Monday, April 19, 2010

La vie en rose

Passing through famous European cities, I have found myself loving the place and wanting to stay longer. I spoke too soon, it was Paris that changed everything. Like every other hopeless romantic, I have fallen in love with the city of lights.

It was my first Eurostar trip and I enjoyed it immensely. While we were going under the English Channel, I kept thinking about how there were fish and coral reefs right above us. I wished the tunnel was see through, wouldn't that be awesome?! Above is the very first sighting of France, the countryside. To my keen observation techniques, I can confirm that it looks exactly like every other countryside, including Kansas :)

We arrived right around lunch time. One thing was on my mind: CREPES. We searched around for a reasonable crepe stand and France is very well known for its crepes, so it wasn't a challenge.

For my very first official French crepe, I got cheese, mushrooms, and chicken. It was absolutely delicious and satisfying. As you can see in the picture below, I was very excited to have my first of many crepes. I am forever a changed woman.

Immediately after my first bite of my exquisite crepe, I knew I was going to like Paris :)

Below is a typical sidewalk, there are tree groves literally everywhere, one of my favorite things about France and Paris in particular.

Public transportation in Paris seemed very similar to New York and Berlin. The tube in London is by far one of the most unique and complex underground transportation I have come across.

I am a big fan of these orange chairs, I wanted to take one with me. Or at least find something similar to put in my room haha.

Deciding where to go and what to see was a bit difficult. There was so much to see and only 2 1/2 days to fill up! We took the metro to the world famous museum, can you guess what museum I might be talking about?

Yes, we went to the Louvre! The Louvre is the most visited art gallery and museum in the world. Inside this worldly wonder you can gawp in open mouthed disbelief at the Mona Lisa, take in the immense and awe inspiring Liberty Leading the People and get kicked out by security when you try to uncover the Holy Grail by digging through the marble floor.

All thanks to Dan Brown and his conspiracy theories, the believed site of the Holy Grail lies directly underneath the inverted pyramid. It was mind blowing, to be in the same place where Tom Hanks' character realized the true location of the Holy Grail..sadly it is all fictional. Nevertheless, the place is beautiful. It once was the royal palace to France's Kings and Queens. It is a massive palace, I can only imagine how many places I could find during a simple game of hide-and-seek. During the Revolution, the people had tried to burn down the palace. Thankfully, that did not happen and eventually it became the Louvre Museum.

(Above) The first of many touristy pictures...

Above is a famous statue called 'Victory' and I believe it used to stand proudly in Italy or of the two :) Below is one of the many beautiful ceilings in the Louvre. Each one was completely different and gorgeous. If the ceilings are this alluring at the Louvre, I can only imagine what the ceiling must look like in St. Peter's Basilica!

While the Louvre hosts hundreds of thousands of beautiful art pieces, statues from lost worlds, documents of historical events, the most famous of all is Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Before I came to Paris, I had heard that the Mona Lisa was disappointing. Many people told me that it was much smaller than they had anticipated and not quite as glamorous as they had expected. I came prepared to see this tiny portrait of the mysterious woman and I was actually surprised about the size. It seemed to be an average size of most portrait paintings...I have no idea what all those people were talking about! There were so many people crowed together just to see this painting. I found out that the only reason why this painting is so famous is the fact that we don't know anything about her, zip. And it has nothing to do with the fact that she has no eyebrows :) There are some theories that say that this could be a self portrait of Da Vinci himself. Perhaps he saw himself as a woman? Hmm...

We figured that if we're at the Louvre, might as well look at some other world famous artifacts. We saw the acclaimed Venus de Milo. As usual, I had assumed that it was sculpted by a guy named Milo. Apparently the artist is unknown and the name Milo comes from the city where the statue is believed to have been created. Huh.

Despite of the intimidating amounts of artifacts and history stuffed in the Louvre, I could not stand being inside anymore. There was too much to see, so many people to dodge and the sun was shining. When you live in London for an extended period of time, you tend to miss the sun quite a bit. So, we zoomed through a couple other exhibits, mostly Roman and Greek stuff and then rushed outside to greet Mr. Sun and the oh-so blue sky!

Just to point out, the flag above is the national flag of France, just sayin'.

To properly enjoy the beautiful weather, we began to walk down the axis of Paris. It is this line that lines up at the Louvre all the way down to the Arc de Triomphe. In between is the pulchritudinous Jardin des Tuileries and the distinguished Obelisque which is one of the best preserved Obelisks from Egypt left in the world and the exalted Champs-Elysees Avenue, where the world's expensive shopping lives. As we walked through the Jardin de Tuileries, we looked over to the left side and lo and behold, there was France's most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower! At this point, I got super hyper and excited and couldn't stop jabbering about how we had to get to the top of the tower and perhaps open a bottle of champagne (That didn't happen, the champagne part, sadly).

I kept my eyes peeled for the famed mimes and tight rope performers, the only stereotypical French culture I came across was the class of painters we passed on the way to the Obelisk. I must say that they really do have great architecture to paint and it is too beautiful to pass up painting.

Passing cliche French cafes and crepe stands, we came across a playground. This playground caught my eye because it is not the run-of-the-mill kind, it has TRAMPOLINES! Yeah, trampolines! Those French kids sure are spoiled...

In the plaza of the Obelisk, there were these gorgeous water fountains that looked too familiar. After taking several pictures of the fountain, it hit me. These were the exact same fountains that were filmed in The Devil Wears Prada!!!! So many movies have taken place in Paris...

The Arc de Triomphe was a ways away, but even from a distance, it stand majestically at the end of the axis of Paris. The Arc de Triomphe is a famous monument in Paris that honors those who fought for France, in particular, during the Napoleonic Wars and it also includes the tomb of the unknown soldier. There is a flame, dubbed the eternal flame, which burns eternally. This flame has been put out several times by idiots who wanted to make Paris and France angry, so they peed on it and in result got kicked out of Paris for good. :) I suggest that if you are extremely poor and do not care about coming back to France, this is a good way to get a free one-way ticket out of France forever, that is something to consider.

After spending hours walking around, sitting, people watching, snapping pictures, and the like, we finally made it to the Eiffel Tower! I may or may have not taken 100 or so pictures of the Eiffel Tower heh.

When we got to the center of the tower, there was this ginormous queue (British slang for line) of people waiting to get tickets and then another queue to get onto the elevators. Seriously, it was worse than Disney World, I really should have taken a picture of this queue. Since it was THE EIFFEL TOWER, we stood in line. I also wondered if some people waited in line to fulfill their juvenile desire to spit off the top and hit the unfortunate fellow 1000 feet below them...hmm. We got there (in queue) a little bit past 6:20 pm and we finally got to the 2nd platform and then waited in line for another 45 minutes (there are two elevators, one to the 2nd platform and then another to the top which is called the Sommet). By the time we got to the top, the sun was setting!

The tower is the tallest structure in the French Capital and at more than 1000 feet high, you get the best view of Paris. I don't know if you can tell, but it was really windy at the top, but the sunset was beautiful and I enjoyed looking down on the city of Paris and watching the lights come on.

French traffic did not look like fun, it resembled LA..ugh! However, there was a football match going on and I got a great bird's eye view of it! I felt like God, watching down on little ants run around this tiny white dot on the green rectangle :)

Oh, I was on the Eiffel Tower just as the lights came on and it was FABULOUS! Starting at 9 pm and every hour until closing (12ish), there is a light show that goes continuously for 5 minutes. It is magical and my absolute favorite part of the Eiffel Tower, hands down!

We got home around 12:30 from our incredibly tourist day. I passed out so hard that I didn't even change into my pajamas...yeah, that tired! Remember the free city tours I raved about in Berlin and Edinburgh? Believe it or not, Paris also had one! The exact same company with the same protocol, but different people. This time my tour guide was from Pennsylvania...random I know. He was fresh out of college and chose Paris because he knew French and really liked it when he did a brief study abroad trip in college.

Our first stop was at St. Michael's Fountain, a huge, beautiful fountain with two guys fighting. The angel is St. Michael and he is dominating over some loser haha. It is located in the Latin Quarter. When I was looking over the information and saw the name, Latin Quarter, I assumed it was an area heavily influenced by Spanish culture...don't look at me like that! I made my connection because of Latin's called LATIN America for a reason. Well, apparently it is called the Latin Quarter because there's a university in the area, a prestigious one mind you, called Sorbonne University. All the students function just as any typical college students would, they text, meet up, drink, hang out and the like. However, they all do it in the language of Latin, a dying language. Supposedly, the menus, signs, conversations, really, everything is in Latin. Go figure!

On the way to our next historical sight, we went through this street, I would call it a close, like the ones in Edinburgh, and it was really cool. There were all kinds of shops and food restaurants and yes, crepe stands (I almost stopped to buy one and would have lost the tour) all lined up.

Our next stop was the Notre Dame! Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame played through my head. Interestingly, Notre Dame means "Our Lady" in French and it has been one of the national symbols of France for years. It was built in the 6th century and its Gothic architecture is why this cathedral is famous. Along the sides are gargoyles who protect the church 24/7, 365 days...quite the job if you ask me. Random fact: The Notre Dame is the exact place where Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself (yes, himself) emperor. What happened was Napoleon was kneeling and the pope was going on and on with prayers and who knows what else and I guess Napoleon didn't have much patience and grabbed the crown and said "Not even God's representative can make me emperor" and then just put the crown on his head....whoo cocky guy.

Below is a picture of Prefecture de Police, or in English, the Police Headquarters. Control of the headquarters has gone through several hands. It was once the actual police headquarters of Paris' finest police officers and detectives (I don't think this is where Inspector Jacques Clouseau worked haha). Then Hitler took over and turned it into a Nazi control office. Then, (I think) some royal family members lived here at some point, temporarily. And then the people took over and this is where the French Revolution basically took place. It was the royal family (reign of terror) was kept prisoner, Marie Antoinette was kept here. Pretty wild eh? She was beheaded in the plaza where those Devil Wears Prada fountains are and the Oblisk is.

Fascinatingly, this building is the only building that bears the scar of WWII. If you look closely on the front part of the building, you can see bullet holes. It is on the left side of the wall with a single window (sorry my picture doesn't really show them). Below is what the tour guide called the original facebook. It is one of Paris' famous bridges, called Pont-Neuf.It was one of King James I's biggest projects. King James I was known for his love to party. He hosted a ton of them and loved watching people get drunk. Once it was completed, Persians had a huge party on it and many people got completely drunk and fell into the River Seine. This particular king was really a funny guy. One day, he asked an artist to draw all of the faces of his council and court members (I can't remember how many there were, but there were a ton). The artist drew them all and King James loved them. The pictures were hilarious, so hilarious he wanted them to be on his bridge. So, ideally, he tagged all of his friends and their faces are up on display for all to see ;)

As you can see, the faces on the bridge are not as flattering as most people would like theirs to be. Imagine having your face carved into stone and on display forever...thank goodness for that detag button facebook has!

Next, Tyler (tour guide)took us to another famous Persian bridge called des Arts. It is Paris' only 100% pedestrian bridge and its first iron bridge. Tyler explained that many young people tend to go out to Des Arts and hang out, drink wine, eat bagettes and cheese. It is one of the most social places to go to while in Paris. This bridge is also known for its romantic attributes. As Tyler said (remember, his words, not mine), if you are incredibly serious with your boy/girlfriend, this is the place to declare your love. Young lovers bring locks with them to the bridge and declare how much they love each other and place their lock on the bridge, hence locks of love, and throw the key into the Seine river. There were locks of all shapes and sizes, some had names on them, others had ribbons and some even had combos on them (in case you weren't too sure how real your love was haha!).

Tyler took us everywhere, to places I had already seen the day before. So, I am going to spare the boring details and skip to the end! We ended our tour at the Champs-Elysees Avenue, the most prestigious and broadest avenue in Paris. Its full name is actually "Avenue des Champs-Elysees" and it refers to the Elysian Fields, which is the palce of the blessed in Greek Mythology.

With its cinemas, cafes, and luxury specialty shops, the Champs-Elysees is one of the most famous streets in the wolrd and is very popular with the rich and famous, who travel here just for a day of shopping. The avenue is 2 kilometers long, filled with all of these glamourous shops I could never walk in and then come out with bags!

My absolute favorite part of Paris was this spot right here. The sky was so blue, the trees were so richly green and there was a crepe stand not too far off. Life was gooooood until two of my friends wanted to move on (sighs). I spent the rest of the weekend with two friends, Abby and Tyler, who are from University of New Hampshire. It really was a ton of fun walking around Paris with these two, especially when we got a little lost. Abby is really entertaining when she freaks out :)

(Above) I think this was crepe #5 for me? I can never get enough of that Nutella! Nutella is a European delicy that is some kind of chocolate and hazelnut spread, so good! (Below) The Arc de Triomphe was super crowded, so we didn't get the chance to go there and see the tombs and climb up to the top. I suppose I'll have to return one day.

We all decided we HAD to see the famous white domed Basilica of the Sacr Coeur, which was built in 1876. Interestingly, the place was packed with street performers. It appeared to be more of marketpalce or a gathering place to hang out and watch unique talents rather than a place to worship. There was this guy who amazed me, he stood on a pillar and juggled a soccer ball. It put my soccer juggling skills to shame because this guy could pick up the ball with his foot and shin and then do a handstand without dropping the ball.

Sacr Coeur is in Montmartre, the playground of Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Pablo Piscasso and Vincent Van Gogh. Montmartre is also the place where Moulin Rouge is...yes Moulin Rouge is a real place and believe it or not, it is in Pigalle, a place where there is sex shop after sex shop. It really baffled me just how much there was. I may or may have not blushed a couple of times...

Moulin Rouge is French for Red Mill or windmill. It is a traditional cabaret that was built in 1889 by Joseph Oller, who already owned the Paris Olympic. Moulin Rouge has become the most famous cabaret in the world since it was built. The place is internationally famous as the home of the traditional French Can-Can, which is still performed to this day. Whilst the dance of the can-can had existed for many years as a respectable, working-class party dance, it was in the early days of the Mouline Rouge, when courtesans first adapted the dance to entertain the male clientele. It is quite expensive to go see a performance, about 80 Euros!

After snapping photos and replaying Moulin Rouge songs in our heads, we headed over to the Eiffel Tower to achieve the greatest tourist pictures. We spent the rest of the day there, taking pictures, laughing at our stupidity and eating bread.

All the touristy pictures, you know, the leaning ones and the touching the very tip and etcetra, are much harder than it looks. It took us a really long time to just Tyler's leaning picture to work. I figured, it's been awhile since I've posted my trademark pose, the jumping picture. Thought you'd like to see the one I have from Paris, right in front of the Effiel Tower, naturally.

The ONLY picture of the three of us together! Imagine that. It actually is really hard to get pictures taken by some stranger because they could run off with your camera and that would be extremely tragic. Paris at sundown is really beautiful, although I did prefer the georgeous blue sky since it is rarely blue in London.

Tyler hadn't gone up the tower yet, so the three of us climbed 1,021 steps up to the 2nd platform (you can only get to the 2nd platform, which is not the top, by stair). Even though I had just been up to the top the night before, the view was still beautiful and I enjoyed every minute of it. The Effiel Tower was definitely one of my favorite things about Paris. There's just something about it. I was able to capture the brilliance of the sparkling show! I even have a video of it...a bit much? Perhaps. At least I have something to watch when I'm bored haha!

We got to watch the magical sparkling show three times in three different perspectives: once out on the field, once on the Eiffel Tower and lastly on the Metro. The next day was incredibly lazy, we shopped around for some souviners and then sat in the green chairs for 2 hours, just looking up at the blue sky.
Sheryl Crow's Soak up the Sun best describes this moment:

I'm gonna soak up the sun /while it's still free/I'm gonna soak up the sun/Before it goes out on me/Don't have no master suite/I'm still the king of me/You have a fancy ride, but baby/I'm the one who has the key/Every time I turn around/I'm looking up, you're looking down...da da da. I am happy to report that I got some color to help with the hideous British tan I have accquired. Pale is NOT my color!

This chair is reserved for my return to Paris (see my name written all over it? no? That's okay because I used invisible ink), I plan on spending hours soaking up the sun and consuming ridiculous amounts of crepes. Until then, Au revoir!

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