Trip Start Nov 06, 2012
Trip End Dec 21, 2012

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Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Monday, November 19, 2012

Day 11 - Saturday 17 November

We got up excitedly this morning, as keen rail travelers we were taking the Thalys high speed train from Brussels to Paris. Leaving our hotel in the dark, getting from Brussels Central to Brussels Midi was much easier this (second) time around and we arrived with plenty of time before our departure.

After devouring a croissant we waited on the platform for our train to arrive. As we took our allocated seat we realised we would be traveling backwards, which is usually not acceptable for Lauren except in extreme circumstances! However this turned out not to be a problem as the journey was just as smooth at the Eurostar, and we fell asleep and arrived at Paris Gare Du Nord (North Station) in no time. It only took just over an hour to travel around 250km.

After getting our bearings at the train station and taking good care not to be pick pocketed, we walked less than one km to our hotel which was in the 9th arrondissement. Our room wasn't ready so after a quick use of the free wifi we set off to find Sacre Coeur (a huge Cathedral at the highest point of the city) via the pharmacy for some cold and flu tablets for Lauren. It was a 15 minute walk up the hill to this beautiful cathedral. Unfortunately the skies were grey and the cloud was low so there wasn't a great view ofme building or over Paris. We had a look inside and marveled at the structure and interior decoration. We couldn't take photos inside which was a shame, despite watching many other tourists ignore the rules, we stuck to them... we were in a church after all!

Next we wandered down to Montmartre, an area of Paris historically home to many artists. A french patisserie caught our eye, and we had a hankering for a baguette. The language barrier proved a little difficult so we ended up with one baguette and two croissants - not a bad result for the hungry! Thank goodness we did get them as they were the best croissants we have ever tasted! So light, so flaky, they just melt when you bite into them. The whole lot only cost €3.

After finding the Moulin Rouge and vowing to come back for a better photo at night, we headed down to the Galleries Lafayette which is near our hotel. It's a huge shopping centre, not that we went for the shops. In the centre is an impressive dome structure with colored glass skylight. We got a few photos before getting out of there pronto! It was very busy with Parisian Saturday shoppers

We continued walking south through Paris towards the Louvre and River Seine past the Opera house. By this stage our feet had quite a workout! We had probably walked around 7km, and the pavement wasn't getting softer or less cobbled! There was a lovely park leading up to the Louvre so we took the opportunity to rest our legs on some seats scattered around a pond in front of a large ferris wheel, which is at the Louvre end of Champs Élysées. As we walked towards to Louvre it became apparent what an impressive and huge set of buildings it was (including all around the modern glass pyramid). We are planning to discover what's inside the Louvre Museum tomorrow.

Tired and weary, we headed back to the hotel to check into our room. It was small room, but by Paris standards it was probably ok. It's part of the Ibis chain so it was clean and included free wifi and breakfast which is always a bonus. Soon it was time for dinner so we browsed the local street area. We didn't approach the French food though - it seemed a bit too different. Pizza was good enough for our first night. We had been practicing during the day using French essential words such as Bonjour, Bonsair, and Merci, but thankfully nearly everyone we encountered had realized we were foreign and were able to switch to English after our basic French greeting, which was nice of them. We hit the hay pretty early, exhausted but ready to tackle our second day in Paris.

Day 12 - Sunday 18 November

When the alarm went off at 7.30am we knew it was a bit ambitious and snoozed until 8. After getting ready we went down to the breakfast room for a lovely French breakfast. There were croissants, an assortment of breads, cheese, ham, spreads, nutella, cereal and yoghurts. We both had a bit of everything. It was a good breakfast which would fuel us for our big day of museums visits due to he weather.

It was a bit rainy so I think the rest of Paris had the same idea about going to museums. The Louvre was very busy, even at 9.30 in the morning. After buying our tickets we rushed the halls of antiquities to see the Mona Lisa before it got too busy. Ash got a prime position and was able to get some photos. The painting is much smaller than you would expect but still impressive to see it in person.

We then made our way out of the paintings and towards the Italian sculptures, and also the ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptian artifacts, which intersted us the most. These were very impressive as many of them dated from before Christ. It's amazing to think these items have been preserved for thousands of years. Some of their interesting sculptures we saw was the Venus de Milo, ancient Greek statue created approximately 130BC, discovered in ancient ruins on the island of Milos in 1820. Another Greek statue, the Victory of Samethrace (build 200 BC) stood on the stairway up into one of the Lovre wings. This was an impressive exhibit.

After over an hour at the museum looking at artifacts, we got frustrated not being able to understand the French explanations that we went and got some multi lingual audio guides. They helped us through the rest of the exhibits. More than three hours passed and it felt like we hardly put a dent in the exhibits but it was time to go to the Hotel des Invalides, specifically the Musee de L'Armee (museum of the French Army). Napoleon's tomb is a major feature of this museum.

Hotel des Invalides was a huge building complex built in 1679 as a hospital and place to care for sick or injured French soldiers. Since then, it has become a museum and place for monuments to the awesome military machine the French Army has been over the centuries. The museum of the French Army was amazing, their history of warfare throughout Europe is huge and the exhibits there in the museum range from medieval time to the 20th century. We were particular interested in the Napoleonic era, so we toured a wing of the museum dedicated to this time in French history, which was fantastic. A memorable exhibit was the chest armor of a cavalry man which had been pierced by a cannon ball, showing the entry and exit damage of the cannon ball to the armor. Later on the grounds of Hotel des Invalides we visited Napoleon's tomb, which is inside one of the most grand buildings in Paris that can easily identified from high points in Paris.

Later that evening we found the local laundromat to do some much needed washing. Unfortunately all the instructions were in french but we fumbled our way through it thanks to this mysterious voice that came from behind a wall and scared the living daylights out of us. The voice appeared later. It was a Zimbabwe guy called Kanu. He calls himself the haircut cowboy from LA. He commented how he could get so much more volume in Lauren's hair and would she like a haircut. Put on the spot, but desperately needing one, we said yes, for €20. It was the craziest decision ever. He yanked bits of hair, twisted it, and cut it with his scissors with a different way that most hairdressers wouldn't do! It tuned out ok, but we're sure the hairdresser in Brisbane will be shocked at the next visit! It's an experience to tell though! Google him. He's got quite a story.

Day 13 - Monday 19 November

It's our last day in Paris. After another fulfilling breakfast we caught the metro to the Arc de Triumph. We thought we had mastered the metro the day before but for some reason Lauren got completely stuck in the turnstiles coming out at the Arc. There was a very angry French woman yelling who knows what, wanting to pass through behind Lauren. Eventually the doors released Lauren quickly jumped through the gate and we escaped to the Arc above.

Coming out of the subway you realise what an impressive structure it is. It towers above anything in the area. Ash took plenty of photos before we walked through the tunnel to get to the base of the Arc. We took advantage of being under 26 and got a discount to go up the top. It was well worth the €6. The 360 degree view was great, despite the low cloud. You couldn't see the top of the Eiffel Tower through the cloud, which was worrying because we planned to go to the top after our visit to the Arc.

Next we walked towards the Eiffel Tower. As we were walking the clouds began to break and some sun shone through, perfect timing for our visit to the tower. The line up was huge and we debated for a while whether to even go up it. Maybe we should just walk the stairs to the second level, we thought. But no, we lined up to do the whole hog. We thought we might regret it later if we didn't go. After waiting for 35 minutes we got to the front of the queue to buy tickets and found out that the top observation deck wasn't even open! We could only go to the second level! Oh well. The tickets were much cheaper and we did it anyway. It was worth it. The view was lovely. We could see all the icons that we had visited over the past couple of days and got some lovely shots.

The last stop of the day was Notre Dam. We took the metro there and grabbed some lunch along the way. Our visit was short as the day was already mostly over and we were very tired. It has lovely architecture but we appreciated Sacre Coeur a bit more.

At this time we looked at our watches and realised it was 5pm. The sun was almost gone.... A perfect opportunity to go back to the Louvre for some night shots. The lights in the pyramid turned on and it looked spectacular with the contrasting old buildings of the Louvre in the background. We spent about an hour here as we practiced night shots, and we are glad we came past as we got some nice pictures.

Weary and sore, we caught the metro back to our hotel and grabbed some tomato, basil and cheese baguettes and macarons on the way and had a quiet evening in at our hotel. We have to be up at 4.20am for our flight to Rome in the morning. Bonsair, au revoir Paris!

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