I left for Paris almost two weeks ago, excited as ever to revisit my favourite city. I had restaurants, sites, and museums all planned out in order to make my short visit worthwhile, and was it ever! Although interspersed with tons of tourist destinations, I tried to do more exploring of the city in parts I hadn’t before to get a better sense of the feeling beyond the thousands of tourists.
Of course on my list of to-do’s in Paris were some of the must-sees of the foodie world including Café de Flore and Ladurée. I’d had French bistro and macarons many times before, but I needed to try out what people consider to be the originals, the classics. The salad I had at Café de Flore blew me right over! The Salade de Flore had a perfectly creamy dressing with ham and emmantal cheese. Very simple, but the combination was perfect. I was worried about the creaminess with the cheese and all, but I figured I should trust the masters. It was one of the best salads I had had in a long time and the best in Paris by far! The ambiance was also very typical bistro overlooking the busy shoppers on Saint-Germain-des-Près. It wasn’t particularly busy when I first sat down, but not long after people starting filing in and a group of true Parisians sat down next to me; making me feel even more a part of the city. That same afternoon was when I visited the widely known macaron shop of Ladurée. I have to admit the ambiance was a little more pretentious than I had been expecting. Nonetheless, the girls in the shop were very helpful and even complimented my French speaking abilities. Overloaded by the number of tourists that visit there daily, I’m sure that came to them as a surprise. I got a box of 8 macarons, all of which tasted phenomenal. My particular favourite was of course, the salted caramel macaron. Unlike many other salted caramel flavours I have tasted in the past, this one hit it right on the mark. The salted caramel was sweet but the saltiness was perfect! I generally prefer a saltier version than many North American places I have visited and this really hit it off. Of course, as the first macaron I had tried, it set a high standard for the others and luckily they all followed suit. My other favourite was their chocolate marshmallow which surprised me as a flavour but ended up not being overly sweet.
Now, onto the sights. For the remainder of the afternoon I strolled the streets of Paris, looking out at the Galleries LaFayette, Au Printemps, down to the Tuilleries and the Champs Élssées where they had already started the set up for the ride in on Saturday for the Tour de France. Although I missed the race by only a day, seeing the set up was extremely exciting! Along the walk I went by a little shop to pick up a baguette and a little bottle of champagne; the essentials for my picnic on the Champs de Mars later that evening. Sitting on my picnic blanket I thoroughly got to enjoy the Eiffel Tower in all its glory. Between sips of champagne (a rosé, my favourite) I did some classic people watching and catching up on my other fave, InStyle. I had slept the majority of my flight so my fashion updates were in order. 😛
For the following two days, I bought a Paris Pass and visited countless sites, museums, landmarks, you name it. Some of the places I hadn’t visited before included the Opéra, le parfumerie, the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Montparnasse Tower, Notre Dame, the Orangerie, the Rodin Museum, and the Pantheon. One of my other must-sees was an original cast iron metro station that I found at Abessess; it had a much more elaborate frame and awning that looked very skeletal. Having learnt about this in some of my favourite fine art history courses, the development in architecture that Paris attained around the time of the exposition in 1900 really interested me therefore I made sure to visit the original sites. I think the two sites that made the biggest impact on me were the Tower of Notre Dame de Paris and the Rodin Museum. Notre Dame is a typical tourist spot but I had yet to climb the numerous stairs to what I eventually found to be one of the most breathtaking views of Paris. Being at the other end of the central area of the city, it offered views of the Eiffel Tower and the countless medieval and royal buildings that are in its immediate surroundings. Although I have to admit the stairs down were painful on the calves later that day and the next, it was completely worth it. Having read some of their literature while waiting in line, I realized that I had yet to read the book Notre Dame de Paris so I picked up a copy on the way up which I have now added to my pile. My other surprise came at the Rodin Museum, I went there in the late afternoon of my last day and it was originally just supposed to be a quick side trip because I had heard the newly finished gardens were beautiful. I had already visited a Rodin Museum and I wasn’t really going to look at the sculptures but after having taken a long walk in the gardens, I felt I had to at least pay the home a little attention to. To anyone not having been to Paris or this museum yet, I highly recommend it. It wasn’t particularly busy like other places in the area, and filled with picnickers among which some were Parisians themselves. The sculptures were absolutely amazing, some installed to fit perfectly within the landscape, while others that were a little more comic, including a 5 or 6 foot tall torso in a thick knit sweater, were hidden but added to the calming and casual ambiance of the gardens. As I mentioned I also visited the house that is on this site where a larger selection of the sculptures by Rodin are located. The organization of the sculptures really impressed me because we could follow his career and his interests as they grew and changed courses throughout his lifetime. He is an absolutely incredible artist and it still baffles me how he could change stone with such grace. Although I go could on and on about the other places I visited, I thought these to be the best and most surprising of my visit and they made a hugely positive impact (on what was already very optimistic).
Once my time in Paris came to an end, I woke up at an unusually early hour to catch my flight to Munich and then on to Rome. With the exception of a little confusion in the Munich airport, the travelling went smoothly and in Rome I met up with my friends and other classmates from the University of Toronto in order to arrive at our final destination of Siena. Having been my first time in Italy, I was a little nervous to say the least because even in the airport people spoke very little English. Luckily then and as it continues to be now, my French has helped me along even more as I only seem to be able to pick up little bits of Italian here and there.
A friend of mine and I decided to rent an apartment in Siena as opposed to staying in the residence because it would give us a better sense of the city and we have been given a great place to stay as well as met some other people our age from various parts of the world.
We got here on Friday and we didn’t start classes until Monday, so we had lots of time to explore the city and on Sunday we even visited the town of Follonica where I saw my first views of the Mediterranean. By the way, the water was nowhere near as warm as I had expected! However, thank goodness for that because I would have melted otherwise. The heat here in Italy has so far been very dry, when you’re in the sun it is brutally hot but the shade, and water in this case, helps cool you down. Unfortunately the rain came pouring in at the end of our visit at the beach, but this gave us time to grab some gelato before heading to the bus. Still to this day, the best combination I have had was dark chocolate and green apple, which I had overlooking the downpour of a storm we saw in Follonica. But the gelato was amazing! As a huge ice cream fan myself, and of course gelato now as well, it bode well for me that I ended up in a place full of it.
Classes started on Monday and go through until Thursday every week for 3 hours in the morning. As my running break came to an end, I was very happy to lace up my shoes again and explore the town of Siena in ways my classmates have still yet to do. I got lost a couple times, and once even needed another runner to guide me in the right direction, but it was worth it! This morning I even went for a run along the tops of some of the hillsides just outside the medieval walls of Siena. With some of the most beautiful Tuscan homes and sweeping views of the landscape I was so glad I chose a path that left the little city area.
But back to classes. Every week we take a trip somewhere in Italy to visit sites of contemporary works of art to add to the lectures we listen to from earlier in the week. Along with visits to Poggibonsi and Colle Val d’Elsa, we visited which is so far my favourite town of San Gimignano. The area is surrounded by little hills and other clusters of homes and towns that grow fruits and grapes for wine making. I got the time to climb the highest tower in the town, which also housed many steps, but ended with the most beautiful views of the surrounding area. It’s just so hard to explain in words, so different from places I have been to before, that there is just no good comparison, so below I put in a panoramic shot of the views from San Gimignano’s Torre Grossa.
Of course on this visit, when I heard they had the best gelato in the world (with trophies and awards to show) I had to give it a try! Their award winning nocciola I paired with their peach flavour. The combination I have to admit wasn’t the best, but individually they were great! The nocciola on its own was freaking amazing! Every lick/bite was super smooth but had a taste that made it seems like you were biting into the hazelnuts themselves. And unlike equivalents like Nutella, it was nowhere near as sweet and tasted of true, whole hazelnuts. By far the best gusti I’ve had so far!
On the ride back I slept like a baby and walked home still in a daze. Once we got home Jordanna and I then made some finishing touches on our plans to go to Florence! So I’ll be writing to you next from there, Ciao!