Paris is a beautiful and wonderful city. Here's the low-down on all Chris (my Dutch friend) and I did on our brief visit there:
We left Shannon Airport in Ireland at 11:10AM. I moved my stuff out of my house the night before and left it with my Irish friends Maria, Damien, and Dave (who I will stay with for one night when I get back from France). It was strange settling all that stuff up and saying good-bye to everyone, but we all exchanged e-mail addresses and such, so hopefully we can keep in touch! But, anyway, Paris. The plane was delayed a bit, and we had a 1.5 hour bus ride into the city once we got there, but it was well worth the trouble.
Once in Paris, we stopped for a quick drink on the patio of a local cafe. Two sodas for 7 Euro! We ended up finding that soda is rather expensive in Paris; however, we also found that if you look in the right places, you can get some delicious and inexpensive eats!
After our short break, we walked down to the Arc de Triomphe, which was grand and quite massive. Very
impressive indeed! Then, we decided it was time to figure out the Metro system, so bought Paris Visite passes which allowed unlimited travel within three zones of Paris for three days, which was perfect for us. So, we hopped on board and decided that since it was sunny, it was indeed a fine day to spend relaxing in a Parisian park. We went to Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the northeast of central Paris, and it was quite a good pick on our part! It was full of genuine Parisians and French, replete with dog walkers and kids playing in the water. It was quite expansive, hilly, and full of trees-- a perfect getaway from the busy streets! There, Chris and I also had a lovely snack of baguettes with some delicious tuna/veggie salad stuff. It was great!
Once we'd enjoyed enough of the sun, we decided it was about time we found our hotel. After taking a couple subways and a suburban train, we wound up in Epinay-sur-Seine (the area where our hotel was located) and started looking. We didn't have good directions off the website, so we wandered around awhile until we saw a map posted. Then
we did our best to go off that and another map we found, and eventually we ran smack into the hotel. It was quite lucky, and quite an adventure! We didn't make one wrong turn! The hotel was perfect; it was well-kept and in a fine location, which isn't too bad at all for 20 Euros a night (about as much as a hostel). Our bathroom was en suite (we didn't have to share) and we even had a TV-- I felt like I was in paradise compared to some of the hostels I've stayed in! So, lucky us!
The next day, we headed into the city at a semi-decent hour (around 10 or 11AM), grabbing brunch at a bakery in Montmartre (the setting for both Amelie and Moulin Rouge, I think-- Montmartre, not the bakery ;-)). I had a delicious 3-cheese panini-- French cheese and French bread are WONDERFUL. I was in heaven already. Anyway, afterward, we got a good look at the Moulin Rouge building and took a self-guided walking tour up to the Sacre Coeur, thanks to the handy dandy guidebook Maria lent me. Along the way, we stopped in at the Cimetiere de Montmartre, which
was very interesting. The French cemeteries are interesting because there is so much above ground-- they have mausoleum-type sepulchre things-- crazy, but beautiful. Strangely, it quite lovely. But, anyway, after that morbid tour, we went to the Sacre Coeur, a beautiful church in the middle of Montmartre (at the top of a big hill). From the steps of the church, you get a great panoramic view of the city below-- it was amazing! After that visit, we had a drink outside the local Irish pub we passed on the way to the Sacre Coeur (Chris seems to have a thing for Irish pubs now, even though we were in France, though I admit it was nice to get a little feel of "home" in a foreign city!).
After that, we made our way back to another metro station and zipped over to the river Seine. There, we did another self-guided walking tour, checking out the two islands in the middle of the river; we sat by the river, gawked at Notre Dame cathedral, and saw the Palais de Justice (quite ornate for a justice building) and Saint Chapelle. Then, we wandered by the Louvre and into the Jardin des
Tuileries in front of the museum, which was really well-landscaped though full of tourists (ahem, like us...).
Eventually, we decided to scrounge up some dinner (it had started to rain so hanging out outside was kind of a silly idea at that point), so we wandered the streets near the Louvre until we found a suitable cafe to dine in. I picked a dish of the specials menu that I had no clue what it was-- I was trying to be adventurous. Ended up it was just steak, but it was delicious and felt adventurous anyway! Afterwards, we went to another local Irish pub, and that was very nice, with Irish music playing and everything. I just had a couple coffees because I was cold after wandering around more in the rain, and Chris had a Guinness or two but had to admit that really they don't taste different in Ireland. I was shocked, but didn't test the theory myself. We got back to the hotel late, and this time we fortunately had no trouble getting there!
Next morning, we got up and out a little bit earlier (we had a big day ahead) and decided that that day we wanted to actually go INSIDE some buildings, so we started with the Louvre. It's HUMONGOUS. We wandered the extensive halls of paintings for awhile, saw Rubens, Brueghels, Raphaels, and a myriad of other works. Of course, we stopped in the Mona Lisa room. I was surprised how small the actual painting was, though I must admit her smile is captivating. Chris didn't really see anything special about it (other than that it was by da Vinci), but I definitely thought it was cool. The room was packed, though, which was really funny, and people held up cameras and stuff to get a good picture of the work (a picture of a painting that everyone knows about? Okay....). Chris and I just got a nice look from the back of the mob and decided it was time to move on.
We also got a chance to see some of the antiquities rooms (stuff from European history and Roman rule and all that jazz) as well as the Napoleon III apartments (gilded gold palatial rooms just oozing with richness). I think the apartments had been restored from when the Louvre actually was a palace, but it was amazingly opulent and GOLD. It was cool, though.
By this time we were in art overload mode, so we went back out to the gardens outside and sat in the sun (yes, we liked the parks on sunny days-- we didn't get a lot of that in Ireland!). After, we tried to go to the Rodin museum, only to find it closed on Mondays (it was a Monday). But, we got to see the Hotel des Invalides and the Eglise du Dome (which holds Napoleon's tomb), both built by Louis XIV in the 1600s. Both were grand and beautiful!
Next, we decided we still hadn't had enough of museums, so we shot over to the Picasso museum, which was quite a change from the works we saw in the Louvre. It was great! Picasso seems like an interesting fellow, and it was nice to get some more modern stuff on the brain following the hordes of Renaissance paintings and Dutch school paintings, etc., we saw before!
That evening, we ate at another French restaurant, a nice little cafe with live jazz piano music and delicious eats. We treated ourselves to the full French meal for 15 Euros and it was FABULOUS. Our waitress was also delightful, which totally completed the wonderful mood and atmosphere.
As dusk approached, we decided it was about time we headed on to the Eiffel Tower so we could see it in the sunset and then at night. It was gorgeous in the sunset and dazzling at night. We went all the way to the summit and it was absolutely incredible. The view was amazing. I'd say it was probably the highlight of the trip for me.
Tomorrow, we're getting up early as Chris has to catch his bus for the airport and I am headed for Bordeaux. I can't wait to meet my pen pal Virginie! But, anyway, Paris was enchanting and marvelous and everything I could've ever hoped for! I'll update on Bordeaux soon, but I'll leave you with a few cool observations on France:
--I love the bakeries and markets here-- fresh food is awesome!
--So, I've been told some people have problems getting along with the French when they're visiting France on holiday, but everyone here's been really nice and very helpful so far even though neither Chris nor I know much French. So that's been great!
--I love to use the little French phrases my mother taught me as a child (she minored in French in college). It makes me feel cool to say "Bonjour" and "S'il vous plait" and "Excusez-moi" and I use whatever French I know as often as possible!
--The French know how to do food.
--The Eiffel Tower is spectacular, especially at night!
--Two words: French cheese. :-)
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