Paris Adventures – Day 12

This post took me days to write! I am still shocked at the amount of activities we did on this day. Let’s get right into it.

The Louvre

Paris Louvre Day

Some say you can spend a whole day or more at the Louvre. K and I did it leisurely in 4 hours thanks to Rick Steves. In Rick Steve’s Paris 2010 book, he walks you through the Louvre in a 2 hour tour, but we added on sites along the way which stretched the tour to 3-4 hours. Here are some highlights:

The inverted pyramid – This is actually outside the Louvre in the Carrousel du Louvre, the museum’s underground mall. You may recognize this from the end of the Da Vinci Code. Robert Langdon finds the Holy Grail under the pyramid next to the Virgin Records.

Paris Louvre Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo – This is one of the most famous sculptures from ancient Greece. It is believed to be of Aphrodite, but experts are still unsure. The fascination of this piece is that it’s history is mysterious. No one knows the artist, who it is depicted of, and what her arms may be doing in the sculpture.

Paris Louvre Winged Victory

Winged Victory – The Winged Victory is one of the most famed sculptures in the world. The sculpture of the Greek goddess, Nike of Samothrace, was constructed in 190 BC to honor a sea battle.

Paris Louvre Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa – No explanation here. It’s the Mona Lisa! It’s probably the most celebrated piece in the Louvre, and there’s no doubt judging by the crowd of people surrounding the painting. The size of the painting is much smaller than I expected and the colors were a dull as well. I wasn’t as excited as I thought I’d be, but it was still very cool to see it in person.

Paris Louvre Mummy

The Hall of Mummies – I actually don’t know if there’s a real name for this, but they have a room dedicated to mummies. So cool! I’m very fascinated with Egyptian history and I even have plans to travel to Egypt in the next year or two. In this room, they have several different mummy cases on display. At the end of the hall, they even have an actual Egyptian mummy enclosed in a glass case.

Paris Louvre Napoleon Apts

Napoleon’s III Apartments - In the Richelieu Wing at the Louvre, there are a several rooms on display where Napoleon III, the first president of the French Republic, used to live. This is not on Rick Steve’s itinerary, but I’m glad we added this in because it is the most different thing to see in this museum. With painted ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and decor of gold, marble, silk and velvet, it’s amazing to see these rooms in such good condition.

Lunch: Carrousel du Louvre

Paris Louvre Snack

The Louvre has a few cafes, but they can be expensive. We did take a break in the Louvre for an apple tart, a coke and a cafe au lait. That was a fun experience… sitting in the Louvre enjoying a snack. For lunch, I suggest walking over to the Carrousel du Louvre to their food court. K and I shared this Moroccan plate of couscous and chicken phyllo pastry. It wasn’t that great, but it was cheap.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Paris Notre Dame Exterior

We still had the afternoon, so we headed off to the Notre Dame. In case you haven’t seen the Hunchback at Notre Dame, this is a famous Gothic style church sitting on an island in the Seine River.

Point Zero

Paris Point Zero

In front of the cathedral is Point Zero, the official center of Paris. Distances from Paris to other cities are measured from here.

Sainte Chapelle

Paris Sainte Chapelle Stained Glass

Our last cathedral of the day was Sainte Chapelle, a French Gothic church made of 15 panels of stained glass depicting more than 1,100 scenes mostly from the Bible. The glass-work is so intricate, it would take months to actually look at every single panel. Unfortunately, the stained glass behind he altar was under construction, so I couldn’t get a photo of the entire interior. The Paris pass is not accepted here, so be prepared to pay around 8 euros to get in.

Dinner: Picnic in the hotel room

Paris Dinner Picnic

Hands down. This was our favorite meal throughout the entire trip. On our way back to the hotel from Sainte Chapelle, K and I stopped at a bakery and a meat and cheese shop to purchase a few items for dinner. We got 2 baguettes, a slice of paté and a round of chevre cheese, a soft and mild goat cheese. We took it back to our room and devoured everything. The paté isn’t the typical paté Americans are used to. This was more like a meatloaf consisting of pork, peas and carrots and other ingredients I couldn’t identify. Sounds scary, but it was delish. The combination of the creamy cheese and the salty paté with the crusty bread was to die for. This was the most fun I had during a meal on this entire trip.

Seine River Cruise

Paris Canal Tour Seine River

The night is still young! As if we hadn’t done enough already, K and I went back out to take a canal tour of the Seine River via the Bateaux Mouches cruise line. The cruise takes you on a hour long tour along the Seine from the Eiffel Tower to the Notre Dame. I suggest doing this at night since Paris is beautiful when it’s lit up. As soon as we took off, the Eiffel Tower began to twinkle as it did on our first night. Things couldn’t have been more perfect. The cruise comes with an audio tour that is translated in 10 different languages. I couldn’t really hear what the recording was saying, but it didn’t matter because I enjoyed being on the water. Best part is that this tour only costs 10 euros per person.

Paris Eiffel Tower Twinkle

From here, we trekked back home for a good night’s rest.

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Bonjour, Paris! – Day 11

The title of this post comes from a song in “Funny Face,” one of my favorite Audrey Hepburn movies. In this movie, Audrey is discovered by a big name fashion magazine editor and is taken to Paris to become a model. When they first land in the city, Audrey, Fred Astaire, and the magazine editor visit several famous sites from the Eiffel Tower to the Latin Quarter while singing, “Bonjour, Paris!” – which was my inspiration for this Parisian itinerary.

Hotel Beaubourg

This day was mostly a travel day for us. We really only had time to do one sight and have dinner after checking in. We had previously stayed in vacation apartment retails in both Rome and Barcelona, but we decided to end our trip at a cute 3-star Parisian hotel, Hotel Beaubourg, in the 2nd arrondissement. It was in such a convenient location. Just moments away from Notre Dame and the Louvre. It’s close to a grocery store, a bakery, and several meat and cheese shops too. The only thing this place lacked was a complimentary breakfast. Their breakfast was at around 9 euro per person.

Eiffel Tower

Paris Eiffel Tower View

I pre-purchased tickets to the Eiffel Tower for a 6pm entrance time so K and I could bypass the ticket line. Thank God I did because it was about 20°F and I could not wait outside in a line an hour long. We eventually spent that hour in another line for the elevator to get to the top of the tower. I chose 6pm because I wanted to catch the sunset from the summit, and luckily, we made it just in time. It was amazing. Watching the large orange sun sink behind the city of Paris was breathtaking. I did kind of have to fight my way to the front of the window as the sun was going down, but once I stopped and actually looked at the view, I immersed myself in the experience. I was at the top of the Eiffel Tower watching a sun set over Paris in a cloudless sky. How many people get to experience that? Well, I’m sure many, but now I am one of them.

Paris Eiffel Tower Night

The one Cliffbar I had during the day wore out about 4 hours before, so I was ready for dinner. On our way to the closest restaurant we could find, the Eiffel Tower began twinkling! Just like a Christmas tree! Every night at 9pm the Eiffel Tower twinkles for about 10 minutes. The picture above is not of a twinkling Eiffel Tower.

Dinner: Le Champ de Mars Brasserie

Paris Champ de Mars Cafe

The first restaurant we found was Le Champ de Mars Brasserie, a cute little French cafe at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower. Since it was my first authentic French meal, I went all out. I ordered coq au vin (chicken cooked in wine) with the French onion soup to start. Parisians actually don’t drink French onion soup, but I wanted it anyway. The chicken was amazing. So tender and juicy, the meat fell off the bone. The fettuccine served with was naked. No sauce at all. That’s because you’re supposed to use the wine reduction sauce from the chicken to wet the noodles. Oh mannn, so good. French onion soup can often be salty, but it wasn’t the case for this one. You could actually taste the onions and the crusty cheese on top. K got the steak frites and the escargot. He was a happy camper because he never gets to eat snails (I don’t like them). The snails were swimming in a butter, garlic and parsley sauce, but for some reason, K was a little unsatisfied. After his first bite, he mentioned he actually preferred the Chinese snails over this. His steak, however, was a winner. Beautifully charred and seasoned, the medium rare steak was tender and juicy. Rick Steves says that Parisian steaks are a little more rare than what Americans are used to. Tip: order medium if you want medium rare.
Paris French Onion Soup

Paris Escargot

Paris Steak Frites

Champs-Élysées

Paris Arc de Triomph

After dinner, we headed for the Champs-Élysées, Paris’ famous shopping street, to see the Arc De Triomphe. It was about 11pm at this time, and the street was still filled with people. Thank goodness we made our way here because we found an H&M that seemed to be open 24 hours. Did I mention it was about 20°F? We stocked up on gloves and scarves to keep us warm.
Paris Louve Pyramid Night

We trekked back home by foot and stopped at the Lourve for a night time photo op. Gosh it was beautiful. The white lights shining through the glass pyramids lit up the museum square.

We finally made it home and called it a night for our next full day of Parisian fun.

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Bye Bye Barcelona – Day 10

Just like Rome, we saved our last day for shopping and relaxation. We needed  to take it easy for our trip to Paris the next day. The night before, we did a little research on discount shopping and stores that sell Balenciaga bags. Who knew Balenciaga bags were so hard to find in Barcelona? I did find one at this one designer handbag store, but it wasn’t the size I wanted, so I passed it up.

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Iberian Ham FriesBarcelona Tapa Tapa Chorizo

After a late start, we decided to grab lunch at our favorite restaurant at the pier, Tapa Tapa. It was such a beautiful day, we had to sit outside along the water. We ordered more food at this particular meal than at any other meal during this trip. That’s the problem with tapas, you can easily order way too much. We had the patatas bravas (of course), iberian ham with a fried egg on top of a bed of fries, endive salad with smoked salmon and dill dressing, chorizo sausages and a plate of fidua (paella with vermicelli noodles). For drink, I had a cup of peach juice and K got the orange. Our last day in Barcelona and we JUST discovered that the chorizo is AMAZING. Dang! We could’ve eaten this every day! The baby chorizo was so flavorful and spicy. It definitely did not taste like any chorizo I’ve had at home.

Our first stop on the shopping agenda was Bershka on Passaig de Gracia. Bershka is a Spanish clothing store owned by the same company that owns Zara. Both stores are very similar, but I found Bershka to be a little cheaper. I copped a brown faux leather belt and a black lacey cardigan for $38 US. Not bad for Europe.

We were also severely under-prepared for the cold weather in Paris. Travelling with a small carry-on had it’s limitations – we couldn’t pack heavy coats! We realized we couldn’t afford authentic European clothing (stuff you can’t get at home), so we headed for Zara. There I got a white sweater with elbow patches and a navy peacoat. That was about $80 US altogether. K got a very sleek-looking black trench. Little did we know we were still very unprepared for the cold weather to come. I’ll get back to that in my next post.

Barcelona Escriba Hot ChocolateBarcelona Excriba Pine Nut Balls

At this point, we had walked up and down the Passaig de Gracia all the way from the Avinguda Diagonal to Plaça de Catalunya and worked up a hunger for some hot chocolate. We found another hot chocolate place, Escriba on La Rambla, in one of our travel books. We were very much tempted to go back to Cacao Sampaka, but we forced ourselves to try something new. We ordered 2 large cups of hot chocolate and 2 marzipan balls covered in toasted pine nuts and honey. In comparison to Cacao Sampaka, this hot chocolate was grainier. The pastry sounds better than it tastes too. I was expecting a crunchy outer shell, but the entire ball is very soft. It might’ve been better with a peanut rather than pine nut crust.

So, after our snack, we headed back to the apartment to pack and call it a night early. We needed tons of shuteye before our trek to our last stop, Paris!

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We dilly Dali in Figueres – Day 9

Barcelona Figueres Dali Museum Lady

Our day trip from Barcelona consisted of Dali, Dali and more Dali. We took the slow train to Figueres (1.5 hours), where the only main attraction is the Dali Museum. Yes, it’s another art museum. But this isn’t like any kind of art, this is Surrealism. Fantasy.

Barcelona Figueres Creepy Sculpture

The few Dali sculptures in the courtyard in front of the museum gave us a taste of what’s inside the museum. Dali was clearly on drugs, but when he was asked the question, he answers, “I am the drug… take me.”

Barcelona Figueres Dali Museum Cadillac

The entrance of the museum leads to a round room with a 1941 Cadillac that rains on the inside when you insert a coin. For some reason, Dali created a lot of coin-operated art. Behind the car is a boat 50 feet in the air holding Dali’s partner, Gala, with tears made out of condoms hanging below.

Barcelona Figueres Dali Museum Abraham Lincoln

When we made our way up the ramp, we entered the theater with a huge painting of a half naked man with a cracked skill and doorway through his ribcage. To the left, there is a painting of a nude Gala overlooking a balcony. If you look through the coin-operated telescope, or just squint your eyes, you can see the face of Abraham Lincoln.

This is just a taste of what’s in this museum. You have to see it for yourself. Rick Steves even says that this is probably the most interesting museum in all of Europe.

Barcelona Figueres Meat Combo Lunch

Before we headed back to Barcelona, we stopped for a mediocre lunch at a cafe near the museum. I had a Spanish omelette with croquettes and a side salad, while K had the meat combo consisting of a 12 inch hot dog, a pork cutlet, a hamburger patty topped with fries.

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Artichokes

Back in Barcelona, we shopped a bit before we headed for a light dinner at Tapa Tapa on the Pasaig de Gracia. I had to have my patatas bravas and I wanted to try the fried artichokes. Second time in a row, I was not disappointed. The lightly salted artichokes were crispy and tender.

Barcelona Cocoa Sampaka Hot Chocolate

Barcelona Cocoa Sampaka Desserts

Now for the best part of the day. Dessert. Barcelona is said to have some of the best hot chocolate in the world. I did a little research online and found Cacao Sampaka in the Eixample district. When we walked into the restaurant, we were told that they would close in 10 minutes but we could come in for a quick drink. We got 2 cups of hot chocolate with some lady fingers and some kind of sugar pastry. As soon as we got our order, we were told we only had 2 minutes left. We chugged the hot chocolate and ate our desserts like no tomorrow, but we loved ever second of it. The chocolate was super thick, rich and creamy. It was like drinking a chocolate dipping sauce. I also tasted a hint of cinnamon and other spices. Before I left, I purchased a bag of the hot chocolate mix for my bro and sis-in-law as well as a box of chocolates for my parents. The hot chocolate mix was just as good as the one at the restaurant.

Soon after, we made our way back to our apartment in Barceloneta.

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The Other Barcelona – Day 8

Believe it or not, there are other things to see in Barcelona besides Gaudi’s architecture. From old churches, to museums, to the ruins of a castle – this is what we did on day 8 of our vacation.

Breakfast: Forn Gotic

Barcelona Chocolate Croissant

It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t start the day with a chocolate croissant. So, that’s exactly what we did. We found a super cute bakery in old town and got a hot dog wrapped in pastry dough and a chocolate croissant twist. This chocolate twist was probably the best chocolate pastry from our entire trip. Soft, fluffy and filled with TONS of chocolate. Yum!

Picasso Museum

Barcelona Picasso Museum

Since we stayed over in Barceloneta, we decided to start with the closest destination, the Picasso Museum. There are a few Picasso Museums out there, but this one is the most extensive. This museum houses more of his early works but walks you through the evolution of his artistic style from realism to his blue period to cubism. Or, what some would say, how he became crazy. The most interesting part about this museum is the Las Meninas exhibit. Picasso took a painting of a royal family by Diego Velázquez and painted a series of 58 interpretations.  Each painting is a deconstruction of the original and he even paints the same thing multiple times. It makes you wonder, “What was going on in this guy’s head when he did this?”

Lunch: La Boqueria

Barcelona La Boqueria

It was about lunch time after this, so we headed down La Rambla to the famous La Boqueria, Barcelona’s largest farmers market where you can buy meats, seafood, bread, and pretty much anything else you can think of. What was unfortunate was that we weren’t really hungry for a real lunch. We did get fruit juice, kiwi and mango, from one of the many stands. That was thick, fresh and delish, but way overpriced. I think it might’ve been a puree of the actual fruit. We were looking for something else small so we could say we ate here and we came across some fried salt cod at one of the seafood stands. That was really good actually. I thought I wouldn’t like it because Andrew Zimmern makes it sound so unappetizing on his show, but really it’s just dried, salted fish that has been reconstituted, battered and fried.

Barcelona La Boqueria Cured Meat Stand

Barcelona La Boqueria Fruit Juice

Barcelona La Boqueria Candy Stand

Barcelona La Boqueria Seafood Stand

Barcelona La Boqueria Fried Salt Cod

Palau de la Musica

Source PalauMusica.org

From here, we walked past the very old Gothic Cathedral to check out the Palau de la Musica, a concert hall designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, a rival of Antoni Gaudi. We took an hour tour inside to see the colorful glass ceiling that dips down into the hall like a raindrop, truly unique for a concert hall. The purpose of using glass in the structure was to bring in natural light. I would totally recommend this tour if you visit Barcelona. Only downside is that they don’t all you to take photos inside. I took the picture above from their website.

Mies van der Rohe Pavilion

Barcelona Mies van der Rohe Pavilion

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to Montjuic (translation = “Hill of The Jews”). Nothing much is here besides the fact that it owns commanding views of all of Barcelona. We took the metro to the bottom of the hill and worked our way up, starting with the Mies van der Rohe pavilion. We decided to skip the popular National Museum of Catalan Art because we were a little museumed-out at the time. Entrance to the Mies van der Rohe pavilion cost us 4.50 euros each, and let me tell you, it is a waste of money. I’m a huge fan of mid-century-modern furniture so when I saw this during my research, I wanted to come here. You’d probably recognize his most famous piece, the Barcelona chair. That’s pretty much the only thing in this pavilion, 3 Barcelona chairs. Rohe did build the pavilion itself, but you can admire that from the outside.

Olympic Stadium

Barcelona Olympic Flame

Next, we headed off to the Olympic flame for the 1992 summer Olympics. K and I thought we’d go by to check out the flame and the stadium. A few shots here and there and we were off to the next site.

Castell de Montjuic

Barcelona Castell de Montjuic

Over by the Joan Miro museum, there is a cable car that takes you up to the Castell de Montjuic. The cable car is so much fun. It’s suspended in the air and it takes you to the top of Mountjuic. Castell de Montjuic is a 17th century fortress, but later it was used as a prison. When Franco came along, it was the site to numerous executions. The castle itself is pretty cool. There is a drawstring bridge! When you get inside, there’s really nothing to do but admire the views. On one side, you can see the harbor and on the other side, you can see all of Barcelona.

Barcelona Montjuic Cable Car

Barcelona Castell de Montjuic Tunnel

Barcelona Castell de Montjuic View

From the top of Montjuic, we walked all the way down to Port Vell over by Barceloneta. This pier was renovated for the ’92 Olympics and is now home to a big shopping center.

Dinner: Tapa Tapa

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Fidua

K and I had dinner here at a touristy spot, Tapa Tapa. Believe it or not, but this became our favorite restaurant in Barcelona. We had a variety of tapas – patatas bravas, brie and truffles on a toast, Iberian ham and cheese croquettes, and the Catalan favorite, fidua (think paella but with vermicelli noodles instead of rice). Oh man, there was not one thing I didn’t like. The patatas bravas were very crispy and complimentary with the spicy mayo on top. The brie and truffles on toast was hot and gooey from the oven. Who doesn’t love that? The croquettes were something new for us. A crispy breaded coating and a creamy and cheesy mashed potato center filled with pieces of salty ham. I could eat these all day and that would be dangerous. And now, the best for last – the fidua, or fish noodles. I have to find this dish in San Francisco or I may not live. It has the same salty, saffron flavor as paella. This particular version was made with fish stock and they top it off with tender, succulent shrimp. They even serve it with a little dish of mayo. What? Why mayo? Well, I added a little dollup of it and wow. Think of all the flavors I mentioned above but in a creamy sauce. Oh, so good.

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Port Vell

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Croquettes

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Patatas Bravas

Barcelona Tapa Tapa Brie Truffles

Image Gallery

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