Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Paris Partie Deux

In October it was decided I would be returning to Paris, one of my favorite cities in the world.  The great part about it was, my daughter Nicole was traveling with me.

As is my annual sojourn to Europe, I try to stay away from the hot summer days and schedule closer to early fall so I can have not just the comfortable weather but great pictures as well of moi - in my boots and jackets and my numerous scarves. And so we packed - sweaters, leggings, boots, jackets and all and landed in Paris to experience 85 degree weather! What the crepe?! And thus we ended up wearing our lighter wardrobe intended for the second leg of our vacation, to warmer Barcelona.

I love Paris - have I said that yet? In late September, the touristy crowds have dissipated and the locals are back.  The bistros, the cafes and the boulangerie offer a wide variety of pre-fixe menus that will dazzle your palate and appreciation for the French cuisine.  I like going to the smaller family-owned shops where when we come in and stagger with my flailing French, they immediately read the distress on my face and dispatch the English-speaking waiter. HA! And then he staggers with his flailing English to explain what is on the menu so we order, he delivers and we are all happy in the end. I always suggest to friends that when you travel, to be adventurous.  Order stuff that you are not familiar with but best of all, ask what they recommend: que recommandez-vous? But do all your meals have to be French? Depends how you feel but seriously I think if I did that I would just hate and swear off any more charcuterie before I learn to pronounce it properly!  In the one week that we made Paris our home, we also ate at local Italian/pizza restaurants and yes, in Montmartre we found a tiny family-owned Thai place that served sticky rice with their meals and it just hit the spot.

McDonald's, yes - that great American invention, has fascinated me how it has adapted to every country it mushroomed into.  In Italy [] they have burgers with pancetta and no burgers buns for you but instead you get them in ciabatta rolls! And then they pack their take-outs in snazzy brown bags! Of course in Manila we have the McTapsilog and McLongsilog side by side the Egg McMuffins for breakfast!  In France they have the Croque McDo [] which sadly we never got to taste because the 'other' food options were just numerous!

Oh, the Parisiens! I love listening to the local chatter that I absolutely cannot understand and manage to learn if I tried.  I think it is a fascinating language - not just romantique but very seductive: "Comment allez-vous?" ... me: oh yes, take me home =) And no, I have never met a rude Parisien (there are more rude New Yorkers trust me!) - we have been helped when asked to even and do they smile back when you greet them 'bon jour!'. I love how the women would ride their bikes in their high heels and how the men strut like they are god's gift to women (hmmm, like the italians and the Spaniards!).

During my first visit to Paris, as a side trip to Lyon, I only stayed three days and had to rush through the major sites in between meeting with friends and making lunch commitments.  It was a preview and I was a tourist. This time I wanted to feel like a local. We decided to stay a week and found a wonderful apartment in the Marais area that was rented out by a now NY-based UN staffer.

I have traveled around with my daughter since she was small.  In Manila, I taught her how to read road maps so that when we made long drives she read the milestones and would dictate to me what town we would be driving into next and how far we are from it.

True enough, as soon as we arrived in Paris she studied the subway system and by the next day knew the quickest way to get anywhere.  She became my official guide. We took in Paris in a very relaxed way - we took long walks and sat in the park to watch people, took extended brunches or took the bus instead of the metro to see more places.  On her own she ventured into her museum tours (I get saturated very quickly with the artsy stuff!) and finally had her face to face time with the Mona Lisa. "It is so over-rated!" was her only reaction.

The only major touristy stuff we did were climb La Tour Eiffel and waited until sunset to enjoy the flickering lights of the steel lady, took the river cruise on the Bateaux Mouches and visit Versailles. We mingled like locals with the crowds during Nuit Blanche and it totally reminded us of the chaos that ensues in Manhattan during the Thanksgiving parade or the West Village Halloween parade. We sampled the macarons at Laduree (and my favorite is the rose!) but didn't think much about it since there is also a Laduree in Manhattan.  It was just so fantastique to be sitting on a bench along the Champs Elysee munching on les macarons =)

But something happened on the way to being a Parisien. Familiar with the trash shoots in apartment buildings in Manhattan, we thought our building in Marais would also let us throw stuff in the size of small plastic bags.  On our first day however we discovered that the slot was no bigger than a mailbox opening and so couldn't hold more than a small bunch of trash.  The owner of the apartment told us we can leave recyclables in the apartment that she can dispose off later or bring them to the basement.  We ventured into going down the basement and ended up faced with this cavernous dark cold space that had long unlit halls. Yes - how do you say 'creepy' in French again? So we left our huge bag of trash on the floor and ran back to the elevator (before we got stranded, heaven forbid!) and learned our lesson - everyday we threw out small bags of trash into the shoot and brought out the bigger ones (milk and soda bottles, pizza box, etc) to dispose of them into the neighborhood trash cans.  In Manhattan that is illegal.  I am still waiting for my ticket from the French council.

Someone told me that you never say goodbye to Paris, only "au revoir" because for sure it is a city you will keep coming back to.