set out by 10:00 and we zipped up the Metro 1 line to La Defense, which I'd only seen once and Abby had never been to. Defense is the "business sector" of the city where they have managed to hide away all the skyscrapers and financial district. At the heart of it is a massive metal arch structure called Grande Arche de la Defense. It's like the contemporary art version of the Arc de Triomphe, and in fact, lines up directly with the Arc de Triomphe as you can look straight down the Avenue to the Arc de Triomphe about 2 miles away.

Here at Defense though is the largest of all the Christmas markets. This one opened at 11:00 so we killed some time walking around a very windy and cold plaza and taking pictures of an enormous statue of a thumb (don't ask, I'm honestly not sure!). Once in the market, we realized we had really done the markets when there was nothing that we hadn't seen before in terms of offerings, food. It was much too early for mulled wine (even I must admit) and the smell of the food cooking was turning both of our stomachs, so we didn't last long at this one. I did finally find something I wanted to buy here, though. One stall was selling real flowers that had been set into glass pendants. I picked out a tiny forget me not for me, and a gorgeous red flower for Mom for taking care of my boy while I'm away. But that was it. After a picture in Santa's chair (he apparently starts his work day later than noontime), we were done for in terms of Christmas markets!

We zipped back down the Metro 1 line to the Champs Elysees where Abby and I visited Louis Vuitton. Abby (the world's largest Louis Vuitton fan) calls this the Mother Ship, because it is indeed their flagship store. Last trip here, I believe the highlight of it all was her first official Louis purchase. We went back because I saw a scarf in the window that I liked. In the end, we both bought a scarf, and I believe the highlight of Abby's trip was when the sales person said she "found" her in the Louis computer system from last time she made a purchase here. Oh brother...

From here, we walked down Avenue d'Iena toward the Eiffel Tower. We both have been here before, but believe me when I tell you that I never tire of seeing it. No matter how close or how far from it I am, it still makes me smile. We approached it from the side rather than straight on, and passed through a really nice neighborhood where we kept seeing peeks of the tower between the buildings and through the trees. Finally we arrived just across the bridge from it, so we crossed the Seine, taking pictures most of the way. Today ended up being quite sunny and finally shone through with a blue sky and big white puffy clouds. All thoughts of snow were long gone. We walked around and under the Tower, through a small neighborhood to the side of it, through the park around it. Honestly, this is my fourth or fifth time I've been this close and still, I find new ways to see it, both with and without a camera lens.

Around 2:30 we took a cab back to the hotel to leave our Louis Vuitton bags and walked to Les Deux Magots, which is a famous cafe where many of the famous writers or days past used to sit and argue and smoke over their coffees and absinthe. Today it was jam-packed with mostly Parisians, which was cool. Abby surprised herself with a very good haricot vert (green bean) salad. I had a croque monsieur sandwich again with mixed salad. We were trying to warm up from the time we'd spent out in the wind near the tower, so we had chocolate chaude, hot chocolate, which is literally melted chocolate in a pot, as well as a pot of coffee. Yee ha. I had a coffee cream-filled soft cookie for dessert and Abby had an eclair. Clearly, we'd recovered from our earlier digestive distress.

At 4:00 we made our way to the Grand Palais, where we had reserved tickets for the raison d'etre of this trip: the Monet exhibition. Before I go into insane amounts of detail (and feel free to skip it), let me just say now that it's over, it was completely, entirely, absolutely worth it. As one who loves Monet like I do, I cannot imagine NOT seeing this. I am smitten all over again.

The premise of the show was to make the French appreciate Monet again, instead of dismissing him as too ordinary or pedestrian. I'm not sure if it worked. We interviewed a few French people as part of Abby's thesis research and they already loved Monet. So would this win over the haters? We're not sure.

The exhibition was organized mostly thematically and a bit chronologically. The first couple of rooms covered his very early paintings. The subjects were things I never even knew about, like harbor scenes, and it was before he adopted the slightly out-of-focus, abstract eye that he is known for now. He did portraits? Still lives? Who knew?

I think what was most striking for me was the series works. It is one thing to say that Monet was known for his studies of light and shadow. To see one of his Rouen Cathedrals and say "oh, that's the effect of morning light" is one thing, but to see five done at different times of day and realize the different light just by your own power of observation, is quite another. Do that with the haystacks, the poplars, the waterlillies, Venetian scenes, British Parliament, Antibes oceanfronts. Honestly, seeing them side by side, like they haven't been since he painted them is just incredible. And it made me realize just how good he really was at what he did. One of the discussions on the audio guide said that on his first day in Antibes, he had started forty canvases. Forty. He painted over 2000 paintings in his life. To do just one that is worthy of this acclaim would be enough. To do 2000 is incomprehensible. To be able to see nearly 200 in one place at one time like we did today is a blessing. Truly a blessing.

In the end, over 40 museums from all over the world loaned works to this exhibition. We were keeping track for a while but it got overwhelming. The MFA in Boston loaned 5. The Met, three. It seemed like the now-closed-for-renovations Orsay here in Paris emptied their attic and basement for this, because I've been to the Orsay four times and there were dozens from the Orsay I'd never seen before. What was ironic is that I got to see both of the paintings from Russia that I saw the "we're sorry, this work is on loan" cards for at the Hermitage and Pushkin back in September!

I will stop gushing long enough to admit it was not perfect. First, the crowds in the first four rooms or so were insane. At one point I was 10 people deep in front of a painting. But I found the longer that I was patient, the more people dropped out. It was like the Monet marathon. Everyone had the best of intentions as they started, looking at every painting, reading every label, listening to every soundbite. But by halfway, the galleries were half empty and I was able to view Monet the way I do: first from a distance of about 15 feet out, then up close to see the brush strokes, then back up again. The crowds would not allow for that sort of viewing, but thankfully by the best of the series paintings, I could. And second, I have to admit that the big culmination of the show sort of fell flat for me. They worked the series paintings up to the big finish: the waterlillies. Unfortunately for this exhibition, the Marmottan has the best collection, so these sort of felt like also-rans to me. It was just a bit of an anticlimax. That said, it was still an amazing exhibition and an experience I already relish. I have a 300 page catalog at home (hard-cover, I had it sent home to me before we came over!) waiting to be cracked open and devoured, and I can hardly wait.

It took us nearly 2 1/2 hours to get through the exhibition, and by then we were hungry again. I tried my best to find Abby her beef borguignon (who knew it isn't a staple at every French restaurant?), but by the time I did, it was a 20 minute wait and nearly 8:30. She dragged me out and we ate at an Italian restaurant near our hotel. It wasn't bad, despite the fact that I couldn't believe I was eating Italian in France. We both had the gnocchi gorgonzola, which was quite good; the buffalo mozzarella which was ok (but not Sorrento-quality!) and the profiteroles for dessert. It hit the spot anyway, despite not being the beef she wanted. I managed to wash down a few glasses of beaujolais, so I was happy.

We got back to the hotel around 10:30 and packed. I phoned Alain our happy taxi driver from Friday and he's picking us up at 10:00 tomorrow, so we're good. And with that, we say "A bientot" to Paris. Until next time.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Paris Day Two

Today started out innocently enough. We both slept well and soundly. Up at 8:30 and enjoying the hotel breakfast by 9:30. For 14 euro, it is all you can eat here. It's pretty extensive. While Abby behaved herself at breakfast, I broke the bank. Anytime, anywhere there are croissants with Nutella, I'm done for. So with OJ and corn flakes to start, I had two amazingly fresh croissants with all the Nutella I could handle. Sigh. In order to balance the carbs out, I did have yogurt, thinking the protein there wouldn't leave me madly hungry at 11:30. I was wrong.

We zipped out on the Metro (the 4 to the 1 to the 9, all transfers were fast and flawless, the way public transportation should be) and we walked through the cute little park to the Musee Marmottan for their version of "the Monet exhibition".

For those playing along at home, the whole reason I am here is THE Monet exhibition, which is tomorrow. It is nearly 200 paintings from all over the world, brought together in the Grand Palais. The Musee Marmottan, which is the collection of Monet's family, refused to loan any works to the big exhibition, instead choosing to run their own at just about the same time. And blessed I was that they did.

The museum is small anyway, and I'd been three times before, so I'd seen everything it had on display. But for this, they emptied the attic, and then some. I really had very low expectations that I'd see anything new. I was pretty blown away. The ground floor rooms focused on Monet's friends (works they did of him and his family), Monet's caricatures and his travels to other parts of the world. The caricatures were interesting to see because they were very much unlike the work we know so well from him; they are more like exaggerated cartoons of people he knew. But at one time, they paid his bills. The room devoted to others' paintings of him (and his wife) was interesting, because I primarily "know" him as the round little old man with the long white beard and mustache. At one time though, he was clean shaven, svelte and tall dark and handsome, go figure. There was a pair of paintings of him and his wife done by Renoir, which was just fabulous. One of the quotes nearby said that Renoir was the only person to speak to Monet in the French familiar "tu" form, which speaks to me of how much respect others gave him and also how close Renoir was to him.

There were letters and books and sketchbooks, two palettes with his paint still on them, and a pair of his glasses with thick, yellow-tinted lenses. Later in the exhibition we learned that his cataract surgery late in life left him with an exaggerated sense of color, which he tempered with the yellow lenses.

This exhibition had several "series" of Monet's on display, a few I'd never seen. The basement large room is used to display the larger panels in his collection, and prior to this, it was mostly waterlillies. Today though, there were series of weeping willows, the rose arbor at Giverny, the Japanese bridge at Giverny, flowers generally and of course, the waterlillies. It was interesting to see how they'd brought together paintings for each "series" and presented them cohesively, as if to prove that series painting was Monet's thing. I loved it.

My main complaint, though, was that while the placards describing each room were in both English and French, the labels on the artworks themselves were only in French. There is a reason why these exhibitions were held in the tourist off-season, and that was to make Monet more accepted by his countrymen. If they held this in the dead of the tourist season, it would be full of Americans. Really. Today we were the only Americans I saw there; it was all French speaking people, to my ears. But that doesn't mean that I still don't want to learn from the labels. My French is good enough to get around and make conversation, but not learn from art labels. Ok, rant over.

Now that I mention it, I haven't seen many Americans here at all. I know it is off-season but I'd expect a few more tourists. Usually when we see people who are obvious tourists, they are Japanese. Maybe it's just the holiday season.

From the museum, we hopped the Metro back to Trocadero, where we had lunch overlooking the Eiffel Tower. I told Abby that I don't really feel like "I'm here" until I see all three of: Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. Today we satisfied the last. Lunch was at a brasserie at Trocadero. For repeat visitors, a croque monsieur (grilled cheese) or croque madame (grilled cheese with egg on top) is what you dream about. To balance out the nutritional value slightly, I had it was a mixed green salad, but I think probably the kir royale cocktail and the tarte tatin (apple tart) that I had for dessert negated any benefit from the salad. With all that protein though, we were super-charged for the afternoon.

We walked over to Trocadero, overlooking the Tower and the fountains leading up to it. Unbeknownst to me, there was yet another Christmas Market set up around the fountains, with an added ice rink and snow park that the other markets didn't have. We contemplated having a stroll through the markets and over to the Tower, but it was colder and threatening rain, so we're gambling that tomorrow might be a better day for that.

On we went down the road to the Alma Tunnel area, where I showed Abby where Princess Diana died and the flame statue that to this day remains a memorial to her. Nearby was our destination: the Pierre Berge and Yves St. Laurent Foundation, which was hosting the David Hockney exhibit. While I am not at all a fan of modern art, this one blew me away. Hockney happened to start playing with his iPhone one morning, drawing the sunrise as he saw it out his window. Then he started drawing the flowers that were put in his room every day. The scenes and still lives of fresh flowers that he drew are what made up this exhibition. It had 20 iPhone and 20 iPads, each of which cycled through either a series of 4 or 5 flower "paintings" or presented an animated progression as he did one from a clean slate through to the end. It was fascinating for me, I suppose because I am a techno geek. The catalog has an interview with him, in which he explains how he started doing this, how he literally emailed the exhibition to this gallery and how he is unsure how to get paid for this medium, since it can be shared repeatedly without being tracked, just by forwarding an email or sharing a file. Wow.

Our surprises for the day were two. First, Abby saw Pierre Berge, one of the names of this gallery, bringing a couple through the exhibit. This was significant to her as Berge was not only the founder of the gallery but YSL's partner and manager. She was awestruck by his presence. Then, as we sat watching the iPads cycle through all their images, an older gentleman walked by, and she thought, and we confirmed with a quick Google here at the hotel, that it was indeed Warren Buffett. That impressed me. So now we know what the incredibly wealthy do two weeks before Christmas, they go to Paris and follow us around!

After this exhibit, we hopped the Metro up to the big department stores. I knew from my trip research what to expect in terms of decorations, but I neglected to factor in the utter chaos the big stores would be on the second to last weekend before Christmas. Calamity, chaos or just really big crowds, it was overwhelming and panicky. The sidewalks were shoulder-to-shoulder and ten deep off the street. We made it up to Printemps, saw a few windows, went inside a bit and cut back outside when inside was too crowded. I knew I wanted to see the 4-story Christmas tree inside Galleries Lafayette, but the sidewalk was insanely crowded and not moving very fast. We cut across the street, walked toward Lafayette and crossed back over. We made it inside, but it was bumper to bumper people again. We did get to the center, where we had a few seconds to look up, take a few photos of a gorgeous tree hanging from the main atrium of the store, then run before we got trampled. I'd wanted to go up a few levels to take pictures from different angles, but there was a line for the escalator at least 50 people long: they were doing crowd control on the upper floors, I kid you not. So we evacuated and headed back to the hotel to crash for a bit before dinner. I'm glad we saw it all, but it wasn't the relaxing holiday vibe we are both after.

Before dinner we strolled down to St. Sulpice church (our hotel is on rue St. Sulpice, just up the block from the church). There, we found another Christmas market. It wasn't as spectacular as the one from last night; it was probably 10 stalls and a big temporary building of "vintage" stuff. Abby found some vintage Louis Vuitton. I managed to find a ring I loved that wasn't vintage but made by the guy running booth. It was an orange sapphire set between two thin bands of diamonds. And it fit perfectly...sigh. Unfortunately it was over one paycheck's worth of cash, so I boldly walked away. But it will remain the ring I dream about for years to come, I assure you of that!

Dinner tonight was at a restaurant I'd found in my research. Le Temps Perdu is near our hotel so very convenient. We decided to get the 25 euro fixed price menu, which was an appetizer, main dish and dessert. We both had onion soup, which was even better than last night's. Then we had fried steak with bernaise sauce. Mine came a bit too rare so I sent it back to get it recooked. Abby thought the meat was a bit too fatty but I enjoyed it once it was not bleeding on my plate any longer. It came with au gratin potatoes, which I liked. I had the "floating island of the house" dessert. This was a pool of vanilla cream with a large puffy meringue floating in it, all drizzled in caramel sauce. Good lord, it was delicious. We both had a kir royale and I ordered a carafe of beaujolais, which I loved. I'm finding the new beaujuolais I have had to be very light and very fruity, which I will keep in mind for Christmas!

After dinner we walked down Boulevard St. Germain to that neighborhood's Christmas market. It was a bit bigger, but by now we'd seen all the goods at the other markets. We were really in it for the mulled wine (no supplements tonight) and we window shopped a bit before heading back to the hotel. It's amazing how big your pocketbook feels when the stores are all closed.

So tomorrow, the big Monet exhibition at 5:30. I'm not sure how we'll fill the day just yet, but I know we will...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Paris Day One

I'll have to cut to the chase on this one since I have now been up for 36 hours straight and am eagerly awaiting sleep.

We made it here fine. Brilliantly in fact. Both flights were completely uneventful, except for us thinking Kevin Garnet of the Celtics was sitting in front of us. I'm not sure why he'd be flying in the cheap seats on IcelandAir during basketball season, but it gave us something to talk about and someone to stalk to the restrooms. In the end, we don't think it was him. He didn't answer to Kevin or flinch when I yelled "rebound" and I tend to doubt he'd carry a pink floral laptop cover like this guy had. Anyway...

I had wanted to try to take the RER train from Charles de Gaulle into Paris. It is only 8 euro (compared to 50 or so for a taxi) and twice as fast. However the line to buy tickets was about 20 people long and not moving, so this led us to find a taxi and meet our new friend Alain. I had my doubts about Alain when I first saw him chain smoking in his taxi outside Terminal 1. But he jumped out, wrestled my sister's suitcase from her, and loaded our luggage in eagerly and as we climbed in back, the smooth melodies of Frank Sinatra were oozing out of his CD player. He shut the CD off as he started the car, and we both objected. I said to him in French "no, no, no, we love Frank!" And he growled back "French car, eet eez sheet...cannot start with CD on, not nice American car like you have." And so our love affair with Alain began. This nice middle aged guy sang Frank with us all the way into the city center. He complained about the traffic, saying "eet eez sheet"...so Alain apparently only knows one obscenity in English, and we got it twice. When we finally got to our hotel, he asked when we were leaving the city for the airport again, offered us his card, asked us to pre-book him the night before, and that he'd take us back to the airport "wizout zee supplement sheeet". So we're hooking up with Alain again on Monday and getting a cheaper fare without the airport supplemental fees. Yee ha.

We quickly changed and headed right back out. Our first unplanned stop was a macaron shop nearby. My sister hadn't tried any the last time we were here and we were feeling a bit peckish. We bought 6 and kept them for our walk. She was duly impressed with the caramel and chocolate ones, a fact we'd keep in mind later on.

Our first, and hopefully only, tragedy of the trip was our much anticipated return to rue de Buci for the eclairs at Bonbonniere de Buci. Alas, we made it to the street and walked up and down a few times, and have finally conceded that the cute little neighborhood market street has been overrun with more upscale shops and boutiques and our beloved Bonbonniere was run out of town. We tried an eclair on Buci just in case, but neither of us had a strong feeling either way whether it was as good or just a suitable replacement.

We made our way to Notre Dame and took in the Christmas tree that is prominently decorated right out front. We made a pass through the inside as well to see the nativity that is there, but we both were underwhelmed with what looked like something from the Hallmark Paper Store rather than something suitable for the church.

Everything here seems to be decorated for the season: cafes, restaurants, museums, shops, car dealerships. And it's all done with the same swagger with which the French are able to wrap scarves, that is, very classy, with taste, and not like you'll ever be able to pull off yourself at home! It is just gorgeous.

After Notre Dame, we walked toward the Marais neighborhood, stopping at a crepe stand where we both had a crepe. (Remember, we last ate in Boston at 6 pm Thursday, it was now about 8 am Boston time!) I had a caramel crepe that was literally a plain crepe baked and folder and then filled with ladels of caramel sauce. Abby had butter and sugar, which she said was rather light on both butter and sugar.

We made it to the Carnavalet Museum for the Louis Vuitton exhibition. This is not something I would have gone to on my own, but Abby loves Louis, so there we were. I actually learned quite a lot about the Vuittons (there was not just one running the show over the years) and that they started out primarily as luggage and trunks producers. The trunks they had were really impressively handcrafted and well-preserved over the last 150 years or so.

After Louis, we returned to Au Pied du Couchon, which translates to "Pig's Feet" or, as we effectionately call it, the Pig Place. We ate here last time, and recall the onion soup to be beyond parallel. And it still is. It was tastier this time due to how cold it was out (warmer than home, but still cold to be outside, about 34 degrees). I had the mashed potato and black pudding main dish and creme brulee dessert. My sister had duck which I tried and was very tasty. As it is beaujolais season here, I did have two glasses to go with my meal. Well, I'm not sure if beaujolias is meant to go with black pudding, but that's what I had. And enjoyed.

Now refortified and ready to go, we took the Metro to the base of the Champs Elysees and walked the Christmas markets in this neighborhood. The markets are hard to explain, but in essence, many neighborhoods have them. They allow vendors, crafty people and food people to set up booths with things to sell. The wares run from chocolates, candles, woolens, jewelry, wooden toys, fleece items...you name it. The food is everything from cotton candy to sausages to foie gras on toast to mulled wine. We got hooked early on one particular booth that had mulled wine with "supplements", meaning rum, calvados or vodka shots. Good glory...the hot wine, the heat from the alcohol, it was a dangerous combination, but one that fueled us all the way up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, a walk about 2 miles, and on no sleep and very little food. Abby asked at one point why she was disturbed that we were walking with open Solo cups of alcohol, happily imbibing. I said I was more disturbed by the 14 year old kid who served it, but hey, vive la France. Who am I to complain? If this is wrong, I don't want to be right!

This market also had a santa in a sleigh who they'd strung between two towers and on the half hour, they'd send him across and back again, as he (a real man) would wave to the kids and talk to them over the microphone. Abby and I both immediately commented that we didn't know Santa spoke French, but DUH apparently he does, in FRANCE!

We made a couple pit stops on the way up the Champs Elysees to admire the window displays in Louis Vuitton (of course) and buy more macarons in Laduree, which is known for this brilliant confection (and in our opinion, wins hands down, especially with the salted caramel one!)

So once we made it up to the Arc we hopped the Metro and headed back to our hotel. Abby is already sound asleep, and I'm not far behind. We have two museums and a whole lot of Christmas markets to see tomorrow. A bientot!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I packed boots!

If any of you have known me for any period of time, you probably are well aware that I loathe winter. I despise cold, whine my way through sleet and become downright profane with snow. So as I finished my packing last night, I never thought it would come to this: I packed snow boots.

I've been following posts from my fellow travelers on the Fodors travel forum, and Kerouac, an ex-pat living in Paris, posted a set of photos he took yesterday morning. This is probably all you need to see. To a life-long Bostonian, that's nothing to even think twice about. But to a part of the world that rarely, if ever, sees the white stuff (they don't even have plows, shovels or salt trucks in Paris), this is crippling. The media reports this morning are full of stories of people who were sleeping in cars last night because they couldn't get home. That happens in Boston maybe once every 7 years when we get two FEET or so of snow in a very quick period of time, not the trace that Paris got yesterday.

And here I go, snow-loather extraordinaire, off to the land of newly fallen, and hard to handle, snow.

On the brightside, the space taken up in my small suitcase by these boots will results in my not missing a beat, I hope. Here I come Christmas markets, mulled wine and Monet exhibition. I just need to squeeze out 7 more hour at work. I'll be meeting my sister and my luggage at Logan right after work, and away we go. I just hope the snow is done for now and we're able to land at Charles de Gaulle tomorrow morning! I remain confident that any day in Paris, even in the snow, is better than any day at my desk at work.

I'll be back with reports from the road....au revoir!