Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chapter Fourteen: Back in Seattle, back to reality

Now that I've been back home for almost three weeks, it's time to wrap up the blog.   I am a list person, so here's a list of what I love about Paris and what I missed about home. 

What I loved about Paris/being in Paris:
  • the shopping 
  • the architecture
  • walking everywhere and exploring places I have never had the time to see
  • having the time to walk everywhere, and being able to looking forward to an hour long walk
  • wandering aimlessly around the city, without a schedule or agenda
  • not driving and not dealing with traffic
  • people watching, especially looking at what the girls were wearing. 
  • the street food
  • cafe creme at the end of almost every meal
  • Berthillon ice cream
  • not having to do the mental math of calculating tip and tax when eating out, since it's all included in the menu price.  Tax being built into the sticker price of items is nice too. 
  • really fun window displays
  • the Seine
  • the Pont des Arts 
  • the street lamps
  • Orangina
  • all of the fun French beauty products they sell at pharmacies
  • Salespeople leaving you alone while you look around the store
  • Comptoir des Cotonniers, ba & sh, Agnes B, Uniqlo, Berenice
  • BHV (I love it so much, it gets its own line on the list.)
  • the street markets with the insanely good and cheap roast chickens, fruit/vegetables, cheese and bread
  • using a paper street map and metro map to figure out how I would get somewhere.  It was like a puzzle.  
  • the cafe culture
  • expanding my French vocab.  A few examples:  soldes = sale.  Ouverture exceptionelle = exceptional opening (open on a day that it's usually closed).  Emporter = food to go.  I still get "left" and "right" mixed up though - it's only in the context of the Left Bank (Rive Gauche) that I remember which is which. 
  • the day when I realized that I knew which metro line would take me where I needed to go, without having to look at the map  

What I missed about the States/Seattle:
  • not having to do mental math at every turn - converting euros into dollars, kilometers into miles, kilograms into pounds, subtracting "12" from the time between noon-11:59pm
  • people clean up after their dogs here, so I don't have to always be on the watch for dog poo on the street
  • not having to hug my purse against my body all the time everywhere, and not assuming that anyone who bumps into me is a thief
  • everyone understands what I'm saying and I understand what everyone is saying to me.  No need for hand gestures, pointing and/or having to repeat myself five times. 
  • the convenience of everything.  Everything is geared towards consumer convenience in the States - 24 hour supermarkets, drive-thru fast food, almost everything is open on Sundays, etc.  It's impossible/almost impossible to find that in Paris.  Except for on the Champs Elysses.
  • All of the Kardashian shows!  (I still can't believe Kim and Kris are separated.  I mean, I can, but I can't.)
  • Netflix streaming and Hulu
  • toilet seat covers in public restrooms
  • free public restrooms
  • ice water at restaurants.  I hate tepid water, which is basically all you get in Paris/Europe. 
  • Seattle isn't the cheapest city to live in, but it's nice that eating dinner at a non-fancy place won't cost me $40. 
  • Freely using my debit card, instead of a stupid credit card, without dealing with a 3% international transaction fee.  
  • Whole Foods
  • Asian food
Lastly, I'd like to introduce you all to what I like to all to what I call my magic boots.  I searched high and low throughout Rome, Venice, Florence, Milan, Paris, London and Munich for flat black boots and came back with nothing.  I finally went back to what I know best, online shopping, and ordered a pair of Jeffrey Campbell boots on (no tax, free shipping!), had them shipped to my parents, and had my parents bring them with them to Paris.  From day 1, there were no blisters and no sore feet.  No breaking in period at all, which is a miracle for women's shoes.  

I'm more glad to be back home than I thought I would be, but I'm pretty sure I'll be "homesick" for Paris for at least another month.  Or six.  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chapter Thirteen: Last Day in Paris

I flew into Paris from Dublin on Saturday night, and I was scheduled to fly home on Monday afternoon. That gave me exactly one full day in Paris. I was planning to extend my trip a few days, to give me time to visit my favorite places one last time and to try to squeeze in a trip to Nice to see the Chagall Museum. But I decided it was time to come home.

Paris has two sale seasons in the year - one in January and one in the summer. The dates are decreed by the French government, and it's the only time that merchandise is on sale. All of the shopping stars aligned for me, because my last day in Paris coincided with the start of the winter sales season, so obviously, shopping would play a big part on my last day. Unfortunately, even during the sales season, all of the department stores and most boutiques are closed on Sunday. Fortunately, I still found some stores that were conducting an "ouverture exceptionelle."

"Soldes" means sale. These signs brought me happiness in my heart.

My cozy hotel room near Opera

Place Vendome. This was my favorite holiday decoration in Paris.

Polly and I tried to go to Angelina on Rue de Rivoli, but we didn't have time, so I went by myself for lunch on my last day. They are famous for their hot chocolate, which is what's in the little pitcher. I'm still trying to decide whether I like Angelina's or Les Deux Magots' better. But both are delicious - it's essentially a brick of chocolate in liquid form. The shrimp ravioli was good too.

I took a walk through the Tuileries Garden..

And by Hotel de Ville (sadly, BHV was closed).

I walked back through the Tulieries at dusk, after a long day of shopping, to drop off bags at the hotel.

The Grand Palais extended its Gertrude Stein exhibition of Picasso and Matisse, and it was open until 10pm on Sunday, so the timing worked out perfectly.

I really don't care for the Champs Elysses. It's a noisy, bright and commercial mess. BUT, the stores are open every day until late, including Monoprix, so I went in and bought out their entire inventory of pear cookies. This picture is actually H&M - which is open from 10am-MIDNIGHT every day, including Sunday.

Wool coat from Agnes B, which was 40% off. This brought my total coat/jacket purchase from my trip to 4.

Pink oxfords from Repetto, which were 0% off. These brought my total shoe purchase from my trip to 5.

One last Orangina to commemorate my last night in Paris.

C'est fini, and now I'm home. Between snowstorms, ice storms, unpacking, catching up on 3 months' worth of shows on Hulu and starting and finishing Downton Abbey, I haven't really been able to process my trip yet. That will be my next and final post.

Chapter Twelve: "P.S. I Love You" brought to life

To wrap up my adventure in Europe, Polly and I decided to spend 10 days in Ireland - 2 nights in Belfast, 3 nights in Dublin and then 5 days/nights puttering around the Irish countryside in a rented Ford Focus.

On the advice of Frommer's as well as our cab driver, we went to the Crown for dinner. It's a famous pub in Ireland, built in the 1800s and is now owned by the UK's government conservation program. It was also great to be in an English speaking country for the first time in two months. Although, most people's Irish accents were so thick, I usually just stared blankly at them or looked to Polly for a translation.

My steak and Guinness pie, along with two different potato sides. (Potatoes, beef and gravy were really all we ate in Ireland.) It was really good and really filling. It was also cheap, or at least cheap for someone coming from Paris.

We stumbled across this gem of a restaurant while walking home from the pub. It's not even the name of the restaurant that stunned me, even though it is a pretty weird name. It's the question mark. It's not called Hungry, but Hungry? I'm curious about what it says in Chinese.

I wish I had taken a picture of the hostel we stayed in in Belfast, but I think I was too shell-shocked to even think about taking a picture. The pros: it was dirt cheap, clean, we had our own bathroom, and the tour bus we were catching to go up to the coast stopped at the hostel. The cons: no soap, no towels and the shower head was just in the middle of the wall without any enclosure. Polly and I were not prepared for this. The first night, we used her face wash as soap and we used my bathrobe as a hand towel. The next day, we bought some shower gel (we couldn't find bar soap to save our lives) at a convenience store and a bath towel at T.K. Maxx (instead of T.J. Maxx, it's T.K. Maxx in the UK).

We took a black cab tour around Belfast, with the cabbie giving us the history of The Troubles - the violence in the 1960s-1990s between the nationalists, who viewed themselves as Irish and Catholic, and the unionists, who viewed themselves as British and Protestant.

The hooded guy with the gun is called the Belfast Mona Lisa, because wherever you are, he's always looking at you. It was eerie.

There is still a wall in the city that divides the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods, and it's locked every night.

Bobby Sands went on a 66 day hunger strike during The Troubles, and died. I know this may be irreverent, but doesn't he look like Shaun White?

Belfast City Hall.

City Hall lit up at night.

On day 2 in Belfast, we took an all-day bus tour to the coast. It was amazing.

Me in my Ireland uniform: navy coat, gray leggings, wellies and a purple scarf. This is what I wore every single day in Ireland, besides Dublin. I don't want to even look at this navy coat for at least 6 months. There are three sweaters that I feel the same way about as well, and I'm retiring my pink purse for a while.

The Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. It was pretty slick from the rain and sea spray and much more bouncier than I would have thought it would be.

Bushmills - the oldest whiskey distillery in the world. We only had 40 minutes to eat lunch and go to the gift shop, so I scarfed down my Irish stew (more meat, more potatoes) and was promptly sick within the next 15 minutes.

The Giant's Causeway, which some call the 8th wonder of the world. I have better pictures on my real camera, but who knows when I will get around to those pictures.

It was actually scarier for me to climb up and down these slick rocks, especially because it was starting to drizzle, than it was for me to walk across the rope bridge.

Dunluce Castle.

We then took a train down to Dublin, to spend two days there.

River Liffey, which cuts through the city.

The view from our hotel room, which our cab driver couldn't find, so he dumped us on the street corner and advised us to call the hotel for directions. The most stunning part of this story was that he had a working GPS unit in the cab. C'MON!

The Guinness Brewery, aka Mecca to some. The self-guided tour was supposed to take about an hour. Polly and I zipped through it in about 15 minutes, because we were going to be late for service at St. Patrick's Cathedral. We crammed two of the most Ireland-ish things into one afternoon.

No beverage should be so thick and barley flavored. It's like a barley milkshake. I choked down about 1/6 and then just had to leave it.

St. Patrick's Cathedral. We went to Evensong, which is basically a boys'/mens' choir concert mixed into a service. It was lovely.

Tea at the Shelbourne Hotel. Delicious.

Glendalough, which is pronounced Glen-da-lock. How does "ough" = lock?! Just one of the many puzzling things about the Irish language. It was only an hour drive from Dublin, but it felt like ten hours, a) because I was so stressed about driving and b) I was driving in 3rd, going about 20 km below the speed limit the whole time.

Let me take a minute to talk about driving in Ireland. I had been preparing myself to drive on the left side of the road, to drive from the right side of the car, and to use the gear shift with my left hand. I wasn't excited about it, but besides a few mishaps on the first day, I got used to it. What I never got used to was a) how almost all of the major highways in the country are one lane for each direction, b) they are all very narrow and very curvy, c) the speed limit on these death traps are usually 100 kilometer/hour, which is about 60 mph. Every time a truck or bus came barreling towards us, I was convinced that we were going to collide head-on. Either that, or we were going to hurdle over the side of the road and into the sea. Poor Polly - on my driving days, I was basically catatonic. I couldn't make any kind of conversation, all I could do was focus on not getting us killed.

It was a really pretty walk.

Even the barrenness was pretty in its own way.

This is where we stumbled upon some goats. Polly was convinced that we were going to get butted from the back.

The ruins of a miners' village.

Kilkenny Castle. We were planning to do the tour, but the timing didn't work out for us, so we just walked around the grounds.

Next up, Kinsale in County Cork. It is a lovely harbor village - it reminded me of the small seaside towns in Massachusetts.

Blarney Castle, where Polly and I kissed the Blarney Stone.

First of all, how are these daffodils alive in January?! Second of all, my camera couldn't capture just how green Ireland is. It is like Irish Spring soap green.

View from the castle

Really narrow and winding staircase to get to the top of the castle.

The Poison Garden. Seriously, that's what it was called. All of the plants and shrubs in this garden are either poisonous or very, very bad for you, like tobacco.

I can't remember where this was. We may have just pulled over on the side of the road to take the picture because it was so pretty.

Our condo in Kenmare. It was the nicest place I had stayed during my entire three month trip. There were two floors, two bedrooms, a bathroom and TV in each room, and (the best part) a washing machine WITH a dryer. By this time in the trip, it had been almost two weeks since I had washed my clothes, so I was super excited to use the washer/dryer. It was actually the very first thing I did when we got to the condo.

My room. I can't sleep in a bed where all of the sheets and comforters are tucked in because I feel like a trapped animal. So I always go around untucking everything in a hotel room, but I forgot to take the picture before I did that, which is why the bed looks like it was attacked by an animal. You can't tell from the picture, but even though this bed looks like a full/queen, it's actually one large bed frame around two twin bed frames. Even though I always sleep on the very edge of a bed, I didn't like the crack in the middle, so I pushed the mattresses together.

We slept until noon, and then drove the Ring of Kerry, which is a big loop through County Kerry. It is the prettiest drive I have ever done.

Even the rocks are bright green in Ireland!

On our way up to Galway, we stopped by the Cliffs of Moher. I know that it's not the moors of England, but it felt very Jane Eyre-esque.

The ten days flew by, and just like that, I was dropping Polly off at her hotel in Dublin, and I was off to Paris for my last 36 hours of my trip. *tear