Day 41 - Sat May 14 Paris
(Chris) Ok, we rolled into Paris, new train station, new language barrier, new weather: pouring rain. After some trepidation we figured out their metro system and got to the hotel without incident. Other than a un-Seattle-like drenching. Our hotel is in a very cute neighborhood on a street called Rue Cler, which can be a bit like the Pike Place Market at times but with far stinkier cheese. I can often smell the cheese stores (fromagerie) before I see them!
The hotel took our bags and we had to find food fast before Jen turned into a mean person! So from Reeck's book we found a bakery and settled in for some wonderful croissants... so wonderful that Jen went back for seconds and thirds. A nice couple from Philadelphia gave us a lot of info on various art-oriented sights to take in.
Seeking refuge from the rain, I decided we should go to the Lourve. If the biggest museum I know of won't get us through it, nothing will! It was kind of a fiasco getting in... the lines were amazingly long, we tried to bypass it by getting a 3-day museum pass at the tourist information office but they were sold out, then we tried the subway (per Reeck), but they said they didn't sell any at the subway... when we came back the lines were thankfully shorter, so we stood in an automated ticket line for 20 min, and when we got to the front found it would take European Mastercard but not American, and wouldn't take a E50 bill. Which are what we had. Anyway, eventually we got it sorted out and went in.
The Lourve is enormous. We followed Reeck's suggestions pretty much, but when we were done it probably took 15 min to find our way out and we hadn't previously seen any of the art that we passed by on the way. The entrance to the Lourve is unusual and cool , with a large clear glass pyramid over the roof of the main lobby. On the inside, there was great art, including Greek sculpture and a wide variety of paintings. I suppose I still prefer the Uffuzi slightly but it was quite good. There were mobs of tour groups and individual tourists, many snapping pictures of their friends in front of particularly important works (probably about half Japanese, a quarter American and a quarter European). The mob scene in front of Mona Lisa was... I can really only liken it to the NYSE trading floor, hundreds of people wielding cameras in front of the small painting, most popping flashes (despite the obvious no flash signs), all jockeying for better position. I was fairly surprised the museum didn't demand more order, though I guess I shouldn't be based on what I've heard about European ski lift lines.
Back on Rue Cler, we settled in for a nice dinner in a... bar? It had nice big awnings over the street that were partially enclosed and heated. While we had trouble translating the food, it is far more familiar to us than Spanish food and largely delicious. Jen delighted in her fried goat cheese salad, and our entrees (baked chicken w/ potatoes, etc) were very tasty.
The hotel is quite nice, yet the bathroom is interesting, in that it has a decent sized tub with a shower attachment, but no way to hang the shower attachment up, and no shower curtain. Ahhh Euroshowers, I won't miss you a bit!
Day 42 - Sun May 15 Paris
(Chris) We started off with the hotel breakfast, which was ok and the price was right (included), though it ends at 10am which isn't so great. We immediately ventured onto Rue Cler, which was bustling with activity. Produce shops, seafood shops, cheese shops, bakeries, sweets shops, butchers, etc etc etc. It is straight out of the movies. The rain had diminished to off and on sprinkles, so we were excited about that.
We had arranged a lunch date with Letitia & Pascal (our new friends from France we met in Greece), who met us in the 14th borough (arriondisement of Paris - Rue Cler is in the 7th). We walked & talked for awhile, as they showed us some of the local sights. Then we had what Pascal called a 'mountain lunch,' where the special was a long pork sausage, served with a heaping pile of this melted mixture that was mostly cheese & potato with a fair seasoning of onion and garlic. The pile was big so it was intimidating, but it truly was excellent (hopefully you already know how to make this Andre!) and the conversation excellent as well. L & P are originally from Normandy so took a keen interest in our travel plans. Also Pascal let me know that the Sonics finally won a playoff game against the Spurs. We haven't been using the internet much lately as most places in Paris seem to be over $12/hr. Hopefully it will be less in the country. Ditto for haircuts as I'm most certainly due! Farzi (my barber at home) I miss you!
Another walk after lunch, through a great park (Luxembourg), and L & P deposited us at the Cluny museum. This museum is famous for a series of 6 tapestries that show a princess teaching a young unicorn to understand the 5 senses. It's renowned for being brighter in color than most (often tapestries are faded). We aren't huge tapestry fans, but it was nice and included in our museum pass so no big pressure.
From the Cluny we headed to Notre Dame Cathedral via the Latin Quarter. The Latin Quarter, at least to my eyes, seems to have about a million restaurants and a limited number of student-oriented shops. There Jen sprang for her first French crepe (Nutella & banana), which she devoured with enthusiasm.
From the Latin Quarter, we crossed a bridge over ½ of the Seine (Notre Dame is on an island in the middle of the river), walked past the cathedral (due to the long lines) and headed to the Paris Nazi Deportation Monument. Just behind the church is a small monument where in a little cavern they have a small light lit for every person that the Nazis took from Paris, mostly political opponents and Jewish people. There are 200,000 lights. It's not a big sight but it is certainly powerful. It also lists all 15 Nazi concentration camps that they were sent to.
After that we crossed a pedestrian bridge to an adjacent island, Ile St. Louis. It was mostly commercial, though they had some great shops for cute jewelry and clothes, which we almost bought but were trying to be thrifty, and also anything we buy we have to lug around for another 2+ months!
Now we circled back to Notre Dame (=our lady, =Mary). Notre Dame is a very old church, which took from around 1100 to 1300 to build. The line for the tower probably took more energy to stand in, on pickpocket alert, than actually climbing the stairs. The views from the tower were very good, though I was far more entertained by the gargoyles (see pics)! The cathedral itself was having a service so we didn't get a great look at it, though it is one of the darkest cathedrals we'd been in.
On the way home, we walked through the Latin Quarter a little more, paying E2 for a bottle of water, and stopping in at a great English used bookstore Ernest Hemingway apparently used to frequent.
We had dinner in the Rue Cler neighborhood, though apparently most restaurants close on Sunday so it was tricky. We did find a place, and after they sat us they ignored us for ½ hour (because we were tourists?), so we walked out and found a friendly place for dinner. Jen discovered the hard way (mostly my fault) that the beef rare-medium-well done scale in France is quite a bit different from that in the US. We watched a guy at a neighboring table eat a raw hamburger patty off a plate. Ewww!
All in all it was a very long day, full of great experiences and very tired feet!
Day 43 - Mon May 16 Paris
(Chris) Jen didn't have to convince me very hard to sleep past 10 and go back to the bakery for a late breakfast. She bought 6 large croissants (4 butter, 2 chocolate), and I thought she was nuts until we easily finished them all! Mmmmm. (Jen) We also had two hot chocolates. I have to say, the French make a fantastic hot cocoa. As far as I can tell it's made from real melted chocolate and mixed with milk. Not quite as rich as American cocoa (I actually add a small sugar cube to mine here in Paris), but it tastes really yummy. If I lived here I am certain I would turn into a balloon.
(Chris) To minimize our walking, I 'cleverly' put us on the subway to get to Invalides (Napoleon's Tomb). We got off at the Invalides subway stop, only to find out we ended up farther away from our destination than we started out! From now on I'll check the map. His tomb was large and the room ornate. There was also a pretty cool WWII museum there, with light military hardware on display such as mortars, machine guns, torpedoes and mines. Jen doesn't like the war stuff so much but I find it fascinating.
From there we walked to the Eiffel Tower, and paid to climb up to the 2nd level. It was raining lightly. The view was quite good. Jen was really looking forward to seeing the tower, but I think she enjoyed it more from afar than up close.
Next was a long walk to the Arc de Triomphe. It didn't look that far on the map, and I was still a little stubborn from being wrong on the Invalides subway stop. Anyway, we got to climb more steps up to the top, where there was yet another great view of the city (and surprisingly, there is a museum at the top as well). There is a ginormous traffic circle around the Arc (12 major streets all feed into it), and as if Jen were watching FOX, she kept staring at all the cars, waiting for an accident to happen. None did.
Next stop, the Champs Elsyes (need to include phoenetic spelling). This is essentially a giant shopping and strolling street, with a wide lane of cars, and a triple-wide sidewalk down each side, downtown for about 2 miles. There are lots of boutiques and restaurants, but what held the most interest for me were the car showrooms. Not regular dealerships, but more a flagship store for a make so that they can show off their latest goods. The best ones were by Renault and Pugeot, both having very cool concept cars. There's also a mammoth Sephora perfume and makeup store with dozens of people helping clients find this and that. They also had a weird chick swinging from a rope in the middle of the store. Better than a sandwich board sign I guess. (Jen) I got another chocolate and banana crepe. Yumm. America could really take some cuisine lessons from France - but I have no clue how the French stay so slim.
We finished with a nice dinner on Rue Cler. It's a great street. Thanks Reeck.
Day 44 - Tue May 17 Paris
(Jen) Yes we went to the bakery for breakfast again - it's too good to miss! Today was the big day to take a day trip to Versailles. We caught a city train out there, which only took about a half hour. We were expecting it to be a bit of a zoo given Rick's warning about the lines, but it really wasn't bad at all. Versailles itself is a gigantic palace with a gargantuan garden (literally miles and miles of garden). We visited the garden before the palace; it's quite beautiful. There are lots of fountains and even a man made "grand canal" so that the nobles of the day could be poled around in a gondola without having to visit Venice. The shrubbery was pruned into all sorts of interesting shapes as well. We even rented bikes for about an hour and rode to view some of the smaller buildings hidden within the outskirts of the garden. The most interesting was a faux "peasant village" that Marie-Antoinette had built for her. Next we visited the palace - as we've already seen the Royal Palace in Madrid and El Escorial we weren't as taken aback by Versailles interior - what's most impressive is just its size. We were really looking forward to seeing the Hall of Mirrors, but it is being refurbished so the majority of it was covered up. A quick stop at McDonald's for some fries and we were on our way back to Paris via train. (Chris) Versailles was largely made by Louis XIV and is kept as sort of a tribute to him I suppose. It's a shame so much of it smells like cat pee. I also don't like being charged E.50 to use the john when I've already paid for admission. Perhaps that's the true source of the cat pee smell!
(Jen) Back in Paris we visited a nearby self-service Laundromat (we've pretty much abandoned the 'do your own laundry in the sink' plan) and then had dinner. After dinner I really wanted to see the Eiffel tower lit up at night so we walked the 20 minutes or so from our hotel to the Eiffel. Even Chris was surprised by how pretty it was. It was lit up with soft white light but then had thousands of small bright white lights that twinkled (sort of like a Christmas tree). There was also a blue "search light" on the top that spun around really slow. It was really gorgeous. We arrived just in time too because just a few minutes after we arrived the twinkling lights were turned off.
I've really enjoyed Paris quite a lot. Chris and I also agree that the French folks we've interacted with have been quite nice and we've had no problems communicating, much easier and nicer than our experience in Spain.