mercredi 19 janvier 2011

A White Christmas in Paris I

View Paris Christmas 2010 trip in a larger map

A LONG diary entry about my time in Paris over Christmas (Part I)

22 December, 2010 (Wednesday)

... I was waiting for train which came one hour late, at Karlsruhe station (freezing my butt off since I was technically waiting outdoors even though there was a roof).

The train then stopped in Strasbourg (with technical difficulties) for 30 mins.

Then, the train must have been going slower than normal (with snow on the tracks) because it arrived TWO HOURS after the ETA. Luckily I didn't have another train to catch or anyone to meet or anything else to do...

I arrived in the Gare de l'Est (East Station) which I'd never been to before and was immediately struck by how dirty the underground métro looked and how freezing it was (it appears that none of the trains and stations are not heated, and there I was in Sydney complaining about our non-heated trains. At least it's not 2° in Sydney in winter). I eventually managed to find my line and my train. Once I got out of the station I felt like a little girl again. I had my small-medium backpack and my Zuca so it's not as if I had a whole lot of bags to carry but they were both rather heavy and... it was pouring rain... and.... what is that I see? White flakes? OMG it's snowing and raining AT THE SAME TIME. Never in my life had I seen snow and rain simultaneously. I had to juggle my backpack, my Zuca trolleycase and the umbrella. Oh, and I should mention it was windy as well so my umbrella was being blown left, right and centre, and as it was about completely dark it was very hard to read street signs. I had to find my street. I find rather 'lost' for a moment there yet I was so excited I still managed to take some photos (much to the amusement/amazement/horror? of passers-by).

Here's a handy tip when travelling: 

Every time you see a map somewhere on the street, take a photo of it. That way you can refer back to it later. It's so handy! I mean you probably already have a map on you but in case you don't... In every Paris métro there are maps for the nearby streets (ie a zoomed-in kind of map) to help you find where you're going. I take a photo of this so that when I'm on the street level I can actually look at it and refer back to it! And with my camera I can store literally thousands of maps (and timetables and whatnot) so I don't need to physically carry all these heavy pieces of paper and books and stuff.

Luckily it was not a long walk to the apartment... I was lucky enough to be lent an apartment for 2 nights. In Paris!! During Christmas!! I thought I was sharing it with someone else but she wasn't there so I had the whole place to myself! It was a 1 bedroom apartment and quite possibly the smallest apartment I had ever seen in my entire life. Not that I was complaining. I was just intrigued that so much could fit into such a tiny space! You could not fit more than 1 person in either the bathroom or kitchen they were that small. I would call the interior design "eclectic" with bits and pieces of different styles.

I was so exhausted I just went to Monoprix (a supermarket) nearby and bought something to eat and looked at and sorted through my photos. I was too tired to even cook anything (despite having a full kitchen complete with coffee maker machine, toaster and blender even!) so I just bought a baguette and some instant soup and some fruit. How sad is that?! I tend to splurge on certain things and then scrimp on others and this was a time for scrimping hahaha. Despite my tiredness I recall going to bed quite late. Can't remember what I did. I could not get the internet nor the tv to work... I slept on a pull-out sofa bed which was comfortable and zonked out.

23 December, 2010 (Thursday)

I had big plans! I had decided to fulfil my dreams and my obsession with macarons and go on a "macaron marathon" around Paris. As well as that I wanted to soak in the Christmassyness of it all...

First of all though, I needed a map of the city! I had planned to get one at the Gare de l'Est when I arrived but somehow I immediately ended up in the métro underground as soon as I got off my platform (perhaps I went the wrong way I don't know. My brain was frozen from that 1 hour wait in Karlsruhe). It would be easier for me to get it at Gare du Nord instead so that was my first stop.

The night before, I'd bought a carnet of 10 tickets from one of the ticket machines. 1 ticket costs 1,70€ and a carnet costs 12,00€ so obviously you save... 5 euros! Some random guy tried to sell me one of his tickets (that he'd obviously bought as part of a carnet) for the regular price. Pfft... Not all tourists are stupid, dumb ass! Besides, I wanted the carnet and not a single ticket.

Well it worked out perfectly because the first night I used 1 ticket, then the second day (this day) I used 5, and the 3rd day (24 Dec) I used 4.

I'd been in the Gare du Nord the first time I visited Paris and remembered it was huge (as are all of the Grandes Lignes (main lines) stations in Paris). I made my way from the métro to the main lines part ASAP to find a info counter to get a map. I got 2 in fact. One to use (and write/draw/highlight on/destroy) and one to keep as a souvenir in pristine condition) - there's another tip for ya! The guy didn't seem too helpful or friendly despite the fact I was speaking in French - Parisians pfft! ;)

After 3 months of eating nothing but French and Western cuisine with the occasional Kebab, I was DYING for some Asian food! I thought I'd go to Chinatown to get some Chinese or Vietnamese. The guy at the info counter told me to go to the Place d'Italie station. So that's what I did. I basically went back to the same platform and got back on the same train/line and headed down south.

However, somebody was out to foil my plans. Or... for once in my travelling life I hadn't pre-planned anything and I was kinda lost. I mean I found some restaurants but they were not open. WTF? During lunch time? Then, it was really really windy and snowing and raining too remember... It was kinda hard to be walking great distances outside and I was starving (after eating nothing but bits of leftover baguette from last night for breakfast). So I made my way to the closest place I could find. An El Cheapo place (Gourmet Tang's) that was packed with people. However, in this case, packed doesn't necessarily mean good. I mean it wasn't super bad but it wasn't great. But for the price 4,50€ I shouldn't complain. I ordered a bun which is my all-time fave Vietnamese dish made with vermicelli noodles and spring rolls, and a dollop of fish sauce and alfalfa sprouts. It was OK but I was not that pleased with my choice of eating establishment. But I got over it.

I was too fascinated by the snow. THE SNOW. It had snowed in my town just before I left but when I was in Germany (just before) there was none. All along I had wished that it would not snow in Paris before I got there, but after. Not before so it wouldn't foil my plans and after because I wanted a white Christmas! I was overjoyed because I got my wish pretty much. Although I arrived in Paris 2 hours later than planned it didn't really ruin my plans.

I could not believe it.

The whole time I was in Paris, I could not believe it. I seriously felt like the luckiest girl alive. I was in Paris. The city most people dream about going to. It was (almost) Christmas AND it was snowing. It's the kind of thing people wish to experience but almost never do because you cannot control Mother Nature. Apparently it doesn't even snow all that often in Paris.

Everyone seemed kinda stressed what with last minute gift buying and all. There were few people outside due to the extreme weather however I was loving it all. OK maybe not the wind and the rain, but I was just loving the snow and praying it would stick around (literally).

I had planned to go to at least one Christmas market (Marché de Noël) in Paris but I didn't realise that I'd find lots of them simply by doing what I was going to do anyway. I saw some markets right near the métro entrance, and then I saw a big shopping centre (centre commercial) and decided to go in (to warm up and to have a look around since I love to window shop). I wandered in and got lost for a while before deciding I better get on with my "macaron marathon".

I took the métro to Saint-Sulpice station, where, according to my map were 3 macaron places nearby. I had already researched on the internet and found the addresses of all the places I wanted to go to and purposely chosen those close to each other (to save time obviously).

Around there I'd find Pierre Hermé, and a bit further north, Ladurée (website plays music), and a bit further south-east, Dalloyau.

The macaron review is in another blog post so I'll just mention where I went without talking about the macarons themselves here.

Before I got started though, I first had a look at the

1. Christmas markets at Saint Sulpice

2. Pierre Hermé

The story is tiny! There was a queue outside but that didn't deter me. I queued up and it moved reasonably quickly. I don't know why they make it difficult to choose the flavours. It would be good if you could look at a board or something before it was your turn to be served to save time. Almost every flavour I wanted was sold out. There were people stocking up for Christmas I guess.

3. Jardin du Luxembourg

I like to try to see/do as much as I can without wasting time backtracking across Paris on the métro... I would be passing by the Jardin du Luxembourg and what perfect time to visit one of the most famous scenes in the learning-French video/book series, French in Action! As well as that, I'd pass by Rue de Vaugirard where the fictitious family of Mireille lived. Apparently their house number doesn't exist so I didn't waste time going in search of it, but I just looked at the road and then wandered into the park. I have heard everyone rave about this park. I never saw it during my last visit to Paris so I was keen to check it out.

Let me remind you it was not the kind of day where one says, "I know! Let's go to the park today." It was practically EMPTY. There were a few strollers (as in people strolling and not the things that babies sit in. The French word for this is flaneur, I believe.) and tourists around but not many. I asked a nice American family (from Los Angeles) to take a photo for me because I was so happy to be in this park and it was snowing furiously now (although the ground wasn't completely white everywhere yet, there were patches of concrete and grass seen still).

So with them gone, I was left alone and let me tell you it's quite difficult to take photos of yourself and then all you ever see is your big fat head and none of your body...

So there I was trying to take another photo of myself in a picturesque location (comme d'habitude/as usual) when I saw another young photographer alone. We both kind of eyed each other with an expression of curiosity like, "What are you doing here?!"

I asked if he could take a full length shot of/for me and he agreed. We got talking immediately and I even took out my SLR camera. Up until that point I had only been using my compact camera (yes I have two) because it's just so much easier to be able to slip it into my coat pocket. It's actually kind of hard to take photos with gloves on but then as soon as I took my gloves off my fingers would freeze...

So we walked, and talked, and took photos. I told him I wanted to see the pond thing (bassin) where Marie-Laure (the 10-year old sister of the protagonist, Mireille, from French in Action) played with the toy boats. It was so funny and weird to see snow everywhere and hardly anybody around when the FIA series was obviously shot during summer.

The guy told me he's a law student in London and he came to Paris to escape the bad weather there. We both had a good laugh about that considering the extreme weather we were experiencing at that time!

I told him I'm from Australia but currently living in France and teaching English. I told him I was on a "macaron marathon" and he kind of rolled his eyes at me saying he couldn't understand why girls were obsessed with these things. He told me he was staying with friends in a huge apartment in Montmartre (which he couldn't pronounce because of the 'r' which was kind of funny).

After each snapping a few photos near the bassin (pond) we headed towards my next macaron stop.

He wanted to use his iphone to help us get there. The strangest thing happens to me whenever I'm with other people. I seem to lose all sense of direction yet when I'm alone I can find any place I need to go easily with just a map (no fancy phone/gadget for me! I'm 'old school'). When I am with someone it's as if I can just 'let go' and relax and let them take care of it... so he laughed when I had no idea where I was now and which direction we should head in.

4. Dalloyau

The window displays were jaw-droppingly gorgeous. They even have a nice tea room upstairs which we wanted to go to, but unfortunately it was closed for a party or something. So I just bought 3 macarons and left.

5. Some restaurant/café I forgot the name of (I think it was Café le Rostand)

We then went to a nearby restaurant to get a drink (and to sit down and warm up) and chat. After that, I had to get to the third macaron place before dark and he had to meet some friends so we exchanged email addresses and then walked back to where I started from, Saint-Sulpice métro. Along the way the wind and rain were just going like crazy. Most people were walking very quickly to get out of the weather and get inside but we were both like crazy people taking photos and laughing the whole way. I was a little bit paranoid of the rain getting inside my camera (but it was fine) and the wind kept blowing my umbrella inside out. At the back of my head I felt kind of insane to be stopping every 5 seconds to take photos in that weather (and hoping I wouldn't get sick being in it) but I knew this kind of thing does not happen often. Like seriously, who gets an invitation to have an apartment in Paris all to themselves (for FREE) during the busiest time of year (Christmas), and have it be snowing? ME. I had to make the most of it. I'm sure most Parisians were whinging and complaining about the 'horrible' weather but I was LOVING it! :D

We passed by the Saint-Sulpice Christmas markets (my second time now since I'd already seen them after Pierre Hermé) and then bid farewell to each other and parted ways. I am sure he was dying to find somewhere warm and dry again to go to. Me on the otherhand was off to the mothership, Ladurée!

6. Saint Germain Christmas markets

Les Deux Magots (which also features in FIA)

Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow!

View all the pics on Facebook here


Anonyme a dit…

Hello again,

Just a note to say I'm so enjoying reading through your blog, from time to time ... it's always at treat! You write so well, your 'voice' is intelligent, insightful, interesting (all three 'i' words definitely!) -- I think *you* should write a memoir about your journey from Sydney to France (and then Switzerland ... but I'm not to that point quite yet in my reading!).

Anyway, love the posts but am frustrated that I can't see the photos for macaron post or this one -- maybe because they're moved to Facebook. I may be the last person on the planet not on FB yet, but hope to get there eventually.

Cheers and back to reading your adventures :)

Take care and keep writing.

Twitter @CarolynBarnabo

P a dit…

Hi Carolyn,

Unfortunately Facebook deleted my account because I was not a 'real' person. It's a shame you can't see the photos anymore. I'll have to put them back up somehow via Google..

Thanks for letting me know and I'm glad you enjoy reading my blog! Keep up the good work with yours too!

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