Exploring Paris (Nathan)

Trip Start Sep 03, 2010
Trip End Oct 27, 2010

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Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Thursday, September 30, 2010

After a long day of doing nothing on the 29th, we were fully rested and ready to get out and see glorious Paris on the 30th. Glennica was invaluable that day... even though she never seemed to look at our map, she seemed to know how to get anywhere we needed to go instantly. Maybe it's because she used to be a student in Cyprus and visited France, but that was a long time ago, and she seems to be able to do this in other places besides Paris.

We started with the Notre Dame Cathedral, for no other reason than because I knew it was something I definitely wanted to see and it was the first thing I mentioned. And it was definitely beautiful and spectacular, but for some reason not quite as grand as I'd expected. I think a large part of it might be that the atmosphere was ruined by tourists. The other churches we visited, even the popular ones, were fairly quiet and peaceful, but this one was so packed full of people that there was a constant murmur buzzing through the entire building. The worst was the flash photography, though... even though there was a sign clearly forbidding flash photography, I was literally the only person in the entire cathedral (that I saw) to actually turn off their flash. On top of that, the cathedral itself had (you guessed it) a gift shop, and signs every 10 feet asking for donations or machines for making souvenir coins. Entry to the cathedral was free and I understand that they need to pay to maintain it somehow, but the constant reminders of what a big tourist attraction it was seemed to cheapen and ruin it- and that's coming from someone who's not even religious. Can you imagine what it must feel like for someone who actually came there to pray?

Glennica and I shared an audioguide, which was kind of interesting but didn't tell us a whole lot that wasn't obvious from looking. I actually found the outside just as interesting as the inside. The gargoyles were great, and something I hadn't seen before on the other churches. After the cathedral, we wandered down along the Seine, eventually coming to the Louvre, which was just... vast. Immense. We walked towards a doorway into a courtyard and it just seemed to get bigger and bigger rather than closer, like some optical illusion. We reached the famous glass pyramid entrance and checked the hours for our return at a later day, then walked down the long path towards the Arc de Triomphe. Well, I should say the larger, better-known Arc de Triomphe... the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel was right there, and though it was smaller, it was still quite impressive. It was around this time that I noticed the soldiers wandering around, carrying machine guns. I think maybe we'd seen some before, around London, but now they seemed to be everywhere... apparently they were there because the terrorist threat was high at the time, and we kept seeing them at every major landmark we visited. I found them more threatening than comforting... I know they were the "good guys" and I'm sure I'd be grateful to have them there if a terrorist attack really did occur, but seeing heavily-armed, camouflage-clad people casually mingling in crowds is hard to adjust to.

Behind the Arc were a lot of statues and gardens, and a few small shops selling sandwiches and ice cream. Glennica bought a cone of sea-salt caramel ice cream and let me have a taste, and it was incredibly good. We passed an obelisk that had been brought back from Egypt and a couple beautiful fountains full of Greek gods and mermaids, and reached the Champs Elysees, and soon the Arc de Triomphe- this time the really big, super-famous one. It was completely cut off by a solid circle of traffic, and only accessible by going down into an underpass and coming up from beneath, where you had to pay for admission. We decided to skip it, since we'd already gotten a good look at it from across the street and there seemed to be a military ceremony or funeral going on beneath it. I wasn't really looking forward to the Arc de Triomphe... it was the sort of thing I'd seen all the time in my French textbooks in high school and said "so what?", but it turns out that it really is amazing in person. If you visit France, at least give it a quick visit.

Afterwards we wandered the nearby shops and got an outrageously overpriced lunch. Glennica stopped at a few perfume places and said I was really sweet for being patient (she didn't even take that long, really), As day turned into evening, we reached a cemetery and I suddenly remembered that our phrasebook had recommended a cemetery in Paris. This turned out not to be the same one, and it was closed anyway, but I made a note to go to the one in the book later. Finally we headed to the Eiffel Tower, which had been visible way off in the distance ever since the Louvre.

We sat on the steps overlooking the Eiffel Tower and had a picnic dinner of stuff we'd bought earlier in the day, and it was truly breathtaking. I really hadn't expected it to be. Everyone's seen the Eiffel Tower so many times in pictures, and it's just a skeleton of plain metal girders, what's so special about it? But it was special, and beautiful, and I was in awe as I sat there watching it, evening darkening to night. An annoying souvenir vendor came over with a giant keyring filled with dozens and dozens of cheap tin replicas of the tower and, blocking our view, tried to sell us ten for one Euro. We had to tell him we weren't interested about 15 times before he'd leave, but somehow we didn't get mad- the awe of seeing the Eiffel Tower had mellowed us and left us in a happy daze. I wasn't content with just seeing it from a distance, though- I wanted to get up close, maybe even go up to the top. And so we did! It was a little expensive, and there was a bit of a wait for the elevators, during which the couple behind us wouldn't stop kissing each other very loudly, but soon we were on the second level, looking out over Paris at night.

We took an elevator to the top level soon after, where the view was even better, though it was so crowded it was hard to move- the platform was smaller and pretty narrow at the top, especially since they'd installed a fence that just about cut the width of it in half, apparently in an attempt to stop graffiti- you can't deface the tower if you can't reach it! There was a tiny bar up there, and everyone was taking pictures of each other, which made it even harder to move around because you'd end up ruining their photo. If I sound like I'm complaining, I'm not- being stuck in one place at the top of the Eiffel Tower is really not that bad, and everyone there was in a happy, party-like mood. There was a little room at the top, with replicas of Gustav Eiffel and his daughter meeting with Thomas Edison, which had apparently been Eiffel's personal apartment and office. I was surprised to see that it actually existed... I'd first heard about it from an episode of the Real Ghostbusters when I was seven, and assumed that it was just made up, just like the tower secretly being a steampunk ecto-containment unit. But there really was a rather cramped little room up there, and just like the bar, it set my imagination alight, wondering what it must be like to live there, and what was behind the closed door behind Mr. Eiffel's wax dummy. The top floor somehow also contained restrooms, which I used- I'm proud of that, for some reason. I peed in the highest restroom in Paris! Yeah, I don't understand it, but there it is.

We came back down after a while and, worn out, walked back to the Metro station to catch a train to the hotel. We saw a lot in that one day and had a great time, but I'm still glad we rested for a day first. As I write this, we're at the end of a similar day of rest in Germany, and I probably should have gone to bed an hour or two ago, so I'm going to wrap this up. Sorry I haven't got the blog up to date yet, but internet has been hard to come by and I took even more pictures than usual in Paris. Will update again as soon as I'm able!

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