Monday, March 28, 2011

Katz Family Reunited in Paris

A week from last Wednesday, the Katz Family arrived in Paris. I met the family at Charles de Gaulle and immediately introduced them to a major part of my daily Parisian life – riding the metro. Two metro transfers and many flights of stairs later (sorry we didn’t take a taxi!), we arrived at their hotel in Montmartre. We explored the Latin Quarter a bit, stopping for crepes and eating them en route to the Jardin du Luxembourg. It was one of the most beautiful and Spring-like days we’ve had yet in Paris. Flowers were beginning to bloom and chairs around the fountain were packed with Parisians soaking up the novel sunlight. I left for class pointing them in the direction of the Pantheon. Later that night, we had a typical French meal together. Ok just kidding, we had pizza, but it was delicious nonetheless.

The next day, the Katz crew went to the Musée d’Orsay and Angelina (jealous!) while I was in class. I met them by the Louvre and took them on a walk through Marais, ending at L’As du Fallafel. We had a scrumptious falafel lunch and wandered the streets of Marais. I promise, we did more than eat the whole time they were here, it’s just that meals in Paris tend to be fairly notable. On that note, we stopped to get some hamentaschen in a Jewish bakery in our travels J Oddly, they’re big on apple cinnamon and nut filled ones in Paris, but my favorite are still poppy (in French, pavot).
Taylor Swift in Paris!
Later that night Rachel and I went to see Taylor Swift in concert. It was perhaps a little embarrassing how excited I was, but only Rachel can attest to that. Taylor was amazing! And she made her attempts at Bonjour and J’aime Paris to woo the crowd. They responded with a hardy Tahhlarr, Tahhlarr…the French people really couldn’t pronounce Tay-lor too well. At the concert we were sporting some fashionable fan T’s designed by the one and only, Rachel Katz, and we were pleasantly surprised by the number of concertgoers who were older than us (and male, for that matter).  The concert was somewhat different than concerts I’ve been to in the US. For one thing, there were venders walking around selling coffee and sandwiches on fresh baguette. So French. The concert was also much more tame than I expected. It was a small venue, so not too many people, and I’m pretty sure tickets were still available the day of the concert – bizarre, considering tickets are already sold out for almost every one of her concerts in America this summer. Star-struck we returned to Montmartre later that night and ever since, I haven’t been able to get T.Swift songs out of my head.

The whole family by the Eiffel Tower
The following day the Katz’s explored Montmartre while I was in class. I met up with the gang by Notre Dame and then ventured to Ile St Louis for some of the finest ice cream in Paris at Berthillon. They have some really interesting flavors, like cassis and glazed chestnut, but my favorites (so far) are pistachio and honey nougat. That night we met up with two of my friends and went out to dinner in my neighborhood. I ate bevette moutarde and had gâteau au chocolat moelleux for dessert. Yum!

Rachel on the top of the Arc de Triomphe
On Saturday, we walked down the most famed boulevard in Paris – the Champs Elysée. We window-shopped and explored what has to be the world’s largest Sephora, with what seems like one employee for every ten customers. Rachel and I then climbed up the Arc de Triomphe, while mom and dad sipped coffee in a café. Afterwards, we went to a lovely tea salon in the Galleries Vincennes, near the Palais Royal. From there, we strolled by the Opera Garnier and went to the Galleries Lafayette with the beautiful glass ceiling, where Rachel and I bought some colorful spring scarves. We took a bus from there down to the Eiffel Tower, as no trip to Paris is complete without a visit. We sat near the tower as night drew nearer. We waited there until it had become dark and the tower was brightly illuminated against the navy blue sky. At 8 we saw the lights on the tower glisten, which was even more magnificent after we had listened to Rachel shouting “Sparkle baby, sparkle!” for an hour. We then headed back to Montmartre where we dined on bread and cheese and various goodies picked up in our Parisian travels.
Jim Morisson's grave

On Sunday, we met up at Père Lachaise cemetery to see the graves of some of the cemetery’s most famous inhabitants like Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf. The cemetery was enormous; there must have been thousands of gravestones, all with different designs and adornments - truly fascinating. Then we went to the Musée Rodin, where we explored the sculpture filled mansion and the beautiful garden. That night we ate dinner in Montmartre and went to a cabaret – Le Lapin Agile – for a taste of French “chanson.” We watched as a pianist, guitarist and accordion player entertained the crowd with classic French songs.  All the staff sang along and even some audience members, cheery from the Lapin Agile’s house cherry drink. 

Rodin's Le Penseur (The Thinker)
On Monday, we did a bit of shopping on rue Alesia by my dorm and then walked around Saint Germain de Pres in the afternoon. We stopped at the famed literary café Les Deux Magots for lunch, sitting on the sidewalk watching the world go by. After lunch we headed to Poilane, a nearby boulangerie with a long history behind its famous sourdough breads. We finished our tour of the area with a visit to Le Bon Marche, a favorite Parisian store, with an enormous gourmet market attached to it as well. That evening, we took a Bateaux Mouches boat ride (“fly” boat) on the Seine from Point d’Alma, right across the river from the Eiffel Tower. It was a great way to end the visit with my family, passing through the city on the river, seeing everything we’d walked by throughout the week. It was so great having the Katz’s here and I hope they’ve come to love the city just as much as I have! Come back soon!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

To the land of waffles and chocolate!

This weekend I left Paris behind and went on search of waffles and chocolate in Belgium! Friday afternoon, we rushed out of our classes, scrambling to get to the bus station. Arriving just on time, we settled down for our 3 hour and 45 minute bus ride to Belgium. I watched out the window as kilometer after kilometer we drove through farmland. The green landscape oddly brought me right back to Ithaca, a nostalgia broken up by French highway signs and wind turbines. We arrived at the Brussels station and transferred to a train to take us to Bruges. It was after 10 by the time we finally arrived in the quiet Flanders town. We took a bus to the city center and wandered on foot to find our hostel. While wandering we got our first glimpses of this magical city. The Markt (Flemish isn't too big on vowels, except a's) was beautiful at night with lights shining up at the buildings, illuminating their whimsical, Disneyworld-like facades. After checking into our hostel, we walked around the streets, empty of tourists in the nighttime. We got our first taste of Belgian frites and enjoyed the quiet and serenity of Bruges, so different than Paris.
Bruges Markt and Belfry
Waffle with bananas and warm chocolate sauce
The next morning, we feasted on delicious fruit topped waffles and hot chocolate at a local café. We meandered through the streets of Bruges, full of chocolate and lace shops. Bruges is surrounded by water – a series of canals – garnering it the name “Venice of the North.” We took a boat tour through the canals, learned a bit of Bruges history and saw more of the storybook town. Medieval buildings and gothic churches lined the canals, and ducks and swans swam alongside our boat. Afterwards, we headed to the Church of Our Lady, where one of Michaelangelo’s few works to ever leave Italy is located – the sculpture, Madonna and Child. We spent the rest of our afternoon walking through the city, ogling at its beauty, shopping for chocolate and eating (of course!). 
Dog looking out at the canal
Swans on the canal

We departed for Brussels, arriving there in no time. In Brussels, we walked through a market on the square right by our hotel and then walked to the Grand Place, just a couple blocks away. Victor Hugo, who lived in Brussels for a time, called the Grand Place the most beautiful place in the world. The night we visited, it seemed that the Grand Place was glowing against the night sky. We dined at a restaurant off the place that was gilded in the belle époque era style. I tried an authentic Belgian dish called waterzooi, at the recommendation of the waiter. This chicken stew, of sorts, was quite delicious. Later that night, we returned to the Grand Place and sat in the middle, singing songs under the moonlight.
In front of Hotel de Ville on the Grand Place in Brussels
Cathedral in Brussels
The next day we woke up, ate breakfast at our hotel and befriended the guy at the reception desk, who gave us ideas of where to go in the city. We went to the most famed Cathedral in Brussels, where mass was just beginning. After snapping some photos and listening to the organ music for a few minutes, we headed out to go see the Royal Palace. We strolled through a grand park in front of the palace, which was adorned with statues symbolic of peace. We paused for a photo opp outside the Palais Royal and then continued our walk past many of Brussels’ notable art museums and went to Sablon Square. In this quiet, village-like square, we saw an antiques market full of jewelry, artwork and furs. We then walked from there through some of the winding streets of Brussels. We stopped in at a vintage store on the way and somehow ended up at one of Brussels’ most famed attractions – the Manneken Pis. Across from this fountain of a peeing boy, we picked up another round of Belgian waffles. Before we headed out, we got our last dose of frites. We sat on the steps of the Bourse (Brussels’ Stock Exchange) with many locals and ate our fries. A fine way to spend our last hour in this wondrous city. We headed back to the bus station and boarded our bus back to Paris. Four hours later I was home. With nearly a kilo of chocolate for souvenirs and 400+ pictures on my camera, I was back in Paris. We were sad to leave, but it’s hard to be disappointed to return to Paris. All in all, it was a great weekend!

Palais Royal