Wednesday, April 6, 2011

EuroTrip Day 8: Brussels to Paris

Day Eight (Fri. July 17, 2009)

Day Eight started out a bit rough. I woke up and started to pack up my bags to move from Brussels to Paris while Dan continued to sleep. Earlier in the week I had gone to H&M (there's one on every corner) to pick up some jeans. I ended up also buying a shirt that didn't fit, so on the 8th day I was going to return it. I walked out of the hotel by myself around 9:45 a.m. At this point in time, I was also prepared to devour my last Belgian Waffle and pick up Dan his beloved McDonald's. So I'm strolling down the street and started to notice that nothing was really open. It was Friday morning around 10 and nothing was open... strange... The first waffle place I passed was all shut down. How the hell can a waffle place be closed at 10 a.m.? Waffles are for breakfast! So I continued on my journey and happened upon said American fast food chain. I politely asked the woman for a "bacon, egg and cheese... please" Puzzled, she looked at me and said "Bacon? Egg? Cheese?" So I paused trying to figure out what sign language would indicate a McMuffin. Finally I said, "fromage" (French for cheese) and she replied, "yes, cheese. You can't get just cheese."


Anyway as it turned out, there is no such thing as a bacon egg and cheese McMuffin in Brussels. So the struggle continued for a few more moments before I gave up and walked out.

The next stop was H&M where I found that I couldn't get a refund for my shirt, only store credit. So I asked the man if it would be possible to have the credit in Dollars instead of Euros. He had to call his manager. After 10 minutes of waiting, the manager did not come down the stairs. So I said "it's OK, Ill just go get a different size" Well naturally, this H&M didn't have the same clothing as the place I went to, so I had to find something different for the same price (so as to not confuse anyone involved). I picked out a different shirt and handed it to the cashier. He said "for an exchange I need my manager". It appeared that either way, all they really wanted to do was drain my most precious European Resource: TIME. Like 10 minutes later the manager comes down and we make the switch.

I'm angry at this point, hungry, and sick of stupid Brussels.

Determined to succeed, I headed back for the McDonald's. The sign on the outside of the door showed a Bacon, Egg and Cheese McMuffin, apparently, I should have asked for an "English breakfast" instead of a McMuffin. Stupid McDonald's: STICK TO YOUR PRODUCT LABELS! So I gave my order indicating that I wanted a croissant instead of an English Muffin for the Sandwich. Naturally, that didn't go over. Then I wanted juice, not coffee. Well - as would seem to make perfect logical sense in European McDonald's - the meal comes with juice and coffee, no hash brown. 2 drinks, one sandwich: 6.5 Euros.

When I finally left and trudged back to the hotel I passed the waffle place: still not ready to serve waffles: it was 11:05 a.m. With Dan finally packed, fed and ready to move on, we called for a cab to the train station – we would not be repeating our sketchy metro experience. This was an exceptionally good choice to make… the taxi ended up costing like 10 Euros and was obviously quicker and less dangerous than the 6 Euro metro option.

By the time our train left for Paris at 12:43, I don't think I could have been more pleased to be moving on to the next phase of the trip.

We arrived at Nord Station in Paris at 2:05, which was later than I had originally planned (Remember the fiasco at the train station trying to book tickets to Paris on Day 6). But we were able to navigate our way to the correct local train and ended up 1/2 a mile from our hotel with no map, and no indication of where we should be going. Or, that's what we thought: I had apparently written foot directions on the itinerary and forgot all about them until we checked in to our flight home 2 days later.

Our room was small but adorable and had a big open window onto the Parisian streets which we soon started to explore. First stop was the Rue Cler Street Market where the locals go to buy their breads, cheeses, flowers and wine. It was a cute thing to see, but because it was so late in the day (almost 4) nearly everyone had started to shut down. Here we scarfed down a French version of pizza which Dan detested, and I enjoyed. Off in the distance we could see our next stop: the Eiffel Tower.

Due to the long lines (and Dan's competitive notion that if Reed could do it, so could he) we paid 7 Euros to climb the 700 steps to the second level of the Tower. It was a bit of work, but at least the stairs weren't spiral and narrow! We felt physically superior as the Europeans who were about our size and stature huffed and puffed their way up, taking breaks every 50 steps or so. We passed them all! From the 2nd floor, you pay another 7 Euros to take the "lift" (elevator) to the very top. Another fiasco: you had to buy tickets from a machine not a person, and it wouldn't take our American Credit Cards. So you had to pay with Euro coins. We had just enough coins to buy our two tickets: only one came out of the machine. About 20 minutes later, we were able to have an Eiffel Tower Employee fish the other ticket out of the machine.

The wind was blowing like crazy, it had started to rain and we were way up in the air, waiting in line to go even higher. I was pretty cold! Finally we were in the glass elevator, slowing making our way to the top. It began to get a bit spooky, but when we stepped out at the very top it was all worth it. The view of the city was really amazing, and I pointed out all the places Dan and I had to visit in the next 36 hours. From the top of the city, it didn’t look like we would spend the entire next day walking.

Our descent was less troublesome and with a total of 1400 stairs behind us, we were back on the ground where I made Dan pause for Eiffel Tower Photo Ops. He was his usual non-cooperative self. In retrospect, I should have just been really bossy and said, “take a damn picture kissing me in front of the Eiffel tower, we may never come back!” But it was getting late in the day, I was getting hungry and cranky, and we had dinner reservations at 7:30. We basically sprinted back to the metro, and after chatting with our hotel concierge, the restaurant changed our reservations to 8:00. I was so relieved that the hotel staff was friendly and completely helpful. You read these things about how all of France hates America and would do anything they could to ruin an American’s vacation, but it’s just not true. Mom was right about getting more flies with honey.

After the fastest wardrobe change in the history of man, we made our way over to the restaurant my Uncle recommended: Le Coupe Chou.

I have to talk about this food for a little because this was the kind of place that you needed to make a reservation for weeks in advance, that served minimally 3 courses and where you pretty much had to buy a bottle of wine. It was delicious I thought.

For our entrée I ordered some sort of beef that was cold and looked like cat food and Dan ordered smoked salmon with lemon crème fresh. The flavor of mine was really good, but I couldn’t get past the temperature. Dan’s salmon was flavorful and cooked perfectly.
Our next 2 courses were the same: roasted duck with potatoes and mushrooms followed up by crème Brule. Duck is an interested kind of poultry because it’s a little bit greasy. Flavor was really amazing, but the potatoes and mushrooms were out of this world delicious! They were cooked in a cast iron kettle with pig fat and had absorbed all of the bacon-ish flavor. Crème Brule was also wonderful, but I had expected it to be warm.

On our 1.2 hour walk home, it poured. And just to clear this up for those hopeless romantics out there: strolling the streets of Paris in the rain on a summer night really sucks. Your heels get stuck in the cobblestones, and you can’t really run because you’ll slip, but you have to run because your boyfriend’s suit is getting ruined in the stupid rain.

We fell asleep watching French TV.

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