One of the best things about living in Europe is the ability to travel and see Europe! (funny how things work that way). Mike had a business meeting two Fridays ago in Paris, and since it was my last week of “leisure” before retuning to work, we decided to make a weekend of it. I am lucky enough to have been to Paris several times before and it is absolutely my favorite city in the world.
After getting news that 50% of the flights to Paris were being canceled because of striking air traffic controllers, we made it on Thursday evening as planned. Mike had a business dinner, so I was on my own. We were staying at a hotel pretty far out, and as the taxi drivers were also striking, I ended up eating in an Italian restaurant very near the hotel. It was about the worst Italian food I have had. Oh well.
Our hotel that night was called the Evergreen Laurel. The reviews on Trip Advisor were pretty dismal and I wasn’t impressed. Interesting enough though, it reminded me of home. And when I say “home”, I mean Casa Grande, Arizona. The hotel is owned by the Evergreen Group in Taiwan. Apparently, they are quite the conglomerate and have a number of varied businesses, including hotels, airlines (EVA Air, as well as a cargo line), shipping, etc. They also have an airfield in Marana, AZ between Casa Grande and Tucson. I have been to that airfield a couple of times and I had no idea the company did so many other things. The hotel catered to Asian clients and I think the funniest thing was the guy at the front desk was named Brian and he was from Boston. He told me he was hired because his English was so good and it was easier for him to communicate with the Asian clients than the Parisians who spoke English. Either way, I was glad he was there because it was easier for me to communicate with him, too!
On Friday, while Mike was in meetings, I had a day on my own in Paris. I spent some time in both the morning and the afternoon sitting in the Jardin des Tuileries. The sun repeatedly stuck its head out and it was so nice to see. For the majority of my time in Helsinki, it has been pretty cloudy, rainy and dreary. I had lunch at one of my favorite places that are actually in the US, too, Le Pain Quotidien. There is something to be said for going into a restaurant and knowing the menu and getting what you want/expect. I do miss that. I then went to the Musee de l’orangerie. This museum has a number of Claude Monet Water Lily paintings. A few things I learned about the Water Lilies – it’s a series of more than 250 paintings and many of them are quite large. I saw four that were 36 feet in length. I guess when I have seen them before, they were either the smaller versions, or I just do not have a good memory of what I have seen in the past. Either way, I was very struck by the size and don’t think I’ll forget now!
Claude Monet - Water Lily (Sunset)
After my day on my own, I met Mike at our new hotel. Side note – we booked a hotel for the first time through Hotwire. Hotwire is one of those sites where you pay for the hotel room before you know the name of the hotel. I was a bit leery, as I am pretty particular about hotels, but went for it anyway because everything I was looking at was so expensive. We got a smoking deal for the Westin Vendome right by the Louvre. I will definitely use Hotwire again!
We rode the Bateaux Mouches up and down the Seine at sunset and then walked to one of my favorite restaurants, Relais l’Entrecote, for dinner. There is no menu at l’ Entrecote. Everyone has a salad with a mustard vinaigrette, steak and French fries. You can pick your dessert. It is sooooo good. And for those of you in the tri-state area, one opened in NYC last year and I highly suggest you try it!
View from the Bateaux Mouches (with slight technical difficulties!)
On Saturday, we had Starbucks for breakfast. Though Finns drink more coffee per capita than anyone in the world, they don’t have Starbucks. And for that matter, it’s very hard to even find decaffeinated coffee. Kinda makes it difficult for a pregnant girl to get a cup of joe. When I was in Paris in the summer of 2004, there were four Starbucks in the entire city. Today there are 46! I think the Parisians could do with 45 and the Helsinkians could have one! After breakfast, we went to the Musee d’ Orsay. This museum is known for its collection of Impressionist paintings and is in an old restored train station. The building is absolutely gorgeous, just incredible. Unfortunately, it is currently being renovated and many of the works of art are in make shift locations. Additionally, 54 Monet works are at a special exhibit at the Palais Royal, so we did not get to see them. We took an English language tour of the museum and had a wonderfully knowledgeable guide from the museum whom we quite enjoyed. We had a nice lunch at the museum and added it to our list of museum restaurants where we have had a good meal.
Mike had planned our Saturday evening well in advance and as surprise for me. We had tickets to the Moulin Rouge! A car picked us up at the hotel and took us to the theater. We had dinner before the show and sat at a table with several other couples. We enjoyed talking to an older couple from New Zealand and a young couple from Leeds, UK. The show was so much fun to watch. Moulin Rouge is home of the cabaret and it was so neat to see it where it originated. The dancers were fabulous and the acts in between the show numbers were also quite good. We really enjoyed a ventriloquist who did some audience participation and a girl who swam in a pool with snakes, big snakes! It was quite an evening and we had so much fun!
The Moulin Rouge (with more technical difficulties!)
On Sunday, we had breakfast at a little café near the hotel before heading out to an art fair. It wasn’t quite what I expected based on what I had read in the guide book, but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. As we were walking back to the hotel, we decided we would have lunch at l’ Entrecote. We knew it was a bit silly to go to the same place twice in one weekend, but we decided it was worth it. We haven’t found restaurants in Helsinki yet that we love, so we decided we should take advantage of being in a place with one that we do. Lunch was as good as dinner two days before. As we left the restaurant, it started to sprinkle, then rain, and we walked quickly back to the hotel. We were lucky to be able to walk through parts of the grounds of the Louvre that are covered, and then get on streets that under colonnades and we stayed pretty dry. We collected our bags and hopped in a taxi to the airport. What a wonderful weekend!