So where were we?
We had just returned from dinner at Le Bistro Paul Bert. As a result of how much we had eaten, we wound up waking up quite a bit later the next morning. But that was ok because we had all that cheese, fruit and all those madelines to eat for our breakfast before we headed out for our final day in Paris. Mei and Cousin Hannah shared a nearly full bag of madelines over some Elmo on YouTube while I took a shower. It was a perfect, slow start to our day – although it became an even longer morning because Mei decided that she wanted to unpack our purses and then throw a fit and un-dress so it took us awhile to get out the door but we finally made it out and headed for the Mona Lisa.
Our two goals for the day were to see the Mona Lisa and a gravesite that Cousin Hannah was interested in. By the time we got to the Louvre, we were famished! But we got our tickets and headed straight for the Mona Lisa – above all else, we were determined to see it, in person, no matter the actual size of the painting. Before we left, many people tried to disuade us from visiting the Mona Lisa due to the actual size which just entertained me to pieces. The dimensions of the real painting have been written in every history book that I was given to read while in grade school and my college art 101 class explained that it wasn’t a huge painting either. Heck if you had watched “Angels & Demons” with Tom Hanks, you would know its not big – although not in the same place in the Louvre as it was filmed either, so it makes me laugh when people are astounded with the actual size of the painting. Really?
Either which way, it was certainly one of the most popular displays and there was a queque to get up close to it without anyone else in your way and all I can say is that when you have a child in a stroller and are waiting in line, so many people have no problem, pushing their way in front of the stroller, turning around and pushing you back. So I got up in someone’s face and rude with them and they followed me around to apologize for like ten minutes. I think he might be afraid of women pushing strollers now. How rude! But we got some great shots of the Mona Lisa, smiled at her secret smile and moved on to find food.
Even though we had just eaten breakfast about two hours before, we were famished! And the cafeteria/restauarant in the Louvre runs on traditional French meal times. Not good for the famished! But there was a little cafe where you could order cold sandwiches kind of like a Subway or a kind of gas station-esque deli style foods with wraps, sandwiches, cold pasta salads, regular salads and the like boxes or jarred up and ready for a grab and go type lunch. So we just grabbed a lot of what looked good and sat down to scarf down food. We ate just in time. Mei was fussy through lunch, not sure where she wanted to eat or sit and didnt want to hold food but didn’t want me to hold it for her either and Cousin Hannah was the most silent we had known her to be while she ate bite after bite, often before the first bite was gone! We were STARVING!!
Once we were done, we had a little mini-meltdown while getting Mei to sit in her stroller while we wove our way out of the Louvre, listening to whining and crying while Mei fought to get out of the stroller to insist on my holding her. Not easy on my preggers feet and energy. We spent a lot of time trying to sleep the night before, since Mei slept rather restlessly so we weren’t in the best of spirits. To make things worse? Some really lovely French ladies on the elevator said hi to Mei which induced the loudest screaming and crying I had ever heard come from her tiny body and I wound up carrying her out of the Louvre. She was tired, cranky, skipped a nap and I was ready for a break. Even Cousin Hannah was flustered by Mei’s behavior since she never has quite such a terrible meltdown. Usually they last a couple of seconds and she is hardly loud about it. Luckily for us, we passed a little snack stand just before leaving the Louvre that happened to have Pringles – Mei’s all-time favorite treat and that kept her happy and quiet enough to sit in her stroller and for us to get outside the Louvre to try to get a taxi to the gravesite … Jim Morrison’s!
We stood out in the windy, but sunny weather waiting for a taxi, and a family came up just as a taxi pulled up for us, and because it took us a minute to get Mei out of her stroller so we could get in, they jumped in and took it away from us. The driver didn’t even blink as he drove off. This pretty much sent both Cousin Hannah and I into a rampage. We were exhausted with Mei’s meltdown and trying to get her down for a nap and flag a taxi. One of the only weird and annoying things we found about Paris was the taxis. Even when they had a green light indicating they were free and we were standing under a taxi sign – the designated place to wait for a taxi, they wouldn’t stop or they would shake their hands no and keep driving. After an hour of waiting, and then realizing with as far away as the grave was from where we were, it was not worth trying to get a cab anymore, so we headed for the Lover’s Bridge that is just outside the Louvre, stretching across the Seine.
Part way across another bridge, Mei finally fell asleep so we took the opportunity to take a bunch of great pictures on the bridge. One of the things about lovely Cousin Hannah is that she is willing to talk to anyone, where I would rather avoid “sketchy” looking people, or those that I see are stopping tourists or other non-local looking/acting types and before I could blink, Cousin Hannah was holding a microphone, agreeing to do an interview for a French Media School student. He was studying filmography and had to pick a location to perform a series of interviews with strangers. It was actually pretty cool! He just asked some basic questions about Paris, what she knew about Paris, the Lover’s Bridge, what has inspired her to visit Paris and France and things she liked about the country, where she came from and then we were done! She looked great though, holding a microphone and doing the interview, she looked like she had been behind a microphone for years – a seasoned professional! Mei just slept…. thank goodness!
We headed down the road to find a little grocery store to get Mei some more baby food – she was eating so much that I underestimated how much I needed to bring with me! And to get a couple things for Cousin Hannah. Our quest sent us down some roads that few tourists were on and we stopped in a few shops to pick up some postcards and other knick knacks. I love to send all my friends and family postcards from the various places that we visit. My best friend and I make it a rule to mail each other postcards whenever we go on vacations to anywhere! It’s made for a great collection of postcards to remember all the years of our friendship by and the different places we have both been. In France, postcards take a particularly long time to reach international destinations, so they give you a postcard envelope to mail them in -which expedites the process, so you can write on the entire back of the postcard – something I have never done before. And the best part? We returned to the Louvre after we were done wandering around Paris and popping in and out of shops and there is a little mall and post office on the bottom floor! So we mailed our postcards from the Louvre! How crazy!
Mei did a little shopping for both her and her boyfriend Louie. She wound up with a stuffed and slightly weighted rhino named Hector and a little stuffed dragonfly with magnets on its feet for her Louie. She loved sticking it on her stroller and then on the fridge when we got home. She had a lot of fun shopping! I even came away with a neat souvenir. A creamer shaped like a milk carton but ceramic! I keep it half full of milk for my tea, and it is just a delight to use! It even gave the husband unit a giggle when he saw it!
Once we were done shopping, we went into their bookstore to read some books and look for any other things we might want to carry home. Cousin Hannah is in love with street art and loves to look at all the different street art and graffiti art books that any bookstore has. Mei and I took advantage of the time and nearly empty Louvre lobby to walk around, crawl around and just get some of her pent-up energy out. She even made a couple friends with older men that were stocking the book carts and manning the coffee stand! … She is quick to make friends anywhere she goes. This was a great time for me to relax as well, since she could crawl quite a ways, with no one around to bother us or try to knick her while I sat and got a break from carrying her around. She drug her new friend Hector with her everywhere. He is pretty much her new best friend and she really doesn’t care for stuffed animals so this was a pretty big deal.
As was the case every night of our Parisian adventure, there was an hour or two to kill while all the things we wanted to do or see were closed and we had to wait for restaurants to open up. So we got a cab over to the neighborhood that our restaurant was in and figured that we would look for a wine shop, another grocery store or spice store so I could look for some salts and ground pepper, and a bottle of Muscat for each of us to take home and wait until we could go to the restaurant. At least we would be early for it this time!
There were a couple of bookstores we looked at and wandered around in and we managed to find a cute, but TINY wine and alcohol shop whose owner spoke nearly as much English as we did French who happened to have very nice, aged bottles of authentic Muscat for a very reasonable price. Eleven euro per bottle! You just can’t get those prices in the States for this particular wine – if you can find it. We each took home a bottle, after the owner gave Cousin Hannah a hard time for spacing out and not paying right away for her bottle – looking at me like I might buy it for her. So we all had a laugh and enjoyed some quick quips back and forth before we thanked him and he helped us with Mei’s stroller to get out of the shop. All the while, Mei took a nice, long nap before dinner – which meant that dinner would pass much more pleasantly for me and she would be more willing to sit in her own chair and enjoy her meal.
Our restaurant was called Le Bar a Huitres – supposedly one of the best seafood restaurants in Paris, and who wouldn’t want to have seafood in Paris? They are known to have all sorts of great seafood dishes – along with so many other things… but it would round out our dining experience I thought, so we headed in! I should mention on the way in that there were two, very cold looking gentlemen frantically shucking oysters and creating these ridiculous platters, which lined a counter that wrapped around the front of the restaurants, beckoning passers-by to come in and dine on these magnificient looking platters of delicious seafood. We thought it was quite hilarious, the speed and panic with which they performed their duties but once we got inside, we understood. Every other table (that had diners of course) were ordering three to six tiered seafood platters. The tables even came outfitted with a hole where a pole gets screwed in that holds the base platter just above head height of the average diner so that the platters leave all the table space to discard shells and hold your drinks and any other courses you have ordered and the tuxedo-clad managers assigned to every bank of tables would come by and lower the platters as the diners made their way to the top – or bottom, as you prefer, leaving the platters within arms reach of all the diners at the table. It was certainly a sight to behold!
Their website advertised a recent change in their menus, they have decided to use iPad’s for menus with the ability to translate their menu in a variety of different languages to aid foreign diners in their ordering. They are also known for the largest variety and tallest platters of fresh seafood all of Paris has to offer. The largest platter costs 1,000 euro and includes two of the largest lobsters you have ever seen, fished straight out of their wall to wall, floor to ceiling fish tanks, 5 large crabs and a selection of a couple dozen Madagascar prawns, and as many as 100 oysters – not including the cockles, winkles and welks. Each variety of seafood has at least four varieties, representing Europe and all fresh that day. It’s a great deal but you will inevitably be at dinner for a really long time and probably need to bring a few people with you to share this meal – just in the cost alone! … The smallest platter, which is more affordable, at 50 euro includes two large crabs, nine oysters from three different regions and countries, cockles, winkles and welks – just a taste of what they offer. This is all in addition to their prix fixe menu, children’s menu, non-seafood menu and daily specials. It takes an awful long time to figure out how to navigate the menu, then decide on something .. and even longer when the waiter is being “helpful” and trying to keep Mei entertained by showing her how to use my iPad menu. Ineveitably this made reading my menu IMPOSSIBLE. Mei was having a blast switching screens and looking at the pictures of crabs, lobsters and other exciting sea animals flash across the bottom of each page and just delighted to be moving the screen in all directions and making it swish! … Oi vey. Really dude?
Alas we decided on ordering a set menu from their specials menu, which meant a traditional bucket of mussels in white wine sauce and frittes for me and a nice cod steak for Cousin Hannah. The waiter did try to convince us to order a really nice sounding and enormous flat fish that was swimming around in the tanks, saying that one half would easily feed two people and it would be flambe-d table-side and it was one of their most popular dishes (he wasn’t kidding, we saw quite a few of the huge, flat fish being flambed around us) and that for the price of 79 euro per person, it would come with appetizers, a cheese board, dessert and a couple glasses of wine. Uh, no thanks dude. We were quite happy with our selections and had no intent on ondering a quarter of a fish each that would easily cost more than going fishing for one of his brother’s ourselves.
While we waited for our starters, a ridiculous salad, he brought us a little amuse-bouche. He was a French-speaking Asian individual who spoke quickly, with a thick accent and the only part of the description that we understood was some kind of mustard sauce. He left two tiny, well-shaped dishes with saucing spoons and at the bottom of the sauce was some kind of mussel looking item. We figured it was some sort of sauce for dinner, so we didn’t eat it right away. A few minutes later he comes by and says, the amuse-bouche (now he tells us! it’s not a sauce as we thought), is much better eaten hot. Well, it was entirely way too late for that and boy did it taste terrible!
Then came the salad.
You know the type. It comes with the fancy greens that are shaped like weeds and impossible to spear with your fork? You can’t possibly eat it without shoving a sloppy forkful in your mouth and tucking in the bits that didn’t quite make it? I detest those types of salad. But the vinagarette was very tasty so I guess it made it worth it, and the three scallops that it came with were good but not near as big as the ones at Le Bistro Paul Bert and certainly not as tasty. Not to mention the two terrine type “sticks” of something completely indescribable and un-identifiable that came crossed on top of the salad of weeds…. it was terrible also! It was fishy, sour, salty, pasty and just plain not tasty. I would be happy never to be served that amouse-bouche or scallop salad ever again.
The bread basket was very nice however and Mei really enjoyed the bits of sourdough while we waited for our main courses. Cousin Hannah took opporutnity of the lull to take “secret agent” shots of other diners and their towering platters without raising suspicion of the managers or other diners. Mei fed Hector and herself and crawled in and out of her chair, exclaiming at the passing fish in the tanks. Something interesting to point out are the condiments that they brought us. They included black Hawaiian salt – intended for fish, pink Himalayan salt – good for everything, and their house pressed olive oil presented in a perfume bottle. I don’t know if they wanted to cut back on the amount of olive oil each diner consumed or what but it was a slow and difficult process to spray enough olive oil on your plate to dip even one section of bread in and we quickly gave in and just stuck with butter on our bread.
When dinner arrived, the waiter felt it necessary to instruct Cousin Hannah that the skin (scaled of course), on her fish was not meant to be eaten and fish skin was not good for you. Really? Secretly, she ate her fish skin, leaving just enough so as not to offend the waiter. According to her, it was tasty and the first time either of us had ever heard not to eat fish skin…. weird. My stainless steel pot of mussels poured out steam as I lifted the lid and the waiter set down three large bowls to contain the shells. I only used one. I hope he was not disappointed. Eating the mussels was certianly interesting. Mei sat in my lap while I got the tiniest, bright orange mussels I had ever eaten out of their shells and feeding her every other one I lifted out of the pot until she was happy to go back to eating her sourdough. I even ordered her a small side of steamed rice, which she gobbled down before moving onto my frittes! After awhile, Cousin Hannah had finished her fish and she sat with Mei so I could eat my mussels at a normal pace without having to stop every few seconds to play defense between the items on the table and Mei.
Dessert was flambed at our table (of course) since I ordered creme brulee and of course our waiter had no regard for Mei’s tiny fingers and quick reach as he set the dish down right in front of her and whipped out a lighter and immediately lit the dessert, causing me to dive and grab her, sitting her on my lap – away from the flaming creme brulee which he pushed right back in front of her tiny fingers with a warning “watch out, the fire is very hot for the baby.” Again, really dude? … He was young, and
obviously very concerned about Mei’s safety.
Since I had been making an effort to order Mei a side of something that she would like, I also got her her very own dessert – strawberry basil sorbet! Usually, in France if sorbet is on the menu, it is usually presented as a trio, but we just needed one small pot for her. It came garnished with a pulled sugar ribbon which we removed since she really doesnt need to eat a sugar ribbon, wouldn’t you say? Cousin Hannah got the full trio, which was chocolate, yogurt and strawberry basil and she enjoyed every single bite! I was actually very tentative about eating strawberry basil sorbet since fruit and herbs aren’t something that I would normally mix together, but I have been seeing it grow in popularity on Top Chef, Masterchef and all those other cooking shows as well as seeing it appear on menus in smaller cafes and mainstream restaurants. I whole-heartedly reccommend that you try it if you come across it, its very addictive!
Overall, the meal was good and I would go back with my husband for one of those seafood platters one day – but it was entirely too much for the three of us, especially when Cousin Hannah had never had most of the seafood on the platters and wasn’t sure if she would like them. The seating is super comfortable, big wicker chairs with cushy cushions that you just sink into – very seaside-esque. Dim lighting and whatever light is given off the fish tanks dividing the restaurant into sections and creating enormous, interactive walls. Even the toilets had flat screen TVs with previews for films and shows, advertisements and offers for hosting events and special occasions just over the lou. Each door marked, men or woman, with a changing photo on an iPad screen tacked to the door. It was pretty crazy! The floors were shiny, like you were walking on water and the ceiling studded with bright, shining and changing constellations – this was certainly an experience!
We got back to our hotel and packed to leave.
The next morning, we stopped at the bakery just up the road from our hotel to enjoy some chocolate beignets which were finger-lickin’ good and got the rest of our things together and packed up to head to the train station. Since we had to get up so much earlier than we had been getting up, we were quiet for the ride, Mei sleeping in my lap, and watched out our windows at our last glimpses of Paris, the Seine and arrived at the train station with plenty of time to spare.
I paid the taxi driver in somewhat of a daze – handing him the bills and some change for a tip. “This is not right” he said. Who knew that he spoke English? We gave him our destination in French, but I guess our accent was obvious? I looked at him, knowing that I gave him a three euro tip, thinking, what the heck is he trying to play at? He holds up the fiver and says “this is only like two euro!”
What the heck is he talking about? It was a five euro bill!
Or so I thought! It was a five POUND bill. I giggled and reached back into my wallet – “sorry, wrong country!” I said, handing him the proper bill and taking back my pounds. He smiled, laughed and helped me with the stroller and getting out of the taxi, thanking us profusely for the tip and wishing us well on our journey home.
We got through the train station, gathering a nice sandwich and drink just in case we were going to be served a light breakfast instead of a lunch on the train – since the thought of a light breakfast wasn’t settling well with my preggers taste buds and we headed for the train.
Going through customs and immigration was a joke and very quick. The French and UK borders were set five feet from each other, so as you left France, we entered the UK.
Stamp! Stamp! Stamp! Stamp!
These stamps in our passports were cool. Instead of the usual stamp with the port of entry, country of entry and date encased in a rectangular or oval official stamp, it was in the shape of a child’s choo-choo train with steam and all and all the required information off to the side. Pretty neat as far as stamps in your passport go!
Mei made friends with the UK customs agent. As she was stamping our passports and checking our visas, Mei began talking very loudly, trying to stand up in her stroller and holding out Hector to the agent. She stood up from her chair and peered over at Mei, asked her name and commented on her nice rhino and Mei giggled, gave Hector a big hug and settled back into her seat, talking softly and periodically holding out Hector to the agent. The agent was completely smitten with Mei and sent us on our way, both waving bye to each other.
Believe it or not there was duty free area just past customs and immigrations, … and none of the items they were selling were restricted within Europe anyways – except for in quantity, but once you get to the UK, there is no check for any goods or food items you might have brought back, so this was pretty ridiculous to me.
We got settled in our car, Mei took a quick nap and we watched as two passengers opposite the aisle from us made nasty comments about Cousin Hannah’s hair and my age in comparison to Mei’s age. Really? … Don’t they know that if they talk at a normal volume, we can hear them? So we went ahead and talked loudly about pretentious older people making judgements about others based on looks. They were fairly quiet, talking about only the food and scenery for the remainder of the trip. Serves them right!
Lunch arrived and Mei woke up for that, of course, enjoying every bit of it! It came with a few cold slices of duck breast on what seemed to be a cheesy cornmeal mush of some sort, a cold pasta salad, apple tart, and rolls. It was just enough to satiate our rumbling tummies and delicious! The couple made another snarky remark when we were offered wine and took a bottle for Cousin Hannah to take as a souvenir, so we stared them down for the remainder of their meal. I think we made them sufficiently nervous about talking about us. People can just be so inconsiderate! It did make us laugh though when they couldn’t figure out how to open the door to leave the car and how to close it once they managed to open it (it’s automatic, you just have to touch the handle).
The scenic countryside passing by our windows lulled us all into a post-meal nap and we awoke just outside of London. Our trip had nearly come to an end. Cousin Hannah headed back to her dorm room and Mei and I got on another train to finish our journey home, just a quick hour on a local train and we were home! We are all going to miss Paris, and from all of our stories, the hubby decided that he would go with Mei and I for another trip before the new baby arrives! Score! I will get a chance to go back to Polaine bakery, visit Pierre Herme and find all the other things on my list! And we wouldn’t forget to visit our friends at Paul Bert!
If you ever get a chance to go to Paris, do it. You won’t regret it!