france · travel things

Christmas in Paris: Part II

This is the second half of my parents’ visit to Paris at Christmastime. If you missed the first part, you can find it here

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Strasbourg

Two days before Christmas, we boarded our (very first!) European rail and headed to Strasbourg, the Capital of Christmas. We devoured our way through the Christmas markets, took lots of pictures, and admired the handicrafts. We made food, played games, and watched movies. We woke up late on Christmas morning and had a lazy day before heading back to the city. {I am only showing a fraction of the photos we took – I have toooons more coming, trust me!}

Highlights:

  • Dad’s delicious sandwiches that he prepared for us to eat on the train (simple turkey, cheese, and mustard, but somehow soooo good)
  • Getting the four-person section of seats where we could all see each other
  • The airbnb host picked us up from the train station and took us back to his place… where we hiked up six flights of stairs to his flat!
  • Trying to configure the shower so you didn’t bonk your head on the ceiling or spill water out of the shower
  • The bells….ringing ALL morning
  • Watching The Night Before – such a bizarre movie. But lots of funny moments
  • Drinking wine and watching the Madagascar Christmas special
  • More of dad’s breakfast sandwiches (and potatoes and fruit salad – yum)
  • Playing Lost Cities tournament-style with me, Dad, and Whit
  • Whit got a new scarf from my parents for Christmas
  • Buying the 15-pack of chocolate-covered marshmallows… which looked better than they tasted! (kind of melty.) Trying to finish them all!
  • Getting a coffee and the BEST Nutella-banana galette right across from the Christmas market
  • The live nativity scene, which was kind of sad (Joseph looked VERY bored), but still nice
  • Watching an adorable puppy learn to run/jump with another dog
  • Going in Galeries Lafeyette to use the bathroom, and stopping to look for perfume even though we were all exhausted
  • Snagging stall food (cheesy potatoes and sausage that they didn’t tell us cost extra) and eating it behind the chalets
  • The changing lights on the buildings behind the tram
  • Giving Whit a hard time for taking us the long way around the intersection that was also muddier than the other sidewalk
  • Playing darts
  • PHOTOBOMBER
  • Loooots of vin chaud
  • Lastly, finding a new Jewish seafood/pizza? restaurant at which to eat our Christmas Eve dinner *insert laugh-crying emoji* – and trying not to make it too obvious that we were Christians! (hey, the ice cream was really good!)

Pere Lachaise, Eiffel Tower, & Sacre Coeur

The second week, Whit joined us for the Pere Lachaise cemetery, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, and a bus tour. My mom and I faced the crowds in Galeries Lafayette on the rainiest day of the year to secure Parisian perfume for one of her good friends.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

  • We regretted buying a map once we walked in and saw a directory, but then realized how crucial the map actually was once we started walking through all the meandering paths.
  • Before we went in, I randomly picked up some sour gummies from a street stand. They were weird at first but we ended up being kind of addicted to them. In any case it was fun to have something new to munch on while we wandered.
  • Whit stayed in the chapel a little too long and mom thought the old lady was going to get him! Ha!
  • We found a Bengal cat weaving through the paths – loved him!

The Eiffel Tower & Petit Cler

Eiffel Tower

  • You know the saying, save the best for last. That’s exactly what we did – we held off visiting the Eiffel Tower until the next to last day of my parents’ visit. We had seen it from a distance, of course, but there’s nothing like seeing it right before you as it fills almost the entire sky. We stepped off the metro stop at Trocadero (my first time seeing it from this angle) right as the sun was setting over the tower. It was breathtaking.
  • We spontaneously decided to go up in the tower. Well, that’s not exactly correct. My parents were thinking we would definitely go up. I was thinking we wouldn’t want to spend the money and the line would be too long. Since we hadn’t planned ahead of time, it was too late to purchase tickets online, and we debated for a long time whether or not we should do it and if so which line should we wait in. We ended up going for it, and I’m so glad we did – even though we waited two hours in the cold to go up, and then climbed all 600 steps to (only!) the second level {we didn’t go all the way to the very top.}
  • It was Whit’s and my first time up, and it was spectacular! I think it would be much nicer to do when it’s not freezing cold outside, but it kind of made it more satisfying, knowing that we toughed it out. The wind blew and the cold chilled us to the bone, and we ate hot snacks (fries, hot chocolate, and hot dogs) and played trivia while we stood in line. But then, being up close and personal with the tower (being IN it!!) was the coolest thing. Totally worth it.
  • From walking from Trocadero to standing in line to climbing up and then down the tower steps to walking to dinner, we saw the sunset over the tower, the lights come on, and the tower sparkle FIVE times! Until this night I had never seen it sparkle up close, so I think this experience more than made up for that. 😉

Petit Cler

  • This was the first French restaurant we ate at when we moved to France. Until this point in my parents’ visit, we hadn’t eaten a traditional French dinner. Le Petit Cler ended up being PERFECT – it had such a good atmosphere to warm up and consume good food and wine after being out in the cold for so long. The food was AMAZING! Three of us ordered the duck, with potatoes and salad. We got a cheese course for starters, paired with red wine, and finished with a chocolate mousse so good we had to order another. Oh my gosh it was so good.

Montmartre

Sacre Coeur

  • My parents were keen to redeem their previous Montmartre experience from 12 years prior, when they had overpaid for a poorly drawn portrait by an “artist” feigning work at the bottom of the hill (apparently the true artists work at the top). There were no artists haggling for our attention this time, so Montmartre Deux was a success.
  • I don’t know much about the churches in France, but inside Sacre Coeur there was a quote from the pastor’s (father?) recent message which was really truthful and inspiring. They also had a nativity set-up with accurate ethnic depictions of the characters (minus a rogue Chinese peasant, ha!).

Aux Trois Cochons

  • Do you want to see photos from and hear about the best meal Whit and I have had in our lives?? Thought so.
  • One: can you even IMAGINE a cozier restaurant?? I mean, come on. Stone walls, lights everywhere, woodland decorations hanging from the windows and ceiling, candles on the table, Christmas music playing. The ambiance was out of this world.
  • Two: This was our first true gastronomic French food experience. The four-course menu was limited to just a few specialties that they made limited quantities of. Every bite of all the plates we ordered were DE-LECTABLE! So, so good. Interesting combinations of flavors that I would never think to combine, that all worked so well together.
  • Three: We arrived at 6:50 and the sign on the door said they open at 7. We peeked in the windows and saw all the chefs and waiters dining together at a table in the back. How adorable! At 7, one of the waiters came out and told us to come back at 7:30. We told them our name to reserve a table, and walked around a bit until our mouths were watering.
  • Four: This was one of those French restaurants where you have the table as long as you want it. A few tables turned during our hour and a half-ish there, but there was no pressure whatsoever for us to leave. We saw the waiter turn lots of parties away because the house was full! I love the importance placed on the people who are there enjoying their meal.
  • Five: If you go, don’t even try to get away without ordering dessert. You’re gonna give in, so just go ahead and add it to your order as soon as you sit down.
  • Bonus: I ate the bread (gluten!) and it was sooooo good. More please??

Bus Tour

  • My mom didn’t have a lot of requests for their trip, but she was persistent in saying she wanted to a hop-on, hop-off bus tour. It seemed very touristy, but I did think it would be nice to ride around and look at the city, especially on a day we didn’t feel like walking. It ended up being the perfect alternative when our other plans were cancelled (the catacombs were completely booked). We all ended up loving it! Our only regret was not doing it sooner (there were great snippets of history and tidbits about sites we had already visited).
  • The bus pulled an unexpected u-turn, causing us to almost miss the stop – we had to run across the street (thankfully a truck blocked traffic at the exact perfect moment) to catch it!
  • We grabbed galettes for lunch beforehand. My mom got the caramelized hazelnut and traded with all of us for our more savory lunch choices. So yummy!
  • It looked like two people were getting engaged in front of the Palais Garnier! Our bus was stopped, so we watched them the while the man got down on one knee, but we never saw a ring. We cheered for them regardless, even though literally no one else seemed to notice!

Galeries Lafayette

  • The ENTIRE trip my mom talked about getting perfume for a friend. She was on the search for a French perfume, fairly natural, not too expensive – oh, and she had specific scents in mind. For whatever reason, I kept forgetting to put this shopping excursion in our schedule, and because we got started for the day later and later as the weeks went on, we never had enough time for random “extra” shopping. FINALLY – on the rainiest day since I moved to France – my dad wasn’t feeling well, so my mom and I decided to take a girls’ trip to the mall.
  • If you’ve never been to a French department store, I will tell you – they are OVERwhelming. Crowded as can be – of stores, products, and people. Floor after floor, section after section of STUFF. Multiply that by one thousand when you’re talking about the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Your reward for putting up with the craziness during this season is the giant multicolored floating Christmas tree (and a trip to Pierre Herme for two well-deserved macarons).
  • One not-so-secret secret tip is that you can ride the escalator all the way to the top of the building, where you can see the Eiffel Tower from the rooftop patio. Definitely do that, especially on the hour (at night) when you can see it sparkle.
  • A less memorable memory, but one I will share nonetheless: Navigating through Paris is not easy, so don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. Getting lost or confused is a very common occurrence (ESPECIALLY if you don’t have cell data 😦 and Google Maps is not super accurate without it). This particular night, I got SO lost trying to find this (awesome) Thai place (Mme Shawn) which we had pre-decided we would bring home to the guys. Mom was SOOOO gracious in following me patiently despite my mistakes and frustrating. Eventually, we succeeded and discovered a benefit of all our wrong turns – the restaurant wasn’t even open yet! After waiting outside for ten minutes, we were rewarded with hot, delicious takeout. Praise God.

New Year’s Eve

After sending my parents off on New Year’s Eve morning, Whit and I spent time with our friends from his work in the suburbs. The train times weren’t extended despite the holiday, so we left early and welcomed in the New Year on a bridge over the Seine, kissing and watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle.

  • Not all of our team was present at the New Year’s party, but some of their parents were! We played a game of fishbowl with everyone, and enjoyed Whit’s faces, Pam and Tim guessing exactly the same words, and Kathleen being super excited to play the game.
  • Most of us were staying in the city and had to leave around 11pm to catch a bus. We thought we left with enough time to catch it, but the bus came a little early. We were still all wearing our party hats, and Whit and Katie had to sprint to catch the bus. I told Whit, “I’ve never seen you run like that!” It was hilarious to watch his long legs in dress shoes and wearing a silly hat.
  • We decided to fight the urge to be homebodies, and joined a crowd of people on a bridge overlooking the Seine with a view of the Eiffel Tower. We carried around our bottle of champagne, which still had the lock on it from the grocery store. It would have been fun to pop our champagne with the many other groups of people who opened bottles right after the clocked hit 12am. There is no fear of PDA in France, so all the couples kissed, people were drinking champagne, and the Eiffel Tower sparkled. There were some fireworks over the Arc de Triomphe that we could see in the distance, too. It was romantic, though cold and windy.
  • Before finding a spot on the bridge, we walked by the river, tried to put a party hat on a swan, and met a couple from the UK.
  • It was fitting to welcome in 2018 in our new city together!

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What was your most memorable New Year’s celebration? Did you travel anywhere for Christmas? 

 

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