"Please Mind The Gap"

Trip Start Aug 31, 2009
Trip End Jan 08, 2010

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Where I stayed
Silvia's B & B

Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Friday, November 6, 2009

Paris is OK…if you're into that whole "rich in history, five-star cuisine, unbelievable architecture" kind of thing. I kid – Paris was breathtaking, I wished we lived there.  There are so many things to see and do in Paris, we didn’t get close to accomplishing them all (darn, I guess we’ll have to go back :).  I’ll do my best to recount what we did experience.

 The Louvre is HUGE; beyond comprehension huge.  Come to think of it, so is Paris.  We began our first day in Paris with a stroll from our B&B to the Arc de Triomphe, an arc dedicated to the soldiers of France, particularly of the Napoleonic Wars.  This structure is so huge with so many intricate details it’s hard to believe it can stand alone.  We climbed the seemingly endless spiral steps to the top, a climb well worth the trouble.  From the top of the Arc we were treated with a 360 degree view of Paris, including our first glimpse at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.  In a word, it was amazing.  We then headed down the Champs-Élysées, spent 12 EUR on a light lunch and were reminded why Paris is Europe’s second most expensive city, fended off numerous street beggars, and finally arrived at the Louvre an hour or so later.  We walked through the Tuileries Garden first, which would have been more impressive had the entire center not been undergoing construction before reaching the fountain and “Arc de Louvre” gate in front of the Louvre.  The Louvre is so big traffic actually goes through and underneath the building in one area.  It’s the largest museum in the western world for goodness sake, housing 12 MILES of artwork, a fact that continues to boggle my mind.  With the sheer size of The Louvre we didn’t even attempt to tackle it all.  After entering through the giant glass pyramid in the center we decided to stick to the more well-known wings that house the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa.  Forgive me for what I’m about to say, but it needs to be said: unless you have a good grasp of art history and appreciate the many great artists that have lived for the past several thousand years The Louvre is, well, boring.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful place to be.  The pieces of priceless artwork are endless, the building and the interior itself are to be admired, it thrilled me to see such famous pieces, but that’s just it – the art is ENDLESS and we felt like we had to go to The Louvre to see the Mona Lisa.  The crowds, even during the off season, are horrendous, tourists still act like idiots that lose all common sense once a camera is in their hands, and there are actual miles of paintings that are lovely but my ignorance of art history prohibited me from appreciating.  And, by the way, the Mona Lisa was a little disappointing.   She’s smaller than you’d imagine, has a giant glass case around her and a barricade preventing you from getting within 60 feet. 

Paris was a cultural feast for us – literally.  Among other things we sampled real French onion soup, foie gras, quail STUFFED with foie gras, crème brulee, chocolate pie, goat cheese salad, and, on our last night, enjoyed a Parisian “picnic” (at a table in our room overlooking our patio) complete with a baguette, salami, a variety of cheese, macaroons, and of course, red wine.  I’ve never eaten so well, what I wouldn’t give to live in Paris for a year and go to culinary school…sigh.  Oh, for those of you who don’t know, foie gras is the liver of a duck that force-fed creamed corn.   The force feeding makes the liver large and tender – I know, it sounds mean, but who am I to judge the Parisians? :).  Foie gras is superb, rich and buttery and perfect on bread.  Through the course of our visit in Paris we passed countless boulangeries (bakeries) selling wonderful crusty bread and the most amazing pastries you could ever conceive, it’s a wonder that French women are so thin.  The food alone is worth moving to Europe for, seriously.

Our second day consisted of a trip to The Army Museum where Napoleon’s tomb lies beneath the golden dome.  I still don’t understand why Napoleon’s tomb is large enough for Napoleon and ten of his closest friends to hang out in, but then again, I don’t really understand tombs, I personally find them a little creepy.  Again, I’m not embarrassed to admit that Paris is waaay over my head.  The Army Museum had lots of tanks, swords, guns, and armor, and if you can believe it, thrilled Alex to pieces; it was actually quite interesting and would have probably engaged me more had the descriptions been in English.  After the museum we had lunch and headed to the Notre Dame Cathedral.  The line to go to the top was a disaster so we decided to tour just the Cathedral which was amazing.  Intricate artwork and unimaginable stained glass lined the Cathedral, but that wasn’t the half of our visit.  Until Friday it hadn’t occurred to me that actual church services would be performed in the Cathedral and we were lucky enough to be touring Notre Dame during one such service.  Because I am not catholic I do not understand the significance of all the candles, the incense, the singing, and the many, many priests that occupied the front altar, but even having a lack of understanding for this religion I still found myself moved by what I saw and I feel privileged to have been part of it.

After Notre Dame we headed to the Eiffel Tower so we could see the “City of Lights” at sunset.  Like much of Paris the Tower was crowded with tourists so we opted to take the stairs to get a reprieve from all the people.  The long climb up was well worth it and although it was a cloudy day it was still a beautiful view, even better than the Arc de Triomphe.  We left the Eiffel Tower just in time to see the light show that occurs at the top of every hour at night, it was so touristy but wonderful.

In our third full day in Paris we decided to take the train to Versailles, something I would have fully enjoyed more with less people.  I will never understand what comes over people when they are on vacation at a tourist attraction.  Surely I’ve complained enough in this lifetime about the combination of stupid people, tourist attractions, and cameras, but suffice to say this experience was no different.  The Palace of Versailles is extravagant in every sense of the word, I can truly understand why the people of Paris revolted and beheaded Marie Antoinette while she was living the high life in an unreasonably large palace with rooms actually covered in gold while the rest of Paris was living in poverty.  The palace itself is actually bigger than the school I attend, the walk to the fountain in the gardens outside is longer than I have to walk to the train station everyday (three city blocks), it was incredible and difficult to believe French Royalty actually once called this place home. 

After tolerating all we could of the crowds we decided to head back to Paris to check out the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, something I wasn’t entirely thrilled about.  There’s just something eerie about visiting a cemetery, for no other reason than to check out the tombstones of the deceased, that’s just a little morbid to me.   Of course, we visited Pere Lachaise simply for the fact that many famous people are buried there, including Moliere, Oscar Wilde, and who Alex wanted to see, Jim Morrison, the former lead singer of The Doors.  The layout of the cemetery was quite fascinating, it seems like graves and their corresponding tombstones were put wherever they would fit, with no real rhyme or reason, in no discernable rows or columns, in fact we probably wouldn’t have found Jim Morrison’s grave had it not been for the mob of people or the exasperated couple we disturbed mourning their loss that directed us in the right direction.  We felt awful after we interrupted the people whose loved one is buried at Lachaise even though they behaved as if this wasn’t the first time an obnoxious tourist had disturbed them in their quest to find Jim Morrison’s remains.  Ugh.

Our last activity in Paris was checking out the rue Cler neighborhood that has a lively street market every day, twice a day, where you can buy everything from vacuum cleaners to wine to baby clothes.  We picked this market to get our “picnic” supplies which proved to be half the fun of our “picnic”. There was something about buying our specialty cheeses from the fromagerie, our baguette and macaroons from the boulangerie, and our wine from the vin store that felt so Parisian. 

“Please Mind the Gap” is something you hear when exiting the Metro in Paris, as in “be aware of the distance between the train and the platform”.  I think it’s a fitting description of our trip.  Being in Paris made us aware of the “gaps” between the “old” us and the “new” us.  A few years ago I would have been content with living in Missoula forever without exploring any other options; today I don’t know if my “travel bug” will ever go away.  Who knew Alex and I were so adventurous?  Certainly not us.   In Paris I found myself so frustrated by the harassment of beggars, con artists, and people trying to “give” me flowers (translation: insist I pay for the flowers once I accepted the flowers they literally shoved into my hand) that I was actually rude to people simply asking us to take their picture because I was so defensive.  I was never this defensive living in small town Montana, never this skeptical of people and their intentions, always willing to give my spare change to the transient on Higgins.  Call it naivety, call it just trying to see the good in others, but after seeing the same group of women “begging” for change only near tourist attractions and keeping a death grip on my purse all week I don’t think I’ll ever go back to being that person.  I can’t decide if it’s a good or a bad thing.

So after another thrilling trip in Europe that only left me wanting me more we head back “home”, preparing for another week of school and work and anxiously awaiting the arrival of Alex’s Mom so we can embark on our next adventure.  Saturday we will leave for Prague followed by a visit to Poland that we’re all very much looking forward to.  After torturous debates with ourselves we’ve reasoned it makes more sense to return to the US in January (I can finish my degree in the spring which gives us the freedom to move wherever necessary in the fall to accommodate Alex’s teaching career, we can start earning money again instead of just burning it, etc.).  It was a bittersweet realization to say the least.  We desperately wanted to see Europe in the spring and we haven’t been to all the places we wanted to visit, but we also desperately miss Montana, the “simple life”, and most importantly, our family and friends.  Knowing that we will be leaving Europe sooner than we planned makes me appreciate these trips and experiences that much more.  Living in Europe has been arguably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world and would do it again in a heartbeat.  I know these last two months will fly by sooner than we want them to but I guess we’ll just have to take every opportunity to enjoy every experience to the fullest.  Until next time, Au revoir! :) - CF, AF

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