Friday, January 30, 2009

Paris (Dec 23-26)

Arriving at the train station in Paris was an interesting experience. I was trying not to get too excited because I didn't want to build the city up so much that I was disappointed. At the same time I was ecstatic to final be visiting Paris!

The first thing we did was buy our transportation passes for the four days we were going to be in Paris. We had to get 5-day passes because they didn't have 4-day passes anymore. The extra money was well worth it though. Those passes were the only reason we were able to see as much of Paris as we did and believe me, we saw a lot!

The first afternoon we were in Paris we went to the Louvre to check it's holiday hours and then walked from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe. The walk is much longer than you think it's going to be. During this particular trek you walk past the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Jardin des Tuileries, Luxor's Obelisk on the Place de la Concorde, along the Avenue des Champs-Elysees with it's large Christmas fair which gives way to a high-class shopping district, and finally to the Arc de Triomphe itself. I would guess that it was over a mile of tourist sites one after the other. Add in the crazy Paris traffic and the entire experience was a little over whelming. From the Arc de Triomphe we caught the metro out to the Eiffel Tower. It was definitely dark by then so the Eiffel tower was all lit up. It was lit with blue lights and had the EU ring of stars on the front. I was hoping they had switched it back to gold because I think it looks better that way. It was still an incredible site. We took an elevator up to the very top. The view was amazing. The elevator stops at several levels along the way so people can get out and look around. Absolutely fantastic. Looking out over the metroploitian of Paris, France I found that I had to keep reminding myself that regular people actually live in Paris and go to work and buy groceries and all the other everyday tasks that come up. For some reason I could not wrap my head around 'living' in a place like Paris. I suppose it stems from never living in a big city before. It's just hard for me to comprehend what it would be like, especially in a high-profile city like Paris.

The next day was Christmas Eve. We had a very full day planned because so many places had limited hours for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We got up really early, or so it appeared by French standards, and went to the Louvre first thing. The Louvre is big. Really big. There is no way you can appreciate how big it is until you're actually inside it. The only museums I could think of the may rival it in size are in the Smithsonian. We passed through the ticket line quickly and then battled the early crowd to see the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and the Venus di Milo. Even after seeing the Mona Lisa in person, I still don't quite understand all the fuss about it. Clearly the art historian or conspiracy theorists know something I don't. That being said, I couldn't imagine going to the Louvre and not seeing the Mona Lisa. Because we got to the Louvre so early we didn't have to wage war against the masses of people that arrive later in the day so we were able to see our three "must-sees" relatively quickly. After that we had no idea which wing to go down next. We ended up going into a hall of prodominantly Greek and Roman statues which were pretty cool. We didn't linger in the Louvre for too long because we didn't want to get lost in the maze of galleries and we had a lot more to do that day. As we were leaving through the glass pyramid entrance (we couldn't find the inverted pyramid they go on about in The Da Vinci Code) we saw droves of people waiting to get into the Louvre and were immediately grateful that we had arrived early.

Our next stop was the Pantheon. I personally thought the Pantheon was much cooler than the Louvre. The Pantheon is the location of the original Foucault's Pendulm. There is currently a working replica set up in the same spot. As a big time science nerd I thought that was really neat. I found the crypts below the Pantheon even more impressive. Entombed in the crypts were close to a dozen extremely influential people that were familiar to me including; Rousseau, Voltaire, Alexandre Dumas, Louis Braille, Victor Hugo, and the Curies. Seeing the tombs of the people from my high school textbooks was awesome. Reading about things that happened in the past is fine but nothing beates visiting the spot where something happened or the tomb of the person who did it. It makes history less of just a story and more real.

We left the Pantheon, grabbed some take away macaroni, and set off across town to Montmatre. Montmatre is the highest geographic point in Paris. Sacre-Coeur is a bascilica at the very top of Montmatre and is moderately famous for the the steps leading up to it. Looking up you see white marble steps leading up to the white basilica. Looking down and out from the steps you see Paris spread out in front of you. Every picture taken on these steps in either direction always has people sitting on the steps in it. This is partly because of the views available and partly because it's a hike to get to the top of those stairs. We walked aorund Montmatre for a while and bought crepes which were pretty good. There were portrait artists and souvenier shops and crepe stand everywhere. Leanna said it reminded her a lot of Greenwich Village. I've never been to Greenwich village but I'll take her word for it. We decided that we would go to Notre Dame for Christmas Eve Mass but still had over an hour before we needed to head over to the Cathedral so we sat on the steps gazing at Paris and listening to this guy play the guitar. Further down the steps were other street preformers. There was a woman dressed as a statue of mother nature, another musician, and a guy juggling a soccer ball. I like watching street preformers especially musicians so much more than dealing with people who try to push cheap trinkets.

Notre Dame was essentially having back to back masses for most of the evening and it was still packed. The youth choir was preforming at the mass we attended. The choir was much older than the choir than the youth choir at St. Matthew's but they were still younger than me and very talented. I was very happy the program had the readings printed in both French and English. I've been to many Christmas Eve masses over the years but it's still hard to follow a mass in a different language than you're used to hearing. Eventhough I couldn't understand most of what was being said during the mass, I still thought it was very beautiful and would definitely recommend going to mass there if you ever get the chance.

Christmas morning was interesting. The calendar said it was Christmas Day and we had reservations for Christmas dinner at the restaurant adjacent to the hostel for that night, but it did not feel like Christmas. Everywhere we went on Christmas day was outside because outside wasn't closed for the holiday. The first place we went was Pere Lachaise cemetary. As we made our way out to the cemetary, the city looked like a ghost town. Pere Lachaise must have been the place to be buried starting about the time of the French Revolution if not before. The oldest part of the cemetary is PACKED with family tombs and doesn't have a lot of order to it. As time passed they expanded the cemetary and made it more orderly but its still obvious that you need to have money to be buried there. You can get a map of famous people buried within the cemetary. We found the final resting places of Chopin, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde. While we were walking to Oscar Wilde's very eccentric head stone, we passed a headstone with the name "Beaudet" on it. Perhaps a very distant relative? who knows.

Our next stop was the "Bastille." There's pillar situated across from the Bastille Oprea house where there prison used to stand. The actual prison was torn down over a hundred of years ago. Part of one tower was discovered when during excavation for the Metro and is now in a near by park. I wish they had kept the Bastille around. I think it would have been really cool to do in. Before we continued to our next destination we stopped at a Mcdonald's so I could get a Royale with cheese in honor of the movie Pulp Fiction (yes, I am nerd). One nice thing about Mickey D's is that it tastes the same no matter where you get it including Paris, France.

The rest of the afternoon was spent taking pictures. We went back to Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower to get some pictures that would have been difficult to get both because it was dark out. We also went to the Centre Pompidou, a museum of modern art with an unusual exterior desgin. Neither Leanna nor I are big fans of modern art so we were perfectly satisfied to just take pictures of the outside.

Christmas dinner was good but definitely not the home cooking I'm used to for the holidays. The first course was fois gras, salmon, and cured ham, served with bread. I ate all over it just because I was in Paris and determined to try what they thought was edible. I definitely thought the cured ham was the best option on the plate though. The main course was turkey and roast vegetables. It was alright but nothing special. Just a piece of turkey breast and standard roast veggies. Dessert was a piece of Apple torte with carmel and nuts. By far the best part of the meal. I knew that dinner would have to be really amazing for it to beat what I would have been eating if I had gone home, and for what we paid for the meal there was no way that was going to happen.

The next day we were on our way to Nantes, France. We had covered a tremendous amount of ground in Paris and had seen a lot of cool stuff. Even though it was definitely a Christmas that I'll never forget, the day we left it still didn't feel like Christmas had arrived yet.

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