Thursday, November 12, 2009

An American Girl in Paris, Versailles and Barcelona

We (Rebs, Jeff, Brian, Emily and myself) arrived to a rainy Paris on the morning of Saturday the 24th of October . After settling in and grabbing a quick croissant, we found ourselves starving and in a restaurant-barren area. We walked into an empty bar and ate some mediocre steak frites with a small salad. This was not what we thought Paris would be. Seeing this, we immediately headed toward something distinctly Parisian, the Louvre. We walked around the Louvre, and toward the Eiffel tower but we didn’t want to see the tower just yet.

For dinner we chose to eat at a restaurant just close enough to the tower that we could see the upper-half lit up, and I had French onion soup with baguette and a glass of white wine. This was France.

We had a really fun night in our sketchy hotel hanging out and drinking the Heineken bottles we had to sneak in when the electricity went down. Good times at the Altona.

Sunday we woke up to a bright morning, and we ate outdoors at a lovely patisserie in St. Michel. I had a peach yogurt and pain aux raisins. The pastry was amazing. We were in St. Michel as it was where our New Europe (free) tour was going to begin that morning. The tour was really great, entertaining and informative and I would definitely suggest that anyone coming to Europe check out one of the tours they offer. We went practically everywhere around Paris from Notre Dame to the Champs-Élysées. The tour involved a half-hour lunch break during which I purchased a whole wheat baguette with lox, cucumber and dill cream cheese. Delicious. After the tour we walked to the Arc de Triomph (which is extremely ornate up close), and then back to our hotel to rest after our long day.

For dinner we went back to St. Michel and headed into a little restaurant filled with antique French signs and tables covered with red-and-white checkered cloths. Jeff and I split escargot and a ham and cheese crêpe as an appetizer and the escargot was a perfect buttery, garlic wonderland that I never wanted to leave. For dinner I had Duck a l’Orange and a glass of white wine, but I really preferred Emily’s Boeuf Bourguignon which was deliciously tender with deep flavor. After dinner we headed over the meeting place for this pub crawl that was a part of our free walking tour and spent the night going around to different pubs and bars in the area.

Monday morning we woke up to finally see the Eiffel Tower. We got out of the metro and sort of looked at each other as if to say “where is it” (because immediately when you walk out you see a park), and then finally I looked up and screamed. This French guy and his girlfriend smirked in response to my spotting of the Eiffel Tower but I did not care. This seemingly industrial monument is actually delicately beautiful. I bought a cola-flavored ice pop for breakfast, and walked around to take pictures. We were very lucky to have been able to see the Eiffel Tower on such a sunny and bright day.

For lunch Jeff, Rebs and I met Tom (who is studying abroad in Paris) at a café near the Louvre, and with such great weather we decided to sit outside. I had camembert on a baguette. After lunch we went to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa which was mounted on its own wall and behind bullet-proof glass. My favorite moment in Paris came next during our night tour of Montmarte. Montmarte is famously known as the home of the Moulin Rouge, but is also filled with street art, little restaurants and cafés and a deep artistic history. The area is on a steep incline and at the top sits the a beautiful white church called the Sacré-Cœur, from which you have the most amazing aerial view of the city.

From here we a saw the Eiffel Tower light up and it was seriously breathtaking. For dinner we went to a quaint Italian restaurant that was painted a light turquoise on the outside. I ordered an antipasto platter followed by ravioli with a gorgonzola sauce and profiteroles for dessert (and ate every last bit of it). We hung out in the area for a little before heading back, and if I am ever fortunate enough to go back to Paris this is definitely the first place I will come back to.

On Tuesday we decided to see Versailles and the royal Château. Tom came with us, and we ate at a bustling restaurant run by two waiters. I had, as Tom told me, a Norman dish of fish soup with crostini, horseradish mayonnaise and shredded emmantal. After lunch we stopped into a patisserie where I got a raspberry tart, and made our way over to the Château. Let me tell you, this place puts Buckingham Palace to shame. It was grand and gilded on the outside, and the enormity of the palace was only multiplied by the windows that provided views onto the gardens. We were able to see the staterooms as well as the bedrooms of Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and the room of mirrors. My favorite part was the garden which seemingly never ended and was entirely lush. We got outside just in time to appreciate the manicured plantation before seeing the sunset, which was stunning.

As we left Versailles we decided that before dinner we should go see the Eiffel Tower. We got there just minutes after it had ended glittering, so we took pictures and waited around for another hour at which point we all just stood back in awe as this amazing structure began to sparkle. Jeff has got a really good video of this to check out on Facebook.

For dinner Tom took us to this extremely tiny fondue restaurant somewhat near St. Michel. The place was filled with blacks and browns and made me feel as if I were in the countryside. We ordered beef and duck along with a cheese fondue that came with baguette and apples. The food was definitely worth the wait, as we had to cook it ourselves, and the cheese fondue was possibly one of my favorite food moments in Paris. We hung out at the restaurant for a bit and then walked around St. Michel, grabbed some ice cream, and went back to our hotel to pack.

We had all of Wednesday morning to say goodbye to Paris so we decided to see Notre Dame and the Musée d’Orsay. We went back to the patisserie in St. Michel for breakfast (I had an apple pastry, peach yogurt and then I split a pain aux raisins with Jeff because they are seriously that good) and then headed over to the Notre Dame which is about a block or so away. We thought it would be really funny for Rebs and I to put Jeff’s backpack under our jackets and pretend to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was pretty amusing and definitely made some other tourists stop and wonder what was going on. Oh well. The structure had a very dark and ominous feeling very unlike the deeply beautiful Sacré-Cœur . After Notre Dame we took the tube over to Orsay and saw many pieces by Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, etc. The museum itself sits inside of an old train station and had a gilded arch ceiling with an earthy green paint and a massive clock at the front. I liked the structure because it made it very easy to get around and to understand the flow from one room to the next. After the museum, we had our last lunch in Paris which consisted of a salad and a croquet monsieur the size of my head but as delicious and crispy as anything. We said our final goodbye via a lemon tart from a patisserie down the block.

Au revoir Paris!

Wednesday night we arrived in beautiful Barcelona, which, by the way, smells exactly like Florida to me. We took a bus from the airport to the top of La Rambla, and dragged our luggage down this lively street until we found our hotel. The hotel was on the right-hand corner of a square with a fountain in the center, palm trees spread about and people laughing and eating everywhere. I like Barcelona. We went out for dinner (fried vegetable, potato and tortilla for tapas, seafood paella, sangria and crema canatala) and then passed out. Thursday morning we grabbed some churros and chocolate and headed to the water (yes, water) to catch an open-air hop-on hop-off tour bus that we would (between all of the hopping on and hopping off) be on for the next seven-and-a-half hours. When we landed in Barcelona the night before I turned on my camera only to find out that it was not reading my memory card. I was originally really bummed about this, but I think that my inability to take pictures on this tour actually ended up being a positive thing. Taking mental photos allowed me to sit back, look up and enjoy the sights. We hopped off the bus at La Sagrada Familia (one of the many pieces of architecture we would see by Gaudi) and had lunch in its shadow.

The lunch was enormous and consisted of ham and white beans, salad, grilled tuna, fruit and a half pint of San Miguel. We sat outside, relaxed and listened to several street performers sing and play guitar. Back on the bus we went everywhere from the Universidad Barcelona to the football stadium and made one of our final stops at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. While this museum does not sit at the highest point in the city, its terrace does provide beautiful views of the city.

We got there just as the sun was coming down, which made the sky turn from an eerie neon pink to pitch black. The lights of the city were bright and beautiful from above, and we took a seat on the steps and watched Barcelona from above until we realized that the bus would be taking its last stop soon. We caught it just in time to get back and walk around La Rambla de Mar before getting ready for the night.

Dinner was pretty much the same as the night before except for more tapas, more sangria and the addition of chicken to my seafood paella. We hung out at the restaurant for a while and then headed over to a club around 12:30a.m., followed by a lounge that made probably the best mojitos I will ever have in my life. Lucky for us, the lounge was located just across the way from our hotel, so we just stumbled past the concierge, found our way up the stairs and passed out in our beds.

On our bus tour from the day before we were given a discount packet for a bunch of touristy things to do in Barcelona. Friday morning we grabbed breakfast on La Rambla de Mar (a ham and cheese sandwich with a strawberry-melon smoothie), got tickets for a speedboat (at something like 9 Euro!) and headed to the beach. The beach was just across the street from a bunch of shops, restaurants and bars, and we all took the time to relax and stare at the ocean. Jeff and I got a slice of coconut from a man who was selling them of a pinkish-purple bucket and Rebs very characteristically did a photo shoot in the sand. After about an hour or so we walked back and got on the boat. I really am my mother’s daughter because we met a man and woman on the boat who are from the same town as me in New York. The boat took us along the coast and as my sunglasses pressed against my face due to the gusts of wind, I was able to appreciate the true beauty of this amazing, eclectic city. After the boat ride we changed and headed to the food market off of La Rambla. I was instantly at home amongst the fresh fruits, live fish and crustaceans and gummies galore. I picked a fresh papaya-coconut juice out of the lot that women were tirelessly stacking and covering with crushed ice.

Jeff and I got a small tin of cod croquettes (which was one of my food highlights of the trip) and I was literally in heaven. In a state of awe and shock I somehow made it over to another fruit stand to purchase a fruit salad and small papaya for later. I have no idea how I even left that market, perhaps Jeff and Rebs bribed me with more food elsewhere… due to my food trance I will probably never know.

We got on the metro just outside of the market, and got off to explore a northern part of the city. After all of the Gaudi we had seen the day before, we knew that we wanted to see Park Guell. The long steep hike to the park is worth every pulled muscle as even in darkness the park is a site to see. We used the flashes of our cameras in order to see the intricate mosaic that covered this whimsical park. I ate my fruit salad and papaya on one of the twisty, mosaic-covered benches, and we looked down onto the city through an orangey-haze.

This is definitely one of the sights (other than the food market, obviously) that I would like to return to if I am able to come back to Barcelona. We got off of the metro a stop early in order to see the Gaudi “dragon” building and then walked from the top of La Rambla toward the end to find a place to eat.

Yet again we ended up eating tapas and seafood paella, but these tapas were more fish-based than the other nights. The dinner was a beautiful end to a beautiful trip, and as we ate outside on the lively, vibrant street, I knew I needed to find my way back here somehow.

Pretty, patisserie Paris and bustling, beach-y Barcelona, I will miss you both.

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