Wednesday, April 6, 2011

EuroTrip Day 9: Paris

Day Nine (Sat. July 18, 2009)

Day Nine started around 9 oddly enough, when I woke and got ready to head out to the Louvre. I don’t really care about art, but I feel like it’s a Travel Law; while in Paris you must see the Mona Lisa. The nice thing about Europe is that you can always just grab something to eat on the side of the street, and usually it’s not too bad for you. On this particular morning I had fresh pastry bread covered with cheese and stuffed with pieces of peppers. Dan had another pastry roll filled with chocolate chips and pistachio flavors. Half way through, he wanted to switch.

When we finally entered this ancient museum, we were really surprised to find it so humid inside… wouldn’t they have to use air to protect the works of art from being destroyed? Nah, not so much. In fact, most of the ancient and highly detailed paintings we saw weren’t even behind glass. Dan was shocked about this. We wound our way through sculptures and paintings towards the Mona Lisa to find her in a huge sea of people, behind velvet ropes and what I’m sure is very very sturdy glass. The size is somewhere around 24 x 36 and from 15 feet away, it’s difficult to really see what everyone proclaims to be so amazing about this painting. Though I must admit her eyes did seem to follow me. As I took some close-ups with my zoom lens, a man approached Dan to discuss the Red Sox (Dan’s hat gave him away as a fan). Even Dan couldn’t believe that standing in front of one of the world’s masterpieces all this man wanted to talk about was the Red Sox. Clearly, he did not want to be in the museum. From here, we wove our way through other exhibits including the History of the Louvre and the Ancient Egyptians Exhibit (Dan’s choice) he really liked seeing all the 5,000 year old artifacts. I, on the other hand, was disappointed to find that the History of the 900 year old museum was written in French.

Damn them.

As seemed to be the common theme of our trip, we were hustling to Notre Dame to try and make the free 2:30 English Tour. The entirety of the trip we were never late, but we were always in a hurry.

Lunch on this day was what I figured to be a day-old sandwich from a street café. They did take the liberty of warming it up for you though, if you asked. Notre Dame is crazy. The history of this living church is insane, and it starts in 1160. From that point on the church has been constantly undergoing renovations, so it’s difficult to say when the cathedral was really “finished”. One interesting tidbit (out of thousands that we learned): Notre Dame was really ruined during the French Revolution, I mean completely desecrated. And then it was abandoned and left for ruins.

When the book “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was published in the early 1800’s, its fictitious tale generated interested in reconstructing of the church. A silly book is what finally caused the church to be restored. Crazy! I could go on and on for days about all of the interesting things we learned on the tour, but you probably wouldn’t find it as interesting as I did.

Ok, one more fun fact.

The church itself is the only one like it constructed during the period. It started the Gothic period of architecture. All other churches built during this time were small, domed and dark. 2 simple things changed this: the arch that isn’t rounded (windows with a peak at the top/middle), and a small little thing called Flying Buttresses that allowed the ceilings to be built high with thin stone walls that were structurally supported by the buttresses.

As the tour wound down, we plotted our next adventure in Paris: the Arc de Triomphe. This colossal monument was erected to commemorate the victories of France during the Napoleonic wars. It also houses the tomb of the unknown solider and is located smack in the middle of one of the craziest traffic circles I have ever seen. We decided to walk to the Arc, not really knowing how long it would take or how far away it was.

Approaching stuff like this is strange for me. I mean, you see the Eiffel Tower and the Arc and Big Ben in photos all the time, but it just doesn’t prepare you for how mammoth these structures actually are. Since we had just missed Bastille Day in France (July 14 to celebrate the French Revolution), there were French flags on every lamp post and, one really giant flag hung from the center of the Arc. It really was an impressive site.

Traffic swirled around the Arc making it an Island of sorts: and we were on the opposite shore desperate to reach it. But how?! After walking around about 75% of the outer streets circling the Arc, we decided that the only possible way was the dart through the 8 lanes of traffic. Did I think this was a good idea? No, of course not! But when 3 middle aged women make a break for it, so did we.

Once under the tall monument, we were able to find the underground passageway that led from one side of the street to the other: duh. We decided not to climb the stairs to the top since we were a bit sick of stairs at that point. So the walk back to the hotel began.

We were also on a quest to find Joey a brown belt that day. We must have gone into 10 different men’s apparel stores before we found a belt that was less than 150 euro… But with store names like “Louis Vitton” and “Cartier” on that street, it’s impossible to find a pair of socks for less than 30 euro. When we finally found a decent brown belt for 35 euro, it wasn’t available in Joey’s size. Cranky, tired and starving, I made Dan give up this quest in order to pursue something more important: dinner. We picked a place that had pizza. For 15 euro, we got a small cheese pizza to split. For another 4 euro, we could have shared an 8 oz pepsi, but 50 ml of Stella for 7 Euro sounded like a better deal. Yadda yadda yadda the service was slow and then we started walking again. I was begging Dan to let us take the metro back, but he was not interested. As we walked through a park, we stopped to indulge in a French delicacy: crepes. It was pretty tasty, but the waffles in Brussels were better. Energized by the nutella spread all over our crepe, I decided I could make it back to the hotel in one piece.

It was 9:20-ish and for once, we were early. Our last item to check off was a night time Seine River Cruise. The cruise left port at 10:30, so with an extra hour, we decided to sit down at a café and down a bottle of wine with some French cheese. This was a good experience, made me feel a little bit French… of course, I didn’t really like any of the cheese at all, but the wine was good enough. We ended up chatting with some Canadian tourists… one of them offered to take a picture of the two of us, but first took a photo of himself with my camera – and broke it. I’m being very serious right now. The two women he was with made fun of him shamelessly for the rest of the night, and ended up taking a picture of us with her camera and then mailing it to Dan months later. We never thought we would receive that picture, but we did and it sits in my cubicle to this day. Back to that night though, I was really upset about my camera being broken, we were about to see Paris lit up at night, and I had no way to take any pictures!

While waiting for the check, we were creeping closer and closer to our 10:30 departure time… Next thing you know we were speed walking/running down the streets of Paris in hopes to not miss the last possible chance at seeing Paris by night. Don’t worry, we made it. Even had time to purchase a beer before leaving.

The cruise was very romantic, Paris is beautiful all lit up at night reflecting on the Seine. True to his word from our first day of the trip in the Airport, Dan did NOT give me a ring. I managed to somehow get some life out of my camera once we were on the boat, and then tried to take photos of the important landmarks all aglow, but it’s hard to not use a flash when you’re on a boat. Nearly all of them are very blurry, and they wouldn’t really do justice to the Parisian atmosphere. All up and down the banks of the river people were dancing and having a good time. After the hour long cruise, we were both pretty wiped out so we walked back to the hotel and set our wake up call for 7 a.m.

As we got into bed, Dan took off the pedometer… we had walked 19 miles.


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