Here we are in "gay Paris". I've always wanted to go to Paris, ever since we learned all about this city in my high school French class. Now I know why. To this day, I still think Paris is the prettiest and one of the most romantic cities in the world. Ooo la la!
I experienced my first feelings of culture shock here in Paris. After getting off the bus, hearing everyone speaking something OTHER than English, and seeing French signs everywhere made me a bit uneasy at first. Somehow, knowing it's going to happen beforehand isn't quite the same as when the moment actually hits you. Chalk it up to experience and move on I guess.
A few words about the city. The Seine River flows through Paris, and like London, most of the sights are located not too far from the river. Notre Dame is actually on an island (Île de la Cité) in the Seine. The Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysée, Louvre, and Latin Quarter are all very close to the river.
The Paris subway (Metro) just can't be beat; it's one of the best in the world. We got around this huge city with ease, except for the few times we had to run for the last train 'cause we stayed out late. The French, especially the Parisians, have a nasty reputation for being rude to foreigners, but we didn't find that to be true at all. Most of the people we met were very nice and very helpful to us.
We did find French food to be somewhat disappointing. Aside from the high prices and miniscule portions, we didn't find really good tasting food in Paris. Maybe we just didn't look in the right places. The exception was this tiny crèpe stand next to our hostel, the Young and Happy. We got huge crèpes of all flavors for a mere pittance. If not for this place, we would have starved to death in Paris! Overall though, our experience in Paris was wonderful (except Robert got sick and slept the whole time we were there).
We were in luck. There was a half-price sale at the Louvre the day we went to see it. Here I am at the lower-level entrance under the controversial ultra-modern glass pyramid. Man, this place is HUGE! There are literally miles of walkways inside the Louvre. After a whole afternoon in this place, we were dog-tired from just walking!
What do you think, does Mona wink? This has got to be the most famous painting in the world. They have it well protected behind bulletproof glass. Still very impressive though.
The Louvre used to be the palace of the French kings. Napoleon used part of the building for his personal apartment. This room is the dining room in Napoleon's apartment. Gee, my apartment never looked like this! If it did, I wouldn't bother buying a house (not that my house looks like this either)...
Notre Dame de Paris. There are no hunchbacks, but it has plenty of gargoyles and scaffolding. The scaffolding business must be very lucrative in Europe as we saw this sight everywhere we went. It's a shame they have to do this to the historic buildings; I think they look better when they are all black and smoky looking.
This is the Basilica called Sacre Coeur (sacred heart) located on Montmartre (martyr hill). I packed a picnic lunch consisting of a baguette, some paté and a bottle of French wine, and ate lunch sitting on the grass behind me with a view of the city. Nice! Later, I would run into Scott here. What are the chances of running into someone in our group in a city of 3 million?!
Not too far from Notre Dame is a small church called Saint Chapelle (san shaPEL). This two-level church has by far the most spectacular display of stained glass anywhere. This is a picture of the upper level church, reserved for the noblemen. Stained glass like you see here covers the dome all the way around. On a clear day, the colors are just awesome.
The lower level of Saint Chapelle isn't too shabby either. The commoners worshipped in the lower church, but you wouldn't have guessed it from the richly decorated gothic arches and bright colors. I actually think the lower church is better looking than the upper. What do you think?
This "inside-out" building holds the modern art museum in Paris. It's called the Centre Georges Pompidou after the dude who designed it. The blue tubes on the side of the building are actually escalators and people movers. The trusswork isn't a scaffolding system, but the actual support of the building. It's unfortunate that the museum is closed for renovations for two years, but just to see the outside of this building is worth a visit.
The feature I love most about Paris is how wide, open, and airy the town is. There are huge boulevards and lush gardens everywhere. This building (Palais du Luxembourg) sits on the largest and most well maintained garden in Paris, Le Jardin Luxembourg. Here you can watch the locals come out in the afternoon to spend the dusk hours lounging in the park, playing chess or just taking a nice stroll. Very relaxing.
L'Hôtel des Invalides houses Napoleon Bonaparte's tomb. This ornate cross sits in the front chapel of the building. Napoleon rests in the basement under the altar.
L'Hôtel des Invalides also houses the armory (Musée de l'Armée) museum, which showcases all kinds of weapons used in many French wars and battles. Here's an example of a cavalier's suit of armor.
I saved the best for last. The Eiffel Tower (Tour d'Eiffel) towers (sorry) over the surrounding Paris cityscape, which is otherwise flat. I've seen it innumerable times on TV and in the movies, but it's especially impressive in person. Looking up at the tower can make anyone dizzy, and looking down it would give anyone vertigo.
We got to the Eiffel tower a bit before sunset. Here's looking through the base of the tower toward the setting sun. The dude in the picture is writer Jules Verne of "From the Earth to the Moon", "Journey to the Center of the Earth", "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", and "Around the World in 80 Days" fame.
From the top of the Eiffel Tower looking East, you can see the large park of Champs des Mars. At the end of the park is l'École Militaire (military school), and off in the distance sits the tallest building in Paris (at one time in all of Europe), the Montparnasse building.
After the sunset, lights on the Eiffel Tower make it even more impressive looking. The words in the middle level "J-555 Avant L'an 2000" means day (jour) #555 before the year 2000.
One final look back at the Eiffel Tower from the bank of the river Seine. Soon after taking this photo, we realized that I was sitting on the underpass at Pont de l'Alma where Princess Di had her fatal accident. Next to the crash site on top of the underpass was a monument covered with writings, flowers, and photos left by people paying their respects to the Princess.