Paris Day 3: Versailles, The Louvre, & Food. Oh My!

I forgot to mention a few notes from yesterday in my haste to get into bed! We learned about the unofficial memorial to Princess Diana while touring, it’s a golden torch that hangs out above the tunnel where the fatal crash occurred. So when we took our ride to our dinner cruise later, we were in cryptic shock when we realized we were traveling through the same tunnel. It does feel a bit eery! On our dinner cruise, I was given the privilege of tasting the wine for the table because I apparently said ‘bonjour!’ well enough in greeting that the waiter got confused and thought I was French, so take that mother! Also, the Luxor Obelisk I took a picture of in my last post also happens to be displayed in the same spot Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were executed on the guillotine during the French Revolution. This last tidbit brings me to the start of our adventure this morning!

Like I had mentioned earlier, the Chateau de Versailles was one of my favorite things I had seen on my previous trip and I was excited for my mother to see it. I made her watch Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette film back home in preparation which, while not entirely perfect in historical accuracy, makes for a beautiful movie which I love regardless and the film was even shot on location! We arrived at Versailles early morning so we could get in before it got too crowded.

Opulent, yet faint with age, Versailles is still the pearl of France. Where once the extravagance behind its doors were regarded as gratuitously frivolous and enraged the populous into a rebellious frenzy, it now exists as a shell of itself–most of the inner furnishing lost, after it had all been removed following the revolution. Yet, you can still get a sense of the characters who once walked these halls–from the Sun King’s love of hunting proudly displayed in reverence to Artemis to what fun must have been had in the billiards room, it’s impossible to escape the shadow of greatness.

One of the things I did not get to see last time were the extensive gardens. We rented a cart to drive out back to see the Grand & Petit Trianon, and got to drive through the gardens all afternoon. It was a beautiful mid-60’s sunny day in Spring with a light breeze carrying with it a hint of moisture blowing off from the canal. So, perfect, basically. Within the Petit Trianon was the classic portrait of Marie Antoinette, who while alive, hated the lifestyle at Versailles. Kindred introverts, Marie would hide away from the court at Versailles in favor of residing at the Trianon or her cottage home created to emulate a simpler, quieter country life.

I have written about Marie a few times on this blog, if you want a taste of a bit of her sass you can read here or if you are curious to know what her famous last words might have been before being executed, check it out here.

Before leaving the gardens, we had to check out a fountain show too!

Now, onto some food! For breakfast at Versailles, we stopped into Angelina’s where I was determined to capture a video of the hot chocolate pouring into my cup because I’m cruel like that.

Then, after burning off all that chocolate walking around the gardens, we split a fresh club sandwich and replenished our supply of sugar with a Nutella banana crepe, all served within the gardens itself!

Nap time probably, but nope! We were now off to hit up the Louvre so we could say hi to Mona Lisa and get my fix of other historical people I really dig.

My answer whenever someone asks that question, “Who would you invite to dinner, living or dead?” That’d be my boy Marcus Aurelius!

And then there is his son Commodus, who is my favorite asshole. I wrote about this douche on my blog before which you can read about here!

More Joan of Arc ❤

And this handsome devil Antinous, thought to be one of the most beautiful people in the classical world, not unlike the male version of Helen. I wrote about him too and the ridiculous ending to his story here.

And, of course, the smile known around the world.

Last but not least, I ate a really fantastic burger and America should really get on this Ramen bun thing, I’m just Seine-in’.

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Paris Day 2: Can I Get Some Salt?

Woke up feeling like I hadn’t just conquered a transatlantic flight and was ready to roll out (and drown myself in coffee too but that’s a normal feeling despite the circumstances). We found a little cafe near our hotel that was open early for breakfast, most creperies and places we had our eye on weren’t open until later in the morning. Behold the lightest most satisfying breakfast for only 12 euro!

Magnifico! I could get this for breakfast every day, it was the perfect meal to wake up to. Afterwards, we hopped on a tour bus to help us navigate around Paris and first stop for us was Norte Dame!

The cathedral has such an extensive history, I’m not sure if I could really sum it up here with any integrity. Suffice it to say, it felt extremely powerful to stand within it. Right away you get a whiff of incense and a shiver down your spine upon entering, and the feeling of being minuscule enfolds as you stare at the colorful stained glass and how much space exists above you.

I was surprised to see a spot venerating Joan of Arc and a place to light a candle offering for her, I knew she was canonized but did not know I would necessarily find her here. She was, of course, executed after a sham of a hearing which you can find a copy of in transcript here. Felt special to make a small connection with a historical hero of mine. My mother also lit an offering candle for my grandma and grandpa who must be super proud of her right now and were probably also amused when she accidentally used profanity within these holy walls. I’m never going to let her forget it either.

We also investigated the treasure room where they had papal artifacts, chalices, and other relics on display. Even caught a glimpse of the holy hand grenade! Jokes aside, I could probably put up a fun post on this site about the madhouse of insanity that went into the holy relic racket, but for now I’ll just leave a cool picture and let you all know I saw a couple of saintly femurs.

While we were browsing, the bells went off while we were standing within the walls of Norte Dame. I’ll let that sentence sink in. Mass also started while we were there and we even went up for communion because why not go for the full experience!?

We continued along our tour and took in more sites from Paris, getting down some ideas for what we’d like to try and do for our free day on Saturday!

This is the obelisk given to France by an Ottoman king, we were told in thanks to the work of French Archaeology in recovering the Rosetta Stone and deciphering Ancient Egyptian. This obelisk is from the Luxor temple and tells of praise for Ramesses II the Great.

We had a riverboat cruise to catch! What better way to spend a night with your mother other than going on a romantic dinner cruise along the Seine?

Yeah, I don’t know either. There was another touring mother and daughter next to us having dinner and I almost got to witness a homicide when she asked our waiter for salt after tasting her chicken. Tomorrow we have plans to see the palace of Versailles and the Louvre!

Paris Day 1: From Jet Lag With Love

I have not slept in over 24 hours. Save for a small catnap while crammed into the middle seat of the plane with The Mummy in my ear to help drown out that hellacious Iceland wind turbulence. But, oddly, I don’t feel as dead to the world as I should be.

We arrived in Paris in the afternoon, sleep-deprived and a little bewildered by the drive to the main bank we’d be staying in. Last time, I wasn’t able to experience the ride from the airport to Paris, which showed a side of the city not often considered when dreaming about planning a romantic getaway under the dazzling lights of the Eiffel Tower. There were refugee pockets panhandling along the main road and makeshift tent communities and homes made from wire fences. People were strolling amongst the cars in the middle of the road begging for change not unlike India, and there were stretches of the highway where garbage was piled up to look reminiscent of the airport scene in The Fifth Element. Perhaps Luc Besson was making a cultural reference I had yet to experience.

So I was eager to see the city center and hope, desperately, that I would not be adding Paris Syndrome onto my list of ails. Once we checked into our hotel, we hit the pavement immediately–a bit overwhelmed and disoriented by the busy streets and people fast walking by us. First things first, we wanted to try the famous hot chocolate at Angelina’s we had heard so much about! I was barely keeping it together at this point and we weren’t expecting the location recommended to us to be found in a humongous mecha of designer goods that had my wallet crying tears of neglect.

Galeries Lafayette

Angelina’s is tucked away in the back on the 1st floor of Galeries Lafayette, forcing you to navigate through a field of heavy perfumes and somehow manage not to immediately buy a whole box of macarons from Pierre Hermè. We were seated next to a table of older French ladies who seemed to be regulars, and they weren’t exactly pleased to see us. I didn’t think I was dressed too out of the ordinary, I deliberately packed outfits that would help me blend in, but my mother caught one of them giving me the once over in disgust, finding particular offense by my choice in Toms shoes. Yikes.

They seemed to be interested in everything we did and were both parts either annoyed or amused by us. They also kept watching us and we heard them declare to each other what our food order was as it came out to our table which was pretty wild. As a result, we tried not to be too ostentatious with our taking pictures of our food, but I still managed to snap a couple shots!

I can absolutely attest to the hot chocolate being amazing. It was sweeter and lighter than I was expecting–the famous version is a blend of three different chocolates from Africa, so I was prepared for all that chocolatey goodness to go down with a bitter bite! It was so smooth and sweet, I really didn’t even need the cream to help cut it. You’ve got to try this at least once in your life, especially if Nestle hot water mixed with powder is the only life you’ve known.

After we enjoyed our lunch, the magic of the hot chocolate coursing through my veins jolted me back awake and we spent some time pursuing the Parisian fashion available to us and repeatedly talked each other out of making any big purchases. Would be pretty sad to go for broke all in the first day, we still have Disneyland to get to after all!

But alas, we were still extremely exhausted and decided to do dinner a bit simpler. We found a bakery nearby our hotel and grabbed a baguette, butter, and brie to take back with us while we listened to the noises of the city outside our opened window. Might sound kinda lame, but I can assure you it feels like heaven right now. Besides, I am so ready to crawl into this comforter!

Histastrophe! in Paris

Paris Suitcase

What can I say, I’m a light packer.

Ah, Paris, “The City of Light”!

If you followed along with me on my last adventure, I briefly saw a bit of Paris while on a road trip through Europe to meet my Italian relatives in southern Italy’s Cosenza. Two years ago, I caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in our car and was also fortunate enough to visit Chateau Versailles as well, which was one of my favorite memories from the trip.

Upon my return home, I realized I missed getting to experience Paris the most, even more so than Rome (Which, you guessed it, is a bit strange considering how much of my posts on this blog concern Roman history). I longed to walk among the gardens of Versailles again and this time wanted to stroll along the the Seine as well. I never got to taste the famous hot chocolate at Angelina’s or marvel at the treasures in the Louvre. And I just really really wanted to try an authentic macaron.

Well, this time, I’m planning to do just that! Accompanying me on this trip is my mother who has never traveled abroad before (I’m so excited for her and also secretly hoping she’ll catch the travel bug, I need to go to Rome again too!). Like before, I’ll be updating every day and detailing our adventures! And for my fellow history lovers, we’ve certainly got our eye on some cool spots! I’ll be showing her Versailles, and we have plans to visit the Louvre, Arch de Triomphe, the Latin Quarter, and maybe even Victor Hugo’s house. Unfortunately, we probably won’t be seeing The Catacombs which I suggested doing on Friday the 13th and was met with an uncharacteristic expletive from my mother which she’ll have to ask forgiveness for at Notre Dame. Also, because we’re both huge nerds, we’re spending a day or two in Disneyland Paris too.

So follow along on my blog to keep up with my adventures in Paris! When I return, it’s back to the usual update schedule. Next post will >shocker< not be about Ancient Rome.

Salut!

 

Also, just for fun, here is the anthem for this trip!

 

8 Things I Learned While Traveling in Italy!

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I’ve always been proud of my family heritage. Since I was young, I delighted in being asked whether or not my family once had ties to the Mafia (they did) or how many times we ate spaghetti and meatballs in a given week (a lot). I’d throw around my grandfather’s old slang (like ‘Bacowzoo [sp?]’ which meant bathroom) like a badge of honor and claim the achievements (and embarrassments) of the Roman Empire in my historical comparison discussions on who was more badass. As far as I was concerned, I was Italian and presumably more authentic than Olive Garden.

I was so very very wrong.

You’re Not Italian; You’re AMERICAN!

Surprisingly, no one was really impressed with the story of how my great grandfather came to America with a potato in each shoe and a grape stem in his sock–not when there are literally native Italians everywhere. What makes you feel special in America because you’re one of maybe 15 million is inconsequential in Italy. Fact is, your family LEFT and even if you still have some that stayed behind like me, you’re more different than you are similar. As an Italian-American in Italy, don’t be surprised when no one understands your Italian or when locals can smell the tatertot hotdish on you and immediately try speaking to you in English. They’ll ask you about George Clooney as if he’s your next door neighbor and offer you a spoon (which is uncustomary to an actual Italian) to eat with your pasta because you seemed to be suffering with your fork twirl. They’ll hastily explain away that you’re an American when you embarrassingly order the same flavor scoop for your double gelato and they’ll giggle at you when you knock back your first Italian Digestive like a fool assuming it’ll go down as smooth as Pepto. And you know what? That’s okay. Going to Italy as an Italian-American is your chance to learn about the culture your family left behind and realize that, in its absence, you’ve created and reclaimed your own back home–one built on meatballs and tommy guns, Rocky Balboa and wooden spoon beatings, “gabagool” and Cesar salads. Own it.

“It’s Not Dinner Unless There is Pork on the Table!”

I thought the worship of bacon was an exclusively American concept but I’d be willing to wager that Italians love their pig more than we do. If you don’t believe me, let’s take a second to run down the list…prosciutto, capicola, cacciatore, soppressata, guanciale, spalla, bologna, panchetta, speck, culatello, salt pork, etc. You’d be hard pressed to find a menu or a table that didn’t have pork included–in fact, I’d say it was the meat of choice for most dishes and pasta (and even fruit!). It’s hanging everywhere in the market, it’s in nearly every sandwich, and most rural areas you can smell it wafting among the streets as if there was a little piggie walking right next to you.

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Do You Speak Inglese?

Don’t go to Italy assuming everyone speaks English–they don’t. We were lucky to run across a number of helpful folks who could speak a little, but it was mostly trying to figure out which words we knew in each other’s respective language in order to construct a sentence the other could understand. Most waiters and waitresses in high tourist cities can speak enough to provide you with excellent service but please don’t try to order an American alcoholic beverage like my travel companions did and try to explain to them, in English, how to make it. Things descend into confusion fairly quickly. Your best bet is to learn as much conversational Italian as you can before going, this way, you can gesture along and try to explain what you need using words both of you understand or just rely heavily on Google Translate like we did when we needed some extra help to explain ourselves. It’s true that most Italians have taken English in school, but do you remember much of your world language of choice in high school if you didn’t go on to study it in college? Exactly. Try to learn and use Italian, it’s their country after all.

Driving is for Lunatics

It shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that the Land of the Ferrari likes to squeal its wheels and ignore most roadway etiquette. For every Nutella croissant I ate, I feared for my life in equal measure on the road. The Autostrade or major highway is merely a place of suggested speed, there aren’t many stop lights so don’t expect an easy navigation through an intersection, double parking is the norm, and incessantly honking at backed up traffic that has no place to go is just common practice. Save yourself the heart attack and take the train.

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Pretty much it

Ain’t Nobody Got Room for Breakfast

Italians don’t really eat breakfast–not like we do in America. You eat a croissant and enjoy a cappucino, that’s all you should give yourself room in the tum tum for. We’re, of course, used to far more protein than that in the form of eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, and lard but in Italy, you should save the real feast for later. When we ate with our relatives, we learned that it was common to start eating for real around 12pm and work your way through the courses for the next 3 hours over family time and conversation with that being the main meal of the day. Ultimately, you eat big once, saving room throughout the day with eating and drinking only what was necessary to survive. And if you’re having trouble keeping away from delicious food until dinner? Don’t worry, everything with food closes in the afternoon and doesn’t re-open until 7:30pm. Get ready to be hungry and lose some of the American fat around the waist you brought with. Also, don’t forget the Italian Digestive!

Coffee is the Real Deal

Knowing my extensive professional background in coffee, I was completely prepared for the kind I’d experience in Italy. My travel companions, on the other hand, weren’t. Assuming you’re the type to drown your coffee in creamer or are prone to taking your dose of caffeine blended in ice with syrups and sugars–the coffee offerings in Europe are going to be quite a culture shock. I spent most of my time assisting my companions in ordering what I thought they’d be able to drink or creating a mutant concoction at the self serve that would be sweet enough for them to enjoy. It’s all about espresso, espresso, espresso and it is DELICIOUS! Unfortunately, the espresso that comes out of the machine at your local coffee shop is a bit more bitter and unrefined than the variety they serve in Italy–for example, it’s completely possible to drink it straight up and not gag. Espresso in Italy is slightly bitter but not overpowering, sweet but not overly so, a bit heavier in body, and savory in the aftertaste. You can order with milk if you wish, but there is no need for syrups and sauces like back home–in fact, good luck finding the option!

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Stray pup knows what’s good

This Place has Really Gone to the Dogs

Italy has an interesting relationship with dogs. It’s normal and encouraged to bring your pooch with you everywhere–from shopping malls to restaurants and as long as they don’t poop anywhere (which I was unfortunate enough to waltz into at a shoe store) they are more than welcome. You’d think then that a place which clearly treats dogs as a part of the family would be prone to sticking together–but for every family dog you witnessed happily accompanying their owners on errands, there was also a stray dog prowling around for food and the kindness of strangers. It’s ordinary enough for passerbys to toss food their way as if they were homeless beggars and smart strays who know which patio is attached to a tasty restaurant will visit in routine–waiters merely side-stepping the four legged guests. No one shoos them but everyone gives a little from their table to the dog in need. It was really hard for me to not just adopt every single dog I saw–they were always polite and sweet and responded to commands like sit, stay, and lay down. Clearly, these dogs have gotten used to their life on the road but I couldn’t help but ache for them to find a good home.

Nutty About Nutella

And last but not least, let me just confirm that Italians really are obsessed with Nutella. No joke. It’s in EVERYTHING.