Carpe Diem: Eurotrip 2016

The Day Paris Cuisine Was On Point

Our second day in Paris was our last full day as a Contiki family. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was ready to soak up as much fun as I could before we had to say “au revior.” I think we did a pretty good job of it.

Breakfast in the hotel was probably the best one we’d had. I mean, Paris is kind of famous for delicious baked goods, I should have expected that we’d have quite a selection. Croissants, corn breads, crepes and a variety of toppings… I inhaled a variety of French carbohydrates to prep for my day. I also had some of the best brie I’ve ever had in my life, sweet and creamy but doesn’t squish down to slime when you touch it. So good. I threw some strawberry jam on one of my crepes; there had to be some kind of nutrition in there somewhere.

Our first item on the agenda was to get our group photo taken. I think originally this photo was to be taken atop the Eiffel Tower but due to the Euro Fan Zone, we relocated to the Dome Des Invalides (I’ve never heard of it either). We all piled in and took a family photo. Some of the gents who had stayed out a little too late really had to drag themselves out there. The photo came out great, though it’s easy to tell who had enjoyed a bit too much of Paris the night before.

The next optional excursion was to a perfumery in the city. I had come onto this trip knowing I wanted to buy some French perfume, so I was very excited. First we enjoyed a tour around their museum, which gave the history of perfume as well as its creation. There was also a little interactive portion where we had to smell essences of certain smells and match them to pictures. It was harder than it looked, but still fun. In the basement of the museum was their perfume store, where we got to smell a few of their most popular scents and peruse the rest of their wares. I wound up buying a bottle of Belle de Nuit, Beauty of the Night. It smells like heaven and flowers and I’m going to wear it every day. In my head I keep translating it to “Lady of the Night” though and I don’t think that’s the message I need to be sending.

After leaving the perfumery we boarded the bus once again and made our way to the Arc De Triomphe, where we would begin our solo activities for the day. I once again teamed up with Olivia and Madison, for by this point I realized that I enjoyed their company and we liked similar activities and paces. Also, they had both been to Paris already as well, so we didn’t feel obligated to do the usual Paris tourist things. The first item on the agenda was to grab some food. After taking a short stroll down the Champs Elysses, we came upon the Café Romana, a little al fresco café right on the Champs Elysses. It was a delightful experience. We all had amazing cappuccinos, and for food I got quite possibly the best Caesar salad of my life. It was a little garlicky but so flavorful. And instead of croutons, it was accompanied by two crispy slices of garlic toast. Oh France. You know food. OH and we got free bread with the meal, which is always a plus in my book.

From lunch we headed down the Champs Elysses to Lauderee, the famous macaron shop. Y’know those delightful little multicolored sandwich cookie looking things? They’re like Oreos if they were made by fairies? Yeah. Those things. Everything in the store was a work of art, from the building outside, the décor inside, and of course, the pastries themselves. Not only filled to the brim with macarons, every other tart, cake, and sweet was a masterpiece. I wanted to try it all, but I was there with a purpose: Macarons. I bought a box of eight to save for later, again, when I’m home and dreaming to be back in Paris.

Our next goal was to find the meeting place for the bus, just so we knew where it was before we got left behind later. On our way, we got a little lost and wound up on a few Parisian side streets. There are far worse places to be lost. These little alleyways were so charming and quiet. It was Sunday, so many of the shops were closed, leaving the areas silent, and thus more quaint.

Soon we had reached the Museeum D’Orsay, our meeting spot. Across the street, we sat along the steps that led to the Seine and each dipped into our macaron supply. Madison and I each tried our Marie Antoinette macarons, which were blue with brownish icing and tea flavored. They were very different tasting, not bad, but a little odd. Olivia tried her mint one and let us each have a bite. The mint was light and sweet. I’m glad I still have that flavor left in my supply.

We still had an hour before pickup time, so we decided to take a little stroll over to the Louvre gardens. On our way I passed by a street artist at work, and decided to peruse his wares. I found a beautiful work of art, a painting of the Ponte Alexandre, my favorite bridge in the city, with the Eiffel Tower in the background. It was bright and colorful, with a sunset setting. I had to buy it. I’m running out of room for art in my room, but eh, I’ll find places for all of it eventually.

We continued on to the Louvre and walked the gardens a bit. All of us, having been to Paris before, didn’t feel the need to go inside the Louvre again, being outside with the Pyramids and the beautiful building was enough. We also passed a group doing yoga among the bushes. Oh to live in Paris…

On the way out, we met a large group of Contiki friends who had also been enjoying the Louvre gardens. They had each bought a bottle of champagne and some bread and made a picnic out of their afternoon. Ah Paris, so lovely like that.

We all boarded the coach and waited for stragglers. The first pair of stragglers back on the bus were Jamie and Teena. As she boarded, Teena, without words, held up her left hand and spoke in gibberish. On her left hand was a diamond ring. Jamie had proposed to her just moments ago along the Seine with the Eiffel Tower in the background. The entire population of the bus squealed, especially Matt. We were now 3/4 Australian couples on proposals, people! Ashley and Shane had gotten engaged at Platform 9 ¾ in London before the trip, then there was Shannon and Dylan in Venice, now Teena and Jamie in Paris. Every couple except for one was now either married or engaged. We looked over at Tom and Codey, the only two left not engaged. Tom wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone. We weren’t serious, Tom, you guys have only been dating six months, relax.

We had a period back at the hotel to prep for our evening out. As this was our last sendoff before the end of the trip, we all wanted to look our best. Not to mention, we were going to the world famous Moulin Rouge. Now, if you know me well, you’ll know that the film, “Moulin Rouge!” has been a mild obsession of mine since I was 15. The fact that I was going to the ACTUAL joint itself was nothing short of elating.

After getting all dolled up, we piled onto the bus and made our way to the Moulin Rouge. We were running late, in traffic, and missing Guy, who had cut his deadlines a little short by going to the Catacombs. Once we got to the Moulin Rouge, we basically ran to the front door. I didn’t even have time to take a photo, (but don’t worry, I stole one of Drew’s). In the front lobby, Brendan got turned away because he was wearing shorts. So far, the evening was a mess. A few minutes later, he came strolling in wearing pants he had bought in a shop across the street. Also, Guy had made it in at the very back of our group, having taken a cab from the Catacombs. Everything was fine again.

We were ushered in to our tables, which were all packed very intimate under red table lights. Everything in this room was lavish. Red was definitely the theme, and aptly so. There was a subtle circus theme, with some striped drapes and whimsical patterns. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any photos inside, so I don’t have any to show you (but Drew did, so again, I will steal his. Rebel.)

The first event was dinner. We had all pre-ordered food, so we all knew what to expect for our menu choice, it was just a matter of how good it would taste. First we had our starters. I got the soup, which was apparently cream of cauliflower. It was palatable, but nearly tasteless, so I coated it in salt and pepper and dipped it in my bread. Now the bread: that was a showstopper. Then the main course, for nearly everyone in our group, was steak and potatoes. Classic continental. This was definitely one of the best meals I had on the trip. The steak was so tender, not too overdone, not too undercooked, coated in a delicious sweet glaze. Alongside were tiny little pearl sized potatoes, seasoned and cooked to perfection. Oh Paris, you’ve done it again. Then there was dessert: a torte with layers of cake, some kind of crèmes and icings, and topped with a chocolate shell. Another work of art. You’d have gotten to see if it I could have taken pictures.

Then there was the show. Now, the Moulin Rouge is a cabaret show. This means you’ll see dancing, set changes, amazing costumes, and notably, breasts. But this was not a strip club, nor was it a Vegas show. This was absolute artistry. The music was beautiful, the dancing was perfect, the sheer scale of the show was a visual masterpiece, so much so that you forgot that the women were…well, I almost said topless, but they weren’t, most times, they were just exposed. It was classy nudity: finding new and creative ways to show off breasts.

The show itself followed a loose plot. It was really hard to follow that plot, because the majority of the show was in French. Obviously. But it truly was amazing. There was kind of an around-the-world theme, as we started with a South American set of costumes, then moved to Arabia, South Asia, East Asia, and then the last segment was definitely a tribute to France. There were themes around fashion, sophistication, and Parisian pride. This all led up to the most famous number, and the Moulin Rouge’s claim to fame, the Cancan. Yes, they planed that Cancan song everyone knows, kicked their legs in the air, even tumbled cheer style! Oh and they did a ton of jump splits. I wanted to take off safety deduction points because that’s horrible for you, but then I took my coach hat off and remembered that it’s actually really impressive.

The production value was crazy. Probably the awe-inspiring highlights of the show were when out of nowhere, one of the dancers was pushed into a tank of water that had opened up from beneath the stage. The tank was then raised to stage level and revealed the submerged dancer as well as three giant boa constrictors swimming around the tank. Now, the scene was supposed to convey the terror of the dancer, but trust me, the snakes were more concerned. They were swimming around frantically as she grabbed them and tried to capture them. Meanwhile they kept swimming away as if to say, “Excuse me, I did not sign on for this. I am a snake.” Another awesome animal act was when a bunch of dancers dressed as jockeys each paraded themselves in leading beside them a Shetland pony. They did a little dance then let the ponies all scurry off the stage. It was adorable and impressive all at once.

There were also three vaudeville-style acts during act breaks, which was convenient from an audience perspective, because that meant that there was no intermission. The three acts essentially were: a couple does crazy things on roller skates, a couple does crazy things with a hula hoop, and ventriloquist guy. The one I found most impressive was the roller skaters’ act. They were doing suspension acts and lifts all from a small circular platform no bigger than a kitchen table. Then there were the giant hoola hoopests. They were just okay. They did some acrobatic stuff and spun around on the hoop, all while gazing into each others eyes and touching each other and stuff. They laid it all on a little thick. The ventriloquist was just funny. He had at least three puppets on stage with him at all times, and they all mocked him. He even brought out a little fluffy white dog who had a puppet mouth on him so it looked like he was talking. It was cute as well as hilarious.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by the Moulin Rouge. My dreams had come true. I never thought I’d be tearing up during a burlesque show, but I was. It was that impressive. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman showed up.

Our last romp was held in the club next door to the Moulin Rouge called “Backstage.” On our way to the bar, which was probably about 50 steps from the exit of the Moulin Rouge, it had started pouring. In addition, France had just won over Iceland to continue in the Euro cup, so there were celebrations and riots on the street. People kept setting off loud flares that were a little bit upsetting. I was very much looking forward to getting off the street.

The bar was full to the brim with people who fell into one of three categories: French, Icelandic, or Contiki. What I found surprising was the spirit of the Iceland fans. They weren’t being jerks (like Boston fans would be after a loss). I think they were just happy to have gotten as far as they did. Fun fact: 10% of Iceland’s total population had been in Paris that day to support that team. It led to the lowest voter turnout in Iceland’s history for an election. Haha. Sports be crazy.

Our last night out was one for the books. Everyone was dancing and laughing and having a good time. After a little while of enjoying our time in the French club, I left with Drew, Olivia, Madison, Alex, and Guy. I did trip and fall on my way out of the place, scraping my legs and bruising my knees. I’m up to like 5 bruises on this trip, it’s like a talent. Soon after, we had settled back into the hotel for our last night together. It had been such a wonderful way to bring our Contiki adventure to a close.

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