Friday, January 13, 2017

Trip Report: Day Eight - Paris

Christmas Day in Paris! We started the day by sleeping in and having breakfast in our hotel, then I took an hour-long bath and we read our books until nearly lunchtime. Most things are closed on Christmas Day, after all, so there was no pressure to pack in a lot of activity.

Our metro station was completely deserted! 

But the Pompidou Centre was not deserted. It's the only major museum open on Christmas, so that's where everybody went. We had a Christmas lunch of a shared sandwich and cake overlooking the entrance hall.

There were a lot of people there, but it's a big place so it wasn't too bad. When we arrived we picked up a 6-day Paris Museum Pass, which allows you free entry into most of the major sites. The best feature is that you get to use a special entrance line in most of the museums as well, which is always shorter than the regular line. The Museum Pass ended up saving us a lot of money, but it would have been worth it for the line-skipping even if we'd had to pay extra.

The best thing about the Pompidou Centre is the views from the top.

Sacre-Coeur really is on a steep hill!

We liked the modern art parts all right, but the contemporary stuff veered toward silliness.

Oh look, it's Americans.

After the museum we wandered the streets.

Bonjour, monsieur!

We saw Saint Jacques Tower. Its church was destroyed during the French Revolution. I just googled right now to find out the name, as I had forgotten, and discovered Nicolas Flamel is buried underneath it!!! Inventor of the Sorcerer's Stone!

We walked for a long time along the Seine. As the afternoon went on, the city got a little busier.

The Louvre was closed but there were still tons of people hanging around taking selfies.

We walked through the Tuileries Garden toward the Place de la Concorde. Paris was ten to fifteen degrees warmer than Munich (at least until the last couple of days) and it was a huge relief to be able to comfortably walk around outside without a hat and scarf and gloves.

For dinner we met my friend Melissa at La Coupole, just around the corner from our hotel. Melissa had been vacationing in Zurich but popped over to Paris for a few days. As you do. We failed to take pictures. The food was great, though, and it was really nice to see her and eat Christmas dinner together!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Trip Report: Day Seven - Munich to Paris

On Christmas Eve morning, we set out across the street to the train station for the last time to head for Paris! The train station looked really nice at night but it's an extremely ugly building. This is the best view of it.

I went to the little stand inside the train station to get provisions. The last pretzels! Unfortunately the pastries I bought didn't make it into the bag so we missed out on experiencing Mohnschnecken.

The train took about five and a half hours - quiet, clean, and utterly delightful, about six hundred times better than flying would have been. We arrived in Paris around noon on Christmas Eve.

My company's European headquarters are in Montparnasse, so I was able to get a good rate to stay near the office at Hotel Le Royal. Our view was nice! It continues to amaze me that Paris looks exactly like you would expect Paris to look, for miles and miles in every direction.

We had a deluxe room, which was more like a standard European hotel room than the one in Munich - smaller size, older hotel, a little more personality. The soundproofing technology in urban European hotels is pretty impressive; I wish they could figure out how to do this in older hotels in America, where I have not had such good experiences.

After we got settled, we decided to walk up to Notre Dame, which we knew would be open despite the holiday since, you know, it's a church. On the way we passed the hotel where Mom and I stayed in March! I didn't realize at the time what an unbelievable location it was.

The entire area around Notre Dame was cordoned off with security screenings at every entrance. We opted not to deal with that and kept walking around.

We stopped for an espresso at a cafe that was just closing for the holiday and then inadvertently got trapped in a blocked off alley trying to cut back across the island, so we decided to stay in the security line and go inside Notre Dame. The security was serious - not just bored airport-style screening. They patted everyone down and looked in our bags and made us take everything out of our pockets. Kind of a bummer, this world we live in right now.

I was a touch disappointed with the subtlety of the Christmas decoration, I have to admit - I wanted there to be a giant Rockefeller Center-style Christmas tree inside. But blah blah blah I guess it was still gorgeous and amazing.

They had a big nativity scene set up.

We snuck inside the cordon to sit down and then later realized it wasn't really sneaking because anyone could sit down if they wanted to. The first Christmas Eve mass of the day was just starting at 4:30pm.

The line to get in was absolutely crazy every time we walked past for the rest of the week, so the increased security ended up being perfect, as it cut down on traffic enough for us to get inside. I have no idea why more people who might have actually cared about the religious aspects of Christmas weren't trying to get in there for mass - maybe they thought it would be too crowded and so didn't bother. But there were a lot of empty seats!

We sat in the very back so we could leave unobtrusively, and stayed long enough for the first song (Adeste Fideles) and the opening processional. They had a tourist carry the Baby Jesus down the aisle. I found out later that in Catholicism they don't put the Baby Jesus in the nativity scene until Christmas Eve, so I guess that's what was happening there.

After eight minutes we ducked out. The whole thing was in French and Latin and we had no idea what was going on.

One of the best things about wandering around Paris is looking down all the little side streets into the various neighborhoods, every single one of which looks worth exploring. This was especially good at Christmastime, because most neighborhoods had their own style of festive lights and decorations.

Our hotel was also festive.

We went to Au Pied de Cochon for dinner. This required taking the Metro and then subsequently getting lost because I thought we were supposed to walk in the opposite direction from the actual route. Paris turned out to be more difficult to navigate than Munich, and I was forced to make my employer pay for international data at times so I could use Google Maps. So far nobody has said anything to me about this.

Anyway, we made it to the restaurant only a few minutes late. I started with French onion soup, which was absolutely incredible.

Ben got the soft boiled egg without knowing it was one of their signature dishes.

Their main thing is pork. We were seated at the window upstairs overlooking the pig.

We were both pretty tired of pork, however, after spending a week in Germany. So for entrees Ben ordered calf's liver.

It came with a tiny pan of mashed potatoes.

And I got salmon.

Then we both ordered dessert, which I did not take pictures of. Ben got rice pudding and I got a creme caramel that was so good it made us both order custard desserts for the rest of the trip. Nothing else quite lived up to its deliciousness, though.

The restaurant was about a 40 minute walk from the hotel but we decided to go for it, as walking all the way across central Paris is not the worst way to spend Christmas Eve.

About 35 minutes into the walk, when we should have been nearing the hotel, Ben said, "...Molly? I think we're at the river again." I said, "Oh, it's probably a different river." Er, no. There is only one river. Somehow I got us all turned around on the little twisty side streets and we ended up almost back where we started!

Ben took over the navigation after that and we managed to find our way home. Our hotel was at the corner of Boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse, near quite a few famous historical restaurants. Le Dome was right on the corner. On both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, they had big tables set up along the sidewalk with seafood towers you could buy for takeaway.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Trip Report: Day Six - Munich

Our last day in Munich! We kept meaning to go to Nuremberg, an hour away, to see the Christmas market there, but we only got as far as finding out the train tickets were 60 Euros, which seemed a bit steep, and then we ended up sleeping too late anyway. So for the last day in Munich we headed to the most fun place of all, the Nazi Documentation Museum.

On the way there we passed through the Konigsplatz, a huge square filled with big neoclassical buildings, some of which are museums and some just monuments. This was the heart of Nazi Germany. They completely rebuilt the square to be as impressively dominating as possible. Most of the changes they made were reversed after the war, with several buildings being torn down completely.

The Nazi Documentation Museum sits on the former site of the party headquarters, which was destroyed after World War II. There are no artifacts or fancy displays here, just lots of pictures and text telling the story of what happened in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. It is not a place to take kids, for example. But it was very, very sobering, and very worth seeing. One line I remember in particular: "The rise of the Nazi Party was not inevitable. It was the result of regular people not trying hard enough to fight back against extremism."

Anyway, after that we went and got some sausages in a nearby Christmas market. This one was devoted entirely to food.

This is maybe the only time in Germany we encountered somebody who didn't speak English. We ended up pointing to the sausage we wanted and it all worked out great. Then we stood in the street and ate them like all these other people.

After that we went back to our room to pack up! And then we met our friends Art & Leanne, coincidentally also vacationing in Munich, for an early dinner at Restaurant Alter Hof in a building that dates from the 1200s.

It was super fun to see them! The last time we saw Leanne & Art we were in Vermont. Apparently we unconsciously coordinate our vacation plans.

Then one last trip through the Marianplatz Christmas market!

Then we tried to go to bed early and failed and got terrible sleep, because our bodies knew we had to get up at 5:00am to catch a train.