Friday, November 18, 2011

So, Paris!

Last weekend was Paris. It amazes me right now to think back that merely a week ago, I was in PARIS! (I've never been to France, much less Paris, before. Exciting!) We started off by traveling to London, specifically St. Pancras Station, which is where the EuroStar trains that travel the Chunnel (Channel Tunnel) leave from.

We all got our passports checked and then got on our train, and a few hours later, voila, we were at the station in Paris, the Station de Nord. From there, we walked through the station (imagine this huge herd of American students mostly, with a few adults tagging along, more slow and lost than the students) to the metro station (the Paris subway is called the metro, not the tube or the underground), and got on a subway train for three stops. Then we got off, walked around the corner and up a tiny block, and we were at our hotel for the weekend! We got there at about 6pm. Yep, here's my lovely hotel room. Look at the size of that bed!

I was travelling mostly with another faculty member, Singing Woman, who is lots of fun. We get along well. So once we got checked in and dropped our stuff, we wandered around for an hour or so and found a bar/restaurant to have dinner. I had a lovely lasagne, and then we shared a chocolate cake, because, after all, PARIS!!!!!

I should probably mention at this point that Singing Woman and I had bought "Paris Pass" tickets ahead. The idea is that you pay a lump sum and get a four day metro ticket, tickets to lots of museums and tourist stuff, and tickets to a boat ride on the Seine and other activities. You also get to go into the shorter lines for people who already have tickets, which saves a lot of time.

In the morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and then went to the Louvre. THE LOUVRE! We visited the Mona Lisa of course. I know a lot of people say that it's a much smaller, less impressive painting in person, but I thought it was plenty big and totally cool and impressive. We also saw other Renaissance paintings. When I went back to school at a local community, I took an art history series of classes, so it's way cool to see a painting from across a room and think, "hey, that's Malateste!" and it actually is. (He's the subject of a famous portrait.) The Louvre is a lot like the British Museum: you could spend weeks wandering around and never see everything. Unlike the British museum, it's a pretty amazingly beautiful space all by itself.

But we only spent a couple of hours, long enough to see some of the pieces we most wanted to (Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo, and so on), and then we left and walked through the gardens area to the Orangerie. Even the views in the gardens are artistic :)

The Orangerie holds some of the huge sets of Monet water lilly paintings. There are two large oval rooms upstairs of water lilly paintings, with seats so you can just sit and be overwhelmed and amazed by the paintings. And then downstairs there are selections of other modernist European works, including some really lovely Picassos. But they frown on plebians such as myself taking pictures in there, so I didn't.

We went back out to the garden then (the Tuileries) and found a cafe for lunch. Food is good!

Then we decided to walk to the boat place on the Seine and take a ride for about an hour. It was a nice day, not too cold, and clear enough to see well, and the cruise was on a big barge thingy, so we got to see stuff along the Seine, including both sides of the two islands that make up the very center of the city. (The one is the Ile de Cite, and the other the Ile de St Louis, which was added later, I think. The Ile de Cite is the medieval heart of the city. I may be backwards about these...) So we saw Notre Dame from the water and the Louvre from the water, the Orsay, and so on. Pretty darned neat!

The boat loads and lets off right near the Eiffel Tower, so that was next on our list. There was a HUGE line to ride up, and a smaller line to walk up the stairs, so we went up the stairs. It's got a lot of stairs. And then you reach the first platform, and realize there are a lot more stairs to reach the second platform. But it's totally worth it! We got there and it was becoming dusk. I rode the final elevator up to the top platform, and could see the city lights in the evening light (the last picture in my previous post is from the top of the Eiffel Tower), and that was about as good as it gets.

When we got down, we got to see the tower all lit up, which they do for about ten minutes every hour in the evening. It's something they supposedly started for the millenium, and was so popular that they continued it. It's pretty darned amazing.

And then it was time to eat, so we found a Japanese restaurant and had sushi. Yum, and something completely different from our usual fare. And then off to bed. (Yes, I missed out on the Paris nightlife.)

The next morning, we were at it again. It was the 11th of November, and so rememberance day. We started by walking to Notre Dame, and when we got there, they were just starting a special service in honor of a bishop from one of the Francophone African countries. The place was PACKED. We sat through the start of the service, and then we decided to split up because Singing Woman wanted to stay for the service, but I wanted to wander around the Cathedral. We agreed to meet up in front at 11 am. So I wandered and saw the different chapels and such, and walked around the outside (and checked out the massive line of people waiting for the tower tours) so that I could see the big flying butresses. And at 11 am, I was in front of the Cathedral.

And that, of course, is when the bell started tolling for rememberance. So that's where I was on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year. And I remembered and thought of some friends of my parents when I was a kid, one of whom was a soldier during WWI, the other a nurse, especially. (I think this is St. Denis, who got his head chopped off and picked it up again, if I recall?)

Then Singing Woman came out and we ran into some students, and headed towards the Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation, which is Paris's holocaust memorial. It's behind Notre Dame in a park. You know how the Vietnam Memorial is, that you walk down into it? Well this is down, like that, but you take stairs down into a square, and it's very somber and grey, and then there's a crypt thing that you walk into, with the names of concentration camps, and a tomb of an unknown victim. It's quiet, and sad.

And that's enough for this post. More to follow, shortly.

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