Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Parisian Play: The Paris you don't read about in guidebooks.....

Over Thanksgiving weekend, a girls trip to Paris finally came to fruition. Jon was at an exercise in Norway and it seemed the opportune time to whisk away to the City of Light for a weekend of shopping, girl-time and exploring tourist-free Paris. As it was my 9th visit to Paris, I  had explored the many museums and monuments of Paris as one of the many tourists that swarm this city each day. Though I still have so much I want to see in this city, I was looking forward to a weekend dedicated to getting off the beaten tourist path. I feel so blessed to have three fabulous friends who were up for taking part in this plan-o-play in Paris. When we hopped in the car on Friday morning to begin our journey, I don't think we had any idea what an adventure of hilarious encounters and unforgettable memories would be in store for us. 

Me, Cara, Margaret and Meghan striking a pose at Place de Vosges

As there were four of us, we decided to book an apartment in my favorite quarter, the Marais, 3e. Filled with funky bars, sophisticated boutiques, a trendy population and thriving Jewish and gay communities, this vibrant patch of Paris provides a unique local flavor of Parisian life. After getting settled in our apartment, we immediately hopped on the metro to the Louvre area and went to my favorite tea room in Paris, Angelina Salon de Thé. Though it is raved about in guidebooks and visited by tourists and locals alike, this place simply can't be missed. In addition to the many delicious pastries and sweets, it has the most remarkable hot chocolate ever tasted, Le chocolat a l’ancienne dit l’Africain. It is truly like drinking melted chocolate and it is served with a bowl of whipped cream. It is not overly bitter or sweet, but incredibly rich and downright delicious. I was thrilled that the girls liked it too and think this may become a regular stop on their future trips to Paris, as it is mine. 

Angelina Tea Room

Angelina Tea Room

After being filled up on chocolates and sweets, we walked across the street into the Jardin des Tuileries for an evening stroll as dusk was setting in. Though it is late November, the weather was surprisingly mild and we were able to walk around with mere light jackets to take in the sites of Paris in its most beautiful setting; bathed in city lights. 

Jardin des Tuileries

Musee de Louvre

From the Jardin des Tuileries to the Louvre, we exited along the Seine on the unique wooden bridge, Pont de Arts.  From here we had spectacular views of the Ile de la Cite to our left and the Eiffel Tower to our right. 

View of Ile de la Cite from Pont de Arts

Pont de Arts

Pont de Arts

We meandered along the Seine until we reached the Notre Dame Cathedral where the Christmas tree was in the final stages of being decorated. This was my first time to visit Paris in "winter" and though the Christmas lights were in the early stages around the city, it was nice to get a glimpse of what it must look like in its holiday glitter and glam. 

Notre Dame Cathedral

That night, we enjoyed a fantastic dinner on the popular restaurant row, Rue Montorgueil, in the Le Halles area. Afterward, we met up with my Parisian friend, Thomas and his girlfriend, Clemence, at Place de la Republique to visit their favorite wine bar. Unfortunately, we have no pics from this night, but we have memories that will last a lifetime regarding anything related to 'Montpelier.'

The next day, we meandered around the Marais and had breakfast at a sidewalk cafe and browsed along the boutique-filled street of Rue des Francs Bourgeois, which leads to the Place de Vosges. This beautiful courtyard surrounded by pink-bricked mansions, including Victor Hugo's, has a lovely park with fountains and green space. 

Breakfast in Marais

Place de Vosges

 Afterward, we hopped on the metro to one of the best department stores in Paris, Galeries de Lafayette. As it was a Saturday, the store was completely packed with shoppers, but we still managed to have a great time viewing the designer clothes and 6 levels of fashion.

Galeries Lafayette

Galeries Lafayette

On the top floor, we accessed the roof to obtain gorgeous views of Paris in the late afternoon. We ate lunch at the cafe where you can access wine by the spicket. All in all, it was a great shopping day, despite the fact that I didn't buy one thing. I'm not sure how this is possible, but honestly, I get just as much joy being in the presence of such beautiful stores and fashion, and I simply didn't see anything I couldn't live without. Needless to say, this won't be my last shopping trip to Paris.

View of Paris from rooftop of Galeries Lafayette

Rooftop view of Galeries Lafayette

Rooftop view of Galeries Lafayette

After a long day of walking, it was nice to relax in the apartment that evening before our second big night out on the town. These evenings in the apartment were some of my favorite moments of the weekend as we would re-hash the day's events and sip wine anticipating the night ahead. 

Getting ready in our apartment 

Once again we met up with our favorite "tour guide" Thomas who recommended a great place for our group dinner, a Corsican restaurant, Le Temple. Not only was the food delicious, but the atmosphere was swathed in kitsch with pictures of Marilyn Monroe, chairs in the shape of stilettos, and a sea of leopard print. It was utterly delightful! We had one of the most hilarious dinners of my life with plenty of laughter and yet again, more incredible memories. 

Dinner at Le Temple

Thomas and I have been friends for six years since our days in Waco, Texas, together. He was there for an overseas internship and I met him through a friend and connected him with the my all-time-favorite group of international exchange students at Baylor from 2005. Among many adventures together during those few months, one regular occasion was karaoke every Wednesday night. We have reminisced about these times a lot during my previous visits to Paris, but never once have we succeeded in finding a place for karaoke in Paris. All that was about to change. He and Clemence had booked a table for us at a karaoke bar that night and my karaoke dry spell in Paris was about to end.

Performing to "I'm too sexy..."
The C-Girls singing "Dancing Queen"

It turns out there is a reason that we have not frequented a karaoke bar before now in Paris - karaoke is not such a popular event in France and it's certainly not the same experience as in the USofA. We entered the cellar where the karaoke area was, and were a small group compared to the other three groups of 10+ people all there celebrating birthdays. Also, every song chosen was a French song, so we definitely stood out when we chose to sing songs in English. I was first to break the ice with my rendition of "I'm too Sexy." Apparently this song was never a big hit in France as the crowd acted like they'd never heard it, but I kept on with my performance and eventually they got into it. Our group sure was having fun with it! Thomas and Clemence sang a Beatles song, "Back in the USSR,"  and the C-Girls (Cathleen, Cara, Clemence, Carpaccio-Meghan and Camembert-Margaret) sang "Dancing Queen." After utterly and completely embarrassing ourselves, we left the bar and headed to the nearby Pigalle district where we found a bar with a great cover band. After shutting that place down in the wee hours of the morning, it was time to call it a night.  

Our final day in Paris, we were a bit sluggish due to two previous late nights (or early mornings) out on the town. Margaret had to head back to Germany that day, but Cara, Meghan and I eventually made it to the flea market of St. Ouen north of Montmartre. We each bought some scarves from India in the ethnic section of stalls and made our way to the incredibly unique  and extensive antique section where we marveled at vintage Hermes and Chanel handbags and clothes. 

That evening, we attended an improv show that Thomas and Clemence were a part of. It was a great experience to get a glimpse of my friend's life outside of tour-guiding us around and to encounter the hip culture of Paris. Though the show was completely in French, we managed to have plenty of laughs and understood the big picture of what was going on. The group is so talented and I have no doubt they will have a great future ahead with improv comedy. 

Improv show, featuring Thomas and Clemence

After the show, we decided after a weekend of staying off the beaten tourist path, it was okay for our last night to visit the very touristy area of the Latin Quarter for dinner. Afterward, we headed to a cozy piano bar where we were seated touching the stage. We had great access to the talented piano player and singer and enjoyed singing along to some classic tunes. We were absolutely enamored by the singer, Dominique, and I decided that I truly wanted to become her..... a glamourous piano bar singer. We even took notes on how to make this happen (20's style haircut, long pleated dress, bedazzled belt, fabulous earrings and shoes and hosiery with seams). Maybe in my next life....

Piano Bar
Piano Bar

 After three event-filled days and nights in Paris, Monday morning came entirely too early and it was not fun leaving this incredible city to head back to reality. But once on the train, pulling out of Gare du Nord, we left our disappointment of leaving behind and instead re-capped our many fun moments of the weekend with lots of laughter on the 3-hour trip home. I am so grateful for each of these fantastic ladies that joined me on this adventure of play in Paris. It was the perfect setting with the perfect group and I will never forget this weekend and the amusing and entertaining times had by all. Merci beaucoup, mes ami!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Black Forest Birthday

Fall in Europe is absolutely breathtaking. It might be that I especially go crazy for Autumn because in Texas, this season doesn't really exist. Fall in Texas means a temperature drop from 90 degrees to 75 (if we're lucky) and leaves turning from green straight to brown and then falling on the ground. The past four years living in Europe, it's been so amazing to see the bright shades of golds, coppers and cinnamon hues that the leaves become. The temperature drop allows for a whole new set of clothes that I never knew existed before to transition between summer and winter. It's Fall in Europe and I am loving it! 


Although our home in Sittard is putting on quite an Autumn show with gorgeous sunny days and beautiful-changing trees, the places that really showcase the best of Fall are those with the most trees. The best forest around is the Schwarzwald, or Black Forest, in the southwest corner of Germany. I had visited here twice before in early October and the scenery was amazing with rolling green hills and thick trees everywhere. It was time for yet another Baylor visit to my favorite international school, the Black Forest Academy, however this year I would be going in November, over Jon's birthday. I convinced him to take two days off work and join me on the 5-hour road trip south so we could make a two-day getaway out of the occasion, staying in the resort thermal bath town of Badenweiler. 

While I was giving presentations and attending the school fair at BFA, Jon would be able to spend his birthday running around the woods, swimming in our hotel pool and enjoying the beauty of the Black Forest. Unfortunately, the Black Forest didn't exactly want to cooperate with us and was completely shrouded in clouds and a dense fog, which limited visibility beyond 100 yards in front of you. We still made the most of our time and after my day at the school, we enjoyed a great night on the town for Jon's birthday, celebrating his 32 years of awesomeness. 

Birthday Dinner - Goulasch!

The following day, it was yet again foggy, but the visibility was better so we started the morning with a trail run through the woods. Nothing, not even dense fog, could block the brilliant hues of the trees in the forest and it was so surreal to run on paths covered in patches of bright yellow, orange and red leaves. Afterward, we made our way to the thermal bath where we soaked in the numerous pools indoor and outdoor. This is something I greatly miss from living in Wiesbaden, as I would go to the baths at least once a month. 

Cassiopeia Thermal Bath

After feeling rejuvenated and refreshed from the thermal water, we walked around the numerous parks of Badenweiler and up to the castle ruins atop a hill above town. Although I had hoped to get pictures of the beautiful trees with blue skies as the background, the scenery was still incredible.



Castle ruins of Badenweiler

View from atop the castle ruins

The best part about the trip was being able to spend time with my one-of-a-kind husband on his birthday.  Fog and all, I will always have special memories of this getaway to the Black Forest and the chance to celebrate yet another milestone together in the adventures of The Captain and Frau Clough. Happy 32nd, Juan!