Tag: Paris

Ground Zero

The city of Paris has permanent plaques and signs with descriptions of historical events and people in each memorable place. 50 Boulevard Voltaire, about a 10 minute walk from Place de la République, has two.

The first is worn from years of weather, similar to the others in the city with the title engraved in red “Histoire de Paris.” It tells the reader that this address holds a building called the Bataclan. Designed in 1864, this building was a café and dance hall in a Chinese style with a pagoda roof. Best known for vaudeville performances, it became a venue for rock concerts in the 1970’s. Historic and well known, the Bataclan was a constant for Parisians, like the Notre Dame or Eiffel Tower.

The second plaque is simpler. Gray marble engraved in somber black. Without time for history to weather its engravings, it looks brand new. In reads simply “En memoire des victimes assassinées et blessées en ces lieux le 13 Novembre 2015” or “In memory of the victims assassinated and hurt in these places November 13th 2015.”  This sign doesn’t reflect a long standing tradition and pride in a unified history. It doesn’t show relics of the past that continued and evolved to still be relevant today. It shows anger and fear, pain and sadness.

img_0713On November 14th 2016, there are piles waist high of bouquets of flowers in all colors and types gracing the front of the Bataclan. There are tea lights flickering and dissolving in the wind. There are notes, there are pictures, there are colors seeping off pages wet from the rain into the stream that leads into the mass of flower petals and wax. Poems and memories and physical representations of the sadness, the vrai tristesse that the people of this city have gone through.

img_0717There are people there too — people like me. Taking photos, paying respects. Wishing we had answers and ways to calm the fears of the world and yet knowing we have none. Viewing memorials and reading names and taking pictures because we have no other way to show our solidarity, to show that we wish we could have been here, that we almost wish it was us instead. Because heaven help those who fly away, but heaven help those who are left to stay and place blame.

img_0703Down the street at Place de la République there is a memorial with the same never ending flags and flowers, candles and messages. I spend a few minutes helping two girls my age re-light the lights that we think might have a chance of surviving the punishing wind. Leaning one tea light above another, shielding the flickering flame with our chests. Hoping to reignite a tiny light in the dark world that comes after the hour long state memorial ends, after the reality sets in, after the fear takes over hearts and the electoral damage is done.

Place de la Républic has a history too. Created in 1811 and named to create a sense of unity and pride in the French republic itself, the personification of fraternité, égalité, and liberté graces the center in the form of Marianne holding an olive branch. An olive branch. For peace. For national pride. But above all, for peace. This place has held protests. It has held organizations, events, markets, groups of skateboarders and intellectuals. It has held millions of mourners, leaders of governments and foreigners like me in moments of national pain. Whether for free speech or solidarity against extremism, this square has seen its fair share of large groups. But on 14 November 2016, its just me.

img_0737Well, me, and the other hundred people milling about. Eating dinner, reading books, skateboarding recklessly. This ground zero goes on. This place continues. Its history has changed, changed for good and not for the better, but it will go on.

We cannot give into fear. Historical markers do not get placed to terrify us about our future. Historical markers are placed so that we are informed. That our curiosity is picked so we can learn from our past to create a better future full of love and support and hope for an even better future for those who come after us. Because no matter how scared we are, the world does go on. We need to be ready.

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Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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The Parisian Crêpe

You’ve heard of it. You’ve dreamed of it. You’ve tasted knock offs and Americanized versions, but you simply can’t wait to get your hands on the real thing. The Parisian Crêpe.

And then you get there, to Paris, and you’re suddenly hit with crêpe problems. Maybe all you wanted was a snack crêpe but you mistakenly bought a meal. Maybe you timed your visit to the Eiffel Tower wrong and you end up needing a crêpe lunch when the only places nearby are charging an arm and a leg for a basic food. Maybe you can’t find a crêperie to save your life and you’re thinking “isn’t Paris supposed to have crêpes on every corner?”

To solve all current and future crêpe problems, here’s the How To Crêpe In Paris, written by someone who could probably rival the world record quantity of crêpes eaten in one day.


What exactly is a crêpe? There are two different types of crêpes: Salé (salted) and Sucrê (sugar). The only difference between the two is the teaspoon of either salt or white sugar that is added to the batter and the type of things used as fillings.

Ingredients for crêpes are as follows:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • White flour
  • Salt or Sugar (depending on the type)

They’re thin, tasty, and without too much substance. To make the crêpe, cooks will pour a cupful of batter onto a round hotplate, then use a wooden stick to spin the batter around, filling the pan. Seeing them made for the first time is almost as exciting as eating them for the first time.

Where does a person find a crêpe?

Crêpes are all over town in various forms. A “crêperie” is a restaurant that primarily sells crêpes or gallets (crêpes made with buckwheat flower). Most crêperies require you to sit down and eat your crêpe with a fork and knife. They also charge more, as a sort of rent for your time spent sitting with them. These are great for real meals, not for snacks.

Street crêpes are sold either at small stands or an open window into a restaurant. These types typically only sell crêpes and they will be much less expensive because you take the crêpe away with you.

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How to eat a crêpe: Just do it. It might get messy. Just do it.

In all seriousness however, street crêpes will be handed to you in either a plastic or cardboard sleeve with a napkin around it. Roll the sleeve down as you go so you spend less time touching the food and more time eating it. Keep the napkin, it’s often necessary.

Tip: Try not to eat in the métro. Whether it’s the French obsession with long social meals or the tendency not to snack, Parisians rarely eat on the métro. Munching a crêpe is a clear sign that you’re not from here and you might be a prime pickpocket target since you clearly have your hands full of food beauty. That being said, I have broken my own rule many a time.

Crêpe stands and crêperies will be fairly plentiful around tourist destinations, although watch out for the high prices. They will also be plentiful around popular nightlife destinations like the area around the Pantheon (5th arrondissement), Montmartre and around the Saint-Denis metro stop. That being said, crêpe deserts do exist. It is possible to walk for an hour and not encounter a street crêpe stand. These tend to occur around large parks, major places (Place de la Concorde), luxury areas (Place de la Madeleine, Champs-Elysée), and very residential areas (Passy, Place d’Italie, the outskirts of the city). If you find yourself walking for what feels like an extreme amount of time simply to find the perfect crêpe, my advice is either to 1) Give up and find a perfect boulangerie for a pastry instead or 2) Take the metro to one of the areas listed above with larger nightlife scenes. If you’re feeling adventurous and have lots of time, try walking from wherever you are towards crêperie-dense location. I’ve been known to walk over four hours through the city exploring, but also in search of the perfect, cheap crêpe.

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While it’s clearly up to you how much you are willing to pay for a crêpe, here’s a basic guideline. Cheap sugar crêpes should be sold for about 1.50 Euro and a really cheap Nutella crêpe usually goes for 2 or 2.50. However, as long as the Nutella crêpe price doesn’t cost over 3.50, you’ve found a decently priced crêpe stand. Stands with whirly lights and lines of tourists are likely to try and charge you 5 Euro for a Nutella crêpe.

Salé (Salted) crêpes are likely to cost around 5 Euro or more because they are more of a real meal — I’ve seen the fanciest crêpes sold for around 10 Euro. Choose your flavor based on your level of hunger — the salé crêpes can easily create a lunch if you so choose.

As for paying, street vendors like you better if you pay with coins and in exact change rather than using them to break that 50 the ATM gave you. Often if you hand them a bill they will give you a blank stare until you show them your change purse to prove that you really don’t have exact change. Obviously they will take your money in whatever form it is given, but try to give a quick thought to the quantity of coins in your wallet before you order a 2 Euro crêpe and realize you only have a 20 Euro bill. In crêperies and restaurants, larger bills are much more acceptable.

Here are some of my favorite flavors, to inspire your next visit to the crêperie:

Citron et sucre (Lemon and sugar): Hands down my favorite. Sweet but with some flavor, typically the second cheapest thing on the menu. I highly recommend this flavor.

Nutella: I mean what could possibly go wrong with this combination of a hot pancake filled with gooey nutella. While you do have to pay a little more and it won’t constitute a lunch, nutella crêpes are the best comfort food and also an incredible thing to hold in your hand on a rainy day.

Complête: This salé crêpe is filled with cheese, ham, and an egg that you watch them crack onto your cooking crêpe. Your crêpe chef will often ask if you want it salted and peppered — always go for that extra flavor if you can. The crêpe (or galette, they make this flavor on buckwheat pancakes too!) complête is a perfect lunch or dinner.


Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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Chantilly

Everyone visits Versailles when they come to Paris. But if you’re in Paris for longer than a week or two, or have been to Paris before, a day trip to Chantilly is worthwhile.

So what is Chantilly? Good question. Before I visited, I didn’t know either.

Chantilly is a small town in the province of Picardie, home to Chantilly cream (a specialized whipped cream), a Medieval Ages chateau, traditional French, English, and Chinese gardens, a horse museum and the major Thoroughbred turf races in France.

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Leaving from Gare du Nord in Paris, the Chantilly SNCF trains leave about once an hour (you can find schedules on the SNCF website). Buying tickets at the station is easy enough, just find a yellow machine instead the white ones used for internal Paris tickets. Round trip, the tickets cost me $16. Then follow the signs to the train platform listed on the ticket and follow the line of people onto the train. The ride is only about 20 minutes, so don’t get too excited about the possibility of taking a nap on the train. It won’t happen.

Once in Chantilly, there is no chance of getting lost. Large signs point the way through a little park to the chateau and horse museum as well as to the main street of the town. And of course, the chateau is big enough to be seen from very far away.img_7635

Tickets can be purchased for the “domain” of Chantilly — the Chateau, Horse museum, gardens and audio guide — for 17 Euro, 10 Euro discounted ticket for students, job-seekers and the handicapped. The ticket is actually good for an entire year so if you don’t get a chance to see everything in one day, feel free to go back. When you buy a ticket, you will receive the “livret de visite” which contains maps and has the details for each site in the town. The domain can be visited in any order, I review the different sites here in the order that I visited them.


Museum of Horses:

For a slightly obscure topic, this museum is surprisingly well done. First taking the visitor through the history of the domestication of the horse and then through the different modern uses and portrayals of horses, the exhibit can teach a lot. It contains collections of paintings, sculptures, manuscripts and figurines all dedicated to the horse and the relationship between horse and man. The exhibit has 15 rooms as well as an entrance hall filled with horse stalls where you can whisper hopes and dreams to the powerful creatures that have been partnered with humans for centuries. Take a look around the building outside of the museum, and you’ll find rings and stalls still used today. Younger children won’t be too enthralled with the museum rooms as it is a lot of images and sign reading, but the visit could take upwards of an hour.

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Equestrian performances happen at different times throughout the year. They require an extra ticket but will be well publicized so you can make that decision when you buy the Domain ticket.

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The Chateau:

A short walk from the “Grandes Écuries” (horse museum) is the Chateau. Simply show your ticket at the entrance and then follow the signs pointing you in the direction of the visit. As you walk through, you’ll find a massive collection of ancient paintings and artifacts that portray the varied history of the building and the country. Make sure you find the library full of ancient books and drawings.

img_7648 Later on, don’t miss the portrait room — you’ll know it when you see it. It’s a strange space because you are surrounded by painted faces staring at you. Near this room is the small climate-controlled room holding two Raphael paintings. If you’re interested in renaissance art, find these two masterpieces that are semi-hidden in the giantess of the chateau. Don’t miss the small but beautiful chapelle on the right side of the entrance dome.

img_7668As you exit the Chateau, wander through the gardens. I didn’t have time to find the Chinese or English gardens, but the traditional french gardens are lovely and much simpler than those at Versailles or in Paris.

img_7633A trip to Chantilly can easily be a day or half day excursion outside of the hustle and bustle of Paris. Restaurants in town are slightly more expensive than my cheap student budget liked, but one could easily get a meal at any of them for 25 euro. Boulangeries are plentiful along the main road and I highly recommend spending the few euros to get a dessert with Chantilly whipped cream. I tried a vanilla cream and an espresso flavored cream and while both were incredible, the vanilla was the favorite. Paired with fruits and pastry, Chantilly cream itself makes the trip worthwhile.

More information about the domain can be found on the Chateau of Chantilly website (available in English, just click the British flag in the upper right hand corner). The website also includes a map of the grounds.

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Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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Palais Garnier

I know I’m the different one on the metro tonight.

My hair is up. My dress is long and it’s only 6:30pm. Dinner doesn’t even start until 7:30.

So although no one says anything, I know I’m the one getting glanced at, the one that people tell stories about when they get off — “there was this girl all dressed up, I wonder where she’s going.”

But I get off, eventually, and stumble up escalators and crowded stairwells until finally I see the sky. And with the sky, the facade of the Palais Garnier comes into view.

I try to keep calm. I’m Parisian now, these things are normal. Going to the ballet on a Tuesday night — not typical, but not atypical here. I greet my friends, kisses on cheeks and grins on faces. Let’s ask that lady to take our picture, my grandmother will want to see this.

The bell sounds, the lights dim. People crowded on marble steps, heels clicking and stumbling up stairs — higher, higher, until I reach the fourth floor and the attendant points me to a seat that might be wide enough for a 4 year old but certainly isn’t large enough for me. I squeeze in, hearing at least 3 different languages swirling in the air around me.

The music starts. The dancers appear. And the world slips away.

When it all ends, there’s nothing to be said. The words don’t seem right, because nothing in either French or English could describe what it’s like to be a part of that audience while knowing that this is your country now, that you aren’t only there for a day or two squeezing every moment into a 24 hour day. That you’re there learning and loving and throwing yourself off the metaphorical fourth floor balcony, doing things you’re not comfortable doing and speaking words that feel funny in your mouth without knowing the end result. Taking the opportunity to watch something so incredibly beautiful.

And I walk down the marble steps, lingering until the crowd has left and all that remains are the couples waltzing on the steps to a cheesy recording playing from an ancient stereo. And I twirl a little, swaying my dress that feels like magic to the notes. And when a friend asks “Sarah, tu es content?” I respond from the bottom of my heart, “Oui. Bien sûr. Je suis content.”

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The Palais Garner (metro stop Opèra) hosts the national ballet of France as well as ballet and opera groups from all of over the world. Tickets are not expensive and can be purchased from their website.

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Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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Hidden Gems: The Jardin Atlantique

Hidden Gems of Paris, that’s what everyone says they’re looking for, right? Well here’s one to add to the list.


The “Jardin Atlantique” is located on the roof of the Montparnasse-Bievenue rail station. To find it, walk inside of the station, follow signs to train queue 1 and then up the stairs following the signs. The Jardin appears on maps, but your GPS placement dot will wander around the edge of the green garden image while you walk all the way around the metro station searching for a park entrance, thinking “I’m right here, there must be an entrance somewhere”. Just walk inside and find the staircase.

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Here’s hoping there will be a more permanent staircase than this by the time you get there.

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Once there, a visitor can take advantage of the wide green spaces, flowers and some funky architecture. The garden feels exactly like you were on the ground level because the surrounding buildings are all many stories higher than the park — therefore, it feels just like a typical ground level park. If you exit the park and explore the many paths around the edge, you enter a world of apartments and office buildings with exterior doors to their 10th floors. While you can’t enter the buildings without a code, its incredible to see this virtually unknown world above the ground.

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It looks like you’re on the ground, right? Wrong. You’re on the roof.

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If you’ve done enough relaxing for the day, the Jardin Atlantique also holds the Musée du Général Leclerc de Hauteclocque et de la Libèration de Paris (Musée Jean Moulin). These are two small rooms (unlike their large names) that hold artifacts and signs describing the role of the Free France movement and the French colonies in World War Two, focusing on the liberation of Paris from the Nazi occupation. The museums are free to everyone and don’t take very long (30-40 minutes). They’re also a great source of respite from heat or cold if you’re stuck out and about in Paris.

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If you’re early for your train, need a quick picnic spot, or just want to take a nap — Jardin Atlantique has a local feel and semi-secluded area just waiting for you. Oh, and the cherry on top: Jardin Atlantique is part of Paris’ free-wifi network.

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Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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Cathedral Sainte-Chapelle

Do the unthinkable. Put your headphones in your ears and listen to the most tranquil song you have on your device with the volume turned up as loud as you can stand it. Drown out your world, even while you are standing in one of the better places the world has to offer.

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And then, after your sense of hearing is blocked by classical violins or choir boys or the sounds of crickets, walk up the steep winding steps to the upper chapel. And open your eyes.

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Tune out the historical facts, the stories of relics and kings. Tune out the hoards of tourists surrounding you and the security guards’ warnings in hundreds of languages. Tune out the notion that you have a schedule to keep, that you have a life waiting, that you have work and a family and friends and problems.

Just look.

Stand in awe of the glass, the lights, the beauty that humans created out of a natural process and a religion that taught them to value it. Sit on one of the many chairs along the edge and just repeat your song until you feel as though you’ve come to understand life.

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It sounds impossible, but I promise that this Sainte-Chapelle experience can be mind clearing, stress reducing, even life changing. Eventually, one must remove the music and take in the attraction as a tourist would, reading the signs and taking millions of photos. But for a few moments, pretend your life is a film set in Paris and that you are the star.

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Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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Musée Rodin

With it’s gardens, Musée Rodin creates a slightly different take on the presentation of art. Just a quick right turn onto Rue Varenne after you leave the Varenne metro stop (line 13), one can find the very well signed chateau that houses the museum.

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The museum itself is open from 10 to 5:45 Tuesday-Sunday and the entrance fee is 10 euros, except on Wednesdays before 3pm when it is 7 euros. An audio guide purchasable for 6 euros is informative, but doesn’t contain any more information than the plaques near each sculpture relay. The audio guide would be great for an art student, but for the average visitor (myself included), the audio guide is not necessary to enjoy the museum.

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The “Gates of Hell”

The museum itself is two floors worth of sculptures and paintings created by August Rodin as well as a few other artists — friends and apprentices of Rodin. Camille Claudel, Rodin’s female apprentice and lover (see more here and here ) is highlighted in the museum and there are two Monet paintings housed there as well. Make sure to take in the incredible architecture and decoration of the building as well as the sculptures inside.

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The entrance fee pays your way through the museum as well as the gardens which house some of the most famous Rodin sculptures. There are fountains, places to sit, and even a café that was not as overly priced as I assumed it would be (sandwiches from 6-9 Euros). That’s not to say that it’s cheap however — a sandwich made from jam and a baguette bought at a supermarket might cost you 5 Euros for a 4 person meal.

The gardens themselves would make a great place to study or take a nap, as they have views of Rodin’s artwork as well as the Invalides palace and the Eiffel Tower. Just claim a bench and spend the day taking in the culture. While the museum building doesn’t take longer than an hour for the non-art-savvy visitor, one could spend hours sitting and taking in the city from the peace of the garden.

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More information on Musée Rodin can be found at it’s website (change the language to English in the top right) here. If you’re in Paris for more than simply a few days and need a relaxing artistic space, Musée Rodin is for you.

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Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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