Feb 20 2008
So the next day, Feb. 5, was officially my mom’s birthday. Not that it mattered much because she had declared it to be her birthday week and we were all to greet her with a “happy birthday!” every morning we were in Paris. For all I know, she’s now made it her birthday month. Just in case: Happy Birthday, Mom!
A daily ritual evolved in which we would walk to our desired destination – to soak up as much Parisian atmosphere as possible and see what fun surprises and yummy treats we would discover on the way – and then metro it back. So that afternoon we set off on foot to visit the Notre Dame cathedral.
My mother’s checklist of things to do and see in Paris was determined by her favorite movies – in fact, she made me Google certain movie scenes to find out exactly where in Paris they were filmed, so we could visit that site. One such movie culminates in a dramatic scene on a Parisian bridge where the romantic leads finally unite. So it was imperative that our route to Notre Dame take us across that bridge, the Pont Neuf, where Mom could pretend that she was Diane Keaton.
(Fun historical tidbit: even though its name means “new bridge,” the Pont Neuf is actually the oldest bridge in Paris!)
After an hours-long trek with many such sidetracks, we did manage to see Notre Dame. The cathedral is, of course, beautiful, with its famous flying buttresses and rose windows. We spent a while admiring the church (and resting our feet!), before trying to visit Quasimodo by ascending the towers. Unfortunately we arrived just in time to miss the last group climbing to the top.
We comforted ourselves by deciding to instead visit a shop touted in our guidebook as having “the best chocolate in the world” (which, let’s face it, is what we all really wanted to do anyway). The fact that it was also the most expensive chocolate in the world did not stop us from buying a sampler of delights. Although I can’t say I’ve tried all the chocolate in the world (it’s on my to-do list), I have to imagine this chocolate is a contender for the title of Best Ever. Upon leaving the chocolate shop, we stopped in a bakery for cinnamon-sugar fried apple slices. Oh, and we picked up some Nutella and banana crepes on our walk from the metro station. I love France!
We began the next day with a self-guided walking tour of the Montmartre district, starting with the notorious Moulin Rouge. Of course, to get there, you have to walk through Paris’ red-light district. Historically, I guess that’s what this area has always been (the Moulin Rouge was essentially a fancy brothel, after all), but the modern translation means giant stores called SEXODROME and lots of posters of naked women. Needless to say, walking down this street with a family of five was, well… uncomfortable, and it wasn’t long before Jamie was screaming to get out.
So the Moulin Rouge is basically a building that says “Moulin Rouge” and has a giant red windmill on top. Thanks to the movie, my sister had expected more – can-can dancers, flashing lights, and, at the very least, Nicole Kidman and Ewan Macgregor singing a duet out front. She was understandably (and vociferously) disappointed.
Montmartre as a whole is picturesque and charming and we wandered the winding streets until everyone was clamoring for food. To celebrate Mom’s birthday, we decided to splurge on a meal out. I’d searched in vain for a restaurant that was good and reasonably priced – an impossible task in Paris. During my research, I’d run across favorable reviews of a restaurant in the Montparnasse neighborhood called Aux Artistes. Reviewers claimed that the food was good, not great, and the atmosphere was nothing special, but there was just something about this place that made it a perfect Parisian dining experience. And at less than $30 a person, it was a steal (ridiculous, but true).
The reviews were spot on: the food and atmosphere of Aux Artistes are fine, but there IS something about restaurant that makes it great. And I can tell you exactly what that something is. His name is Marvin.
Imagine a tall, blonde Jake Gyllenhaal type that is impeccably dressed, has a sexy French accent, and brings you food. That’s Marvin. Lindsay was rendered speechless each time he passed and my mom giggled throughout the entire meal, though she did work up the nerve to ask him his name and snap a photo.
We decided to follow up our delicious meal/waiter experience with a café au lait at a small, nearby café. Here’s a tip about dining in France: always have your drink at the bar. If you sit down in the restaurant, your coffee costs nearly twice as much. When we entered this particular café, the bar was full of old French men. So we stood towards the back and I called our order to the bartender, but remained standing to clearly indicate that I was not interested in being seated in the restaurant area. Seeing Mom and I standing, a nice man scooted two bar stools to a tall, round table next to the bar. We said “merci!” and sat down.
And then the bill came, and the prices were twice as expensive as those listed out front. I protested. The bartender merely nodded at our table. Using emphatic hand gestures and my limited French, I pointed out that there had been no room at the bar, and we had not wanted to be seated. Even though it was obvious he understood what I was saying, the bartender shrugged, said something in French that translated to “tough luck, sucker!” and then LAUGHED IN MY FACE.
Few things on this trip have made me angrier. Even as I write this, I’m getting heated just recalling the incident. Have we told you how much we hate Parisians? Well, we do. Everything you hear about them is true. Okay, to be fair, it’s only mostly true. We did run into a few kind people. Marvin, for instance, who is perfect. But most of our local interactions were not friendly.
Don’t be confused, though. The people in Southern France were some of the nicest we’ve encountered. It’s some sort of Paris-specific affliction.
The Eiffel Tower was next on the agenda. Ever since we’d realized just how tall the tower is, we’d all been a little wary of the ascent. Moreover, Jamie was insisting that we climb the 1000+ stairs to the top instead of taking the sensible elevator — not because it was minimally cheaper, but because it would “totally own.” He followed this with lots of manly roars and muscle flexes. If you voiced dissent you were, of course, a “total noob.”
Turns out you can only climb the stairs to the second level, which was fine by me. If you want to proceed, you have to purchase an additional ticket and take the elevator from there. I say “only” climb the second level, when really it was quite a feat, and even after hiking up and down the moutains of Greece for two months, my thighs were feeling the burn.
Mom and I opted to not to continue on, as she was already feeling weak-kneed and nervous at the second level (we had all been instructed not to touch her or talk to her at the top), and I’ve already climbed the tower once and it was terrifying enough the first time. I mean… who needs to see it twice? That’s just greedy. So you’ll have to ask Ben, Lindsay, or Jamie about their experience at the tip top. Mom and I stayed put and enjoyed the tower’s evening twinkle lights from the inside.
We ended our day with warm homemade paninis on crusty baguettes and several raucous rounds of spades. And since this is my blog where I can say whatever I please, my memory recollects that the girls won handily that night. Oh, and the boys cried. Now it’s recorded for posterity.