21 June 2011

europe week -- paris, france

So I awoke on Friday 10th June, the day my Europe trip began, and the first thing I thought was, "WHAT!? I'm suppose to be leaving the house now!" Great start to my holiday :S So I scrapped my plans to catch the bus and called for a taxi instead. That gave me 30mins to get ready. I made it to the meeting point in plenty of time, especially with the tour bus being late, and was then on my way to adventure! From the white cliffs of Dover we crossed by ferry to France which took a bit over an hour. It was raining and stormy on our drive to Paris. We stopped along the way to get lunch and it was truly an odd experience to order food where you don't know the language. Thankfully the descriptions were in English as well so I knew what I was ordering but the accent of the lady who served me was heavy so it was difficult to understand the little english she knew. We skipped going straight to the hotel so we wouldn't spend hours in heavy traffic. What we got was bad enough. It was still raining and I got a little wet waiting to get in line for our river cruise which was our first stop. I could NOT believe who I saw just a few people ahead in line!

Michael and Katrina, friends from Australia, whom I knew were in Paris at the time but had not planned to meet just happened to be getting on the same cruise. It was awesome to actually run into them when I'd joked about it just a few days earlier. Nice to see friends you know from home when you're touring the world. The cruise itself wasn't that great as the rain made the windows hard to see through but the company was great. So we had our little unplanned cruise together before my tour bus went on to pass other significant sights before taking us to our hotel to check us in.

That night I went out with three USA girls (one of whom I was sharing a room with). We caught the Metro (the underground train) and sat by the river Seine and ate some food and walked across the Pont Des Arts which is a bridge that lovers go to and put a padlock on the bridge with their initials on it. I don't know where this idea came from but there's more than one place that does it. There's a bridge in Germany like this too but I didn't go there. When it got dark we walked to the Eiffel Tower. I ate a delicious crepe with chocolate, strawberry, banana and cream filling and then we watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle at midnight before finding a nearby station to catch the metro back to the hotel.

Saturday morning we went to Montmartre famous for its artist hub. We went and viewed the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur (pretty much Sacred Heart Church). All the detail is quite impressive and it was quite large. Got a good view of the city from there too. Around the corner there was an artists market where people were selling paintings and doing silhouette portraits. That was impressive to see too. A lady was just freestyle cutting black paper to reveal a side portrait of her customers head. I also ate a pain au chocolate. Mmm. We then met up again and went on a little walking tour past some old windmills that used to cover the hills here. There's only a few left now. One is the famous red one...you know, Moulin Rouge? (Which I now understand means Red Windmill.)

We were dropped off at the Notre Dame of Paris and left to wander as we pleased. Again this building is massive and highly detailed. I was always impressed by these two factors. I went for the free walk around inside and saw the famous rose stained glass windows. Then I walked around the shops a bit and got some food and then met the bus for the afternoon option.

A visit to the Chateau de Versailles! Talk about over-the-top extravagance!

This was a hunting lodge and apparently King Louis XIV who entertained guests here felt a little underdone by someone else and went about making it completely extravagant to impress everyone with the splendour and glory of France. Unfortunately all the successful battles and wealth gained went into this place instead of taking care of the population at the time. It is from here in their extravagant wealth that Queen Marie-Antoinette is attributed with saying in regards the people being so poor that they couldn't buy bread, "Then give them cake." This place was again massive and highly detail, yet more so than the other buildings I've seen. It really is quite astonishing to view and imagine living in. And I only viewed some of the palace. The grounds themselves which are filled with gardens and more buildings and water features are way larger than the area the palace is on.

This is the queens bedchamber, fitted with viewing area (not just for today's era) and the dinning table where the royal family would eat, also fitted with a viewing area for courtiers and others to watch. The king was surprisingly social in this way and let people see a lot. Probably just wanted to show off I suppose. That's why he made the place so elaborate in the first place. He held entertainment nights for the courtiers regularly and weekly too.

Check out the detail even on the ceiling. Each one was a masterpiece painted with gods and victorious scenes. We were there three hours and there was left so much unseen. Actually I kinda got tired of viewing the rooms. Yes they were elaborate but all of them were so after a while it was more of the same. I sat in the tea rooms and had a tea and my first ever macaroon which was yummy. Then I went for a wander through the streets of Versailles and found a lovely little stationery store where I bought a pen and notepad. Delightful ones of course. :) Returning from Versailles I got off at the Eiffel Tower because I wanted to go climb it.

And I did. Up the stairs. As high as I could go. Man, I've climbed up and down so many stairs on this Europe trip. I looked around the city at the second level and ate some ice cream and felt the slight sway of the structure in the wind before coming back down again. I quite liked the Eiffel Tower. I didn't know it sparkled on the hour at night and it was fun to see up close and I liked the patterned detail around the arches and it's such a famous landmark it's fun to say "I've been there." I walked back along the Seine, doing a little tourist shopping, and then caught the metro back to the hotel. It's wierd with the daylight. It didn't get dark until 10:30ish so I always stayed up late coz it never felt like I did.

Sunday we went to the Musèe de Lourve. I got someone to take my pic with the pyramid entrance and then ditched the tour. It cost to get in and I opted to go climb the Arc de Triomphe instead. Then they were going back to England but that didn't fit in with my plans.

So I walked along the long garden like street toward the Arc de Triomphe (one of the glorious landmarks Napoleon built to praise himself). Notice the intersection above? Quite a major one and no line markings. This is very common in Paris. Traffic seems to just go where they please. Including pedestrians who never bother waiting for the walk signal. I'm surprised there's not more accidents. From the top of the Arc de Triomphe (more stairs) I got to watch the traffic below. It's essentially a large round about now and again no line markings AND the traffic entering has right of way. Weird. And yet it works. It was also interesting to see the spray of streets jutting out from the Arc too. Twelve of them.

I then moved myself along and headed back to the hotel to collect my bag and then on to Gare de l'Est (train station) via the Metro. There I sat and waited and ate my last meal in France before boarding the train to Luxembourg.

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