We were excited to get back to Paris because the trip was going to change course. It was going to be a bit more cultural and personal; just what we were looking for.
We took my parents to their hotel, dropped our bags and got cleaned up over a nice cold beer from the corner store. I was getting pumped up for several reasons. Julia has never met my French brother Vincent, who came to the US on an exchange program when we were both 14, and we have been going back and forth to stay with each other ever since, so I was excited to introduce them. We were also going to his parent’s house, which is where I have stayed in the past, so it was the first in-home experience for Jules and my parents. And lastly, Vince’s mom is one hell of a cook, so I knew we were in for some awesome French food and wine!
After Julia’s first white nuckeled ride on Paris roads driven by a Frenchman, we arrived at the house. We walk in from the cold air to a warm home filled with wonderful smells of food being cooked. Within two minutes we had drinks and hors d’oeuvre in our hands. We were also graced by Vincent’s girlfriend Swann who Julia made fast friends with. After we caught up on what we’ve missed in each others lives and we show them the video of the proposal, it was time for dinner. Four courses and five bottles of wine later we were full of marvelous French home cooking and I’m reminded why this feels like my home away from home.
My parents get dropped off at their hotel by Vincent’s father, and we head to Vince and Swann’s place. They have a great place in the town of Montmartre where the famous Sacre Couer cathedral is and the Moulin Rouge is only a couple blocks away. Oh, and they have a view of the city, so it was a pretty damn cool place to kick our feet up for our few remaining days in France.
That next day was the last day for my parents, so we explored the Louvre, saw the Mona Lisa and a bunch of paintings of naked babies and topless women.
Above: I’ve seen this in person three times now and just now realized the model has both male and female parts. Did you ever think a solid slab of marble could look so comfortable though?
No explanation needed.
We followed with a trip to the Champs E’Lysee and the L’arc de Triumph and ultimately to Sacre Coeur and the lookout point of Paris.
We walked about the quaint hilltop town and the small cafe-lined town square which is famous for artists doing portraits of interested tourists and selling their art. We made our way into a nice little cafe off the beaten path for a quick lunch before heading back to Vince and Swann’s.
We have an ongoing issue with communication via electronics, as we have no phone and we need WiFi to connect to email, and you have to buy something somewhere to get their WiFi. We needed Vince so we could get into his place, but we had no way to get ahold of him. I kid you not, as we luckily stumble upon their place, Vince yells from across the street…he way just walking over from parking his car. It’s hard to explain, but the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We very well could have been stranded outside for hours. We get inside and we say a final farewell to my parents as they head on their way with the tools I imparted to them on how to navigate the mean streets (metro) of Paris. Now, it’s just us.
That night we had Raqulette which is one of my favorite meals when I’m in France, and now Julia is a big fan as well. Basically you need a delicious assortment of different thinly sliced meats, cheeses, boiled Yukon gold potatoes, some fancy mustards, and of course a fresh baguette. Then you take your own mini skillet that’s about 3in x 3in and place whatever combo of meat, cheese, and bread or potato into the skillet and place into the device within the heating elements. What comes out is a divine melted meaty creation.
On a side note, I’m writing this on a train going 186mph across Spain and I’m now craving Raqulette and there not a damn thing I can do about it. Anyway, it’s a total comfort food that’s perfect for sharing with a small group of friends and family on a cold night.
We woke up at our leisure that next morning and headed to a bakery across the street for some croissants before setting out for the day. We had decided to do something that usually flies below the radar when people visit Paris; the Catacombs. I have already been, so I was excited to see Julia’s reaction to being ninety feet below the streets of Paris in a dimly lit tunnel system filed with the bones of an estimate 6,000,000 people. Yes, it sounds creepy, and it is. If you’re claustrophobic, afraid of the dark, afraid of dead people, or any combination of those, this may not be for you. Basically as Paris was expanding in the early 1700’s they started running out of room in the cemeteries and there was fear of disease, so King Louis XIV commissioned the churches to exhume the bodies in their cemeteries for relocation. They excavated a huge tunnel system over a half mile long, over almost 100 years and filled it with bones. But they decided to be artistic with it. They made walls with the femurs and the skulls about five feet tall and made designs with them, and then backfilled about ten feet with the rest of the bones.
As we walked down the dark corridors getting dripped on by the ground water coming through the rock ceiling that was about 3in above my head, Julia started getting freaked out. She had the camera on her and would take a picture into the rooms that had big locked iron gates to illuminate whatever may be in there. It would make for a perfect horror movie scene; the flash quickly illuminated the pitch dark room, only to see some unearthly monster lunging at you. Needless to say she was glued to my side. After she got used to it, she was off taking pictures and enjoying herself as usual.
That evening we were in for a good time as it was Swann’s father’s birthday. These people are awesome. A couple years ago they had me and my friend Elliott over while they opened their Christmas presents with family, and even went as far as to get us presents. This is the French family life that few get to experience and I love the fact that Julia got to experience it with me. Regardless of the major language barrier, we laughed and drank and tried to figure out what each other was saying. Julia, in her trial fashion was not shy and tried her best to communicate with everyone. By the end of the night we were crowded around the TV while Julia and Swann’s sister sang Karaoke together. It was a hell of a fun night and we didn’t even have to go out on the town.
We said our goodbyes and gave our most sincere thank you’s to Vince and Swann for letting us crash on their couch as that next day was to be our last in Paris. Yet it seemed as though the city did not want us to leave. I had used Vince’s computer the night before to upload the proposal video and failed to take it out, because I’m awesome like that. Vince and Swann headed off to work early that morning, saying goodbye one last time. As I began double checking our flight time for 5pm, Julia turned on the camera to view pictures and realized I forgot the memory card in Vince’s laptop. No big deal, I could just take the metro to Vince, meet him at 2 be back by 2:30 make it to the airport by 3 to fly to Portugal. Wrong.
It started off fine, then the lights on my train turn off and we stop in the middle of a tunnel. Not cool. We sit there for ten minutes before we moved again. We made it to the next station where they said everyone needs to get off the train as there was a “grave accident on the tracks”. The line was shut for who knows how long and I was still several miles away. Myself along with 100+ people make or way out and cross the bus stop. I wasn’t going anywhere soon. This big problem because I have no phone and no way to tell Vince that I will be late, and he planned to meet me next to the metro stop but couldn’t be there long because he was supposed to be inside working. I bit the bullet and hailed a cab. 12€ later I made it. And wouldn’t you know it, no Vince in site. After all, I was 30 minuets late. Men with guns blocked the metro stop entrance, and right as I was about to take a cab back, they let us into the metro. I ran my out of shape ass back to the house where Julia was waiting. We rounded everything up and made it to the airport with one hour of our flight time. I didn’t get the memory card, but we made our flight just in time.
We both were sad to be leaving such a great city and our dear friends, but we were excited to be moving on to Porto, Portugal. After all, once we get there we really are on our own. And may I mention that neither of us speak Portuguese. This should get interesting.