Ianna goes to Europe: Nous essayons d'être comme les Parisiens

musee de l'orangerie, paris

We woke up the next morning with one specific goal: pick up Navigo passes as recommended by our Lonely Planet guide, which pointed out that a week-long unlimited tap card was easier and cheaper than paying single fares. The challenge? Only certain stations sold Navigo passes. We took the metro to Gare du Nord, where we found a ticket window. I inquired. "Je voudrais acheter deux cartes Navigo..." I understood only half of the woman's response, but realized we would have to go to another window in another part of the station. Not wanting to negate the goodwill my French speaking had granted us, I crossed my fingers that the hand gestures accompanying the verbal directions would suffice, and thanked the woman for her assistance.

We continued walking and found another set of ticket windows where we guessed the previous teller had indicated. I once again made my request. Instead of an apologetic redirect, she began asking questions: how many passes? Deux. How long would we need the passes? Une semaine seulement. A few minutes later, we were the proud owners of Navigo passes. I was giddy. I had two separate conversations in French and acquired what felt like keys to the city.

We headed to le Musée de l'Orangerie, tapping our passes and feeling like locals. The long line outside in the rain couldn't dampen our spirits. Huddled under umbrellas underneath the allées of Lindens at the Tulleries, we chatted with other American tourists in line around us. This camaraderie with strangers, linked only by a common language in a foreign country, is fascinating.

paris, france

After a long but not unpleasant wait, we were finally standing in front of the coat check, handing over our dripping umbrellas. At the ticket desk, we bought the Orangerie and Orsay ticket passport, in the hopes we would be skipping the long wait for our next planned museum visit. We grabbed a map and walked up to the two connected rooms designed by Monet himself to showcase eight of his waterlilies paintings, a gift to the city of Paris after World War I to provide a peaceful place in the city. We sat and gazed. How did he choose which paintings would go in which room and where? How does one create artwork on such a grand scale? How can broad and loose brushstrokes create such an entrancing image full of feeling and place?

We eventually pulled ourselves away and headed downstairs to the Walter-Guillaume collection. The miniature recreations of the original private collection housed in the Guillaume appartemente were impressive and provided great context for the collection itself. Il est incroyable to see so many famous painters' works in one place.

Once we had our fill of art for the day, we headed back out into the wet Paris afternoon in search of dinner. Ian hoped we could pick up a bottle of wine and a small smorgasbord to accompany it. But once we started looking, it seemed most shops were closed. Finally, we found an open wine shop. After a "Parlez-vous Anglais?" Ian struck up a conversation with the shopkeeper and between various recommendations for a nice white wine, we found out he played basketball and was a Celtics fan. He also informed us goat cheese would pair well with our selected wine, and that it was a national holiday, le lundi de Pentecôte. We would have a hard time finding many places open, but our best bet was Rue Cler.

By the time we arrived at the short street packed with restaurants and shops, we were ready to be done with the cold and wet weather. We decided to postpone our indoor Parisian picnic and sit down for some hot food. We found a restaurant called L'Eclair, especially enticing as it shared a name with my favorite pâtisserie. Ian ordered a cheese omelette, while I went with steak haché (it turned out to be more like a burger minus the bun). Our waitress was very kind and patient, and spoke a decent amount of English, which made everything easier. We topped off the night with dessert. I ordered the clafoutis avec abricots, and decided I never wanted to eat anything else for the rest of my life.

paris, france

After dinner, we strolled down Rue Cler and stopped at several shops: une fromagerie for goat cheese to go with our wine, une charcuterie for salami, and une épicerie for apricots, so we could still experience shopping for dinner the Parisian way.

The next morning, we grabbed croissants for breakfast at Paul. We later discovered this is a chain bakery; surprising news, as they were the best croissants we had experienced yet. Light and flaky, taking a bite was like butter fireworks for my taste buds. We kept walking, all the way to the Arch de Triomphe (2.5 miles, of our 5 mile total for the day).

paris, france

We stopped for lunch at Cojean, a nearby modern bistro recommended by Lonely Planet. After sandwiches and a tasty peach and raspberry parfait, we headed to our afternoon destination: le Musée d'Orsay. We laughed at the long line when we arrived, certain that must be the line for those without tickets. We were disappointed. We debated if we should try for a shorter wait on another day, but without a good alternative to take it's place, we decided to wait. Thankfully it went quickly. After passing through the front doors, we pulled our our iPhones and plugged into the Rick Steve's app for his Orsay tour.

paris, france

The audio tour was perfect: free, informative, and not too long. We snaked through the museum, starting with the classical work and moving towards the impressionists. I was surprised to discover that such different styles and approaches to art existed at the same time. It was also fascinating to see how the former train station was re-purposed for the museum, without losing it's original feel. Gazing down from an overlook, I could imagine what it was like to see trains arriving and departing, surrounded by the bustle of travelers.

sacre coeur and butte montmartre from the fifth floor of the musee d'orsay #impressionism #monet #clock #paris #iannagoestoeurope

After a few hours at the museum, our next stop was at the Oh Happy Day! recommended hot chocolate spot: Le Boulanger des Invalides Jocteur, which had been closed the day before. I couldn't stop beaming over the chocolat chaud, croissants, and congolais, which are a lot like the American coconut macaroons. But better, of course.

paris, france

We also picked up a baguette to complete the meal we had assembled the night before. We slowly made our way back to the Métro, with the baguette peeking out the top of my tote bag. A woman passing us paused to ask for directions; the baguette must have helped us look local. She realized her mistake as soon as we opened our mouths. I was thrilled, however, that we blended in so well.

We hopped on the 69 bus using our Navigo passes, to get in a tourist-free bus tour of many of Paris's famous sights, and made a pit stop at Notre Dame. We noticed a significant police presence in the area, but a small group of Catholic activists was collecting signatures for a petition in the front courtyard, so we assumed it was connected. Ian gave me a quick architecture history lesson about the flying buttresses, and then noticed a poster for a Gregorian chanting concert Thursday night. We made a mental note to try and squeeze it in our schedule, then headed back to Montmartre.

paris, france

A quick train ride later, and we were back at the apartment. We turned on the television to catch up on the news over dinner, and soon discovered why the police were at Notre Dame. That morning, a French writer had committed suicide near the altar. Experiencing news so shocking and politically loaded in a foreign country is a surreal experience. Were we not in Paris, we might not have even known it happened.

paris, france

We turned our attention back to dinner, laying out our indoor picnic spread. Une baguette, fromage de chèvre au romarin, abricots, salami, y une 2011 Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé. A simple but exquisite meal to end a long and satisfying day in Paris.

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.