Thursday, August 21, 2014

La vie en rose - a weekend in Paris

After our amazing trip to Lyon for a few days, we headed to the city of lights, Paris, for a few days before heading back home. Being in full-on "travel mode," we were traveling pretty lightly and were fairly oblivious to the people around us. Paris in early August was fairly devoid of Parisians and we had the place to ourselves and a few other European tourists.

We had Jon's cousin, Melissa, on hand to speak all of the French for us and steer us towards the best cafes in the city. Not only is she an awesome travel partner but Calvin loved playing with her and they became fast friends. We joked and said that everyone should
travel to France with a fluent speaker if they can. It makes everything so much easier.

When she wasn't ordering for us and smoothing our numerous potentially awkward cultural situations, we sketched out what we wanted to accomplish during our limited stay in Paris. I hadn't realized just how large and sprawled Paris is. It is far from a condensed city and the numerous neighborhoods have so many places to explore that it is easy to get sidetracked from your original travel goals.

We had a very short "must-see" list - the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. We only had one full day in the city and figured we could check these two off of our list and then casually sightsee, eating tasty pain au chocolat and sipping on delicious lattes.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame was impressive, massive and beautiful. For me, it was a time of quiet reflection to remember those close to me who I have lost. I am so grateful for all we have and I'm very mindful of how quickly that all can change. It is easy to take things for granted and squander opportunities thinking "there's always tomorrow." It's just not true. You are only guaranteed this moment right now. Everything else is extra.

After the Notre Dame, we walked around the corner and climbed a spiral staircase to contemplate the most beautiful stained glass artwork at Saint Chappelle. The cathedral is diminutive in comparison to the Notre Dame but the artwork is breathtaking. Pictures don't really do it justice as you can't possibly capture the feeling of being surrounded by these tall stained glass windows in a single picture.

Perhaps my favorite walk in Paris was through Jardin du Luxembourg. The flowers, sculptures, and fountains were beautiful and peaceful within a bustling cityscape.

The main fountain/reflecting pool had little toy sailboats for rent that young children were racing around the pool. They were provided these wooden sticks to push their boats away from the edge and back into the "race." All of the children were running around the pool, urging their boats to go faster.

The nice weather didn't last very long and we saw the clouds rolling in as we headed to the Eiffel Tower. I was a bit disappointed with the Eiffel Tower as the lawn leading up to the structure was covered in litter, the grass was worn to dirt in many places and muddy. After seeing the pristine gardens of Luxembourg, the Eiffel Tower gardens were considerably less attractive. All that said, we posed for a quick picture before the rain really started to pour.

Having fulfilled our Paris bucket list, we headed back to our Airbnb apartment located in Edith Piaf's neighborhood, Belleville. Calvin loved this apartment as one of the bedrooms was filled with cars and toys from floor to ceiling.  Exploring that neighborhood, off the beaten path (Melissa had never even been there before!), was another fun adventure and allowed us to see how real Parisians live a little bit more.

This neighborhood seems to be in the early stages of "up and coming" and also is close to the smaller Parisian chinatown.  We found some fun shops, a very colorful "graffiti wall" and also some of the best Chinese food in Paris.  While it was a little further away from the usual touristy areas we had checked out, we really enjoyed staying there.  

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