Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Dancin in France - Part 4 - Paris Day 3

Day 3
One of my favorite "street arts" in Paris

This was our last full day in Paris. The next day would be spent finding our way to the airport and then sitting for a long 7 hours and 50 minutes to get back to Boston. At this point, we had checked off so many things for Paris, it was really a free day to roam around.

On Day 2, one of our bartenders told us about an old train garage that had been turned into an open air market with restaurants, eateries, art exhibits, and more. Grand Train, I discovered, was only recently opened in Paris and was to close again in October. We made it just in time!

This was one of the most unexpected twists of our trip. I would never had known about this had we not Hemingway-ed the day before. I didn't read about it before because it was so new. Nobody I ever knew had been there.

At the entrance to Grand Train

A tiny market to welcome you.

We ate our way through a few hours of Grand Train. Chicken wings, pizza, beer, and dessert. People watching was spectacular and I took far too many pictures. If you go to Paris, check to see if this place is still around. It is spectacular!

That night was the big game and our big dinner. Our bar manager friend in Boston had suggested Clamato, little sister to the Michelin rated restaurant Septime. We thought our chances of getting in to this no-reservation spot might be better if we timed it to when the rest of France was watching the final Euro Cup game against Portugal.


Septime Cave - another member of the Septime family

When we arrived, much to our delight, there were two barstools waiting for us. We devoured every single plate that came our way. The restaurant was small and exactly what my dream house would look like. As we were eating, a group of Americans came in and greeted the waitress with a "Hello again!" and I thought, woah, they are in-the-know.

"Hey," I said to the BF. "I think we know that guy. He might be from Boston or something? He looks familiar." Yeah. So that was Patrick Carney, of the Black Keys, eating with his new-ish (and scandalous) gf Michelle Branch. And then two other people who I think were probably somebody. I guess we picked the right spot!

After our delicious meal, we decided to end our trip with not another 3 mile walk and hopped on the Paris Metro. Here I got my final Paris dance in. We arrived home to watch France lose the Euro Cup and hundreds of revelers on our street go home.

Dancin in the metro
The next day it was pack, grab breakfast across the street, and start the long journey home.

Biggest Lessons Learned
1. Rent a car so you can go anywhere
2. Skip Dijon go to Troyes
3. Take the scenic route
4. Bring more than one book
5. Get to know your local bartenders

Au revoir, France!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Dancin in France - Part 4 - Paris Day 2

It is hard to get out bed when you ache...
and this is your view from bed

Day 2
We woke up bodies aching and sore, not recovered from our tromp through the "small" city of Paris. Today was supposed to be "Hemingway Day" - a day we wandered around, drinking, meeting people, and reading in our local neighborhood. I wasn't so sure how it would work out with my body in its current state. BF managed to get me out the door to grab an espresso and croissant at the brasserie across the street. While there I mentioned a flea market that was "only" a couple miles  north of our apartment. I suggested we head there on Day 3. Why not now, he asked. So we wandered into Puces de Saint Ouen - 10 miles of shopping with over 2,000 shops.  We didn't have it in us to log another double-digit mile day but we wandered around enough to be amazed. I picked up a few gifts but engaged mostly in amazing window shopping.

One of my favorite shops at the flea market...letters!

We walked back to our apartment and I straight up passed out. Around 4 pm, BF was ready to get our Hemingway Day on and I had digested enough advil to motivate me to get moving again.

What made this day truly magical was a very important lesson for all of you. Know your local bartenders! We have a friend, Matt, in the bar industry in Boston. He gave me a list of cocktail bars to visit while in Paris. So after a warm up beer at one of our local brasseries, we started to hit up the list.

BF starts our Hemingway Day channeling his inner "Papa"

We wandered to Pigalle, where our recommended list of bars noted two different bars. We stopped first at Le Lipstick, a little bar with outdoor seating. Sadly, the outdoor seating was under scaffolding for some kind of construction so we moved quickly next door to Glass.

At Glass we met Aaron, a young bartender from Hungary. Glass was empty because apparently it is open past 2 am, when other bars close at 2, so it gets the late, late crowd. And they have hot dogs. So we had Aaron to ourselves and he spoke English. This meant we got the inside scoop on more places to visit in Paris. While there, a group of Americans came in from the bar across the street. They were also from the bar industry (they knew Boston bars/bartenders!) and stopped in to get hot dogs before heading back to their bar - which was our next stop. We chatted with Aaron a bit more then headed across the street.

This next stop was Dirty Dick. Yep. You read that correctly. Dirty Dick is a tiki bar, in Paris. Yep. You read that correctly. Dirty Dick is owned by a California guy who got a French girl pregnant and moved to France so he opened this bar. Yep. You read that correctly. Here we ordered more delicious drinks and chatted with our new friends from the states. We needed to leave before our drinking got out of hand (tiki drinks go down sooo easy) so after one drink we made our way to Lulu White.

Lulu White is a New Orleans theme bar. Again, it was a sparse crowd. To be fair, we started our evening pretty early. Anyway, there was a lovely British bartender at Lulu White and she was thrilled to chat us up and offer more suggestions for places to visit. We had a couple of drinks there, got lots more local spots to visit, and made our way out the door.

Our last stop for the evening was Artisan. Artisan was recommended by both Aaron and the bartender at Lulu White. Here we took our time to drink, by far, the most delicious drinks of the trip. Alex, the bartender, was very friendly. We paired our drinks with food. I ate my first beef tartare - it was SO good! We also discovered that Alex lived in Boston - in Dorchester no less - for a couple of years. He worked at a French restaurant and gave us the name of the guy there to look up when we got home.

Our Hemingway Day in Paris was lovely. We felt at home and not so touristy. Bopping around for 5 hours eating, drinking, and chatting with a bunch of expats was just the way we wanted to spend a day in Paris.
Montmartre and Pigalle are super

Lessons Learned
1. Always get to know your local bartenders (Thanks Matt!)
2. Hemingway knew what was up. Spend a day wandering and reading every once in awhile.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Dancin in France - Part 4 - Paris Day 1

Our final stop on our tour of France was the City of Light - Paris. I first visited Paris over 10 years ago with a friend from college. A few years ago I got Paris fever bad. I watched every movie that came out about Paris. I googled it. I ogled over pictures. I had to get to Paris.

Taking the train

When the BF and I decided France was the place for our first vacation together, a part of me did a victory dance. I would finally get my fix.

In Nice we had ditched our rental car and opted for foot travel only. We also wanted the magical experience of train travel through France. Fields of vineyards turned to fields of sunflowers as we made our way first along the coast and then straight north to Paris. We arrived at our 6th floor walk up in Montmatre at about 7 pm. All I wanted was a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower before we turned in for the night. A couple of hours later, we made our way to a bridge with a view. We made our next stop Harry's New York Bar. This is Europe's oldest cocktail bar, according to them, and it is the real deal. Here you are welcomed with solid cocktails, a list of rules for the IBF society on the bottom of the menu, bartenders in white coats, and hot dogs. We noshed on some hot dogs and sipped on cocktails.

Hot dogs..mmmm
Eiffel Tower kisses

C'est bon!

On our way home we stopped at an amazingly tacky wagon wheel restaurant. Moments after we left, France beat Germany in the Euro Cup, advancing them to the final game. The streets of Paris were flooded with late night revelers. It was pure joy.

France wins...wait for it

The plan for Paris began with my naive declaration, "Paris is a small city. I think we can walk the whole thing." Day 1 of Paris, Day 7 of our trip, would begin with a walk through the entire city. I mapped out a circular route that would take us through our neighborhood, drift toward the Latin Quarter, head past the Eiffel Tower, and then back home. Day 2, Day 8 our of trip, would be what we dubbed "Hemingway Day" in which we would drink and read our way through our local bars and brasseries. Day 3, Day 9 of our trip, was left wide open to whatever we had left to do.

Sipping wine on our Paris balcony

Despite the lessons learned in these 3 days, I am pretty satisfied with the overall plan. I'm going to split these posts up. It's a lot to read...and write. Bare with me. :)

Day 1 of Paris
The loop around Paris started in Montmatre. I wanted to stop at the Cafe de 2 Moulins, famed for it's role in the movie Amelie. Basically I am pretty sure if I had been born in France my life would be just like hers so this was a pinnacle moment for me. The cafe was perfect.

The Sacre Cour, near our apartment

After espresso and croissants, we hopped a few blocks to snap a picture of the Moulin Rogue and then we were on our way across the St. Martin Canal. I wanted to stop at Holybelly, which was supposed to have great brunch but the line was about 45 minutes and we needed food quickly. We continued on our way to Au Chat Noir, a funky beatnik bar in the Oberkampf area of Paris. This neighborhood is known for it's funky nightlife and street art. Although, we really found amazing street art all over the city.

Girls just wanna have fun-
damental rights. And me dancing in France
After a refreshing beer, we stopped at a boulangerie for a street bread sandwich, which we ate while walking. We swung further south to see the Bastille monument.

The plan from here was to head up to the Montparnesse tower but we were about 5 hours in and pretty exhausted. We headed straight for the Latin Quarter. Here, I wanted to follow in some of Hemingway's footsteps. I had just finished A Moveable Feast in Nice so I was ready. We strolled along the Seine and made our way for Shakespeare and Company, a for real bucket list item for me. Since I had just finished my book, I bought another book to take with me. Then we headed to Deux Maggots so I could sip a drink where Hemingway used to do the same.

Me + back of Notre Dame

Beautiful house boats on the Seine

BF reading by the Notre Dame

Shakespeare and Company...nailed it!

From here, the Eiffel Tower was next. The entire lawn was blocked off in preparation for the Euro Cup final game so we couldn't relax. We grabbed some ice cream, hopped on the carousel, and then moved on the to the next stop.

Ice cream with my part wolf

There she is!
Y'know, just kickin it

After the Eiffel Tower, we crossed the Champs Elysses so we could catch site of the Arc de Triomphe. We landed in Pigalle, just a mile west of our home, and snagged dinner at a little restaurant - completely wiped. BF's phone tracks mileage so we checked it out and we clocked in at 16 miles. OOF!

Lessons Learned
1. Paris is not small.
2. Cute sneaker socks don't last for 16 miles.
3. Always make sure you know where the closest bar is for when you can't walk another step.
4. Always pack more than 2 books when traveling for 10 days. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dancin in France - Part 3 - Nice

Promenade des Anglais - from above
Peaceful one week before the attack
Nice. This beautiful city I was geared up to gush about. It now holds on to such sorrow and pain. I can't believe that just a week ago we were walking the same streets. Eighty-four lives lost but so much more loss. I don't know the grief that comes with losing a loved one from terrorism but I know grief from tragedy. I know that the friends, the parents, the grandparents, the cousins, the aunts and uncles, the teachers - the community - of those who lost their lives are living a painful reality right now. I know those left to mourn the lives of those 84 will walk a difficult path in the upcoming months.

Before we arrived in Nice, I had posted some pictures on Facebook of our trip. The day we were set to head to Nice, the United States experienced the loss of two more black men at the hands of police, and 7 police officers because of hate and fear spreading through our society. I felt the weight of guilt and my privilege preparing to sit on the rocky shores of Nice.

And now, here I sit in the comfort of safety while the place of my respite from grief has been under attack. We aren't safe. Life, sadly, is about the ongoing risk that at any second you will lose it all. Your friends will head to a dance club and never come out alive. You will get pulled over for not using a turn signal and that will be the beginning of your end. You will ride your bike with your best friend on a country dirt road and a blind corner will whisk your life away. Those of us who survive are left to sort through the emotional wreckage that follows in the wake of tragedy.

Plato, maybe?, said "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle." Since losing Nate I sometimes wish my pain was a sign around my neck, so that others know about the battle I fight. It has also made me conscious of others who I assume have no battle. When you pass someone on the street, what might be the inner battle they are fighting? What does their tomorrow hold that might bring them pain? That person driving slow down the road, who frustrates you because you are so anxious to get moving, they might be feeling the anguish of grief because they remember that once upon a time their sweet nephew was in that car with them, singing and bopping along. Maybe they can't go any faster because they know that memory will last only as long as that road. That person driving fast behind you, beeping and trying to get moving, perhaps they have received a call that their loved one was just lost at the hands of terrorism and every second counts in getting to their family.

My heart breaks for Nice. It feels the raw pain of loss every time I hear about another tragic end to a life. Nice, you offered me pebbled beaches that were rocky and beautiful. I found peace among your shores. I breathed your Mediterranean air and it healed me. Thank you for everything.

The port of Nice 
Beautiful beaches in Nice - Coco Beach

A bottle of rose "on the rocks"
Wine on the beach is amazing

Spent an entire day reading at Opera Plage
This place of tranquility is where this week's terrorist attack occured

BF reading on the beach

BF looking over the city

Panorama of the port of Nice
Dinner at Le Plongeoir, the "Diving Boards"

When the waves roll in on pebble beaches,
the music it makes eases your pain

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Dancin in France - Part 2 - Avignon

* Note - after I posted this I noticed the font is teeny. No idea what happened. I tried to fix it a couple of times but apparently that is beyond my capabilities. Sorry!

** Another note. I couldn't leave it so I tried to fix it and ended up making the background funny. Now I think I got it. Either way, I'm walking away from edits.

Welcome back! If you didn't catch part 1 of our France trip, check it out here!

Travel writing isn't exactly my forte but I'm going to keep trying! My hope is that you get a couple of laughs or ideas if you are heading to France. Let's get rolling with Part 2!

Dancin in the vineyards

The Drive
Following our success of using the car's GPS, we decided to take the scenic route to Avignon. We knew we would drive through more vineyards and little towns and we were so ready!

We weren't disappointed. The rolling hills around us were ripe with even more vineyards, even more wineries, and even more cute villages. We learned that the "A" roads are the highways in France and the "D" roads are more like our country roads. As we drove along the D974, the GPS smartly took us off the path every so often to drive us through tiny little towns. At first we didn't realize how cool GPS is but after the 3rd town of getting off D974, driving through a little town, and getting back on D974, we realized what was happening.

Basically for 3 hours it went like this:
Me: OH MY GOD! This is so beautiful!
BF: We are going through another town!
Me: OH MY GOD! This is so beautiful!
BF: Look, more cyclists!
Me: OH MY GOD! This is so beautiful!

Driving through one of the little towns. 

Yeah. It was pretty beautiful. We also happened to be traveling through France while the real Tour de France was happening. We didn't look up the route ahead of time and at one point we saw a large pack of cyclists riding on a bridge that went over D974.

"Tour de France!" we yelled. It wasn't the Tour de France. We ended up driving much of the route...two days before the cyclists came through. However, every time we saw someone riding a bicycle we just yelled "Tour de France!" It was sort of like the license plate game most families play on a road trip.

Three hours of driving got us about 1/4 of the way to our destination. We realized we should probably hop on one of those big A highways so we didn't completely miss our check in to our next Air BnB.

We zipped through Mâcon, Lyon (looked sooo cool), Orange, and arrived in Avignon. It took us the same amount of time to drive that 3/4 of the trip as it did the first 1/4.

I wasn't allowed to carry a map of Avignon - too touristy-
so I took a picture! That way it just looked like I was looking
at my phone all the time. Y'know, like a normal person. 

Avignon - Day 2
Let me tell you, Avignon was another random pick for us. We were thinking of doing Aix-en-Provence because that's what everybody else does. I can't remember exactly why we landed on Avignon. I certainly had never heard of it. But it was AMAZING!

Clever, Avignon

HUGE wall of plants on a building

Where we got our first drink 

Avignon is another medieval own plopped right on the Rhone river. The ancient part of town is still blocked off by the old ramparts that circle around the city. We stayed in the ancient part of town, just a couple of blocks away from the ramparts. Another thing that makes Avignon cool is that between 1309 and 1377, the good ol' popes of Rome decided to move here instead! So they built a big old palace, church, gardens, etc. Our baller Air BnB had a terrace with a view of the palace. Add to that, our Air BnB host left us a bottle of chilled rose in the fridge, Avignon was looking pretty good!

The streets of Avignon were narrow and cobblestoned. There is a major market, Le Halle, that operates every day except the days we were there. No worries though. France was playing Iceland in the EuroCup so the big empty square was filled with football fans. We spent our first day and night in Avignon wandering around the streets. For dinner, our Air BnB host suggested a number of places and we checked one out.

Despite my attempts to learn French while driving to Avignon, and this might be a shock to you, I didn't quite get it down. I carried around a Lonely Planet dictionary and phrase book with me. It was super helpful and also terribly embarrassing. BF definitely did not want to be seen with such an obvious tourist. So...for dinner, I ordered an appetizer - a beautiful charcuterie plate - without knowing that's all I had ordered. BF somehow managed to not order dinner - something was lost in translation. As we embarrassingly picked at my plate, not knowing where we had gone wrong, we finally managed to communicate with the waitress that he wanted the filet mignon. Which, by the way, translated into French is not steak, but it is delicious pork tenderloin. All was well though because France won the game and there was lots of merry-making in the streets. Also we had street bread at home.

Mmmm. Vin for 3 euro - yep

Day 3 - Avignon, Lavender, Aix-en-Provence
Ancient Avignon is a smallish city so we got up early and basically walked the entire thing. By 10 am we were ready for a mini-road trip. I was dying to see the lavender fields that were between 1 and 2 hours away. We discovered that there is an abby up in the hills, about 45 minutes north east of Avignon, that grows lavender so we figured that was our best bet.

Gordes. Gorg-eous

This road trip through the scenic route led us to Gordes, a gorgeous city built on a hill with the windy-est streets you have ever been on. In order to make one turn, we actually had to drive past the road, back up, and 15-point turn our way to the right. A little scary.

I wore my grandma's hat.
I wanted my hands to smell like lavender forever. 

Sénanque Abbey is a Cistercian is a 12th century monastery that grows a bunch of lavender. It was serene.

After taking about a bajillion photos of lavender, we decided to swing by Aix-en-Provence to see what all the fuss was about. I think we were there for 45 minutes. Our first two days of our trip had been mostly sans tourists. We hadn't heard much English and we were loving it - even with all the mishaps. Aix-en-Provence felt like a tourist trap.

The drive to A-e-P was more lavender fields!
Somebody lives here!

Lovers for rent

Really expensive beer in A-e-P

Our meal was more expensive, large groups of English speakers, meh. It just wasn't our thing. So we high-tailed it out of there.

Au revoir Avignon! You rocked!
Sunset from our terrace. 

Lessons Learned
1. Entree means appetizer. Which makes way more sense than "main meal" here in America.
2. Charcuterie plates are delicious and perfect for a hot night. They are way cheaper and way better in France.
3. Filet mignon = pork tenderloin in France.
4. In Avignon, at dusk, about a million swallows fill the sky. It is beautiful and phone cameras just can't capture it.
font-family: "times" , "times new roman" , serif; line-height: 19.5px;">5. You will miss the festivals if you don't plan. We missed every intersection with the Tour de France by about 2 days. Also, Avignon is famous for it's Festival d'Avignon. Basically, the whole city is filled with theater. There are small theater houses everywhere. It happened two days after we left.

Advertisements for all the shows we would miss at the Festival d'Avignon