From Pastries to Pickpockets...Paris Has It All!
06.11.2010 - 06.12.2010 75 °F
Friday, 11 June 2010
I LOVE PARIS! As most of you know, Rome has been my favorite city for the past 3 years and I’ve always talked about moving to Italy. Well, while I still love Italy, Paris has stolen my heart. This city is so much better than I expected!
I’ve heard so many stereotypes of the French and I have to say…I haven’t experienced a lot of the negative aspects. Yes, there are some rude people (especially the guy who works the evening shift at my flat). But, no more than you will find in the U.S. Do they sometimes refuse to speak English? Yep…but then again, I don’t know anybody in Atlanta who will start conversing in French with a tourist. No place is perfect.
I decided that for Paris, I would do non-traditional tours to experience the city from a different perspective. So, my first tour was a bicycling tour through Paris starting at sunset.
With the World Cup going on, Paris has been a bit crowded and taxis were hard to find. However, once I got a taxi, I ended up with my first English-speaking driver and he was great! He pointed out the sites as he drove me to the Eiffel Tower. Very personable and lots of color commentary (he hates sunny days because he says people drink and act stupid). Since it took 30 minutes for a taxi, I was running late for my tour. But, when I called the tour company, they checked me in and made sure that I could still make the tour. I cannot say enough great things about Fat Tire Bike Tours [http://www.fattirebiketours.com]. This has been the BEST tour I’ve been on! When you arrive, you are outfitted with a bike and, if you want, a helmet. Then, you go thru your riding instructions on how to brake and set off on your tour around the city at sunset with your tour guide. The Fat Tire Bike Tour office is close to the Eiffel Tower so it’s centrally located. I cannot remember the last time I rode a bike so it took me a good 30 minutes to get comfortable and not wobble but it was so much fun.
This tour isn’t going to give you the history of every monument and stop for you to take pictures at each one. But, it’s a great way to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time. It’s perfect for those people who aren’t in the mood to tour museums and churches but want a fun way to see the city.
The tour guide was named Bubba and he’s from Oklahoma. Fat Tire Bike Tours is an American owned company and one of the great things is that you can hear about the history of Paris in an accent you can understand pretty easily.
I did the Night Bike Tour and the tour started around 8pm. One thing I noticed here in Europe (especially Ireland, France & the UK) is that the sun doesn’t fully set until around 11pm and it rises really early (like 4:30/5am). So, we still had a good amount of daylight while we were riding but it was really cool to see the sunset as you are riding around the city.
We started out riding through a park where I noticed a group of dogs jumping into the fountain to cool off from the heat.
Then, we passed lot of cool places (please excuse the low quality of the pictures. It was hard to set up shots while riding a bike)!
I didn’t realize that Paris contained a couple small islands. We went to Il St. Louis (which apparently is the ritzy part of Paris where the rich folks live…I think Johnny Depp has a place there).
Anyway, we rode around and saw a really cool church, Sainte-Chapelle.
Then, we stopped at this FABULOUS ice cream shop where everything is made fresh right there…it’s all natural with no preservatives so they don’t ship it. I had raspberry sorbet and it was divine!
After our ice cream fix, we see this “street performer”.
I asked the guide what he was…and he wasn’t quite sure. He calls himself a wizard and does some sort of show with plastic milk cartons filled with water…and some tree branches. So, I guess he’s a French Dumbledore? Or, just a muggle pretending…poor squib (I know all my Harry Potter fans get the references).
So we ride around the city some more and, come across this…
Apparently, it was Star Wars night in Paris and they outfitted this statue with a light saber. Love it! Now, if they would’ve just had Yoda somewhere.
Then, it was on to…
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, built to celebrate Napoleon's victories in 1805.
They kept Marie-Antoinette in the courthouse below for 75 days prior to her death. Apparently, MA was so stressed out that her hair started falling out and the jailers drilled a hole into the wall of her cell and charged admission for people to see her and call her names. I will get more into the history of the French Revolution later when I cover Versailles. Fascinating.
Pont Alexandre III which is a beautiful decorated bridge connecting the Champs Elysées and the Esplanade des Invalides.
We then crossed this famous bridge (you may recognize it from Sex in the City, Bourne Identity, Taken, etc.). It was packed with people drinking wine and eating cheese. This must be a tradition here.
Then, we took a cruise down the Seine. This was so wonderful. Hundreds of people sit on the river banks or the bridges and drink wine, eat cheese and socialize.
As the boats pass by, everybody waves and yells at you. One guy mooned us but you get one in every crowd. We went through 3 bottles of wine and saw the sun finally set behind the Eiffel Tower.
Also, I didn’t know that the Eiffel Tower has some sort of light display that goes off once an hour. It was really cool!
After we finished our bottles of wine on the cruise, we go back to our bikes. Now, it was a bit difficult to bike when you are tipsy. A couple of people fell off their bikes. It was hilarious. Drunk folks trying to bike. Words cannot express the great time we had! Our group was full of fun people and we all bonded immediately. And, for some reason, strangers always like to confide their private information to me for advice. No idea why but it happens a lot.
So, I noticed that there was this lady who was always up front with the tour guide. I didn’t think much of it at first. Then, when we would break, she would always try to stand by him and I noticed the signs of flirting. I didn’t think much of it. Apparently, on the tours, you always have a tour guide…and a 2nd guide who helps keep the group together. What threw me off about the 2nd guide was that her family was on the tour as well so I assumed she was just another tourist until I started talking to her and her mom and sister. Come to find out, she is engaged to the tour guide. While we are on the cruise, flirty lady is sitting in front of me…and the fiancé is sitting behind me. Now, flirty lady is throwing her charms on Bubba HARD while we are cruising…you know wine loosens your inhibitions. This is when the fiancé announces she’s engaged to Bubba. LOLOL. So, the flirty lady is now depressed and drinking more wine and telling me that she wished she knew that before she started all her flirting. Not much I could say to that…except be glad she didn’t get cut Meanwhile, the fiancé and her family kept talking to me about everything you can possibly think of. The fiancé was really sweet though and handled the awkward situation perfectly. Her family was great too! A little wine makes everything fine.
The tour finishes up around 12:30am or so. Overall, a great way to be introduced to the City of Light!
Saturday, 12 June
Today, I decide to try my luck with taking the bus and Metro. It was actually pretty easy. I took the bus to La Defense and walked around there for a while.
Then, I hopped on the Metro and headed to Montemart. I arrived at Place Juflin and just started walking around and ended up catching a jazz concert in one of the parks.
After the concert, I walked to rue Cuistine for my cooking class. I’d heard a lot of great things about “Cookn’ with Class” on Trip Advisor and Rick Steves. The class was great! I actually did the baking class and the chef taught us how to make croissants (which take 3 days!), pain au chocolat (absolutely divine), pain aux raisins, a savory ring with cheese and sauteed onions, and Fougasse/Foccacia. OMG, this class was not only informative but a blast! I learned a lot of tips and tricks for baking which I’m going to try the next time I may monkey bread. Once I master the recipes, I’ll be sending out invitations for brunch!
All the food tasted even better than it looked. I wrote down the names of all the jams, spices and liqueur so I can purchase everything. I actually ended up finding one of the spices at the farmers market in Versailles the next day. Overall, I highly recommend Cookn’ with Class http://www.cooknwithclass.com. In fact, when I go back, I plan on taking the pastry & dessert class to learn how to make crème brulee and other tasty desserts (like macaroons).
After class, I headed up to Sacre-Coeur (which is the highest natural point in Paris) to look around. It was really pretty up there…but filled with pickpockets and folks selling beer.
Now, I’m on the phone sitting on the steps overlooking the city while watching the sunset. Next thing I know, I feel some fingers in my jacket pocket and turn around to find some guy trying to pickpocket me. Are you serious, Frenchie? My first emotion was shock. I don’t keep money or valuables in my pockets or easily accessible as I’ve always been warned about the thieves in each of these cities. In fact, the clothes I generally wear to sightsee are what I call “pickpocket proof” and the only thing I keep in my jacket pockets are used tissues.
So, when I caught Frenchie, he had the nerve to try to play it off with a smirk on his face. Shock quickly gave way to being pissed. That smirk set my blood boiling because what you aren’t going to do, Frenchie, is take my money that I work hard for. Get a job. Next thing I know, I’m mad and I’m hitting him in the head with my grocery bag filled with food, camera and souvenirs. He clearly wasn’t expecting that. Look here, Frenchie. I’m from Atlanta. I refuse to be a victim. Come at me for my money…we are going to go toe to toe. I don’t think so. Plus, I figured loud-talking him and hitting him with my bag would warn other tourists around me to watch their valuables.
So, after my French UFC event, I did some shopping…as you would normally do to settle your nerves. LOL. Now, I will admit that I was a bit hypersensitive to people approaching me at this time and some guy was trying to draw my picture. I was not in the mood and since I hadn’t seen his work, I didn’t know if this would be another hustle like the sphinx booty and I end up with a picture of myself as a stick figure. Not happening. So, I told him again that I was not interested. Then, he says to me, “don’t be like the Japanese” (or Japonais in French) and mimed someone walking really fast and bulldozing their way around. Wow. I see someone needs a course in diversity training. Which brings me to my next point…I was surprised by how diverse Paris is. I saw a lot of black Parisians!
While I’m shopping, some guy whose English is as good as my French tries to pick me up. He was trying to ask me out to dinner and I said “no”…and what are we going to do? Look at each other? We can’t communicate. Then, 30 minutes later, I get a guy who speaks pretty good English ask me out for café. I declined that as well. I can’t end up like Natalee Holloway. This is a strange city!
Another thing that I love about Paris…everything stays open super late. I’m used to stores closing early but the Eiffel Tower is open until 12:45am and a lot of museums are open until 10/11pm. Stores are open late as well so I didn’t realize how late it was. So, I catch the Metro and while we are riding, a guy playing an accordion and his son (who was probably 8 years old) was playing the tambourine looking like he wanted to be anyplace but there started their “performance.” There is music EVERYWHERE in Paris and that is so cool to me. Paris really is a beautiful place and I feel blessed to be here experiencing it.