Thursday, 22 April 2010

Paris... and more Paris

Eiffel Tower at night.

Place De La Concorde

Notre Dame. Our camera can take black and whites...

One of the stained glass windows in Notre Dame.

The "backyard."

I’m going to start this one a little different. Normally I try not to call out other people besides our family but this time it is deserved and I feel I owe it. I don’t think they even read this but, to the Geiger family, THANK YOU. I think we would still be in Paris (now Thursday) if it hadn’t been for their efforts and savvy use of the internet from 1000 miles away. From re-booking flights, Sam on hold with Lufthansa for 45 minutes, to Jana ultimately booking our rental car and good level headed/ detached advice. Also to Doug Hagenbuch who, I know, if we had really needed it he would have driven from Naples to Paris to get us. Our heart felt thanks.

Paris is a huge city. There are ~2.17 million people just within the inner city and 11 million in all of Paris. As of 2007 there were 3550 people per square mile. The closest US city is LA at 2700. The country history is interesting and very different from any of the cities/ countries we’ve been to so far. They have a rich history, all about them. I’ll explain. The most apparent way this is displayed is in their churches. For instance at Versailles, Louis XIV would enter upstairs and look down on the alter. Everyone else was down stairs and faced the back so they could look up at him. Notre Dame has a huge 300 foot spire. While the apostles are on corners looking down, the architect, Viollet-le-Duc is one of the highest figures and he is turned around looking up at his work. They turned another church into a monument to individuals they felt were important. Even Napoleon’s arch still stands and is now used to honor more victories. Every country has pride. Theirs just seemed a little, “In-your-face” at times. The people though were very nice. We never had a problem communicating. Most of the time they spoke English; other times we knew just enough key words to get our point across. It really does pay to at least try to speak your host’s language!

Let’s begin with the trip though… We flew out of Naples Monday afternoon to Milan and then on to Paris. Carey found a great apartment, right in downtown, in the Latin Quarter. By the end of the trip it was even greater… We dropped of our bags and found a simple little restaurant for a late dinner.
Tuesday morning we got up early and made our way out to Versailles. There is an early blog about the palace in Caserta and how nice it is and the huge “backyard”, including fountains, pools, etc. Versailles is described as the palace everyone else wished they had. Louis XIV turned this “little hunting lodge” into something extraordinary. The rooms and art go on and on. When mirrors were relatively new and expensive Louis had a hall nearly as long as a football field made with the inside wall of all mirrors reflecting the light from the outside wall which was mostly windows. King’s wing, Queens wing, entertaining halls… And the “backyard.” 800 hectares (1 hectare is 10,000 square meters). As you stand at the back of the palace you look out on reflecting ponds, fountains, statues and essentially forest. You get the same type of view standing at the back of the US capital looking out towards the Lincoln monument (not a coincidence). If that wasn’t enough, they had palaces to get away from the palace back in the yard, the trianon. These also had elaborate gardens in the backyard. I’m at a loss of words to describe how over-the-top this all was. Go to google maps and the satellite view and look at the distance scale when you finally zoom out enough to get the entire complex. Then keep in mind Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were maintaining and even expanding on all this while the peasants were suffering from France’s huge war debts. No wonder they revolted…
Wednesday. Pantheon, Notre Dame Cathedral, Historic Walk, and the Louvre Museum. The Pantheon was originally a smaller church dedicated to St. Genevieve. Louis XV was very sick and prayed to her for healing and was miraculously cured. In return he expanded it. Before it was complete though the revolution started and the revolutionaries decided it would be better as a place to honor great Frenchmen (and women). Again it seems like a “Look at what we did!” mentality. Entombed here are numerous French politicians and generals. Also though are the Curie’s (near and dear to me because of their work with radioactive decay, there is a unit of measurement, Curie, I use at work on subs). Also Victor Hugo (Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Alexander Dumas (The Three Musketeers), Louis Braille (the bumps for the blind).
Notre Dame: Very big, gothic style church. It is a nice contrast to the Baroque style so prevalent. The stained glass windows here, and also in the Sainte-Chapelle church, are very pretty. For me, the outside of Notre Dame was the impressive part. The sharp angles, spikes, flying buttresses, and gargoyles were just different.
The historic walk: Our good friend Rick Steves took us on a walk along the Seine river. The Sainte-Chapelle church mentioned above was part of it. Also included was the history of some of the shops/ apartments, and other monuments, like a statue of Henry IV. We bought a picture (surprise, surprise) from one of the small stands. The walked ended up with us near…
The Louvre Museum: The Louvre was the original palace before Louis XIV moved to Versailles. Now it is a huge museum. We spent 3 ½ hours inside and couldn’t see it all. Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa are here. Famous yes, but there were plenty of other things to see. Anything from ancient Egyptian statues/ carvings to Da Vinci paintings. So many artists; so many paintings; so many sculptures; so many styles. There is an entire wing we didn’t even go into.
Thursday. Orsay Museum, Walk along Champs-Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower at sunset.
The Orsay picks up where the Louvre left off time wise. A much smaller museum, we saw everything in it. Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Picasso… Classical, to impressionist, to realism. Again, so many artists. When we first got here I wasn’t so big on paintings. Still not to a certain extent but seeing this collection could keep anyone involved. Even the kids took it all in and, I think, have a real appreciation for the opportunity to see these works in person.
The Champs-Elysees walk: For $20 Rick will take you everywhere. The walk starts at a very large circle with an Egyptian Obelisk in the center. It was brought there by Charles X after they got rid of Napoleon. It was a monument to those executed after the first revolution, including his brother Louis XVI. Attached is a picture of the obelisk with fountains and the Eiffel tower in the background. Champs-Elysees itself is the name of the street that goes out to the Arc de Triomphe. It is packed with designer stores.
The Arc de Triomphe is another example of “We can build anything you can, bigger.” The 165 foot tall arch is like, and has the same meaning as, the Roman arches. Napoleon had it built to show how great they were. Today it is dedicated to all French armies. Lists of all French victories since the revolution and the names of Generals are inscribed and there is a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Finally, on to the Eiffel tower. It is big and impressive. We paid to take the elevator to the very top where you get some incredible views. We wanted to stay until it was dark to see it light up but the sun doesn’t completely set until about 9 (Paris is on the west side of the time zone and pretty far north) and we were tired.
And that completes our Paris trip. Not really.

Part two.

As we were eating dinner near the tower Thursday night I saw, in French, something about a volcano and some airports being closed. Charles De Gaulle wasn’t one of them. We got back to the apartment and a friend called Carey and asked if we had seen the news. With only a small TV, with French channels, and no internet at the time, the answer was no. Our flight was still on though at 10 PM. Friday morning we all got up early and took the train back out to the airport and were immediately greeted by a screen full of red cancels. We got rebooked for Sat afternoon. Next, we checked into the cheaper hotel at the airport. Sat morning at 8 our 2:50 flight was delayed. By 10, it was cancelled. That is when the apartment got better. Carey got the cell phone number for the girl who booked us and luckily it was empty until Thursday. We had a place to stay (for ½ the cost) with a stove, washing machine, refrigerator, and a market up the street. Carey and I went grocery shopping and then went to the train station while Mary and the kids stayed in the apartment. The first train out is… Friday. Sam, after being on hold, got us rebooked for Monday. Let’s go see some more!

The Eiffel tower at night is very pretty. At the top of the hour huge strobe lights make it sparkle.
Sunday. Luxemburg Park and the Montmartre Walk.
Luxemburg Park is a very pretty park area around what is now the senate building. Beautiful gardens, trees, a pond for sailing remote control sailboats, tennis, chess, cards… Had there not been other things to see we could have done what a lot of Parisians and other tourists were doing, just sitting in the sun taking it in.
Montmartre Walk: This Rick guy always has time for us… The walk takes you to the heart of the old bohemian Paris. We saw Van Gogh’s apartment and Renoir’s house. The biggest of the two hills in Paris is where we start. On top is Sacre-Coeur Basilica. Its outside is coated with gypsum, which whitens with age, so it is very white and impressive with its five domes. Also on the walk are the two remaining moulins (windmills). Finally, the Moulin Rouge. It is real, and it has a real history of can-can girls, but if you think it looks anything like the movie with Nicole Kidman you are sadly mistaken. It is now like every other bar and shop on either side. It just has a small windmill on top. We can still say we saw the Moulin Rouge though!
Sunday night the flight was still “on schedule.” Anxious, I woke up at 3 AM and checked the status. Cancelled. Sunday afternoon Jana had finally found that Europcar would rent cars one way across country lines. Prior to that we couldn’t find a rental that we could take from country to country. At 7 AM we called her and she got on-line to make a reservation for that morning (I wanted to make sure we had a car BEFORE we set out bags in hand). We took the train back out to Versailles and found the rental company. No GPS and no map, we navigated from Paris to Naples. No map because the only maps at the gas station AND rest area were of the greater Paris area. Carey and I shrugged our shoulders, looked at the kids and said, “A year ago we didn’t even own a GPS and we have managed to drive across the US 5 times…” Versailles was a good choice to start from. It is outside greater Paris and to the south, the direction we needed to go. Also as luck would have it, getting on the highway couldn’t have been easier.
The drive through the French and Italian Alps is AMAZING! So clear. So beautiful. The Italians, even more than the French, decided the best way through is to blast tunnels. So while we winded up the French side we shot down in a fairly straight line on the Italian side (the longest tunnel was 11.6 km long). 1,000 miles and 18 hours later our journey ends. Tuesday’s flight was cancelled too…

Paris and food. I’ve heard eating in Paris is expensive. That’s no lie. During the day we would go to a sandwich stand and eat for a mere 40 – 50 euro (taste the sarcasm?). At night dinner was 70-85 euro. Before we got delayed it wasn’t a huge deal, just a few days. After we got delayed though, we went to the market and made sandwiches and cooked dinner. 50 euro total for two breakfasts, three lunches, and two dinners. Much better.
I don’t know what escargot in the states tastes like but WOW it was good in Paris! Duck, steak, and chicken, all good. And of course French fries.
French wine. Very good. Again, I paid as much in the market (4-5 euro) for a whole bottle as I would have paid for 1 glass at a restaurant.

How does Paris rank in places we’ve gone? Definitely worth going. Carey put together a great itinerary that covered all we would want to see. Plus the extra days… I think we covered it.