Three Months in Europe
We were back where it all began, Paris, in St. Germain, at the bar across the street from where we first stayed. We were sipping wine and reflecting on all we had done. Three months abroad is no joke. 90 days, 30 cities and 10 countries. Countless moments. A trip of a lifetime really. What was once a dream became our reality. Our long walks around the lake and harbor at home were spent discussing, deciding, determining. How can we make it happen?
We learned so much about travel along the way. The how-to’s, the technicalities, the joys and the stresses.
Our second stay in Paris confirmed I love this city. I truly did not know I would fall so deeply and irrevocably in love with France and their culture. It lit an old flame I never realized was buried within me. The tender spark silently nourished in my formative years grew into a wildfire of inspiration and a whole new cleansing perspective.
The second time around Paris felt a lot less intimidating. Our walk-up apartment was in a new neighborhood but the metro was familiar. The language really came second nature. As I told someone I don’t speak French he commented “but your accent is good!”
I never knew I retained every emphasis and every unique vocalization of this complex, nasal language until spending my time here. I’m not fluent by any means, but I get the language.
We still can’t get over just how affordable it is to eat and drink here. Cafes offer fantastic mid-day deals with great house wine. Meals like this are unaffordable in California. The idea of a quality, cheap lunch just doesn’t exist. We have fast food, not nice bistros. The thing is, so many Americans get it wrong when they sit down for a meal in France. Here is how to not fuck up your Paris dining experience.
Before this trip I really was so apprehensive about how my stomach would feel. I always loved to cook and eat but food did not always love me back. Travel had always been a double edged sword, I crave seeing new places, meeting new people and trying new foods but these moments of blissful exploration were often interrupted by unpredictable pain, discomfort and loss of energy.
To my absolute delight most of the food I had in Europe did not bother me like their counterparts in America would. I’m still seeking answers as to why, but for now I want to share my rekindled passion for eating, cooking and discovering amazing food that makes you feel great. I fell in love with the attention to detail and ingredients that many people share here. I was able to have small amount of wheat in sauces without it bothering me. I still avoided bread and beer but found I did not have to adhere strictly to a wheat-free diet if it only contained trace amounts such as in broth or sauce. That is the benefit of a wheat allergy as opposed to having Celiac disease or other even more sever forms of allergies. Apparently I can still have trace amounts of the high quality European flour without it noticeably affecting me.
It inspired me to start hosting private dinners and cooking all of my own food. I go to the store almost every other day now. I’m starting to share some of my favorite recipes on here with you all as well. I am just so passionate about what I found! You can read more about that here.
We established that Le Marais and St Germain were our favorite places to wander around and find a bite to eat. Nothing beats row after row of café and wine store and fromagerie and boulangerie. Everyone seems to care so much about the quality of their food. This mindset manifest itself into me having no issues what-so-ever. I was able to enjoy almost all that Europe had to offer. Such a weight was lifted from me. I felt much more free to eat and enjoy instead of taste, wait and hope.
This was a trip of a lifetime. Maybe it’s time to make a lifetime of these trips.
Staring up at our first room, remembering how little we knew about what was to come. I had no idea my mindset would be transformed. My life would be changed.
Travel differs from vacation. Vacation is relaxation, finding familiar comforts in a new place. Travel is about change. Challenges and languages, connections missed and made. Both are important. We all need a fucking vacation from time to time. But more and more in this changing era we need to travel. To be discomforted. To find something you never knew was missing. To realize that we are all humans, every single one of us, no better or worse. As simplistic and platitude-like as that sounds, so many today forget it. The roots of authoritarianism are found in this ignorance.
Bonjour Paris, J’taime
Getting to Paris was easy. “All roads lead to Rome, yes but in France they all lead to Paris”. I wrote this last time around and it applied just as much now. Getting to Paris was a breeze. Our previous trip from Strasbourg to Ghent however was not. But we were here now, with our transportation woes behind us, ready to explore.
Our new place in Paris was a five story walk up in the 12th District. Another reason to travel when you’re young! So much of Europe is built for another era, one where mobility issues were not thought of. We had a great view of the streets below us. People scurried about like Lego mini-figures carrying baguettes and riding bikes. It was a convenient location as we were only steps away from the metro and Gare de Lyon.
Although a busy street it was a quiet apartment. We were so high up that the sounds below wafted into the air and dissipated into a small babble of indistinct chatter. The city noise was almost comforting at its ambient level. The soft sound of a rapid river far beneath you, if you let your mind wander. And there were cafes around every corner. We thrive in cities.
Second stay in Paris Itinerary
First Day Back
Our first meal back in Paris was a Prix Fixe bistro lunch, as it should be. We found a highly rated spot nearby and had onion soup and duck confit. We were back in France baby!
St. Germain captured our hearts last time so we headed there to start round two. To make this trip a full circle we walked down the same street we stayed on and past the apartment we first slept in almost 90 days ago.
Le Cremerie nearby had the best champagne of the trip. This is true champagne from Reims, the heart of French bubbles. The bartender was very friendly and steered us in the direction of a tiramisu. He boasted that it was better then an Italian one, he was right. The subtly coffee flavors and airy layers made this another highlight of the trip.
Our fantastic Le Cremerie bartender recommended another spot on the same street, Prescription. These are upscale cocktails made to order with a fun group of hard-working bartenders in a dark and intimate space. No cocktail experience is complete without a stop here. Your second time around is the time to ask for those underrated spots, those gems that locals recommend, and the places that lines out the door are worth it for. Strike up a conversation, especially when it’s slow at the bar or café, maybe on a weeknight, and you’ll find the locals more then willing to chat and recommend what you may have overlooked.
After the drinks and the walking we worked up another appetite. Or at least I did. You can’t go far in this neighborhood without some food calling your name. We stopped by a sushi restaurant for late night snacks. Maybe it was just the drinks or the atmosphere of being back in Paris, but it was my favorite sushi in the past three months.
It felt so right to be back here. In St Germain specifically, a true full circle.
Day 2: Eating In / Picnics
Although travelling to Paris was easy, checking in the first day to our apartment was not. We were given the wrong lockbox code. Then told to wait until noon to try the code again. Still didn’t work. Our Airbnb host had to reset and unlock it from her account. Seen as the lockbox pickup was at the grocery store, we had a bunch of free time the first day to wander around the local market and pick up foods.
Cheese, yogurt, cured meats, eggs, tea and fruits filled our basket. I used this menagerie of ingredients to make breakfast plates each morning. We would typically eat a Prix Fixe meal at a Bistro while exploring the neighborhoods. This slower style of travel makes having a functioning kitchen more important. Location and kitchen became the priority by the end of this trip. Making food at home not only saves money but also lets you take full advantage of the local markets and stores which are usually stocked full of fresh and seasonal ingredients.
We headed to Le Marais for the day to revisit some of our favorite food stops. Rue de Rivoli near the Saint-Paul station is a great area for quick options. We picked up cheese from Laurent Dubois, wine from a nearby shop, chicken from Boucherie Saint-Paul, and went to the park to enjoy. Day time picnics, home-made breakfasts and small shops help you feel like a local, save money and have new experiences you may not have had the first time around.
The Jewish quarter was next with a mandatory stop at L’As du Fallafel. It was as good as they say. The spices, flavors and textures were all fantastic. Next door was a Jewish bakery with authentic pastries and treats that Jamie of course picked up. They served as her snacks as we explored and her breakfast the next day.
When we went to Canal St. Martin that evening we didn’t find what we were looking for. Places that were open were too busy to seat us. Places not busy didn’t look appetizing or appealing enough to enter. Who wants to go to the one empty place on a crowded street? We didn’t do this neighborhood right! For whatever reason the night didn’t line up for us. It happens and not every night out is picture perfect.
Sometimes the food you get at the markets, the small shops and the corner butcher end up being the best meals. France is known for its famous restaurants of course, but do not overlook buying the ingredients yourself. Customize your own charcuterie plate for half the price. Use that decadent French butter to slowly scramble some eggs. It will be worth it.
Day 3: Revisit Your Musts / Avoid the Crowds
We took a stroll down Champs-Elysees, a classic Paris moment for any visitor. Jamie bought some macarons from the most well-known places, La Duree and Pierre Hermes. La Duree won the taste test this time around. Again we were so surprised with how much we enjoyed pistachio! Possibly the most surprising flavor of the trip, we knew we had to try them again.
Champs-Elysees leads you towards the iconic and towering Arc de Triomphe. Our first time here in September the Arc was actually covered up by an experimental art project. It was tarped in a giant grey-blue striped piece of fabric that hid every feature. No one was allowed to climb it either.
The purpose of the project was a posthumous nod to an artist. His statement was to cover well known monuments across the globe to make people appreciate their absence. In that sense, it worked.
Thank god we came back to Paris. I would have been upset had we only come here once and not had the chance to see this monumental tribute to France’s military history. We tend to underrate the French but they were a dominant power throughout multiple ages of time. We used this time around to see what we were not able to experience on our first trip. You almost always look back on that one meal you didn’t have, that one photo you didn’t get. What you’d do if you had one more day. Now is the time! You’re here for your second stay, make it memorable.
Alas, the line to climb to the top of the Arc was way too long to wait in. We decided we didn’t need to spend our time waiting when we could come back in a couple days when the weekend crowd would be gone. We did a photoshoot outside instead which turned out great!
Not taking the hint from how crowded the Arc was, we made our way down the Trocadero Steps towards the Eiffel Tower. It was a madhouse.
The area was partially closed for construction and absolutely swarmed with people trying to snap any photo they could. Being in Paris in mid December felt much busier then when we were here in mid September! What a difference just a few months makes. December was likely drawing holiday tourists and people off work for the celebrations.
My only solution was to find a fantastic meal and take a break from the main sites. We found a beautiful salmon tartare far from the Eiffel Tower and finished it off with, you guessed it, a crème brûlée. You can always find a great meal in Paris if you wander off a main avenue. Learn from us and use the weekends for underrated activities and lesser known neighborhoods. Not the main sites.
Day 4: Musee d’Orsay / Take a Walk
Museum d’Orsay is itself a work of art worthy of reverence. Stepping inside we were immediately in awe. This old train station is the perfect home for art pieces from 1848 – 1914, covering the entire “Belle Epoch” period of Impressionist and modern art. This time period was one of unimaginable optimism and artistic output. Many people would soon pine for the pre-war days of nostalgic freedom, expression and culture.
From being housed in a train station, itself a symbol of progress, to presenting artworks that span the range of emotion from ecstatic celebration of life to drawn out horrors of mechanized war, D’Orsay captures the spirit of modernity perfectly. It is incredible to read onto the paintings the feelings of the era. One can almost place the date of each work by its optimism, later works becoming darker and more menacing as World War I approaches.
This period was one of the greatest artistic, literature and visual outputs in European history. This height of European society was to implode in a vicious decades long span of wars over race, culture and identity. It is bittersweet and nostalgic to look back on the period right before the World Wars as one of pure optimism and blind hope. They had no idea.
This was one of the best museums of the trip. One of the best in the world. Paris is spoiled in its luxury that d’Orsay would rank second on our list of museums to see here. The amount of culture and art to see is simply astounding, especially to someone from a California suburb. The works displayed here are from such illustrious artists as Van Gogh, Monet and Manet. Jamie’s favorite artist was confirmed to be Monet. The lush nature and park scenes illuminated with a myriad of intertwining brush strokes really brought a fresh perspective to outside subjects.
Some of the incredible artwork in display at Musee D’Orsay
Paris is the foreign city I’ve spent the most time in by far. Being our second time here, we could not pass up a meal at Le Procope, a standout from our first trip to Paris together. I guess you could say we have favorite cafes now?
I know Paris can let a lot of people down. “Paris syndrome” is a real thing. This feeling of disappointment can be found all over the travel blogs and subreddits I follow. I think people build Paris up to be some shining example of an artist’s dream. Many think it will be a charming, quaint town, especially those that have never been to Europe before. The trash on some of the streets, the occasional homeless person on top of a rude waiter is enough to ruin this city for many people.
You need to have the proper mindset coming here. Paris is one of the largest cities in the world. The most visited globally. There are tourist traps and rude waiters abundant. You need to know where to look and how to be humble.
For me, Paris was a dream. Compared to Los Angeles, the closest global city to me, you can eat off the Paris streets. There are no tent cities. No visible blocks of refuse and garbage. Yes there are bad neighborhoods in Paris. Every city in the world has them.
For food, affordable dining experiences, for culture and drinks, for wandering street after street of historical sites and architecturally pleasing buildings, for art lovers, for romantics who know that life has a little dirt in it, for those who can dream and humble themselves, Paris is for you.
Maybe it was just our walk along the Seine that had me waxing poetic. It truly is gorgeous, especially at night as you round the slight bend and Notre Dame emerges like a lady swan over the shimmering water. Across the river we found a small Christmas Market in front of Hotel del Ville that only added to the atmospheric charm.
Day 5: Croissants & Champagne
Our next day started with breakfast at Eric Kayser, just across the street. We could practically see into the shop from our window. Jamie needed her chocolate croissant, I had no idea how she held out this long. We took our snacks to Le Marais, to pick up more food, but of course. One cheesy croque monsieur and creamy crème brûlée to-go later and we were off. I couldn’t have the sandwich but I greedily picked off any melted cheese bits. It is essentially a French grilled cheese, fantastic and easy.
Next door was the wine shop. We picked up an Alsace Riesling as an ode to Strasbourg where we stayed not too long ago, along with a spicy, earthy red for me. Red wine just hits different in France. You can taste the age, the soil and the history in each glass.
Needing to use a European restroom is always a challenge in public. We opted for a nearby café and I ordered an espresso. The menu looked appealing so I also made sure to also get us some champagne and escargots as a mid day snack. How bougie we had become. The thing is, it’s affordable, these would be insane luxuries at home, we would go broke eating out like this in the suburbs.
The plan was to make our way towards the Ponte Alexander III Bridge. It was featured in a Victoria’s Secret fashion show commercial years ago so of course Jamie knew about it and made it a point to visit. It really is one of most beautiful bridges in Paris with gilded lamps from a bygone era overlooking views of the Eifel Tower. Or at least normally we would have those views, this day it was too overcast. You can’t always have perfect weather.
The sprawling Tuileries garden, outside the Louvre, was next. We walked the gardens but it was a little too cold to have a full-on picnic. We sipped wine to keep warm and kept walking. Sometimes spontaneity pays off. We stumbled on a huge Christmas market full of rides, stalls and food options of all kinds from glühwein to Nutella waffles and cheesy potatoes. We had them all. The potatoes with ham and cream were particularly good. We got to eat them by an open fire for warmth. It felt, smelled and tasted like Christmas. This market had white stalls with fake snow instead of the more authentic wooden stalls. It was just the warmth we needed on this cold day out. They even had rides and a small rollercoaster, like a carnival.
We were considering a day trip to Reims for champagne tasting since we had almost a week in Paris. Serendipitously we found a Reims champagne tent in the Christmas Market and had the joy of sampling Pommery champagne. Reims came to us, we didn’t have to go to Reims. We had a glass of the brut and black currant, called cir cassis, which was delightfully unique with such light bubbles. Black currant was another surprising flavor I knew little about but will now seek out. Travel teaches us things.
We continued our walk through the neighborhood to Angelina’s and waited for a classic hot chocolate. It wasn’t that good this time, sadly they burnt it! Normally this is a Parisian classic so don’t let one burnt chocolate steer you away. It happens! We loved it last time around.
Jamie naturally wore the perfect outfit for a photoshoot outside the famous Louvre Pyramid. We worked with angles for unique shots and had a fun time trying to line up the pyramids with the lines on her clothes and create new shapes with space. I really am lucky to have a model for a wife who also has an impeccable fashion sense.
The Latin Quarter was an area we had not explored enough. We headed there for dinner and chose a busy spot with a fantastic menu. Once seated we noticed there was only one waiter for at least a dozen full tables. He handled them all entirely on his own, flawlessly. We were beyond impressed. Not only was the one-man service some of the best we had ever seen but it was also one of the best meals we had this time around. Stunningly we were served three courses of food for €15 each person, essentially €5 a course!
We had a fresh goat cheese salad & frog legs, the best duck of Jamie’s life, I had the rabbit, and we finished with a crème brûlée and a cheese plate. You could probably order for us at this point as we definitely have a pattern.
Continuing our bubbly tasting from earlier we had crement Alsace sparkling wine at a bar in St Germain. The bar was across the street from the first place we stayed. It was always busy but we had never been until now. It was a true moment of reflection and the realization that our trip was almost ending was creeping in. The memories we made were reflected over our glasses of wine, glancing up at our first stay of the trip.
Day 6: Final Full Day
Our breakfast was a croissant for Jamie, but this time a soufflé for me. There is no gluten in many soufflé recipes and I was overjoyed to have this melting, decadent chocolate cake without worrying. I know we recollect on food quite a bit but it is such an integral part of our travel experience. I seek out delicious, unique foods that are allergy friendly for me. It is a real challenge at times. Travelling with food allergies is something I want to explore and share more about in the near future. It is not easy but it can be eye-opening and life changing to not worry that each bite will plunge me into a depth of pain for hours without relief.
Plus great food is essential to Europeans. Good food, good wine and good company are not just silly sayings here like they are at home. They are a way of life. Dinners are planned while eating lunch. They obsess over quality ingredients from seasonal gardens. We need more of this at home, not just for those of us with food allergies but for everyone’s health and betterment of life. Too many stomach and indigestion issues go unnoticed or are masked by taking medications when the real solution is to start eating proper food again. We’ve lost touch entirely with delicious food, convenience has killed the family farm.
Jamie and I took our first Covid-19 test of the whole trip. Within a half hour it came back negative. We both knew it would, but it was still reassuring.
The only time we were required to take a test on the whole trip was to fly home from Paris to LAX. We didn’t plan it this way but we had ended up “beating the system” by flying into France from the US, which has no entry requirements for testing. We then spent enough time within the EU (France & Greece) to negate having to take tests when flying into Italy. As long as you had been within the EU for the previous two weeks no tests were needed to enter Italy, whereas anyone flying direct from the US would have needed to test negative. After that we were in! No testing requirements existed for inter-EU travel and since we had not been to the US in some weeks, we were no longer treated as “American travelers” coming straight from the old USA.
Guinea fowl and pumpkin soup were the plates of the day for lunch at a local café. No one spoke English in the whole establishment which gave it an authentic feeling. I had to translate what guinea fowl was into English on my phone. Then I had to look up what a guinea fowl even is. It the first time I ever had it before and I liked it. Basically any poultry we found abroad was leagues ahead of anything at home and I am always willing to try something new.
Finally that afternoon we climbed the Arc de Triomphe. It took us three attempts, the first time around months ago, and two days before when it was just too crowded. This time we climbed right up with no lines. It is quite a spiraling upwards ascent so be prepared for some claustrophobia. We were so glad we didn’t have the wait in line shuffling up these narrow steps with thousands of people around. Every direction had amazing views of the city and it made me realize just how little of Paris we had seen. There were endless streets upon streets with cafes, bistros, art, lives. There is so much in this world. So much to experience and see. To feel. To taste. To wander with childlike joy and appreciation for the opportunity I have to travel and leave my comfort zone. To thrive.
Interior spiraling stairs, Arc de Triomphe. Europe is not for the mobility challenged.
We walked Champs Elysees one more time, trying to soak the iconic street in.
Our last official meal out in France was back at Chalet Gregoire. Small, unassuming, just off the main path, it was just what we wanted, just what we search for.
And on top of it all, THEY REMEMBERED US!
Where we sat, what we ordered, they recalled almost every detail from 90 days ago. The waiter knew our wine and food making us feel incredibly special. I have no idea how they knew, I don’t think we made any massive impression but we must have done something right. Chalet Gregoire will always hold a special place in our hearts and minds. I wish they had a website I could link for you all. If you ever go, mention us and maybe you’ll get the same treatment and delights that we had.
Our last meal was a typical one consisting of escargots and frog legs followed by coq au vin and duck confit finished with cheese plate and crème brûlée, our go-to French meal! I will miss these bistros so much. I’ve noticed that when abroad the word “typical” means authentic or family recipe whereas “typical” does not contain that same positive connotation at home. When in Europe remember that “typical” does not mean “average” or “regular” but in fact “representative” and “authentic” and “local”.
After our delicious meal we walked along the first street we stayed on in St. Germain again, took in the Seine and saw the Eiffel tower sparkle one last time at night.
One last glimpse at the magnificent Eiffel Tower. I didn’t see the appeal before arriving. I get it now.
Travel Day Back Home
Our travel day back home was a cluster fuck. I don’t use that word lightly. Truthfully it was just Charles De Gaulle airport, the flight itself was fine, albeit long. Praise to flight attendants, I have no idea how they do it.
We arrived to get our boarding passes and were immediately greeted with lines almost out the airport door. Wrapped around kiosks and through hallways. No one knew where to go. It was reminiscent of when we first picked up our rental car here after our initial stay in Paris.
We were directed towards the wrong place entirely and had to double back, wasting precious time.
The line to issue boarding passes for our flight was barely moving. It made no logical sense how they could get everyone on the flight in time, but it also was clear to me that the plane wasn’t going to leave half-empty. I had no idea what their plan was. Jamie was rightfully stressed. They were handing out paper and pens to fill out required forms while we waited in line. Everyone was overwhelmed. Nervous glances and scared laughter dominated the interactions.
Somehow, god knows how, everyone shuffled through security and boarded on time. In the end airport staff starting pulling people out of the security lines if their flights were about to leave. There were workers running around shouting names of destinations holding up signs. It was pure desperation and chaos.
Out of the madness we made it.
We’ve been home for some time now. Planning our next adventures and travels. I’ve been diving into my food, making nearly everything at home from scratch. I try my best to replicate the flavors and uniqueness of the dishes we had abroad. Reading back our notes it is clear how important and transformative food was on this journey. I’ve never had no stomach issues whatsoever. It was so liberating. I’ve never been more alive.
Even doing my best at home I’m not able to replicate the food freedom I had abroad. There is just something in the way food is processed and made here that disrupts my stomach.
But it wasn’t just food. This trip transformed so much about our lives, about our goals and our desires. We want to keep going places. The world beckons. The time is now. It may not always be as safe, easy and reliable to travel across the globe. The war in Ukraine shows how fragile peace can be. I hate to be pessimistic but China is eyeing Taiwan as well. General peace between major nations is something we have all taken for granted our entire lives.
Covid showed how little control we have over world altering events. With the disease generally becoming more mild over time, with the dollar as strong as it is, with peaceful ways to travel the globe, what’s holding you back?
I don’t know what’s holding us back anymore.
It think its time for another leap.
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2 thoughts on “What To Do On Your Second Trip to Paris”
Really enjoyed this piece Austin. Well done.
I don’t think you meant for the following to be in the piece: maybe place covid stuff in its own section at the top or as a side note at the bottom
JEFF KLEIN Sent from my IPhone which sometimes has a mind of its own! Cell: 818.915.3104.
Good catch Jeff, and thank you!