Bonjour de Paris! J’ai pris une semaine de congé et rencontré mes parents dans la ville de l’amour pour jouer au touriste et cracher au sommet de la Tour Eiffel.
And that took me a long time to figure out in French, so I am going to switch back to English. I’ve spent the last six days in France hanging out with the parental units and soaking up a little culture. While the parental units usually go for the guided tours, this trip we decided to do it on our own. My mom found a hotel, we made a list of things we wanted to see and then we dragged my dad around the city. It was a much needed trip, and a good chance to see my parents. It was the start of a beautiful tradition of traveling for Thanksgiving.
Paris. The capital, and most populated city in France and is home to the Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa and amazing wine and cheese. My mom and I had never been, but my dad spent a weekend there 40 years ago while he was in the Army and stationed in Germany. Armed with a Lonely Planet guide book, the GPS on my phone and my sense of adventure, we made the most of the 6 days we had together.
Highlights of the trip:
Perhaps the most famous museum in the world, the Louvre is now housed in what was once a fortress turned palace. The museum opened in 1793 and features works of art from Egypt, Greece, France, the Middle East, Britain and America. Highlights include Winged Victory (190 BC)
The Mona Lisa, which according to Wikipedia:
The painting, thought to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, is in oil on a white Lombardy poplar panel, and is believed to have been painted between 1503 and 1506. Leonardo may have continued working on it as late as 1517. It was acquired by King Francis I of France and is now the property of the French Republic, on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris since 1797.
Liberty Leading the People
and the Venus de Milo
We spent Monday climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visiting the Arc de Triomphe and strolling down the famous The Avenue des Champs-Élysées. We wandered through a Christmas market, and I had the chance to catch up with an old friend from UC Merced. There was a lot of walking involved, but, I enjoyed every minute of it.
After a bit of touring on our own we joined a walking tour that focused on WWII and the Jewish quarter of Paris. Religion is a tricky thing in Paris, and WWII was not a shining moment for the French. According to the guide, France is deeply embarrassed by bits of their history, but it became clear walking around that they really have taken the time to honour the dead with beautiful monuments and tributes throughout the city. I enjoyed all of the smells of fresh bread and kebabs while on the walk, and we had the chance to meet some really great Americans who also wanted to enjoy a bit of history. I was able to find a really nice mezuzah from a shop in the quarter, and sampled a very tasty bagel with my mom. According to the Art of Living Guide:
“The city’s most famous Jewish neighborhood is in the Marais and is known as the Pletzl – Yiddish for little Place. This 4th arrondissment district (Metro: St. Paul) has been home to Jews on and off since the thirteenth century. Today, though gentrification has made this one of the city’s most fashionable quarters, it is still heavily Jewish and has been for nearly one hundred years.”
If you are ever in Paris, I highly recommend the tour with Localers. The guide that we had made three hours breeze by and gave us a mix of history and current secrets and hidden gems in the city. Ask for Edward. Here is his bio:
Edward is a Franco-British guide and a proper local – born and bred in Paris – a French soul trapped in the body of an Englishman! After working several years in hospitality and hotel management in Normandy, he decided to embark his clients along with him on an adventure. Totally bicultural, he shares a breadth of information on Paris. Whether outdoors or in a museum, he knows his turf like the back of his hand and still, Paris never ceases to amaze him. Like in magic, there’s always something there that you never saw. Promoting Paris in a fun and eclectic way, Edward often goes that extra mile to provide a well-rounded Parisian experience. In his spare time he likes treading the cobblestones, exploring lesser known parts of Paris. And when he isn’t in the city, you’ll find him hiking in the Pyrenees.
Wednesday was an early day filled of rain, a large double decker tour bus and trip out of the city to the beaches of Normandy. My dad is a huge WWII buff and he, my uncle, and my grandad all served in the Army, so this was his one request of the trip. We set off in the pouring rain, but at the end of the three hour bus ride we were met with clouds, but no rain. We started at the Memorial de Caen dedicated to WWII and the Battle of Normandy. This was one of the most beautiful museums I have ever been to. It was well presented, very detailed, and very respectful of all sides. What struck me most was the treatment of Jews, the severity of the battle, and the propaganda on display at the time.
After the museum, we went to Omaha beach where the Americans landed. The beach was beautiful and tragic, and it was overwhelming to think about what it might have been like on that fateful day. After the war, France gave every one of the allied countries a plot of land to be used as a memorial and cemetery for those who died in battle. We went to the American cemetery. It looks a lot like Arlington, and the government has done a great job to make sure the land is beautiful and a great tribute to the soldiers. Many of the men buried there were not even out of their teens. The magnitude of that, being 19 and dying for your country, is something that I cannot even imagine. These men died for a cause, died so that I could say that I am embarrassed to be an American right now, died so that I can be a practicing Jew without being afraid of what people would do.
This was the trip I didn’t know that I needed to go on. It was nice to get out of the city, but it was also nice to put some things in perspective. I’ve heard and read about all the protests and people feeling like they are getting shafted. People are being petty and hateful and not focusing on real issues like Standing Rock, and terror threats. I can protest, complain, celebrate the system because these men stormed a beach willing to die for America. It makes the grief counseling, safe spaces and colouring books seem a bit daft, but hopefully people remember what these men did for our freedom and will think about fixing a long broken system.
We met a lovely family from Wisconsin during the tour. They were fantastic. Funny, curious, and educated. They were open to discussion and I enjoyed sitting with them when usually I hate interacting with other people in tour groups.
My last day in Paris was Thanksgiving. Personally, I haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving in awhile. I cooked a meal for my friends and family here last year, but for the last few years I have been traveling. My mom and I spent the day hunting out the home of Gertrude Stein and Shakespeare and Company. Armed with a map and the Lonely Planet book, my mom and I wandered outside the bounds of tourists and had a good time wandering around laughing at each other, and trying not to get lost. Gertrude Stein is my favourite poet, so seeing where she wrote some of her best work was amazing. We then spent Thanksgiving in an Irish pub drinking beer, eating fish and chips and lox and bagels and enjoying both a Scottish bartender and a guy from New York. My mother has a tendency to lose her gloves wherever we go, and we had ourselves in a fit of giggles when she left them on the table and then dropped them in the bathroom. I went back to get them and then my mom and I laughed all the way back to the hotel….of course, we were the only ones laughing.
I made it home feeling like I got a very good feel for the city of Paris and an urge to see other parts of France. I came home with art, a little more culture and feeling boosted by being with my parents. I’m grateful for everything I have, and every day that I get to go on adventures. I’m hoping that feeling keeps me warm for the next couple of weeks so I can finish some reports, complete the draft of my paper, and finish the draft of my methodology chapter.
I’m happiest when I am traveling and France gave me the chance to reconnect with an old friend, see my parents, and take in some really great sights. I cannot wait for my next trip in a month. Budapest, get ready for me.