Wave #3

Trip Start Jun 13, 2008
Trip End Jul 04, 2008

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Where I stayed

Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Monday, June 16, 2008

When we arrived in France, we were a bit disappointed. It's not so much that Paris sucks, it's just that we were spoiled and more comfortable in Madrid. Chalk it up to Madrid being my city, I think. Whereas in Madrid we felt like we could go anywhere without ever feeling lost, in Paris we were guests that needed to be shuttled around.  And it's not like we were first-time guests and the city was welcome and ready to receive us, we were return guests and we were expected to have a little independence. The thing is that in Paris, I never felt like the French acted horribly toward us. In fact, I found everyone to be very hospitable. It's just that in order to get what you want, you had to ask for it yourself.

When we arrived in Paris, we were just spoiled from Madrid and we had just had the happy reunion and Paris paled in comparison. But we were also dreading the big day that we had planned ahead of us. Basically we were going to Louvre, Notre Dame, St. Chapelle, and Montmartre. The Suarez of Palatine had just arrived that morning and were pretty tired, so we just met them at the hotel and we planned for the next day.  So the next morning we had our breakfast very early and then we headed off to the Louvre. We had to make it by 10 am for the English guided tour. I have actually been through the Louvre and have seen everything I wanted there, so instead of going on the tour (which was not something I had looked forward to) I decided that I should go off on my own and get the phone situation settled. I left the Louvre and made my way toward Opera. I was all dressed up and actually matched the people on the street with their business suits. I managed to go to a mobile phone office and asked about getting a new SIM card. I tried to speak in French at first, but that failed and he asked me to just speak in English. He understood. I had to still wait in line for another half hour though. When I got to the front, we tried the SIM but it didn't work and it cost 30 euros, so instead the lady told me to buy a new phone for 40 euros instead. I just went for it. So now I have a French mobile. I'd be able to send SMS to my Spaniards and my friend in Italy and people in France as well. Plus anyone could call me at any time. Definitely worth it. I liked the part about always having a mobile phone so that I could look like a local instead of a tourist.

I went back to the Louvre to meet the party and then afterward we headed to Notre Dame. On our way we kept stopping at the street vendors and we didn't know which bridge to cross. I figured we should cross Pont Neuf. It wasn't necessarily that it was the most convenient, but it was the most significant. So to get us to cross that way specifically, I used my umbrella as a guide and pointed the direction we were to go. Onward, hut. We actually first encountered St. Chapelle, but after seeing the long queue, we headed off to Notre Dame. We took our pictures from the exterior. Being from a family of photographers, we knew that it would take an extra ten minutes to actually move onto the next phase. We finally went in and by then all the rain had passed, so it was nice and sunny when we left. It was a perfect time then to hit a cafe. The ice cream sundaes there though were about 10 euros and were only three tiny scoops. Everything was expensive and the euro was very strong. So I had some tea and that was it.

We went off to St. Chapelle and the queue was short. Perfect. While in line, we called Linda, who is Bryan's (brother-in-law) cousin. It was nice to have a mobile. Especially when there were people to meet. At St. Chapelle, we actually got lost and then headed off into the judicial court area. We actually saw a judge pass by. Good to know where we would have to go in case we were being charged with a felony. Inside was amazing, the stained glass was classy. And Winona is actually the capital of stained glass. I have to admit that the sheer number of panels was amazing in St. Chapelle, but I'm not so sure that it could beat the quality of some of the stained glass in Winona.

Afterward, we decided to head off to Montmartre and have a fine dinner on the hill. To get to Montmartre was an interesting story.  We hopped on the metro at about 5 pm and found a route to get to Montmartre that only had two transfers.  However, the train was packed.  Every single train that passed by did not have room for a party of eight.  We knew at that point that we might need to split up into different cars of a train.  There was even the possibility of taking different trains and meeting up at the next station.  So we had to ensure everyone knew the name: Barbes Rochechouart.  After letting about three trains pass, we made the decision to all just pack in and hope that we made it. The problem was that, while my cousins and I were experts at public transport and "the el", my mom and aunt were novices at the metro. So for my aunt to be on the train with all those people was a tough task for her. I swear her knuckles were purple from clutching her handbag so tightly on the metro. I made sure to watch over her and I told her "Don't worry, Auntie, the metro monsters won't get you, they're only figments of your imagination." Eventually the car started to clear up and I saw the fingers loosen up, but I could easily see that the blood pressure was still high. But then we saw Barbes Rochecouart and we all ran for the door. We saw that we were all there anyway on the platform. We survived.

Montmartre has a different vibe. It actually was a great place to just chill and be there after a long tiring day. We had been walking, and to just sit on the steps and take in the scenery was key. Locals, young tourists, musicians, and vendors all in one beautiful vantage point. When we were exiting Sacre Couer cathedral, some very strong men were quickly approaching our direction and had a look of intent in their eyes. They told my mom and I pass through and stopped this girl right behind us and started yelling at her. The girl's mother started slapping the men's grip on the girl's arm and told them to get away. I'm not exactly sure what had happened, but it wasn't us, and it is a place of worship, so I didn't feel like it was a crime scene, but the adrenaline sure made it feel like it. My best guess is that the girl was taking flash photography in the church and those were the guards.

For dinner, Rick Steves found us a nice little restaurant away from the crowds on the square. We all thoroughly enjoyed our meals. With the trio of tartare, the duck, gruyere fondue and escargot with some local white wine, there was no complaint to be had. With French meals, you really have to enjoy the various tastes and be able to savor the strong flavors. It's not much about the quantity of food there. The food has so much essence that you can't eat too much. And you have to let the flavors compliment each other. You feel full from eating but you know you barely ate much.
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