Monday, July 6, 2009

Paris - 07.02-05.09

So this is our honeymoon. Since I was not working and Jennifer was about to start work and had time off. This was an ideal time to take a multi-week vacation. Since we didn't have much time to plan, we made a hasty plan to go to France and visit a few regions. We were intending on doing mostly the tourist stuff, and packed accordingly. I'll be posting the phases of the trip separately as I have over 1300 pictures to go through, and it will take a while to do all the typing. (French keyboards made even applying for jobs while in France difficult, let alone writing a blog.)

The idea was to sleep on the plane on the way to Paris. I think we were both too excited about the trip, and me too in love with the view out the window to get any sleep. (Sights early on consisted of a nice fly over Glacier Peak and later pack ice on Hudson Bay.) We had a short transfer in Amsterdam, and were in Paris by late morning. Since Northwest Airlines (and Air France) fed us well, we hit the ground running. After taking the metro to our hotel, we walked around the neighborhood a bit. We mostly viewed the Eiffel Tower and then our exhaustion hit us. We headed back to the hotel for a nap, and then took off to walk the neighborhood again before finally finding a location for dinner. We had a nice formule meal (Prix Fixe in the US) at a Creperie near the hotel. It was four courses (aperitif, salad, main, dessert) with delightful crepes and decent prices. We hit the hotel for sleep after that.

The second day started with the Louvre. We got there when it opened and purchased a museum pass to use there and at other locations in the city (and including Versailles.) The museum is overwhelming. Lots of great art and artifacts housed in a equally captivating building. We saw the two main attractions (Mona Lisa, and Venus de Milo.) We spent 3+ hours wandering around before we were Louvred out. Since the admission to the Louvre is re-entry, I'd recommend doing the museum in two blocks of time at different parts of the day. We had the first of our many bread and cheese lunches at the museum cafe and headed out.

We visited the Notre Dame Cathedral after the Louvre, and decided the line was too long to attempt to go to the top. We toured the inside and enjoyed the architecture before visiting the Jewish Deportation Monument. This was a very interesting small 'museum' behind the cathedral and was moving. The artist did a fine job.

Afterward, we wandered over to the Pompidou Centre for some modern art. This pretty much exhausted us and finished us on museums for the day. There was some great exhibits there, and the building was fun as well. The curator did fine work linking associated artists and art influences etc. After our time at the Pompidou, we hit the square next to it for some dinner and later had a light snack in a nearby neighborhood before retiring to the hotel.

The next day we started early with a visit to Versailles. Due to track maintenance that was not posted, we took very long to get there. (Our goal was to be there by the 9am opening, but wound up getting there later.) There were huge crowds of tourists being dropped off by the busload. We were able to get inside quickly with our museum passes and toured the building. While the palace is a nice example of the architecture, it gets redundant after seeing gilded room after gilded room. But it was an enjoyable time. The gardens are supposedly where it is at, but since it was Saturday and the fountains were on, this cost extra (8 Euros?) and we opted not to go for a stroll. We returned to Paris to hit the Picasso museum and the Arc de Triomphe to round out our museum passes. The Picasso museum was nice, if a little out of the way. (Although the neighborhood has some good Jewish eats if you are not visiting it on Saturday.)

The Arc was actually more enjoyable than expected with great views from the top. Since we were there on the Fourth of July, there was some type of ceremony going on. There were plenty of retired French troops, and a few American WWII vets. We must have missed the ceremony, but they were walking around afterwards and there appeared to be some wreaths laid. (The arc is also home to France's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.) After our climb up the stairs in the arc, we walked down the Champs-Elysees. This is similar to walking 42nd street in NYC or the Times Square area in general. There are tons of tourists, and lots of shops. Some shops were high end, while others, quite touristy. A unique addition is the car dealerships. Mercedes, Renault and Peugeot were represented and the dealerships are more like museums and boutiques than dealerships. Some even had sit down Formula One car simulators to try for free. After that we headed back to our neighborhood for dinner.

We ate at a place recommended by Rick Steves which was enjoyable. Then we headed to the Eiffel Tower to go to the top. As we got to the tower, we watched a free concert nearby where there was Middle Eastern music, and Whirling Dervishes doing their thing. (This concert lasted from the time we arrived, to at least the top of the tower, if not later.) After watching the concert a bit, we made our way to the tower. We decided due to finances and wait time that we would take the stairs to the second level. (You can only take an elevator to the top, but have the option of stairs or elevator to the second level.) We hiked up to the first level and did a lap before continuing up to the second. The stairs are actually numbered every 10th step so you don't have to count them. Although the official stats say there are 700 stairs, the last stair labeled before the second level was around 670 or so. Anyway, a decent workout that I wouldn't have wanted to do with the sun high in the sky. We bought our tickets and got in line for the top elevator. The view was great looking down on the sights of Paris at night. We then got off the tower and headed back to the hotel for sleep.

After yet another (buffet, all you can eat) breakfast at our hotel, we spent our last day in Paris on this leg starting with a trek across town on the metro. We were heading to the highest point in Paris, Montmartre, where the Sacre Coeur Cathedral is. The cathedral is stunning white because it is made with travertine. It is located on the highest point and has a pretty good view. We hung out a bit and explored a few old windmills in the area. (The Moulin Rouge is down the hill from the cathedral as well.) We then made our way across town to the catacombs.

The catacombs are the result of Paris development and needing to use space occupied on the surface by cemeteries. In the late 18th century the city started putting the remains from surface cemeteries in old limestone mines under the city. This became the catacombs. After yet another bread and cheese (or was it bread and butter?) lunch we got on the line to enter. It was long, and we feared we might not make the cutoff of 4pm when they let the last people in. We made it to the head of the line with plenty of time to spare and started our journey. This consists of going down what seems like an endless spiral staircase before getting into the tunnels. The tunnels start as standard mine tunnels with a wet rocky floor and walls. At some point you reach the doorway to the burials. Beyond this point most of the walls are femurs and skulls. You occasionally see other bones like ribs and spine, but mostly femurs and skulls arranged in an orderly and artistic manner. At one point there is a chapel and it is wet and dark. After about 45 minutes of wandering, you get to another set of endless stairs that take you to the street.

After the catacombs, we headed back to our neighborhood and got dinner. We walked around a bit before going to the hotel to pack for our train ride the next day.

Overall, Paris was good. I think the museums are great, but it is pretty intense to try and do them on consecutive days (which is required with the museum pass.) The city itself seems similar to Manhattan, although the metro is cleaner than the subway. The weather while we were there also gave it a Manhattan feel. Hot and humid. Spending enough time outside, or in the metro left you with a film that wouldn't come off without a shower.

The dining was good, but not spectacular. According to Rick Steves, Paris does not have its own cuisine, and borrows from all other French Regions. This may be true, and may be why the food did not bowl us over. We enjoyed eating, but it was expensive and not "out of this world."

All the walking we did made my feet feel the way they did after hiking out of the Enchantments in June, and we were both feeling weary because of it.

Paris pics are here.

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