I’ll admit that it took us a few days to get over the “culture shock” of being in Paris. Although I guess if I’m being honest, it was more a combination of exhaustion and confusion than it was straight up culture shock. There are differences in culture obviously, but not many. Paris functions similarly to any large American city, just in a different language and with MUCH better dressed people. But when you spend your first few days in a foreign country, after traveling all day and night to get there, and are up at the crack of dawn to be on foot until the late, late night…things can get weird.
The biggest struggle for Jon and I was food. The finding it and the eating it. You make a plan for the day and it’s full of grand things to see and the energy to see them all. You depart the apartment with zest, take the metro to successfully arrive at your destination (nailed it), walk your ‘American in Paris’ self all up and down the museum and then…you nearly collapse of starvation. It’s suddenly 2:00 and you’ve consumed nothin’ but culture. You and your travel companion begin glaring at each other as you peer down the streets for something to eat. The problem is, you don’t speak French and you’re both ‘Minnesota Nice’ and are so afraid of upsetting some snotty Parisian waiter that you’re paralyzed with indecisiveness.
It’s a real bitch of a cycle.
The other problem is that, as a tourist, the areas you frequent are ‘tourist areas’ and the restaurants, service and food in those areas are total crap. Even by American standards. The first three days we were there I was so let down by the French food that I thought my heart would break. Where was the exquisite cheese? The decadent wine for lunch? The chocolate and pastries and bread?
Finally, the last straw had arrived.
Our third night, we used the magic of the internet to look up a nice place for dinner in our neighborhood. Jon made me call for reservations because I was able to bullshit French a fraction more than he could. Whew. Exhale. We have a reservation. They know we only speak English. They hate us for it, but at least they won’t be surprised.
We arrived cloaked in nice clothes and great attitudes. Nothing could break our spirits. LET’S EAT! We were starved after two and a half days of pieced together nonsense. Right inside the front door we found ourselves smack in the middle of a baseball analogy…
Strike one: confusion over reservation and therefore sat at a communal table with real live French people.
Strike two: Ali reads the menu and slightly panics when she realizes it’s all red meat (which she can’t, won’t, and doesn’t eat).
But wait! The waitress points out the prawn entree. Whew. We’re saved.
Strike three: chef says they’re sold out. It’s all bloody, chewy steaks from here on out!
Ali’s out. Ali is SO out.
I’m ashamed to admit this but I was so hungry, so trying to be in love with Paris, and so disappointed that I welled up with tears and quickly excused myself to the bathroom where I had about a three day overdo sob-fest. It felt fantastic.
I gathered myself, went back to the giant farm table, and got a GD grip. The waitress waved her arms around in such a beautiful and elegantly Parisian way while suggesting some vegetable dish for the train-wreck American and I just nodded my head. Jon’s meal was incredible, mine was mushy, and we carried on. It’s why wine was invented.
One point during the meal a new guest was seated at our table next to me. At this point I was so deprived of the English language that I noticed her book right away. IT WAS IN ENGLISH! I decided to say hello.
“Hi my name is Ali and we’re visiting Paris and are eating here at the same table as you and you’re reading a book and it’s in English and will you please talk to us and can it please be in English and it’s so nice to meet you!!!”
Or something. Something like that.
She was downright LOVELY with a Scottish accent so thick I could barely understand her. But I didn’t care. Her voice was that of an angel. An English speaking angel. The evening ended on a good note (because of the wine) and we walked home with our arms around each other (wine) and decided that tomorrow would be even better (wine).
Let me wrap this up.
The next evening (after a day full of more food disasters) we found our way to Montmartre where a wine a cheese class that I’d signed us up for was being held. Finding this place was a stressful nightmare. Map-quest didn’t understand French any more than we did. It also didn’t help that the streets in Paris are just like the people, they’re really difficult just for the sheer fun of it. This class was the ONLY event of the entire vacation that was ‘scheduled’ and time sensitive. Thankfully we arrived just in time and ready for a cocktail.
We are greeted in English. Thank God.
The woman is so kind and lovely and directs us downstairs to the wine cellar where the class will be held. Our host speaks English. Double thanks be to God. How could this get any better?
Wine Human: Hey guys, where are you visiting Paris from?
Sad Humans: We’re from Denver. You know where that is because you’re clearly American! Where are you from?
Wine Human: Well I’ve lived in Paris for 9 years, but originally I’m from Minnesota. Minneapolis actually.
I LITERALLY had to stop myself from crying of relief.
No Longer Sad Humans: NO WAY!!!!!!!!! WE LIED ABOUT DENVER! SCREW DENVER! WE’RE TOTALLY AND ORIGINALLY FROM MINNESOTA! LET’S TALK ABOUT THE COLD AND BE BEST FRIENDS!
It was so bizarre and so amazing and so necessary. That night was obviously one of our favorite nights. If you ever visit Paris, please look this company up. The Minnesota part aside, it was spectacularly informative and wonderful. It’s called Cook’n with Class and Preston was our host. He was marvelous. When we ate every single thing he put in front of us with animalistic vigor, he asked us what the hell was going on and we told him our sad, sad story. He explained everything and made the whole debacle so simple for us. In American culture, dining out is about the experience. The decor, the ambiance, being entertained by the waiter, the whole show of it. In Paris, it’s all about the food. The end. The waiters are working, not entertaining, and they stay out of your way. It’s ALL about the food and the interaction of who you’re dining with.
It all clicked.
After that, Jon and I adapted a ‘we don’t give a rats’ attitude and it was the best decision we made. We stopped being self conscious and started having fun. We just acted how we wanted, ordered what we wanted, dressed how we wanted and ate INCREDIBLE meals. Getting out of the tourist areas helped, but being selfish and self involved helped even more. It was the turning point for us and the trip was pretty smooth sailing after that.
Anyway, enough tourist trauma.
Let’s start with the day we went to Montmartre. What a different animal this place was than where we’d previously been. Classic Paris up on a hill. If you’ve seen Moulin Rouge than you can imagine this neighborhood. We hopped off a metro stop and wandered up the winding streets to the Basilica of the Sacrè Coeur. It’s perched upon the highest point in the city and provides spectacular views.
From below, on the blissfully sunny day were there, it looked like a white castle in the clouds. No cameras were allowed inside, so the stunning exterior will have to do. The neighborhood was visibly older than others and so full of charm. I wish we had spent more time there, but we had to rush off to the above noted wine and cheese class. Farewell Montmartre!
Listen. I know I’ve said ‘I just can’t describe this that or the other’ over and over. But this? THIS! I can’t describe this at all. Except with this one word: GARGANTUAN. Overwhelmingly gargantuan. The exterior and courtyard are so iconic that it was bizarre to even stand there. I kept having to remind myself that yes, you’re actually here. Soak it up girl.
If I had taken photos of every beautiful thing inside, I’d still be there. Instead I tried to pull my camera out sporadically. When inspired or when I wanted to remember a specific piece of art.
Do you know how old that is?!?!?!?! It’s MESSED UP! Awesome. Mostly the ‘awe’ part. We walked at a clipping pace throughout quite a bit of the Louvre. It was a long morning and afternoon. I kept feeling panicked to see everything we could while there. I had this need to lay my eyes on it all because it might be my only shot and it’s certainly my only life. It sounds silly, but it’s a hard feeling to shake. It’s all so marvelous and inspiring and I just didn’t want to take my being there for granted. I kept trying to slow my roll and just enjoy what I was looking at. It worked out pretty well in the end. We saw all the major exhibits and didn’t leave feeling like we had to return. The truth is, a lot of the smaller museums were just as good if not better. Certainly less crowded and with equally incredible works.
One of our last days in Paris didn’t actually take place in Paris. We jumped on an early morning train to Versailles with very low expectations and a readiness to bail if it seemed too touristy and lame. Instead, I was provided with my favorite day of shooting photos that I have EVER had. As you can see, our arrival at the estate was cloaked with a thick and beautiful fog. It added such a cool and otherworldly feeling to the property, which was the definition of otherworldly. Shortly after our arrival, the fog began to lift and I was gifted with the most beautiful and soft overcast light. It took away any garish quality the palace could have (and typically does have) and instead it gave it a romantic and mysterious quality. It was so cool. Forget the “house”. Just forget it. It’s ostentatious, mindbogglingly huge and totally worth going inside to see, but…the real reason to visit Versailles is the grounds.
Be still my heart.
It was magic.
They just went on, and on, and on. I could have gone back ten times and not seen it all. You are completely transported to a different world. I couldn’t get enough. We ended up roaming around like 5 year olds goofing off and taking photos. Most of the tourists stayed inside the house so we felt totally alone while wandering the same paths as Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. It was a photographers dream. Shooting an engagement, family or wedding there would be absurd. I can’t even tell you. We left Versailles feeling so refreshed and under the spell of France. We had a day or two left that we spent being in love, shopping for Christmas gifts, and relaxing into the city. Just in time to leave of course. : )
I said it at the beginning of my first post, but I’ll say it again…it still doesn’t feel real.
It’s tricky with places like Paris I think. Maybe only Paris actually. There is all this lore and mystique about it. You hear about it your whole life, or thanks to my parents, I did. Whenever anybody asks where you want to go before you die, typically Paris is at the top of the list. It’s just one of those places. It’s THE place for a lot of people. So when you get there, it’s a jumble of expectations, movie scenes, dreams coming true, and pinch me moments. It’s taken me a really long time to let it sink in and wrap my brain around. But the truth is, Paris is pretty damn spellbinding. It’s certainly not perfect, but It didn’t disappoint nor exceed my expectations. My expectations weren’t even in the ballpark of what the experience was really like. It was totally different than I could have imagined, and I’m so tearfully grateful to my husband for taking me. It was pretty remarkable to spend a week living out a dream so big I never thought it would happen with my favorite person on earth.
The end. : )
Several people have asked about these photos that were CLEARLY not taken by me. Lend me your tired ears and I’ll explain. Without going into too much detail, our wedding photographers didn’t show up at our wedding. Thankfully, my baby cousin Nicholas was geared up and ready for his first wedding gig. He did a great job being given about an hours notice, but I was pretty heartbroken about the whole situation. That fact combined with the other unfortunate truth that I am the photographer on these trips and therefore always behind the complicated camera. Give it to Jon and bless him he tries, but I’m usually a blurry mess.
I just wanted some beautiful photos of us. Both of us together. That’s all.
So I hired Rhianne Jones, we met her bright and early on a freezing morning, and I got my one souvenir from the trip. I’d say it was worth it. They have already proven to be such a beautiful keepsake and I am so thankful that Jon understood my desire to have them taken and was a total non-complaining trooper.
I will treasure them.
If you haven’t had enough yet, I’ve thrown up (interesting choice of words) the rest of our iPhone photos if you’re interested. Thank you so much for recapping this trip with me. It’s been really fun and I hope you enjoyed my reminiscing. : ) Thanks as usual for reading!!
I found it! I found the exquisite cheese!!! Sadly, the only photo I have of our Minneapolis savior, Preston. Jon’s favorite souvenir from the trip, his favorite wine of all time. No wonder Marie Antoinette had a bee in her bonnet, sleeping in this anxiety room. I did forget to say how bomb dot com it was to be in Paris with all the Christmas decorations. Paris version of a shopping mall. We’re doing it wrong. No filter, no nothing. This place was insane. We watched the Eiffel Tower come to life with sparkles three different nights and it was teary eyed and goosebumpy ever single time.
Go go go go go go go to Paris.