Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Simple Guide to Paris, Part 1

After attending the Paris Writing Workshop last summer, a friend was traveling to Europe to celebrate graduating law school and taking the bar. She asked if I would send her a list of things to do in Paris and London for her and her boyfriend. At first I thought I'd write a short email of places to see and food to eat, but it was virtually impossible to keep the list shorter than about two pages. As I typed, I felt like I was reliving my time there.

Since then, a few others have asked me to send them my list of things to do in Paris. I've made few changes after spending another month there this summer, and I offer it here as a way to, yet again, remember and relive my experiences.

There is enough in Paris to keep a traveler occupied for fifty years, but here are the few experiences I found to be most valuable and memorable, if you're only there for a week or so.


I spent most of my time in the Notre Dame/Saint Michel area, and further south on the Left Bank, between Rue Saint Jacques/Mouffetard, and Luxembourg Garden areas. It’s a lovely little neighborhood, and one of the oldest in Paris. 


Some/No Cost:
Picnics – My favorite thing to do in Paris is buy a baguette, some cheese, and a bottle of wine, and picnic somewhere beautiful with a group of friends. The best places are the Champs de Mars (the park by the Eiffel tower), the Quai Saint Bernard, and the quais by Notre Dame. When I look back, those times were more fun than a visit to any famous tourist site.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Luxembourg Garden – Luxembourg metro stop. This is where Hemingway used to walk through on his way to Gertrude Stein’s house. It has gorgeous fountains and lots of green space.

Walks along the Seine – I loved walking by the river with no particular destination:
There are street vendors all along the river near the Notre Dame. Some fun souvenirs for pretty cheap, and it’s fun to walk by and look at it all.
I recommend walking from Notre Dame along the Left bank (by the Saint Michel fountain) to the “Lovers’ bridge” or “Pont de Beaux Arts,” which was the first pedestrian-only bridge in Paris. It is famous because couples will buy a lock, write their names on it, lock it onto the bridge, and then throw the key into the river, sealing their love forever (until the city of Paris replaces the metal panels every few months...). After you cross Lovers’ bridge, walk around the Louvre pyramid and into the Jardins de Tuileries. After a nice long walk through the beautiful garden, you’ll come to the Place du Condorde, where Anne Hathaway threw her blackberry into one of the ornate fountains in Devil Wears Prada. If you keep walking, you’ll walk right up the Champs Elysses to the Arc de Triomphe. This is a long walk, but you'll go by plenty of cafes to rest and have a glass of wine.

Monmartre – Blanche or Pigalle metro stops. This is the artsy district of Paris. Sacre Coeur basilica is one of my favorite places in Paris and it lends incredible views of the city. The area is great for wandering: Moulin Rouge, Pigalle, and really fun restaurants and cafes. It's a hill-y area, so wear walking shoes!

Sacre Coeur Basilica
Le Marais – This is an area on the Right bank that used to be known as the Jewish quarter, but is becoming a really hip and popular section of the city. Known for their Sunday brunch here, it is divine. There are also some great falafel places around there, too. Place de Vosges is the lovely, shaded plaza where Victor Hugo lived.

Notre Dame – The line is usually long but the inside is absolutely beautiful. If you don't want to wait in line, though, walk around to the back, sit on a bench and admire the architecture.

Museums & Sites –
  • The Louvre is pretty, but overwhelming. As a first timer, it's definitely something to see, but I don't feel the need to go again...
  • Musee d’Orsay is worth the 9-euro entry fee. You’ll find Renoir, Degas, Monet, and other very moving impressionists works.
  • L’Orangerie – “The Orange Grove,” Napoleon built this place because he wanted fresh-squeezed orange juice every morning. Monet’s Water Lillies are here, as well as other Impressionist artists like Picasso and Renoir. Very cool and not too expensive, 9 euro or around there.
  • Rodin museum and gardens – “The Thinker” is here, and many other sculptures and works. On a pleasant day, the gardens are a wonderful place to have a picnic.
  • Versailles – If you have an empty half- to full-day, I recommend going out to Versailles. The palace and gardens are overwhelmingly gorgeous, and the town itself is very charming. Tickets to see the palace run about 21 euros, plus the 45-minute train to get out there.
Inside Musee d'Orsay

Next up, Part 2: Food and Drink!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Last

It's been quite a month. As I sit in my sixth floor hotel room with the window open, I can see the Pantheon in the twilight glow of a Parisian night. It has been warm here, but just cool enough to walk around all day and not feel exhausted. Instead, I feel exhilarated.

This past week was a lot of fun. From our last Fellows soiree, to an amazing Thai restaurant, an underground jazz club where I danced the night away, a puppy store, and a pizza place on the Canal St. Martin, I've had a blast. I'm going to miss the group from this year, but I know it won't be our final encounter. Here are a few pics from my last few days in beautiful Paris. I have a sneaky suspicion my next few months will be as magical as this July. Sante!

In line for pizza at the Pink Flamingo.

Austin, being his adorable self.

Tricia and me. Thanks for being such a sweet friend! 

Pizza, Canal, Wine. What more do you need in life to be happy?

Italian with the crew.

Can't come to Paris without a visit to Shakespeare and Co.

My morning routine, coffee at McDonald's before Fellows Workshops. Sorry, not sorry.



So fun to see this long-time family friend! Yay Debbie!

Flea-marketing with Whitney and Kate

Brunching with Whitney and Kate

Le Marais exploring with Whitney and Kate!

Wasabi Cashews that need to make an appearance in Abilene, TX.

A version of the last supper. Rose and chicken on the outskirts of Luxembourg Gardens.

The view from my room this last Sunday night.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

No Country(side) for Old Men

After three weeks in Paris, a couple friends and I were ready for some fresh air. A few days in the French countryside was exactly what we needed. We spent the weekend in Beaugency, a small town southwest of Orleans in the Loire Valley. It is an adorable little town, quaint and quiet, but with plenty of bustle in weekend morning markets and boulangeries.

View from our b&b
We arrived Friday night, after the sweatiest and stickiest train ride of my life, and checked in to our B&B. Our hosts were a family of three, and thank goodness Janelle speaks pretty great French, because they hardly spoke English. I tried, but my responses were mostly blank stares, and then glances toward Janelle to translate. They were sweet and so accommodating. The daughter walked us to the only restaurant that was open that late (9:30pm), and we closed the place down talking about families, writing and hometowns.


Tricia and Janelle at breakfast the next morning. Check out that spread! And the french press. Mmmmmm.

Our plan was to ride bikes the next day to visit some chateaus that are in that area, and our final destination was Chambord, an enormous chateau and estate a little south of the Loire River. Our hosts said that a bike ride to Chambord would be too far in one day, but I guess they had never met American tourists. When we set our minds on something, we go for it baby.

Let me back up for a second. I haven't ridden a bike in more than two years that wasn't stationary and in a room with lights and an instructor. I learned late how to ride a bike, and they've never been my favorite things. So the idea of riding one 15 miles one way in unfamiliar territory gave me cause for concern. However, I decided this was a good weekend to conquer my fear/dislike of the things. The first few minutes I was wobbly, trying to navigate the narrow cobblestone streets of Beaugency and the cars that passed us. 

Still feeling unsure...

Then we got out of town, and it was more of a breeze. There are amazing bike paths that run up and down the Loire River, and they were not crowded at all. We passed a few families of bikers and a few runners, but that was about it. The river was to our left for most of the trip, and we ventured through a few towns, got lost a couple times, and finally made it to Chambord around 12:45, two hours after leaving Beaugency.

I mean, come on.

Paddle boatin. Go Tricia go!

We had lunch near the castle, then toured the incredible inside. It was beautiful, and we loved thinking and talking about what it would be like to live there. After a tumultuous paddle boat ride, we got some gelato and decided it was time to head back. A few hours later, we rode into Beaugency feeling exhausted, but proud of our sojourn.

We had dinner at the same place as the night before; it was too good not to go back! During an after dinner walk, we heard music coming from the direction of the river, and found a concert going on right on the banks of the Loire. The musician, Natalia Doco, was great, and just what we needed at the end of the day. A rainbow appeared in the sky, and I sipped my rose and felt tired and perfectly content.

Looking out at the Loire River before we headed back Sunday.

It was a wonderful weekend, and I am looking at Paris this week with a new set of eyes. It's amazing what fresh air can do for you.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fireman's Ball and Good Friends

Today is Bastille Day, a day off from classes and a chance to recover from this weekend. It has been cold and rainy for the majority of my time here, but today the sun is trying to peak out. Hopefully it'll be a clear night for the Bastille Day fireworks!

Halfway through the best Italian EVER.
My friend Amanda has been here since Thursday. She was a first-year student with me last year, lives in New York, and is a beautiful writer, though she looks like she'll punch you in the face if you try to compliment her. She came to visit before she makes a permanent move to Paris in September! We drank entirely too much wine, ate croque monsieur, Italian food, and gyros, sat by the river, and talked about last year as if it had just happened.

In the spirit of tradition, we went to the Fireman's Ball last night. These are Bastille Day rituals when Firehouses across Paris open their doors and host amazing parties with lights, DJs and dance floors. Although it was a different experience than last year, it is still fun to be in the middle of a huge outdoor European party surrounded by French firemen. Always entertaining to see.

Tomorrow, our group of Fellows is workshopping a story I wrote on Kilimanjaro, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they think of it. Somewhat frustratingly, I'm finding it difficult this year to write well. It's always hard, and the intimidating talent around me isn't helping. Trying to hone my editing skills, I plan to use the next two weeks to revise the pieces that I've written.

This week is more writing for me, and then Amanda and our other friend Chelsea come to Paris on Wednesday! More time with writer friends, and it makes my heart so happy. Have a wonderful week!

abs antics by the river. She can be inSeine sometimes.

Back at the firehouse

No more candids for us.

Tricia, my Virginia buddy!

In case we were unclear about where the DJ was...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sense of Place

I've been here almost a week and haven't posted anything, for shame!

There is a reason people come to this city and never leave. It is magical, especially tonight, as I sit with my window open and watch a Parisian sunset paint the sky after a day of rain. This week has been great. I met a whole new crop of students who are wonderful, got some writing done, and even managed to successfully lead a Hemingway Walk around the 5th arrondissement.

Last night, I went with two girls from LA to the opening ceremonies of the French Film Festival, which will be here all week. It was a "Karaoke Night," where everyone plopped down on the bank of the Seine and sang along to some amazing musical numbers from famous films. The first scene was from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and I was struck by how many people knew that diamonds are a girl's best friend. 

The rest of the evening included scenes from Moulin Rouge (Parisians seem to love this movie), 40-Year Old Virgin, and a bunch of French films that I had no idea existed. It was a warm, lovely night on the river, and I hope to go to another film while the festival is here.


Today, we took a walk around our neighborhood, the Latin Quarter, and one of our professors and his wife gave us incredible insight to one of the oldest parts of Paris. Rue St. Jacques, where my school is, is the oldest street in Paris, and some of the buildings around here date back to over 3,000 years ago...impressive!

Luxembourg Gardens

Every first Sunday of the month, some museums in Paris that have entrance fees are completely free. So I decided to wander down to the Rodin Museum. Although it was raining and windy, my friends and I had a nice -- and wet -- time looking at some of his finest works. Including The Thinker and what I'm referring to as Single Ladies.

So impressive

Put a ring on it!

I'm overwhelmed by this place for the second year in a row. Its beautiful architecture and boulevards open the city up, and it speaks to you. I have my bearings a little bit more this year, and it's nice to feel somewhat comfortable in such a foreign city. Stay tuned for good times ahead!

My view right now. Is this real life??