“Need to Drop 5 Pounds? Go to Paris!”

While my wonderful wife –¬†for reasons that, in the interest of personal safety,¬†I refuse to divulge¬†– will¬†vehemently refute the validity of my discovery, I feel compelled to share it nonetheless. In the United States, people make all kinds of New Year’s resolutions, join an assortment of gymns or diet groups,¬†and spend loads of money to lose weight. Diet regimens and food supplements have become big business yet people are constantly let down by results and are left looking for the next fashionable weight loss plan. That’s where I come in. At the risk of sounding like the most tripe and scripted salesman, would you like to drop 5 pounds in only one week? Take a trip to Paris.

Hopefully by now you’ve finished sighing,¬†rolling your eyes, or laughing out loud. But as preposterous as it sounds, I’ve witnessed this most satisfying weight loss miracle first hand. After a week in Paris enjoying the sights, the city, and of course the food, I was¬†hesitant but¬†curious as to how much weight I had gained. Now I’m not the skinny rail I was in high school. In fact, I’m the guy who recently had to lose 50 pounds after¬†the verbal bludgeoning I received from my doctor¬†over my weight, laziness, and eating habits. In other words, I’m one who can appreciate dropping some extra pounds. But like so many other ills of the world, Paris holds to solution.

When we returned home from our week-long¬†adventure in the world’s greatest city I had to take time to face that thorn in the side of every weight conscious¬†individual – the scales. But to my surprise it shared some good news. I had lost 5 pounds. It didn’t take long to reflect back on the things we did in Paris, particularly the things we ate while there. We didn’t scrimp on our meals.¬†French¬†food was something that we intended to make a big part of our trip and boy did we! So how could I have dropped 5 pounds. Well the obvious answer¬†from the traveler like me, blinded by his utopian love for Paris, would be that the “City of Light”¬†is pure, unadulterated magic¬†and within the city of Paris miracles do happen. On the other hand,¬†much more stable minds¬†would say there’s a more reasonable and plausible explanation.

The Streets of Paris

First, Paris is a city made for walking. Unlike¬†in¬†the United States, Paris is your prototypical European-styled city whose structure is¬†tied directly into¬†its history¬†– a history that preceded the introduction of the automobile – therefore making walking not only an acceptable but enjoyable mode of transportation. In the states, we have become car dependent. We drive to work, we drive to get groceries, we do drive-thru banking, drive-thru fast food – our vehicles are a substantial part of our daily lives. In many ways – and my own life reflects this – we can’t function without our automobiles. That’s not the case in Paris. Be prepared to walk, burn calories, and enjoy it.

Parisians seem to move in a rapid yet fluid state of motion,¬†zipping along¬†through the arteries, veins, and capillaries of the city with confidence and purpose. Regardless of what part of Paris you’re in, the sidewalks are filled with fast walkers and no slow traffic lanes. I remember thinking to myself “We’re walking a lot faster that we would back home” yet we were being passed on both sides. In a way I felt like a street sweeper blocking rush hour traffic. So sometimes taking a walk down Rue de Rivoli or Boulevard Saint-Germain while keeping pace with the locals can feel like an extensive aerobic workout.

But don’t misunderstand me, it’s not as if walking in Paris is a headache. In fact it’s quite the opposite. While sometimes the Parisian pace can be hectic and rushed, there’s also plenty of walks in Paris that you simply can’t miss. It’s as if each and every street has an interesting story and a new discovery that you would never encounter if you chose to wage vehicular combat through the city’s streets (what we Americans call driving). The pedestrian market streets, the Seine-side sidewalks, and the beautiful green gardens are just some of the treasures¬†awaiting those willing to navigate the city afoot. In other words, Paris invites you to walk and failing to do so would be like missing out on one of the greatest experiences¬†the city¬†has to offer.

The Paris Metro

Even using the Metro is a stringent workout in itself. Aside from keeping up with the fast-moving flow of people, the Metro is an impressive¬†labyrinth of hallways and concrete stairways¬†that are¬†sure to burn off a few of those calories added by the morning’s ham and cheese crepe. And if you have to switch trains in one of the busy underground hubs, you can count on even more walking. Again, it’s not a headache, it’s just another method of maneuvering around Paris that encourages walking and provides more exercise than some of us get in a week.

Besides walking, another more logical reason for losing weight in Paris is the food. Now I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking our French cuisine experience consisted of a strict diet of leafy green salads and fresh fruit. On the contrary, food was a key part of our trip. Parisians love their food and that was one element of their culture we had no problem diving into headfirst. We had our fair share of pastries and we most certainly threw ourselves into the cafe scene. We ended each day with lovely meal at a nice restaurant trying all sorts of local favorites such as duck, herring, lamb, shrimp, escargot, beef, and more. We ended our evening indulgences with a delectable¬†assortment of chocolates, ice creams, and cakes.

Some of Paris’ many treats

There are several noteworthy things about food in Paris. First, unlike in the United States, it doesn’t take long to notice the absence of fast food places. They do exist. I mean there’s a McDonalds¬†plopped right in the middle of the Champs Elysees. We saw a Pizza Hut stuck¬†down a small side street in the 7th arrondissement. We were almost ran over by a Domino’s bicycle delivery guy. We even saw a poster advertising Kentucky Fried Chicken. But these spottings¬†were extremely rare. Instead almost every street in Paris has a cafe, bistro, or restaurant serving an assortment of food of a higher quality than a Whopper with cheese or a Double Quarter Pounder. Of course you have to enjoy stops at the patisseries¬†and the chocolate shops. And how can you not make Les Deux Magots’ pitcher of thick hot chocolate a part of your every week? Still, even though we ate a lot and ate good, I couldn’t help¬†but feel¬†I was eating better.

So while the romantic in me wants to credit the alluring and¬†enchanting forces of Paris with my surprising five-pound¬†drop, the realist in me has a more grounded understanding. But even though it’s not as dramatically fantastical or storybook, you can’t argue with results and¬†even though I know the real reasons, I choose to¬†credit and thank the mythical¬†transcendental aura of Paris. Regardless, if given a choice, you can keep your magic pills, chalky diet shakes, and carb-free dinners. I’ll take a trip to Paris – a true miracle in weight loss.

OUR PARIS TRIP JOURNAL : Day 7

On Sunday morning, I woke up a few minutes before our 7 AM wake-up call. We were leaving Grand Hotel Leveque¬†by 8 AM to catch a taxi to Charles de Gaulle airport. In other words, our Paris adventure had come to an end. I have to admit I was a little depressed. I¬†reflected on the amazing¬†things¬†we had seen and the food we had eaten. I thought about the joy of sharing it all with Jacki. But Paris had left more than just a vacation-like impression on me. It’s a¬†marvelous city that I had completely fallen for. I could stay there forever except for two very good reasons – our children. This had been the longest we had been away from our two wonderful kids and I was itching to see them. I laid there concocting make-believe scenarios that allowed me to go pick them up and bring them back.¬†But the reality was I couldn’t have it both ways and, even though I love Paris, the desire to see our kids easily won out.

Pont Alexandre III

Soon Jacki was getting ready and packing the last of her things in her carry-on bag. I opened up our windows to hear the morning sounds of Rue Cler one more time. As luck would have it the skies were bright blue and the sun was beaming down. We had only one day like this during our stay and we laughed at it being such wonderful weather on the morning we were leaving. Soon our bags were packed and it was time to leave. Grand Hotel Leveque had been the perfect place for us, certainly not luxurious, but clean, comfortable, and with a street side view that I was already missing. We took the tiny glass elevator down and turned in our key. We left our Paris abode and just stood on Rue Cler for a moment. As silly as it sounds, it was like saying goodbye to an old friend. Rue Cler has more personality than many people I know and it was hard to part ways.

Paris, France

Before leaving Rue Cler¬†we thought it fitting to stop back by the Artisan patisserie¬†for breakfast to go. It was one last croissant for me and a pastry almost too pretty to eat for Jacki. We¬†decided to take them to the Taxi stop and eat them while waiting on a cab to arrive.¬†When we arrived in Paris one week earlier I still wasn’t sure the best way to get back to Charles de Gaulle airport. But¬†in the days that followed I really felt comfortable with our¬†neighborhood in the 7th¬†¬†arrondissement. We had traveled Rue Saint-Dominique, Avenue Bosquet, Rue de Grenelle, and Avenue de la Motte-Picquet multiple times. We had learned where the restaurants, supermarkets, metro stops, and taxi stands were. In other words, we knew our little neighborhood in Paris.

Tuileries Garden

We arrived at the Taxi stand on Avenue Bosquet¬†but didn’t have the time to eat our warm pastries. Two cabs were waiting. We got in a middle-aged man’s new Volkswagen where he immediately let us know that no eating was allowed. As we took off we both watched Paris pass by through our¬†backseat windows – the lovely streets, beautiful buildings, and¬†ever-present cafes. The Arc de Triomphe stood high, Paris’ final wave goodbye to these two first time European travelers. Just a week earlier, Napoleon’s stunning monument met us and introduced us to its city. Now it was the last of Paris that we watched disappear from sight. What an incredible¬†adventure it had been.

Bistrot Le P’tit Troquet

We arrived at the airport and found¬†seats to sit and enjoy our breakfast. It was still warm and flakey after all that time. We drudged through all of the processes required to get ready to board the plane. As we sat in the terminal awaiting our call, I thought back on all that the city of Paris had given me. Unlike¬†the golden tan left from a¬†Caribbean¬†cruise¬†or a week at the beach, Paris left no physical evidence of a vacation with the exception of blisters on my feet. But the mental and emotional impressions left on me by the¬†“City of Light”¬†can’t be described with mere words.

The Champs Elysees

Paris was magical but¬†not just because of¬†the city’s physical beauty and¬†rich history. I found myself drawn to the culture itself. Parisians love their city. They take pride in it. They keep it clean. It’s part of their very identity. Parisians are social people. Meals aren’t just hunger cures, they are social experiences. Parisians enjoy their food but they enjoy their company more. Time spent in the local park is one part relaxation but it’s also about social connections with families, friends, and neighbors. Cafes can be found on almost every street, another testament to the Parisian’s willingness to stop and talk.¬†It’s just part of their makeup and their happiness in being a Parisian is evident (maybe with the exception of riding the metro where obviously a “no-smile” code is strictly enforced).

From “Midnight in Paris”

So many other parts of the culture had won my heart. Even though we’ve been home for exactly one week as I write this, the thoughts of having a fourth floor apartment in the Latin Quarter or Marais¬†District still cross my mind. I still daydream of going down to the nearest market street, much like Rue Cler, and picking up the incredibly fresh produce for the night’s meal.¬†Or how about stopping at a local cafe after a day’s work¬†and unwinding over some hot chocolate and people-watching?¬†I¬†say it again,¬†wouldn’t it be great to live there? I wouldn’t trade enjoying¬†Paris’ monuments, museums, and history for anything. But they’re just a part of what makes the city so grand. It’s those big things laced with the¬†magnificent culture that had me realizing that I want to¬†go back. I have to go back.¬†

The Pantheon

Soon we were in our seats jetting across the Atlantic ocean. Jacki slept for most of the 8 1/2 hour flight. I was glad. She needed it. Navigating through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was an arduous task. But our stay there was short and soon we were in Little Rock, Arkansas. We found our vehicle, paid the absurd parking fee, and headed out for the¬†80 minute drive. We were tired but a special treat was just ahead. The reunion with our children was nothing short of amazing. They literally ran to us with huge smiles and some of the biggest hugs we had ever received. We shared pictures, experiences, and of course souvenirs. I miss Paris but this sweet, sweet moment reminded me that I was HOME.

Cafe de Flore

Our journey was complete.¬†This half-baked plan that started as a surprise Christmas gift to Jacki for Christmas had come and gone. All the nervousness and anxiety, which had been overtaken with excitement and anticipation, proved unnecessary. Our study and preparation paid off and Paris treated us to the time of our lives. We also got a good taste of the joy of marriage and the joy of travel. But the big question¬†remains : “Where to next?” My Vote? Paris!

OUR PARIS TRIP JOURNAL : Day 6

It was a Saturday and I woke up a little less enthusiastic than the previous mornings. I guess you could say that the realization that this was our final day in Paris had set in. Jacki was already up getting ready. I opened the windows, laid back down, and just listened to the rhythm¬†of the street below. It had become almost a routine, a routine that I truly loved. The sounds of Rue Cler¬†made the street feel alive to me. The sounds were it’s¬†pulse. The people were its lifeblood. And they had become a cherished part of my morning. I was really going to miss it.

Artisan

We finally left the hotel a lot later than intended. First on the docket was a visit to Napoleon’s¬†tomb at Les Invalides. As we walked down Rue Cler¬†we decided to eat on the go. We had passed¬†a lovely little patisserie¬†called Artisan several times, always admiring the delicious looking treats but never stopping. What a fine time to try¬†my first truly French croissant!¬†As we walked, I¬†gobbled up my soft, flaky piece of heaven, constantly making time to grunt “mmmm” for everyone to hear. Silly, I know. Before long we saw the gold dome housing Napoleon’s tomb. It’s impossible to miss.

Les Invalides

We grabbed some great outdoor photos and made our way in just as it started to sprinkle rain once again. There’s no doubting which tomb belonged to Napoleon. At the center of the building directly under the gorgeous fresco-adorned dome lied a huge tomb made of red quartzite. Jacki made the humorous comparison between Napoleon’s¬†well-known short stature and the mammoth¬†tomb his ashes lie in. The entire building revolved around Napoleon’s¬†resting place. Several other significant tombs were present including Napoleon’s brothers and faithful generals. It was well worth checking out.

From Les Invalides¬†we moved east towards something I was really anxious to see, the Rodin Museum. At first I had a hard time getting my bearings.¬†An uninterested yet self-confident pigeon led me in the direction of a pleasant policeman who got us on the right track. A few minutes later we were admiring some of Rodin’s greatest works. We walked through the indoor¬†collection highlighted by the stunning “The Kiss”. Once in the outdoor gardens, we were immediately greeted by the sculptor’s greatest work, “The Thinker”. I¬†was so excited to see “The Thinker” and¬†not even¬†my steady barrage of camera flashes could distract this troubled man from his deep thoughts. This was a true masterpiece.

“The Thinker” – Rodin Museum

The gardens at the Rodin Museum were nothing short of fabulous.¬†Many of the sculptor’s wonderful works¬†were placed right in the middle of the perfectly manicured grass and rows of beautiful trees. Unfortunately the overcast skies hid the sunshine which I know would have lit the gardens up with some of the brightest shades of green. Also the rain showers had the benches wet making it impossible to just sit and enjoy the beauty. Still, the Rodin Museum was fantastic and was one of my favorite stops on our adventure.

After leaving we were both pretty hungry. Our afternoon plans focused on Saint-Germain-des-Pr√©s¬† and another visit to The Latin Quarter. We hit the nearby metro stop and soon found ourselves on one of the most popular streets in Paris, Boulevard Saint-Germain. After consulting our trusty map we headed west towards the famous dueling cafes. From the moment I started planning this surprise trip I knew I wanted to eat at either Les Deux Magots¬†or Cafe de Flore. The two cafes have been rivals for years and both stake claims¬†of being¬†the intellectual’s¬†cafe of choice. Both were frequented by Earnest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and now Keith and Jacki Garlington.

Les Deux Magots

We literally stumbled up on Les Deux Magots. The gorgeous cafe is¬†situated right in¬†the bustling Place Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Only a small newsstand separates¬†it from its chief¬†competitor next door, Cafe de Flore. It was equally attractive and equally busy. So which would we choose? We decided on Les Deux Magots¬†for no other reason than our children have fun saying it. Now we could tell them we have been there. We were lucky to get a good table. The intermittent sprinkles had caused the patrons to skip the front row of tables and grab the dryer ones under the awnings. We sat there, just taking in this perfect picture of the Paris cafe scene. Jacki had an interesting chicken salad that she loved. I had the best club sandwich I had EVER tasted, overpriced but delicious. We topped the experience off with Les Deux Magots’ famous hot chocolate. OH MY GOSH! Thick chocolate goodness!

Hot Chocolate from Les Deux Magots

We hated to leave our cozy little table and our wonderful view of the energetic Boulevard Saint-Germain but we had other things to see before our final day in Paris ended. We crossed the busy street and headed further into the Latin Quarter¬†via Rue Bonaparte. Up ahead was the Saint-Sulpice¬†church. What I was even more excited about was the square in front of the church and its tremendous fountain. This was one of Paris’ fountains I was so excited to see. As we rounded the corner and approached the square, we noticed an ocean of white tents completely surrounding where the fountain should be. As it turned out, they were having a local literary festival. People were selling their books and guest speakers were attracting crowds. We shouldered our way to where the fountain stood bone dry. Apparently they shut it off for the festival. I was pretty bummed out.

I was amazed at the architecture of the fountain even if I didn’t get to see it in action. But all was not lost. The Saint-Sulpice¬†church stood tall and mighty overlooking the square. The church is one of the largest in all of Paris, second only to Notre Dame.¬†It had a truly unique exterior accentuated by it’s¬†two mismatched towers that greeted us as we headed to the front door. In we went. As it turned out, Saint-Sulpice¬†was right up there with the mighty Notre Dame in my book. The interior was filled will stunning sculptures and amazing frescos. Eugene Delacroix’s brilliant murals, including the amazing “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel”, decorated a small side chapel. I could have admired them all afternoon. But we continued through what would be the last church visited on our trip, gazing up at the high gothic ceilings, taking in the array of incredible art, and looking in awe at what’s called one of the finest organs in the world. I was so glad we didn’t miss Saint-Sulpice.

Sainte-Sulpice

After leaving the church and sharing one last grumble over the waterless fountain, we headed south towards Luxembourg Gardens, the last actual thing on our itinerary. The short walk there was great, but the reality of our short time left in Paris was setting in for me. The thick gray clouds had their way all day and as if God were ending our trip with a smile, the sun begin to peak through just as we entered the gardens. We walked hand-in-hand along the west side of the park enjoying the carefully cut shrubs and strategically placed sculptures. The park was lively, filled with kids, the elderly, snugglers, and readers. Parisians love their parks and we could see why. We came up on some Boules players and I had to watch. The popular French game resembles horseshoes in a way but instead it uses metal balls. I loved just watching these Parisians engaging in a key part of their social culture, a culture that over the last several days I had grown to feel a part of.

Jacki finally got me away from the Boules game. She had a special fountain on her mind that she was dying to see. Time wasn’t on our side so we hurried through parts of the park we would have loved to admire and skipped an entire section. But when we came out at the center of the gardens we had to stop. Down some steps was a huge square of beautiful green grass, every blade the same perfect length. The grass was¬†outlined by gorgeous yellow and white flowers,¬†planted with precision. The amazing Luxembourg Palace stood in the near background. It looked like a postcard. Chairs surrounded the entire grass square and they were filled with people enjoying the day. We did find two seats with the perfect view that we couldn’t pass up so we sat down and melded in with the locals. Almost on cue, the sun beamed it’s brightest of the day leading to a lot of smiles and shed jackets. I didn’t want to leave.

Luxembourg Gardens

I had another one of my “I wish I lived here” moments. I¬†daydreamed of¬†having an apartment nearby.¬†¬†How great would it be to lounge at Luxembourg Gardens after a day’s work and before heading to a local cafe for an evening meal? The French culture had really effected me. I was certainly no expert but¬†my¬†exposure to the alluring Parisian way of living had left an indelible mark. After watching some girls hand feed some birds we decided we better get moving but not without finding Jacki’s Medici Fountain. It was a¬† fountain with a relaxing tree-lined pool in the front. It was yet another lovely ingredient to this delectable garden.

Medici Fountain

As much as we hated to, we¬†needed to head back to our hotel. We had to checkout early the next morning and would need to get a head start¬†on packing.¬†We admired some more of the garden’s flowers and¬†got¬†a great look of the Pantheon from the east gate. We walked north through another fabulous part of the Latin Quarter and soon were on the metro heading back to the 7th arrondissement. Following our routine, we arrived at our hotel, cleaned up, and rested before heading out for our final French dinner. I really wanted the final meal to be memorable. I chose to take Jacki to La Billebaude, the smallest little restaurant we visited but one that received great reviews from Trip Advisor. My only fear (since we had no reservations) was that we¬†wouldn’t get a seat.

La Billebaude¬†was located on the small street Rue Exposition. Once there we were met by the lone waiter who showed us to a table close to the front door. We had our seats, what a relief. I’ve used the word cozy a lot during these blogs but La Billebaude¬†was the picture of cozy. The one small room was nicely decorated and held about ten tables at the most. Soon the restaurant was full and the one waiter worked each table like a well-oiled machine. He was amazing to watch.¬†He was also¬†very nice and very French yet he spoke good English. We ended up choosing the herring as our starter. It was very good and it was a meal in itself. For the main course Jacki ordered steak, I decided to try the lamb. This was my favorite meal of the entire trip.¬†My lamb was tender and tasty and the creamed potatoes¬†were the best I think I have ever had. Jacki finished her meal with an ice cream souffle while I went with the cheesecake. Unbelievable good!

La Billebaude’s Lamb & Potatoes

We finished our two-hour dining experience gazing out at the street and talking about our amazing adventure. We talked about Paris, the people, and all that we had learned about both. It was sad to think that we would be leaving the next morning. We got up and had our final night-time¬†stroll through the streets of Paris. It was a beautiful night and I was trying to savor ever single step. We¬†walked onto Rue Cler, seeing it at night for the last time. When we reached our hotel we hesitated before going in. We looked down both ends of the street. We adored our temporary French home and missed it already. We went in Grand Hotel Leveque and up to room 32. We opened the windows and once again soaked up the late-night ambiance. I missed the city already yet¬†there were two really big reasons¬†that made leaving easier. We packed a bit then headed to bed. The next morning would be our last in “The City of Light”.

OUR PARIS TRIP JOURNAL : Day 5

After a gorgeous sunny Thursday, Friday greeted us with a thick, gray overcast sky. But that didn’t stop Rue Cler. I opened up the windows to hear it moving at top speed. The cobblestones glistened from a pre-dawn rain shower and the steady French chatter of market owners and school kids filled the air. This was my street and I felt right at home here. Like before, I could have spent the day just walking the street and watching the locals. But we had some big sites to see so we cleaned up and headed out.

Like old pros, we headed into the metro and made our way to the Odeon¬†station near the Latin Quarter. As I looked around I was again blown away by this new Paris neighborhood with its own¬†unique flavor but with the same enchanting beauty. We walked up Rue Danton and came to Place St. Andre des Arts. Wow! The small square is literally filled with¬†lush green trees¬†and trendy¬†cafes. This was the Latin Quarter and I loved it. We moved on up the street and right ahead was Place Saint Michel and its incredible fountain. This was Christmas morning for a fountain fan like me. The huge fountain dating back to the 1850’s features Michael the archangel slaying a demon and two water spitting dragons. It caps the corner of two avenues that serve as the Latin Quarter’s gateway and several other tourists joined us on this busy hub in getting our picture made in front of it.

Place Saint-Michel

I pulled out the trusted map and noticed we were really close to Saint-Severin so off we went down Rue Saint-Severin. The cramped streets were loaded with charm even with¬†the number of cheap¬†souvenir shops wedged between a variety of cafes. While some shops were most certainly aimed at tourists, the tight architecture hearkened back to the area’s medieval history. It was a wonderful place to explore. Right at the other end of the street is the gothic-styled Saint-Severin church. We walked alongside of it admiring its gargoyle water drains and classical design. Unfortunately the church didn’t open it’s doors until 11:00 AM. We had 30 minutes to kill so we explored the area. We came across another old church and right in front of it was a pretty little garden with a view of Notre Dame that made us stop in our tracks. Picture time. After several photos we sat on a bench and just admired what we were seeing.¬†Have I mentioned I love the city?

I¬†told Jacki that one of my ‘must see’ places, the Shakespeare & Company bookstore, should be reasonably close. It wasn’t marked on our map so I cranked up the Trip Advisor app. Lo and behold the bookstore was just around the corner from the garden,¬†¬†mere steps away from where we¬†were sitting! Thinking back to the store’s appearance in the movie “Midnight in Paris”, I had to get my picture made there. Jacki was a good sport and snapped photo after photo¬†as if I were a swimsuit model even though she was anxious to get inside. With me finally satisfied, we headed into the quirky store with a great history. We could have stayed there all day. We browsed all sorts of books before going upstairs¬†for an amazing little flashback to the days of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Stein. I settled on a copy of “The Great Gatsby”. I¬†paid the cashier¬†and got my official¬†Shakespeare and Company stamp on the inside. I left grinning from ear to ear.

Shakespeare & Company

By that time Saint-Severin’s doors were open so we backtracked a couple of blocks to check out one of the oldest churches on the Left Bank. The inside was even more impressive than the outside. The tall spiraling pillars and high gothic ceilings supported some of the prettiest and most vibrant stained glass I had seen. As was customary for our Paris church visits, we sat for a bit just admiring what was around us. I thought about the history of the¬†church and the number of people who had throughout the centuries sat where I was. But there was another little church on the day’s agenda so we left Saint-Severin to grab a bite to eat before heading to Notre Dame.

La Sainsev in The Latin Quarter

The walk through the¬†snug cobblestone streets of the surrounding area was a delight, a true trip back in time. We checked out the posted menus of several cafes and small bistros. We were still a little early for lunch by Parisian standards but we were ready to eat. We came upon Le Sainsev, a quaint little cafe with a good menu and a prime location for people-watching. Yet another friendly French waiter showed us to a nice outside table. For an entr√©e¬†I had boiled eggs and mayonnaise. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculously simply but it was quite tasty. Jacki chose the onion soup for the second time on the trip¬†and she loved it. We both chose the beef flank steak with pepper sauce, baked potato for Jacki and fries for me. I finished my meal with chocolate mousse that our waiter made sure to point out was homemade.¬†As we sat, the streets filled up as if someone had rung the dinner bell for the locals. Parisians flocked to a little deli across the street for a quick “to go” lunch. Some even found time to slip into the fancy chocolate shop next door to satisfy their sweet tooth.

With full stomachs and smiles on our faces we got up and headed towards the Seine River. I hated to leave this little taste of the Latin Quarter. I loved it there and had another one of my moments – “Wouldn’t it be amazing to live right here?” We took a lovely little side street (which made me want to stay even more) and came out facing the Seine River.¬†The Seine was¬†lined with green¬†metal contraptions¬†that when closed could be mistaken for dumpsters but when open they revealed small riverside stores where vendors showed their wares. As we walked we stopped at each one, thumbing through old books, trinkets, photos, and paintings. We crossed over¬†to Ile de la Cite, the island center of Paris. Some say Paris’ roots¬†can be traced to the island dating back¬†as far as 50 B.C. But we had no time to think about that because right in front of us stood the jaw dropping Notre Dame Cathedral.

Notre Dame

The square in front of Notre Dame was filled with strained-necked fellow tourists gazing up at the cathedral’s astounding architecture. I wanted to walk around and take it all in but the line to get inside was actually fairly short. We took advantage of it. As we walked in I was overcome by the sense of history. I thought about the construction of the cathedral which began in 1163. I thought about walking in the same church where Napoleon and Josephine’s coronation was held. It was a surreal experience. The French gothic design was a sight to behold. Bible stories and historic figures were depicted through etchings, sculptures, paintings, and stunning stained glass. The only distraction was the buzz from the¬†steady flow of sightseers which¬†made¬†it feel¬†a bit more¬†like an attraction than a church. We sat for a few moments and took it all in. Again we talked about the amazement of being where we were.

Notre Dame Stained Glass

We went outside and admired the equally impressive appearance of Notre Dame’s exterior. The amazing sculpting¬†of the last judgement, the 28 kings of Judah, Saint Denis, and the temptation in Eden only begin to cover what’s found on¬†the facade of this structural masterpiece. We headed around the left side to see about going to the top of the cathedral. But the line was long and it wasn’t moving. I really wanted to get an up close and personal look at Notre Dame’s famous gargoyles but we both agreed that the 1 1/2 hours of line time could be better spent elsewhere. We went to the little garden behind Notre Dame and enjoyed a little time on a bench. Right behind the garden was a small bridge that went over to Paris’ other island, the small but chic¬†Ile Saint-Louis. Off we went.

Notre Dame from the bridge

Crossing the bridge we ran into street musicians and aspiring painters. The first street we came to was Quai¬†de Bourbon and I immediately recognized it from “Midnight in Paris”, another “must take” photo for¬†me. Ile Saint-Louis is small but it packs a lot of charm. We didn’t have a lot of time but we knew we needed to hunt down Berthillon. Berthillon¬†is a world-renowned¬†ice cream parlor and there’s no way we were going to miss it. Jacki chose a dish of Mango and Chocolate. I stayed traditional and went with Vanilla and Chocolate. Oh my goodness!¬† I swear to you, if I lived close by I would weigh 500 lbs! It was so good and I’m not a big ice cream guy.¬†It was¬†getting late so¬†we hopped back over to Notre Dame and made our way to Sainte-Chapelle.

Sainte-Chapelle¬†had the longest line and most thorough security of any place we had visited. The wait was long but while in line we did meet a charming older couple from Australia. They had been traveling through Europe and stopped in Paris for a few days. We talked about Paris, our families, and our countries. The gentleman had¬†visited Sainte-Chapelle¬†before¬†and his excitement to see it again was infectious. After finally getting through security we made it inside. The bottom floor was pretty but the real treat was up a spiral staircase on the second floor. There we saw stained glass that put all others we had seen to shame. It was indescribable. Our Australian friend must have seen the amazement on our faces. He walked up to me and said “Didn’t I tell ya?”

The Breathtaking Sainte-Chapelle

We left and did a little more exploring of the island finishing up at Place Dauphine. After checking out another “Midnight in Paris” location we crossed over to the right bank. While walking towards the Louvre Batobus port we did a little shopping from the street vendors. The port turned out to be farther that anticipated and when we finally got there we were worn out. The river cruise to the 7th gave us a little time to recharge. Once there we headed to the hotel to clean up and then decided to go back to Pasco for dinner. As ridiculous as it sounds I ordered the exact same thing as the night before. It was quite good.

When we left the restaurant it was dark and a light rain shower started. We walked arm-in-arm under one umbrella and I¬†loved every minute of it. Can you get any more romantic that a nighttime walk in the rain in Paris, France? We had been¬†in the city for¬†five days and our trip was slowly winding down. One more full day in the city of lights. That realization started to set in. I wasn’t ready to leave. I had fallen for the city. But the time had almost come so we better make the next day count.

OUR PARIS TRIP JOURNAL : Day 4

Thursday morning in Paris, France gave us something we had not seen yet. We woke up and opened our windows to see Rue Cler¬†buzzing under a bright sun and clear blue skies. How could we not be excited? Our plans were to head up to the 8th arrondissement and visit Parc¬†Monceau, a late addition to our itinerary. The weather couldn’t have been better for a morning in the park so we dressed, said our good morning to Rue Cler, then hit the metro and headed north.

One of the coolest things about the metro is walking out, especially for the first time in a new part of Paris. Climbing up those stairs you never know what delight awaits you. Such was the case on this day. We popped out right next to the park’s ornate fencing¬†and with beautifully constructed buildings across from us. Thick shade trees let through small beams of sunshine all around us which added to the neighborhood’s beauty. We turned towards the park’s entrance and headed in. It was a gorgeous park filled with joggers, pigeons, and little children enjoying the morning. We sat on a sun-soaked bench and¬†admired a beautifully arranged pond¬†bordered by¬†old Greek/Roman styled pillars around the outer edges. Joggers ran in front of us scattering curious pigeons looking for a morning meal. Some joggers looked ready for the Olympics. Others looked ready for an ambulance.¬†We¬†chuckled as¬†a¬†little local boy no older that 2 chased the pigeons around. The people-watching at Parc Monceau was splendid.

Parc Monceau

After a bit, we got up and walked around the park. What would make the warm, sunny day better? A picnic of course. We found our way out of a different exit and came out of a lovely street lined with cafes. On the corner we saw the cutest little boulangerie opened for business. In we went. Freshly made¬†breads, sandwiches, salads, and pastries sat behind a glass counter making our mouths water. We were a little early for lunch but the¬†nice French ladies let us grab some grub. Jacki picked out a delicious looking fresh salad while I got a warm sandwich and a chocolate macaroon. We made our way back to our park bench and enjoyed our wonderful little picnic. While we were eating, an older French gentleman walking by saw us and said “Bon App√©tit”. “Merci monsieur” I responded. Jacki and I¬†looked at each other and smiled. “I love this city” I thought to myself.

Parc Monceau

We hated to leave but we had other things to do. I figured out early that the park and garden scene was one element of the French culture that we were made for. Much like the long meals enjoying each other’s company, the parks were something that both of us could spend hours enjoying just like the Parisians. Nevertheless we left and headed over to the nearby Mus√©e¬†Nissim¬†de Camondo, a beautiful home with a sad history tied to the holocaust. We enjoyed the tour of the 18th century furnishing and¬†the glimpse into how the wealthy once lived. Afterwards we said goodbye to the area then headed back into the subterranean world of the Paris metro.

Our next stop brought us to¬†the awesome¬†Arc de Triomphe. Walking out of the metro stop, the towering monument to those who fought in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars took center stage. Plopped right in the middle of Place Charles de Gaulle, the Arc is a spectacle surrounded by a sea of fast-moving¬†and chaotic traffic. I stood amazed. Jacki was…well…not as impressed. We snapped photos and looked from different angles yet couldn’t¬†figure how to get over to it. We knew there was a tunnel but it was well hidden among the ocean of people. We soon found it and before long we were standing under one of Paris’ grandest sites. We decided to head to the top (thank you Paris Museum Pass) and were greeted¬†by a huge winding staircase. Jacki wasn’t exactly thrilled with the trip up but it was worth it. We were¬†rewarded with an amazing view of Paris. Going down was a lot easier and our next stop was right ahead of us – the Champs Elysees.

The Arc de Triomphe

There’s no denying that the¬†Champs Elysees¬†has been highly commercialized. But it was still a lot of fun. The famous avenue connecting Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe¬†was best known for the historical marches that took place there. Now it’s known for it’s pretty chestnut trees and upscale shopping. We saw fancy storefronts for Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss, and more. Cool car showrooms from Mercedes, Peugeot, and Toyota had¬†motor enthusiasts¬†drooling. Then there was McDonalds. Yes, the Champs Elysees¬†had a McDonalds. We thought it would be fun to pop in for a coke and fries just to say we did. Not the smartest thing. The line was long and this was the first place where we were met with rude service. My fractured French also ran into a wall. We ended up with four orders of fries and two cokes. I tried to clarify but our server would have none of it. We just took it, ate, and left. Just like in the states.

Laduree

But things would get better quick as we soon found Laduree, a high quality pastry shop known throughout all of Paris. Jacki’s face shined. She had been waiting for this moment. Unfortunately the fancy shop was closed off for renovations and we had to buy our sweets from a makeshift building on the sidewalk. We bought our macaroons and were off again. We were getting tired and thought about using the metro to get to Place de la Concorde. But my judgement of distance was way off and we decided to walk it instead. By the time we got there we were zapped. Our itinerary had us taking the #12 metro line up to Montmartre and the hilltop Sacr√© CŇďur. We thought about calling it off but decided to press on. We finally found the metro stop and headed north.

At Montmartre we immediately got turned around and headed in the wrong direction. Mix the steep hills in with the walking we had already done and it’s safe to say we were laboring, especially Jacki and her 127 lb purse. I carried the pink purse for her until I was whistled at by a group of playful local boys. Jacki tried to coddle my fragile male ego by saying they were whistling at some young girls, but I knew the truth. I offered several times to turn around and head back but we kept living under the illusion that we were close to the well-known¬†basilica. We topped a steep flight of stairs and found ourselves on a lovely street lined with trees and snug little cafes. We asked a couple of locals for directions. None spoke English but each was extremely nice and understood the universal language of “help”. We moved on and before long we found Place du Tertre, a square once frequented by the likes of Picasso and Renoir, now filled with street artists and street dancers all catering to the steady flow of tourists. We didn’t stay long because Sacr√© CŇďur was just ahead.

Montmartre

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart (aka Sacr√© Coeur) sits upon the highest point in Paris. It’s truly a site to behold. It took Jacki a second to really appreciate what she was seeing. She was more impressed with the fact that she made it to the top of the hill. We realized what all of the fuss was about. The view was phenomenal. From the top steps Paris stretches out before you like a canvas. I can only imagine what it must look like at night. But I have to admit, some things really turned us off. Vendors had set up shop on the top of the steps blocking the view with their cheap trinkets. Others were walking around trying to sell bottles of beer right in front of the church. The clamoring of bottles and loud laughter had an almost irreverent party feel, a feel completely at odds¬†with the spectacular church¬†that stood above them.

The view from the steps of Sacre-Coeur

Even though we loved our glimpses at the city below, we quickly realized that it just wasn’t our scene so we headed into the church, but even that was a chore.¬†¬†Before entering the doors we were approached by some very pushy scammers trying to get English-speaking¬†people to sign their petitions. This was the second time we had run¬†into this and I gave them a loud and profound “NON” before they could get any closer. An Asian couple behind us was having a harder time getting away from these potential pickpockets. But soon we were in the safety of the church and in a way, I guess that’s how it’s supposed to be.

The towering Sacre-Coeur

The church was marvelous. While far from being the oldest church in Paris it’s¬†as impressive as any you’ll see. Unfortunately we were told at the door “NO CAMERAS” and they meant it. We same the camera police usher several people out who didn’t heed the stern warning. A church service was going on and didn’t seem to mind the steady stream of tourists that walked through admiring the amazing architecture. It was something to see and we sat and admired the hard work that went into creating such a place. I sat thinking about the stark contrast between the spiritual and the worldly. I thought about the humble, solemn sanctuary of inside the church while right outside the door, worldliness was in full bloom. While I’m not Roman Catholic, I did have a heartfelt spiritual moment there that I didn’t even share with Jacki. It’s yet another part of the trip that I’ll never forget.

But we were a long ways from the 7th arrondissement so we left Sacr√© CŇďur¬†and found our metro station. After one quick train change we popped back above ground only a few steps away from Rue Cler. In we went to Grand Hotel Leveque¬†to freshen up before hitting the town for dinner. I had a harder time deciding on our restaurant that evening. We¬†chose Le Florimond, again with no reservations. They were full so we wandered down a side street and found Pasco on the corner. We walked in and they sat us immediately. It was a lovely little restaurant and we were treated like royalty. Jacki had a lot of questions about the menu and our waiter went to great lengths to break it down for us. I had a delicious cut of beef and an even better hot chocolate cake with a side of ice cream. We enjoyed the typical Parisian two-hour meal. We enjoyed the food and each other.

Afterwards we had another after dark stroll eventually arriving at our hotel. This was the most exhausting day of the trip and we realized that we had tried to do a little too much. But we also talked about the amazing things we saw and the amazing city we had grown so familiar with. We cleaned up and spent some time with the window open listening to the sounds of  Paris winding down for the night. I fell asleep excited about what was ahead. The city literally had me under her spell. I had fallen head over heals for her, without a doubt.

OUR PARIS TRIP JOURNAL : Day 3

Wednesday morning rolled around and I woke up pretty excited. The first thing on our list was a visit to the world’s greatest museum, the Louvre. We had a great night of sleep and after cleaning up and getting ready we headed downstairs. We were met with mostly cloudy skies but the same charm and buzz of the busy Rue Cler. Just as it was the day before, the streets were full of young school bound kids and locals hitting the markets early. I could have stayed there and watched all day but I had a date with Mona.

Rue Cler

Wednesday also marked our first exposure to the Paris metro, a cardiovascular-like subway system that runs underneath the entire city. I had traced and traced and traced our route on a metro map so, even though I was a bit nervous, I felt I had it figured out. We found our nearest metro entrance and descended down into this bustling underground world. People were walking faster than most drive and we tried to keep up with the flow. To show my ability to meld in with the locals I walked right up to a kiosk to get our metro tickets. Like an expert I spun the rollerpin¬†controller looking to speed through the process (just as I had learned through a YouTube video). The problem is I couldn’t find where to change the language to English. So much for my expertise. As a line gathered behind me, my “in the way” complex kicked in and we aborted the mission. Luckily a nice lady at the ticket window made things easier. We bought a carnet of 10 single tickets and off we went.

We boarded our train and took off still not sure if we were on the right one. We were. Soon we arrived at the Concorde station where we switched trains. In a few brief moments we were at our Louvre stop. Up we climbed until we were in the mall that led to a museum¬†entrance with a lot less traffic than up above. We made our way through security and soon we were there, the world’s grandest museum. We browsed through a souvenir shop and grabbed a quick breakfast at Paul’s. Just like the Orsay, we bypassed the ticket line thanks to our museum pass and headed to the star-studded Denon wing. We were immediately met¬†by an amazing collection of Greek and Roman sculptures.

“Winged Victory”

We moved with the crowd through amazing works of art dating before Christ until we reached a huge stairway. At the top, the brilliant Winged Victory stood like a guardian looking down upon us. It was a breathtaking display. Admirers¬†surrounded the marble masterpiece and the feverish rhythm of cameras snapping could be heard halfway down the stairway. As we got closer I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that I was actually seeing it with my own eyes. But so much more was ahead. We took the right doorway which led us to none other than Venus de Milo. The Greeks called her Aphrodite and the Romans called her Venus but the Louvre calls her one of their most popular pieces. So many people were catching a glimpse and having their pictures taken with her. I was no different but I did take time to admire this amazing sculpture with an even more amazing history.

“Venus de Milo”

We moved through more amazing sculptures but also took time to admire the building itself. The more we saw of the Louvre the more we realized that the building itself was a work of art. Glorious gold trim and beautiful frescos adorned so many rooms. But finally we reached one of my most anticipated parts, the Italian paintings. But what would a¬†vacation be without a minor hiccup. Jacki’s camera ran out of batteries just as we entered the first room of paintings and I could have cried. We had a whole big package¬†of batteries at the hotel¬†and her camera was going through them like toilet paper. It’s here we made the one goofy decision of the entire trip that we probably shouldn’t have. Underestimating the time it would take, we decided to go back to the hotel, retrieve some batteries, and head back to the Louvre. It took a lot longer than anticipated but soon we were back to experience the Italian masters.

The crowd to see Mona Lisa

Wonderful paintings covered the walls and soon we went into a room to our right. A huge crowd had gathered inside letting us know we had found Mona Lisa. She hung alone on her own wall behind a glass case and with two guards monitoring the crowd. People pushed closer trying to get a great photo of Da Vinci’s masterpiece and I couldn’t help but think that we were witnessing a pickpocket’s¬†paradise. We got our photo but I was saddened at the fact that I couldn’t spend time admiring the Louvre’s first lady. But the disappointment was short-lived. On the opposite wall from Mona hung my favorite painting in the entire museum, Veronese’s “The Wedding Feast at Cana”. The huge canvas made this spectacular work even more impressive. While so many were fighting for the perfect photo with Mona, I had easy access to one of my favorite works. I didn’t want to leave.

Veronese’s “The Wedding Feast at Cana”

We saw so many other great¬†paintings but we soon decided to leave. There was so much left to see and we had planned to come back in a couple of days. But as we walked out I kinda knew our schedule may not allow it. We walked around the grounds enjoying the beautiful fountains and the fabulous architecture before walking over to the Tuileries Gardens to rest for a few minutes. After a breather we went to The Orangerie¬†Museum to check out Monet’s water lilies. These are some of Jacki’s favorite works and I loved watching her just as much as admiring Monet’s paintings.

We still had some time so we decided to wander north of the Louvre and just see the city. It was a great idea. We¬†visited the garden at the¬†Palais Royal before stumbling¬†across Place des Victories and it’s huge statue¬†of King Louis XIV¬†on his horse. We were also able to find and explore the beautiful Saint-Eustache church¬†just as the rain made its appearance once again. After enjoying the church’s beauty, I realized we were close to the Fontaine des Innocents and I had to see it. I have this weird thing with fountains and as we¬†approached¬†it my jaw dropped. It was beautiful and nestled right in the middle of the nicest little square. Cafes and trees lined the square and I remember asking Jacki “Can you imagine what it would be like to live here?” This was a question I would ask many times. The fountain was constructed somewhere around 1550 and that alone is stunning. Sadly, the rain had things so wet that we couldn’t sit and soak it all in (pardon the pun).

Fontaine des Innocents

It was getting late so we found our way once again to the Hotel de Ville Batobus¬†port and hitched a Seine river ride to the Eiffel Tower. We walked to Rue Cler¬†and our hotel where we relaxed a bit, cleaned up, then headed to Bistot¬†Le P’tit¬†Troquet¬†where we hoped to find a seat and enjoy a good meal. We walked in and were greeted by a very nice man who spoke good English. He would later tell us that he had spent some time during the previous summer in Florida doing some humanitarian work. Luckily there were seats available and he took us to a small but cozy room in the back where they had about six tables. We had the room to ourselves. We both enjoyed a wonderful shrimp entr√©e¬†and an even better beef bourguignon¬†main dish. I finished with a cheese plate that was a little overwhelming but incredibly French.¬†It was a wonderful meal with, once again, wonderful service. We were treated like cherished guests.

We walked out the restaurant into the night and decided to take a stroll down to the Eiffel Tower to catch it’s light show. There’s nothing like walking in Paris at night and there’s a reason it’s called “The City of Lights”. The beautifully lit streets and lively cafes give the night a flare unique to Paris. We arrived at the tower and found a nice spot to watch the show. At 11 PM Eiffel’s Tower burst into a five-minute¬†light show that would rival anything you have ever seen. Couples snuggled and tried to take their own pictures with the sparkling wonder in the background. We were no different. It was a sight to behold.

The Eiffel Tower light show

After the show was over, we left arm in arm towards Rue Cler. It was another busy but magical day filled with art masterpieces, flower gardens, romantic walks in the rain, and delicious French cuisine. It’s hard to imagine having a better time and we still had three full days ahead. We arrived at Rue Cler and strolled into our hotel where Khalid, our always cheerful night worker, greeted us with a smile. We checked on things back home, took our showers, and then headed to bed. What did this wonderful city have in story for us next?