1. The bread - I have mentioned the bread half a dozen times. I post about it, I write about it. I have facebooked and instagramed the bread. If I had a twitter, I would tweet about the bread as well. I love the bread. All of the bread. I have always loved fresh baked bread. My mom made it fairly regularly thoughout my childhood and even today, when she comes to visit, I usually try to convince her that she NEEDS to bake bread for me. I love that I get fresh baked bread every single day - except maybe Wednesdays. Many of the bakeries are closed on Wednesdays. I love baguettes, croissants, chocolate crossants... you name it, I have tried it. Oh wait, I have not tried Vienna style bread yet. I will probably try that today or tomorrow, just so I can say I have tried all of the types of bread in the bakery. There are countless dessert pastries & I have done my best to try a good selection of them, but Dr. Yao would kill me if I came home from Europe weighing MORE than when I left. :)
2. Chocolate - Chocolate is delicious everywhere - except China. Chinese chocolate is terrible, but that is a post for another day. (Note to self, write a post discussing all of the chocolate I have eaten around the world). French chocolate is probably near the top of my chocolate ranking system. The French have perfected the every-day chocolate bar. You know, the one next to the register at the grocery store. Every country in the world (except China, again) does the "special" chocolate bar pretty well. In the US that would be Godiva, or something similar. They cost $3-4 (or more) and are the kind of thing that you want to savor and eat in small pieces so it lasts longer. I tend to receive them on holidays or my birthday. Sometimes a student will buy me one on a special occasion. They are delicious and I love them. However, I can pretty much do without our everyday chocolate bars. Hershey and its progeny are mediocre, at best. I do like the occasional Heath bar, but that is probably about it. However, here in France, chocolate is delicious. Even the most basic milk chocolate is smooth and creamy and delicious. Then, there is the aisle full of chocolate bars with "stuff" added in. a) it is literally an entire aisle of chocolate bars b) they add things I did not realize you could add. There are bars with nuts, crunchy things, creamy fillings, fruits, other types of candy, cookies, other kinds of chocolate... Yesterday, I bought one that seems to have mini MMs in it... I do not have a review of that one yet, but I will be sure to post it after I taste it. I can recommend the ones with toffee bits. It is like a heath bar, but with a higher chocolate to toffee ratio. So delicious.
3. Museums - I could go on forever about French museums. Realistically, it probably needs a post all of its own. I could spend every day in a museum and never get bored. Of course, Paris is home to some world class museums, arguably with one of the top art collections in the world. I love the Met and MOMA in NYC, and I have nothing bad to say about either of them, but the Louvre puts them to shame. I could spend months wandering through the rooms in the Louvre without overlapping. Last week, we spend a couple hours in the Louvre with the audioguides and only got through 4 or 5 rooms. There are so many amazing works of art, any one of which could be a centerpiece for a smaller museum. But, in addition to these huge museums, there are dozens of smaller museums with fewer visitors and a much more relaxed atmosphere. The Cluny, for example, was amazing. It is the French museum of the Middle Ages, housed in a castle-type building from the 1200s. We also saw the Quai Branley, which is dedicated to primative cultures (mostly those that used to be colonized by France). Here is an example of their displays:
Both of these museums were lovely, and did not have the hustle and bustle feel of the Louvre or the Orsay. I could spend another month in Paris, just wandering in and out of museums....
4. History - Along the same lines, Paris is brimming with history. It is such an old city that has gone through tremendous changes in the past 1000 years -- yeah, it is roughly 1000 years old. The age of the city gives it a history that most American cities can never dream of. Boston and NYC are fantastic, but about 400 years old, at best. The Notre Dame was built 400 years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. On the day the pilgrims landed, the Notre Dame was as old as Boston is now. Mind blowing. Old buildings, bridges, prisons, streets... you name it... it is all amazing. Versailles is huge and ornate and mind blowing. Essentially, it is a house that sent the country into bankruptcy. You cannot even imagine the opulence. Pictures do not do it justice... but I will still try...
5. Outdoor space - France does outdoor space very well. Some American cities have fantastic outdoor space. NYC is fantastic. Las Vegas is not. We have a few small parks, but nothing like NYC and all of our parks together would not hold a candle to the parks in a single Parisian neighborhood. There are walking parks, running parks, playgrounds, dog parks.. there are walking paths everywhere. They assume you are walking places, so they do what they can to make it pleasant. There are trees and flowers everywhere. And Wifi. While I never bothered trying it, most public parks have free Wifi. The idea being, instead of being stuck inside surfing the internet, you can go outside and surf the internet. At least you are getting some sun. The weather here has been lovely (though rainy for a few days) and I could see spending more time outside in the parks if I had more time. We have a lovely park across from our apartment that has two playgrounds - one for small children, one for elementary aged kids - a dog area, benches and picnic tables. And it is packed all the time. People are always out with their dogs and kids, enjoying the day. I could get used to that sort of thing.
6. Restaurants - yum. Las Vegas has an amazing restaurant culture, which easily rivals that of any city. We have everything from the hole in the wall Chinese joints (although my favorite recently closed) to the fanciest 5 star places you can imagine. Paris is the same way. The one thing they do a little better is the expectation that you are there to relax and enjoy your food. There is no one dropping the check on your table half way through the entree course, and no one bothering you every 5 minutes to see if there is anything else you need... this is true no matter the level of restaurant you visit. We did not splurge for a crazy fancy dinner here, because we are just as happy having eaten at a number of less expensive restaurants ($12 or 15 for a three course meal). The waiters (mostly men, oddly), expects that you eat multiple courses and you are going to sit there for an hour or two talking and enjoying the meal. Sure, they want to turn the tables, but it is not the primary goal. They want the diners to be happy.
7. Public Transportation - One word. AMAZING. Public transportation is easy, affordable and well managed. During peak hours, subway trains run every 3-4 minutes. During non peak times, the longest wait I have ever had is 8 minutes. Busses run a little less frequently, but are equally well run. If you have a subway pass, it is 20E per week, or 60E per month for unlimited transportation within the city (there are add ons for the suburbs). Between my car payment, gas, insurance and upkeep, I pay $600+ per month. I would love to get rid of all of that and pay $75 for a monthly transit pass. Think of all the bread and shoes I could buy with that other $500. Yes, it is crowded sometimes, but it is bearable. I wouldn't even hesitate.
8. Shopping - This is another thing I did not do a lot of, but I could see myself really getting into here. Unlike many tourists, I have access to the flagship Parisan stores... Louis Vuitton is just down the road from my house. No, it is not THE LV store, but as I am not in the market to buy one of the bags, it seems kind of pointless. The same goes for Chanel, Bulgari, Hermes... we have all of them in Las Vegas. I have, however, loved window shopping the little boutiques. There is always something interesting... and July is national Sale month. Seriously - the French Government tells the stores that they should have their sales in July. It is a little like holiday shopping at home... 30-60% off is normal. I could have spent a lot more money here, but I held back, and actually bought very little.
9. Beauty - not the fact that everyone here is beautiful... which they seem to be... but that France is beautiful. The architecture and city planning work together so well, it is lovely just to walk down the streets and enjoy the views. There are interesting statues and centuries old buildings to look at around every corner.
10. Relaxation - more than anything else, despite the breakneck pace of my classes and my daily 10K walking jags, I have found France to be very relaxing. I do not feel nearly as frenzied here. While exhausting, I even like all the walking. I have time to clear my head of all of the "junk". I am not constantly worrying about what I will do later, or tomorrow. I do not care (mostly) about what other people are thinking. I know that part of this is that I am a bit disconnected from my regular life - and it is summer, so I am not working. I do not feel the constant nag of my emails, or texts, or anything else. But, I think it is a combination of elements working together to give me a much more peaceful existance. I am hoping that I can bring some of these concepts home with me and dial back the stress on my day to day life.