Well, golly. Happy New Year, everyone! 2016 is starting out kind of rough, what with all the icons dying. Yeesh.
But our trip was Great. I mean, c’mon, it’s Paris! The baguette and wine alone is worth the airfare. ;)
First night, Champs Élysées
However, there was a Christmas festival on along the Champs Élysées that meant that we were almost always walking through a party. We tried roasted chestnuts (smelled wonderful, tasted surprisingly mildly sweet and were squishy, not crunchy), had glühwein pretty much every day, and had street crepes, of course. Nutella et banane, let’s not mess about here.
Psyché ranimée par le baiser de l’Amour par Antonio CANOVA (1757-1822). Commandé par le colonel John Campbell en 1787. Acquis en 1801 par Joachim Murat.
We went to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa, lots of paintings of Mary, Jesus, Joseph, Saint Sebastian, still life paintings that were a testament to the craft of these artists… I showed my husband the Delacroix canvases and he was suitably impressed by their castle sized dimensions. We saw sculptures of breath-taking beauty (such as my favourite one, above – Psyche being revived by the kiss of Eros by Antonio Canova).
We got up early one morning (not difficult with the jet lag) and walked down to Notre Dame, which was beautifully quiet. We were asked directions by another tourist, which was very flattering. We also ran to Shakespeare and Company and browsed the wonderful books. We visited the Musée Rodin where I realized that a sculptor’s version of rough notes and preparatory sketches are small rough sculptures in clay. By the end of that day’s wandering, however, we had murdered our feet.
The Gates of Hell by Rodin (also known as our shoes)
We went to Sunday mass at Sacre Coeur, which wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. Other tourists were quite oblivious to the actual real mass going on while they strolled through, and actually had the temerity to try to (and sometimes succeed) take pictures of the proceedings and generally ignore all the rules and requests of the working church (be quiet, no pictures, no hats). The main reason I wanted to go was to show my husband how lovely the music was – the nuns making up the choir must have to go through auditions before they’re permitted to sing. They were all very talented. Sadly, the pipe organist wasn’t to my taste this time. It sounded like they were attempting to improvise some acid jazz with those hymns. Didn’t quite make it. After lunch in Montmartre of a delectable savoury crepe and more glühwein, we hopped on the metro to Cimitière du Père Lachaise, where we got weirded out by being tourists in an active cemetery.
Oscar Wilde’s half protected tombstone – now with 75% less lipstick graffiti, and 100% more jerkfaces standing on someone else’s tomb to liplock the stone.
The meals we had were almost always delicious. There were a couple of cafes that were just alright, but we still had wine, coffee and bread and it was Paris. We found that staff were, with perhaps one exception, really happy to have customers. (The one exception being a fellow in the Cafes de Deux Moulins in Montmartre, who got a talking-to by the shift supervisor to pull up his socks after he almost lost a few customers by not seating them away from the door – he was also flabbergasted when I ordered a second round of café allongées.) Our favourite restaurants were Chez Clément, L’Arc Cafe, L’Étoile 1903 and the little cafe in Montmartre where we got our crepes and glühwein after church on Sunday, I think.
But the first one was so good…
There were some human stories happening while we were there, like the beggars on the metro. One middle-aged gentleman would enter the train car, do his speech (name, age, children, no prospects, relying on the generosity of strangers, sorry for disturbing you) and move on to the next. Another was a dirty, barefoot women carrying a “baby” in a snowsuit like it was breastfeeding (it was a doll), and harshly crying out “Mesdams! Mesdamoiselles! Un pièce, s’il vous plaît!” Until she got distracted scratching and picking things out of her hair – eck eck eck. My husband later recognized her sitting on the street in the Latin Quarter begging, sans baby doll. There was a woman kneeling prostrate holding a ratty take away coffee cup along the Champs Élysées, wrapped in her head scarf, dress and a housecoat. Another – father, mother and daughter sitting with a hand written cardboard sign advertising that they were a Syrian family in need.
There was extra security at museums and the churches. We had to open our jackets, show them our belts, open my purse. At the Louvre, we had to go through a metal detector and run my purse through an x-ray machine. There were squads of soldiers in green camouflage marching through the city, with their tastefully coordinated black berets, black belts, black boots and black automatic rifles. Although I thought it was a faux pas to be in green when clearly the situation called for inner city grey. And four motorcycle police officers were on high alert on the Champs Élysées as four tourist girls straddled their motorcycles, taking pictures.
A woman tried to pickpocket me in the Christmas festival area, apologizing when I spun around to look her right in the eye after she tugged on my purse zipper.
After a moment of realization that the Musée de l’Armée in Paris would have knights’ armour and swords and awesome stuff like that, we went and spent a really cool time there. That was my husband’s suggestion. It was awesome to see these ornately crafted weapons and armour that actually had been used. The artisans who made these things were really talented.
We went to the Eiffel Tower two or three times, attempting to go up to see Paris from a height, but the line ups with the extra security were ridiculously long, so we opted for more glühwein, crepes and cafes and strolling along the Seine.
So after a week in Paris – walking, experiencing, drinking glühwein, eating baguette… we started our trek home. We took advantage of IcelandAir’s deal to do a free stopover in Iceland on your way somewhere, and we flew out of Paris on December 30th to spend New Year’s Eve in one of our favourite places.
This is 10am on December 31st in Reykjavik, Iceland
We went to K-Bar for dinner on December 30th, and then visited with my Icelandic colleague for drinks afterwards and chatted pretty late into the night. On December 31st, we took the bus out to the Blue Lagoon Spa in the afternoon for a relaxing dip in the geothermal water and a “free drink” (included with the cost of our admission) at the swim up bar. We got our Gull beer and found a water outlet to poach in and enjoyed floating, relaxing… And then being hit in the face by ice pellets the size of ball bearings… It was fun.
Our New Year’s Eve dinner reservations were at Laekjarbrekka and the meal was wonderful. My husband enjoyed his slow cooked lamb, and I enjoyed my Arctic char. Then we walked towards where one of the bonfires was supposed to be lit and listened as the fireworks were going off all over the city. Iceland lifts the regular fireworks ban on New Year’s Eve, and Iceland Search and Rescue sells fireworks to everyday people so that they can celebrate, and Iceland Search and Rescue raises money for their work. Since the sun went down at 3:20pm that day, we rolled back into Reykjavik in the dark at 5:00pm, and seeing the occasional firework going off. We didn’t find the park where the bonfire was supposed to be, but we made our way back to the hotel so that I could warm up before the big show. We headed up to the top of the hill and Hallgrímskirkja around 11pm, and met up with a crowd of varying drunkenness as we all went to experience the spectacle.
The fireworks were, well, exhilarating. We were standing right underneath them. This video was taken by someone else (because I’m apparently terrible at taking iPhone video) but we were standing in front of the church in the video (which considering the couple of videos I’ve found uploaded to Youtube which were taken from behind the church makes me think…). I had orange ashes in the hood of my hoodie, and I was being hit with spent fireworks capsules. This is probably why other places don’t allow this sort of thing. But it was such a rush to be whooping and cheering with other people in the crowd as the people setting off fireworks sent wave after wave of explosives into the air. It was a very democratic celebration, and we stood there for over an hour marvelling that the explosions kept coming. Someone started a countdown – I’m not sure it was accurate, but we all joined in and screamed in the new year, kissing under the sizzling shrieking lights. The party didn’t stop then, people didn’t then say, “Well, alright, New Year’s here, off to bed!” Nope. The fireworks kept on going until well after 2am. However, we were dressed for Paris 10C, not Iceland snow and -4C, so I got cold again and we started walking back to the hotel by about 12:30 and probably got in around 1am. We snuggled down into our hotel bed, to warm up, and we didn’t go to sleep until after 2am.
We flew back on January 1st, which was why we were really good on New Year’s Eve – started this year out without a hangover! Yes! Getting through the Toronto Airport was stressful, but because our flight was late leaving, we did make it back to Ottawa and got to sleep in our own beds.
It was a lovely trip, and we’re definitely going back to Iceland to do our hikes. And we’re likely going back to Paris, if only to get in another few days at the Louvre, drink more great wine, eat more great bread, and maybe go see some of the countryside. There’s an entire country around Paris, I understand. :)