Friday, December 5, 2008

Les Marchés de Noël à Paris

One of the wonderful things about being in Paris at Christmas is being able to go to the Marchés de Noël (Christmas Markets) set up all around the city. The many booths in the markets sell handmade crafts, jewelry, wine, candy, toys and other gifts.

And of course there are many stands selling food and drink to sustain the shoppers, including all the traditional French favorites. The drink of choice that I saw everyone walking around with was Vin Chaud (Hot Wine). Leave it to the French...

So tonight I decided to check out two of the largest markets - first the one at the Grande Arche at La Défense and then the one that winds all the way up the Avenue des Champs Elysées.

If you go up to the top of the Arc de Triumph you have a view straight down the Champs Elysées. And if you turn around and look the opposite direction, in the distance you see another Arc - the Grand Arche at La Défense at the edge of central Paris. The Grand Arche is interesting architecturally speaking. If you look closely, you'll see windows on the inside of the Grand Arche as it is an office complex.

This is the business district of Paris and when you are out here, you really don't even feel like you are in Paris anymore because you are surrounded by modern architecture, glass buildings and skyscrapers. And there's a shopping mall called the Quarte Temps right next to the Arche. I actually attended an Internet World conference here at La Défense back in 1995 (yikes, that was a long time ago!).

The Christmas Market was huge and very fun to walk through. Sort of what you'd expect from a Christmas sale at a Church at home around this time of year, but much larger. The other difference is that these markets are open everyday throughout the month of December for the French to do their holiday shopping and take the kids to get into the holiday spirit.

Before heading over to the Champs Elysées, I decided to pop into the Quarte Temps shopping mall to see what it was like. Just like home - three stories worth of retail therapy for the young, trendy and those without the time or desire to meander through the traditional Christmas markets set up all around town. The mall was packed. I got out of there as quick as I could!

When I got off the Metro at the Place de Concorde, I was delighted to see the trees lining the Champs Elysées sparkling with lights all the way up to the Arc de Triumph. The Christmas market stalls lined both sides of the street so I walked all the way up one side, then down the other!

Before starting my trek though, I decided to go up in the giant ferris wheel to get a birds eye view of all the sparkling lights of the city. The ride was brief, but the view was spectacular! I was in a cabin with a grandmother and her two young grandsons. It was so cute to see how excited the kids were as the grandmother pointed out all the monuments to them.

Just like in the market at the Grande Arche, most everyone walking up the Champs Elysées had a cup of steaming hot wine in their hands as a way to take the edge off the chill in the night air! But the cold definitely made it feel like Christmas. Sadly, still no snow yet though!

In addition to the booths there were also some carnival games and even a place for kids to have their picture taken with Père Noël (Father Christmas) - or as we call him, Santa Clause!

Click here to view all of today's photos (12/05/08)

$108 Million in Diamonds Stolen in Paris Last Night!

Did you hear about this??? It's apparently one of the world's largest jewel heists!

Good thing I decided to go walking down the Champs Elysee TONIGHT and not last night.

Click here to read all about it!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Back home.... um, I mean in Paris ;-)

After a very brief, but great visit to Florida for my birthday, I flew back to Paris Tuesday night. When I arrived yesterday and got back to my apartment, it wasn't as strange of a feeling as when I got back to Florida last week. But I was still a little out of sorts - probably more due to the jet lag than anything else. I slept 12 hours last night and woke up today ready to resume the Paris Adventure. I am so happy I brought back lots of warm, and fairly stylish, Paris-looking clothes. My outfit du jour... don't I (sort of) look Parisian?!?

First stop was the American Church in Paris. This church is famous for being sort of a social hub/community center for American expats living in Paris. They have bulletin boards with notices posted for housing, employment, social gatherings, etc. The ACP was the first American church established on foreign soil (in 1814) and the present building the church occupies has been in operation since 1929.

Next Saturday night the church is having a special Candlelight Christmas Concert and I bought a ticket to attend - I can't wait! There will be a choir, instrumentalists and handbell players - songs will be in French and English. (Little known fact: I played in a handbell choir for about 3 years in my early teens).

After my visit to the ACP, I made my way over to the Hotel des Invalides (note "hotel" in French when referring to a site, usually means hall or large building - not a place to rent a room). Anyhow, the Hotel des Invalides is where you find Napoleon's Tomb. This is another one of those sites that I've tried to get to on previous trips but somehow never visited.

Napoleon's coffin is HUGE. Actually, he is inside 5 coffins all of which are inside a giant sarcophagus! The most interesting thing about visiting Invalides - at least to me - was the inside of the beautiful gold dome that is so visible on the Paris skyline and is immediately above Napoleon's tomb. On the grounds there is also a military museum (but I didn't go in that part - mostly because it was close to closing time).

The plan for after visiting with Napoleon was to go to the Musee Orsay (you know, I have yet to visit a museum since I've been in Paris!). But as I walked in that direction - and stopped to get a piping hot Crepe Fromage - I saw a small street that was all lit up with Christmas lights. So like a moth to a flame, I walked towards the bright, shiny lights :-) The area was Rue Cler and there were so many cute shops that I decided to just wander around this area tonight and visit the museum another time. Such a festive atmosphere! After a couple of hours, I headed back home after making a quick stop at the market for a fresh supply of Brie and Coke Light ;-)

During the week I was in Florida, Christmas decorations started going up in Paris. Around every corner is a Christmas tree, beautifully decorated store window or as in the case above, whole streets decked out with lights. Holiday spirit is definitely in the air - especially with the cold weather. Now it just needs to snow while I'm here!

I brought a little Christmas tree back with me, so between that and the xmas lights I strung up a few weeks ago, my studio is looking quite festive and cozy. I have a scarf wrapped around the base of the tree - kind of like the Charlie Brown Christmas where Linus wraps his blanket around the base of the sad little tree Charlie Brown brings back for the Christmas play :-)

Click here to view all of today's photos (12/04/08)