So. Where did I leave off? Ah yes, Friday morning. I think I will condense the last three days into one post because (a) I don’t want to have to write two more posts on Paris after this one and (b) I feel like I write too much anyway. Less is more.
Since Friday morning was Ariel and Colleen’s first morning in Paris, we decided to start the day off with a bang and go see the Eiffel Tower. This time, though, we approached it from the Trocadero across the Seine. It was a lovely view and perfect for pictures. After snapping a few photographs, Lily had to leave us to go catch her train back to Strasbourg. That made me the most experienced French speaker in the group. As in, neither Ariel nor Colleen speak any French, so they had to rely on me to translate. I took four years of high school French and one semester in college, but I had never had the occasion to actually practice speaking French outside of class. Needless to say, my French isn’t that great. Luckily, most Parisians speak English so we didn’t have much trouble. I would attempt to speak French, but most people replied in English. It got a little annoying, actually, because I wasn’t able to practice my French that much since no one would speak French back to me. Of course, I could have made a stronger effort. I’m sure it didn’t help that I asked “vous-parlez Anglais?” half of the time.
On the subject of the language difference, I was genuinely surprised at how much French I understood. I was able to understand a lot more than I thought I would be able to, and I even noticed a little bit of an improvement in my listening skills by the end of the trip. But even if I understood what was being said, I was not very good at formulating responses in French (which is why I so often asked “vous-parlez Anglais?”). I actually really enjoyed trying to understand French, and it was fun having to translate for Ariel and Colleen. I would love to go back to France someday and spend an extended period of time there in order to develop my French skills.
Anyway, back to what we did on Friday. After exploring the Eiffel Tower and taking numerous photographs, we headed over to the Ile-de-Cite to see Notre Dame. I had my first crepe of the trip (butter and sugar, delicious) as we explored the outside of the cathedral. When Ariel’s mother visited Paris twenty or so years ago, she had a photograph taken of herself with a gargoyle at the top of Notre Dame. Ariel wanted to recreate the image with herself, so after we finished our crepes, we got in line to go up to the top. It was a long line, but it moved fairly quickly. After about half an hour, if was our turn to go up to the top. Round and round the spiral staircase we climbed until we finally reached the walkway about two thirds of the way up. Our effort and dizziness was rewarded with a gorgeous view of Paris, Sacre Coeur to the right, the Eiffel Tower ahead and to the left, and everywhere an expanse of gray stone buildings.
The walkway was lined with gargoyles, each one unique and all very fun to look at. We found the gargoyle from Ariel’s mother’s picture and I did my best to recreate the photograph. It was difficult, however, because they had erected a metal cage over the walkway sometime in the twenty years since Ariel’s mother had been there. So it wasn’t an exact recreation of the original photograph, but we did our best.
After the photo shoot, we explored the bell tower–wood beams everywhere with a giant bell in the middle. Pretty much what you would expect. Then we ascended another long stone spiral staircase to the top of the towers. The view was much the same as at the three-fourths point only higher. It was beautiful and clear, another great view. Then we made our way down the stairs, a dizzy stone spiral, back to the earth. The whole experience was very much worth the wait and entrance fee, I really enjoyed it.
Next, we took a little break at a cafe to re-energize. Then we went to Shakespeare and Company, a really awesome bookstore just next to Notre Dame. Tiny, cramped, and jam-packed full of books from floor to ceiling, it reminded me of something out of Harry Potter. Upstairs, there was a typewriter for communal use, a reading room, and a room with a piano (which I really wanted to play, but refrained from on account of the man taking a nap just a few feet away). It was a neat little place, a must-see on any visit to Paris.
Next, we headed over to the Louvre. We grabbed some dinner from the museum cafe and headed up to explore the art. First up: the Mona Lisa. Embedded in the wall behind six-inches of glass, it was surrounded by photo-snapping tourists who were further held back from the famous portrait by barriers that kept them ten feet away. The contrast between the Mona Lisa and the massive painting on the opposite wall (The Wedding Feast at Cana by Veronese, which measures about 22 feet by 32 feet) was striking, almost laughable. What is it about that tiny little portrait that has so captured the world’s imagination? I really don’t know. Still, it was nice to see the painting in a ‘been there, done that’ kind of way.
My experience at the Louvre was another one of those I-am-so-tired-it-is-hard-to-appreciate-all-of-this-really-old-similar-looking-art kinds of experiences. The building was stunning, though, and I was happy to get to see the Nike of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo, and the Discobolus–all of which I learned about in my art history course at Santa Clara freshman year. The Louvre deserves several days to explore, so I will definitely have to go back at some point in my life.
After the Louvre, we went in search of some famous Berthillon ice cream on the Ile-de-Saint-Louis. We didn’t actually find the Berthillon shop (because I forgot my guidebook), but it turned out alright because most of the restaurants in the area sell the ice cream, too. We stopped in a little cafe, and I ordered a cone with a scoop of dark chocolate and a scoop of cappuccino. It was scrumptious! I’d been going through some serious ice cream withdrawal, so this cone was a welcome treat. Really made me miss Ted and Wally’s though… After the ice cream, we went back to the hostel and crashed. Which brings me to…
Saturday morning we woke up early and caught a train to Versailles where we visited the Palace of Versailles. At first I was hesitant about going to Versailles. I wanted to stay in Paris and explore the city, but Ariel convinced me to go to Versailles and I am glad she did. The palace was amazing. Gold, marble, tapestries, paintings, sculptures, lovely lawns, and fountains… I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy the palace as much as I did. It was gorgeous. Maybe it’s cliche, but the Hall of Mirrors was definitely my favorite part. The only downside to the trip was the number of other tourists at the palace. The place was packed–to the point where I got a bit claustrophobic. All in all, it was a good experience though.
On the train back into Paris, I enjoyed my first Orangina of the trip. Orangina is a delicious carbonated orange drink that we learned about in my French classes at Duchesne. Even though it’s available outside of France, it felt special to drink an Orangina in France. It was another one of those little “whoa, I’m actually in France” moments.
When we got back to Paris, we headed over to Pere LaChaise–an enormous cemetery where many famous people are buried. It sounds strange to say, but it was a beautiful place. And it couldn’t have been a more perfect day to wander around there–on the eve of Halloween, a gorgeous fall day with the trees various shades of yellow, brown, and orange. We saw the graves of Chopin, Jim Morrison (of the Doors), and Oscar Wilde. Oscar Wilde’s tomb was definitely the most interesting as it was covered in red and pink lipstick kisses and graffiti tributes to the famous author. I’ve never read any of Wilde’s work, but judging from the outpouring of love on his tomb, I must admit I am intrigued.
Highlights from the rest of Saturday included: eating the most delicious crepe with homemade dark chocolate, the gorgeous weather, and eating boeuf bourguignon at tiny restaurant on the Ile-de-Saint-Louis.
On Sunday morning, Ariel and Colleen went back to see the inside of Notre Dame and I ventured alone to the St. Ouen markets north of Monmartre. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was quite unimpressed with the markets. They were crammed full of cheap trinkets, broken electronics, old furniture, and cheap clothes. It reminded me of a giant garage sale. Nonetheless, it was fun to explore on my own.
After that I met Ariel and Colleen at Sacre Coeur. We explored Monmartre, finished up our present-purchasing, and dined on a baguette and brie for lunch. Monmartre was even more packed with tourists than when I was there earlier in the week, so it got to be a bit claustrophobic at times, but I still enjoyed it.
After that, we still had a bit of time to kill, so we wandered down to the Moulin Rouge. As we were finishing up taking photos of the famous nightclub, we heard some mysterious music. We followed our ears (and the crowd) until we found a group of brass musicians wearing reflective vests and white masks and playing an eerie tune as they marched down the street. I don’t know if it had something to do with the strikes going on, or the fact that it was Halloween, but I’ve never seen any street music quite like that. After these strange marchers passed, we heard drum beats and saw smoke in the distance. Naturally, we headed toward the source of the commotion only to discover a moving percussion float manned by three drummers and pulled by a fourth. A firebreather circled the float as it moved down the street. Again, I’m not really sure what the whole thing was about but it sounded awesome. I have videos of both the brass marchers and the percussion float that I will try to post later this week.
Anyway, after all of that, it was time to go home. Our journey back to Glasgow is a story in and of itself but a story for another day. I really enjoyed my time in Paris and was sad to leave. Everyone I talk to about Paris says that it is their favorite city in Europe, and I am no different. I think the name “City of Love” is misinterpreted: people don’t fall in love with each other in Paris, they fall in love with Paris. I’ve been to a grand total of three European cities, so I’m not sure if my opinion counts, but I really did love Paris. It’s still surreal to think that I was able to go there, since it has been a dream of mine to visit Paris since I started taking French classes in eighth grade. All of the hassles of applying to study abroad, all of the trouble of getting classes approved, all of the long hours working two jobs last year, it was all worth it. I got to see Paris. Life is good.
Until next time…
P.S.- Sorry there aren’t any pictures to break up the text in this post. It took me a long time to write, and I am too tired to go through my photographs now. I will try to post some photos and those two videos of the street musicians soon. If you can spare a moment, please leave me a comment to let me know your thoughts on my blog. I’d love to know what you guys think. Am I writing too much? Too little? Is it too chronological? Too boring? Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!