Having just spent the better part of 4 hours going through the photos I took on my travels, I am now taking on the daunting task of blogging about said travels. I have no idea how long this is going to be. I’d like to go into as much detail as I do in my other posts, but that would A) take forever and B) I don’t have everything fresh in my mind. I was in Paris two weeks ago! So we’ll see where this goes.
I was in Paris from Mar 28th-31st. I took the Eurostar there from London. That was fun, once I actually got on the train. They have airport style security and it was taking forever to get through. Despite being there an hour ahead of time, I got on the train 10mins after it was supposed to leave. Those were a very stressful 10mins for myself as well as everyone else trying to get on the train. Once we passed the Chunnel, the train got up to 300km/hr. I would look out the window and think “I’m in France now, but I can’t see it because it’s just whizzing by.”
While I was in Paris, I stayed at an AirBnB place (for those who don’t know, AirBnB is a website where people like you and me post places that people can stay, ranging from an air mattress on the floor to private castles with 40 acres of land). This place was a bedroom in a flat in central Paris. The location was great and it was a lot cheaper than staying at a hotel or even a hostel would’ve been. I also loved the style of the flat. There were exposed beams everywhere that contrasted with the white walls and black accent pieces.
After I had settled in, I had the evening looming in front of me so I headed out to the Eiffel Tower. I had read online that night time was the best time to go up because you could see the tower light up as well as the city. I decided to walk since I had been sitting on a train for a long time, and it would be nice to explore a bit of the city. I walked along the river and saw a lot of buildings that I wouldn’t learn about until the next day. By the time I got to the Eiffel Tower it had started raining and the top was closed because of the intense winds so I didn’t go up. I meandered my way through the streets of Paris and eventually made my way back to the flat. I ate a late dinner at a little restaurant just down the street of the flat. It was a fish “casserolette’. Not quite a casserole, but a baked dish with fish and veggies. It was delicious.
The next day started off with a Fat Tire Bike Tour around the city. It took us all around the city center and lasted for 2.5hrs. We would ride to a location then stop, and the guide would talk to us about what was around us. I really enjoyed learning about the city and its history. The guide was also hilarious, which made it even more enjoyable. And the biking was hardly strenuous, as Paris is completely flat except for one hill, which we didn’t go close to and I’ll talk about later. I learned about a lot of the buildings I had seen while walking around the night before. I didn’t take a lot of pictures while on the tour, because I was otherwise occupied biking.
Now, let me explain a thing to you. Paris is a planned city, designed by Georges-Eugene “the Destroyer” Haussmann (because he destroyed 60% of the city in order to implement his new designs). He’s the one responsible for the 7 story buildings everywhere. The Arc de Triomphe, the Luxor Obelisk and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in front of the Louvre create a perfect line (look at a map if you don’t believe me). If there weren’t other buildings in the way, you would be able to look through one arc, see the obelisk, and the other arc, all lined up. At the end of this line is the Louvre, and the (in)famous glass pyramid. And one would think (and hope and pray) that the pyramid continues this perfect line. But it doesn’t. The pyramid is 8m to the left, because the Louvre is in fact not perfectly in line either. A statue was put in front of the pyramid off to the side to complete the line, but if you look at the Louvre through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, it’s just all wrong.
This is from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Just in front of the ferris wheel is the Luxor Obelisk, and just behind the ferris wheel, 8m to the left, is the glass pyramid (the ferris wheel blocks the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel). The big building behind the ferris wheel is, of course, the Louvre.
After the bike tour, I went to the Musee D’Orsay. I felt slightly rushed because it (along with seemingly everything else in Paris) closes at 5pm. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed it and I saw some works that I recognized. I was especially excited to see some of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series, which I had learned about in art class. Also, I love models and take a picture every time I see one.
My next stop was the Arc de Triomphe (which thankfully does not close at 5pm). I was able to go up for free because I’m an EU student, which was a big plus. The 300+ spiral staircase stairs (I know because there was a child behind me counting) were dizzying. Unfortunately it was foggy and starting to drizzle, so the pictures aren’t great, but I loved seeing Paris from high up (which I would go on to do a number of times). Especially at the Arc, since it’s the center of a frankly massive roundabout. I don’t understand how people drive on that thing. Just before I went up, there was a ceremony which I believe was the tending to the eternal flame at the base of the Arc. There were military personnel and important people in suits. The military marching band (if that’s what it’s called) was there too. What I found funny though was at the end, all these men and women with machine guns all done up in proper uniform piling onto a coach bus like school children to go home.
I had some extra time in the evening, so I decided to make my way to the other side of the city to Centre Pompidou only to be reminded that it was closed on Tuesdays. So I just walked around and gradually made my way back to the flat.
My third day involved Notre Dame Cathedral, the Pantheon, Luxembourg Gardens, Sacré-Cœur Basilica, and Centre Pompidou. Notre Dame was amazing, but I couldn’t take a lot of pictures because the “dramatic lighting” they had going on wasn’t doing anything for the camera. I really enjoyed learning about the history though. They had a little display that tracked the progress of the building all the way back from the 1200s when it was a small collection of buildings.
The Pantheon equally amazing, but perhaps for different reasons. The domes on these places are so intense. You were allowed to go into the crypts underneath. The walls are so thick. There are a number of famous people buried down there, most notably Marie Curie and her husband. I enjoyed a sandwich on a baguette in Luxembourg Gardens and made my way to Sacré-Cœur Basilica.
You weren’t supposed to take pictures inside Sacré-Cœur, which other people were blatantly ignoring. Although, with someone drilling holes in the stone walls, you wonder if taking a picture is really going to be the thing disturbing those who are praying. Nevertheless, the view from in front of Sacré-Cœur was amazing. It’s at the top of the hill I mentioned earlier. You are literally on top of Paris. There’s a little square nearby which is basically a tourist trap but also with the potential to be pleasant. This one guy wouldn’t stop harassing me about letting him draw my picture. I made the mistake of telling him I was from Canada so as I walked around behind me I could hear “Hey, Canadian! Let me draw your picture!” At one point another guy joined him and said “C’mon, he just wants to draw your picture!” I lost him eventually and took a different route on the way back.
My last stop of the day was heading back to Centre Pompidou, which is basically this massive arts center. There’s a library, a cinema, study space, and a modern art gallery, which is what I was going for. I really didn’t know anything about it going into it, and it was a lot bigger than I was thinking it would be. I saw some work by Jackson Pollock, Picasso, Duchamp (again), and Piet Mondrain. I was starting to tire of seeing so much art though (it pains me to say that). However, when I eventually got into the really modern art, as in the last 25 or so years, that’s when things got interesting. It then becomes entertaining and amusing. And of course, the boundaries of what is art and what isn’t are crossed. They had an exhibit of work by Gerard Fromanger which I really enjoyed. I especially liked his painting ‘Black Still Life’, which is a massive canvas that just lists other artists’ names. I spent 20mins looking at it and finding different names that I recognized.
Then came a debate. Whether to go up the Eiffel Tower or not. I realize this is a bit ridiculous. How can you go to Paris and not go up the Eiffel Tower?! Let me tell you, I was very close to finding out. Let me explain myself.
- I had already been by the Eiffel Tower 3 times during my stay, so going back would be purely for the sake of going to the top.
- The weather wasn’t great: it was foggy and forecast to rain. A similar forecast to the first night I was in Paris, when the top had been closed.
- I had already been up high a number of times since arriving in Paris, and so didn’t need to go up for that reason. As my bike tour guide pointed out, the view from the Eiffel Tower has everything except the one thing people look for in a picture of Paris: the Eiffel Tower. It’s better to go up something else and get a picture with the Eiffel Tower actually in it.
- Going to the top is expensive.
After debating whether I wanted to end my trip to Paris without going up the Eiffel Tower, I decided I would go halfway, to level 2. As I said, it was really foggy and I didn’t expect the views to be great. I was planning on walking up the stairs, which is a lot cheaper than taking the elevator. But by the time I arrived, the pillar with stairs had been closed and there was no option but to take the elevator. At that point I just gave in and said “what the heck, take me to the top.” I don’t regret going to the top, but as expected it was not great weather. As a result, the pictures I took at the top aren’t great and I’m not particularly proud of any of them. Every hour, the tower lights up with lots of little white lights that twinkle. It’s hard to capture the twinlking effect on camera, but it was really cool being on the tower while that happened.
It wasn’t until I saw an advertisement in one of the gift shops on the second level that they sold stamps, that I remembered I needed to get some stamps while I was in Paris. They had special Eiffel Tower stamps, and I thought those would be perfect. So I asked for them at the desk, only to find out that they were all out. Determined, I went to the next gift shop. They also didn’t have any stamps. I moved down to the first level and asked around again. Nobody had these damn stamps. Having given up, I took my last elevator ride to the bottom. There was (yet another) gift shop at the bottom. I was going to pass it by, because if none of the other gift shops had stamps, this one wasn’t likely to either. I decided to ask anyways, because I knew if I didn’t ask I would spend my entire life wondering if that specific gift shop had the stamps. So I go in and ask the guy if he has any of the stamps. And before he has a chance to answer, I see the package hiding in a corner on the desk. Success. He says, “Ah, yes I do! The last one.” Bingo. Score. Hallelujah. I am now the very proud owner of Eiffel Tower stamps 🙂
And to round off the night, I bought myself a Nutella filled crepe.
My last day in Paris was entirely dedicated to the Louvre. After waiting in two very long lines (one for security and one for tickets), I was finally in. However, much to my dismay, the two self-guided tours they had on their website couldn’t be completed because of certain rooms that were closed. So I got back in line to get myself an audio guide. It ended up being worth it, once I figured out how to work the thing. They give you a Nintendo 3DS that has interactive maps, build-your-own-tours, and clips about pieces of art. The build-your-own-tour ended up being very helpful. You could select a list of pieces you wanted to see and it would guide you through the museum on a path that would show you those pieces. I had absolutely no sense of where I was the entire time I was in there. People aren’t joking when they say that place is huge. Unfortunately the upper floor of one wing, which houses a lot of 14th-18th century paintings, was closed. Not that there was a lack of things to see, but that was a section that I had been looking forward to seeing and would’ve recognized a number of them.
And yes, I saw the Mona Lisa. And yes, she’s behind bullet proof glass with a guard rail 4ft out and 3 security guards watching over her. And yes, she is small. Although not as small as I was expecting.
I hope you enjoyed that essay. It was a pain trying to recall everything in order and then write about it and find the corresponding pictures. Don’t expect the next one any time soon.