The City of Lights

Trip Start Jan 06, 2011
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Where I stayed

Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Thursday, March 3, 2011

On Thursday morning, Rachel and I were up again at 2:30 a.m. for another trip to the airport for a 6:00 a.m. flight to Paris.  We checked out of our hostel and headed to the plaza where the Palacio de Cibeles is located because Madrid has a system of buses to the airport that run at night.  We almost didn't find the bus in time because we weren't expecting to see another thirty buses in the same plaza at the same time!  For anyone who wants to use the airport bus in the future, the bus stands out because it is a bright yellow color.  We boarded and headed to the airport for a very long wait at the Ryanair check-in desk.  Finally, we were on our plane and en route to France.

We flew into Paris's Beauvais Airport, which I would not recommend to travelers staying in Paris for less than three or four days.  The airport is actually about an 80-minute bus ride from the city, and you have to pay 15 euros for a bus each way.  But that's only the beginning of how expensive Paris is.  Our meals averaged around or over 15 euros and all hostels with decent reviews were 40 or more euros per night just for the dorms.  Rachel and I found out that it was cheaper to split a hotel room when we found a great deal online for just over $100 for the night.

By the time the bus got into Paris, it was already 10:30 or so that morning and we had no idea where the bus had let us off.  Since I got to serve as the main navigator for the trip, I tried to find our location on the Google map I had printed off, but ended up walking us a few minutes in the wrong direction.  Luckily, this nice elderly French woman stopped us and asked us if we needed directions.  I had always heard that the French hated tourists, especially Americans, and that the Parisians were the worst of these.  But every French person we met was extremely kind and patient with my poor French and Rachel's nonexistent French.  This particular woman walked us halfway to the metro station and gave us directions that helped us find our way.

After navigating the metro systems in Rome and Madrid, you would think we could get the hang of the Paris system pretty easily, but it was pretty confusing.  The main thing is that it's huge and there are many different lines that go in every which direction.  To get from one place to another, you might have to switch three or four times, and some stops were a juncture for four or more lines, so you had to pay attention or get lost.  Despite our initial confusion, after looking at the metro map for a good bit, we found our way to our hotel near the Eiffel Tower.  We stored our luggage and headed out to find food, since it was nearing noon and we were starving.

We decided that the first thing we wanted to try in Paris was their crepes.  Ironically, especially for me who was anxious for a break from Italian food, the first restaurant where we found them served mostly Italian cuisine.  No pasta or pizza food for us though!  Rachel ordered a crepe with cheese, while I got one with both ham and cheese.  They were absolutely amazing, very light and flavorful.  We also split an appetizer of escargot, which we actually enjoyed a lot.  I think if you like seafood, snails really aren't that far off in taste.

After finishing our meal, we headed over to the Eiffel Tower.  It's huge, especially compared to the Italian towers I'm used to climbing.  We were able to get a student discount on an elevator ride to the top with a stop in the middle of the tower.  The view was simply breathtaking, but at 40 degrees on the ground and windy, Rachel and I were shivering the whole time and had awesome hair in our pictures!  I would definitely do it again in a heartbeat--even though Paris is more smoggy and industrialized than what I'm used to seeing in the Italian cities I've visited, the city is still beautiful.

After the tower, we headed back to our hotel for a quick nap because the red-eye flights were starting to wear on us.  Unfortunately that quick nap turned into four hours because we were just so exhausted.  We dragged ourselves out of bed and had a light dinner at a nearby bar/restaurant.  I had the best French onion soup, which had huge chunks of French bread in it, and Rachel had an omelet.  Most of the people in this place were middle-aged, and a couple adorable old men came over and started flirting with us and asking us about America, which was pretty amusing.  We left and took the metro to the Arc di Triomphe and saw that lit up.  Then we headed back to the Eiffel Tower, which is lit up beautifully at night.  We were about to head back to the hotel when the tower began to sparkle at 11:00 p.m.--every hour, the tower's lights twinkle and sparkle in a special show.  On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a street vendor and ordered sweet crepes with chocolate and bananas.  It seemed like every French dish I ate tasted better than the last.

The next morning, we checked out of the hotel and stored our luggage again.  We headed first for Notre Dame, the thing Rachel wanted to see the most.  When we got there, I was surprised to hear, "Hey stranger," and see my friends Chase and Eric from the Umbra Institute standing outside!  I introduced them to Rachel, then they headed for Sainte-Chapelle while we went into Notre Dame.  The church is a lovely Gothic style with stars painted on the ceiling and was completed in 1345.

When we finished exploring Notre Dame, we walked around the Ile de la Cite for a bit and then headed across the bridge, where I saw an H&M.  Of course, I had to show Rachel the awesomeness that is H&M, since there isn't one in South Carolina and she had never been before her trip to Europe either.  So we went shopping for about an hour, which might not have been the smartest idea, seeing how full our bags were at the time! 

After H&M, we grabbed lunch in a nearby restaurant.  This lunch confirmed that French food is my favorite cuisine in the world.  I ordered duck with a pepper sauce and potatoes, and it might be the best thing I've ever eaten.  I was so full but I ordered a cream dish for dessert anyway because I knew I wouldn't get a good meal flying out later that day.  Rachel ordered French onion soup and got a crepe with apricot jam for dessert.

Then we took the metro to Musee d'Orsay, which was my favorite museum I've seen in Europe.  Monet's waterlilies and many of his other paintings are on display there, along with many other Impressionist works by Degas, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, and Seurat.  The museum also had a special Van Gogh exhibit with many of his famous works.  We got to see this museum thoroughly, though it was at the expense of going inside the Louvre later.  But I would do it all over again if I had the chance because I feel like it's worth seeing something well even if you don't get to do everything there is to do.

After Orsay, we headed over just to see the outside of the Louvre, which is enormous.  It used to be a palace, and it's still very impressive.  We meandered over to the Tuileries, the garden adjacent to the Louvre.  In the summer, thousands of tulips bloom here, but it's still gorgeous in the winter.  The weather was very nice, in contrast to the day before, so we bought pastries from a street vendor and settled down on the grass to enjoy the sunshine and our food.  We met two French guys who were around our age and chatted with them a little.  We also saw a man who sold bread to people to feed to the little birds in the gardens.  The birds would land on people's arms and hands because they were so tame.  It was amazing.

I was sad to leave, but we had to head back to the hotel at that point and get our bags so we could catch the bus to the airport for our flight.  It's a good thing we left when we did because the bus filled up fast, and with traffic it took over two hours to get back to Beauvais.  We made our flight though, despite my stuffed bag looking suspicious and being subjected to a search!

We got back to Rome late, and we took the Terravision bus back into the city center.  The bus was really late, so we didn't get to our hostel till 1:45, and we had to get up early to get Rachel on a train back to Fiumocino in time for her flight the next morning.  We said our good-byes and I hopped on a train back to Perugia.

I really enjoyed my Spring Break in Europe, and Rachel and I were able to do a lot of things very economically by staying in hostels most of the time, using low cost airlines and only bringing one book bag for luggage to avoid checked baggage fees, and eating in restaurants further from tourist attractions for the most part.  I can't wait to visit Spain and France again, and Rachel and I are definitely planning other trips for the future!
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