We’ve had a couple of short but memorable trips this year, fewer than usual because training for Ironman kind of got in the way of normal vacation plans. We went to Spain (to visit the in-laws and huzzah for having in-laws living in beautiful little towns on the Med), Virginia Beach in March (where we got to run my favorite half marathon), Crete in July, and Paris in September. There were other, shorter trips in between like lovely Cleopatra exhibits in Bonn, the Zwerg’s christening in Thuringen, and spa days at various saunas in the area.
Here’s a holiday report from Paris as it was the most recent (only last month) and I took about 400 pictures while we were there and this is as good an excuse as any to show some of them. I’ll try to keep some sort of triathlon relevance, but it’s going to be difficult with this one as we only managed a single run the whole time we were there.
Paris and Jimmy Buffett = Best Long Weekend Ever!
Deciding to go to Paris was pretty random. We had the week free and we didn’t know what to do with it. I was looking at beach towns (too expensive at this time of year), London, (too many tourists) Pompeii (saving for next spring), a bike tour in the Loire (a logistical nightmare), and, of course, the City of Light (why is it called that, anyway?). I’ve been wanting to go back to Paris for the first time in 20 years since I moved to this side of the pond and there’s never a bad time to go there. Then I discovered that Jimmy Buffet was playing Paris the very week that we’d already taken off (and by we, I mean the Wife as I am continuing the glamorous life of Hausfrau, blogger, and part time scientist none of which actually pays me as yet). When I crossed my fingers and checked, a miracle occurred and there were still tickets available for the Thursday night show. Yes, dear readers, I am a (not so closeted) Parrothead. So I bought tickets to the show forthwith, booked us on the train (about the same total travel time as flying, but more interesting scenery and no TSA), found a delightful little hotel with its own private Turkish sauna in the basement only a 5 minute walk from the station, and proceeded to subject the (long-suffering) Wife to her first trip to Margaritaville: the Concert. I pulled my handy little Plan de Paris par Arrondissement that I’d kept from my study abroad days (before smartphones and google maps), packed us a suitcase and we were off.
I Have a Plan!
Just a few words about the Plan de Paris: It’s an amazing little red book with a foldout Metro and RER map in the front leaf, and a full foldout map of Paris in the back. In between are an alphabetical listing of all the streets, a listing of all the bus routes, and one-page maps of each Arrondissement (neighborhood section, can’t call them quarters as there are like 22 of them). It’s basically the best city mapbook ever made and when I was there, everyone carried one. Now there’s an app for that, but honestly I like the book better. It’s sad that when you ask a Parisian for directions now, no one pulls out their little red book and says, “I can help, I have a plan!” Since we didn’t bother to pay the extortionate rates to our mobile service provider, we used the book. The good thing about visiting thousand-year old cities is that the street layout generally doesn’t change all that much. A few were renamed, one or two new metro stations exist now, and a few more streets that weren’t there twenty years ago, but other than that, perfectly functional little red Plan! (I didn’t try the bus routes, they’re probably changed a bit more than the other public transportation options.) Hah! Apparently other people feel the same way! Anyway, the plan got us through 4 days of walking and Metro riding without a problem. Technically, the Plan and the Wife got us through because I am absolutely not the map reader in our little family. I’m the one who’s always turning around in little circles with the map upside down as I attempt (and fail repeatedly) to get reality to line up with the little pictures. Even GPS apps on the smartphone leave me confused and frustrated. I actually have an app that lets the Wife remotely track me when I’m out on my bike so she can call me if I’ve gone too far off course. Even that hasn’t prevented tears and utter bafflement on occasion. I am so lucky to have such a patient spouse!
Bizarre vehicles that are part Smartcar and part Moped. Also, bicycles!
Paris definitely has its very own bicycle culture and it’s an odd one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many old, steel Motobecanes and Peugeots in one place before in my life. Paris hipsters seem to think that riding old steel in various stages of disrepair is the height of cool. And everyone uses the Vélib’ – the Paris system of rental bikes. Also, there are some excellent bike tour companies there (we ran into one of those in Versailles and got to watch the reenactment of about 300 years of French history with one energetic tour guide from the UK and a bunch of kids from the tour. Well worth hanging out in the garden and extra 15 minutes to witness (“No, you’re still dead – you just lie there…”). Also, what French women consider proper cycling attire is more fashionable than what women in DC wear to the press conferences at the White House and what women in Germany wear on their wedding day. And the shoes. While none of the stiletto heels I saw on the pedals had actual SPD clips on them, apparently, they are de rigeur in Paris. Silly me, I left the platform heels at home and therefore was unable to rent a Vélib’.
The first thing we did upon arrival was head to Ile de la Cité to visit Notre Dame and make a pilgrimage to one of the fine Parisian eateries that I’d been looking forward to for months. Which was, of course, Berties Cupcakery! I’ve been craving real American cupcakes for months and they’re few and far between here in Frankfurt, but Paris has one that is owned and operated by an actual American and a triathlete at that! We knew from following DC Rainmaker’s blog that his (very lovely) wife had a cupcake shop just behind Notre Dame. And they were worth every penny of their sugary, chocolatey, buttery goodness. (Ray and Bertie, feel free to look us up any time you’re in Frankfurt. I can show you some good runs and rides and where the best pools and lakes are.)
Jouet le Guitarre, Monsieur Buffett!
Wow. We got to see Jimmy Buffett in a 700 person venue that was essentially a dance floor with a little stage on one side. And the only people going to see him in Paris on a Thursday turn out to be 700 tourists from the US and the UK (and a couple from Australia) who are either on a pilgrimage vacation especially to see him or are US expats living all over western Europe who are also on a short vacation to Paris. I think I met one actual French person at the show. But everyone was only slightly drunk (at least at the beginning) and very happy and managed to not make a disastrous first impression on the unsuspecting Wife. Even the one “OMG you guys are lesbians! Can I sleep with you, I’m a lesbian, too!” drunk guy from the line at the door settled down and gave us the most adorable drunken confessional later when he finally understood that we were into each other and not him. Of course it started with, “One of my best friends is gay…” but it ended with, “I think that your love for each other is beautiful and I think it’s wrong that you don’t have the same rights as any other two people in love and congratulations on your upcoming American wedding in New York.” I count that as a win in my book. The show was amazing and it was so much fun to see Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefers right there, 30 feet in front of me as I danced to old favorites and a few new ones. A few of his songs are on my long run play lists and it was oddly emotional to hear them live, those songs that got me through so many miles in the cold, in the sun, in the rain. I was shouting along with the rest of the slightly drunken, aging crowd of crazies in Hawaiian shirts and shark hats every time the refrain to Last Mango in Paris came around. You can probably hear my screechy yells on this video from someone’s phone.
I bet the rest of that crowd does not associate that mango with running along bike trails in the hottest part of the day, week after week, to get acclimated for a marathon that starts at about 2 p.m. after swimming 3.8 km and biking 112 miles.
After that, we behaved for the most part like regular tourists for the next couple of days and I found that the Parisians that we interacted with were much friendlier than I ever remember them being from when I was here as a student. They were incredibly patient through my crazy mishmash of French and German and seemed to enjoy my attempts. It was so odd, I could understand the French that I was hearing, but every time I opened my mouth to respond, all the articles and half the verbs ended up coming out German. One of my German teachers told me that would go away, but it still hasn’t yet. I think my brain is a bit confused and may never get better. I’ll be speaking a linguistic mischung for the rest of my life. At least it’s amusing to the people listening to me.
Paris in the Fall – A Tourist Paradise
One thing about Paris on beautiful weekends in the early fall is that it is crowded. Crowds of tourists everywhere. Inescapable crowds of tourists. So if you’re ever really feeling the need to be in crowds of sweaty foreigners loaded with cameras and iPads who take pictures of everything, cluelessly stop in the middle of streets, and generally get in everyone’s way, go to Paris when the weather’s good. We didn’t even manage to get into one of the museums on our must-do list because the line to get in was so incredibly long.
Playgrounds of the Rich and Famous or Versailles
We did brave the crowds at Versailles, though and it was worth it, especially the gardens, the fountains, and Marie Antoinette’s fake village for when she wanted to play shepherdess. Yes, really. There’s an entire fake village behind the Petite Trianon at the other end of the garden from the more ostentatious palace. It’s adorable and weird. Apparently, when being royalty got too much for her, she cosplayed a shepherdess and went to herd sheep in what appears to be the world’s first theme park.
I also had a lot of fun as we walked from one gilt-encrusted, silk lined room to the next as I tried to figure out what the modern equivalent to Loius XIV’s gilt-edged extravagance. For example, I am certain that he would have had a Royal Tweeter. I imagine a teenaged boy dressed in some outlandish designer shirt and the tightest skinny jeans imaginable running after him with an iPhone constantly in use. He would, of course, be followed in turn by a middle aged guy in a business suit who would be the Royal Twitter Censor to make sure that the Royal Tweeter wasn’t saying anything too outré. Marie Antoinette would have had a Zumba Ballroom. Next to the king’s council room would be a private Starbucks. There would be a garage full of high-end carbon fiber bicycles and fancy ATVs to ride through the extensive gardens. And consider the King’s game room, if you will.
More Plans (or how Louis Phillipe ordered an Obelisk from IKEA Egypt)
In the Place de la Concorde, there stands an Obelisk. With instructions on how to put it up.
What is it with me and running up mountains?
Montmartre. One of the most beautiful spots in Paris. And the highest. Which I spectacularly failed to mention to the Wife just before convincing her that we should run up to it. From my time in Paris 20 years ago, I remembered that the streets are nearly impossible to run on and you pretty much had to find an appropriate park to run in, in order to avoid the crowds and the stoplights. Naturally, I ignored what I knew from experience to be true and we headed off to Sacre Coeur at sunset. The crowds were epic, the park in front of the church is filled with shady looking characters selling all manner of tourist trash, and the hill is a bit bigger and steeper than I remembered. But the view was totally worth it. Sadly, I failed to bring the phone or the camera with me, so you’ll just have to imagine two sweaty women taking in the sight of Paris spread out below us while well-dressed tourists gave us a wide berth and the tchotchke salesmen for the most part ignored us. Then we ran back to the hotel, spent some time in the sauna and went back up the hill the next day for Pakistani dinner because we’d passed it on the way and it smelled really nice. (For more on me wanting to run up mountains, look for my goal post for next year (I’ll be putting that up at the end of December, I’m working on our training plans for next year even as we speak.) which will probably mention a certain young girl. The one next to the Eiger.)
Saint Sulpice (church of runners and scientists)
One of the other churches we visited was Saint Sulpice which has several
distinguishing features. It has science in the actual church, first of all. Science that was interesting enough to be the reason the church wasn’t razed in the Revolution, but they did scratch out the references to the king in the directions on the Gnomon which tells you when the equinoxes and solstices are. Saint Sulpice is also famous for being the site of one of the more idiotic claims in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and the subsequent attempted floor excavations by people who read the book and still think that gullible isn’t in the dictionary. The nice folks at the church have an excellent grasp of the use of sarcasm in fighting stupidity, though as can be seen here in the church’s English language Wikipedia entry.
One of the other very cool things about Saint Sulpice is that there is an actual City of Paris water fountain with guaranteed safe drinking water in the courtyard. We saw several folks fill water bottles in the time that we were there. This is especially interesting to anyone who’s lived in Germany and tried to do a long run, ever. Germans do not believe in public water fountains. Ever. Anywhere. It makes me appreciate things like this a lot more these days because it means I don’t have carry all my water with me on my back or create elaborate hydration schemes involving bicycles, hidden caches, and occasionally pubs or convenience stores.
Fly Boats (well, actually they float)
Yes, the Bateaux Mouches are chock full of Asian tourists, but still an excellent way to get a different perspective on Paris. It’s the kind of thing that you don’t do when you’re living in the city, even on a short term basis as a student, but I really enjoyed it and we had absolutely spectacular weather for it. Highly recommended.
Etruscans, the ancient civilization you didn’t know you were missing
Yes, Etruscans in Paris. At the Musee Malliol, oddly enough. We saw an advertisement for the exhibit on the side of a bus and had a delightful afternoon in one of the less crowded museums in the city. If you don’t know, the Etruscans where contemporaries of the Greeks and Romans and were all over the Mediterranean (mostly Italy) with their language that no one has managed to decipher, their strange ideas about gender equality and very pretty decorative items from gold, etc. They sort of died out and everything was overrun with Romans. Etruscans along with Minoans are one of the ancient civilization hobbies of the Wife so naturally we had to go. It really was a fascinating exhibit and definitely worth going to see if you happen to be in the area. Sadly, no photos were allowed, unlike at Versailles where I got to take a picture of pretty much everything…
Les Fleurs de Paris
The weather being so gorgeous and the museums so unbearably crowded, we spend a lot of time outside. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a proverbial essay on Parisian gardens.
Paris was a great little holiday. TL;DR below:
Things we meant to do and did:
– See Jimmy Buffett in concert in Paris
– Eat American cupcakes from Berties Cupcakery
– Spend a day at Versailles
– Visit Sacre Coeur in Montmartre
– Eat a lot of bread
– Visit the Jardin des Tuileries
– Visit the Jardin du Luxembourg
Things we didn’t mean to do but did anyway:
– Take a ride on the Bateaux Mouche
– Visit the Malliol Museum for their Etruscan exhibit (which sadly didn’t allow photography, so no pretty pictures)
– Run up Montmartre to Sacre Coeur (also no pretty pictures)
– Watch an air guitar contest put on by a group trying to get people to walk more. We also got free pedometers from it
– Visit the Tour Saint Jacques
– Wander around the 6th Arrondissement for hours
– Go inside Saint Sulpice to see the Gnomon there
– Eat Hygienic Chocolate (so tasty!)
– Get drunk at a café on French wine and raw beef
Things we meant to do and didn’t because weekends are just too short:
– Musee D’Orsay (we left this one until the last day and the line was so long we didn’t have time to wait)
– Musee de Cluny (the Tapestries are on tour and it’s being renovated)
– Musee des Invalides (one of my favorite museums there)
– Go up the Eiffel tower
– Run along the Seine or in the Bois de Bolougne
– Père Lachaise Cemetery
And now my Paris blog post is finally done, I’ve included but a fraction of the 400 photos I actually took and I can finally get on with a new update to the blog. Watch this space for a discussion of body image and triathlon, coming up on Thursday.