Ianna goes to Europe: Montmartre, Les Puces, et le Tour Eiffel
A quick flight from Dublin, and we found ourselves in customs at Charles de Gaulle. Just like that, our passports had French stamps and we were rolling our luggage to the train and breathing in the crisp French air. My almost decade old dream was coming true.
Reality hit when we couldn't purchase our billets at the machine and had to walk up to a ticket window. My first attempt at French might have morphed into Spanish before landing in English with fingers crossed. The ticket agent wasn't thrilled, but it worked.
On the train, we ran into an American mother/daughter duo decked out with Rick Steves gear. Heading in the same direction, we teamed up navigating public transportation until Ian and I reached our stop.
We popped up from the subway underneath one of Paris's famous art nouveau Métropolitain signs to see the Moulin Rouge all lit up. We rolled our suitcases up the ubiquitous cobblestone streets until we arrived at the front door of the building where we were renting a studio for the week. After following the directions to get in the front door, Ian failed to find the light switch and pulled out his flashlight. We contemplated how we would get our suitcases up to the fifth floor in the dark. I ran my hand along the wall. Light. Ian had just missed it. It illuminated an uneven 75 steps up to our studio: a treacherous journey in the dark. Thank goodness for electricity, and a cozy appartement at the end of a long day.
The next morning, after catching up on some sleep, we headed to the crêperie/sandwich shop at the bottom of our street. So began our love affair with Paris street food. I ordered a Nutella crêpe. The man at the griddle poured out the batter with precision, spread it into a perfect circle, and timed the addition of Nutella for maximum melt without overcooking the crêpe. Finally, he tucked it into a neat little paper triangle and handed it across the counter.
Brunch in hand, we headed to a nearby park to eat and people watch. We couldn't take our eyes off an elderly gentleman, looking smart in a three piece suit, hat, and immense but neatly trimmed facial hair, feeding baguette out of his hand to small fluttering birds in midair.
We wandered through Montmartre up towards Sacre Coeur. On our way, we came across a store highlighted by Oh Happy Day! The window display was very hard to resist. "Une photo, s'il vous plaît?" My French was slowly coming back.
After more stairs (the city is full of them... no wonder Parisians are so svelte), we reached the top of the butte Montmartre and turned around for a stunning view of Paris. How could a city be so expansive yet so cozy and inviting?
We eventually shuffled through the front doors of the cathedral, and made a slow loop around the inside, marveling at the craftsmanship and patience required for such a massive undertaking. After touring the inside of the cathedral, we paused outside so Ian could sit and sketch. A street musician trio kept me entertained while I waited for him to finish.
We strolled from Sacre Coeur to Les Puces de Saint Ouen (which we located thanks to Oh Happy Day!). Normally Ian and I aren't big on flea market shopping, but we thought it would be a fun place to pick up some unique souvenirs. After wandering through the intricate maze of shops and admiring things that would never fit in our suitcase, we finally paused at at shop with more manageably sized wares. We haggled for a discount on some woodblock letters. I did fine in French until he started naming prices. Throwing in the word "euros" after numbers somehow made them unintelligible to me. Thankfully, Ian figured out the shopkeeper knew German, so Ian took over to make a deal. We walked away with a handful of letters, and renewed confidence in our foreign language skills. Ready for a break, we stopped at a café for un café et un chocolat chaud before exploring more of the market.
As we continued, we suddenly found ourselves in the pop up shops surrounding the market. Instead of antique furniture and charming art, we were in the midst of knockoff tennis shoes and automatic guns. The latter prompted a hasty exit the way we came. We finished up our excursion in a covered market with a surplus of shops hawking old photos and used books, including my childhood favorites Asterix and Obelix, which I had made my dad translate for me every so often.
We finally headed back to Montmartre, arriving too early for dinner at the Oh Happy Day! recommended Refuge des Fondus. Then it started pouring. We ducked into a cute home goods store to kill some time, headed to a bakery for a croissant, then waited out the rain under an awning. Finally, five o'clock rolled around and the restaurant opened it's door to an already forming line of diners.
The owner greets diners, then seats pairs across from each other. With two long tables on either side of the restaurant, the only way to the other side of the table is over. He turns the chair around and holds out a hand to assist the lady (or whoever of the pair he selects) to step over. Once you are seated, he asks two questions. Rouge ou blanc? Viande ou fromage? A plate of appetizers — charcuterie, olives, pickles — appears avec un apéritif. Next the appetizer plate disappears to make room for the fondue (meat or cheese) and a baby bottle (yes, baby bottle) full of your wine selection.
Ian and I polished off a couple baskets of bread, and we had barely put a dent in our pot of melted cheese. As we methodically consumed our fondue — spear, dip, twirl, eat — we ended up chatting with the couples on either side of us, both on their honeymoons.
We finally waved the white flag over our fondue. Ian stood up, and once again the owner flipped around the chair and offered his hand to help me over the table, this time singing a cabaret tune. One of the couples we had befriended offered us their tickets for a night bus tour starting near the Tour Eiffel since they wouldn't finish dinner in time to make it themselves. We rushed to the metro and caught a train, but we arrived too late. Instead, we strolled along the Seine and over to the Eiffel Tower, just in time to see it light up.
Because the Eiffel Tower is famous and everywhere I had thought of it as almost cliché, and so was caught off guard by how captivating it is in person. It presides over the surrounding neighborhoods, and peeks through between buildings, growing larger as you draw closer. You think it can't possibly get any more massive, and then you're standing at the base in amazement. In one moment, I understood why it is famous and everywhere. It's sweeping curves, grand scale, and balance of complex engineering and simple design is irresistible.
After strolling across the Champ de Mars, we finally headed back to Montmartre on the Metro, ending the day where we began our first 24 hours in Paris: looking up at the bright lights of Moulin Rouge.
See all our photos from Paris on Flickr, and catch up on our trip posts.
*We turned our celebrity couple name, bestowed by my brother Caleb, into an Instagram hashtag (#iannagoestoeurope) and now it's virtually impossible to refer to our trip in any other way.