France, Je T’aime!

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I’ve been working for Saft for three and a half years now, and, since I found out they are headquartered in France, I have been trying to figure out how to get them to send me there.  Well, it took me three and a half years, but I finally succeeded.  Our company’s headquarters is in Bordeaux, France, also known as the wine capital of the universe.  They also have two other plants nearby, in Nersac (which is outside of Angouleme), and Poitiers.  Angouleme is about 45 minutes from Bordeaux, and Poitier is about 2 hours away.  Now, when I got the ok to book the trip, I was ecstatic.  Who could ask for more than an all-expenses-paid trip to France?  Little did I know that I’d get more than a free trip to France, but, I would actually get a lot of useful information out of this trip.  Because – let’s be honest – I just wanted to go to France.  I had no idea it would actually be so productive and beneficial work-wise.  But that is the boring stuff (at least for you, anyway).  I might mention it briefly in the account to follow, but, I will mainly stick to the exciting stuff:  The wine, the food, the adventure.  Before I get into it, I should also mention I traveled with my coworker Jim, our new Quality engineer, and that my best friend from college, Amy (yes, the same Amy whose wedding cake I made, if you recall), came to spend the weekend with me in Paris (also covered by Saft!).  #workperks  🙂  But, we will get there later.  Let’s start at the beginning…

The adventure started with the plane ride over.  I won’t go into too much detail, but, I had a crazy woman sitting behind me who got mad at me for putting my seat back and literally slammed on the back of it when I refused to lift it up (because I am allowed to put it back…that is why it goes back…).  The psycho lady told me if I wanted to put my seat back, I should have bought a first class ticket.  (Ummm….nooo….Actually, if you wanted all the luxuries of home YOU should have bought a first class ticket…or just stayed home entirely…)  At this point, we got the flight attendant involved, which led to a 10 minutes battle between psycho lady and flight attendant where she tried to reason with her.  In the end, of course, the flight attendant had me put my seat all the way back and said to leave it like that because I’m allowed to.  The psycho lady was not pleased of course, but, as the flight attendant said, she is on a plane and it is not going to be luxurious and comfortable.  The psycho lady was loud and annoying the whole trip, of course, because she was mad that she lost, and because she was a psycho.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, until we arrived in Paris.  The coolest part was seeing the Eiffel Tower from the plane, which I tried to capture with my iPhone.

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It was awesome.

When we arrived in Paris, we had a layover before our next flight, but, because we had to go through customs and because my flights weren’t linked and I had to retrieve my luggage and check in and go through security again, we really didn’t have much time, in the end.  My flights weren’t linked because the flight from Paris to Bordeaux was a last minute add-on and I didn’t even think about the fact that they may not link automatically.  We were originally supposed to take the train from Paris to Bordeaux, but a train strike led us to book a flight so we didn’t have to risk it.  The flight from Paris to Bordeaux was uneventful and I slept from pretty much take-off to landing.

It was slightly depressing to realize that my Sunday night flight to Paris was a red-eye, and so that was my night, and whatever I slept on the plane ride to Paris was all I was getting until Monday night.  I was so tired.  I was le tired.  There was a lot of coffee consumed.  We left D.C. at 9:30pm on Sunday, and arrived 7 hours later in Paris at 11am.  We arrived in Bordeaux around 2pm, and got to the hotel around 3:30pm.  We took a taxi to the hotel in Bordeaux, and decompressed for an hour or so before going out to explore Bordeaux and brave the French dinner scene…

Bordeaux was quite lovely.  We walked along the river, checked out Rue Sainte Catherine, which is a pedestrian street with lots of shopping, and walked through an outdoor festival near our hotel.  There was also a double-decker carousel, complete with airplanes, elephants, and dolphins.  I think my coworker Jim legitimately wanted to ride it…

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Finding a dinner spot was challenging and overwhelming and we weren’t quite sure where to begin.  We didn’t find the main restaurant street this night and we were trying to eat a little earlier than the French, so most places were empty.  It’s much easier to chose a place when there are lots of people inside.  We walked around for a while and I finally decided on this restaurant called Le Bistrot des Quinconces. (Don’t ask me to pronounce Quinconces).  It ended up being a fantastic choice.  The menu was entirely in French and I didn’t know what a single item was.  The waiter brought them over to us and told us he would let us struggle for a few minutes and then he’d come explain.  When he came back, he explained every item on the menu in detail.  It was awesome.  I ended up getting fish (cod, I think) on a bed of mashed potatoes and covered in a lemon buttery sauce.  It was pure butter and delicious.  Oh my goodness.  It was heaven.  My mouth is watering thinking about it even now.  That is one of those times when you don’t dare ask how many calories are in something.  It doesn’t matter.  Was it worth it?  Yes, yes it was.  I ordered wine, of course, and for dessert I got a chocolate molten cake that oozes out when you cut it open.  Like I said, it was a great choice.

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After dinner, it was pretty late, and we’d had a long day, so we decided to turn in for the night.  After all, we did have to go to work in the morning (the nerve of them!).

The next morning, we woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and rearing to go.  Our hotel had an adorable little breakfast, complete with an assortment of breads, pastries, fruits, yogurt, cereal, granola, CREPES, juices, coffee, and the option to order hot dishes (such as eggs), as well.  I stuck to the basics – fruit, yogurt, granola – and, of course, crepes (with Nutella!).  (When in France, right?)  We also got delicious coffee of course.  (I worried the coffee in France would be too strong for me – their “coffee” is kind of like our “espresso”, but, at least the stuff served with breakfast, was in line with the strength of American coffee.)  I should note the sugar they served with the coffee was fascinating.  Of course, they had real sugar, but I steered towards to artificial sugar.  This came in a little packet with a single little white pill in it and I felt like I was starting my morning off doing some drugs.  No big deal.  Haha.  It was…different

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After breakfast, we made like the French and headed to the train.  I felt so French and liked to believe that – if I didn’t open my mouth – I blended in with all the French morning commuters.  We took the train almost to our plant.  As luck would have it, there was a problem with our stop, so the train stopped one station before where we wanted to get off.  Luckily, it was not a long walk!  Phew!  (I was also very impressed with myself that from my knowledge of Spanish I was able to deduce from the signs flashing in the tram car that we were not going to get to our stop.  Yup, I’m legit.)

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The train we took around Bordeaux.

I won’t bore you with the work details of my day, but I will give you a synopsis of the interesting parts:  Firstly, Saft’s headquarters in Bordeaux is GINORMOUS!  No one warned me of this.  In Cockeysville, we have one (well, as of July, 2) measely buildings.  Bordeaux has, like, 15!  It’s an entire campus!  Anyway, I explored a little, met lots of people, and yada yada yada.  Now for lunch:  Bordeuax has a legit cafeteria subsidized by the company so it’s really cheap and most employees don’t bring their lunch.  Now – I’m not gonna lie – people had talked this cafeteria up pretty intensely, and it was a bit of a let down.  They did have several food choices, desserts, salads, and, of course, wine (yes, wine with lunch is encouraged in France!).  On the whole, though, it was nothing special.  I guess, though, the price is pretty special (2 to 3 euros for lunch!).  Also, the French always get their little cup of coffee after lunch to get them through the afternoon (now this after-lunch kind was like espresso!).  In Bordeaux, they have this cute little bar/café area where you can get your coffee and sit a relax afterwards.  The French are so much more relaxed than us Americans!

Interesting European room keys.

Interesting European room keys.

After work this day, Jim and I met up with my French coworker, Philippe, who I spent a lot of time with 2 years ago when he came to the states for a few months to fill in for my coworker who went on maternity leave.  It was really fun to see him and he was a great host!  We met up with his wife, Violaine, and they took us to their apartment where we hung out for awhile, drank delicious wine, and watched the Italy vs. Uruguay World Cup match.  The wine was from the chateau that Violaine works at, Chateau Pontet-Canet, and she gave us the closest thing we could have gotten to a tour without actually going on a tour (the chateau is about an hour outside Bordeaux, so just a little much to squeeze into this trip).  It was awesome.  Before we left their apartment to go out to dinner, they gave us each a bottle of the wine, which was so extremely generous!  (This is by far the most expensive wine I have ever owned!)  The wine, in case you are interested, is Hauts De Pontet-Canet.  This is not even the first label, but the second, and is still extremely expensive and delicious!  (The first label is Chateau Pontet-Canet.  If you want to learn about first and second label and such, that is a question for Wikipedia, who will explain it far better than I could!)

We headed out to dinner and they took us to this restaurant called La Remise on Rue Ste Remi.  Again, I didn’t know what to order, but this time I had two natives there to help!  I ended up ordering steak, and it was fabulous!  Though, I will have to say, when you go to France, order your meat one level more cooked than you want.  They always undercook their meat by a level compared to American standards, I noticed.  But, nonetheless, fabulous!  I love French food, apparently!  We had such a great time and our evening with Violaine and Philippe made me just want to up and move to France!  (Hmmm….)

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Jim, Violaine, me, Philippe

They were great and Bordeuax was wonderful.  After dinner, we walked around for a little before parting ways and heading in for the night.  Philippe had just flown in from China earlier that day and I have no idea how he made it through that night!  He was a trooper though (I would have been a zombie!) and they both showed us a great evening.

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Outside La Remise. Yay to making new friends in France!

I spent the next day in the Bordeaux plant as well, with nothing remarkable to report about the day, other than that the test lab is a sauna and I don’t know how people work in there because I immediately started sweating upon entering.  Plus, it smells.  Like, real bad.

After work, Jim and I headed to the shopping area, where he was determined to buy his wife a purse, and he did!  I tried on some shoes and stuff, but nothing I liked enough to buy.  I did end up buying some Bordeaux souvenirs though (wine magnets!).  That was fun.  I also got my first ever taste of authentic macarons made not by me!  It was magical…

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I went with a Nutella macaron and a Casis Violet macaron.  I knew what the Nutella would be like, but picked the other solely based on its awesome purple color and cool name…They were both fabulous!  The Nutella was perfect and exactly what I expected and the violet one was fruity and yummy!

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For dinner, we strayed from the typical French cuisine, and got Italian and Le Parlement D’Italie on Rue de Parlemente.  No complaints here.  I got spaghetti Bolognese, which is delicious in any language.  More wine with dinner and another chocolate dessert ended the night quite splendidly.

Bordeaux architecture

Bordeaux architecture

This was the night of the France vs. Ecuador match, which we chose not to go to a bar to watch.  (Well, let’s be honest – I TOTALLY would have gone out for it, but Jim seemed pretty tired, so I didn’t press the issue.  And, while the areas we were in seemed pretty safe, I just didn’t feel comfortable venturing out on my own.)  I watched the game in my hotel room, which turned out to be okay, because the game was le boring!  (Though I’m sure the bars would have been exciting regardless.) 

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This shopping center on Ste Catherine shares the name of my alma mater, Lafayette! (He was French, after all.) They also had these in Paris.

The next morning, Jim and I parted ways for a day.  He went off to the Saft plant in Poitiers, and I was headed to Saft’s plant in Nersac, near Angouleme.  To that end, after my last breakfast at this hotel, I took a cab to Saft Bordeaux, where I met up with a coworker (my boss’s French counterpart) to make the 45 minute trek to the Nersac plant.  The drive was pretty uneventful.  It looked like any other countryside in America.  The only difference really, was the signage.

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Why, hello, Champagne!

Once at the plant, I had another day of super exciting work stuff that I won’t go into.  (I actually did learn a lot though!  I could tell you about it, but then I’d have to kill you…)  There was also a cafeteria at this plant for lunch, but instead of a full café/bar for coffee afterwards, they had coffee machines, which were quite adorable and spat out everything from espresso to mocha to hot chocolate to tomato soup (for real!)!

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The highlight of this day was that everyone was frantically trying to find somewhere for me to watch the Germany vs. USA match that aired at 6pm that night.  The Ghana vs. Portugal game was at the same time, and, with France being so close to Portugal, all the bars were airing that game.  (On top of this, Angouleme is a very small town on top of a very large hill, so there are not too many options.)  Moreover, my hotel did not have the channel (Bein) that was airing the game, so I couldn’t even watch it in my room!  We came up with a solution though!  I ended up going to my coworker, Mikael’s house to watch the game with his family.  As we were heading out to make it to his house for the game, everyone wished me good luck (you would think I was the one playing!).  It was really fun.  He has two little children who speak fluent English because they lived in the US for several years (he worked at Saft in Jacksonville for a while).  They brought out snacks and we watched the game and I was in a desperate state.  While we didn’t win, we made it through, and I got many congratulations the next day at work!  Moreover, he lives in a quaint little town outside of Angouleme with only 1,000 people.  It was so picturesque French countryside and was just really cool to see.

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After the game, Mikael and his daughter drove me to my hotel, the Mercure, where I spent the rest of the night.  The hotel was very modern and chic, so I took lots of pictures to share.  It was awesome.  And my bathroom had a wall that became transparent when you flipped a switch so you could see the bed.  Why anyone would need this ever is beyond me (maybe to watch TV while showering?), but it was awesome. I even took a video.  Overall, my hotel was super chic and modern and cool.

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The next morning I had another delicious breakfast in this hotel before checking out.  Pretty similar to the first hotel, with an assortment of breads and pastries, yogurt, fruit, cereal, and some hot options. Again, I stuck to the same thing of mainly fruit yogurt and granola. After all, I knew I’d be consuming enough calories the rest of the day to warrant a lighter breakfast. After a few final pictures, a different coworker (Jean-Jacque) picked me up and took me to the plant.

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Super modern finishes all over the hotel.

I’m sure I could have gotten a cab (though Angouleme is pretty small, do they have cabs?), but everyone was just so accommodating in Nersac, and he insisted! That day at the plant wasn’t too eventful. I mainly worked on my computer, and purchased our tickets for the train to Paris. I guess I also spent a significant amount of time fanaticizing about Paris, Googling maps of Paris and searching for things to do in Paris, and starting to plan our night out in Paris. So, I guess this day was really dedicated to Paris, long before we actually arrived in Paris. Did I mention I was excited for Paris?  I promise I did get a little bit of work done though…

Anyway, we got a cab to the train station at around 2pm.

The train ride was pretty uneventful, but surprisingly full. I guess I just wasn’t expecting there to be so many people on the train. I did see some nice French countryside though, and I got to see windmills (the modern ones, like the cake I made earlier this year for my sister’s coworker). Anyway, we arrived in Paris without issue and made our way to our hotel. We were staying in the Hotel Holiday Inn Saint Germain des Pres. If you know Paris, we were by the Notre-Dame-des-Champs metro stop.

We checked into our hotel and this is where Jim and I parted ways for what would turn out to be almost the whole rest of the weekend until our flight on Sunday. So, I spent the next hour or so relaxing, taking pictures of the hotel room (hey, I take a lot of pictures), and setting up a preliminary itinerary for our day in Paris while I waited for Amy to arrive.  This hotel was also very chic and modern and I really enjoyed it.

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Personal message for me on the TV screen, haha. Also, what is it with the French needing a window from the bedroom into the bathroom??

Amy arrived later than I expected and, because she was out of her country of residence (England), she also could not use her phone! I did not realize this (I was just thinking oh Europe, phone access!), so I was calling and texting her and starting to wonder if something happened! Then, alas, my room phone rang and Amy was on the other end! *Reunited and it felt so goooood!*

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Amy told me this isn’t a new thing, but I’d never seen a hotel that told you the level of stiffness of the pillows and then listed the alternatives. Sweet!

Once we finished jumping up and down and hugging and giggling and calmed down a bit, we changed and headed out for a night on the town in Paris!

We headed to the Bastille district, an area one of Amy’s friends had recommended as sagood place with lots of bars and restaurants. She was right. We ended up at a Thai restaurant, where we split a bottle of wine and got some delicious Thai food. By the time we left dinner, it was pretty late and the whole area was hopping. All the bars were lively and people were all over the place partying and being merry.

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We went to 2 different bars on Rue de Lapp, where we ordered drinks and talked about everything under the sun. It was just so fun to see her and catch up after so long! I hadn’t seen her since her going away party in December, and that was a long time for us! (We had been spoiled because we got to see a lot of each other that year for various wedding events and other trips.)

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Sign in one of the bars we went in…interesting?

We didn’t sleep in too late the next morning, and headed out to explore Paris before 10am. I had a game plan all mapped, out, and the first stop was to take the metro to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés station where we could easily walked to the Love Lock Bridge. We started off the day on the right foot: we passed a macaron shop all my French friends had told me about (La Duree). So, of course, we went in and got ourselves some macarons.  It’s never too early for macarons, right?  This time, I got a Venezuelan Chocolate one, which was chocolate bliss, and a pink strawberry one with a kind of spongy marshmallowy filling (called guimauve) that I really loved!

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The variety of macarons and desserts in general was overwhelming and awesome! I wanted them all!!!

From there, we walked to Pont des Arts, more affectionately known as the Love Lock Bridge. This is the bridge where lovers go and lock a lock to the bridge railings, then throw the key in the Seine river as a romantic gesture representing their commitment to their love (*how romantic*). There are so many locks that part of the railing collapsed just days before I arrived! When we went to the bridge it was not open for walking across. We thought that it was closed because of the recent partial collapse, but it was still cool and we could see all the locks and took pictures. We then had to walk down to the next bridge to cross the Seine. But, when we got to this bridge, I look down to the Pont des Arts, and see people walking across! I guess we just picked the wrong moment to want to cross it! Oh well!

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The river Seine

The river Seine looking down at the Pont des Arts, which suddenly has people walking across it!

Once we crossed the river, we headed to the Lourve. We decided we didn’t want to go in, since time was not something we had a lot of. I did take pictures in front of it though.

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From here, we walked through the gardens in front of the Lourve, and then took a detour which led us through a mini carnival, complete with Ferris wheel, that bordered the gardens.

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In front of the Lourve. That is NOT the Arc de Triomphe.

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Mini carnival next to the Lourve.

This was when our quest for crepes began. I used my trusty trip advisor app to find some crepe restaurants in the area, and we headed towards one that was not too far off course. We ended up at Crepe Avenue, where we both opted for sweet crepes. Amy got a Nutella and banana crepe and I got a chocolate and almond crepe. Oh my goodness was it chocolaty! It was too much chocolate (who knew there was such a thing!). My plate looked kind of like a war zone when I was done. I joked that I needed, like, a plate of fries after that. (Except I wasn’t really joking – I needed something to offset the chocolate overload!)

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Death by chocolate (crepe) – Before and After.

After this, we headed back towards the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe. We walked the entire main length of the Champs-Élysées, from the obelisk to the Arc de Triomphe.

The Obelisk and the Champse Elyssee

The Obelisk and the Champs-Elysees.

We passed the soccer store right next to the movie theater where I met Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom backed in 2006, and so, of course, I took a picture in front of it. No dreamy celeb encounters on this trip though. *sigh*

Where are Johnny and Orlando?!?!

Where are Johnny and Orlando?!?!

We finally reached the Arc de Triomphe. I didn’t remember that people could go up to the top, but sure enough, there were lots of little heads popping over the roof of the arch.

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Our next destination was the Eiffel Tower. On the way, we stopped at some souvenir shops so I could buy some awesome Paris souvenirs, and then for lunch at this café/pub called Pub Kléber. I got spaghetti, because that is what I was craving, and Amy got French onion soup, because we were in France. Duh. It was all delicious, as were our drinks (I got wine and Amy got beer). We’d worked up quite an appetite after all, having walked across half of Paris (or so it seemed) by this point.

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Amy's little bitty glass of beer to taste.

Amy’s little bitty glass of beer to taste.

Having refueled, we were well-prepared for the trek to the tower. It didn’t take too terribly long, and, overall, wasn’t half bad. We got a good workout. And, considering all the eating and wining I’d been doing since arriving in France, the walking was a good thing. It was also mildly raining off and on all day, but, again, for some reason this did not seem to put a damper in our day at all because the temperature was quite pleasant and it was never raining super hard. This was good, considering, of course, we wanted lots of pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower.

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I took many Eiffel Tower selfies, just because you HAVE to. In this day and age, with camera phones and the sudden “selfie” trend, I think it a crime to go all the way to the Eiffel Tower and NOT take an Eiffel Tower selfie.

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So, just to make up for all the sad souls who failed to take selfies (ehem Amy ehem), I took enough for all of them.

 

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We decided not to go up the tower. The lines were long and we didn’t even know if we would get a ticket anyways (do they sell out in a day?). Either way, we marveled at it from below and were satisfied with that. There was still more to see and we had to get a move on!

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We found an Eiffel Tower art piece made out of...red chairs...?

We found an Eiffel Tower art piece made out of…red chairs…?  It’s blurry…cuz it’s a metaphor of how we felt about the sculpture…unclear…

From the Eiffel Tower, we walked to Les Invalides. Amy tried to sneak in to see Napolean Bonaparte’s tomb, but alas, the guard turned her away without a ticket. Oh well!

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Les Invalides

After Les Invalides, I finally convinced Amy to let us hop on the train and take THAT to Notre Dame (that would have been a loooong walk!).  We took a look at some gargoyles, and I was truly shocked when I saw tourist wearing peep-toe rain boots.  For reals.  I’m not sure if you can tell from my sneaky creeper picture, but it was one of the most ridiculous shoe choices I have ever encountered.

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Peep toe rainboots…Are you for real right now?

Notre Dame!

Notre Dame!

We also got a second round of crepes, because our time in France was coming dangerously close to an end and I had not had my fill yet (will I ever!?!?).  This one was straight up Nutella and spot on for me.  One of the most prominent memories of my last trip to Notre Dame in 2006 was getting a crepe right next to the cathedral, so, I figured I’d keep the tradition alive.  I also did some more souvenir shopping here as well!

Nutella Crepe!

Nutella Crepe!

By this point, it was late in the afternoon, and we decided to go back to the hotel to relax for a few before going out for the evening. Amy then had the brilliant idea to stop at a store and get cheese and wine and crackers/ So we did. Glorious decision.

French wine and cheese!  Aren't we adorable?!?!

French wine and cheese! Aren’t we adorable?!?!

This was the one time in Paris between our check in and check out that we saw my coworker Jim. He joined us for our snack for a little, while we also watched some of the Brazil vs. Chile soccer match. We then got ready and found a bar where we could watch the Colombia vs. Uruguay match (gotta support the team of my man!). I’m not sure if our plan was to bar hop from here, or to just chill there the whole night, or if we had a plan at all. All I know is, we ended up staying there the whole night. Wine to beer to mixed drinks to shots. It was a good night with Amy in Paris.

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The next morning, Amy left for her train before I did, and shortly later, I packed up, hopped in a cab with Jim, and headed to the airport. After getting a little confused at the airport, we eventually made it to our gate, and then said au revior Paris! It was a bittersweet goodbye if I’ve ever known one!

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International flights are way more awesome than domestic. And terribly long. But, you get blankets and pillows, and your own tv, and a remote control that doubles as a video game controller! Also, my flight back was a double-decker plane…my first one ever, and it was pretty cool. 🙂

Paris still remains a city of wonder and romance and magic to me. I love it. I love the food. I love the people. I love the accents. All of France is wonderful. I hope to make it back to Bordeaux someday soon too, so I can take my new friend Violaine up on her offer to give me a tour of the vineyard she works at!  I hadn’t been to Europe in 6 years, and it was wonderful jumping the Atlantic again.  And the last time I was in France was my first time in Europe, and I didn’t know if Paris would still hold the same majesty it held back then for me.  It did.  I still love Paris.  Whatever the future holds for me, I only hope it brings me back to France someday soon. Until then, I think it’s time I try my hand at making macarons again…

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4 thoughts on “France, Je T’aime!

    • You definitely can! It’s helpful to speak some French, or at least know things like menu items and such (or have a cheat sheet or Google translate), because all the menus were only in French. But, most people speak at least a little English and we managed just fine speaking only English!

  1. Oh la la!! SO happy for you – a wish come true!! Life has given you such a wonderful experience to live, learn and laugh! Me alegro mucho por ti!

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