Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Who knew one could be sad to visit Paris? Maybe not sad exactly, but distracted and melancholy as it is the last stop on our trip. Somewhere had to be the last stop, of course, but perhaps next time (and the kids are already planning on a “next time!) we should end it somewhere not quite so amazing so that the setting better matches our mood. I don't want to go off on a tangent, I'll save a wrap up of the trip for at least one, and probably a couple future blogs when we can reflect upon things and really look at everything with a little more perspective. So, for now, I'll stick to the usual visit format.
We took the express train from Barcelona to Paris. This requires a change over a couple hours into the journey at the Spain-France border because of a different gauge track as well as a preference to keep their own equipment local. Then there's a longer 5-6 hour leg from the border into Paris. We were able to ride in first class during the longer leg, but it didn't offer much other than roomier seats and an upper deck instead of the lower level.
We got into Paris around 5pm, but it took us over an hour to navigate our way through the metro and for a bit of a walk to our hostel. We did a pretty quick turn around and headed for the Eiffel Tower, determined to get at least one item on our list out of the way. We didn't arrive at the tower until 7:45pm or so, but the light of the setting sun was great. The lines to take the elevator to the top were crazy long and it was closed, at the moment, for congestion. The lines to the first and second levels were even longer. So, the adventurous travelers that we are, we paid the bargain rate to hike the 720 stairs up to the 400 foot high second level! It was a little tough, but we've endured worse and it was actually a pleasant climb.
We did a little walk around, but by the time we got up there it was 8:30pm or so, we were all starving, and decided to grab dinner at the cafe. Prices were steep and the food mediocre—but what the heck, we ate supper in the Eiffel Tower! I headed out as the sun dropped below the horizon to get some moon photos and then so great shots as they did the light show on the tower itself. We all wandered around, looking for the various landmarks around the city and just enjoyed the cool breeze and the thrill that is being in Paris—and perhaps procrastinating taking the long metro ride home. We didn't get in until 11:30pm and quickly trashed our initial plans of an early morning and being first in line at the Louvre.
Plan “B” was to get up at 8:30am, have breakfast and head to the Arc d'Triomphe. We purchased our handy Museo Passes and climbed to the top for yet another high flying perspective on the city.
We then took the mandatory stroll down the length of the Champse Elysees with mandatory stops at the McDonalds for Big Macs on the patio then the Disney Story so Heath could get his I ♥ Paris Mickey Mouse T-shirt. The route continued through the Toullaries Gardens until we got to our ultimate destination, the Louvre.
We hit all the big items, Mona Lisa (3 times), Venus d'Milo, Coronation of Napoleon, etc. We toured through the Egyptian exhibit and then to the ancient Babylonians to see the Hamurabi's Code. All in all we raced through the place, were totally exhausted (the kids were practically sitting on the floor if we stopped to look at something), and still saw only a fraction of the items housed in this incredible museum.
We called it a day, found a small cafe just a couple blocks from the Louvre, at a nice French dinner complete with escargot and headed home for an early evening. Actually got the kids to bed close to being on time for the first time in about a week.
The second day we were up and out and in the queue for Musee d'Orsay (no photos allowed at all) 10 minutes before the 9:30am opening.
This is a relatively small museum that houses some of the worlds greatest impressionist works. During our visit they were having a special Manet exhibit that we bypassed b/c of an extra fee and a huge queue. None the less, we were awed by the collection, everything from THE Whistler's Mother, Van Gogh, a slew of Monet, Dega, Cezanne and others. The kids recognized many from their studies as well as previous museums. We spent a solid 2 hours there before moving on to a nice brassiere lunch including beef tartare, duck confit and quiche. US$10 for an iced tea was a bit steep, but we paid for the ambiance of the patio dining.
We headed along the Seine, past the book sellers and ultimately to a very crowded Notre Dame Cathedral.
Our museum passes should've gotten us into the bell towers, but the queue was ridiculous, stretching almost the length of the cathedral, in the sun, with some very exhausted looking people and no apparent movement to the line. The queue for the cathedral itself was a bit long, but moved along OK so we did manage to get inside for a quick tour. Tamara and the kids lit a candle in memory of Beverly.
We opted to view the architectural crypt of the old city of Paris and then move on to our Old City walking tour which took in the memorial to the victims of the Nazi concentration camps (all 200,000 French), a few more old churches, the Shakespear Book Store, the beautiful Sainte-Chappelle, which gives a whole new meaning to the term “Gothic”. After seeing multiple sites we were tired and felt a light dinner of fondu frommage and racolette would suffice. The kids enjoyed a Nutella crepe for the second time in one day and we reluctantly boarded our last metro for the hostel to shower and pack before heading home.
I write this feeling anxious, excited, melancholy, and tired. I feel a sense of satisfaction and completion, and yet a sense of having left so much yet to be done and another, less stress filled, life behind. More on that in our wrap ups.
Let's leave this on a positive note. Paris has charm and history and beauty like few other places we've seen. It stands alone. It has a city grid without sterility, it has history without feeling ancient and left behind. It is modern and yet sticks to its own character and personality. We, the Fuscos, have cheated Paris—it deserves more of our time and attention. Hopefully one day we can repay it just those things and more.