Je t'adore

Trip Start Aug 14, 2007
Trip End May 23, 2008

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

· Paris, France
· GMT +1:00 hour

Checking in
Right, so it's been a while since the last entry. But that's okay; we've been busy. Busy walking. We've just completed our four days in Paris and as I type we're on the high-speed TGV heading for Dijon, in the east of the country about 300km from Paris. It's been quite a manic few days. So manic the only opportunity I got to get near the laptop was to download pictures of our days sightseeing. So now, as Meg sleeps beside me, I'm entrusted with the responsibility of conveying to any of you who care (we know there are a few of you out there) how we're getting on.

With that said let me summarize our activities since we turned into Parisian tourists proper last Saturday. I say summarize realising more than anyone that once I get going I do have a tendency to ramble. So bear with me. Oh, and don't forget to check out all the pictures from this entry, the best of which are dotted throughout the entry in thumbnail form. We do realise there are quite a few of them but they do, of course, supplement the entry (or at least they aim to). Now, on with the show.

Day 5 - Saturday, August 18th 2007 - Countless footsteps - and sights
We spent the whole day on the streets of Paris, exhaustively walking between one sight and another. Btw, I referred to this in the last entry but yes, central Paris is eminently walk able, but at the same time exhausting. We started at the Arc de Triomphe where we commented on how it looks bigger in person, how busy the traffic that circles it is (Ì read somewhere it's actually the biggest OR busiest traffic junction in the world - not sure which) and how beautiful the day was. From there we walked to one of Paris' typically leafy boulevards to the Eiffel Tower. We commented on how the tower really does look cool up close (Meg liked the chocolate brown colour more than anything). We also commented on how the whole place looked like a mass tourist circus (glow-in-the-dark Eiffel Tower anyone?) and how we'd hold off heading up the tower until night time when it's an altogether more relaxing, less coronary-inducing experience. We then took a stroll along the banks of the Seine, passing the unofficial Princess Diana memorial, to Place de la Concorde, another huge traffic junction in the centre of Paris with tons of space and history: Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette, amongst others, where guillotined here. Then it was onto Tuileries gardens, a formal French garden par excellence, at least in days gone by when it was the favoured hangout of French nobility.... today it's overrun with tourists like us and the same brand of tacky souvenir seller you find at any Paris landmark. Then it was onto the stunning Palais du Louvre, a former royal residence but now the home of the Louvre museum, complete with its signature glass pyramid. Standing there looking at the queues snaking into the main entrance we wondered how early in the morning we'd have to get here to avoid being part of that. As it turns out we didn't have to queue at all (but more on that later). Continuing by the Seine we crossed over into the island in the Seine that is the oldest part of the city, Île de la Cité. Its prime attraction is Notre-Dame Cathedral, where we were lucky to get a free guided tour. Then with fatigue setting in we headed to the nearby Latin Quarter to see The Pantheon, before heading back towards The Louvre via St. Sulpice Church, the same St. Sulpice Church that houses the Rose Line (anyone who read or, God forbid, saw the Di Vinci Code will know what I'm on about). Once we got back to The Louvre we retraced our steps to Place de la Concorde and began strolling up les Champs-Élysées, Paris' most famous avenue. Seen from a distance it's an impressive sight, but close up can be a little disappointing, with its constant stream of traffic and fast-food outlets, airline offices and chain stores. It does have tourist offices; offices that, we noted, sell advance museum tickets. A few minutes later we were on the subway back to the hotel in position of two tickets for The Louvre for the following day. Tickets that for an extra €0.70 above face value, gave us priority access with the guarantee of no queuing. Super. That evening we relaxed on our balcony with a picnic fit for... well, us I guess. Bliss.

Day 6 - Sunday, August 19th 2007 - Countless people - and works of art
Our 'priority access' to the Louvre made us feel very special....sort of like getting a side door into a big concert. It meant we didn't have to queue (which was great) but it didn't count for anything once we got inside the museum itself. We soon felt like nothing more than 2 more ants in an anthill. A busy anthill. Even 40 minutes after the doors opened the place was packed. And it's a big place. It can hold a lot of people (ants). In hindsight what we did, making a beeline straight for the Mona Lisa, was not the best thing to do. Why? Well, because everyone else had the same idea, meaning we could only just about catch a distant, quick and immensely frustrating glance at the museums prized possession before we managed to overcome the paparazzi-style rugby scrum surrounding her and retreat to a quieter part of the museum, that being one of the areas that interested Meg (French & Flemish 16th - 19th century art & Italian sculptures). I'll admit now that I'm not really sure if I was actually looking forward to our day in the Louvre (we were always going to be spending a whole day there). I'm no lover of art. Hey, I'd never even been in an art gallery before. Art is not something I've ever been exposed to, or had reason to be exposed to, and I would only ever look at a so-called masterpiece, be it on the Internet or in print, to figure out why it was deemed such. In saying that however, the day we spent at the Louvre was enjoyable. For me, surprisingly so. To avoid total museum burnout we made sure to take a break halfway through the day for lunch. We left the palace and returned to embrace the crowds and view the Italian and French masterpieces of the Grand Gallery area, the always-busy section of the museum where our day started that houses, amongst others, The Mona Lisa, Madonna on the Rocks, Madonna, Child and St. Anne and The Raft of Medusa (if you recognise any of those beyond The Mona Lisa then you know/knew more about paintings than me). We had assumed that late in the afternoon the crowds would be thinner making viewing the paintings that line the 400 meter long gallery more bearable. We were right. While it was still busy, we were able to peruse the paintings at our pleasure. Good job.

The day ended as frustrating as it started. We tried to get the subway home from the Eiffel Tower having taken a few night time pictures (no, we hadn't yet ventured up). We had no change, the machine wouldn't accept a credit card and there was no option to cash a note (a bill, for you Canadians). So we found ourselves walking back to the hotel, normally an enjoyable one and a half hour walk. But not at one in the morning, not when you've spent the day traipsing around the Louvre and especially not when it's raining. Needless to say we were glad to get to bed that night, even if it was at 2am.

Day 7 - Monday, August 20th 2007 - Two lows - and a high
Day 7, and our 3rd full day in Paris, didn't quite go to plan. We had set aside today for an excursion out of Paris to visit the massively opulent Palace of Versailles, most famously known as the royal retreat of Louis XIV and his wife, Marie-Antoinette. Meg had studied Marie-Antoinette and was keen to see the site. As was I (we'd both recently watched the movie Marie-Antoinette in a sort of preparation for the visit). Construction began in 1664 and lasted virtually until Louis XIV's death in 1715. Second only to God, and the head of an immensely powerful state, Louis XIV was an institution rather than a private individual. His risings and sittings, comings and goings, were minutely regulated and rigidly encased in ceremony, attendance at which was an honour much sought after by courtiers. Versailles was the headquarters of every arm of the state. More than 20,000 people - nobles, administrative staff, merchants, soldiers and servants - lived in the palace in a state of unhygienic squalor, according to contemporary accounts. Not that we could verify all this. You see, most tourist-related sites are closed in France on a Monday and Versailles was no exception. At least we, or I should say Meg, discovered this prior to leaving Paris. So we decided to visit The Catacombs (more on that later) instead and attempt to get to Versailles tomorrow. The only problem was the Catacombs were closed as well. This we did only discover having made our way there, via Montmartre cemetery. Bummer. So we walked back to the hotel, relaxed and passed some time until we deemed it dark enough to pay the Eiffel Tower a visit. This time we did make it up for some nice views of night-time Paris. It was another late night and we got to bed at 1am.

Day 8 - Tuesday, August 21st - Final Day - final chance to get to Versailles
Leaving Paris day. We had a 3pm departure to Dijon and hoped to get to Versailles for at least a few hours before hand. So we rose early again and lugged our bags across the city to the Gare de Lyon where, having put our bags in storage, we were informed by the station information desk that, with a 3pm departure, we wouldn't make it to Versailles and back. After the disappointment of that we decided, again, to go to the Catacombs, a disused 16th century quarry that now houses the skeletal remains of some 6 million Parisians stacked neatly in tunnels 20 meters under ground. A sign outside warns that claustrophobics and people of a nervous disposition might think twice about visiting the site. Eerie but good. See the pictures for more. We then went back to the train station for the train to Dijon.... where you find me typing this.

Checking Out
And so that brings an end tp our time in Paris. It's been an enjoyable but tiring few days and we'll be the first to admit that we're looking forward to the change of pace that Dijon will bring. In Dijon we plan on using our trusty alarm clock to solely tell us the time and not to wake us like it did on a daily basis in Paris. But before we say goodbye to Paris altogether let us present a few observations we've had over the last 4 days. Oh, and we'll remind you one more time that there are quite a few pictures (30 to be precise) attached to this entry and that you should, of course, check them out. We've kept the captions, wherever possible, to a minimum so hopefully it won't be too much of a chore to flick through them.

Day 5 to Day 8 Observations (August 18th to 21st 2007)

· What's with this weather?
We got to wear 'summer clothes' on Saturday (hence most of the pictures attached are from that day) but since then it's been dull, overcast and cold. Isn't it August? And another thing. There are leaves falling from the trees on some of Paris' boulevards. Again, in August?

· What's that smell?
A lot of the subway stations smell of urine. We figure it's because it costs money to relieve oneself. Having commented on the phenomenon or having to pay-to-go when visiting Poland in March 2006, I now realise it must be the continental Europe thing to do; they don't seem to have public toilets, free public toilets, like we do in Ireland and Canada. Better get used to it, I guess.

· White to Red
While we're normally white wine drinkers it seems we've taken to red wine these days. In the absence of a fridge it just seemed the right thing to do. But that's okay; it's nice. Are we totally converted? Not quite, but we're getting there. Oh, and in the absence of a corkscrew we go for the bottle with a twist off lid. See how adaptable we are.

· Timmies needed
We know it's part of Parisian culture but EVERY street corner has a café with patio chairs and waiter/Garçon, service. They all offer the same €3 espresso (the coffee of choice) or €5 latté.

· There are pigeons everywhere
Everywhere, even in the train stations. While I'm not a fan, they generally don't bother me. But Meg shivers when she sees them. She's said on more than one occasion that if they ever touch her she will die.

· Monday closures
We alluded to this in the entry but things close on a Monday. Even in the height of summer. Weird. And remember we commented that Caen, our first stop, was a ghost town when we arrived on August 15th? Well, we since discovered that was a holiday, a holiday that for many business marks the start of a 2 or 3 week closure. Total closure, with a sign on the door advertising the reopening date. Imagine a business in Ireland or Canada closing its doors for 2-3 weeks in the middle of summer for a 'holiday'.

· Young Person
Meg wanted to tell you all that over here she's deemed 'a young person'. I think it's just her way of letting you all know that I'm that bit older (and therefore imminently wiser). Some sights deem a young person to be 26 and below. It cuts on the admission costs and gets me a gentle reminder exactly how I'm that bit older, and thus wiser.
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