Je me baladais sur l’avenue: 48 Hours in Paris

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In the shadow of the Iron Lady.

It looks like it’s going to be a trend for all of my trips to spend 48 hours in another country. Italy might have stolen my heart years ago but Paris is an entirely different story.

Taking the Eurostar from St. Pancras station to Gare du Nord (The Paris Nord Train Station) proved simple. The tickets weren’t too pricy but the hotels were. I had misgivings about going to Paris. Everyone I talked to said the Eiffel Tower was ‘underwhelming’ and the food was ‘okay.’ What I say to these people now is: Ha! Utter blasphemy.

The train ride itself was comfortable. It took about two and a half hours so I occupied my time by reading a book. I thought I was going to get a view of the countryside but there wasn’t anything to see besides train tracks and wired fences. I lost myself in The Girl On The Train, which was an utter coincidence. I had been holding onto the book for the past three months trying to find time to read it but kept failing miserably. It was probably not the best time to read it because my imagination got the better of me and I started to look at the others around me before we boarded and wondered if there were any secrets they were holding. You know…were they or were they not killers, cheaters, etc. I swear I am perfectly normal.

I finished the final ten pages in a hurry as the train came to a stop in Paris. If I’m being honest the moment I got off the train I was underwhelmed with my first vision of Paris. Yes, I was still in the station but I had been really impressed with the Underground in London. If anything Paris was reminding me of New York. Men with guns everywhere (for your safety), the large scary drug sniffing dogs and people yelling all around you. It’s a good thing I’m a New Yorker. I knew how to push through the crowd.

Once I finally left the station it was extreme culture shock. I think I felt so overwhelmed because I couldn’t figure out at first how to purchase a ticket for the train. I was that person. You know, that person who doesn’t know how to use the MTA machine or has bills that are folded every which way so the machine won’t take them. That was me in another country creating traffic while travelers waited impatiently behind me. With sweat on my brow and what I assume were curses in French I gave up. I didn’t bother asking someone for help because I didn’t actually know where I was going.

I caved and took a taxi because my luggage was too heavy anyway. My first pitstop was my hotel. I felt dizzy as the driver sped past cars and circled roundabouts to the Hotel Elysees-Opera. Maybe it was because of the cold weather but I didn’t love the area of the hotel. There just weren’t enough people around. I wanted to experience the hustle and bustle of Parisian life. However, my wallet appreciated the hotel because most of the places to stay in Paris were pricey. It was between staying somewhere ritzy or splurging on food. I chose the latter.

Thanks to preconceived notions I was convinced I wasn’t going to enjoy my trip to Paris. I had this eerie feeling inside of me but I tried to push past it and I did. Naturally, I used the City Mapper app on my iPhone to locate the train and get me from point A to B. After checking in I ventured out again this time determined to buy a train ticket. I stepped to the side and was able to figure it out by watching other people and boarded my first train.

Can I just say I was extremely impressed, slightly confused and a bit horrified when I got on and off the train? I was impressed by how large the trains were and the fact that you could go from the front to the back of the train without any issue (on newer trains). I mean there was no partition, or door, to go through to get from one cart to another. Weird but I kind of wish it was like that in New York because hearing the rattle of the train as you go from cart to cart slightly terrifies me. I was confused and a bit horrified when I got on another train and the doors didn’t slide open. You had to unlatch a hook and then the train doors would open. Horrified more because I couldn’t figure it out at first and almost got stuck on the train. Ha! I am not equipped to handle any sort of machinery, no matter how basic.

Since I was in Paris for such a short time I took my classic Hop On, Hop Off Bus. Seriously, I recommend it especially if you visit when it feels like it’s zero degrees outside (really 25). Even though the bus itself was freezing due to no heat I got to listen to a short history behind Paris and key places/monuments.

My first stop might have been the touristy decision but I just had to see the Iron Lady. Ah, the Eiffel Tower! To the people that say it is small and it isn’t impressive I say you need to get your eyes checked out. The excitement I felt from seeing the Eiffel Tower from afar doesn’t hold a candle to how I felt when I saw it up close. I went to see the Eiffel Tower twice, during the day and at night so I could see it sparkle. Watching it sparkle was purely magical. Everyone stopped what they were doing and just stood there in awe (with their smartphones in the air). I felt part of something important as I basked in the glow of the structure.

Since everything closes relatively early in Paris during the wintertime I had to pick and choose what I wanted to see in a short period of time. I knew one of the stops I needed to make was at Palais Garnier. The Palais Garnier is an opera house with 1,979 seats built from 1861 to 1875. The theatre was used as the setting for the novel The Phantom of the Opera. I unfortunately have never seen the play but I was captivated by the film.

The entire opera house was gorgeous. The grand staircase was breathing taking. I wasn’t sure where to look, left, right or up. I could imagine these men and women from high society dressed up in their smart clothing and beautiful gowns walking up the staircase ready for the nights opera.

I stepped into the grand foyer with its gold ceilings and walls, marveled at the paintings and chandeliers and felt absolutely common. The auditorium was interesting as well. It’s the largest stage in Europe and where a scene of the Phantom comes from. According to our guide the crystal chandelier (7-tons, can you imagine having that hang in your dining room let alone dusting it?) in the theatre was loose, broke free and killed a member of the audience.

After marveling at the opulence of the Palais Garnier I quickly visited the Notre Dame. It was a quick visit because I was hungry and the temperature started to drop. I’m not a huge fan of taking photographs of religious relics so here’s the outside of the Notre Dame and a peek inside, where I lit a candle and said a short prayer.

 

Stomach rumbling, before I ventured inside my next spot, the Musee du Louvre, we stopped for a quick breakfast/snack. Our crepes were delicious and filling, giving my traveling companion and I (my mom folks) enough energy to master the museum. Heading to the Louvre is an all day event. I knew from photos, films and books the museum was expansive but to see it in real life was on a whole other level. We spent three hours getting lost in the museum, seriously, we got lost trying to find the Mona Lisa even though there are signs everywhere leading you to it. I spent too much time mulling over Greek history (because this is fromnytogreece after all). For the life of us we could not figure out how to use the gameboys they gave us to make our own walking tour. My advice is if you can fit it into your plans take the guided tour because we felt frustrated and a bit put off by the contraptions hanging around our necks.

IMG_1918For me, the Mona Lisa wasn’t the highlight. I had my mom running around behind me as I searched for the statue of Mary Magdalene. The nude figure is provocative, clothed only by her hair, I was impressed with the detail and carvings of the slight wave in her hair cascading down her back.

IMG_1953To end our trip, our final stop was a boat ride along the river. In my opinion it was too chilly to really enjoy the boat ride. I spent the ride back warming up inside the boat but everyone else around us enjoyed it. It felt serene as we sat down and passed the sites of Paris but I think you could pass this on a warmer day and opt to walk along the water instead.

Enjoy the song below that played on a loop on the Hop On, Hop Off Bus: 

 

 

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You Can Never go Hungry in Greece

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Not knowing the official language of a country is in your favor because you get to try different foods you normally wouldn’t. Sometimes when we visited restaurants or tavernas the menus were not in English but in Greek. Of course it caused confusion because people wanted to know what they were ordering but I say what’s the fun in that? There have been times where I’ve asked the waiters to surprise me with whatever chicken dish they have or I’ve just pointed to a random Greek dish not knowing what it is. I never had food I didn’t like or didn’t want to eat (maybe lamb even though it tastes good I don’t feel really comfortable eating Mary’s little lamb).

Remember when you’re abroad going to museums, talking to locals and going out to bars, clubs or wherever is important but so is trying as many different cultural (and not) dishes as you can.

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Chicken souvlaki on a plate with onions, potatoes, yogurt sauce and tomato. This is a cheap common dish, most people eat it in a pita. My roommate and I had to have eaten this at least twice every week. It just tastes so good and is cheap so it doesn’t break the bank when you’re trying to travel as much as you can.

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Tzatziki! I wish I could bring some home with me. Tzatziki as an appetizer, on a cheeseburger, in a gyro or whatever–you can find it everywhere. It’s basically yogurt with cucumbers. If you get it as an appetizer eat it with bread and save some for your main dish or other appetizers as well.

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Mussels in lemon sauce in Corfu. Delicious! (I think I’m repeating myself too much but what else can I say?) Seafood can be expensive but it’s worth to try a few different dishes. I never had mussels before (I’m more of a clam girl) but I’m always up to trying something new.

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Since I’m Puerto Rican being in Greece was hard. You can’t find Goya products in the supermarket so I’ve had to live without my arroz con pollo for six weeks. When I found out there was a Spanish restaurant in Thessaloniki I had to try it out–twice. Tapas Bar and Restaurant helped satisfy my desire for spanish food. The menu is only in Greek and Spanish and the food is from the Basque region. Here’s paella with seafood.

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A gyro! Again, chicken souvlaki in a pita with potatoes, our favorite tzatziki sauce, ketchup and tomatoes. I will miss these when I go back to New York. I may have to visit the Souvlaki Gr food truck.

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Mushroom risotto with seafood. I got this at a taverna we accidentally stumbled upon when we were trying to go to Tapas Bar and Restaurant one night. Our taxi driver didn’t know where it was so he just left us at a random street. We weren’t angry or anything because in Greece it’s always an adventure.

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Since I went to Tapas I made it my mission to eat at any Spanish restaurant I could find. We had to take two cab rides, ask five different kiosk workers and people on the street to help us find El Burrito. It was funny because once we found it we realized we had walked past it at least three times. These are just toppings that go on fajitas.

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My friend got fajitas but I got chicken tacos. So good! I was a little wary–Mexican food in Greece? I devoured these three tacos in five minutes. I am not ashamed.

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The most expensive dish I had in Greece–sea bass. Totally worth 13 euro. My roommate and I stumbled upon a random restaurant on her last night in Greece after we tried going to TGIF and it was closed. I say thank you Zeus because this was so much better than any food I could have gotten in Friday’s.

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My pants are tight and I blame the ice cream here. You just can’t not try it. Again, most of the flavors are in Greek. I haven’t found a place where the ice cream flavors were in English. I pretty much just point to one and hope for the best. I haven’t been disappointed. Vanilla and chocolate chip, mango, nuts with cherries, black forest and more. Did I mention my pants were feeling tighter than normal? Oops.

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Free dessert with a shot of mango we got in El Burrito. Greece, you really know how to treat a foodie right.

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I have about ten pictures of Greek salad to show my family. For the most part every single picture looks the same. I’m not a huge fan of feta cheese but it’s something you need to try because it tastes different here than in the US–better, fresher. Traditional Greek salad also doesn’t have any lettuce so try to mask your surprise the first time you eat it.

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Look at that fish. I know your mouth is watering. Don’t feel bad about that. My friend and I went to a taverna and she wanted seafood but she didn’t know what any of the dishes were. She asked the waiter and he kept saying dorado, dorado! So she got the dorado, an entire fish in a lemon sauce that she devoured quickly.

You can't come to Greece without trying ouzo. It's too strong for some people but one shot isn't bad. I actually liked the way it tasted and we got the drink for free one night since our waiter enjoyed our company. Who doesn't like free drinks?

You can’t come to Greece without trying ouzo. It’s too strong for some people but one shot isn’t bad. I actually liked the way it tasted and we got the drink for free one night since our waiter enjoyed our company. Who doesn’t like free drinks?