Friday, March 19, 2010

Paris, France: The City of Lights

Brace yourselves. This post is quite literally a novel.

So I went to France on Monday. I got home Thursday. I'll tell you right now it was no Athens and no London, but it was a good whirlwind trip. I really can't put my finger on why I didn't absolutely love the place, but I was glad to be there. I'm sorry if you love France, but I would like to get a few whines out before I start: French cuisine SUCKS, there's something a little off about the people, and the place reeks.

Beyond that I have only good to say, so here goes nothing.

MONDAY: Got up early and headed to St. Pancras international train station. We then got on the Eurostar train headed for Paris. I was so excited to ride through the Chunnel. I sat next to Caitlin and across from Kalyn and Jenny. We were in the middle of the car, so we had a little table between us that we played cards on. I learned how to play Sleeping Queens (which I owned) and Oh Hell (which isn't that great, but has a great name). I guess the Chunnel isn't all it's cracked up to be because I didn't even notice that we went through it. I guess my ears popped and we were in a tunnel for a few minutes, but that was kind of it. Then again, a few miles doesn't take too long when you're going 150+ mph. Anyways, we got into Paris, off the train, walked to a coach, and drove out of Paris and in to Chartres. Chartres has a sweet cathedral and we had an old guy for a guide. I don't remember his name but he was great. He took some decisive cracks at the Puritans (he was right...they were kind of insane) and knew all sorts of stuff about the cathedral. Before going in we just kind of wandered around aimlessly (it's kind of our thing on program trips, if you haven't noticed). I looked at a weak-sauce fountain and went pee at McDonalds. The cathedral was beautiful though. The relic that they've got there is the nativity garment. It's basically a 12-foot piece of silk that Mary was wearing when Jesus was born. No offense to anybody, but I don't think she was riding a donkey and sleeping in a stable in silk. But that's me. As our guide pointed out, it is definitely a good tourist attraction. That's all I'll say about that.

After getting back from Chartres we checked into our hotel--the Hotel Mercure at Gare de Lyon. The place was pretty nice and the beds were comfortable but really narrow. Kellen was my roommate. After checking in we decided to try a real French restaurant. It was me, Mary, Cameron, Reesa, Kira, Brittany, Annie, Michelle, Jenny, Laura. Our waiter was a total douche (haha, french word) and told me that my dish (called Carpaccio? probably italian, but still) was sliced beef that is cooked. I was like, "yeah, cooked beef!" Mary and I made jokes about liking our beef still moo-ing. Long story short, Carpaccio is thin-sliced beef that is still moo-ing. I could have taken a bite out of a cow and gotten more enjoyment out of it. I got about halfway done and realized that I was only eating to eat. So I stopped. There are a couple of morals to this story: (1) One should not--although it sounds fun--walk into a French restaurant and order the first thing that their eyes land on; and (2) Carpaccio is trash (and not cooked).

Following my still-bleeding dinner, we decided to go find the Eiffel Tower. Walked across the Seine (which is beautiful) to Gare d'Austerlitz (the train station) and headed to the Eiffel Tower stop. We got out and there it was, all lit up in its brilliance. I will rip on France in general all day long, but I absolutely adore the Eiffel Tower. It really is one of the most awe-inspiring man-made edifices that I have encountered in my 24 years. It's gorgeous. We walked around under it, took pictures from the grass in front of it, and then bought crepes to eat under it and all its wonder. So I can add 'eat a crepe under the Eiffel Tower' to the list of awesome things I have done before becoming dead. Headed back to L'Hotel Mercury and slept.

TUESDAY: Woke up and got on a train headed to the Palace of Versailles. Versailles is a HUGE (emphasis on HUGE) palace built by the Kings Louis. Long story short, it's massive, full of sweet chandeliers, and is the place where the aptly named Treaty of Versailles was signed (signifying the end of WWI). The grounds go on forever but I wasn't about to stay for that long. It was interesting to see how the people were ready to revolt. While they starved to death Louis was building the biggest party house ever. No wonder they rose up and kicked trash. Mary mentioned that the palace would have been mind-blowing if we hadn't already been in London for so long looking at world-famous architecture. She was so right. It was a beautiful place, but I was over it pretty quick.

Laura had been feeling sick, so Cam, Mary and I took her back to the hotel to sleep for a few hours. While she was out we headed over to the Musee D'Orsay. D'Orsay used to be a train station but was converted to an Art Museum in 198...6? Anyways, they had some great paintings there. By far the best was Van Gogh's self portrait (the blue one). As usual, it was much better in real life than it is in the pictures. The blue paint is very vibrant and it really just had a life of its own. There were a few other relatively famous works but I lost the paper I wrote them down on, so I'll just leave it at D'Orsay was a sweet place.

Afterwards we went and grabbed Laura (she's adorable and totally lost when she wakes up) and grabbed some dinner with Laura N, Rachel, Annie, Michelle, and Christina. Then we all headed over near the Eiffel Tower for a boat cruise of the Seine. The Seine is beautiful, and being on it was a blast. We were all on one side because the middle had a semi-transparent plastic thing over it. We went under 22 bridges and got some great angles of things that we had seen or would be seeing. As we were going under one of the bridges the tour guide lady announced that this was the bridge that you're supposed to make a wish under and that it's also the bridge under which people should kiss. I was sitting next to Rachel, so I took off my glasses and said, "Rachel. We have to." I was 22% kidding, but Rachel is awesome, so we had a moment under a bridge on the Seine. Cam informed me later that he hates me. Totally worth it. There is a no-dating rule at the BYU centre, but there is no no-kissing-under-French-bridges rule. Yay Paris.

After the Seine we went up the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower is so freaking sweet. Have I mentioned enough that I love it yet? 'Cause I do. Going up it was a blast. On the way back down Mary and I got stuck waiting for the elevator at the halfway point. I looked down at Mary and said, "Mary, we're all alone on top of the Eiffel Tower." Short story short I got shot down. Mary insists on playing with my heart and I can't help but let her. Just kidding. But seriously. Anyways, we got down from the Tower, ate crepes again, and took taxis back to the Mercure because it was too late to take the Metro.

WEDNESDAY. Started my day off with a little visit to a place called Notre Dame. Do you love the Disney Movie? 'Cause I sure do. (PS - French gypsies look NOTHING like Esmeralda. It's so disheartening). I found myself humming "God Help the Outcasts" as I walked through the apse. Good flick. Anyways, the cathedral is stunning and the Rose windows are simply beautiful. I was really interested in getting on top of the cathedral, so we stood in line for a few minutes and then we got to go up. The view is great, the gargoyles are so cool, and we got to go inside the bell tower. The Great Bell hangs there and I kissed it (I've just realized how much Paris had me in a kissing mood). Then I pretended to ring it by swinging from rope to rope down through the towers. Anyways.

Next on the list was Sainte Chapelle, which is a beautiful church with stained glass that was rumored to be to-die-for. It was very bright and very beautiful, but the main part of the chapel was being restored so we didn't get to see a whole lot. Story of my life. Needless to say it was a quick visit. Grabbed some lunch at a street vendor, walked across Pont Neuf, and made our way to the Cluny Museum. I'm not exactly sure what the Cluny Museum is all about, but some people had to go there for one of the classes. It was pretty cool, and the main thing we were supposed to see was a set of six tapestries called "The Lady and the Unicorn." You can wikipedia it if you want to. Basically it shows a lady, a lion, a unicorn, and a monkey in six different tapestries. Five of them show the friends (acquaintances? zoo?) experiencing the five senses and the sixth one shows that they finally discovered their true desires. Interestingly, the true desires seemed to be sitting in a tree (monkey), frolicking (unicorn), eating the lady (lion), and a box of jewelry (lady. typical lady). Tapestries are huge amounts of painstaking work, but sometimes they're just kinda ridiculous. That's France for you.

I had really, really been wanting to get up to Sacre-Coeur since we had rolled into Paris, and not it was time. Katie, Britin, Cam, Caitlin, and I got a little lost in the ghetto trying to find the place, but we found it. Sacre-Coeur is tied with if not a little bit ahead of St. Paul's for Calvin's most exquisite religious building
award. You're not supposed to take pics inside, but I have a few on my camera. I won't run around publishing them, but I had to do it. The outside of the church is stunning as well. Between my picture with the Captain Morgan pose and the Jamaican guy playing classical music on the steel drums, it was an experience I'll remember forever.

Next stop was the Centre Pompidou. I remembered this building from French class in high school (I took it my freshman year. A freaking DECADE ago). We didn't go inside (mainly because 95.7% of modern art SUCKS) but it's the outside that counts. They basically built the place inside out. All of the plumbing, ventilation, etc is on the outside, and it's all painted bright colors. The escalator runs zig zag up the long wall and all in all it's a pretty cool building. While we were looking at it this guy walks up and tells me I have a funny face (not a first). But he told me he wanted to draw a charicature of me that I could buy if I liked it. He was pretty funny and he drew me going King Kong on the Eiffel Tower. It didn't look much like me, and I wasn't about to throw ten euros at less-than-satisfactory-mediocre-art, so we went on our way. To the Louvre.

The Louvre is unbelievable. Firstly, it is freaking huge. Secondly, it is freaking huge. Thirdly, there are miles and miles of world-famous art. We decided to hit the crowd pleasers. I played navigator and we spent a good two hours just enjoying the place. Among other things I saw Michaelangelo's "The Dying Slave," Winged Victory (beautiful), Venus de Milo, The Code of Hammurabi, Da Vinci's "Madonna on the Rocks" and "Mona Lisa," Liberty Leading the Troops, and The Raft of the Medusa (which my friend Robin Johnson wrote a contest-winning poem). The Mona Lisa was great to see and all, but it was roped off and "Raft of the Medusa" was huge and powerful and just out of this world. The Louvre is...The Louvre. Enough said.

We met up with Audrey, Macy, and Emma at the Louvre, so they accompanied us (me, Cam, Brit, Katie, and Caitlin) to dinner. We got Italian food. I got Ravioli "Mamma Rosa" which rocked. Afterwards Cam and I decided it was time to take a small break from estrogen-fest, so we hit up the Arc de Triomphe to end our night. It was much cooler than I had thought it would be. First of all, it's in the middle of the largest round-about in the world. I believe we counted 12 avenues converging there. There are no lines in the thing, and cars entering the round-about have the right of way, but we still saw no wrecks. A few close calls but no smashing. Bummer. The view was awesome, especially of the Eiffel Tower. I could have stayed up there all night just staring at the Eiffel Tower all lit up and enjoying being alive. As we were about to leave Anna, Sarah Marshall, Reesa, Karalyn, and Arrin came up the stairs, so we took a few pictures and then accompanied them back to the hotel. Not a bad day at all.

THURSDAY. As tempted as it was to go to EuroDisney (Disneyland Paris) with a group of cute girls, I decided that I should live up my last few hours in the City of Lights. After breakfast Cam and I peaced out with our bad selves. First we went to the Place de la Bastille. Back in the day when France could fight (WAY back in the day) they had a little thing called the storming of the Bastille. Look it up. The Place is a good sized round-about with a golden statue on top. Promethius if I'm not mistaken. Also on the square (circle) is the National Opera House which was very large and very modern. What we had really come for was the morning market. There wasn't a ton there, but Cam found the best crepe we have ever tried. It made me wish I had skipped the Hotel Mercure's crappy breakfast.

On our map I discovered that we weren't too far from Victor Hugo's house. After one second of deliberation we decided to go. (Side note: The main reason for ditching estrogen-fest is to make decision-making take one second instead of fourteen billion seconds. We're also both good travelers [thank you two years in third world countries] and not having to worry about needing to kill every man that looks at our beautiful classmates is nice for a few hours at a time.) ANYWAYS, Hugo's house was legit. The man could write (things like Hunchback and Les Miserables if you were wondering) and I'll leave it at that. His house is part of the Louis XIII plaza which is one of the most pleasing places I have ever been. The architecture is fantastic, it was well planned, the brickwork is ornate, and all in all it's just a great place hidden from most of the world despite its size. Chalk one up for random whims to visit the homes of famous writers.

The Latin Quarter had been calling our names for a few days, so we busted over there. We got out of the metro a bit early and walked along the Seine for a while. We walked right through a fresh-cut flower market that was a smell for sore nostrils. I almost bought some just to buy some, but that's stupid so I reconsidered. Instead I walked across Pont Neuf and took pictures of the building that Jason Bourne was on in one of his freaking sweet movies. In the middle of the bridge there are benches and hooked to the earlobe of a face engraved on a street lamp (did you follow that?) we found a lock that had people's initials and a year written on it in Sharpie. I did what any good person would do. That's right, I ripped it off of the lamp man's face's earlobe and chucked it in the Seine. When they come back in twenty years they'll learn not to deface sweet cities. Suckers. Off the Pont Neuf and into the Latin Quarter. Talk about a sweet part of town. It was beautiful. I bought Dad a souvenir (yay French word) along the Seine and we just kind of took in the older part of the city. It was lunch time so we ordered paninis and sat on rentable bikes and chowed down.

After lunch it was time to hit up the catacombs. It took us a while to find them, but they were totally worth it. There's a lot of history there and I only picked up a bit, which could be wrong. I need to check but there's no time for that. For ages the dead in Paris were entombed under the city. When the plague was going around they went down and exhumed most of the bones from under certain churches because they thought it would help. Eventually they returned all the bones to the catacombs, but they lined each side of the coridors with walls and walls and walls of bones. The walls are essentially as tall as I am and are piles of leg and arm bones divided by a few rows of skulls every two feet or so. And this goes on for miles. I can't even explain the feeling. I was somewhere among fascinated, reverent, blown away, and creeped out. There are spots where the ceiling drips and I hadn't noticed at first until a drop of cold water went down my back. That got a thrill out of me. Eventually we made our way out, and what an experience. The catacombs join the Eiffel Tower and Sacre-Coeur on my list of three things I absolutely LOVED in Paris.

L'Hotel des Invalides was next on our list. L'Hotel des Invalides is a massive building that holds Napoleon's Tomb and the Musee de l'Armee (Army Museum). We didn't spend a whole lot of time here, but the building rivals any church I have seen. It's got a huge, gold-plaited dome and the marble inside is black, white, ane purple. Napoleon's tomb was surprisingly simple but pretty majestic in its own right. The Army Museum was nothing out of this world, but we had a good look around for about an hour. Across the street we made our final stop at the Rodin museum. Rodin is a sculptor most famous for "The Thinker." The Thinker's original is black metal (dyed bronze maybe? i don't remember) and not too large at all (about the size of my torso). Outside there were larger replicas of it, but the original was by far the best. It's a wonderful piece and it was worth the quick stop we made for it. You can look up Rodin on your own.

One more ride on the smells-like-somebody-peed-on-raw-eggs Paris metro and into the Gare du Nord station. I bought a pastry called swiss bread and it's WAY better than French bread. Then we went through customs and the guy checking my passport had been to Boise recently and enjoyed it, so I got through faster than Cam. Back through the chunnel, out of France, and into London. Paris was a great trip. It was stuck between Athens and Rome, but I think overall it held its own pretty well. But in London the air is cleaner and the women are MUCH better looking, so I can't complain. Au revoir.


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