Here I am, nearly a week after going to Paris and I am just now blogging about this wonderful trip. Partly, it has been difficult for me to write this because I knew if would be impossible to script into words everything I saw and experienced. I feel lots of pressure from this one because it is PARIS! I will just try to do my best to tell the story of the weekend. This week I have also thrown myself into finding a job this summer. This takes lots of time and energy. I will keep you posted on this.Exactly one week ago, Laurel and I boarded a train in Grantham (the town close to the manor) and rode to London King's Cross Station. From that station we boarded the Eurostar. This is a train that runs from London to Paris. It run underneath the English Channel. I was worried about this because I really don't care for anything related to underwater, but I never even knew that we had gone under! After awhile I asked where we were and we were nearly in Paris. It was a much easier than flying. You don't have to check your bag and you just check in on a computerized machine. How easy! I can't emphasis enough how helpful everyone has always been to us. On the train we were seated behind a woman had overheard us planning our trip and offered to answer any questions because she is very familiar with Paris (and she was English, so much easier to understand than the French!). She helped us understand how to use the metro to get to our hotel. We made it to our hotel with only one problem (we went the wrong way one time on the metro, but it was easily fixed). The hotel was fairly easy to find, and the front desk people were helpful and welcoming. Our room was very small, but worked for what we needed: sleep! In actuality, this travel was so much less draining than the train and flight to Prague the weekend before.
As I explain all the places we went and things we saw, I may not explain it all because it would take thousands of words. So, know that there is more I could say, but I will save some to share with all of you when I return. You may also wonder how Laurel and I knew all these things existed in Paris. The big landmarks are well known, but don't be fooled by thinking that the Eiffel Tower is the only wonderful sight in Paris. I carried around Rick Steve's guide to Paris. This proved to be invaluable. He provided you information, walking paths, and eateries that were recommended. I would highly recommend carrying a travel book just for Paris when going to a city with so much to see and do.Friday was a beautiful day. The sun shown its face all day and brought warmth to the brisk winter wind that still hung on as spring tried assert herself. The day began at a lesser known (at least I never had heard of it) part of Paris. The Rue Cler is a pedestrian street that has so many cute market shops. Most of them have lots of fruit and vegetables, bread (there is bread everywhere!), and cheese. One cheese shop we went into had over 400 different varieties. There were several outdoor cafes where the locals were just sipping their coffee and eating a croissant. How fun! The last shop that we went into on this street was called L'Epicerie. They had lots of French made food items. There were so many jars of jellies and sauces in this small place. The woman working was so nice and very helpful. She explained where the foods were made and how you would use them. I enjoyed talking to her. Some of you should watch your mailboxes (hint hint).From here we walked to the Orsay Museum. To get here we walked along the Seine River and saw all the river vendors where you can buy an original painting or an old book in French. At the Orsay we bought the Paris Museum Pass. This pass gets you into over 60 museums and monuments! It is 32 euros, but if you plan on going to more than 2 or 3 museums the pass is worth the price. After purchasing the pass, we ran quickly to get to the starting point of a Free Tour of Paris. This had been recommended by a friend. It really is a free tour and it was very informational and funny (the guides are college age people), but our group was large. I found to be a bit slow, so at the lunch stop we left. From here we ate a bit of lunch by the Opera Garnier and walked toward the Orangerie and the Orsay (these are both art museums). On the way we saw so much. Just walking around in Paris can provide wonderful entertainment and a good feel of the city. We saw the obelisk of Luxor. Which at one end of the Champs-Elysees. It is a big monument to honor Louis XVI that was beheaded at that spot during the Revolution. It was also a very interesting spot because it was fashion week in Paris, and all the important fashion people were walking to a show at that time. They were dressed up! There were also people protesting the use of fur (I think-their signs were in French).
From there we went to the Orangerie where I saw Monet's water lilies. I have always been fascinated by Impressionism. I am not sure if it is the music or the art (or Chet Monet Bakery in Jefferson City that has Monet's Water Lilies on the wall) that pull me into the era. These were some my favorite paintings that I saw all weekend, and I saw a lot of paintings! The Water Lilies had their own rooms which were circular, so the paints were mounted and curved around the room. The room was created for the paintings, as Monet painted them for that type of space. They were huge paintings! The largest one was 6.5 feet by 55 feet. I also find it amazing that Monet painted these as he was going blind.Next on the list was the Orsay museum. In this art museum we went through the progression of 19th century art. You may think that in 100 years art hasn't changed much, but you would be mistaken. This museum picks up where the Louvre leaves off and has some amazing pieces by such artists as Degas, Renoir, Moneet and Van Gogh. I found the Van Gogh paintings to be most captivating. I had seen some of his work in London, but this collection seemed to tell the story of his life more clearly. There were two very different and recognizable self-portraits as well as his famous bedroom painting. Finally, I was much interested in his "The Church at Auvers-sur-Oise." This painting was done while Van Gogh was in a mental hospital and it is very calm and full of spirituality. This is a super fascinating painting.
From here we continued on down the Champ-Elysees and saw all the big names in fashion. You could drop a bunch of money really fast on this street. It is an awesome place because although the elite actual do the shopping around here, everyone hangs out and walks up and down this street. At the end of the street you are meet with the glorious Arc de Triomphe. This is a monument to honor Napoleon and his victory at Austerlitz even though he was vastly outnumbered. There is an eternal flame and a grave of the unknown solider underneath the arch. One the best things we did in Paris was to climb the 284 steps up to the top of the monument. The view was unmatched by any other that I saw. The traffic swirled beneath the arch and the sky was a crisp blue. I most enjoyed taking wonderful photos of the Eiffel Tower from the high vantage point. It was perfect day for a climb to the top. Here is a picture of me and the Eiffel Tower from on top of the Arc de Triomphe.
From the top of the Arc de Triomphe the Eiffel Tower appears so close, but in reality it is quite far away. Regardless of the distance, the Eiffel Tower was next on the list. We find the tower and get into line. The line doesn’t appear that long, but it takes quite awhile to get to the second level. You take an elevator to the second level and from there views of Paris are endless. By this time it was after dark which was wonderful. Paris lights up at night and although night time pictures are difficult to capture, I was pleasantly surprise by the turnout. We waited in another long line to get the elevator to the top. Finally we were there! It was very windy and cold, but so very worth the time, money, and temperature. I took some quick photos and walked around the level. In every direction landmarks were lit for the night. I could even see a rugby game going on beneath us. It was a Paris must do, and it was most definitely worth it. I really can’t image this place during the summer though; the lines must be hours long. The Eiffel Tower took us 2 hours total. This picture is during the light show that goes on for five minutes every hour on the hour.
After two museums and two climbs to the tops of monuments, as well as a tour and LOTS of walking, we were hungry. It was after 9 pm and I had barely eaten anything all day long. We found a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves. Surprisingly, I was much more thirsty than hungry! I had a wonderful meal of sea bass fillet and amazing mashed sweet potatoes with truffle oil. It was a great place with lots of locals. They even had to bring us our own menu in English. The French menu was on a board on the wall, so we got our own board in English. There were French men to our left and a group of Italians to our right. The waitress talked to all of us in perfect French, English, and Italian-so impressive. At the end of the meal we headed back to the hotel via the metro. It was time to plan another day in Paris.
Saturday was go time. Travel can almost be like a game at times. You read the books and look at the website and find that there is so much to do. The challenge is how much can you get done in the amount of time you have. Today was a big challenge. We got up earlier and walked a brisk 40 minute walk from our hotel to the Louvre. We were in line before it opened. This turned out to be a good move because it just keeps getting busier throughout the day. Were we following Rick Steve’s tour of the Louvre. He pointed us in the direction of all the famous stuff. Don’t be fooled by thinking that the Louvre only has the Mona Lisa. There are over 35,000 objects to see! You could never see them all, but we weren’t going miss much! The Louvre used to be a palace where the king lived, so just the building was a piece of art. I was amazed at it all. We spent about two hours in here.
The next major thing on the agenda was Sainte Chapelle. This is a chapel built just for Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. It has the most beautiful stained glass I have ever seen in my life. There are over 1,000 Biblical stories told in the colorful window of the chapel. I was completely blown away at this place. Picture really give it no justice. This place is so amazing that it was built in 1248 and it only took FIVE years! That is unheard of in those times. Compare that time to the 200 years it took to build Notre Dame.
Next was the Pantheon, a Neoclassical building that honors the “Champions of French Liberty.” Inside is Foucault’s pendulum that demonstrates the rotation of the Earth, as well as monuments describing and celebrating struggles of the French people. There is also a large crypt in the basement where a pantheon of greats are buried including Voltaire, Roussau, Marie Curie, and Victor Hugo. Everything about this place reflected the radical change and revolution that has characterized so much of French History.
Up until this point in the trip we have only gotten lost in the sense that we have taken a wrong turn that has easily been corrected, but getting to Versailles would prove to be a bit more challenging. I had a fairly strong desire to see Versailles, especially since it was only a train ride away from the city. Rick Steves said to take any train whose name started with a “V.” This sounds quite simple and easy. We buy our tickets go down to the platform and see that a train to Versailles is coming in the next few minutes. This will be very good! We can get on the train without much wait at all. In a rush of thinking we board a train that seems to have come at the time the train to Versailles should have arrived. After several stops we figure out that the train is not going to the Versaills. We exit and try to fix this mistake, but that is not as easy as going back down a street. After about an hour and a half we make it to Versailles (the train ride is only 30 minutes!).
Versailles is huge, opulent palace of King Louis XIV. He built it outside of Paris to avoid the bustle of the city. It is a huge place that has housed only three Kings (primarily because the last one was beheaded during the revolution!). It is an amazing place to which Rick Steves recommends allotting two hours. We arrived with only 40 minutes until closing! We did Versailles with speed! We saw the famous hall of mirrors as well as the King’s apartments. Let me just say that these people were living large! The gardens are open until dusk, so we spent more time in the gardens. It take an hour to walk from the palace to about the 2/3 point in the garden. Like I said, this place was huge! There were lots of people here; even a wedding couple was having their picture taken! We walked around the surrounding town and grabbed a sandwich for dinner. Getting back was so much simpler than the first trip!
Not wanting to waste a minute, even though we were really tired we still walked around the Notre Dame area of Paris after returning from Versailles. The cathedral is beautiful at night. We entered the cathedral to find that an amazing organ concert was occurring right then! What an wonderful find! The organ filled the vast space, yet the gigantic instrument could be quite and intentional as well. I think there were nearly 1,000 people in the Cathedral listening to the glorious music. After some more walking we heading back to the hotel.
For our last night in Paris we had to make a quick stop at the Moulin Rouge for pictures. This wasn’t far from our hotel. This strip is known as the “red light” district, but don’t worry-it was always safe, just a bit shocking! A great end to another amazing day in Paris.Sunday, our final day, was a “catch it all” type of day. We started early at Sacre Coeur, a beautiful church that looks straight out of Turkey! It has gypsum that gets whiter with age. The inside of the cathedral has a breathtaking mosaic of Jesus exposing his sacred heart, burning with love and compassion for all of humanity. Since the its completion, there has been someone praying for Christ to understand the world’s sins 24/7.
After this stop we got on the metro and went to Pere Lachaise cemetery. There are over 70,000 dead people in this place! They even have their own crematorium (and it is really big!). Some of the most famous graves we saw were Oscar Wilde, Moliere, Jim Morrison, and Frederic Chopin. Call me strange, but I enjoy a Sunday morning cemetery visit (we went to one on Sunday morning in Prague too!).
Back to metro and the city center to see the final monument on our trip. By this time Friday’s sun had turned to Sunday’s rain. I was pretty wet! It wasn’t cold, just wet. We saw a huge marathon of people running through the downtown streets of Paris. They were wet too. I am not sure what this was for, but there were hundreds of participants. Finally we went to the Deportation Memorial. This is in memorial to the 200,000 French victims of the Nazi concentration camps. As you walk underground in the memorial you become a prisoner. The hallway in front is lined with 200,000 lighted crystals and there is an eternal flame of hope. As you leave the message is the same as you will find in all Nazi sites: “Forgive, but never forget.” This was disturbing, sad, and necessary. Throughout Europe there are signs of destruction from a time not too long ago. It is very important to visit these places and learn about the activity that occurred. How can you ignore something like this?
With a little more understanding and having seen lots, we departed Paris for London and then Grantham. This was a jam-packed trip. I enjoyed every minute. It was different than I expected, but in a wonderfully refreshing way. I can’t say enough about the joy I found in talking to the people and trying to live, if only for a two days, like the French. It was so fun.
Another great surprise was a small spontaneous stop we made at the British Library in London. Between the Eurostar arrival in London and another train’s departure to Grantham we had about an hour to kill, so we walked out of the station and we suddenly back into the thrill of London. We saw a sign for the British Library and went to check it out. There is a room called “Treasures of the British Library.” In here are the original manuscripts or first editions of writers such as Lewis Carroll, Jane Austen, and Chaucer. Also, this exhibit houses Shakespeare’s Quarto and Folio, as well as original copies of Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s the Well Tempered Clavicord, and Purcell’s theme for the coronation of James II. They also had a section that housed scrapes of paper and envelops on which the Beatles had written some of their most famous tunes. This was such an interesting room! I could have looked at these things for hours.
After such a cool stop, we got back on the train and went to Grantham and then the manor just in time for Sunday roast. I keep thinking that this trip was perhaps my favorite, but then I have trouble comparing any of trips to one another. None have been bad or even slightly disappointing! I have enjoyed so much of what I have seen and experienced. In about an hour I am off to trip completely unlike any previous ones. I am going to the Lake District in northwestern England. I am climbing up a waterfall on Saturday afternoon! This is a beautiful national park that has scenery more amazing than anything I have ever seen (at least that is what they told us!). Of course, I will let you know what I think!
I really have to go! Sorry this post was soooo long. There was just sooooo much to tell!