06 June 2009

Cha-ching, cha-ching...doin' the shopping thing

didnt actually spend tons of money or anything, but we did a lot of shopping today.

started off at a nearby café with the grey skies threatening rain. and when we ducked into the métro it was actually raining. interesting side topic, today is the 65th anniversary of d-day. obama was invited (along with the british and canadian leaders) to commemorate the day in normandy. funny thing, a woman speaking some unknown language (something slavic?) on the métro was discussing the event with her friend. i could tell, because every so often i heard "obama" and possibly "normandy" coming from her mouth. we are global people, everyone cares about the moves we make. never forget that.

so, its raining, thus, shopping and indoor activities needed to be the name of the game this morning. first stop, la cité to see some churches. jjs favorite paris church is sainte chapelle. its on the same island as notre dame, but it cost 8€ per person to get in. i just didnt feel like spending that much on our first activity of the morning, not knowing how many more indoor things we would have to do today.

but, notre dame is free, so we went there. the line was fairly short and we got inside out of the rain soon. once again the church is large, imposing, and totally embellished to the -nth degree. the stained glass windows were slightly less exciting for me than they were last time, but behind the long nave and main altar (not sure what that area is called, with the mini altars) i really appreciated the fantastic paint on the columns and ceiling. strong, timeless colors and designs that made me crane my neck and wanna reach out and touch the stone. amazing. makes me wonder...can i find wallpaper like that?

then, i remembered ntina saying you could climb the church tower and see the gargoyles and bells of notre dame. we went outside to look for that entrance. pouring rain, long line, and you need exact change (8€ each again). nope!

as the morning was turning into a soggy fest i wanted to find things that would keep us inside for longer but mom had a store she wanted to go to, so we were on a mission. on the way through the latin quarter, mom stopped to ogle the mothers day pastries (french mothers day is june 7) in a cute bakerys window. we had to go in.

(macaroon tree and other goodies in the window)

the place is called gérard mulot and i dont know what their store normally looks like, but did it looked scrumptious today. the bread and regular pastry area was ho-hum, but the delicate creations area was a feast of sugar, details, colors, and imagination. we had to choose something. with careful contemplation, i chose a simple dessert (didnt need to go crazy, or empty the wallet) of two thin cinnamon cookies sandwiching some cinnamon mousse with a violet créme, to be eaten after lunch.

we continued to our destination. paris' origins store. thank god they had the product we trekked all the way out there for! so we got on the métro and continued on our way. only, its not that simple. we were out of our packet of métro tickets, the only freakin' place in town to buy them (with an american credit card, no chip!) is at the montparnasse train station. thankfully we were at least on the correct line to get down there. we had to walk almost a mile to get to the booth and then another mile back to the métro to get back to where we started, but thats what rainy days are for right?

after transferring lines, we arrived at the opéra house area. cool building. not sure it inspires me to see an opera, but i like the entrance. around back is the madness that is paris shopping. no fewer than 6 métro stops can drop you at the french version of harrods. the flagship (womens) store is 10 stories, the mens store is separate with like 5 stories, and the home goods store is across the street with like 4 stories. this is galeries lafayette.

(opéra house front)

we first located a map to determine our next steps. the mens store had a gourmet food floor that looked promising for lunch so we headed there. we found some expensive food and weirdly laid out food stations. in the end, we bought some sandwiches, and upon discovering there was no cafeteria area to eat them, we went outside to eat standing up. fun. at least it wasnt raining, and plenty of other people were doing the same thing. after sandwiches, we dug into the dessert we had bought earlier. i neglected to remember that the mousse would be totally warm and smushie by now. after almost dropping two glops on my shoes we managed to eat most of it without ruining our clothes. it was tasty, but i think i would eat it right away next time to get the true flavor and mousse consistency.

(this HIGE yankees display greeted us in the mens store...um, you dont play baseball over here, and the yankees? i dont get it. raise your hand if youre french [or anyone for that matter] and you want a hot pink scooter helmet with a yankees logo on it)

after "lunch," we roamed around the womens store. in the cosmetics area of the first floor is a view up to the famous dome of the building. colorful ornate glass suspended above three levels of fancy circular balconies. we rode the escalator up through most of the levels. in the shoe area, mom found some gel sleeve toe protectors to wear with the walking shoes she brought. a good find for her.

(while mom was making her purchase i marveled at this horrid pair of shoes. reads "call me for sex or shopping." i wanted to buy them just so i could give them to a future daughter of mine, make me proud kiddo...)

all in all, galeries lafayette was definitely less impressive than harrods, but still worth doing on a rainy day. i liked the free water cooler by the bathrooms and was impressed to wander through their international area with a HUGE customer service area for japanese customers.

by now, the rain had stopped and we were ready for a break. we walked from the shopping area back to our hotel down blvd lafayette. a nice walk that again took us past less touristy parts of paris and quiet side streets with little squares. we also popped in to the nearby st vincent de paul church. pretty nice for being a modest church.

after propping our feet up in the hotel, we had a couple hours before meeting glen and martin for drinks (they were in paris too). it was about a one mile walk to sacré coeur, which looked interesting to me, so i proposed checking it out. we took a direct route up the main road of blvd magenta and a left onto blvd rochechouart. while walking, just past the gare de nord we starting becoming the minority. then the streets got more and more crowded. this was definitely an african/arabic/SE asian area, which was interesting but with the streets so packed and me not exactly sure where i was going, i started to feel a little claustrophobic. also, the store fronts were really interesting and i would have loved to slow down and looked inside but the flow of the sea of people pushed us onward.

eventually, after turning down a side street, we arrived at the lower lawn in front of sacré coeur. this is where the steep climbing begins. and you actually climb through different layers of people. it seemed like beggars, drunks, and peddlers were milling around toward the bottom, while starving artists (musicians and dancers) were higher up, and mixed in everywhere, but most plentiful at the top, were the white tourists.

anyway, the church is gorgeous. i think it is my favorite in paris (and its free! but no photography inside). with all the domes and roundedness of the building it is much less dark and angular so for me, its more inviting and interesting. also, the circle/spiral is a very prominent feature of french culture (the spiral numbering of the arrondissements, the many roundabouts, the way all roads converge on a center point in towns, etc)

(mom and sacré coeur)

also, since this is the highest point in paris, it does offer some amazing views. today was quiet cloudy but still interesting to look out at the skyline. i would definitely recommend coming here if you had a perfect weather day, it must be amazing to see everything clearly.

after enjoying the scenery we descended back down to the mixed population at the bottom and made our way back to the crazy area to go back to the hotel. we walked on the opposite side of the street this time and we had more time to look in store windows and better appraise the neighborhood. this area is called montmartre and where we were walking seemed to be the fabric district of paris. once we passed all the stores selling bolts and bolts of cloth, we came upon...what else, the wedding gauntlet. blocks and blocks of neighboring stores selling all things one needs to get married. cheap fabric nearby equals cheap wedding stuff (you could get a new tux for under 100€)!

now, most of this stuff was, in my opinion, ugly. outdated styles and 80s colors (powder blue, etc) but each store seemed to cater to a slightly different kind of man or woman. some were blasting james browns "sex machine," some said "we specialize in children" (as in child brides?), some had more items for fathers/mothers of the bride, and a few actually had some appealing designs to me. i couldnt get many pictures because it was still a little crowded on this side of the street, but i think its a place best experienced in person anyway, definitely has a lot of character.

(mom with some actually semi-nice dresses; tuxedo store)

so, after that, we met glen and martin for drinks before dinner. we walked to the canal saint-martin again to sit outside the bar called "hotel de nord" which was made famous in the 1938 french film of the same name (contains the famous french lines "J'ai besoin de changer d'atmosphère" response..."Atmosphère! Atmosphère! Est-ce que j'ai une gueule d'atmosphère?" the lead male needs a change of "atmosphere" and the female responds "is my face atmosphere?" not well translated into english but the basic meaning is that the woman takes the mans comment to mean he wants a new woman. funny also, there is now a bar across the canal called l'atmosphère).

(saw the mona lisa along the canal...im sure its as da vinci intended)

anyway, had a nice round of drinks with the guys before dinner (mom ordered a monaco: light beer, grenadine, and limonade = sprite/7Up). then we went to la madonnina for dinner, my first italian meal since ive arrived in europe. i dont feel like i have an understanding of how to eat a proper italian meal. pasta is much heavier than a small cut of rich meat.

we started with an antipasto salad to share: artichokes, mushrooms, dried tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant with fresh buffalo mozzerella. it was tasty but we didnt finish. then mom had meat lasagna and i had huge, flat pasta tubes with a tomato based sauce, green olives, and tuna. homemade pasta and a light sauce were a nice combo, but again, lots of food. didnt finish. then we ordered the panna cotta caramel to share. super dense cream dessert. yum, but we didnt finish. so, good meal, i would go again, but i would restructure my ordering.

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