Sunday, June 24, 2012

Week 4: Paris!!

Here comes the post where I tell you how much I love Paris over and over and over again.  AHHHHHH

Friday morning we left the house at 5am and rode on the bus for a long 4 hour trip.  It wasn't too terrible, but sitting in one place for that long is always difficult.  We got in at 10am and had to figure out the metro system to arrive in the city where we needed to get our free walking tour.  We got there early and had time to meet some people from Florida and enjoy the St. Michel Fountain.  My first thought of Paris was that it smelled (because it did around there) but was Beautiful!

The walking tour took us to Notre Dame, the famous lock bridge (where lovers fasten locks to the bridge railings to symbolize their eternal love), the Louvre, a Starbucks to use the free bathrooms, Place de Concorde, lots of parks, Champs-Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, and a great view of the Eiffel Tower.  We obviously didn't have time to go into anything, which was fine, but we got to learn some great things about Paris and it's history.  We saw lots of scammers, which the tour guide was very quick to point out and ensure no one would get pick-pocketed. Even for people not on our tour!

After the tour was over, we bought our tickets for a river cruise on the Seine, and then found lunch.  Jamie and I bought quiches and Noah bought a baguette and some cheese.  We ate our picnic on the mall/grassy area in front of the Eiffel Tower.  We had the ultimate best view with no one in front of us and the most perfect weather around us.  I have the marks to prove it was perfect weather because I got sunburned pretty well.  We haven't seen that much sun since we left Florida, so it was exciting to be able to fully bask in the beauty of Paris without using the umbrella.  We enjoyed our picnic, called our parents, and just laughed and sat talking about how much we loved Paris for at least an hour.  There were children on carousels and having go-kart races right next to us, and bike tours and other tourists enjoying the Tower, too.

We walked closer to the Tower and took lots of pictures.  At one of the souvenir shops, I bought two license plates (tourism use only, not for cars).  One is for Belgium and the other is Paris.  I loved them and it's one of the only things I've bought for myself to bring home.  We then walked right up under the tower and crossed to the other side.  The line to go up the Tower was way too long and we decided to save it for our future trip back to Paris, to leave us something to do!  Noah had a huge bag with him, so we decided to go to the hotel and drop it off before heading to the Louvre.

The hotel was not inconvenient, but we were on the other side of Paris. And maybe you are like us and think that Paris really isn't that big.  Well it is. It's HUGE.  It took at least 30 minutes to get from the Eiffel Tower to our hotel.  The front desk person was very nice and we unloaded some of our stuff.  While I'm at it I'll just tell you about it.  I had booked a double room because it was originally going to just be Jamie and I.  We ended up turning the bed sideways and pushing it against the wall so we could sleep 3 in the bed.  All of our feet were hanging off the edge, but we had plenty of room width wise!  All in all it was much better than Amsterdam's sleeping arrangements.  The shower was interesting and if you didn't hold the shower head, it flipped up and sprayed water all over the entire bathroom.  That was fun... But for a total of 60 euros for the night, it was a perfect, cheap option.

We headed to the Louvre next.  Yes it is huge, and they say you can't see everything in less than 1 day, but I think we did.  Jamie had researched online that under 26 year olds are free on Friday nights! We decided to hit the top 3 items first and then see how much time we had left.  You would have thought we were running a marathon! We saw those highlights (Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, and winged statue that I don't remember anything about) in 20 minutes.  As soon as we saw the Mona Lisa (I don't know what you're all complaining about, it was much less disappointing than everyone says it is. I thought it was perfect!), we decided we could slow down and enjoy the next hour and a half.

This is my quick summary of the rest of the Louvre: Beautiful ceilings, beautiful paintings, lots of statues, even more stairs and hallways upon hallways upon hallways.  I think we climbed as many stairs as are in the Eiffel Tower.  It was exhausting. Especially because my knee has been hurting from all the walking, and I don't have good walking shoes here. Oh well. Exercise, yay!!  But really, it was all gorgeous.  The last 25 minutes we had, we were trying to find Hammurabi's Code and had to ask directions from one of the museum attendants.  She told us to go down the hall to the left, down the stairs, to the left, past the sphinx, down two flights of stairs, across the hallway, up two flights of stairs, to the right, then it's in the third room on the left.  Or something equally as ridiculous.  We looked at her with disbelief and she said "Trust me, it's the easiest way."  So we followed the directions and ended up (after asking someone else) walking past Hammurabi's Code and not even realizing it.  With 15 minutes left, we were on our way out of the building and finally on the ground floor again when Jamie spotted chandeliers in the windows which were part of Napoleon's Apartments.  We couldn't miss that, so made our way to the 3rd floor again.  I was happy because to get there there's an escalator! But we got to the escalator and it was broken so we had to walk up the escalator's stairs.  Oh well. The apartments were really neat and exactly what I imagined them to be!  We were less than 5 minutes from when we needed to be outside though, so we left. So that's how you do the Louvre in less than 2 hours! Run up and down the stairs and just keep turning left!

Next stop was the Eiffel Tower for the river cruise and dinner on the way.  We started walking along the river, but 10 minutes into our walk realized we were stuck on one side of the road that was leading into the highway tunnel and we wouldn't be able to cross the street where we needed to.  So what do we do? Well Jamie, athlete that she is, said "who wants to play some Frogger!?" and hopped the barricade and ran across the road.  This was a problem because a) Wearing my knee brace, I wouldn't be able to hop the barricade. b) there was no sidewalk on the other side of the fence, so as soon as you hopped over you had to run, couldn't stand there and wait.  c) there was SO much traffic.  The traffic didn't let up at all except when Jamie had crossed.  So Noah and I stood on the other side, still walking the wrong direction trying to figure out how to cross.  We were passed by Segway tours, bicyclists, and one of those guys on the bikes with the little cab thing behind him to pull you around.  He slowed down and asked if we needed help, but I said no and he moved on. Looking back, that would have been a great idea.  We ended up turning around and walking back to where we started walking.  We stopped a family that was going the wrong way, but they didn't speak English and were really confused.  Eventually they turned around and followed us off the bridge.

Now that we were together and on the right side of the road, we decided we didn't want to walk and should just use our metro passes.  But we were hungry and were trying to find food.  We walked around for 15 more minutes looking for food and the metro, and found the metro first.  We got to the Eiffel Tower area with still no food and less than 10 minutes until the boat tour left.  Noah got a croissant, but Jamie and I just ate my trail mix while we waited for the boat to leave.

The ship was already full on the inside and sides, where you would normally want to sit.  We were going to sit in the middle, but Jamie convinced us to sit outside on the right side of the boat.  They turned out to be the perfect seats!  We listened to the history of the city, repeating much of the information we had already heard, and had lots of awesome Parisian accordion music in between the stories. So great!  When we passed through the Latin Quarter (which is the students' district of Paris), there were tons of students just hanging out on the river.  They were drinking wine, just talking, dancing, and even jumping into the river! It was lots of fun to see and made us wish we were students in Paris to join them.  On the way back, we saw thousands of people rollerblading across a bridge. It was so cool! And as the boat turned around to reveal the Eiffel Tower at night, it immediately started sparkling! It sparkles for the first five minutes of every hour starting at dark, and the cruise had timed it perfectly! The seats we were in were front row for the perfect view, and truly made the day one of the best days of our lives. I can't even explain to you the beauty of that moment.

We got off the boat, walked around for a bit, but decided we really needed some food.  We ended up at an awesome French restaurant where Jamie ordered "Nuggets of Poultry" (which she thought for some reason was going to be something other than chicken nuggets. It was hilarious. She enjoyed them, but made us promise never to let her order something American at a French restaurant in Paris again!), Noah got a delicious goat cheese salad, and I ordered my first ever creme brulee (skip straight to the sweets, obviously).  We all shared some wine, which was the first wine I've ever actually enjoyed. Leave it to Paris to provide that for me!  It was a rose' wine and was just fantastic.  We went back to the hotel and slept sideways on our bed and had fantastic Parisian dreams.

Jamie and I went to breakfast across the street at a little pastry place where she got a croissant and coffee for 1.50euro and I got a quiche and chocolate croissant for 3 something.  It was so great!!  We went next door to the pharmacy so I could get some aloe.  I didn't know what to ask for so I just moved my shirt so the pharmacist could see and she immediately went "ooooooh" like "that must hurt!".  She was going to give me this HUGE tube of cream that could only be applied at night, but I told her I needed something more like aloe for quick relief. She was so nice and readily complied, and for less than 4 dollars, my sunburn found relief. (It currently hurts right now because I haven't had a chance to put any on yet. Need to do that soon.)

We walked to see the Bastille and then walked to Notre Dame.  It was of course very busy, but we got to go in for free and it was beautiful! The stained glass especially.  It wasn't the prettiest church I've ever seen, so I was okay just breezing through it.  The gargoyles on the outside were cool!

Next, Jamie and I went to the Musee d'Orsay, the impressionist art museum which used to be a train station, so even the building is a work of art!  We were waiting in line to pay for tickets and a woman came up and asked us if we were less than 25 and told us we could go in for free with our European student IDs.  AWESOME!  We spent a long time in there admiring the Degas Dancers, Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne, Gougin, and all those other awesome painters.  It was so beautiful, but again, lots and lots of stairs.

Noah met up with us and we walked to Champs-Elysees and enjoyed a fabulous French lunch.  Jamie ordered a Croque Provence (grilled cheese, chicken, ham, and fried egg?), and Noah and I split a chocolate crepe.  We all shared a plate of... escargot! When in Paris! We all tried the escargot at the exact same time and we all really liked it! I would order it again.  It was basically the texture of a mussel, but tasted delicious (mostly because of the garlic pesto-like sauce on it).  So good.  And of course we all had some more wine.

We explored the high class shopping district on the Champs-Elysees and went into a famous Macaron shop and the main Louis Vuitton store.  It was lots of fun!  We then enjoyed the view of the Arc de Triomphe and headed to the metro to get to Montmatre.  It was a different side of Paris with more night life and tourism shops.  We saw the outside of the Sacre Coeur, but it was way up high and had too many stairs for me to climb. Noah and Jamie ventured higher, but still didn't get to the top.  It was beautiful from the outside at least! We also went to see Moulin Rouge and passed through the cemetery nearby as well.  By this time we were all exhausted of walking and Noah had a 3 hour walking tour of Montmatre to do, so we parted ways. (Noah stayed an extra night).  Jamie and I went to the grocery store so I could get my... dun dun dunn.... LEMONADE!!! I had found some in a metro station earlier in the day! I bought a 1.5L bottle to bring home with me.  I'm so happy!  As I was writing this blog post, Melody came in and said she just went to a restaurant half a block away from our apartment that has lemonade you can mix yourself! Can't believe it's been so close the whole time.  Oh well, now I have it! YAY!

Jamie and I got back to the bus station with plenty of time and met an older man from Portland to talk to.  As we were getting on the bus, an old woman in front of me fell complete backwards off the stairs and landed on the pavement. Her bags were so heavy, the bus was really tall, and she was so small that in combination she couldn't hold on.  What a cutie, though, and her English was pretty good! I asked if she was okay and she said "Yes, it was very tall, and... I am VERY old."  We arrived in Brussels about 11pm and had to make our way back home.  It took a while. It was almost midnight by the time we got back to the apartment.

Here's the final analysis of Paris:
Best city in the world
Absolutely beautiful
 People SO NICE - contrary to what we've heard from others, the Parisians were so sweet! We didn't meet anyone that was rude.  Our hotel desk guy actually walked us from the lobby, down the street to get us going the right direction so we wouldn't get lost. How nice is that!? Many other examples, but just know they were nice.
And almost everyone spoke English! As long as you said "Bonjour" to them, they knew you were American and spoke in English.  I was amazed.  I felt a little sad that we didn't blend in as much there and everyone knew we were tourists, but I still get talked to in French in Brussels, so that's okay.
It's so Clean!!! I had heard that Paris was one of the dirtiest cities in the world, but aside from some cigarette butts and bottle caps, it was spotless! Much better than Brussels.
The public transportation was good (we got to try the RER commuter train system, too!), but it is slower to get places and very crowded. Especially because everything is so far. In the future, I would rather rent a bike and ride that around.
The food was fantastic and nothing disappointed.
It also wasn't as expensive as I was expecting. None of our meals cost over 10 euros and I spent less than 80 euros including the hotel and souvenirs.  I'm proud of myself for that!

I LOVE PARIS.  Part of my heart has been left there.  One day I will return and do it all again at a slower pace and get to see Versailles. One day.

Now... Paper due Wednesday. So need to do that. Au Revoir!

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