The French Riviera: Day 2 “Nice is Nice”

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January 3, 2010

Bonjour!  Today was our first full day in Nice.  The weather was mild (but still needed a coat) and the skies turned sunny by early afternoon.  Nice is a beautiful city.  You will fall in love with the market, the buildings, the sea, the people!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got a bit of a late start today due to jet lag but once my Mom and I got started, we were good to go.  The first item on our agenda was to walk about 5 minutes to Avenue Jean Medecin to find a place for breakfast.  We found the perfect cafe which had the best croissants & cafe au lait!!!  And, it was just 8 euro for 2 people!!!  You can’t beat that. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter breakfast, we walked down to Place Massena (which is Nice’s ground zero — everything old meets new).  I tend to agree with Rick Steve’s when he says that standing here makes him feel like he’s in St. Mark’s Square in Venice.  It has that feel…especially with the curved buildings around a central place/piazza. It also reminds me of Disneyland in a way.  With the colorful markets, Christmas decorations, piped-in music of children singing songs…it really had a fairytale feel.  But, then they started playing a Michael Jackson song so…maybe a Neverland feel?

 

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After leaving Place Massena, I happened to see the most fabulous faux fur vest in a store window.  It was on sale and it fit.  It’s like the fates declared for me to have it! 

I was a bit nervous with the shopping because everybody that I see in France is tiny.  The store didn’t have sizes on the garments…I guess they could eyeball you to tell you whether or not you needed to keep on walking.  Although they spoke limited English (and I, limited French), the clerk & I were able to have a limited conversation…enough for him to ask if I was from South Africa.   

Which brings me to a point of observation…everybody who knows me well knows that I research my travel destinations thoroughly before I arrive.  Well, I had read several places that the French were a bit aloof and that you should have a rudimentary understanding of French or they would give you the side-eye.  That has not been my experience at all.  Most of the people I have met have been very friendly and understanding of my language “handicap”.  If we can’t figure something out with hand signals & my French/English phrase book, they find someone who can translate.  I do find myself defaulting to Italian when I’m searching for French words which just confuses them even further.  As far as people being rude, honestly, it’s the same as in the U.S.  As long as you are respectful and smile, the French will love you!

I met a guy named Bruno who was born in France but moved to Georgia (the U.S. state, not the country) when he was 16.  He actually owned a hair salon in Roswell for about 16 years or so before deciding to move back to Nice with his wife (who is American).  Bruno is fabulous…love him!!!  Now, I will admit that it is sometimes hard for me to understand accented English.  My friend, Abenaa (who is from Ghana), will testify to that.  I may have a blank look on my face while I try to figure out what you just said.  But, eventually, I will either get there or ask you to repeat what you said 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, back to our day.  We ended up shopping at the outdoor markets.  Let me just say that I absolutely LOVE the outdoor markets.  Nice is known for growing lavender and olives (and they have lots of it).  Everything is so fresh and upscale.  People are out with their dogs (they even bring them into cafes!).  Riley (my cocker spaniel) would be in heaven.  Maybe I’ll try to find him a little beret.  Of course, Riley is from the streets so I know he wouldn’t even entertain that.  Plus, he likes to fight so we’d get to walk about 2 minutes into the market before he thinks a Jack Russell terrier is mean mugging him and wants to go “introduce” himself.  He will probably write about it in his blog.

While in the market, I come across a beautiful painting and asked the seller if he is the  artist.  He says yes and we have a limited conversation (as he isn’t selling croissants or cafe au lait, I don’t have much more French to use).  I instantly fell in love with the painting as it seems so peaceful.

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After leaving the market with gifts for family and friends, we finally get to the the famed Promenade des Anglais (or “walkway for the English”).  It’s a 4 mile promenade along the Mediterranean Sea with stunning views of Nice around the bay.  This is what I had been waiting for.  The views are absolutely gorgeous!

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As we walked down the promenade, we came across some “rollerblade street performers”.  I have never seen anything like this.  They do all these rollerblade tricks to French & American hip hop music.  They were actually very entertaining.  We need that on Peachtree!

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After that, we continued down to the Palais de Mediterranee (which is gorgeous). 

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Once we completed the 4 mile walk, we headed back to our flat thru Old Town Nice. 

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Then back home to rest & blog.  Tomorrow — Cannes!  Au revoir!!!

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The French Riviera: Day 1 (Getting There)

*I’m migrating posts from my old blog to this site…so don’t get alarmed and think I’m suffering from dementia.  I still have at least 6 months before that gets ahold of me fully.*

French Riviera guidebook

January 2, 2010

Happy New Year everyone!!!  I pray that you all have a prosperous, blessed & happy 2010!  So excited to start the year off in Nice, France!  I decided that I was going to be a more patient person in 2010.  “New Nikki” is supposed to just brush off irritations and frustrations.  “Old Nikki” has been struggling with that concept for some years 🙂 

So, to that end, I decided to give US Airways another try for international travel.  If you read my Italy travel blog post from my trip in 2007, you already know that this was a big step for me as I had named them Beelzebub Airlines due to the drama that I had to deal with (delayed flights, lost luggage, etc).  So, New Nikki thought 2010 would be a year of second chances.  Sigh.  I arrived at Indianapolis International Airport 3 hours ahead of time since crazy folks had been out during Christmas trying to take down flights with firecrackers & possibly a 5 oz bottle of contact solution.  As soon as I stepped to the kiosk to check-in, the gate agent asked if I was connecting thru Philadelphia (where B-bub ALWAYS has an issue).  Once I answered affirmatively, the agent told me that he would need to re-book me on another flight since the flight I was scheduled to take in 3 HOURS would be late.  Apparently, the plane was having mechanical problems and they only have like 5 planes that operate nationally.  Seriously.  Why are there never enough planes to accommodate the mechanical failures?  Don’t they have Service Level Agreements with the manufacturers??? 

Anyway, B-bub Airlines decided to test New Nikki on the very first day of 2010.  The agent stated that instead of arriving in Nice at 10am, I would arrive late afternoon which effectively took out 1 day of my vacation.  New Nikki tried to see the silver lining, Old Nikki was like, “F&*K THAT!”  But, it’s a new year and I couldn’t cave 11 hours into 2010.  So, I sucked it up and tried to put a positive spin on it.

After waiting 5 hours, we are able to board the “repaired” plane.  The plane is pushed back from the gate…then the PA system comes on and the pilot says, “Brakes still don’t work.  Guess they weren’t fixed in Philadelphia.  Sorry.  We will have to cancel this flight.”  New Nikki — “At least we found out before we taxied too far”; Old Nikki — “F&*K THAT!”  I am a cracked plate, y’all.

Good news is that B-bub was able to get us on another flight within 30 minutes but I still missed my connection.  Which meant another 4 hours of waiting.  This caused me to drink a large number mimosas and wine in an effort to soothe my nerves.  Trust and believe that.  New Nikki tried to think “at least the international flight was only delayed by 10 minutes.”  Old Nikki’s response?  I think you already know.   I was able to leave B-bub in the dust and fly Air France from Paris to Nice.  Of course, B-bub is a bad influence because you know that after traveling for 22 hours, we get 2 crying kids in our row and the row behind us.  

I’ve decided that US Airways is like that friend you don’t really like but you feel sorry for them because they are so pitiful and against your better judgement, you decide to hang out with them.  You know the type.  They call, beg you to hang out and they even offer to drive.  Only to tell you after you are dressed and waiting that either 1) the car doesn’t have any tires or 2) they are running an hour late.  New Nikki has to side with Old Nikki on US Air.  It’s a wrap.

So, it took a total of almost 24 hours for me to fly from Indianapolis to Nice.  But, I am here and it’s fabulous so I’ll stop complaining.

We took a taxi to the apartment rental and let me tell you…these cabbies drive Audis and Mercedes and the few that I saw look like male supermodels (I’m sure there are a few that may not be runway ready but hey…New Nikki is trying).  Our taxi driver even turned up Jay-Z & Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind” during the drive.  So, not only do you get a cabbie, you get a dj!

After arriving late afternoon, My Mom and I checked into our vacation rental.  I got the idea of renting an apartment from tripadvisor.com.  There is much more space and it’s cheaper than a hotel.  Great location, free internet, lots of room and it’s really peaceful.  We rented a 2 bedroom apartment from Nice Pebbles.  As you can see below, it’s a really cute little place and definitely a sight for sore eyes after a long day of travel. 

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We will do some sightseeing tomorrow.  Good night!

2012 Update:  New Nikki never made it back.  She tries to make an appearance every year but sadly, she ends up being beaten to death by Old Nikki in a fit of rage over something.  She’s going to try to make it work in 2013 but I think we all know how that is going to end.  Don’t tell her though…she has hope.  And clearly some issues since she’s talking about herself in the 3rd person.

One Day in Paris

December 29, 2011

What would you do if you had only 1 day to experience the enchanting city of Paris?

Bonjour!  Aaron, Joyce, Stefanie, Luciana (“The Crew”) and I decide to take a day trip to Paris from London.  While this is my third trip to this intoxicating city, it’s the first visit for my co-travellers.  The great thing about this city is that you can always find something new to discover!  We ended up fitting about 3 days worth of sightseeing into 11 hours.  It was glorious!  If you plan to do a day trip, be sure to get lots of sleep and wear comfortable shoes because it will wear you out!  I’ve covered Paris in 3 other blog posts so most of the info in this post will be high-level (with links throughout to posts with more detail). 

* Just a quick note that this post is going to get risqué by the end since I will be recapping my visit to the Museum of Erotica…you’ve been warned 🙂

Our schedule for the day:

7:01 Depart London St.-Pancras, set our watch 1 hour ahead
10:17 Arrive in Paris, take Metro to Notre-Dame
10:30 Explore Notre-Dame
11:00 Lunch at a French cafe in Ile de la Cite
12:00 Walking tour of the Latin Quarter, Tuileries Gardens, the Louvre, Ile de la Cite/Ile St. Louis, Saint-Chappelle, Deportation Memorial, Pont Neuf, La Comedie Francaise, Opera Garnier, Palais Royale, Place de La Concorde, Palais de Justice, Pantheon, Champs-Elysees. 
3:00 Visit Montmartre area (Sacre-Coeur, Moulin Rouge and Musee de l’erotisme)
6:00 Visit the Eiffel Tower
7:00 Dinner at a French cafe.  Be back at Gare du Nord (train station) by 8:25pm.
9:13 Depart Paris for London (arrive in London at 10:36)

The Crew & I are up at 4:30am to get dressed and take the Tube to St. Pancras station to catch the 7:01am train to Paris.  OMG, it’s early y’all.  Eurostar requires you to check-in at least 30 minutes prior to the train leaving (you also need to account for time to go through security…so budget about 45 minutes or so).  After we check-in, we get breakfast and hang out until it’s time to leave.

 

Once we board the train, it’s about 2 1/2 hour ride to Paris.  We decide to use this time to take a nap.

   

We arrive in Paris around 10:30am (Paris is 1 hour ahead of London) and get on the Paris Metro.  Quick tip:  I purchased our Metro tickets in advance thru Rail Europe (at the same time as our train tickets) and this saved us so much time.  The lines for tickets had about a 20 minute wait.  I just bought day passes so we wouldn’t have to worry about purchasing travel tickets each time we rode the Metro.  It definitely helped us spend more time sightseeing than worrying about logistics.

We hop on the Metro and head towards the Notre Dame stop.  As we exit the train station, we come upon Palais de Justice.

  

Our first stop was the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral (also known as Our Lady of Paris).  This magnificent cathedral took 185 years to complete (1160 – 1345).  The builders used the popular Gothic style and it’s noted for its flying buttresses.  It has been thru many alterations since completion in order to keep it current with modern conveniences. 

In 1793, during the French Revolution, the cathedral was rededicated to the Cult of Reason, and then to the Cult of the Supreme Being. During this time, many of the treasures of the cathedral were either destroyed or plundered. The statues of biblical kings of Judah (erroneously thought to be kings of France) were beheaded. Many of the heads were found during a 1977 excavation nearby and are on display at the Musée de Cluny. For a time, Lady Liberty replaced the Virgin Mary on several altars. The cathedral’s great bells managed to avoid being melted down. The cathedral came to be used as a warehouse for the storage of food (source Wikipedia).  I find the French Revolution fascinating (I mean, seriously, how out of touch did the royals have to be?).  You can read my comical take on the origins of the French Revolution in my Versailles recap titled E True Versailles Story:  Royals Gone Wild.

The exterior of the church is absolutely breathtaking.  You can see the kings of Judah as well as the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus.

   

The inside of the cathedral was beautiful and serene.  All cathedrals have the same layout (in the form of a cross).  It’s a very overwhelming and calming experience.

       

After we leave Notre Dame, we walk to Ile St. Louis (“St. Louis island) and stop for lunch at a little cafe called Le Flore en L’Ile (where they serve the famous Berthillon ice cream).  Ile St. Louis is the high-rent residential area of Paris (Johnny Depp has an apartment here!).

 

We walk past the back of the Notre-Dame and go to the Deportation Memorial.  I’ve been to this area twice before and never noticed this garden nestled among the trees.  The Memorial de la Deportation is a memorial to the 200,000 French victims of Nazi concentration camps. 

Then we cross the Seine…

  

…and see the “love locks”.  Couples who marry place locks along the bridge and throw the key into the river to signify that their love cannot be broken.  No idea what the folks do who have combination locks (maybe those signify pre-nups). 

 

We walk along the Seine towards the Louvre and pass thru the Latin Quarter.  I cover my tour of the Louvre pretty thoroughly in my Paris Ooh La La post (it also includes a recap of the Paris Ghost Tour which was so entertaining).

  

While Joyce & Stefanie toured the Louvre; Aaron, Ciana and I took the Metro to Montmartre to visit Sacre-Coeur.  “The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica, is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica.   A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Sacré-Cœur is a double monument, political and cultural, both a national penance for the supposed excesses of the Second Empire and socialist Paris Commune of 1871 crowning its most rebellious neighborhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order, publicly dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular vision of a loving and sympathetic Christ.  The Sacré-Cœur Basilica was designed by Paul Abadie. Construction began in 1875 and was finished in 1914. It was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.” (source, Wikipedia)

Climbing up the steps to reach Sacre-Coeur is a workout in and of itself.  My glutes were on fire!  But the view is phenomenal and well worth it.

  

While the view is fantastic, let me warn you that the pickpockets are out in full effect.  Due to this area being extremely crowded, thieves are always on the lookout for something free.  Sigh.  I covered my own “attempted” pickpocket experience in  The Wonderful World of Paris post.  You already know I had a “I wish a mutha-*&!@ would pickpocket me today!” attitude.  Ha!

After we leave Sacre-Coeur, we decided to stroll through the artsy Montmartre neighborhood.  An interesting fun fact to know is that many artists had studios or worked around the community of Montmartre (such as Salvador DalíClaude MonetPablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh).

We pass by a sweet shop and couldn’t resist going in.  I love how happy sugar-filled shops are 🙂

 

As we were chatting and walking down Boulevard de Clichy, I started to notice something.  Every store seemed to have a theme.  Now, if you have tender sensibilities, are under the age of 18 or are my Mom, stop reading, k?  If you want to read but don’t want to admit to your inner freak, then go on and close the door.  I’ll wait.

  

Wait…what?  Does the sign on that store say “Pussy’s”?  I don’t see any cats.  Is that a pimp leaning up against the wall?  OMG, this is the French “Hustle & Flow”.  Now I’ve got that “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” song in my head and I’m gonna be saying ‘mane’ like Terrence Howard. FRACK.  I HATE THAT SONG! 

How did we stumble into the freak nasty section of Paris?  Why didn’t I see this in Rick Steves?  What startled me was that you just kinda came up on it and it was like, “BAM…take off your drawers/panties.”  If you have a heavy sexual appetite, this smorgasbord of sex is for you.  When I was in Amsterdam, I expected freak fest (and let’s be honest…you know you would’ve been all over this too, k?). 

We had about 30 minutes to kill until we met back up with Joyce & Stefanie so we end up going to the Musee de l’erotisme (Museum of Erotica) which was about 10 Euro.  Let me just say that you are not ready for this place.  Seriously.  I thought it would be some sort of campy “museum” but this turned out to be a full-on 7 level museum dedicated to all forms of erotica.  And, it took us much longer than 30 minutes to go through the entire place.  I am not ashamed to admit I learned something!  For those of you “innocents” out there, this is the time for you to put on some pearls so you can get to clutching.

I was not ready.  And, y’all aren’t either.  Which is why I’m taking you on the tour with me (yes, I was *that girl* who whipped out the camera and giggled or said “shut the front door!” while taking pictures for y’all.  You’re welcome).

So let’s get started.  First, let me say that this turned into my birthday present for my cousin, Aaron (since we were in Paris on his special day).  Second, even he was shocked which is saying something.  Third — Mom, are you still reading this?  Aaron made me go in.  I was fine with visiting the cathedrals 🙂

This is the first thing I see when we enter the museum…

Um, what kind of chair is this?  And, is it for sale?

Then it was on to these gems:

   

Each floor as a “theme”.  They start you off tame…then it gets freakier each level you ascend.  The first floor was dedicated to the “religious” and cultural aspects of sex across the world.  The big dildo you see above?  That’s “prayer wood”.  HAHAHAHAHAHA.  Wooo, stop it.  I cannot see taking that to Zion Hill Baptist Church and shouting out “CALLING ALL PRAYER WARRIORS!” 

Have you been looking for some new sandals for the summer?  Well here you go.

Oh yes, you are seeing right.  Dildo sandals.  I believe they may be multi-purpose.

Then we get to the Japanese proverbs.  This stuff is golden.  I heard a guy saying “this is deep, man.” (you can click on the photos to enlarge).

Then there was the “pillow book”which is basically a how-to manual to subjugate women *eye roll*…

 

Next is the Chinese version of the “Kama Sutra”.

We then head to the next level which is all about brothels. 

 

You can see photos of some of the “working girls” and the ledger of how much pimps/madams made.

Below is an excerpt of a book which basically said that prostitutes became lesbians out of boredom or because they hated how they were treated by men.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of photos but I only took a handful on each floor…didn’t want to seem like a sex-crazed pervert.  We then head upstairs.  Each landing has some sort of erotic art like…

As we come to the top of the stairs, I notice a large flat screen tv and couches with some lighted scented candles.  The tv wasn’t showing anything at that time but I assumed it was a video about the history of erotica.  

Wrong.

So wrong.

Ciana, Aaron and I had been walking around and looking at all the statues, pictures, etc.  I got caught up looking at something (I can’t even remember…I was constantly lagging behind due to taking pictures).  As I walk back towards the stairs, I see the video has started and Ciana & Aaron are slack-jawed.  Apparently, I had just missed what I assumed was the informational video but a new one is starting.  There is a crowd with people sitting on the couch and standing around. 

I turn to look at the tv screen and see it’s a silent movie…and it’s porn.  That’s right, silent porn.  With subtitles…black and white…and looks to have been filmed in the 1920s.  The film was set in a monastery with a “monk” making dinner for 2 “nuns”.  And, I swear that the subtitle said “the sisters decided to have each other for “hors d’oeuvres”.  Wait…what?  Next thing I know, the “sisters” have ripped off each others “habits” and are going to town on each other!  WHAT?  The subtitles keep popping up because apparently you need to be told the continuing storyline in case you got lost.  The “monk” was peeping thru a window and then another “monk” comes up behind him, snatches his pants down and starts having sex with him.  I was done.  I couldn’t watch anymore…in a room full of folks…with a storyline set in church.  I’m trying to see Jesus some day and I don’t have time to explain my visit to the Museum of Erotica to Peter.  I already have way too much to account for.  Which now includes this visit because you know I didn’t leave. 

We turned quickly and went up to the next level…which was “porn thru the years”.  There were 3 smaller tv’s on each table set in a triangle pattern.  This apparently is for more intimate viewing.  But you are still at a table with other folks.  Really?  They had porn from every culture thru a span of 50 or 60 years.  Even interviews with adult film stars.  As we are walking up to the 6th level, we see photos of different “genres” of porn…like vampire porn.  *hangs head*

The 6th floor is dedicated to what I’m gonna call “cartoon” porn.  I’m sure it has some sort of slick name but it’s freaky stuff in cartoon fashion.  Like they needed to draw up Smurfette getting it on with Papa Smurf.  There’s something for everybody here.

The last floor focused on “doll” porn.  Poor Barbie.  She’s a ho.

 

By the time we reached Bimbo Barbie, I was exhausted.  Who knew that looking at all that erotica would wear you out?  We ended up taking the elevator down to the first floor and saw this magnificent display at the exit.

Afterwards, I felt like I needed to smoke a cigarette.  Woooo!  Thanks, Paris.

We leave the museum and head towards Moulin Rouge

Then take the Metro back to the Louvre to meet up with Joyce & Stef.

We all walk from the Louvre thru the Tuleries Garden and see that there is a huge ferris wheel!

 

By this point, our feet are killing us but we still have one more stop before dinner…and that is to the Eiffel Tower!

Then finally, it was time to rest and eat.  We ended up eating at a cafe across the street from the train station.  Which was a good thing because we almost missed our train!  Overall, it was a great day trip.  We were able to see a lot.  I would definitely recommend staying for more than a day because Paris at night is fabulous!  Looking for things to do in Paris?  Check out my post The Top 10 Things to do in Paris.  Au revoir!

London & Paris (New Years 2011/2012)

Joyce & Stefanie in front of Westminster Abbey (London)Afternoon Tea at the National Gallery Cafe (London)Afternoon Tea at the National Gallery Cafe (London)The London EyeBig Ben & Parliament (London)Protest signs at the NYD parade (London)
Protest signs at the NYD parade (London)View from the Thames River (London)Shakespeare's Globe (London)Westminster Abbey (London)Nikki posing in front of Westminster Abbey (London)New Year's Day parade (London)
New Year's Day parade (London)Nelson Mandela (London)Stef @ The SavoyTicket to see "Legally Blonde The Musical"London BridgeThe Crown Jewels
Trevor Nelson's NYE partyCiana & Byron @ Trevor Nelson's NYE PartyJoyce & Austin @ Trevor Nelson's NYE PartyNikki & Daniel at Trevor Nelson's NYE PartyCiana & Trevor Nelson @ his NYE partyJoyce & Nikki @ Trevor Nelson's NYE Party

Hanging out in London & Paris over New Years 2011…come join us!

Top 10 Things to do in Paris

Each time I visit a city, I try to come up with a list of the “top things to do” by reading reviews on Trip Advisor and Rick Steves to plan an unforgettable trip.  The list will contract or expand based upon the amount of time I have.  I always like to mix city/historical tours with off the beaten path activities.  Below is a list my top 10 things to do when visiting the lovely city of Paris.

10.          Take in a Moulin Rouge cabaret show.

The Moulin Rouge cabaret was built in 1889 by Joseph Oller and is close to Montmartre (a must see during a walking tour) in the Paris district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy in the 18th arrondissement (it is marked by the red windmill on its roof).   “The Moulin Rouge is best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe.” (Wikipedia).  Today the Moulin Rouge is a tourist destination, offering musical dance entertainment for visitors from around the world.  Be sure to book your tickets in advance as the shows tend to sell out.  I also recommend you watch the 1941 “Moulin Rouge” film starring Josephine Baker as Princess Tam-Tam before you go.

9.            Shop til you drop.  Paris is the place for fashion.  I find myself people-watching just to figure out how I should update my wardrobe.  You can either book a shopping tour (including a Discount Couture tour) or strike out on your own and visit boutiques, street markets or local department stores (Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, Bon Marche).   I picked up an invaluable etiquette tip from my Rick Steve’s “Paris” guidebook:

  • Before you enter a Parisian store, remember the following points:
  • In small stores, always greet the clerk by saying “Bonjour” plus their title (Madame, Mademoiselle, or Monsieur) and say “Au revoir, Madame/Mademoiselle/Monsieur” when leaving.
  • The customer is not always right. In fact, figure the clerk is doing you a favor by waiting on you.
  • Except for in department stores, it’s not normal for the customer to handle clothing. Ask first.
  • Forget returns (and don’t count on exchanges).
  • Saturday afternoons are busiest.
  • Observe French shoppers. Then imitate.
  • Don’t feel obliged to buy. The expression for “window-shopping” in French is faire du lèche-vitrines (literally, “window-licking”).

8.            Get a scoop (or more) from a Berthillion ice cream shop. 

Berthillion Ice Cream shop (photo courtesy of David Monniaux)

Berthillon is a French manufacturer and retailer of luxury ice cream and sorbet.  I first became addicted to their ice cream during the summer of 2010.  Berthillon’s fame results, in part, from its use of natural ingredients, with no chemical preservatives or artificial sweeteners.  Its ice creams are made from only milk, sugar, cream and eggs…just like homemade ice cream.   Their flavors are derived from only natural sources (cocoa, vanilla bean, fruit, etc.). Fifteen flavors are produced everyday by the chefs depending of the season, the availability at the market and customer demand. In total, about sixty different flavors are produced throughout the year.  Try to get there early to have a greater selection of flavors.  Personally, I love the raspberry and chocolate flavors!  Berthillion’s has 3 locations on Ile St. Louis (31 rue St. Louis-en-l’Ile, another across the street, and one more around the corner on rue Bellay).  It’s a perfect stop after visiting the Notre-Dame!

7.            Relax at a café.

There are tons of cafes in Paris and you would be remiss if you didn’t stop in one for a café au lait, croissant or crepe.  I usually like to pop in during the afternoon for a light treat since most restaurants in Paris do not open for dinner until at least 7pm.  Cafes are a perfect place to take a break after a busy day of sightseeing.

6.            Explore the Catacombs. 

The catacombs are an underground ossuary in Paris. Located south of the former city gate (the “Barrière d’Enfer” at today’s Place Denfert-Rochereau), the ossuary holds the remains of about 6 million people and fills a renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of Paris’ stone mines. Opened in the late 18th century, the underground cemetery became a tourist attraction on a small scale from the early 19th century, and has been open to the public on a regular basis from 1867.  The Catacombs entry is in the western pavilion of Paris’s former Barrière d’Enfer city gate. After descending a narrow spiral stone stairwell of 19 meters to the darkness and silence broken only by the gurgling of a hidden aqueduct channelling local sources away from the area, and after passing through a long (about 1.5 km) and twisting hallway of mortared stone, visitors find themselves before a sculpture that existed from a time before this part of the mines became an ossuary, a model of France’s Port-Mahon fortress created by a former Quarry Inspector. Soon after, they would find themselves before a stone portal, the ossuary entry, with the inscription Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la Mort (‘Stop, this is the empire of Death’).

Beyond begin the halls and caverns of walls of carefully arranged bones. Some of the arrangements are almost artistic in nature, such as a heart-shaped outline in one wall formed with skulls embedded in surrounding tibias; another is a round room whose central pillar is also a carefully created ‘keg’ bone arrangement. Along the way one would find other ‘monuments’ created in the years before catacomb renovations, such as a source-gathering fountain baptised “La Samaritaine” because of later-added engravings. There are also rusty gates blocking passages leading to other ‘unvisitable’ parts of the catacombs – many of these are either un-renovated or were too un-navigable for regular tours. (Wikipedia).  I first heard about the catacombs when I did the Paris Ghost Tour in September 2011.  I found out there is an entire culture down there!  The “cataphiles” (people who are basically obsessed with the catacombs and very familiar with the layout) have parties, film festivals, concerts, etc.  However, note that you should never try to visit the catacombs without a proper escort/guide…because you will get lost & never find your way out.

5.            Cruise the Seine River.

The Seine is a 482 mile-long river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north of France. It rises at Saint-Seine near Dijon in northeastern France in the Langres plateau, flowing through Paris and into the English Channel at Le Havre (and Honfleur on the left bank).  I suggest taking one of the excursion boats (i.e. Bateaux Mouches) that offer sightseeing tours of the Rive Droite and Rive Gauche within the city of Paris.  I suggest the Champagne Tasting Seine Tour or Night Bike Tour.  It’s a great way to relax and enjoy the city.

 

4.            Take a French cooking class.

There are only so many cathedrals & museums I can visit before I’m ready to do something different.  I love to cook and try out new techniques and recipes.  To that end, I registered for a baking class with Cook’n with Class.  We learned (through hands-on instruction) the proper techniques for making croissants, pain au chocolat, focaccia, pain au raisen, etc.  It was awesome and the chefs are absolutely delightful!  They offer several different classes:  Baking, Classic French Desserts (crème brulee, molten chocolate cake, souflee a Grand Marnier), Macaron (3 different flavors), Morning Market (where you will go to a local market and learn how to select fresh produce & ingredients) and many others.

3.            Visit the Louvre.

I highly suggest you take a couple of hours and tour the Louvre.  It’s massive so you will need to strategize and prioritize what you want to see (i.e. Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Egyptian collection, etc.).  If museums aren’t your thing, you still should walk or bike past it to see the magnificent exterior.  It’s absolutely breathtaking at night!

2.            Visit the Eiffel Tower.

Love, love, LOVE the Eiffel Tower.  Built in 1889, it has become both a global icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. The tower is the tallest building in Paris and the most-visited paid monument in the world; millions of people ascend it every year. Named after its designer, engineer Gustave Eiffel, the tower was built as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair.  Three hundred workers joined together 18,038 pieces of puddled iron (a very pure form of structural iron), using two and a half million rivets, in a structural design by Maurice Koechlin.  The tower was much criticized by the public when it was built, with many calling it an eyesore. Newspapers of the day were filled with angry letters from the arts community of Paris (Wikipedia).  Which I find interesting as it is now considered one of the most beautiful structures built.  I love to sit and stare at it.  Especially when it lights up at night.  That 5 minute “sparkle” is spectacular!  I highly suggest you buy your tickets online to decrease your wait in line.  The Eiffel Tower’s online reservation system, which lets you skip the ticket line, is up and running (www.toureiffel.fr). At the tower, attendants scan your ticket (which you’ve printed at home or at the hotel) and put you on the first available elevator. Even with a reservation, however, you still have to wait in line with the masses to get from the second level to the summit.

1.                   Walking Tours. Take a bike ride thru the city.

The top thing to do in Paris?  Take a walking or bike tour (or both)!  It’s a great way to see the city and learn the history.

  • For walking tours, I suggest Sight Seekers Delight (tours of the city, Montmartre, & Jewish Tour of Marais for a cost of 35-40 euros), Discover Walks (which offer free 90 minute tours of Notre Dame, the Left Bank, Marais, and Montmartre by native Parisian guides) and the Paris Ghost Tour (a neat tour thru the Jewish Quarter focusing on the myths & legends of Parisian ghosts & hauntings…suspend belief and roll with it), and Paris Chocolate & Pastry Food Tour (which is a walking tour of Paris’ finest chocolate & pastry shops…tastings are included).
  • For bike tours, I suggest Fat Tire Bike Tours.  I’ve taken 3 of their tours in Paris.  They have offices in London, Barcelona and Berlin as well.  All of their tours are phenomenal.  It’s an American company and employs expats to conduct the bike tours in English.  They are a fun way to see a lot of the city in a 4 hour span of time.  They also do a bike tour of Versailles (which is awesome and lasts 8.5 hours).

What to Wear When Travelling Abroad

Coco1One of the most popular questions asked when getting ready for a trip overseas is “What should I wear?”  I always suggest researching what the locals are wearing (with a few exceptions notated below).  Not solely for aesthetic reasons, but also for safety.  Most pickpockets target tourists.  Looking like you belong goes a long way.  Here are a few suggestions to help you look like a local on your travels abroad.

1.       Dress for the Country/Culture.  Each country has its own style.  Some countries are more lax (the U.S., England, Ireland, Scotland) while others take their fashion seriously (France & Italy).  With the exceptions that I have noted below, you can usually get away with a nice pair of jeans/black pants/skirt and plain shirts/sweaters.  Don’t wear anything outrageous or loud (leave the catsuit at home).

  • Middle East/Egypt/Morocco (& other Islamic countries) = First and foremost, you want to respect the culture of the country you are visiting.  Which means no Daisy Dukes while visiting the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo (and, yes, I have seen it).  Make sure you dress conservatively (covering most of your skin).  Yeah, it may be hot, but you can find breathable and dry-wick fabrics pretty easily.  Trust me; you do not want to stand out in a conservative country.  Women from western countries are viewed as being “loose”, which can invite sexual harassment from the local male population.  By keeping your goodies covered up, you take the attention off of you (and your valuables).  In Morocco, most women (and quite a few men) wear djellabas (a hooded robe).  These can be either heavy or light weight in fabric (according to season).  I didn’t wear one when I was there, but it is definitely an option which will reduce the amount of stares you get.  I tend to buy breathable tunics from Old Navy (most are 3/4 length sleeves), long flowing skirts, loose capris and convertible cargo pants.
  • France/Italy = These 2 fabulous countries are homes to the most famous fashion houses around.  This means they take their fashion seriously.  While the Italians are a bit more accepting, the French will turn their nose up if you walk past them wearing any of the items listed below in #3.
  • You can never go wrong with basic black.  It’s easy to coordinate and you can interchange with stylish accessories (like a scarf or costume jewelry).
  • The French love black, navy and brown.  I suggest using those as your base colors.  You will notice that most of the French will pair up their dark wardrobe with a colorful scarf.  Don’t have one?  Buy one when you get there…it’s a souvenir & fashion accessory all in one.
  • The Italians love color and you can get away with a lot more.  Most of all, it is attitude.
  • Quick everyday tip = Get your clothes tailored.  I noticed that many people look better in clothes that are altered to fit their shape.  I picked this tip up while visiting Paris.  Everybody there looks like a million bucks (or euros) and it really is because their clothes fit impeccably.
  • Spain = The Spanish love color & flowing maxi dresses/skirts.  I also noticed some ladies wearing cowboy boots with shorts but we will pretend like I didn’t see that because I don’t think that’s a good look personally (I like to call that seasonal dyslexia).
  • England/Ireland/Scotland/Holland/Czech Republic/Switzerland/Scandinavia = Pretty much anything goes.  I can’t say that I have seen a huge difference in what they wear vs. the U.S. (with the exception of the “don’ts” listed below).  A popular look during the summer of 2011 was shorts with tights & Chuck Taylors (*shudders*).  Don’t emulate that.  Hopefully that was a 1 season only look.LBD

2.      Dress for the Season.  Be sure to check the weather before you go.  Weather Underground is a good resource.  I have typically found that you will need to dress in layers no matter when you travel abroad.  A light jacket, colorful scarves, stylish cardigans/sweater coats are a must for spring, summer & fall.  Going in the winter?  Bring along a warm coat, some snazzy boots & a cute hat/scarf/glove combo.   I had left my puffer coat at home during a winter trip to Milan…only to realize that everybody (and I do mean everybody) was wearing one.  First and foremost, you want to be warm.  Don’t take an unlined peacoat when visiting Finland in the dead of winter.  Your health trumps fashion.  Plus, you will stand out as not knowing how to dress properly for cold weather 🙂  ExOfficio is now offering a snazzy sweater jacket that doubles as a travel pillow when folded.  This jacket is so cozy & warm!  I recently wore it during a winter trip and fell in love with it.  The jacket packs very easily, is super soft AND rain-resistant as well as keeping you warm & toasty.  This is now my go-to jacket both here and abroad!

coco3

3.       DO NOT WEAR…

  • Baseball caps!  If you want to protect your head & face from the harsh sun, opt for a stylish wide-brimmed hat (during the summer) or cloche/fedora (during the winter). Baseball caps scream tourist. Don’t bring your favorite sporting team to France unless you are actually on the team, k?
  • Baseball/Football Jerseys, High School/College T-shirts, etc.  Do I really even to explain why wearing a baseball or football jersey is a no-no? Again, you don’t want to stand out as a tourist for pickpockets. T-shirts are fine if they are plain or have a cool graphic. Bottom line, you want to look nice…not like you are getting ready to workout. If you just don’t think you can survive without wearing sporting apparel, buy a soccer/rugby jersey. You can fit in and it will be a conversation starter.
  • Fanny-packs!  Seriously…just no.  It’s not cute.  Tell your mother to leave it at home with the rest of the 80’s attire.  I don’t even know how this item became popular.  Never carry your money and valuables in a waist contraption that is easily seen.  You are begging a pickpocket to take a knife, cut the strap and steal it from you.  Use a money belt instead.  It’s similar to your beloved fanny-pack; it just goes under your shirt/waist of your pants instead so it will not be seen.  This protects your valuables from curious onlookers.
  • Expensive jewelry/bags!  A pickpocket will tackle you to steal your Rolex or Louis Vuitton.  Leave your valuables at home.
  • White sneakers???  I have actually seen quite a few locals wearing sneakers (though not usually white) around London & Paris.  My preference is to bring a pair of running shoes (as I like to workout during my trips abroad…even running races like the Paris-Versailles 10K) as well as a comfortable & stylish walking shoe (i.e. Hush Puppies, Mephisto, Clarks) that can transition into an evening shoe. I highly recommend walking shoes that have a rubber sole to minimize the impact of walking on cobblestones.  I love the Hush Puppies Sonnet flat which you can buy at Macy’s for almost half of what it retails for at other locations as well as the Makena Ballerina shoe.  Bottom line is to wear a shoe that you will be comfortable walking in for hours at a time.

Emma

4.       Must Haves.

  • Light jacket/cardigan/wrap = If you plan to wear tanks or sleeveless tops during the summer, be sure to bring something to cover your shoulders when visiting a place of worship.  You will not be allowed to enter with shoulders (and sometimes legs) exposed.  I bought Magellan’s Sun Protection Wrap for my recent trip to Morocco and fell in love.  So soft and it provides the necessary protection (both arms and head) when you enter places of worship.  I even wear it around at home.
  • Secure purse/money belt = I have been using a PacSafe purse (stylish & secure) to carry around my valuables, guidebook, umbrella & bottled water for a couple of years now and it is awesome.  Highly recommend!  The shoulder straps are reinforced with steel so it cannot be cut and the zippers lock into place.  It will take a pickpocket a few minutes to figure out how to gain access to your valuables.
  • Comfortable walking shoes = As I stated above, cobblestones can be harsh on your feet.  A stylish rubber-soled shoe will save your tootsies!
  • Dark colored pants & skirt = Use these as your base pieces.  Dark colors camouflage stains & are great to pair with funky accessories.

MM

5.     Handy resources.  Here are a few websites that focus on travel-related items:  While ExOfficio & Magellans offer stylish options, you can certainly find great travel clothing from cheaper stores (i.e. Old Navy, Target, etc.).

While these tips may not prevent you from being identified as a tourist, it will keep your bag lighter and you safer.  Hope it helps!  Safe travels.  Do you have any travel fashion tips?  If so, please comment as I’m always looking for a fresh perspective!

Also check out my posts on Nikki’s Favorite Things: Fashion Accessories and Essentials for Stress-Free Travel.

E True Versailles Story: Royals Gone Wild

I decided to tour Versailles.  Since I had such a great time on the Night Bike Tour in Paris, I booked the Versailles tour through Fat Tire Bike Tours as well.  The tour lasts approximately 8.5 hours so it’s a full day of riding & sightseeing.

While in Paris, we ride our bikes from the bike shop to the train station (which is about 10 minutes away), then put the bikes on the train for a 20 minute ride to Versailles.  Once we arrive, we pedal over to the farmer’s market to buy food for our picnic that afternoon.

The market is fantastic!  You can really go broke (because a tray of raspberries and other fruit cost me 17 euros) but the freshness of the food is unbelievable.  I ended up buying some fruit, tomatoes, green beans, rotisserie chicken and water.  I passed on buying a bottle of wine as I remembered the drunk pedaling from before.  So, after we load up the bikes with our purchases, we bike over to the grounds of the Palace of Versailles (or as it is called in French, Château de Versailles).

Apparently, they try to keep the château & grounds true to history so the horses and sheep are there for decoration which has to be a pretty plush job for them.  Our fabulous tour guides are Sadie and Matt.

Okay…I hope I remember all the history correctly.  If there are inaccuracies, then let me know.  Versailles used to be the hunting grounds of King Louis XIII and was made the capital of France by King Louis XIV (“KL14”) from 1682 until the French Revolution which started in 1789.  Three kings lived in Versailles (KL14 who built the Palace of Versailles, KL15 who enjoyed it, and KL16 who paid for it…with his head).

The Palace is lavish…in fact, it’s downright gaudy.  You know how some folks just don’t know that less is more?  Well, that was the Louis’.  In the end, all that flash came back to bite them in the butt.

This place has a lot of gold…like Mr. T had been their architect and interior designer.  They just covered everything with flowers and paintings.  It was like they had to have it all.  Even if it didn’t quite blend in with the décor.  They’d just see something, buy it, put it in a room and name it a certain “salon”.

Apparently, the Dauphin & Dauphine (king and queen) had their own set of suites on opposite sides of the palace.  And, considering all the mistresses that KL14 & 15 had, it’s no surprise.

The dining room was called the “Hall of Mirrors” and is 250 feet long, with 17 arched windows and 17 matching arched mirrors that look at the garden.  The literature states that it “reflects an age when beautiful people loved to look at themselves.”  I saw the portraits of a lot of folks back then and um…let’s just say that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.  Maybe it’s just me but I think I’ve only seen 1 portrait of someone who I thought was attractive.  Otherwise, they just all looked plain.  And, a couple of the women look like men dressed in drag.  I mean, it was a painting so they could’ve done some photoshopping and prettied them up with a few strokes of the paintbrush.  One woman was painted with a light mustache.  If that was me, the painter would’ve have been shown the door.  Make me thinner & prettier…not fatter and more masculine.

Sorry, I digressed.  Guess I got caught up in all the beauty.  Back to the dining room.  It was huge.  But KL14 (or as he named himself, the “Sun King”) felt like he needed more space to entertain.  So, he made all the people move out of the village of Trianon so he could build a SECOND DINING ROOM!  Apparently, pretty people need a lot of space to eat.  KL14 went all out.  Nothing was too good…he even had the marble brought in from Italy.  KL14 was spending the money from France’s treasury on furnishing his home like he was at the strip club making it rain.  One figure I heard was that he spent HALF of what was in the treasury.  So, he kicked the folks out the area and named the dining hall after the village in honor of them.  I’m sure they appreciated that sentiment as they were living under a bridge.

If anything, KL14 needed to be building a shower and bathtub because it is rumored that he only bathed two or three times in his life.  I was reading The Raucous Royals (because I love gossip & scandal even if it’s hundreds of years old), and it stated that “In King Louis XIV’s day, people thought a good, thick, grimy layer of filth would keep you healthy and strong.  They believed water spread diseases by penetrating the pores of the skin and then infecting the bloodstream.  Most people didn’t bathe more than once a year. The wealthy did change their linen throughout the day because they believed that the linen wicked away sweat and dirt, but they still stunk.”  And that made no logical sense.  Come on, France.  To combat the smells, the men and ladies in KL14’s court would douse themselves with perfumes and powders.  So, imagine being back in that day and having to smell Jean-Claude’s funk mixed with Cody Wild Musk for Men.  Ewwww.

To be fair, the book stated that KL14 was so clean that he was almost fussy about it. “He often bathed in a big Turkish bath.  When not in his bath, he rubbed spirits or alcohol on his skin (perfume gave him headaches), which acted as a disinfectant. And, as if that were not enough, he changed his undies three times a day!”  The book also said that KL14 towered over his subjects at an amazing 6’10”. Unfortunately, he was only 5’4” when naked.  “To compensate for his short stature, he wore a twelve-inch-high wig and six-inch red heels. But this was one look that no one could copy. King Louis XIV decreed that only the king could wear red heels.”  Only the king wears Prada, y’all.

Now, this book also said that Queen Elizabeth 1 would bleach her teeth with dog urine so keep that in mind when judging the veracity of their information.  Regardless of bathing or not, whatever he did it must have paid off because KL14 lived to the ripe old age of seventy-seven and was king for seventy-two years, longer than any other French monarch in history.

So, KL14 builds up a lavish palace and dies then KL15 assumes the throne (after a regency period since he was only 5 when his great-granddaddy went to the gilded gates).  KL15 was known as the playboy extraordinaire.  He claims to have had 5000 mistresses.  Okay, Wilt Chamberlain.  One mistress, Marie Anne de Maillynesle, put together a business plan for her future when her looks started to fade.  She figured out that KL15 liked his women more than ruling so when she felt like she was getting too old, instead of having him kick her to the curb…she became a pimp and procured women for him.  However, she wanted more power…and since he didn’t really want to govern anything outside the bedroom, he let A Pimp Named Marie Anne run the country.  She would just start wars (like the Seven Years War) so she could resolve them and have even more power.  The most famous of his mistresses are Madame du Pompadour and Madame du Barry.  Of course, with all the sleeping around he was doing, you know they all had cooties.  How are you going to be scared of water but not STDs?  Come on, France.

We then pedal over to the Hamlet of The Domaine de Marie Antoinette (aka The Hamlet).  In order to understand the significance of The Hamlet, I’ll give you a bit of background about the events leading up to the French Revolution.  As I stated above, KL14 & 15 were living the high life by spending money on buildings, wars, clothes and women.

Then, KL16 comes along.  He was set to marry Marie-Antoinette after the Seven Years War as a way to solidify peace between France & Austria.  The story goes that KL16 was a nerdy kid who, at 15 (the age he married Marie-Antoinette), preferred to collect bugs & locks than look at women.  Then, there was the supposedly beautiful Marie-Antoinette (“MA”).  Sigh.  I saw the painting.  We’ll give her a pass.  So, “beautiful” MA marries KL16 at the age of 14.  Her primary goal was to get knocked up with some heirs.  But, KL16 wanted to go out and collect fireflies and pick locks.  And, MA, having read the precursor to the book, “He’s Just Not That Into You” was upset.  Which many women can sympathize with.  It’s one thing to be rejected by a fine man.  Quite another to be rejected by the French Urkel.  MA tries to seduce KL16 to no avail.  People start looking at her all suspiciously because she hasn’t gotten knocked up yet.  So, she did what most women do when they are depressed.  No, not eat chocolate and binge drink (or maybe that’s just me).  She went shopping.  And spent MASSIVE amounts of money on all the latest fashions.  Where did that money come from?  The treasury into which folks paid their taxes.

Finally, 7 years later, MA gets pregnant.  Maybe she put on some kinky ladybug lingerie and rubbed her legs together like a spider to entice KL16.  Who knows?  She ended up having 4 kids.  After having her kids, she decided that she wanted to know what it was like to live like a peasant…so she had The Hamlet built.

This “peasant village” was basically a big dollhouse & playground.  She had sheep that she would have dyed a different color each day depending on her mood.  She then would pretend to milk a cow into a porcelain bowl.  Her peasant dresses were tailored.  You can only imagine from the pictures how much this little playground cost the taxpayers.  And, apparently, when the villagers saw her making a mockery of their lives…well, let’s just say that karma is a ______.

MA had her own place with a moat around it and required KL16 to send a written request before coming to visit.  Legend is that she had a Swedish lover that she would meet at the Temple of Love she had built for their rendezvous (which was not at all discreet…Temple of Love, Marie?  Seriously?).  With 80 acres of land, they could slip off and not be seen by anybody.

After the French monarchy were on MTV’s “Cribs”, the bourgeoisie class (which were the middle class and merchants) were like, “WTF?”  They were tired of seeing their hard-earned money go to waste.  People were starving because taxes had risen dramatically to pay for such a lavish lifestyle in Versailles.  So, they ended up signing the “Tennis Court Treaty” where they wrote a constitution and basically decided to revolt.  Which, I don’t know why KL16 didn’t see this coming.  The French had just helped out the US for the American Revolutionary War…put down the bugs, buddy.  You know the Americans were like, “Listen, Pierre, you gots to get out now.  You think I’m gonna let George tell me what to do?  I’m not calling him “king”.  Plus, I think he’s got a mental illness and I don’t have time for the drama.  Britain can kick rocks!!! U-S-A-U-S-A-U-S-A.  What?  Is he your master now?  Can he beat you up?  You need to take notes and tell Louis that France don’t have time for bug collectin’ and prancing around in stockings and high heels while folks can’t buy bread!  Revolt, man!”  While KL16 was collecting butterflies, the French were collecting guns.

So, the French Revolution starts in 1789 when KL16 finally gets a clue that something is going on and sends his army into Paris to put the smack down.  The citizens think the soldiers are about to attack and get all Matrix on them and storm the battalion to set free the political prisoners…of which there were only 5; and get the gun powder which was stored there.  Then, the fishmonger women (you know, the women who work at the docks) started marching on Versailles and surrounded the Palace.  Finally, KL16 & MA surrendered under the condition that they would live under house arrest at the Louvre.

They lived at the Louvre for a few years but when they saw the guillotine had been built and folks were getting beheaded…well, they came up with an escape plan.  I think it’s now pretty obvious that KL16 is no mastermind.  MA passed out her tailored haute couture peasant clothes and they snuck out of the Louvre in the dead of night and probably would’ve made it to freedom had KL16 not refused to take a nondescript peasant carriage.  He said he’d only ride in the royal carriage.  Sigh.  That kinda defeats the purpose of discretion.  Once they convince him to take a Kia carriage, they end up being stopped by a patrolman outside the city.  KL16’s face is on all currency so it didn’t take long for the patrolman to figure out KL16 (aka “The French MacGyver”) was trying to escape.  Somehow, he just wasn’t getting the concept of subterfuge.  So, of course they get caught.  Then, they both end up getting beheaded.  KL16 first…and MA almost a year later after she had been humiliated.  Folks hated MA by this point and would just take any opportunity to ridicule her.

In the end, the whole family (except for 1 daughter) ended up dying.  It’s pretty sad.

But, the grounds are beautiful!  After riding around and looking at the gardens, we had a picnic on the grounds behind the palace.

Finally, I walked through this hall where a guy in period costume was playing chess against at least 12 people…and he beat everybody sitting there.  Most people stare at the board for a while before making a move.  This guy didn’t spend more than 30 seconds thinking of each move…would take whatever piece that was yours and move on to the next player.

Overall, Versailles is gorgeous.  The Palace itself is okay (if you are into that type of thing).  I thought the grounds, gardens and the Domaine de Marie-Antoinette were the most interesting.

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France: Poppin’ Bottles Around the Champagne Region

Champagne.  That one beautiful, majestic word has the ability to conjure up anticipation & delight.  I absolutely LOVE champagne.  It’s my favorite alcoholic drink.  Mimosas are proper at all hours of the day.  It’s a crime to regulate it to brunch with milk, tea and coffee.  Seriously.  I know I sound like an alcoholic but…I can stop drinking it anytime I want.  I just choose not to.  It would be unfair to the makers of this beautiful, sexy beverage.

I was blessed to visit the bubbly cities of Reims & Epernay.  I only had 1 day (Saturday) since Sunday would be spent running the Paris-Versailles 16K road race.

Renee (my travel buddy, sister & overall fabulous superstar friend) joined me for the weekend!  Our day started early as we needed to take the train from Versailles (where we were staying) so I could pick up my race packet at the Paris Sports Complex.  We then took the TGV high-speed train from Gare Paris-Est to Reims.

Reims
Beautiful, beautiful Reims (pronounced “rance”, rhymes with France…I know, you don’t see the letter “n” either.  I can’t even begin to sound this stuff out.  I was saying “reems” forever.  I can’t tell you how many times I asked the sexy train ticket agent to pronounce that for me.  Ha!).  Reims’ is the administrative capital of the Champagne region.  It’s approximately 45 minutes from Paris if you take the TGV train.  This city is where 26 French kings & queens were crowned, where champagne first bubbled (mmm, mmm…I think I need to get a flute of the bubbly to type this post up…hold on…………………………………………………………………………………[looking for champagne]……………………………………………………………………………………………………..maybe I should drink a glass before writing?  Then have another glass while I continue to write?  You know it will go flat if I leave it out so I better just finish off the bottle.  Ooh, I have mimosa sorbet that I made last night.  I should get a bowl of that too.)… Sorry, I had to think thru this dilemma.  Where was I?  Oh yes, Reims.  This is also the city where the Germans officially surrendered in 1945 bringing WWII to an end.

The great thing about visiting Reims is that most of the sights are within a 15-minute walk from the Reims-Centre train station.  Otherwise, you can take the bus or tram (which are really easy to use) to your destination.  Now, my focus was to tour the champagne caves and do tastings ALL DAY LONG!  I am so serious about this.  Did I mention that I love champagne?  It’s like the Bert to my Ernie, y’all.

Despite the fact that we started our day at 8am, we were only able to catch the 11:30am train to Reims.  We arrive during lunch when all the champagne houses have closed down from 12-2pm.  So, we take this time to walk down the main boulevard and get some lunch.

This was a steak and cheese sandwich with fries loaded on top.  Awesome!  And, I’m pretty sure it’s only 8 points on Weight Watchers but I need to verify it…once I finish my mimosa.

Unsubstantiated Fun Fact…did you know that a glass of champagne every day increases the quality of your life?  You didn’t?  Well, now you do.  Don’t bother trying to fact check me.  It’s something I know in my soul.  I don’t need the FDA or Dr. Oz telling me lies trying to keep me away from my precious.

After we finish lunch, we start walking towards our first champagne house…Taittinger.  On the way, we pass a line for people to get in this round contraption so they can spin around like a ball for 2 minutes.

During our walk, I realize I need to use the bathroom.  We come across a McDonald’s so I say that I’m going to go in there.  Now, McD’s has never let me down.  I enter and realize it’s 2 stories with the bathroom being upstairs.  But, as I get to the stairs, I notice there is a man blocking my access and he’s wearing some sort of gold shield.  Apparently, they have Ronald McDonald police.  He asked if I purchased food because the bathrooms were for patrons only.  Um, why wasn’t he looking for the Hamburglar who, last I heard, was busy stealing kids Happy Meals?  Or did they crack that 45-year old case?  Seriously. 

So, after being denied relief at McDonald’s (that sounds dramatic doesn’t it?  I wanted to throw that in just in case Tyler Perry wants to turn this into a movie.), we head to the Reims Cathedral.

It’s absolutely breathtaking!  This cathedral was built in 1211 and is a great example of Gothic architecture.  The details are similar to the cathedral I saw in Strasbourg last year.  It’s known as one of Europe’s greatest churches.  The first king of the Franks, Clovis, was baptized in this church in 496 AD.  This really helped to establish Christianity in France.  Since C-money’s baptism, Reims became the place for the coronation of French kings & queens (as mentioned above, there were 26 in total).  For this reason, it played a more important role than Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral.  Joan of Arc led Charles VII here to be crowned in 1429.  The French rallied around young Charlie 7 (or, probably as he was known to his friends…Sev’s) to push the English out of France and end the Hundred Years’ War (which was a series of wars waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Valois and the House of Plantagenet, also known as the House of Anjou, for the French throne, which had become vacant upon the extinction of the senior Capetian line of French kings.).  As you may remember from my London post, the House of Plantagenet loved to fight.  They were involved in the War of the Roses (fighting cousins) and this is the same house in which crazy King Henry 8 or as I like to call him, Crazy 8s) descended (the one killing all his wives).

I cover the origins of the French Revolution in my Versailles post but during the actual revolution, the French decided to convert all the cathedrals and places of worship into “temples of reason”.  They didn’t want religion to be forced on them.  After the monarchy was restored, Charles X was crowned King in 1825…this was the last coronation in France.  I guess old Double Nickels couldn’t keep it going.  The cathedral was almost destroyed by bombs during WWI and was completely rebuilt by John D. Rockefeller.  Who, interestingly, also rebuilt historical places in Athens and of course, Colonial Williamsburg.

Taittinger
After getting our church on, we power walk to Taittinger (pronounced “tay-tan-zhay”) because we are thirsty and that sweet nectar is calling.  Taittinger is one of the biggest & most renowned of Reims’ caves.  We took a tour of the cellars (which are freezing).  Now, when we arrive, we ask to sign up for an English tour and the French receptionist was like, “weez ‘r full at de momeent. You’ll have to take ze Fraaanch tour unless you wait 2 more ooww-weres.”  So, I told him we’d take 3 tickets for the French tour, then we just filed in with the rest of the folks when the English tour started.  Where there is a will, there is a way. 

The tour starts with a 10 minute promo video about the beauty of Taittinger, then we followed our guide down 80 steps to the underworld city of champagne!  The deepest of the caves were dug by ancient Romans.  They were everywhere y’all.  There are approximately 3 miles of caves and 9 million bottles of champagne located here.  During the tour, our guide explained the process of making champagne.

The history of Champagne dates to about 1700 AD and a monk cellarmaster at the Abbey of Hautvillers near the city of Reims. As the story goes, a monk named Dom Pérignon was making wine for his colleagues when, unbeknownst to him, he failed to complete the fermentation before bottling and corking the wine. During the cold winter months the fermentation remained dormant, but when spring arrived the contents of the sealed bottles began to warm and fermentation resumed producing carbon dioxide that was trapped in the bottle. Later that spring Dom noticed that bottles of wine in the cellar were exploding, so he opened one that was intact and drank, declaring “Come quickly! I’m drinking stars!” Thus, Champagne was born and named after the region where it was discovered.  Today Möet & Chandon make a Champagne named in honor of Dom Pérignon, the serendipitous inventor of Champagne. A bronze statue of the famous monk stands outside Möet & Chandon in Epernay, France.

Today, the production of Champagne is quite different from Dom Pérignon’s accidental discovery.

The key reaction of winemaking is alcoholic fermentation, the conversion of sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide by yeast. The maximum amount of alcohol attained through alcoholic fermentation is about 15% because the yeast cells are killed by high alcohol concentration.  Most still wines (i.e., table wines) contain 12 to 14% alcohol.

The key process in producing Champagne is a SECOND fermentation that occurs in a sealed bottle. The entire process is described below.
                    
SELECTING THE CUVÉE (La Cuvée)
The cuvée is the base wine selected to make the Champagne. The most expensive Champagnes are made from cuvées from selected vineyards in the Champagne region. Cuvées can be from a pure grape variety, such as Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, or can be a mixture of several grape varieties. Chardonnay is a white grape variety with white juice, Pinot Noir a red grape variety with WHITE juice. Pinot Meunier, a relative of Pinot Noir, also is used extensively. The slight rust color imparted to some Champagne results from using Pinot Noir cuvées that acquire some red color from contact with the skins. The longer the juice remains in contact with the skins, the darker red it becomes. If a Champagne is made exclusively from Chardonnay, it is called “blanc de blanc,” white wine from white grapes. Most Champagne is made from mixed cuvees. The alcohol content of the cuvee is usually around 10%.                                            

  

THE TIRAGE
After the cuvée is selected, sugar, yeast, and yeast nutrients are added and the entire concoction, called the tirage, is put in a thick-walled glass bottle and sealed with a bottle cap.  Then, the bottle is placed in a cool cellar (55-60°F), and allowed to slowly ferment, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Since the bottle is sealed, the carbon dioxide cannot escape, and,thereby producing the sparkle of champagne.

AGING ON DEAD YEAST
As the fermentation proceeds, yeast cells die and after several months, the fermentation is complete. However, the Champagne continues to age in the cool cellar for several more years resulting in a toasty, yeasty characteristic.  The best and most expensive Champagne is aged for five or more years.

RIDDLING (Le Remuage)

After the aging process is complete, the dead yeast cells are removed through a process known as riddling. The champagne bottle is placed upside down in a holder at a 75° angle. Each day the riddler comes through the cellar and turns the bottle 1/8th of a turn while keeping it upside down. This procedure forces the dead yeast cells into the neck of the bottle where they are subsequently removed. A riddler typically handles 20,000 to 30,000 bottles per day.

 

DISGORGING
The Champagne bottle is kept upside down while the neck is frozen in an ice-salt bath. This procedure results in the formation of a plug of frozen wine containing the dead yeast cells. The bottle cap is then removed and the pressure of the carbon dioxide gas in the bottle forces the plug of frozen wine out leaving behind clear champagne. At this point the DOSAGE, a mixture of white wine, brandy, and sugar, is added to adjust the sweetness level of the wine and to top up the bottle.  The bottle is then corked and the cork wired down to secure the high internal pressure of the carbon dioxide.  The sweetness levels of champagne range very dry (ultra brut) to very sweet (doux), with brut being the most common.  Personally, I love demi-sec.
    
Many Champagne houses produce “luxury cuvées,” their best and most expensive wines. Dom Pérignon is the luxury cuvée of Möet & Chandon; Cristal is pride of Roederer. Bollinger produces R.D. or “recently disgorged” wines. For example, you can purchase a 1982 Bollinger R.D. that was disgorged in April 1991, nine years after being placed in the bottle. (source “Making Champagne” by Alexander J. Pandell, Ph.D.).

We had a group of senior citizens on our tour…if you read my Las Vegas post, you know how they keep it real.  At the very start of the tour, Archie starts in.

Archie:  Excuse me.  That was an excellent overview of the champagne making process.  Really, it was very, very good.  You have great oratory skills.  I just have a question…are you a member of the Taittinger family?
Francy the Guide:  Um, thank you.  No, I am not a member of ze Taittinger famileee.  I work for the family giving tours of the cellars and explaining how champagne is made.
Archie:  You aren’t a member of the family?  Well, do you want to do this forever?  What’s your 5 year plan look like?  You can do better than giving tours.
Me: Seriously?  Again?  Why, God?

You know the Oldies but Goodies Group had to worry that guide with 1000 questions and block everything.  We just gave up trying to participate and meekly just followed them at a distance.  I couldn’t do it.  In fact, I was just looking for the exit so I could start the champagne tasting.

It was magnificent to see millions of bottles fermenting.  I want a cellar in my next home.  The House of Nichole.  That’s going on my Vision Board right now.

The expensive bottles were behind locked gates.

We then get to my favorite part of the tour…drinking!  I love Taittinger.  It really is very smooth.  I’m partial to sweeter champagnes (demi-sec) than dry (brut).  But, I will drink it all 🙂

Martel

We then head over to the next champagne house…Martel.  This offers a homey contrast to Taittinger’s more “business” ambiance.  At this point, I was done with touring cellars figuring that once you’ve seen 1, you pretty much know what to expect.  I just wanted to go drinking.  Unfortunately, Martel didn’t offer tastings without the tours.  Renee and I did end up buying a couple of bottles of champagne since I love Martel too.
  
 
After we leave Martel, we head another champagne house which allowed tastings without a tour (yay!) and met some people from the U.S. who happened to be at every house we were visiting.  The husband & wife now live in Brussels due to a job transfer with FedEx and their friend was over for vacation.  I believe he bought an entire case of champagne (so of course, I realized immediately that he was cool).  At this point, Renee & I are feeling no pain.  Look how happy we are!

Champagne is the new black.  Live it, love it.  Can’t stop, won’t stop.

Epernay
 

After leaving our last champagne house in Reims, we catch a train to Epernay because I have always wanted to visit Moet & Chandon!  However, we arrive just as they are closing so no tastings. 
 

I do get a pick with Mr. Perignon though!
 

We walk up Avenue de Champagne

Past Hotel Ville (City Hall)

And see a couple more champagne houses.
 

Renee was able to buy a couple more bottles of champagne and then we had dinner before heading to the train station to catch the last train back to Paris.

While we were waiting for our train back to Paris, we met a girl named Toni.  She’s 25 and her story is so fascinating.  Toni sold her stuff and moved overseas with her passport and a backpack.  She ended up getting a job on a yacht as part of the crew and has 3 months off each year where she just travels around Europe and does some sort of work exchange…so, she basically works for a room to sleep in.  I was like, “um, how can I do that?”  Some of the jobs she has is bartending, waitressing, working in a kitchen, etc.  You work out the particulars before you actually arrive in the city.  Now that is cool!