Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bastille Day, Cousin Caity, and Other Short Stories

Hello blogger world, my name is Ruth, you probably don't remember me, but I'm that small town Ohio girl hanging out in Paris?

I know you haven't seen me for a while. I've been MIA for the past month playing hostess in Paris and knocking a few bucketlist destinations off my list. July was my big hosting month, with my cousin Caitlin coming for a week, followed immediately by my sister Sally for 10 days. Now I have a little pocket of rest before the adventures recommence and I head off to Italy for two weeks. So I am taking these precious moments of rest to get my life in order and try to tell you about all the silly mischief I've been up to during my leave of absence.  

Where to begin?

Let's start with my cousin Caity coming to Paris! Caity and I are the same age, so we've always been natural playmates at family gatherings. It wasn't until recently that we really started hanging out outside of holiday events, and wow! What a delight to find out that the family you are stuck with happens to be amazing and people you would want to be friends with anyway. Both fresh out of school and unattached, we share that "anything could happen" light in our eyes and are determined to make the most of our 20s. 

So you can imagine my excitement when I got a last minute call that she had a week before starting her new job and wanted to spend it in Paris with me! Planning and preparations began, and before we knew it, July 10th had arrived. It gives me a chuckle that when receiving guests from the States to my apartment in Paris, it never feels strange or surreal, like, I can't believe you are in Paris! It feels as natural as it did having the same people over when we lived in the same city. I guess that's because Paris is my home now, and I've lived here long enough I forget it takes a flight for these people to get here. 

After an explosion of American-style squealing and squeezing on the demure sidewalks of the sixteenth arrondissement, we made our way up those dreaded 6 flights of stairs to my chambre de bonne on the top floor. I always warn people about the climb before they come. Without fail they shrug it off, "That's okay, it will be no problem!" Without fail, after the first climb they are stunned. After the fourth of fifth climb they are enraged. By the end of the stay, they are too exhausted to care. Does it ever get easier? they often ask. Well, some nights yes. Some nights,  no.

We spent the daylight hours trouncing around Paris in a whirl of touristy activity. Our nights were spent lazily on the River Seine, sharing bottles of wine and drinking in the atmosphere. Thursday nights are for le Pont Alexandre-III, the most beautiful bridge in Paris, where the business men and women of the right bank venture over to the left to loosen their ties and let down their hair at the bumping quai-side bar scene. Its the perfect place for a riverside picnic and people watching.

Friday nights are for the summertime tradition of the guinguette; our favorite is La Javelle in the 15th arrondissement, and outdoor riverside party on the docks where local food trucks bring different fare from all around the world every night, and live band music warms up the dancefloor before a DJ drives home the party til midnight. The best part of La Javelle is the "fishbowl" as we named it, which is too wonderful and weird to describe to the world of Internet, and can only be experienced by visiting the guinguette and experiencing it for yourself. Look for the restrooms.

This particular night we met a swarthy Mexican named Edgar who was fluent in French and salsa dancing. And we were offered a midnight tour of Paris by a private speedboat. But while my friends were jumping up and down with excitement, I kept replaying scenes from Taken in my mind and took the role of Liam Neeson. We politely declined.

Saturday we spent at the Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte, my favorite secret chateau in Paris. After hopping the train to Melun (it wouldn't be a complete trip unless I made you break the law at some point), we arrived on a perfectly sunny day for a tour of the chateau and a picnic in the shaded hill overlooking the estate. 

Saturday night we got ready for our weekend getaway in Brussels! That trip deserves a separate post.

We returned to Paris just in time for the national holiday, the 14th of July, or as Americans call it, Bastille Day (no one in France knows what you are talking about if you say this). We got a late start to the morning and missed the fighter jets painting the sky a patriotic blue, white and red. But we did ride Velibs down to the Arc de Triomphe in time to see all the handsome French soldiers in uniform posing with kids by massive tanks. Heart. Melting. Oh, I guess there was a parade too, but we got a bit distracted.... 

After riding down to Musee d'Orsay for a quick hit of some of Paris' best art, it was time to celebrate. We cornered a patch of grass on the Champs de Mars and staked out a five hour picnic that ended in a magnificent fireworks display. When we arrived at 5:30pm, the grassy area was completely packed; there would be half a million people filling the space by the end of the night. 

There was a free concert for the loungers; in true Paris style, it was opera with a full orchestra. At the end of the night it was a mad dash for home as all the metros were shut and some streets blockaded. Some of our group peeled off for the Firemen Balls, the after-parties that boasts dancing with half naked French firemen. But I was asleep before I hit my pillow, and we still had a few more days in Paris to go.

Our last couple of days in Paris were spent in dozing along the Canal Saint Martin, hunting down the best eclaires in Paris (L’éclair de Génie in the Marais), and seeking shade in the sweltering heat. Thank God for gelato. As a thank you for hosting, Caity treated me to a goodbye dinner at a beautiful candlelit bistro overlooking the magnificent Place des Vogues, where we dined on roast duck and chicken marinated in ancient wine. We met a lovely elderly American couple sitting adjacent to us; she was a retired French teacher returning to France after all these years on a tour with her husband and other similar couples. We swapped secrets over the best places to visit in Paris, hers old, mine new, and marveled at the beauty of Paris over a delightful light tiramisu with raspberry filling. 

The perfect end to a perfect week of adventure and misadventure in Paris and beyond, I highly recommend traveling the world with your cousin. Especially if she happens to love walking and food as much as you do. Here's to our future adventures together, Caitlin!

And my adventures with my sister Sally waited only a day away.

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