Paris, France (part 1)

Posted By on Feb 6, 2015 | 1 comment


(Paris will be broken into 3 blogs. As riveting as my blogs are I am not sure I can hold your attention for 7 days worth as it would be even more of a novel than Lisbon. Enjoy! ๐Ÿ˜€ )

 

Transportation at it’s Finest

I got into Parisย  in the early evening. The terminal was HUGE and I had zero idea where I was headed. I walked back and forth down the hallways scrambling to remember what tiny bit of french I could from my mandatory elementary classes… Needless to say the only word I recognized was ‘Welcome’. Welcome to what?! To the largest most confusing train station ever!? Ok. Think Sarah. What one thing has been consistent in every language that always gets you where you need to go… The beloved ‘Metro’.

I stopped into an information booth and asked how to get there. The people at the booth knew surprisingly little English for people working at an information booth at an international train station… but Metro was a word they recognized. I made my way down 4 levels consisting of escalators and stairs and about 15 liters of sweat on my back (from the fever or the weight I was not sure). I eventually made it to the metro and opted for a train pass for a full week. I was only planning to be there for 5 days but day 6 I would need to take the metro back to the train so I figured it was probably still worth the savings (though I had no intention of actually calculating it at this point). I went to the kiosk because I was too tired to figure out a new machine in a new language. I got my ticket with ease and struggled through the gate whose entrance was narrower than my bags were wide.

parisMetro

I was extremely surprised to see how chaotic and yet organized the metro map was. I had only just begun and I already knew my way around. Paris had by far the best transit system I had ever ridden. I hopped from 1 train to the next and got off at my stop (which unfortunately was a huge traffic circle that I chose the wrong exit for). I was nearly dragging my bags behind me when I made it to my hostel. Phew! It was nice and modern and conveniently located (although not right in tourist town) and it had a bed, which is all I cared about.

 

French Cuisine and English Friends

I checked in and brought all my bags upstairs. I let out a huge sigh as I slid my key-card into the lock… {beep beep} red light. Hmm. Ok. I swiped it again. {beep beep} red light. I shook it off, shook my head, took a deep breath and tried again. {beep beep} red light. AHHHHHHHHHHH. I swiped the card about 17 times in 4 seconds and the door opened. Nope. Card still didn’t work…ย  But I had woken up my roommate. SORRY. Evidently this door has problems… all the time… great. I thanked him (I forget his name), dropped my bags, and went down to get my card reprogrammed. While I was at the counter I heard my name from the front door. HEATHER! It was one of the girls I had met in San Sebastian at the hostel (And by met I mean I moped around her a bit trying to stay alive). In the fog of my sickness and the travel I had totally forgotten that I got to meet up with my friends again. The day got a whole lot better. She told me that Fiona was upstairs and that they were going to be meeting back here in half an hour for dinner and had been trying to get a hold of me. HALF AN HOUR. No nap for me… Ok. I got this. A good face wash, a lot of medicine, a bun-head, and I’d be set.

 

The lobby of the 'opps' hostel in paris.

The lobby of the ‘opps’ hostel in paris.

I got on the elevator with my head down and bumped right into someone. I looked up. Hottest guy ever. FML.
I apologized and asked where he was from (basic hostel talk). Los Angeles. Typical. American’s start with the city they are from as if everyone knows about the USA and it is the center of the world. No matter. I said ‘Canada’ and he asked no further questions. Crush over. haha.

We got off on the same floor and headed in different directions. I tried my key and it worked. Thank god. I rushed in, rifled through my stuff, pulled out my toothbrush, a hair elastic, mascara, and a clean-ish shirt and ran to the bathroom (which was private to our 4 person room and clean and modern. I was very impressed). After a quick application of beauty and a pep-talk that I was going to make it through the night without falling asleep or throwing up I headed out.

I got back to the elevator and guess who was standing there. Hot American Boy. Awkward smile. Quiet ride down the elevator. FIONA! So happy to see that girl. She was standing with Heather and a few other people. “Hey! You guys made it. You’re the last two”. Two? Who… me and? Oh! The American Boy. I guess they had met before… and he was coming to dinner with us. Haha. ahhh. I don’t know why but I found this extremely amusing.

 

Fiona grabbed a mapquest map (old school… since none of us had phones) and we navigated our way through some pretty adorable narrow streets in the area. I had no idea where we were headed but was happy to be around some familiar faces. There were 7 of us in total. Fiona, Heather, and myself, the American boy, an older man who was with Heather, another decently attractive boy from England, and a nice girl I barely noticed. About 20 minutes later we came up to a small restaurant/cafe with a few tables inside and outside. It was very french and quaint and adorable. Seemed like a nice way to start my Paris adventure. We all took a seat at a large table that Fiona had reserved and asked for menus. There were none – just a chalkboard at the end of the table with the 10 items they had… none of which we could read. Luckily for us the older gentleman with us spoke french and worked his way (very slowly and deliberately) through the menu. Meat, meat, meat, meat, fish, meat, meat, meat. Well. I guess I am getting the fish! I just wished it didn’t cost the price of 3 hostel sleeps… But… when in Paris! Everyone settled on a couple bottles of wine for the table for which I opted out of (except for half a glass of white that no one could finish… and regretted later). We finished our dinner (mine was actually super delicious), paid the enormous bill, and wandered back towards the hostel. Even though we were all completely full beyond measure it is surprisingly impossible to pass by a crepe stand and not stop. We all got one. Chocolate and banana for me. I ate half and thought I may lose it all on the sidewalk, but I managed to keep it down. It was so delicious. I tossed the rest and started the train back again.

Head meet pillow.

 

 

Day 1

Fiona and heather had both already seen the things I wanted to see so the next morning I decided to sleep in until the last 15 minutes of the continental breakfast (the staff hate that… but I wanted the best of both worlds) before my big first day in Paris, France.

 

Arc de Triomphe & Art

First stop, the Arc de Triomphe. I hopped on the metro and was on my way. The ride was pretty beautiful and every small neighborhood I passed by (when the metro surfaced every once in a while) I fell more in love with Paris. And then it happened. We came out of a tunnel and people started pointing out the window. I tried cooly to glance over and see and then my cool went straight out the window when my eyes watered and a tear fell. The Eiffel Tower. You always hear about it and see it in photos but until you actually see it you will never understand it’s beauty and what a pillar it truly is. I took a mental picture and looked forward to day when I would get to see it for real and up close.

Underpass to the Arc de Triomphe.

Underpass to the Arc de Triomphe.

The metro came to my stop and I hopped off, eager to see what was now above ground. When I broke into the sunlight I was again taken aback. I was standing beside one of the most famous icons (and most dangerous roads) in the world. How did I get so lucky. I wandered around trying to figure out how to cross the street before noticing the relatively obvious underpass that everyone was using… when in doubt, follow the crowd. After taking a few necessary selfies from afar I made my way under and came up right beside the Arc. The detail was exquisite and there was a beautiful ceremony going on underneath. I found the line to go to the top and got in. I opted for the full museum pass since I intended to be a huge tourist and power through a lot of them and knew this would save me money. It was for 4 days and cost 56 euros. It was recommended to us by the nice couple Jessica and I ran into in Murano as well as a few others so I figured it was worth it.

Arc de Triomphe

I began the rather long climb to the top of the arc, stopping in to see a room half way up that had a camera looking straight down and explained some of the history. I continued my way up some very narrow stairs and wondered how larger of older people did it. My legs were burning!

When I emerged I, again, couldn’t believe my eyes. You could see so much! Thanks to Paris’ law about not having any buildings taller than 2 or 3 stories tall in the core I was able to see all the way down the Champs de Elysee to the Concord and all the way up the other side to what looked more like a modern downtown (and a place I hope to visit when I am able to go to Paris again). I walked all the way around and took pictures of just about every angle possible before standing and taking it all in. It was a beautiful sunny day (or as sunny as I think it gets in a city with a constant pollution haze – visible from where I was).

View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

I’d heard much about Champs de Elysee and was excited to walk down ‘the most expensive street in the world’. I began wandering down and found myself underwhelmed (if I’m being honest). It really looked like many of the other shopping/food streets I have seen and although it has bigger names it did not jump out to me as being the epitome of luxury and riches.

My legs were beginning to tire but I trekked on. According to the very very handy map that accompanied my museum pass I would eventually hit the Concord. A few blocks away, however, I knew I wouldn’t make it. I was exhausted and still recovering from my lung infection. I took a hard right at some beautiful large buildings that turned out to be the Grand Palace (Grand Palais) and Petite Palace (Petit Palais). The Grand Palace seemed impenetrable, but the Petite Palace had a sign for a free museum – Why not?! I wandered in, asked if it was indeed free, smiled at the yes, and began to wander. There were so many beautiful sculptures, paintings, and antique and historic items I couldn’t believe it was free! I spent a good hour wandering around and taking pictures (when allowed) before resting at a small table in the garden. What a gem.

Petite Palace Paris

 

I needed food. I stopped in for a quick croissant and a wifi-hookup nearby. Long story short, Fiona and I were both interested in seeing the National Modern Art Museum (Centre Pompidou) and were heading there to meet.

I waited out front for a little while enjoying the sun and wondering what life must have been like for our parents meeting people and not having phones to text exact location – stressful. When Fiona showed up we went in and waited in line to get her ticket (my museum pass covered this museum as well so I was one step ahead).

Tubes on the Centre Pompidou

Tubes on the Centre Pompidou

We walked through the pipes lining the outside of the building and got a good look at the views the building had to offer. We then found a special exhibit at the top. Fiona was allowed to go in because she had a full ticket but my museum pass did not cover special exhibits… one step behind. I waited in the gift shop and wandered around questioning my existence using only colours as thoughts (kidding… I sat on a bench and played bubble witch).

The museum is a mix of light and dark, fun and scary, square and round. There were some unbelievably beautiful pieces as well as some that I would not wish upon anybody to see…

We had had enough modern art.

 

French Food for the Foodies

Before I met with Fiona she had found an adorable street (though aren’t all streets in Paris adorable?) and wanted to show me. We walked only a few minutes before coming to a long street with tiny shops all along the side. These shops were not just any shops though, they were dessert shops and bakeries!ย  I’d rather show you than tell you.

Paris Desserts Paris Bakery

 

After filling up on dessert it was time for lunch. Fiona and I went into a small cheese shop and browsed more cheeses then I knew existed. The man spoke no English so we used our best tourist body language to say we want yummy cheese and that Fiona’s definition of yummy was 1000 years old (kidding!… but strong) and that mine had little taste. He ended up giving us a bunch of samples and we narrowed it down to some very interesting choices. We also got some crackers and then had a lovely picnic.

 

After we could no longer move we headed back to the hostel.

I had a good long nap before waking up near dinner time. I decided to go on facebook and check in with my Parisian friend that I had met in Lisbon. He was free for dinner! I got ready and headed out to meet him at the restaurant that he recommended (given my no-meat diet in a very meat oriented city). Laurent met me at the train station and walked with me to the restaurant. It was a small seafood restaurant that was quite different then you would imagine a seafood or sushi restaurant to be. After a long discussion of poor Laurent translating the strange food to me and speaking french with the server trying to get descriptions we finally decided to wing it and pointed at a few random things. And random it was.

 

I did not particularly like the vegetable flower-like thing but I did like the shell creatures (though i had to eat and try not to think about it because you had to pull slugs out of the shells. I closed my eyes a lot). Laurent was visa versa, so that worked out well.

french seashells French Seafood

Laurent is a true gentleman and paid for dinner and then offered to walk around and show me some sights. When I was planning my trip I had asked him a few questions and gave him a list of where I wanted to visit. To my surprise he had sent back a map with a walking path linking many of the places I wanted to go and an itinerary for me to visit the rest. I couldn’t believe this guy – what a gem! Some of those items not along the walking path were, he said, nearby so we decided to tackle those that night. We settled up the bill and walked back up the street to… MOULIN ROUGE! How cool. Laurent took a few fun photos of me in front of it and I sat there intrigued for a little while. It is much more done up and touristy than expected and I had heard it was not worth it to go inside. I did think it was very interesting that all of the surrounding stores were of the same theme though. Risque.

Moulin Rouge

 

Sacre-Coeur Montmarte

We continued up the hill to our next destination, the area of Montmarte and the Sacred Heart church (more commonly known as Sacre-Coeur). I will admit that I just added this destination because it was on all of the ‘top 10 things to see in Paris’ blogs and I really didn’t know much about it. On the way up the hill Laurent pointed out the cafe where the famous french movie ‘Amelie’ was filmed as well as some of the restaurant and bar hotspots. It was quite different than anything I had seen with so many people and such steep streets in an area that was so authentic.

Sacre-Coeur Afar Sacre-Coeur Montmarte

We continued up the hill and made it to Sacre-Coeur after a few very very very steep lengthy stairs. Phew! Laurent, once again, showed me how to take pictures in very low light and set up my camera settings for me (like he had in Lisbon). We took a few and then he said he had something to show me. We wandered a little bit away from the chruch and down near a chainlink fence. Through the fence was a pretty good overhead view of the Eiffle Tower and so became the first time I had seen it twinkle – eye watering. And, with Laurent’s help to fix my settings again, I snapped more than my fair share of pictures.

Eiflle Tower sparkle

A smile could not be wiped off my face, but once a crowd started to gather around our spot I decided we could go. We walked back down the narrow quaint streets of Montmarte and Laurent crushed my dreams with housing prices for places that I would struggle to call anything but a closet.

We made it back to the main street and I hugged Laurent goodbye and thanked him for the wonderful evening – hoping I’d see him again.

 

Day 2

The Louvre

The day was finally here. Today I was visiting the infamous Louvre.

I woke up and was getting ready to head out when I began talking to one of my roommates. He was debating between going to the Louvre or the Palace of Versailles (you know you are doing life right when those are your decisions for the day). I asked him if he would like to come along with me to the Louvre. I informed him of my style of museum wandering (one my best friend hates) and he said he was on board with aimlessly running into new rooms and possibly missing everything important and only reading the plaques of animal related statues and paintings (he didn’t exactly say that… but that’s pretty much how I presented it).

People had told us many different ways to get into the Louvre but when we got off the train we really only saw one way, so we followed it. I guess we got lucky because there was little to no line-up and we later heard that the ‘main entrance’ under the prism was a huge line. Still couldn’t tell you which way we came in but it involved underground tunnels.

We looked at a map and decided on one of the 4 quadrants to start on – the one with the Mona Lisa (though we didn’t make it there until near the end because our map following skills were weak). I was interested to see it and he agreed that the trip would not be successful without seeing it.

Our trek started in an underground tomb and worked its way though ancient Egypt which eventually led us to a real legitimate dead-person mummy.

A real mummy in the Louvre museum in Paris

A real mummy in the Louvre museum in Paris

 

Egypt turned into Turkey which turned into grease and I picked out my favourite statue (you could have guessed it was animal related). My museum companion had to take a phone call so I got to spend a lot of time wandering around all of the Greek statues. Even though I was already in Greece not too long ago (although it felt like a lifetime ago) I was still happy to see each and every piece of art. I just love the white stone and the detail and skill in each one.

Lion biting man

I decided at this point that I wanted to continue on. Thankfully the Louvre has a limited time wifi connection so I messaged my friend and told him I’d be in the apartments. This was the area I was looking forward to most and I couldn’t wait to see them. These were not just any apartments… they were Napoleon’s apartments and were the most extravagant, ornate, luxurious rooms I had ever seen. My absolute favourite exhibits in museums are completed rooms (which is why i was nearly jumping up and down excited for the palace of Versailles in a couple days).

I could explain to you what these rooms looked like but… I couldn’t… and these pictures won’t even do them justice but they are all I have:

Napoleon Living Room Napoleon Dining Room napoleon Fireplace

 

After this I caught up with my friend once again (if you can’t tell.. i forgot his name) and we went out to the deck and cafe for a sandwich. It was terrible food.

Standing out on the Louvre cafe balcony looking over the prism entrance.

Standing out on the Louvre cafe balcony looking over the prism entrance.

After choking down our horrible and expensive food we made our way through the rest of the museum. There were tons of cool trinkets (can you call historically important artifacts trinkets?) and even more rooms set up from different eras. We then made it to a very long hall filled with renaissance paintings. They were all beautiful and detailed and i wondered every single time I passed one how people can be so god damn talented. Honestly though, this hall was filled with so much talent it made my head spin. We made our way through and, being that neither of us had ever taken art history, we had no idea which ones were popular and which we should take particular note of. At the end of the hall we figured it out. The ones that had guide numbers on the plaques (for those people smart enough to get guides… this would be the place…. and maybe 3 days to do it all) were probably ones of significance. So… we walked all the way back down the hall on the left side, and back up the right side paying attention to those marked for audio-guides – even taking pictures like I knew my shit (which I didn’t).

Some I really liked:

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And some I was just not sure why they were famous…

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And then we found it. The Mona Lisa.

There was a huge group of people around and… IT WAS TINY. I mean really.. I thought this was some big masterpiece! I mean, I understand that it is a masterpiece (but only naively because people have told me it is… personally I saw some much better paintings on this trip). But, alas, we waited and we waited and we inched up and I got a picture of it and then we inched back out.

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And then… we left.

Back to the hotel to rest our minds and our legs.

 

 

Musee d’Orsay

Later that night I contacted my friend Alric. He was a man I had met in Calgary what seemed like forever ago and had moved home to Paris just as forever ago. He told me to meet him at the steps of the Opera House and we would go to Musee d’Orsay from there. When we met he informed me that we would just need to kill some time until another person was going to join us. We walked around more narrow streets and looked for something to eat. Evidently restaurants don’t open until 8pm and my 5pm hunger was going to go unfulfilled for a good long while.

A few minutes later Alric got a phone call and we walked over to a big square nearby. A beautiful young girl walked up to us and gave Alric a hug – a girl I later learned to be his girlfriend. She was lovely and I was happy to meet someone new.

d'Orsay clockWe hopped on the bus and took that until the bus driver pulled over and informed us (well… informed the french speaking passengers who then informed me) that this bus had to cut out early. We had to walk. I can tell you that ‘not far’ for Alric had a very different meaning than it did for me. 5 minutes became 10 became 20 before we finally reached the museum. At least I could rest assured I was going to have some pretty toned legs by the end of this trip.

 

The d’Orsay automatically won my heart with its elephant sculpture out of the front doors and its amazing architecture. The building used to be an old train station that was then converted into the museum and details and remnants of that previous life were beautifully preserved inside and out.

 

At first I was feeling lethargic and didn’t know how many more paintings I could be interested in for one day. But then… then I saw them.

I can safely say that the Musee d’Orsay has some of the most beautiful works of art I had the privileged of seeing on my entire Europe trip thus far. Here is a small glimpse at some of the beauty (Van Gough not pictured because no pictures were allowed… but in person his work is even more impressive). If anyone knows the names of these I would love to know so I can properly credit them. Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

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After taking in as much art as I could on a Canadian stomach (wanting to eat dinner at 5 and having to wait until 9) we wrapped up our cultural education and headed out for dinner.

We walked ‘not far’ again to a comfortable looking burger joint where I enjoyed one of the best salmon burgers I could remember. We talked and I got to know Alric’s girlfriend a little better and caught up with Alric about life since Calgary. An hour turned into two and they walked me to the metro. Until next time!

 

And that, my wonderful and supportive followers, wraps up day 2 of Paris.

Think I did a lot? I sure did! But with evertyhing that Paris has to offer this was only the tip of the iceberg.

Part 2 coming soon.

1 Comment

  1. ‘my style of museum wandering (one my best friend hates)’
    I only hate it because I think that’s what leads to people disliking museums. It’s so aimless you don’t end up finding what you like either! Like, yes, I personally look at every single thing ever, but I think if you like Old Masters- great, look at them. If you look at a painting find out who that artist is or what the style is called and go seek those out. Or, do the highlights tour! (which we figured out at the end..) I just don’t like the aimless wandering because there’s just so much, and I think that leads to non-enjoyment or frustration, or like you said here, finding the ones with the audio tour sign because you think that must mean they are important, but you’re not sure why-But if you don’t like those ones, then does it matter? I think it’s still important to look at the masters, but I think it’s more important to find art you like ๐Ÿ™‚
    Which I think we did not figure out to end of your trip at the British Museum- the importance of maps, and highlights tours exist! ๐Ÿ˜› lol. Especially in these massive museums.

    Agree about Van Gogh- such a different experience in person. (and with other painters too, but Van Gogh was the first artist I figured this out for. Like, wow)

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