Break 1 – Paris

Despite Paris’s unseasonably beautiful weather, I opted to spend the day inside, exciting my senses, at two of the city’s lesser-known museums:  The Grand Perfume Museum and the Fragonard Museum of Perfume.  As The Grand Perfume Museum explains, France is home to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, and Paris, the global capital of chic, so there is no better place to explore society’s fascination with fragrance than in the country that captures it all.

 

The Grand Perfume Museum

Opened in December 2016, The Grand Perfume Museum showed signs of its first-year status; audioguides were unavailable for the visit and some exhibits were not yet completed.  Nonetheless, the videos, interactive games, and overall information presented by the museum entertained.  The self-guided tour can last as long or as short as one wishes, but with all of the intriguing displays, I ended up staying for a few hours, much longer than expected.

From history to science, the museum explained the origins of perfume, the biological processing of scents, and everything in between.

As one can imagine, smelling was a huge part of the experience.  Whether requiring a visitor to guess a scent or to match one to a memory, the exhibits engaged guests in creative and thoughtful ways.

Overall, the experience is well-done, with a wide range of expositions that spark multiple senses, appealing to children, adults, men, and women.  Once the museum addresses its minor operational difficulties, it can be added to the list of the many ways to pass a perfect afternoon in Paris.

 

The Fragonard Museum of Perfume

While the Grand Perfume Museum educates on fragrance as a whole, the Fragonard Museum of Perfume focuses on the Fragonard brand.  Another difference, the Fragonard museum offers free admission and a guided tour.  I did not make a reservation for an English guide, so I joined one of the French tours organized every 20 minutes.

I’m not sure if it was the information, the presenter, the French, or a combination of the three, but I felt that this tour was dull and drawn out.  Especially when compared to the Grand Perfume Museum, the Fragonard lacked engagement.  It is a passive experience, dominantly looking and listening, so visitors cannot connect to the content. When creating a museum about fragrance, the primary action should be smell!

The Fragonard Museum of Perfume is much more a museum than a full sensory experience, like that of The Grand Perfume Museum.  Paying to play at The Grand Perfume Museum is a more productive use of precious Parisian time than strolling through a staged tour at Fragonard.

 

Evenings at the Eiffel Tower

After spending hours indoors, I opted to watch the sunset from the Eiffel Tower.  With a stick of barbe à papa (translation: Dad’s beard), I sat on a bench in the Trocadero Gardens and enjoyed the magical hour between day and night in one of the most spectacular cities in the world.

 

Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Paris,

A.J.H.

 

 

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Break 1 – London

Not Your Average Bowl of Cereal 

I enjoy a serving of cereal every now and then, and I love milk, but I do not like my cereal in my milk.  Where some may find the two a perfect pair, the solid and liquid complementing each other to create a both filling and hydrating breakfast in a bowl, I much rather grab a handful of cereal and wash it down with an ice cold glass of 1%.  All cereal preferences considered, I was still curious to try the Cereal Killer Cafe.

Initially, creating cereal concoctions with a crazy collection of cereal, an assortment of sugary treats, and a multitude of milk seems like a fun snack.  The nostalgic décor and literal beds for a seating option created a one-of-a-kind atmosphere.  Unfortunately, on a Monday afternoon, the Camden location was out of many menu options and lacked cleanliness in their establishment.  I could not enjoy half of the toppings that I had hoped for, and sticky tables and unwashed silverware was unsettlingly obvious.  As a result, I only ordered Lucky Charms with Oreos (a “magically delicious” combination), but, for sanitation reasons, I was too apprehensive to drink the milk out of the bottle.  Perhaps there is better luck at the Brick Lane cafe.

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Little-known London

With a few hours in between my cereal snack and my evening plans, I decided to take a trip to Harrod’s, an only-in-London shopping locale that I had imagined was England’s equivalent of Macy’s department store.  Though the establishment was technically a department store, it was nothing like Macy’s.  A cross between a gorgeous galleria and a merchandiser’s museum, Harrod’s endless emporium made my initial plan to browse the store in an hour futile.  One could spend an entire day marveling at the beautiful products and décor!  I didn’t even take photographs because they wouldn’t due the store justice.  If you’re visiting London, move Harrod’s from your “place to visit if I have time” list to your “must-see” traveler’s agenda.

I left the retail paradise for a true museum, the Tate Modern.  This attraction, granting free entry to all, presented interesting exhibits typical of a modern art museum.  It also, however, offered a rooftop view of London.  Though foggy (like my other sky-high sightseeing attempts), the panorama offered a different experience of London.

To end my time in this city, I went to Poppies Fish & Chips, a popular restaurant serving a popular English dish.  However, I dined at the chain’s Soho location and enjoyed an entertaining meal.  At Poppies’ quirky Chinatown restaurant, the dominantly male wait staff, though slightly uncomfortable, was goofy and fun.  They interacted with the Asian guests in native language attempts and were extremely attentive to all diners.  The food, too, impressed, rivaling my grandma’s own breaded Haddock fish.  I even appreciated the 50s throwback soundtrack while sipping my fresh lemonade.  In London, fish and chips is a must, Poppies is a go-to, and the Soho location is recommended!

 

“Only in London”

My motto for this trip accurately describes my English capital exploration.  London is truly home to the stylish and the strange.  Rather than investigate the history of the city, as I usually do when traveling, I decided that London just had too much “now” to see and do.  I would speculate that I could learn about London’s past on a return trip, but I suspect that the eccentric metropolis will have new quirks to discover.

 

Destination Locations 

 

Peace, Love, London

A.J.H.

Family Week – April 20, 2016

Paris, Day 2, was even better than the first, combining typical tourist attractions with some special sights.

After passing countless closed cafés on our apparently early, 9 a.m. start, we came across Le Parvis.  Though it was just one of the many eateries on the Rue d’Arcole, it was the only one we found to be open.  Thankful that the restaurant was even going to serve us, we did not expect much from the meal, only craving morning nutrition.  Our breakfast, however, was delicious.  With outstanding omelettes, crispy croissants, and fresh juice, it was one of the best meals of the week.  Fueled with fantastic French food, we began our second day of exploration.

Of the many things I learned in my first years of French instruction, I have inexplicably distinct memories of discussing one of Paris’s grand shopping centers.  Based on my faint ideas and images of a beautiful building housing posh, Parisian products, my family and I set out to investigate my hazy remembrances.

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Combine the luxury of Saks Fifth Avenue with the mesmerizing appeal of stained glass to get the stunning Galeries Lafayette.  Cosmetics counters below and a glass dome above, the 9-story shopper’s paradise is worth a visit, if not for its fancy products or indoor aesthetic, then for its free, rooftop views.  With only a few sets of chairs but ample AstroTurf on which to sit, the terrace of the Galeries Lafayette was littered with lunchtime visitors soaking up the springtime sun and taking in the sights of the Eiffel Tower.  For my family and I, it served as the setting for our Parisian Macaron Matchup.

Macarons, often mistakenly identified as macaroons, have become associated with the French almost as strongly as the croissant has.  When I researched the best macaron shop in Paris, however, I found conflicting opinions. Fellow travelers narrowed the options down to two pastry houses: Pierre Hermé and Ladurée.  With a Pierre Hermé kiosk in the Galeries Lafayette, my mom, aunts, and I thought it a perfect time to try one of the best.

We ordered a cup of six, funky-flavored macarons to split, taste, and analyze.  The first flavor we tried, Imagine, of Matcha green tea and black sesame crisp, was all wrong.  Next was Infiniment Rose, which was much better, a very mild-tasting and pleasant treat.  Third, we tried Mogador, a milk chocolate and passion fruit macaron.  The tart wafers and rich center clashed, so we gave this one a thumbs down.  Fortunately, the citrus wafers and creamy center of Velouté Infiniment Orange tasted like harmonious creamsicle.  Following the orange macaron, we sampled Céleste, a passion fruit, rhubarb, and strawberry concoction, which wasn’t great.  We finished with Infiniment Menthe Fraîche, or mint, which was underwhelming too.  Overall, the sweets were made well, with soft-flavored wafers and tongue-shocking centers, but the flavors weren’t practical or enjoyable.

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After our snack, we set out to see the west side of the city.  On our way through the Place de la Concorde, we came across a Ferris wheel, which was erected to promote the 2016 UEFA European Championship, to be held in France this year.  A ride to the top offered sky-high views of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe, our next destinations.

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Walking down the Champs-Élysées, I was surprised at the luxury, scale, and commercial presence on the street.  From what I had interpreted from my classes, this was a street of quaint, albeit inauthentic, cafés and small, overpriced boutiques, not stories-high chain shops.  Nonetheless, the tree-lined route made for a pleasant journey to view the towering Arc de Triomphe.

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Skipping the tourist cafés of the Champs-Élysées, my family and I searched for a snack around the Louvre Museum, the next stop on our Paris agenda.  Settling on La Comédie, I enjoyed my croque madame outdoors, people watching, like a true Parisian.

The grounds of the Louvre were dotted with visitors playing photography games, “pricking” their fingers on the top of the iconic pyramids.  This is where my family and I waited for our museum tour guide, Georgi, who my aunt discovered via Airbnb.  A friendly and knowledgable host, Georgi led us to the highlights of the Louvre, because the museum is impossibly large to tackle without a plan.

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We saw the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace (my favorite), and of course, the Mona Lisa.  Georgi shared some of his art history expertise with us, explaining the story of the painting of the Mona Lisa.  Many years ago, an Italian man stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, creating a hype around the missing painting.  According to the story, once he was caught, investigators asked why he chose the Mona Lisa, and he replied that the work of Leonardo da Vinci deserved to be displayed in Italy, and because of its small size, the Mona Lisa was the easiest to steal.  With the excitement of the theft, visitors rushed to see the Mona Lisa upon its return to the Louvre.  The woman’s “mysterious smile” is a popular attribution to its acclaim, but Georgi pointed out that many of the other women in da Vinci’s numerous works portray a similar smirk.  He continued to explain that the Mona Lisa is, essentially, the Kardashian of paintings: beautiful in its own right, but famous for nothing.

Across the room from the little Mona Lisa hangs The Wedding at Cana, a grand painting by Paolo Veronese.  Georgi noted that the dimensions of this painting, about 22-by-32 feet, is generally the size of an average Parisian flat!  On our way out of the museum, we passed by another fun-fact art feature, the “selfie statue.”  Apollo Slaying the Python, the title of the work, clearly explains the act of the Greek god snapping a photo of himself to post on Instagram, #Louvre.

To end our spectacular second day in Paris, we made our way to the Trocadéro Gardens to see the Eiffel Tower illuminated in the Parisian night sky.  Though I was unable to enjoy the park itself, it provided a fantastic and full view of the Eiffel Tower.  Many others knew of the spot, with a street performer and local food trucks complementing the tourist crowds.  Fortunately, we arrived just in time to catch the sparkling lights of the grand tower.  Though there were hordes of people vying for the best angle of the monument, the location offered everyone an exceptional look at the eminent Eiffel Tower.

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Destination Locations

 

Paix, Amour, Paris

A.J.H.