Christmas in Paris
Trip Start Oct 25, 2007
61Trip End May 15, 2008
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Steve and I just got back from four romantic days in Paris. We left on Christmas Eve and celebrated the holiday in the most romantic city in the world! From the Eiffel to the Louvre, we saw things that we never thought we would see, making memories that will last a lifetime!
When we first made plans to go to Paris it was a last minute idea. We wanted to go over the holidays since Steve had vacation from work but we hadn't made any plans ahead of time. We thought for sure that every hotel would be booked or outrageously priced because it was Christmas. But by some miracle, we found a hotel within walking distance to the Eiffel Tower for $80EU a night (if you are at all familiar with hotel prices in Europe, this is a steal)
Once we checked into the hotel and took tons of pictures from outside our window, we began walking down the cobblestone streets looking for a place to eat. One thing that caught our attention right away was the trash. Scattered on the ground were pieces of paper, hamburger wrappers, and empty cigarette packs...everywhere. Having lived in Germany for almost two months where it is very clean, it was quite a transition for both of us. In Cologne, the streets are paper-free, the sidewalks are immaculate, and the only garbage you ever see is what's being loaded into garbage trucks!
As we made our way along the street, we discovered that most of the restaurants were closed because it was Christmas Eve. We were about to give up when we saw a little café (they call them "brasseries" here) with its lights on. Traditionally restaurants in Paris don't serve food until after 7:00 p.m. and so the kitchen wasn't open yet. Even so, we decided to stay anyway and have some wine and warm up before we continued sightseeing. While we were sitting there enjoying our bottle of "Cote de Rhone" we asked the waiter if we could have a snack to go with it (something simple like bread or cheese) and he pointed to something on the menu called "Croque Monsieur"
After our snack (which was more like a meal for the two of us!), we started walking toward the Eiffel Tower. It was such a clear night, that you could see the full moon in the sky. As we walked along the Champs de Mars which is a long garden leading up to the Eiffel Tower, we were reminded of both Central Park in New York City and the area between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. combined into one.
The garden itself was so long that it only added to the anticipation of arriving at the Tower. Imagine long stretches of green grass amidst sidewalks dimly lit with streetlights. The atmosphere was so serene and romantic that no words or pictures could adequately describe it.
From the far end of the Champs de Mars where we began walking, the Eiffel Tower seemed so far away
As we gazed upon the Tower, Steve and I realized that we were no longer the only ones out on Christmas Eve anymore. The tourist area at the base of the tower was packed with people. Our plan was to go up inside the Tower tonight when most of the city would be home with their families celebrating Christmas. What we didn't account for were the hundreds of other people here trying to do the exact same thing! Since the lines to buy tickets were so long, we decided that we would come back early on Christmas morning instead when we "knew" that people would be home celebrating. Or at least we hoped so anyway...
We left for dinner shortly after making our way through the crowds near the Tower. As we were walking around trying to find a place to have dinner, Steve says to me, "Andee...Look!" I turned around and the entire Eiffel Tower was exploding in lights. Though at first they looked like fireworks, we soon discovered they were a series of strobe lights that went off every hour
After we watched the light display on the Eiffel Tower, we continued walking around the city trying to find a place to have dinner. Because our hotel wasn't right in downtown Paris there weren't many restaurants to choose from. The few restaurants that we did find near our hotel were all closed because of the holiday. We walked around for almost an hour and by the time we finally found a place that was open, we were starving and freezing cold. Since we didn't have any other options (other than eating crackers for dinner), we went inside.
Since Steve and I have been eating in German restaurants for almost two months now, you can about imagine the culture shock we faced dining in Paris. Everyone warned us that the waiters would be snooty and impolite but we had no idea of what to expect until we actually got here. When we first walked in the door, we had to wait for someone to seat us (this was new because in Germany not only do you not have to wait to be seated, but you can choose where you want to sit)
When the waiter finally came to our table, he didn't say "Hello" or great us in anyway, he just asked us what we wanted to order. When I didn't understand the menu (because it was in French), he got irritated with me. Awhile later when our food came and I asked for cheese to put on my pasta, he got REALLY irritated with me. But the last straw came when my wine was gone and I asked for another glass. He brought a carafe, slammed it on the table and said, "Pour as much as you want and tell me when you don't want anymore!" Well it didn't take us long to figure out that in French Restaurants the tip is already included in the menu price. Which means they don't have to be nice to you because they know they aren't working for a tip.
Once I got over my initial outrage at how rude the waiter was to me, he further insulted me by coming back to the table with a ruler after we were finished eating. He took the ruler, stuck it up to the carafe of wine he gave me, and then measured it to see how much of it I drank. I wanted to pour what was left all over his head but I didn't
After our less-than-pleasant dinner, we walked back to our hotel amazed at what a ghost town the city had become. The streets were empty, the stores were closed, and the only lights you could see were those coming from the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Except for a few Christmas lights in some windows, you would never have known it was Christmas Eve.
Christmas Day we awoke to a beautiful pink sky. Of course the first thing I did was jump out of bed and grab my camera. I peeked outside our window and saw the Eiffel Tower outlined by the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. Steve and I exchanged our Christmas presents and then we set out to see the Eiffel Tower again. Our plan was to take the elevator to the top so that we could see the entire city of Paris. Unfortunately when we got there, the line to buy tickets was at least two hours long again. Since we didn't get there until well after noon, we decided that we would come back the next day earlier in the morning to see if we would have better luck.
Escaping the massive crowds near the Eiffel Tower, we made our way toward the Seine River which wraps itself in and around the entire city of Paris. It was beautiful. The entire river was lined with tour boats and dinner cruises. We saw more Christmas Markets along the docks and the view was somewhat reminiscent of walking along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. We walked along the river until we came to a bridge that ran parallel to the Eiffel Tower. In the distance, we could see a beautiful building that at first we thought was the Louvre. Since so many other tourists were crossing the bridge to see it, we decided to follow them
Once we crossed the bridge, we found ourselves in a beautiful water garden leading up to a magnificent building. The architecture was amazing. Lining the walk way to the building were several sculptures and statues that were so fascinating you couldn't help but stop and take pictures. At one point Steve was getting so frustrated with me because every ten feet he had to turn around to see where I was!
Once we walked past the water garden and various fountains, we reached a series of steps that spiraled up to a plateau of sorts. When we reached the top, I turned around and saw the most spectacular thing I have ever seen. From the top of the steps, you could see the Eiffel Tower in direct line with the water garden, the Champs de Mars (which is where we walked the night before), and a huge Ferris wheel at the other end of the city (which we later discovered was near the entrance to the Louvre). Everything was in perfect alignment and so symmetrical that it was hard to believe that the city could have been built that way.
As I snapped picture after picture, Steve kept trying to get my attention to go look at the buildings we climbed up to see
Since neither museum really interested us, we got a snack from the food stand (another Croque Monsieur) and as we were getting ready to walk back down, I asked Steve to take one more picture. By now you can only imagine his frustration after watching me take more than a hundred pictures already. I walked him over to the end of the square overlooking the water garden, and I told him to "look". I know this sounds super cheesy but I whispered, "Je T'aime" (French for "I love you"). He smiled and said, "Merry Christmas...I love you too!" and then he took a picture of the two of us with the Eiffel Tower behind us in the distance. Most romantic picture we've ever taken (except for our wedding picture of course!).
After our excursion to the Palais De Chaillot, we walked back to the Seine
Don't get me wrong, I am all for meeting new people and experiencing new things but I am not going to sit next to strangers like a sardine in a can while I'm trying to eat. It was absolutely ridiculous. I was all but bumping elbows with the two people next to me and we hadn't even ordered yet. Besides that, I had to pee and the only way I could go is if Steve got up, pulled the entire table out, let me out, and then did the whole thing again when I got back. NO WAY! We sat there for maybe a minute and I said, "I think maybe we should go somewhere else, don't you?" Thank goodness he agreed or I would have had a panic attack for sure
After we escaped from the Italian restaurant, we continued walking in search of some place else to eat but almost everything was closed. For some stupid reason, we thought restaurants would be open on Christmas Day because all of the other sights were open too. Anyway, we walked around for almost an hour trying to find something and when we finally found a restaurant that was serving dinner, we were so thankful.
For Christmas dinner we splurged. We each had a fabulous steak dinner and we shared a carafe of Cote` de Rhone which is a very popular French wine here. It is a smooth red wine that is very inexpensive. For $8EU or less, you get almost two glasses a piece whereas in Germany it would cost you almost $16EU. Vice versa, in France, beer is outrageously expensive...one time we had two beers which cost us $12EU where in Germany it would have cost us only $4. Our dinner was great with the exception of the fact that the service was once again horrible. The waiter was rude and I think he must have had gas or something because no matter how much I smiled at him, he glared at me the entire time we were there.
After dinner we returned to the hotel because nothing else seemed to be open
When we woke up the day after Christmas, it was rainy, cloudy, and so foggy that you couldn't see the top half of the Eiffel Tower. At first we were really disappointed because Steve had the video camera all ready to take video footage of everything we were going to see so that we could show everyone at home. We had hoped that as the day progressed the fog would lift so that we could go up inside the tower but it never did. Fortunately we were very lucky to have seen the tower the first two days we were here and to get the beautiful pictures we did.
In light of the fact that our tour of the Eiffel Tower was out of the question, we made our trip to the Louvre instead. Because our adventure there was so eventful, I'll be writing a separate blog about it so stay tuned. Let me suffice it to say that the Louvre was way more than I expected it to be. Had I known exactly what we were going to see, I think I would have appreciated it a lot more.
After our tour of the Louvre, we spent our last night in Paris at a quaint little Italian restaurant near our hotel. For the first time since we arrived in Paris, we had a waiter that was not only friendly but courteous as well. This is probably because he wasn't French. When we ordered wine, he brought the bottle to the table and poured a sample for me to taste before he poured our glasses. He brought our meals and asked how they were...twice. He brought parmesan cheese without even giving me a dirty look when I asked. And he smiled at me...three times! It was great.
This morning when we left Paris, the sky was once again foggy. The Eiffel Tower was hidden in so many clouds that you couldn't see the top half of it. I began to feel sorry for the tourists who came to Paris to see it (just like us) and who probably wouldn't get the chance. For us this trip was an experience of a lifetime. We have so many good memories to take home with us and we saw things that a lot of people will never get a chance to see. This trip was the best Christmas present we could ever have given each other and we'll cherish it always!