eating my way around the world

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” --St. Augustine

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Location: Chicago, IL, United States

Twitter @nikonjunkie

15 June 2005

1 June 2005 :: Versailles and Paris

It's morning again, and time to check out the "continental" breakfast in the Paris hotel. I'm told "continental" is a euphemism for "woefully inadequate," so I head downstairs with a couple of PowerBars in my bag. It seems we've traded suspicious protein-like dishes in England for croissants and slabs of cheese in France. I grab a couple of those, some fruit, load up on the jelly and juice and start to eat when it happens. Now, I'd been warned that the French have no concept of personal space bubbles and will plop down right next to you when there are 15 empty chairs nearby. This is apparently true, as an elderly man smiles, says something in French, sets his jacket down right next to me and walks off. Meanwhile, I'm supposed to have saved all these seats.

Luckily, my tourmates sit down before he comes back, and his wife babbles at him in French with something I can only assume was, "Why did you sit here, Jacques? Can't you see we're surrounded by American cretins?" They move, and after downing breakfast, we're ready to set off to Versailles. First, we stop by the Eiffel Tower for a professional shot of the entire group. Joey swears he will mail this to me. In the meantime, a few amateur shots (with better lighting than last night!).

We arrive at Versailles, tumble out of the bus and stretch our legs before deciding we need to eat.

There is a universal truth: Anyone can eat whatever the hell they like if you're going to walk it off later. With that in mind, a bunch of us decide to dine outside at a streetside cafe. Our waiter is hot. I introduce the group to Orangina, one of many Oranginas I'll have on this trip. Most everyone orders Orangina. Some bravehearted alchies order wine. Did I mention it's 11:30am? After a satisfying meal of croque madame - a quite tasty ham & cheese sandwich fried in butter and topped with an egg (read: heart attack on toast), we realize we're late for the Versailles tour and start hurrying up a cobblestone hill.

Mind you, I just downed about 1500 calories (mostly fat) and am now sprinting up a hill. Just as Nena and I are commenting about the waiter, we pass yet another hot guy. Who knew?? Just when my heart is pounding so hard I think I'm going to black out and drop my Orangina (the sprint, not the guy), we reach the top of the hill just in time for the tour.

Our tour guide Marie is a tiny French lady - so small that when she holds up her umbrella for us to follow her, I can still hardly tell where she is. She speaks quite good English, and speaks a LOT of it. In fact, we will tour probably a dozen rooms, and get the entire history of everything that happened in this room since Louis XIV was in short pants. The rooms are very ornate, decorated in the style than can best be described as "pre-Donald-Trump French Ghetto Fabulous." I had to turn my flash off, so I apologize for the blurry pictures.

The Hall of Mirrors was partially under renovation, but was still impressive, as were the gardens.

Someone says Conan O'Brien was outside in the gardens. I'm guessing it's really him since there can't be that many 6'4" redheaded Americans whose shows are in reruns that week. I leave without seeing either Conan or most of the gardens. I remember learning in Western Civ class that it was some guy's job to hide in the bushes and turn the fountains on only when Louis XIV was passing by (to conserve water). I wonder how he got that short end of the stick.

After we leave Versailles, it's back to Le Tour Eiffel (aka The Eiffel Tower) to ascend to a bird's eye view of Paris. Now, since tour means tower in French, yet they still say Tour de France, what's a tower tour? A tour tour? Whatever. My body below by knees still hasn't recovered from the constant walking and stair-climbing, so I decide to bypass the psychos taking the stairs and take the elevators all the way to the top. Breathtaking views of the Seine River and the Grand Axis (Champs Elysees). I manage to find a Fauchon chocolate shop at the top of the tower - yay!

Looking straight down from the top

Looking straight up - that's the top of the Tower

It's afternoon, so there's no better time to head down to experience the Champs Elysees (read: shop and eat some more). Notice the bigass Louis Vuitton store. My wallet and I stay safely on the other side of the street.

Nena and I menu-surf until we find something interesting at the Cascades Elysees. Not even attempting to butcher French, we manage to order - for me, a ham, egg & cheese omelette with salad, a plate of fromage, and - naturally - an Orangina. The waiter pretends to not speak English, but we notice he starts speaking English to the Germans beside us. A common language? Hrmph!

Just a perfect afternoon on the Champs Elysees enjoying a great meal. Everyone knows I eat weird things, but the fromage was truly excellent - a selection of brie, camembert and roquefort - and lots of French bread to go with it! I manage to down half the delicious football-sized omelette and vow to avoid eggs for at least a week. French people don't know how to warn you before snapping your pic:

At long last, we meet. Since the last time I went to NYC was before my love affair with Sephora began, I have been vowing to visit the Paris location - and there she was, in all her behemoth glory. *Angels sing*

We came, we saw, we bought. The salespeople aren't rude - au contraire! They are only too nice to help us Americans part with our euros. Thoroughly whipped by the morning's activities, we decide to bypass climbing the Arc de Triomphe and head for the hotel. I call everyone from the Champs Elysees just to say, "Hey, you're at work and I'm on the Champs Elysees!" My dad says, "What the hell is that?!"

We make it back to the hotel, and I down many Advil to take the edge off my leg/foot agony and prepare myself for an evening of wine-drinking. Tonight's plan is to head out to the Latin Quarter - a trendy area of Paris known for its nightlife and cafes. Some haven't eaten dinner yet, and despite eating an early dinner, I figure - what the hell. I order a serving of moules marinières (steamed mussels) and frites (fries). It arrives, and it's a friggin bucket of mussels. And a friggin platter of fries. I offer them around and immediately get to work. It's a daunting task but I'm up to it.

Somehow I managed to con Rob out of one of his escargot in exchange for a mussel even though he has about 6 escargot, while I have about 80 mussels. The escargot was actually quite good, garlicky but very flavorful and delicate - not chewy - in texture. It turns out we have a sommelier (a wine expert, not a skinny African) in our midst. Tony used to work for Robert Mondavi, and he picks out a great red wine for the table. It turns out I don't hate red wine after all. In fact, I loooove red wine.

Today's Discoveries:
1. French people have no concept of personal space bubbles.
2. Some of them are quite hot anyway.
3. Toilet seats appear to be optional in France.
3b. On a Contiki trip, Purell hand sanitizer is worth its weight in gold.
4. To say the Paris Metro is slightly less navigable and somewhat more smelly than the London Underground is an understatement.
5. There's allllways room for another meal when you're in Paris!

Orangina count: 4

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