Paris – The Tourist Circuit I

October 2018

Arc de Triomphe at Place de l’Étoile at the top of the Champs-Élysées, a national symbol, but I had no plans for making a trip just to see it. I am not a big shopper. I find it tiring. Besides, my bags were overflowing from all things India. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées therefore held no special spot in my itinerary either. The LO fell asleep as we tried to find the stroller friendly way out of the Louvre, so we decided to skip the Jardin des Tuileries and go get a drink instead. Few minutes later we were on a subway to Champs-Élysées and when we get out we are at Place de l’Étoile, right at the Arc de Triomphe.

Raising a toast in Paris is an art like everything else. Use tchin tchin with your friends and everyone you’re on a “tu” basis with as a fun replacement of the more traditional “à ta santé” and “à votre santé” and semi-casual “santé”. Tchin Tchin!!

When we are done with our drink, it is time to head over to the Eiffel Tower for sunset. Years ago (in 2014) I wrote a blog post on the Esplanade du Trocadéro being better spot for photos than the top of the Eiffel Tower itself. That image of the plaza, with its fountains, pink skies and the Tour Eiffel stayed in heart. In the years that followed, the hundreds of Instagram pictures at the staircase messed my head up. We walked out of the subway station with no idea which way to go. I ask two security guards with my best lost face “Trocadéro Jardin?” They respond with, “Tour Eiffel?” and point us in the right direction. I just don’t get why they say Paris and Parisians are tourist unfriendly. We reach in time for sunset, but there are dark clouds looming and there is the eminent threat of rains. The tall slim frame, the lace like lattice work, the tower is as elegant and sophisticated as the proverbial French people. We didn’t have pink skies, but the light drizzle that followed adds its own charm to the moment and drama to the pictures. We watch as the lights on the tower go on.

The carousal here let’s adults ride. There is a wedding photoshoot in progress. The husband opts to stay out and take a picture while the LO and I go on her first carousal ride. I think she loved it.

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October is a wonderful time to visit Paris. The summer crowds have gone and the winter hoards are yet to descend on the city. It’s not too hot or too cold. We have the most perfect weather imaginable on our trip, bright, sunny, cool enough to not miss air conditioning, yet warm enough to not warrant a jacket. We are out all day, every day. We wake up late and breakfast on baguettes, croissants, orange juice and coffee; reach our first stop in time for lunch.  Our time is divided between attractions and parks. We walk into little cafés for a drink in the evenings. Explore some more. Meals are a leisurely affair. Again, must be a cultural thing. The wait staff take their time to come to you and simply disappear after serving your order. The bill is left on your table, in case you are in a particular hurry.

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The Olympic Adventure

We visited the Olympic Peninsula in our trip to Pacific Northwest this past fall (Fall 2018). The Peninsula is huge, and has lovely lakes, waterfalls, mountains and beaches that can take up to a whole week to explore. We only had four days here, but we made the most of it. We visited the Quinault Area, the coastline (Ruby Beach and Rialto Beach), Hoh Rainforest region, Sol Duc Valley and Lake Crescent Area. The Olympic National Park is definitely one of the prettiest national parks I”ve been to (the other ones being Smokey Mountain National Park and Denali National Park) and would highly recommend making trip to this Peninsula if visiting the Northwest! Here I’m describing the first two stops on our visit there.

We entered the Olympic Peninsula at night from its southern end- from the Quinault Reservation, closer to the Washington-Oregon Border. Lake Quinault is the very first lake we saw the next morning and it was simply mesmerizing. Peaceful and pristine. Since we were in the Peninsula (and the Olympic Park) in the weekday, there were no crowds and we had the lake to ourselves. There are no motorized boating activities allowed in the lake, only kayaks and canoes were allowed in some areas of the lake. Bordering the lake is the Quinault Rainforest trail, a mile-long trail that takes you through the temperate rainforest and gives you a glimpse of how lush green the scenery can be. And of course, since it’s a temperate rainforest, there are waterfalls pretty much everywhere. It was fairly enjoyable hike. Behlul carried Abir in his hiker backpack, and of course Abir enjoyed the trees too, wanting to touch all of them! Near the Quinault Area, there are maybe 3-4 restaurants and cafes to choose from for breakfast/lunch/dinner, so not much of a choice here. We were aware of this and had carried plenty of snacks/quick foods/munchables when we left Portland and started driving northward. Of course, my almost 1- year old son Abir had his food bag at his disposal- his fruit and vegetable purees, cheese sticks, cottage cheese, baby cookies, teething wafers, water, etc. We weren’t sure where all we would find grocery stores, and a hungry baby is the last thing you want on a trip!

Our next destination in the Peninsula was on the Washington Coast-Ruby Beach. Ruby beach is one of the most visited beaches in the Peninsula, due to its rock structures, tidal pools and a lovely hike to get to the beach. Here we saw the mystical Northwest fog that everyone talks about- the entire beach was pretty much covered in fog! We could hardly see more than 5 feet ahead. We had to pull out our jackets, beanies, scarves, and mittens to get down to the beach. Being ex-Californians and now Texans, any temperature below 60F is cold for us and it was about 50F at the beach at the peak of summer! There were quite a few tidal pools that we saw, and due to it being low tide, the rock structures were accessible by foot. We spent about 2 hours on this beach. The first one hour was fun, it mainly consisted of taking pictures, exploring, being amazed at nature’s abundant beauty. The second hour- not so much. We ended up wetting our shoes in one of the streams/pools, Abir also lost his pair of shoes on this beach (he loved wiggling his legs and toes, and letting go of his shoes back then!) so we spent a good chunk of time walking around looking for his lost shoes. Luckily, we found them (soaking wet though), and then hiked back up to the car. By the time we got back, all of us were cold and hungry, so we headed to the town of Forks for a warm meal and our stop for the night.

– Amruta Garud

2018 Recap

January 2019

For the first almost ten months of 2018, we did no traveling. We went to the zoo once and two beaches, but I’m not counting those. She loved the calm lake, but the ocean with it’s big waves scared her. At the zoo, she went mad petting goats, squealing and laughing the whole time. The LO made her first trip to Times Square and was enthralled.

I was saving up all my balance maternity time to go home. Home to introduce my baby to my family. To put her in my grandfather’s now frail but always proud arms. I had been talking about it all year, and I think I jinxed it. He passed away a month and a half before we travelled.

The first few days in India were hard. India can be overwhelming. Coming back – doubly so. I took my time finding my feet, but the LO dived head first. We had two birthday celebrations for her there – a traditional religious ceremony and a party with cake and balloons. She dealt with both like a champ.

Fam-jam in Goa did not turn out like any of us imagined. We spent most of our time between two rooms and the others came back insisting they needed a vacation to recover from that vacation. Yet, if I could go back I would do it again. This time perhaps with nannies.

The LO is a lucky kid – she went to Paris for her first birthday! It was as beautiful as I thought it would be and enough to change the husband’s mind. He had been a Paris hater for the longest time. He gave me twenty-four hours to be underwhelmed and hate it too. When that did not happen, he decided to give it a chance. I like to believe it was my presence that endeared Paris to him, but that would not be fair to the city. Paris is beautiful by herself. Plus, we had the best weather we could hope for. We needed neither sunscreen nor jackets. The summer hordes had gone, and the Christmas crowds were yet to arrive. It was simply perfect.

We spent Thanksgiving in San Diego which means we went home again. My sister had whipped up almost vegan feast, keeping me in mind. The kids had planned out a bunch of activities, including a visit to the tide pools. The tide pools are seasonal, so this was a first for me. Only in San Diego, as maybe Dubai can you have firepits, ice-skating, the sea and beach weather all in the same place. We had to do it. An early birthday celebration arranged by my sister.

I wanted to staycation in NYC over the holidays but that got overruled. We had friends over instead and it all worked out. Yes, I know what a staycation is, and I see the flaw in that sentence, but it is just a minor technical issue.

Travel in 2018 may not have been everything I wanted it to be, but it was good. With the good, came the bad and ugly, but we shall choose to focus on the good. Let’s raise a glass to 2018 and to those who watch us from above. Tchin Tchin!!

2019 Travel Goals

Big family reunion the Caribbean

Small family holiday somewhere closer

Paris – Victor Hugo ; Literature and Architecture

October 2018

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Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in the world. Standing here at sunrise, I see how delicately embellished and ornate the facade is. How slim the carvings are! I caught part of a guided tour while the husband stood in line for us. This is one place where “le poussette”* did not get us ahead of the line. No concessions in God’s house. The flying buttresses and rich sculptures make a great impression from the outside, and the grand organ, vaulted ceiling and rose windows wow visitors inside. The best way to admire the facade is from a slight distance. Look at it from the Pont Petit. I did this on an early morning walk while the husband and LO were sleeping. While they both bring love and happiness to my life, it was wonderful to have Paris all to myself for just that hour or so. This was on a Sunday, around sunrise, so I did really have Paris mostly to myself. Standing there on le Pont Petit, I even got to use my best French lines, “Je ne parle pas français. Parle vous anglais?”** It was to a someone asking me for directions.

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You cannot talk about the Notre Dame and not talk of Victor Hugo. Victor Hugo, the French poet, playwright, novelist, statesman, human rights activist – the man who championed the cause of conservation of the Notre Dame. During the Revolution Notre Dame had been used as a saltpetre plant. By the nineteenth century it had suffered so much neglect that builders wanted to reuse its stones for bridge construction. His Hunchback of Notre Dame was an effort to save the cathedral from demolition. The church is as much as of a character in the novel as Quasimodo and Esmerelda.

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We spend our first evening at Jardin du Luxembourg. Hugo was one of many writers to appreciate its charms. It’s too hot to sit by the water and watch the children push boats, so we head to the carousal.  I want to put the LO on the carousal, but they won’t let me go on it with her. Only children. She’s too small to go by herself and besides she’s never been on one before. We walk further and find a shady leaf spot to let the LO loose. She entertains herself, us and passerbys by collecting fallen leaves. On the way out, I make a quick detour to check out the Medici fountain. A quiet spot towards the back of the garden.

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My broken French, everyone else’s decent English, my fellow people from the sub-continent and natural charm get us to the riverfront. From the riverfront we make our way to the Notre Dame. The Cathedral is closed, so we walk around it and settle down for supper followed by the cutest icecream I have ever eaten. Rose shaped! Rose shaped using any flavour of your choice and as many flavours as you want. I went with sorbets. +1 to being vegan.

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We are not done with Victor Hugo. The man who loved Paris. The next day we head over to Place des Vosges. After letting the LO explore a fountain and make a mess of her clothes, we walked around the park looking for Number 6 -“Maison de Victor Hugo”. I take a quick peek and posed happily in the doorway down from Number 7. It’s a gorgeous looking mansion with a lovely front yard. Few steps later I see a plaque for Number 6 and security at the entrance. It’s almost lunch time so we skip the museum in favour of a short walk to at Marché Bastille.  Fresh, fun lunch, a surprise viewing of the National Monument and we were on our way to the Louvre.

 

 

 

* poussette – baby stroller

** “Je ne parle pas français. Parle vous anglais?” – I don’t speak French. Do you speak English?

Paris – for Vegan-etarians

October 2018

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I am vegan, is Paris for me? Absolutely! Paris is a big city. I am vegan. I am not committed, I cheat without guilt, but I try. I found it really easy not to stray. Expect for the croissants I had for breakfast, a couple of crêpes, few glasses of wine and one pastry, all of which could have easily been avoided, I think I was very good.  Paris is a gastronomical delight. You can find foods from all over the world. We ate Lebanese, Thai, Indian.. all of which have vegan options. Pasta can be ordered without cheese and meat. Sandwiches can be made without cheese and meat. I had warm vegetable soups, which in addition to being good for my vegan soul were also very soothing for my sore throat. I have been told that outside of India Paris is the only place where Mac Donald’s serves vegetarian fare. Ask for “without cheese” and you are sorted. Paris has some lovely vegan restaurants and cafes. There’s Le Grenier de Notre Dame near Notre Dame, L’Abattoir Vegetal at Montmarte,  Hank’s Vegan Burger, Le Faitout… Happy Cow can give you the whole list. Head to the wonderful local markets and buy what you need. A baguette, some jam, fresh fruits and veggies. If local markets are not your thing, go to a supermarket. Learn to say no to those macaroons and pastries that look too beautiful to eat anyway, and you are safe. Paris is for EVERYBODY!

P.S. I used to think vegan was a dietary preference but it seems it has now evolved into a lifestyle choice.

Paris – The Palace of Versailles

October 2018

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Cellphone photo-please excuse the quality

Today is devoted to Versailles – the palace, the city, the perfumery. Okay, we are only going to see the palace and grounds. After a very Parisian breakfast at the hotel, we set out. We choose not to buy our tickets in advance online. This did not end badly for us, but I think it’s always smart to buy you tickets in advance if you can and avoid wasting time in queues. When we get to the palace, there is a long line to get in. Luckily there is no line at the ticket counter. I buy us tickets while the husband and LO join the line. They have made considerable progress by the time I get back, but I the lady at the ticket counter had told me we don’t need to wait in line since we had the more expensive tickets. The man minding the line is of a different opinion but the “poussette” gets us sent to the front of the line. Strollers are not allowed inside the palace. We check the stroller in and wear the baby. I have to say this about my baby carrier, I wore the LO throughout Paris- at the museum, the Palace, the streets, the markets, hundred stairs up a particular subway station and didn’t feel the strain. Not in the least. The king’s chambers befit royalty. So grand!!  The ceilings take my breath away. When we get to the fabulous Hall of Mirrors, even the LO is impressed. She keeps looking up and clapping with joy. In the rooms before, she is a little irritated with the crowds, but in this room, she transforms back into the happy child she is.

DSC_0663We packed a picnic with us and eat it in the gardens. The LO takes a post prandial nap in her stroller. Strollers are allowed in the garden. We want to take the trolley around the grounds, but the man says the stroller needs to be folded. While we wait for the LO to wake up, I fill the husband in on the French Revolution history. When the LO wakes up we take the trolley around the grounds. We get off at The Petit Trianon and let the LO play around for a bit. Marie-Antoinette, who had such trouble adapting to life in the court, received the Petit Trianon as a gift from Louis XVI in 1774 and developed a great attachment to this estate. The queen used the hamlet as a place for relaxing walks, or to host small gatherings. We don’t go into the house, preferring to play with the LO outside. The estate of Versailles is vast. You can spend an entire day going from garden to beautiful garden, admiring the landscaping and sculptures.

DSC_0694As we make our way out, we find ourselves under the King’s window and I exclaim how marvelous it must be to wake up to this view. Perfectly manicured gardens rolling out as far as the eye can see, bounded by woods. “And, one day, he saw thousands of people running towards him.” “The Revolution.”, he volunteers. I try to explain that’s not how it happened. I mean it sort of is, but the royal family escapes. Almost, they get caught because of the foolish King. “He came for his wallet? “. “What!!” “Passport?” This man never lets me forget why I married him!

 

* poussette – baby stroller

Paris is a very good idea ❣️

October 2018

I don’t know French. Can I get by in Paris? Yes. A big resounding YES. I’ve said this before, I’m saying it again – most people speak some English. Between that, hand gestures and google (search, translate and maps) you will be fine.

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*cell phone photos. Please forgive the image quality

Paris and Parisians are so pleasantly different from the stereotype. Far from being rude, cold and unfriendly, people are as nice as strangers can be. They smile at us, pat the LO’s head and baby talk to her. Almost everyone speaks some English and their English is way better than my few words of broken French. The undertone to their English is not snooty or supercilious, just vexed. How annoying it must be to have everyone simply assume they don’t know English when most of the people we meet are reasonably fluent in it! You get what you give, so be nice.

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*cell phone photos. Please forgive the image quality

Being Indian helped when the above got complicated. I simply look for my paisanos; desi folks; people from the sub-continent. They are everywhere, often hidden in plain sight – working in stores and restaurants; running stalls at local markets; driving taxis. Find them. Find them and they will help with a smile. If you are not Indian, doesn’t matter. They usually know French, English and one Indian language.

Learn the golden words – please, thank you, sorry and excuse me. Learn to greet. I can count from 1-10. I know the days of the week and months of the year. I can read menus and order food. The word I found most useful was “lait” – milk.  “Au lait, pour le bébé.” I use it in restaurants and super markets, and always get what I need.

Paris is a very good idea ❣️