Europe Trip: Paris
Yes, I am finally starting my vacation recap! Yay!
On Wednesday, June 3, my dad drove my mom and me to the airport. We had a brief layover in Charlotte before the nearly 9 hour flight to Paris. I was excited to be on a big plane, since this was the first time I’d ever been on one with two aisles. Unfortunately, we were seated in the center section. I was really hoping for a window to catch my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, but c’est la vie. It was an overnight flight, since we left around 3pm Charlotte time and arrived around 7am Paris time.
We stepped off the plane and went to claim our bags. (My mom is going to kill me for telling this story.) My luggage is easy to spot, as it’s purplish and with reflective writing on it. My mom said her suitcase was black, so she tediously checked every large black suitcase that came our way. The amount of luggage soon dwindled. I started joking if maybe it wasn’t black after all, but she was insistent. Finally, there were only two bags left going around on the carousel: one was a large blue suitcase and the other was a smaller bag. My mom went to find someone to tell them that her bag had not arrived; she was told to continue waiting. I asked again, “Are you sure the suitcase is black?” To satisfy me, she went to check the blue suitcase. It was hers.
Finally, with luggage in tow, we now had to figure out how to get to the hotel. We went down to the transportation area and found a train. This train took us to a large train station in Paris. Unfortunately, we had no idea where our hotel was located on a map, had no idea how to work the Metro system, and my feet were slowly being covered in blisters. So we took a taxi from the train station to the hotel. This is when we learned that driving in Paris is crazy. Crazy.
After seemingly almost killing about 10 pedestrians, 3 cyclists, and 2 people on motorcycles, we arrived at the hotel. Our room was not yet ready. We were told to come back in two hours. Sigh. We stored our suitcases and then roamed around the streets of Paris. Although none of the touristy places. We had no idea where we were. We ate lunch and then found our way back to the hotel.
Our room was ready this time. It was on the second floor. The elevator was out. The staircase was circular. My feet were still screaming at me. None of this a good combination, but we eventually made it to the room with all luggage intact. Like most European hotel rooms, it was small. Two twin beds pushed together. A desk. A TV hanging in the corner. A bathroom.
Having changed my shoes, finally, I was ready to go explore. My mom had other plans. A nap, to be exact. I mean, I guess it had been over 24 hours since I had actually slept last, but who wants to sleep when there’s Paris to explore? My mom did. So we napped. And then we ate. And then we went to bed.
We woke up the next morning, refreshed from our jet-lag and ready to take on the city. I studied some maps and a train schedule and figured out how the Métro system worked. Then we were off to the heart of Paris to see Notre Dame Cathedral.
Fun Fact: There’s a spot right in front of the Cathedral that supposedly marks the exact center of the city (”point zéro”). It’s where all of France’s highways are measured from.
After leaving the Cathedral, we walked up to the Panthéon, which is a burial place for several famous people, including Voltaire and the Curies.
There’s also a neat pendulum thing keeping time in the main part of the building.
From there, we headed down the the Louvre to spend our afternoon gazing at art. We would do this a lot on our trip. To the point where all the paintings started to look the same.
But we got to check out the Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa…
…and a bunch of neat ceilings.
We continued our art tour at the Musee d’Orsay. Funny story: When we first arrived, we decided to go into the first room we came to. I was excited because it was photography, and, as we all know, that’s my favorite kind of art. So, I waltz into the room and start checking out the pieces. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice my mom isn’t being allowed in the room. She turns and walks away. I’m thinking, “Umm. Oookay.” I didn’t know if she needed to go somewhere first and do something (I have no idea what) before coming in, so I dawdled in the first room for a bit. She wasn’t showing up, so then I grew worried that she might be waiting for me, so I rushed through the rest of the exhibit. When I exited, she was sitting on some stairs. She told me that apparently you had to pay extra to go in that room, but I had apparently wandered in right when the ticket-checker-people weren’t paying attention. Oopsie. Hehe. I might need to brush up on my French for “Hey, this costs extra!”
We continued through the museum and saw some interesting pieces, including some of Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Moulin Rouge” paintings.
Our feet were starting to hurt, so we headed back to the hotel room to rest up. Later that evening, we headed out to visit the real Moulin Rouge. We didn’t go in but did get some photos outside.
Then, I fulfilled one of my personal goals by locating the restaurant that Amélie worked at in the movie “Amélie”.
We got back on the Métro to head back to the hotel. We got off at a different stop than normal, to avoid changing trains, and decided we were hungry. It was late and most places were closed in the area, but we found one little bakery-type-place that was open. I ordered a hot dog (and got a bottle of wine to go with it at a convenience store down the road). While we were there, the man behind the counter told my mom that her daughter was very beautiful. Except in French. Which I understood and she didn’t. So I turned red, he laughed at me, and, all the while, my mom was asking, “What?”
The next morning we headed down to the catacombs. It was a drizzly morning and we waited outside for an hour to get in. I was thankful I had packed my hoodie. We spent most of our time in line chatting with the family in front of us from Chicago. In fact, I’m pretty sure everyone in line spoke English. That didn’t stop some random French person from coming up to my mom and asking her something in French. That happened a lot while we were over there. We concluded that my mom must look French. I tried to teach her to say, “Je ne parle pas Français.”
We finally made it inside the catacombs. There was a long circular staircase down. Then a long walk underground. But we finally made it to the bones. There were a lot of bones.
To those who aren’t familiar, the catacombs came to be when Paris’s cemeteries started getting too full and causing disease. In the late 1700s, they decided to relocate people to this area underneath the city and construct all new cemeteries. Many of the stacks of bones have information about where they used to be buried.
After a winding circular staircase back up and a lunch at McDonald’s (strangely, French fries aren’t quite as good as American fries), we hopped back on the Métro to visit the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, where we could play with neat mirrors…
…and optical illusions.
At some point while we were touring the museum, I dropped my camera and broke my 50mm lens. Sigh. I had to resort to my crappy kit lens for the rest of the trip.
Later that evening, we went on a night-time bus tour of Paris, where we got to see all the landmarks lit up. This was our first real glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. It wasn’t enough to see it on the bus, however, so we took the train to see it in person after the tour was over. It was magnificent. Yep, I teared up.
The next day was our last in Paris. We got up and checked out of the hotel before heading down to the Champs-Élysées. We walked up the famed street. I was wanting to shoe shop (and wine shop…and clothes shop), but it was Sunday, and this apparently meant all the stores were closed. So, instead, I snapped a few photos of the Arc de Triomphe, watched the crazy roundabout traffic, and listened to my mom get accosted by a scam artist.
Then we walked to the Eiffel Tower to see it in daylight. I took photos. A lot of photos.
After I was done rivaling my dad for most-photos-taken-at-one-famous-landmark (you can’t visit my parents’ house without finding at least one random photo of Mount Rushmore lying around), we took the train to visit the Luxembourg Gardens. It was so pretty. And peaceful. I could have stayed there all day.
We ate lunch at a little sandwich shop where, amazingly, the girl behind the counter was American.
And now for the most adventurous part of my entire tale: Leaving Paris. A month or two ago, I had made train reservations for all legs of our trip. It was required, at least, for our trip from Paris to Milan, which was an overnight train. We arrived at the train station, handed our paperwork to the girl behind the counter, and discovered that we did not have a reservation! Some communication somewhere had become crossed and because of some email confusion when I made the reservations, my card had never been charged and our tickets had never been issued! And she couldn’t get us a spot on the train, since reservations were required. I panicked a little. How were we going to get to Italy? The next train we could take didn’t leave until morning. Sleeping in a train station was not an option I wanted to consider. She told us to talk to the train when it arrived.
So we sat and waited for the train. When it did, we rolled our luggage down to the tracks. We asked every person we came in contact with if there was anything we could do. They all told us to go talk to the girl behind the counter. We explained we had already done that and they would point us further down the track for someone to talk to. Finally, we came to someone (the conductor?) who pointed us in the direction of a guy with a seating chart. He found us a spot in a car. As we were discussing payment, the train began readying to leave the station. He threw our luggage on the train and then helped us jump on right as it began to take off. It was almost like the movies.
Our car was being shared by an older married Italian couple. We couldn’t really understand anything they said, but it was amusing how they bickered with each other, like you would imagine an older married Italian couple doing. Sleeping on the train, I discovered, was nearly impossible, despite actually having a place to lie down. I listened to music on my iPhone all night and would periodically check for wireless whenever we made a stop, though I never found any open networks. Eventually, we made it to Italy. And I will save that for another post that I will try not to take another two months to write.