April in Paris & Monaco

A few times now friends have tried to set me straight on this one thing that apparently I say a lot. I will start a story with, ‘the most random thing happened to me, or you’re not going to believe what happened to me!’ By the end they say, ‘you realize it’s not really random when things like this happen all the time.’ That may be true, but I like to think that if I keep being open and grateful for the opportunities that fall in my lap, that they’ll keep coming.
This leads me to my trip to France.
I became friends with a guy who lives in Monaco, but is in Dallas usually once a month. A few lunches, meeting friends, and months later… I decided I knew him well enough to take him up on his offer to visit him in Monaco.
So, I met my girlfriend Kate at the airport in Paris. 3 different trains and countless stairs later, we arrived at our airbnb on a cute little pedestrian street in the 7th district, near the Eiffel Tower.  
One of the most amusing parts of the whole trip (for me) was watching Kate’s face as we exited a train and hauled our luggage down stairs only to round a corner to more stairs going up.  See, we lovingly nicknamed Kates bags her ‘house’. She spent 2 weeks at home in Poland prior, & had an over 50 lb giant luggage as well as a duffle bag full of stuff. Paris’s train/subway system IS NOT handicap friendly, and there wasn’t a single elevator throughout the entire changing 3 trains process. It made for cursing countless stairs, especially when realized we were in a 4th floor apartment with no elevator, & lots of giggles. We spent our first day roaming around the Eiffel Tower, which is where we met the 2 guys who became our tour guides for the afternoon. They were born and raised in Paris (we think), and barely spoke any english. It was highly entertaining. They led us to the Arc de Triumph and to Champs-Elysees, and finally to have a wine picnic in the park at the Eiffel tower. Super romantic, right? I really should leave it at that, but not being able to have conversation past a sentence was beginning to bore Kate and I, (it didn’t seem to bother them in the slightest.) And one may or may not have had a terrible unibrow.  Paris is very romantic, but this… was not.  We still a great afternoon trying to learn french from these new Frenchman who were carrying our grocery bags around for us.
The next day… We climbed the freaking Eiffel Tower by stairs. Not to the very top, but definitely high enough.
 We did a river boat that takes you to all the major attractions and started our tourist track at the oldest church in Paris. We were actually looking for the oldest cafe in Paris for some coffee (priorities), & stumbled upon Saint-Germain-des-Pres church that dates from 542. Yes, that’s 542, there is no 1 before it. It was beautiful and raw and not tourist filled. After that we decided to head to THE cathedral, Notre Dame. Along with the Eiffel Tower, it truly lived up to expectations. I will admit to being a dork, and to getting really excited about exploring and learning about the history of places, but I think pretty much anyone who enters the doors of Notre Dame gets their socks knocked off. The grandeur of it all, and the detail behind every little stained glass piece is amazing. The Gothic inspired renovations were intriguingly bizarre. I couldn’t stop staring up when we were outside walking around. 

Next we got a little lost on purpose wandering in the direction of the Louvre. I knew in advance how much there is to see inside and how little time we had. It’s a place I would love to return and spend some quality time in.
We arrived back at our apartment and connected to WiFi to find a message from my friend asking if we saw our flight was cancelled. I thought he was kidding. I haven’t purchased a ticket for a flight in almost 4 years. Tell me what the odds are that flight would get cancelled?! But after an hour facetiming with my friend who was talking to EasyJet on the phone for us, we ended up buying tickets on the train. We ate a baguette and cheese we had purchased for an appetizer, garretts popcorn, and cake Kate brought from Poland for dinner that night. But we were set for the train the next morning.
The apartment we rented was nothing special or nice, but it was all we needed in a nice safe location. Soooo, when the bed started making funny noises we weren’t too surprised. When we got into bed (very gingerly) and after a few minutes it collapsed, we were definitely surprised.  Turns out Ikea beds that have tape and nails to hold the middle (and only) support together and 2 large girls don’t mix. We took the mattress off and slept like babies on the floor.
My eyes were glued out the window the entire train ride through France. The little villages scattered throughout the hills and farmland in the beginning gradually turned into mountains and then into the coastline and Mediterranean Sea. Picturesque doesn’t do it justice.  My friend picked us up at the train station and welcomed us to his place with a glass of wine. It wasn’t hard to settle into his home, because it was amazinnnng. The penthouse apartment had a patio as big as the apartment, and it overlooked the Mediterranean and a little beach below, and the living room wall was doors that opened all the way to that view and crisp ocean air.  Nick was an amazing host and really made us feel comfortable. He put up with 2 girls taking over his apartment and bed for a few days and still seemed to like us at the end.

We really were able to live like locals, which is exactly how I like to travel. We met some of his friends who were all a lot of fun, & warm and welcoming. I won’t bore you with all of the daily details, but we ate some great food, danced a night away at a club with ladies night & free champagne, experienced Hotel De Paris’ ‘American Bar,’ walked along the coast to get to a beach restaurant, and ate a crap ton of croissants & baguettes & cheese.
Monte-Carlo casino behind us, and Hotel de Paris to the right.
Kate and I also did the tourist stuff in Monte Carlo. They were setting up for the Grand Prix which was pretty cool. The grandstands and the railing along the streets they put up is all redone every year. And obviously takes a lot of time.  We saw the yachts at the port, and walked up to Princes palace. We saw the changing of the guards, and enjoyed a bottle of our favorite, Rose, outside a cafe while we people watched. 

the view of Monte-Carlo from the walk to the Palace

One of my favorite ‘tourist’ activities that we did was just walked up to a medieval village that was behind Nicks condo. A 20 minute walk and suddenly we were taken back centuries. The fortress at the top was built in the 10th century. We arrived too late to tour it, but we’re able to walk through the little village and see the people who actually lived there getting home from work or cooking dinner. Cobblestone streets, archways built into 4 story high apartments, and side alleys and stairs everywhere. It was truly charming, and the view was outstanding.

The reason we were late to the fortress was one of those things I would say, ‘the most random thing happened’ about. We walked and had our moning coffee and Pain au chocolate (I figured out our last morning that’s what a chocolate filled croissant is actually called), & went back to condo to get ready to walk up to the village. When we got wifi, we saw a message from Nick saying that his friend that we had met the previous night has 2 box tickets to the Rolex men’s tennis championship that was in Monte carlo. Ummmm… we knew it was in town, and had watched Nadal on the practice court on our walk to breakfast, but didn’t expect to go. Obviously we said yes, and went on our merry way to watch a couple of tennis matches from our box seats. My first professional tennis match was pretty epic.
The reputation about french people being rude or unhelpful towards Americans was completely untrue on our trip. The smallest girl in the train station helped Kate carry her ‘house’ up the stairs, & if we looked lost someone would ask if we needed help. I found people friendly in general. I think it’s safe to say that Kate and myself are friendly people, and I think greeting someone with a smile goes a long way before you ask for help. I really enjoyed France, Monaco, and the people.
The one circumstance where we did not exactly enjoy an interaction with the locals was when we were pulled over by the French police. Apparently they can do that without cause, and then ask for everyone in the cars ID. Well, Kate had juuuust asked if we needed an ID before we left the house and was told no. So, the officer asks for my ID, I have my passport as well as my drivers license because I’m paranoid. He then goes to the back seat and asks for Kates who informed him she doesn’t have it. He was confused and asked again. Again Kate said, I do not have any identification on me. He asks again and again and finally got a reply of, ‘I ONLY HAVE MY PHONE, CASH, AND MY LIPSTICK,’ as she holds up her clutch for the officer to see. So he proceeds to take her information, and doesn’t understand what a flight attendant is.  He was looking at us funny and writes down that she is a stewardess.  After they let us go, Nick is laughing and tells us that prostitution is legal in Monaco and most of the prostitutes are Eastern European. The officer probably thought my friend who was only carrying her phone, cash, and lipstick, was a prostitute. I died. It was the running joke of the rest of the trip, and still makes me laugh.
The trip was amazing & France and Monaco were beautiful. I’m beyond thankful for randomness, and the opportunity to spend time with a friend who went above and beyond as a host.
… and for my polish prostitute friend.  Til next time France!

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