Friday, June 16, 2006
I was about to start daydreaming about my upcoming trip, which led me to thinking of past trips...which led me to my blog so that I could read about Paris and daydream again. But whaddya know, I couldn't find anything on my blog about Paris. And when I went to blogger I found the post...but it said draft beside it. Because I'm a dumbass and I (apparently) never hit publish. Being the person I am, though, I'm going to blame it on Blogger, and just be thankful that the whole thing isn't gone. So, for those of you that are beyond nauseated by the mere mention of The-Trip-That-Everyone-Was-Tired-Of-Hearing-About...you may want to just leave now. The rest of you can stick around. This should have been posted months ago.... I put up the Amsterdam pictures a few weeks ago...and then lost track of time. I put up the Paris pics a couple of weeks ago, too...but it took me forever to get around to writing stuff, naming them correctly, adding tags, etc. But now, it's all done. I think. Amsterdam is HERE Paris is HERE There are 211 Pictures in all. Oh and, um... warning: Very Long Post ahead. :) We got to Paris on Monday afternoon, arriving a day early so that we could get there ahead of the strikes planned for Tuesday. Clark met us at the train station and led us through the city to his apartment. I immediately fell in love with the view from his small window - which had a ledge just a wee bit smaller than my behind, making it almost comfortable to sit there. After a couple of glasses of wine, I actually believed that it was comfy. Anyway, we hung out in the apartment for a couple of hours, and spent the first day close to home. The two days of fun and partying in Amsterdam had caught up with us. We wondered around the area a bit, had some wine, some coffee, and then went back to the apartment for more wine. The next morning was kind of dreary and overcast - the perfect weather for going to visit a cemetery. Not to mention that the long-awaited strike/march/protest was due to begin/happen/whatever that day, and we didn't really want to get in their way. After reading a couple of papers and listening to the radio, we still didn't know where the students/unions/marching-people were headed, so we struck out to go look at a bunch of tombstones. And this may sound kind of crazy, but the cemetery was a remarkably cool place. Not to mention very beautiful. The graves/headstones/mausoleums were all different, and crammed in close together. And with so many famous people buried in there, it was almost like a treasure hunt. The cemetery is massive - we found a few important graves, looked at lots more, found a black cat lurking and snapped some pictures. Then it was time to move on. After all, I couldn't spend an entire day in Paris in a cemetery! We headed into the heart of the city, to Notre Dame. Somehow, visiting an old gothic-looking church on a dark and dreary day seemed just as appropriate as visiting a cemetery. Notre Dame didn't seem as big as I thought it would be, and I didn't see the Hunchback...but it is absolutely beautiful. The back of the church is more impressive to me than the front, and I took lots of pictures of that. We went into the crypts underneath the cathedral, but we didn't climb up to the Bell Towers. The inside was very dark, with the altar shining across the church. Along both sides of the nave, small chapels to various saints line the walls as you walk towards the altar. Some of them are very elaborate, some are very simple. I snapped pictures, but many of them just didn't turn out in the dark. After we finished with Notre Dame, we wondered for a bit, then Clark took us to La Mémorial des Martyrs de La Déportation, a memorial to those deported in WWII. It was a very sad place, and very simply constructed. The simplicity made it more haunting. We left the memorial and ended up (I'm sure I'm going to get the order of things wrong) going by the Sorbonne, as well as the medieval museum (umm...I think it was the Musee du Cluny...I should probably look this stuff up, so that I sound like I know what I'm talking about...). The Sorbonne had barricades around it (because of the riot/protest/student problems), and the Museum was closed (because of the riot/protest/student problems) so we just kept walking and looking. Before long we ended up at the Place de la Bastille...and that's when we found out where the march was ending. We found out, because it was arriving at about the same time we did. We had noticed that there were more riot police in this part of the city, and now we knew why. Watching the march was a LOT of fun. There were thousands of people to watch - climbing on the monument, climbing on the Opera steps (the Opera de la Bastille, by the way, is a VERY ugly opera house), marching by all dressed-up, walking by with big clubs in their hands.... Ok, the last one made me nervous for a few minutes, but I had two big strong men to protect me. Except that Clark kept running out to march...and I kept forgetting to pay attention to the guys with clubs, because people in the march were all dressed up (take a look at that picture of the Viking woman - I still can't explain that one). I kept Robert pressed up behind my back, and started snapping pictures. Luckily, Robert was paranoid enough for all of us, and kept his eyes on everyone. There weren't any problems while we were there, though - everyone was quite well behaved. Robert took his turn marching in the crowd, and after a while we moved on. That night, we ate some terrific food (I think I had some kind of fish that night, in a really good sauce with a few veggies. And, of course, wine), then went to check out the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. I really can't say much about them, other than how pretty/beautiful/gorgeous they are at night, with all the lights on - especially the Eiffel Tower. We couldn't climb anything after dark, of course, but we got some great pictures. And everyone who visits Paris should wonder around the city at night. It really is a very romantic place. Wednesday morning we started off with a visit to the Louvre. We decided to do this while we were fresh, not at the end of the day when it would be packed. It was still packed, but not too bad in most of the places we went. The three big draws to the museum are the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory. The museum is more massive than you can believe. Over and over, people will tell you facts and figures about how long it would take you to look at everything in the Louvre - and still, I didn't really get how huge it was until I went. Exact measurements? Un-freakin'-believable by hu-freakin'-mongous, that's exactly how large. After a few hours wondering the Louvre, we were hungry and realized that it was a beautiful day outside - or at least, not miserable. So we headed to the Arc de Triomphe to see the city from on high. Climbing the Arc's staircase is an adventure all by itself. There are 190 steps in the curved staircase that will make you unbelievably glad you chose not to wear your favorite black boots that morning. Getting to the top makes you tired, hot, thirsty and ready to collapse on the nearest bench and begin demanding alcohol as a restorative. But then you step outside, and forget all that because when the sun is out, and there are just a few big white fluffy clouds chasing each other across the sky, being on top of the Arc makes you wish you could stay up there forever. I could see many of the places we had visited, and lots more that I knew I wouldn't get to see up close. But it was a beautiful place to look out at the city. Until you look in the direction of the Eiffel Tower. I'm going to be really honest here. The Eiffel Tower is a must-see - even if you don't spend crazy money to jam yourself in an overcrowded elevator with children and smelly people just to climb to an unbelievable sight that could make you pee on yourself if you're not ready for how high it is. At night, it's a gorgeous monstrosity, all lit up against the city lights and the dark sky, towering above you like a giant light bulb. But during the day, it really is nothing more than a large amount of steel sticking straight up into the sky. I guess that some can appreciate the beauty of the construction, or the mere idea that it was, at one time, the tallest man-made structure in the world - beating out the pyramids, which had held that title for many thousands of years. To me, though, it just looked like a bunch of black steel in the middle of the city. So, when we had looked at our fill of the city from on top of the Arc, what did we do? We climbed the Eiffel Tower, of course! No, we did not climb the stairs - although that would probably have been much faster than the lines we had to wait in to get on the two elevators that took us to the top - because I paid to go all the way up. And if I had thought that the view from the top of the Arc was beautiful, then the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is simply breathtaking. The sun shone more on that day than it did all of the other days we were in France combined. Looking down on the city with the sun shining, it looks like a city of white. The Seine goes through the heart of the city, and the sun shining on the water was sparkling, making it look incredibly blue from our vantage point. I guess, to be accurate, the heart of the city is actually an island in the heart of the Seine - La Isle de la Cite. Whatever. It was beautiful. Robert pretty much stayed back against the inner part of the Tower, where he could feel the wall at his back. Every now and then he would reach out an arm to grab me back when he thought I was being too reckless at the very edge. Which is really funny for two reasons: 1.) I used to be absolutely terrified of heights (some will remember the Washington Monument terror from my 8th grade trip) and 2.) There is absolutely no way to simply 'fall' off the Eiffel Tower. You would have to actively pursue falling off, and I'm not that crazy. After all that (we did the Louvre, the Arc and the Eiffel Tower all in one day. I'm exhausted now, but was pumped up then) we decided it was time to go back towards 'home'. Robert wanted to do laundry, and I decided that a glass of wine and some time on the loveseat in the apartment would be lovely. I'm not sure what happened at the Laundromat, but Robert was gone a very long time. I guess French washing machines are more complicated than American ones. :) Thursday was the day we chose to take the train to Versailles. It was a moody, blustery almost-but-not-quite-raining morning when we left. After about an hour on the train we arrived, and after a short walk Versailles was right in front of us. This is another palace that is so monstrous it is almost impossible to take in how large it really is. And, as with so many other places on our trip, it was undergoing renovations. /sigh But you can't be too sad for too long when you're in Paris on vacation. It's just not allowed. So we got in line for about an hour and then went inside. First up was the chapel - which was one of the most golden rooms that I've ever seen. And we're talking real gold. Pictures are hard to get just right on my camera because there's no flash photography allowed (the fact that all these museums allow cameras at all surprised me. In the States, you aren't allowed to photograph anything that anyone can make money off of. But I think their idea is "yeah, take a picture because you know it won't be as good as the ones in the gift shop, and we'll still get your money."). And waiting for things to focus and trying different settings tries my patience too much...so I just got some quick pics in. But the chapel was incredibly golden. I won't go through all the rooms that we saw (my way of saying "I don't remember what they were all called"), but the Hall of Mirrors was impressive - and would have been even more so if more than a third of it was available for viewing. The rest of it was - you guessed it - undergoing renovations. After we finished inside, we went out to look at the palace's famous gardens. In March they really aren't in bloom - they're just really green - but there's some pretty famous fountains and statues lying around, so we started out to explore. The gardens, by the way, are free, so if you're ever in France you can put that down on your list of cheap excursions. Just as we got past the second fountain it started to rain. So we ducked to a little stand that was selling some munchie-foods, and Robert got an ice cream cone. They had little benches with umbrellas over them, so we huddled for a while...but it was no use. The rain wasn't going to stop, and I had chosen to wear my favorite black boots that morning. Walking around a garden in the rain in black suede boots = not so much fun. So we left to get on the train back to Paris. I think this may be the night we went out for Chinese....or maybe it was the previous night. Whichever night it was, ordering Chinese food in French was an experience. Clark was an invaluable translator for us the entire trip - but I was most appreciative of him in the restaurants. Yes, I'll try anything once - but if I already know I don't like something, then I don't want to end up with it accidentally on my plate. He and Robert both got some type of duck that night, and I had some kind of yummy chicken and veggie with noodles and sauce. And, of course, more wine. Our last day was Friday. We slept in, and for some reason that I don't remember I didn't take very many pictures that day. The sun came out in the afternoon, so we went back to Notre Dame - The outside was beautiful, the inside was still just as dark as it had been three days before - and we ended up walking around a lot, just looking at people and things. I also did most of my shopping this day. I got some great prints of city landmarks from a street vendor, then hit a few touristy type stores for the requisite mini-Eiffel Tower loving people. We also went to a WONDERFUL department store that had some amazing jewelry. We took Clark out for a great dinner that night - I got to try fois gras for the first time (and loved it, much to the disgust of my conscience). Robert got a steak that was amazing, and the wine was... well, it was France. There was a lot of wine, all of it good. For dessert I had some type of crème thingy with mandarin oranges. It was warm, sweet and to die for. I really wanted a chocolatey dessert, but that wasn't an option on the menu I was choosing from. Robert hadn't gone with the price-fixe menu option, though, and he got a chocolatey gooey mass that I had to practically steal bites from, because once he got a taste of it, he became very possessive and did not want to share. Luckily, I have a very fast fork hand (and Robert is very easily distracted when I play footsies with him under the table), and I was able to indulge. Hey, all's fair in love, war and chocolate. This was all three. Saturday morning we had to take the train to the airport. I'm still trying to forget the first 45 minutes that we were in Charles de Gaulle International Airport, because it was just an absolute mess. Robert and I ... 'had words' …at the airport a couple of times (that always happens on the way home from traveling, ’cause I just want to be home, and he's dreading the plane ride). We were so early for our flight that it wasn't even registering on the monitors yet - which meant that we had no idea which terminal to go to. And you have to take a shuttle between terminals, so we didn't have any idea what shuttle to get on. Robert figured out the acronym for our airline and then we saw that all those flights were leaving from the same place, so we knew where to go...but finding the shuttle was an adventure. But we found it, we got to our terminal and we hit the duty free stores. Then we went to our gate and rested for a couple of hours....the plane came...and before I knew it, I was looking out the window at the ocean again with Paris behind me. So now, I get to look forward to our next trips. In June we go to Rhode Island (which is in the heathen north, and is basically another country). For New Year's we're hoping to go to an island somewhere for a few days, and next year's Spring Break will take us to London for a week. But I'll never forget Paris.