Paris - Thursday, October 2 - Thursday, October 9
Our first week of our honeymoon in Paris was quite a successful one - we were tourists, but on this visit I started to finally get comfortable with the city at the end of our week here. Nisha chose our AirBNB quite smartly by choosing a great neighborhood - the Marais, between the third and fourth Aronndisment, which was bustling and safe and delicious. Staying in an AirBNB, as opposed to the hotel, helped us to feel somewhat more at home than a simple vacation (what with us having 6 months abroad), and our flat came with a small fridge, laundry, wine openers, and a neighbor from Chicago.
My only prior visit to Paris was apart of a whirlwind tour of Europe on a contiki tour in 2006, and this one gave me a much better feel for the city. In terms of density and bustle the city reminded me of New York City, but it doesn´t have the hulking buildings, diversity, or quite the around-the-clock grind of Manhattan. As we walked from the Les Halles metro stop to our AirBNB we were surrounded by city life, with people thronging the cafes smoking, drinking, and talking. Our walk took us through small streets fit for one car, and we passed a restaurant bearing my last name - Aoyama. It seemed quite fitting.
For most of the week we did touristy things, as we went on a tour of Notre-Dame (the view at the top is amazing), walked along the Champs-Elysee, viewed the Eiffel Tower, took the train to Sacre-Crouer, and took the train out to Versailles. I think my favorite thing, however, was going to a wine & cheese soiree at my friend Boris´s house, who I met on the John Muir Trail in August. He was gracious enough to invite Nisha and I to his home where Emmanuel, who I also met on the trail, brought over a number of amazing cheeses from Normandy, where he had been for the day. Boris opened some awesome bottles of wine, and we had quite a feast of wine and cheese and charchrutterie. Cést bon!
We´re now riding the TGV from Paris to Milan, and the ride features some astounding views of the alps. It´s a very civilized way to travel, as this train has none of the creak and putter of the Caltrain or Amtrak, and comes without having to remove your shoes or go through a metal detector.
Ditto to everything that Simon said about Paris. I had never been to Paris (or to any of the places we´re going on this trip, actually). As I do with all popular things and places, I lowered my expectations, fearing that the hype would exceed reality. Perhaps because of this, Paris far exceeded my expectations in terms of beauty and vibrancy. I knew that I would love the many art museums (especially D´Orsay and Marmottan....I teared up in front of my first Van Gogh at D´Orsay....), but the fairytale peaked towers and carved stone bridges framing the Seine took me by surprise.
This will sound strange and childish unless you grew up a Disneyfan in Southern California, but it was the kind of experiential magic that my brain had previously reserved for Disneyland (and maybe Machu Picchu). As San Franciscans, Simon and I tend to associate "popular tourist attraction" with "Fishermans´ Wharf," a garish, maritime-themed caricature of the city that detracts from everything else that is beautiful in SF. Conversely, Paris´s tourbook attractions were delightful - I need to figure out how to incorporate the wrought iron patterns of the Eiffel Tower into my home decor or wardrobe, and wish I could bring home a Notre Dame gargoyle for my balcony.
Probably most endearing to me were the many used book sales dotting the edges of the Seine and throughout the city. It was almost too much: dozens of Monets within a few miles radius, so many pastries, so many charming cobbled walks, AND gorgeous antique books everywhere? How much fluttering can one heart handle? Alas, being constrained by one carry-on-sized backpack for the next six months, I could not do more than peruse longingly. Next time....
I spent a lot of our week in Paris fantasizing about next time in Paris, which is a horrible thing to do, but in addition to wanting to buy things, I really wanted to have a different suitcase. If my wardrobe choices had not been constrained by our impending trek in Nepal, volunteering with elephants in India, etc., I would have packed very differently for this stylish city. That said, I am VERY excited about trekking in Nepal, etc....it´s just harder than I thought it would be to only have a few items of clothing to work with. Yesterday, I discovered a small hole in a black top I´d packed, and was surprised by my rush of excitement about shopping for a replacement. I don´t think I have a shopping problem, but this exercise in minimalism will probably be good for me....
There are so many more things I could say about Paris, but blogs are supposed to be pithy. Some last gems: our apartment was near a Turkish kebab place that was AMAZING; our stay in Paris overlapped for a few days with our San Francisco friends Paul and Kelley´s vacation; I loved the gardens at Versaille; and if you like Monet at all, don´t leave Paris without visiting Musee Marmottan and the Orangerie gallery.
Onward through Italy!