TRAVEL: PARIS Sera Toujours Paris!


Mon rêve. Votre rêve. Truth is, we all have had wild fantasies about this city. And I think, it isn’t such a crime to desire something so beautiful, rich and elegant. The first time I visited Paris, three years ago, I thought I just walked into a theatrical dream. It was in spring and we enjoyed pitch-perfect weather the whole time. Though it was quite a short stay, we were able to cover pretty decent ground in the sense that I was able to do some of the touristy things – visits to la Tour Eiffel, Musée du Louvre, Montmartre, Champs-Elysées, Notre Dame, Jardin du Luxembourg, etc. Obviously, there’s still so much of Paris that I haven’t seen, so we made sure to cover a bit more during our last visit in February. It was winter and the mood was a bit different, more sombre in fact, and I think our stay in Paris was even shorter this time, following a longer stay Avoriaz and Bordeaux just days before.

Le Panthéon. As many of you probably know, the Panthéon was first constructed as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, the Patron Saint of Paris, but after many changes over the years, it now also serves as the final resting place of some of France’s most noble citizens. There is currently some renovations works being done but inside it’s business as usual, so fret not, you will still be able to pay this amazing attraction a visit. There is a fee of 7 euros, with some standard exceptions (students, etc.), but quite frankly, a small price to pay for some good cultural and historical immersion right in the heart of Paris. Inside the Panthéon, you will see a lot of paintings dedicated to St. Genevieve and also plenty of sculptures аt thе base оf pillars depicting French Revolution. When you go down to the crypts, you will see the resting chambers of France’s illustrious poets, philosophers, architects, scientists and writers such as Voltaire, Alexandre Dumas, Marie and Pierre Curie, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Soufflot, Louis Braille, etc, and also, former Presidents and children of the revolution. In other words, these aren’t normal joes like you and I. There are guide booklets at the entrance (just after you cross the checkpoint area) and they come in different languages, so you can always refer to it if you need to know more about the Panthéon. One hour is definitely not enough to soak in the rich history of the Panthéon, as well as the people interred therein, so I suggest that you visit after a good meal.

Inside Le Panthéon.

Inside Le Panthéon.

Elaborate sculpture dedicated to La Convention Nationale.

Elaborate sculpture dedicated to La Convention Nationale.

It is not enough to conquer; one must learn to seduce. - Voltaire

It is not enough to conquer; one must learn to seduce. – Voltaire

Jardin de Tuileries. The day started on a very gloomy note because the weather wasn’t exactly ideal for walking around Paris, as it was raining in torrents. So, we thought we could spend the afternoon at Musée de Louvre. Alas, a whole bunch of us seemed to have had the same brilliant idea because the queue for tickets was so long it would’ve taken us two hours just to get ours. And so we abandoned the idea and took to walking around Jardin de Tuileries instead, heavy downpour and all. Despite the inclement weather, the garden, with its perfectly manicured lawn and trees, appear unfazed, just like the beautiful sculptures scattered around the area. I remember the first time we came here, it was on a sunny spring day and we spent some time soaking in the sun lying supine on the grass. I prefer that actually, my skin brushing against the soft grass. Though I must admit, the rain and dark skies do give the jardin a more sombre, dramatic backdrop. Between this and Jardin du Luxembourg, I will take the latter anytime but a garden is a garden and France, especially, seems to do them pretty well.

Jardin des Tuileries

Jardin des Tuileries

Pont Alexandre III. To say that Pont Alexandre III is stunning is no doubt an understatement. With its resplendent details – the cherubs, nymphs, pegasus, etc – unseen in any other bridges, Pont Alexandre III is undeniably the most beautiful of all bridges in Paris – and perhaps even in the world. Joining the Champs Elysées and the Grand Palais on the right bank with Napoleon’s resting place, Les Invalides, on the left, Pont Alexandre III commands your attention from different angles and keeps you suspended in that state of wonderment long after you have walked away. We saw the whole stretch of the bridge from the boat when we did the Seine River Cruise in the afternoon and came back two days later, this time walking along the riverside towards the start of the bridge. We couldn’t walk all the way across because it was raining heavily that afternoon with the wind blowing in icy gusts, rendering our umbrellas completely useless against the deluge. I mean I do understand why couples would feel extra romantic crossing Pont Alexandre III, fingers intertwined, perhaps even stopping briefly for a kiss a few times.

Pont Alexandre III

Pont Alexandre III

La Seine. While Paris can be associated with so many landmarks, all worth their weight in gold, the River Seine provides the mirror in which the whole city can coquettishly glance upon its beautiful reflection, especially on a warm summer/spring day, so that any person who may happen to take a furtive glance on the water as well, will for certain be enamoured. On our last trip to Paris in February, we took the afternoon river cruise with Vedettes de Pont Neuf. It was my first time to take the cruise so I braved the freezing gusts of Parisian winter wind on the second level of the boat just so I could marvel at the landmarks ahead and on either side of the river banks. La Tour Eiffel, Musée du Louvre, Pont Alexandre III, Pont des Arts, Notre Dame, Place de la Concorde, Grand Palais, and many more enchanting landmarks can be seen from the boat as it gently glides along the water. The cruise itself lasts for an hour or so, with the guide speaking in a combination of English and French for the benefit of the non-residents on the boat. There is a food and beverage shop at the dock, so you can buy snacks before you take the cruise. But if you’re not too hungry, I suggest you skip the snacks and just go for a decadent meal and dessert at any of the brasseries cluttered around the riverbanks. The river cruise costs between 10 to 14 Euros. Though I think they have promo rates being offered depending on the season.

Vedettes de Pont Neuf

Vedettes de Pont Neuf

La Tour Eiffel as seen from the Seine River cruise boat.

La Tour Eiffel as seen from the Seine River cruise boat.

Pont des Arts. So we came here to see the lovelocks, and no, we did not add to the weight by having one of ours placed there as well. Either we are too old for this or we truly believe that our love is a lot stronger than any corrosive padlock. haha. Although this practice did not start with France (Belgium, Japan, etc, are in on the game as well), I suppose it does make a lot of sense for people to have it in the world’s most romantic city. They have long ceased people from clamping locks on Pont des Arts because the weight of these darn things has caused a part of the bridge to collapse. So the starry-eyed lovers have moved on to conquer Pont de l’Archevêché and Pont Neuf as well. It seems there is really no stopping young love.

Love locks at Pont des Arts.

Love locks at Pont des Arts.

Champs-Elysées. The world’s most famous avenue deserves a stroll anytime, any day and on every trip to Paris. Shopping is not mandatory, of course, but I gotta admit it’s strangely pleasant to give in to the lure of capitalism once in a while.

It was the eve of César Awards when we made a quick trip to Champs-Elysées. So they had this photowall just outside the famous Fouquet's. We thought it deserved a selfie.:)

On the subject of food, I mean really, what is not to LOVE about French cuisine?  We hit a lot of brasseries where I consumed large amounts of cheese, wine and dessert. What of meat then, you might ask. Well, considering how I shun meat except for chicken, pork (occasionally), fish and escargot (my favourites!) there’s really nothing of the exotic kind to share. Those that I remember fondly were Le Saint-André located at the Latin quarter and Le Libre Exchange (next to Brochant metro station) – both of whom I have reviewed on TripAdvisor as well.  Then, there was this fabulous crêperie near Henry IV which we visited after our tour of Le Panthéon. Really good stuff in there, too.

Le Libre Exchange is easily one of our favourite brasseries in Paris for very good reasons, namely: (1.) Great food (2.) Value for money (3.) Lovely service. I remember dining here for the first time back in 2012 as we were staying quite near the place, and back then I thought it was just okay. And on our recent trip to Paris, we dined here on three separate occasions and we noticed that there’s been amazing improvement especially with the way the staff relate with the customers. Really, really pleasant experience from the minute we were welcomed to the restaurant, to the time our orders were taken, when our food were delivered to our table, and when we had to settle our bill. When we were there again on our last night, there was this huge group of people who came in, literally filling up all the seats available in the restaurant and the staff were taking orders and bringing food and drinks over to different tables without breaking their rhythm or even showing a slight indication of fatigue, considering it was already a bit late at night. Amazing!  Food-wise, I’ve tried their escargot, la poule, cheese platter, omelette and they were pretty good. Hubby tried le lapin (rabbit) and he was truly happy with it, as well. They have quite a few things on their menu which I’m pretty sure are good to the taste as well.

Île flottante at Cafe Le Libre Change.

Île flottante at Cafe Le Libre Exchange.

Le Saint-André is every inch a typical Parisian brasserie, cozy with soft lighting and abuzz with lively conversations among diners. But what puts it in the same league as those places you’d most likely visit again a few times over is the warm hospitality of the staff. The guy who took our orders and brought our food was certainly very accommodating and friendly. Here, you don’t get that feeling of being hurried to place your order and wolf down your food. This is a good place for winding down with a good meal and a lovely glass of wine after a long day of walking around doing touristy stuff around Paris. I ordered a salmon dish with this delicious sauce (perhaps it was béarnaise?) and a side of fresh veggies. They also have free wifi so you may certainly have a great meal and Instagram it, too.

Café Le St. André

Café Le St. André

Looking back on our wonderful dining experiences in Paris, I was beginning to think the Parisians’ bad rep for customer service might possibly be an embellishment of sorts. Either that, or our timing must have been really splendid in those times!  

Voila, c’est tout. Rendez-vous l’année prochaine, Paris !

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TRAVEL: Postcards from FRANCE


I’m finally back from my first ever trip to Europe (I’ve been told that the Euro side of Turkey does not really count as Europe, too bad) and I could not have been more glad that the destination was France. To say that the country is beautiful and the cultural sights even more so, would be stating the very obvious. And we’re not even talking about the food yet. Those gastronomic delights in all their orgasmic glory. And because it was spring when we were there, the gardens that we’ve been to in Paris were all abloom with vibrant-colored flowers – bringing to mind my dear friend Cris C. who would probably take only half a second to put a name on each and every flower, him being a landscape artist slash wedding organizer and all. But this spring was not at all what I expected spring would feel like. And by feel, know that I am talking about the temperature which, at 5 degrees and sometimes less at night, is already too much for a tropical creature like myself. Although Eric reminded me that I survived Beijing at -2 degrees when we were there in 2010, still, it didn’t feel like it was any warmer. But perhaps if I brought along with me a more appropriate set of clothing – more thermal wear and thick jackets maybe – then I would not have suffered so. I keep teasing C that it was his fault making me believe spring was all pretty and such, weather-wise, and so I packed mostly short dresses and open-toed sandals – none of which I was able to wear at all during our stay. Thank God, I had half a mind to buy the white faux leather jacket at Cache Cache for my aborted trip to Jordan last year – at least they found their way to France and was greatly abused, might I add. Later you will see just how much I had maximised the use of that jacket – one of the only two keep-warm essentials I packed. Obviously not C’s fault because I have the reputation of being on perpetual summer mode – my closet will most certainly attest to that.

Traveling alone to Paris was in itself already an experience for me. Though I have traveled quite a few times alone, they were mostly in Asia and places I am more or less quite familiar with. I took Qatar Airways which has its stopover in Doha, where incidentally, we were delayed for two hours due to some technical problems with the aircraft. Good thing the airport had free wifi access for passengers so I was able to inform C of the delay via FB. I was literally on tenterhooks during the final leg of my travel that I brushed my teeth and washed my face in the aircraft lavatory four friggin’ times! You see, I was going there to meet C’s family for the first time and the idea kind of made me nervous and I am known to do strange things when I’m nervous. If I could only take a shower there, I probably would have done so as well.

So anyway, I finally landed at the Charles de Gaulle airport and C was there to meet me, looking all cute and sweet as always. We haven’t seen each other in nearly two months so it was obviously a very happy reunion, with a capital V. We took the TGV to go to his sister’s place up North and the journey was c’est magnifique on so many levels. Ask Atche, he knows. *insert suspense soundtrack here*

I didn’t have time to fix myself up as the whole family was already at the train station to meet us. I’m pretty sure I looked like a hobo with my hair all messy (not that my hair looks great in other weather conditions) and face all dry, thanks to the freezing temperature and mad gusts of wind. Up until that time, I had only seen C’s nephew and niece on photos and I fell madly in love with them on sight! Both of them are so beautiful, well-mannered, sweet, and smart it was quite painful for me to leave after only four days. C had to find ways to entertain me on our train ride to Paris because I was so overcome with sadness after I hugged the kids for the last time just as the train started to pull away from the station.

I had the most beautiful time up north despite the crazy rainy weather which lasted pretty much the whole weekend and extended all the way until our departure for Paris. The sun only came out for a day and we spent it walking around Ardres, which was truly beautiful, by the way, with its little shops, church, boulangerie, restaurants, and beautiful houses and chalets. The rest of time, we were just indoors playing with the kids and chatting with the grown-ups. Yes, I do speak French very fluently you wouldn’t think I’m foreign at all! NOT. Because I spent so much time with the kids, my French vocabulary has expanded to now include the numbers 1 to 10, some animal names, and a few expressions. Yey!

My impression of the North? It was just as the saying C shared which goes a little something like this: The people in the north have the sun in their hearts which they don’t have in the sky. They’re such sweet people and it’s a shame that the weather can be so horrible sometimes, if not most of the time.

Now Paris on the other hand is sublime. Elegant, captivating, intoxicating (I may have had one glass too many of all sorts of wine, teehee)  are only some of the words I can think of right now and even then I fear that they’re not enough to really capture the enigma that is Paris.

Ever the sweet and loving fiancé, C made sure I absorb as much of the city as possible given the limited time we had. He took me to a lot of touristy places and fed me loads of French food so that I may never have to go and hanker for fastfood and junk anymore. Oh you must see how C cringes whenever I would lather my French croissant with an unhealthy layer of Nutella and butter! I’ve been told it’s almost tantamount to desecrating the famous French bread. Yikes. Unfortunately on our last full day in the city, he came down with high fever and we had to make some adjustments on our plans for the day. But even when debilitated, he still took me to Musée du Louvre so I can go and see the Mona Lisa (how very original of me, right?) and other glorious works of art and be swept away to another period in time. He really is an absolute darling and he knows me too well already, I couldn’t help but love him dearly. Yiheeee.

Anyway, these are all my memories of France and the City of Lights (oh, incidentally, I never got to see Tour Eiffel at night so I guess I will have to tick that off my bucket list next time – along with a more exhaustive tour of Musée du Louvre since we only got to cover a small portion of one section because C was in such a bad shape due to his fever) and I know there’s still so much to see and experience. I hope you will love the photos as much as I loved every bit of my time there.

Windmills in the north. Here with my one true north. Naks naman.

Beautiful lake in Ardres.

Ardres in the Nord-pas-de-Calais region

With the beautiful Claire

Spring fashion. Kuno.

From the North, we now go to Paris – where to love and being loved in return is really the most glorious thing that can happen to any person. How very Moulin Rouge. With that, let me first give you…

Sing it with me: Voulez vous couchez avec moi ce soir (oh dear, I hope I got the words right, haha)

Musee du Louvre

La Basilique du Sacre Coeur de Montmartre

Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysees

Notre Dame and Jardin du Luxembourg

Musee du Louvre with C. Finally, a different jacket!

Le Square des Batignolles

Tour Eiffel

And of course, some of the food I have tried and salivated for over and over and over again. But one thing I noticed though – and was extremely happy about, mind you – was the fact that I didn’t go home as fat as I had anticipated, despite the unreasonable amount of food and sweets I devoured day in and out. I must’ve gained only 2lbs or so and they all seemed to have gone on my arms I could’ve sworn they looked like Johnny Bravo’s or Popeye’s after he’s had spinach in some photos. LOL. It must have been all the walking and uhrmmm, yes, definitely the walking, which we did a lot of while there.

One thing I regret and I learned just the expression for that – c’est dommage – is that I missed the Paris Marathon!!! I didn’t know that it was on the 15th of April – the same day C and I were to fly back to Singapore. We saw the banners when we were at Tour Eiffel and it was such a heartbreaking moment because I packed my running gear: Reebok and C-WX were just sitting prettily atop my luggage, lonesome and unused. Had I known, I would most likely sign up and join because my fellow runner who’s based in Paris said they actually opened the registration slots last minute and I could have joined a few Pinoy runners there! C’est dommage indeed!

Foodgasm part 1

Foodgasm part 2

Foodgasm part 3

We also spent time with some of C’s couple friends and both couples were just lovely! The conversations were just as good as the food, if not more. Here we have the sweet couple Rene and Carmen whom I first met in Phuket in 2010 when C and I were on Christmas holiday and they were on their honeymoon. Unfortunately, we didn’t take photos with Vanessa and her husband who invited us over to their lovely home for dinner the previous night. I especially enjoyed listening to them talk about their University days and how C had always been so freakishly neat and clean and organized. One of the many things I love about him, by the way.

Lovely couple Rene and Carmen

But of all the things I have come to love and cherish about my trip, these are the ones I miss the most. The kids, especially, were my source of ardent joy in all those days in Calais. Sometimes I could hear their cheery voices in my head saying ‘Vicky! Vicky! Vicky!’ and egging me to play hide-and-seek or just cuddle with them.

Love!

Thank you for everything! You guys are absolutely wonderful and loving I felt right at home.

Je t’aime enormement mon amour!

PS: ALL original photos, by the way.:)