Crème Brûlée in Paris

After our adventures in London, we were off to France early on August 5th. Our coach tour bus took us south where we saw the famed White Cliffs of Dover, after which we boarded a large ferry to cross the English Channel. We landed in Calais, France and had orientation on the bus for our next main stop in Paris. For the first time in my life, I was in a country where I did not know the language. At that point, I really did feel like the bumbling American tourist who asks everyone if they speak English (or Spanish). I grabbed a to-go sandwich for lunch and didn’t really know what I had just bought since everything was in French. I’m glad it only turned out to be a ham and cheese sandwich and not something more unusual like a snail snalad snandwich.

We finally arrived at our hotel in Paris around 5 pm and then promptly had an excursion to the Eiffel Tower. La Tour Eiffel was built in 1889 to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Bastille Day (July 14, 1789) and was the tallest building at the time and the first built out of prefabricated iron (all pieces were constructed first, and then the tower was assembled). The Eiffel Tower, named for engineer Gustave Eiffel whose company designed and built it, was not supposed to be a permanent structure. It was intended to stay for just 20 years but was saved from demise in 1909 for valuable use in wireless telecommunications. We took a cargo elevator up to the second level and    WOW!   You really could see the entire city of Paris. We had stunning views of the Louvre, Montmartre, Notre Dame, and the River Seine.

The Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower.
Artsy view from underneath the Eiffel Tower.
Artsy view from underneath the Eiffel Tower.
View from the Eiffel Tower of the River Seine.
View from the Eiffel Tower of the River Seine.
Breathtaking!
Breathtaking!

After leaving the Eiffel Tower, we took a drive down the Champs-Élysées, which is one of the most famous and prestigious avenues in the world. It ends in the Arc de Triomphe monument which was commissioned by Napoleon and was built to honor those who fought for France and died in the French and Napoleonic wars (an interesting fact about Napoleon is that his body is entombed in six concentric coffins inside a sarcophagus to emulate Egyptian practices). We also did a drive-by of the Louvre, one of the largest museums in the world and home to the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. The Louvre was originally a fortress and then became the palace for French kings until Versailles was built. We also saw the Paris Opera building, which was at one time known as the National Music Academy.

The National Opera of Paris
The National Opera of Paris

We drove back to the Eiffel Tower at 10 pm to see the light display; the tower looks kind of like a giant sparkler. It was beautiful! I also saw the lights from my hotel window the next night but it only lasts five minutes so you have to be quick with your camera!

The Eiffel Tower at night!
The Eiffel Tower at night!

The next morning our local guide took us to Notre Dame Cathedral (where Napoleon crowned himself emperor and also of Disney movie fame, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), the Latin Quarter, and Montmarte. Construction on Notre Dame began in 1163 and was completed in 1345. Notre Dame is one of those most well-known church structures in the world. Much of the interior was damaged during the French Revolution (1790s) but was later restored. The Latin Quarter (so named because Latin was the language of higher learning during the Middle Ages) is home to university life and is well known for its bistros and fun atmosphere.  Montmartre is a hill on the north end of Paris and is dominated by the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur (Sacred Heart). Montmartre is also where many famous artists had their studios, including Dali, Monet, Picasso and van Gogh.

Notre Dame Cathedral.
Notre Dame Cathedral.
Notre Dame - front view.
Notre Dame – front view.
Notre Dame – interior view.
Notre Dame – interior view.
Notre Dame - back view (note the flying buttresses).
Notre Dame – back view (note the flying buttresses).

We took a cable train car to get to Montmartre (‘mountain of the martyr’) since the hill is quite steep and long. We explored a bit and saw the streets filled with portrait artists trying to engage with the tourists. I decided against having a Nutella crepe for lunch, opting instead for a 10 euro chicken and cheese crepe. I was a little apprehensive since I had only ever had sweet crepes before, but it was delicious!

 Basilica of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica at Montmartre.
Basilica of the Sacré-Coeur at Montmartre.

After returning to our hotel, we found a nearby Subway for dinner and then went on a hunt for crème brûlée which is my absolute favorite dessert of all time! I just had to have it while in France. We found a restaurant that offered it at a reasonable price. When our waiter came to take our order, we asked him if he spoke English, and he said no. We were wondering how we would be able to get our point across that we only wanted to order dessert when he then asked us if we spoke Spanish (this was my favorite part of the evening) – Shelby and I looked at each other and replied enthusiastically “Claro que sí!” (Of course!). We proceeded to order in Spanish and then chat (in Spanish) for the rest of the night.

Crème brûlée – aka the best dessert ever!
Crème brûlée – aka the best dessert ever!

Other things to note:

  • France is largest by area of all countries in Europe
  • The origins of left and right in politics came from France; it was based on where people sat in the National Assembly during the period of the French Revolution beginning in 1789
  • Princess Diana’s fatal car accident took place in Paris in 1997; the Flame of Liberty monument (1989) has become an unofficial memorial to her
  • The famous sculpture of Rodin’s The Thinker is in Paris

France was a bit of a shock since I did not know the language. French is similar to Spanish since they are both Romance languages, so it was less difficult to understand written French but almost impossible to understand spoken French. I had never truly experienced such a language barrier, and it was definitely a learning experience for me.

Next: Lucerne, Switzerland