Report from the Road: Paris Edition
The shock of being in a strange land hit us almost immediately. I felt isolated, almost unable to talk to anyone out of fear of exposing who I was (as if my suitcase and the "I just crapped my pants" look I had in my eyes wasn't a dead give away).
Armed with a train map, we attempted to navigate Paris' mass transit system. In a word, unnerving. First we had to buy a train ticket. We heard that most Parisians know English, but that doesn't mean all, so dealing with anyone was a touch and go situation in my mind.
So we approach the ticket window and Jessica starts to apply the French that she learned to find out that real world(tm) application is difficult. She handled herself well, much better than I. The woman at the ticket office was very helpful, and soon we had our tickets in hand and headed for the platform. Now just because you know in your head how the trains are supposed to work doesn't mean you don't have the fear of the almighty Burger King in you that you are going to board a train whose one and only stop is somewhere in Bangladesh.
So we board the train and hope we are going the right direction. And after a stop we find out we are on the right track (so to speak). We traverse Paris' sprawling outskirts which really aren't that different than New York City's urban sprawl. Just a lot older and slightly nicer. It felt like we were in the thick of things.
We had to change trains twice to get to our destination. And aside from some initial indecision and mortal fear, we found our way just fine.
The real fun began when we left the bowels of the metro station. Paris may be beautiful and all that, but could they give a brother some reliably placed and easy to read street signs? We wandered and ambled, but the streets were confusing at best and it took us over a half hour to find our hotel which was less than a two minute walk from the metro station.
The hotel is very nice. the rooms are small but cozy. The beds are a different story. They seem to be designed for a 4'9" Parisian with severe back pain. I can feel each individual unyielding spring within and my feet hang over the end. Picture Herman Munster trying to sleep on an ottoman. The walls are also thin. Strike that. they seem to actually amplify the sound around us. Last night I heard some guy's whispered prayers.
After we settled in and took a nap it was off to the Champs Elysees. It is a beautiful stretch of road lined with lit trees and bustling with people. We ended up dining in an Italian eatery (so sue us). I was hesitant, but let me tell you that I had the best meat-filled ravioli in my life. I tender (and quickly reject) the idea that I have it every day for every meal. It was that good.
After three days I return to this post with a thousand yard stare, clutching a single bloody beret and a jagged piece of a crème brulee dish. I type this frenetically as the "na na na na" siren of a police car draws near. It's been an adventurous vacation to say the least. OK, that is a bold-faced lie. Our mission behind Parisian lines has yielded little more than grey skies and a parade of restaurants and Museums. Not that that's a bad thing.
The food in Paris is excellent. It is also very pricey. I honestly don't know how the locals afford it. For any non-fast food eatery, expect to drop between 30 and 50 euros (lets call that $40 to $60 for the yanks out there) for ANY meal. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it doesn't seem to matter. Our latest meal, which consisted of two sandwiches, two glasses of wine (a Coke is about as expensive as a glass of wine BTW), crème brulee, and chocolate crepes came to about 40 euros.
Jessica learned very quickly that coffee in Paris isn't the guzzling variety. An cup of espresso, 4 euros, comes in a non-refillable, thimble-sized cup. A more familiar cafe creme (equal parts espresso and crème) is 6 euros, that's a 7 dollar cup of friggin' coffee! Sip it like your tasting every single molecule.
Bottom line is that if you want to eat real food (and why wouldn't you), plan on a 100 euros a day food budget per couple. Just eat and pay no attention to the banker in the corner.
After a couple fifty dollar gut-punch lunches, the siren's song of fast-food will entice you with a promise of food for two for under 20 euros. I had a meal or two of fast-food to somehow plug the hole in my pockets. One night we had a late night meal at Quick (French fast-food that is a notch below Mc Donalds). Tonight I grabbed a Royal Cheese (Quarter Pounder for those of you who didn't see Pulp Fiction) from Mickey Dees. Unhealthy, but admittedly tasty and familiar.
Enough about food. Let's talk museums! Yeah! Snore. I mean parts of them are interesting, but I'm not the type of person to lose myself in painting. But I do have a new found respect for artists back then. They had a cool scam going. "Hey baby, you are so beautiful I want to sculpt you in the nude. And so long as you're naked..."
While museums aren't the hippest show in town, Versailles was the shiznit. The opulence, the decadence, the indulgence. Mind-boggling. I now know exactly why it's good to be the king. The guy build a house on his property just for his mistress. Talk about a booty call. While the inside of the chateau was stunning, the gardens were unimpressive. A gloomy sky loomed over silent fountains and tarp-covered statues. In my mind I could see its beauty, but in reality it was a drab mess.
So I'm betting you are wondering how Paris the city was and, more importantly, how rude were its inhabitants? In my humble opinion, Paris is not unlike New York City or any other major metropolitan city. There is trash, graffiti, and vandalism. People are busy going and coming and they only say as much to the next person as need be. The wait staff at all the places we visited were courteous and friendly and I have nothing bad to say about any of them.
Paris felt a lot like NYC to me. A cleaner, older, and shorter NYC to be sure, but NYC nonetheless. All in all it was a good trip.
Oh, and the crème brulee was fantastic. Great job on that one France!