Thursday, December 2, 2010

J'adore, Paris!

We flew to Paris on a Monday morning. It was not part of the original plan to fly to Paris. While we were traveling, the Paris rail system went on strike (or at least 1 union did and I think that affected only international travel). That was a big bummer for us because we planned to take an overnight train from Barcelona. Overnight trains aren't cheap, but you get transportation and lodging in 1 price, and you get to save time because you travel while you sleep! It's a good deal, in my book. Since we couldn't take the train, we flew into Paris. France was beautiful from the air! I can't wait to explore more of it!

The first thing we did was check into our hotel, which we were staying at using our Hilton points. Then we hit the pavement. First stop? A bakery I just couldn't pass it up. I got us a luscious chocolate eclair and delectable custard napolean:

Not my photo - it's from the web. But this is here for those of you who don't know what a napolean is... layers of flaky pastry with custard or creme in the middle, topped with a thick vanilla and chocolate glaze.

At this point in the trip I had to cut Andrew off from ordering desserts for us to share. Typically we take turns choosing or we each order something and share it. But I had to draw the line here in France. France isn't about dousing everything in chocolate and brutally beating your tastebuds over the head. They take pride in the perfect combinations of flavors and in the texture of their pastries. It's an art form. It's going to the ballet vs. going to a boxing match. At least it's what I imagine the comparison is. I've never been to the ballet or to a boxing match. Back to my point... I knew if I let Andrew order he would just get whatever looked the most chocolatey. And I couldn't have that here in France. So the ordering was up to me! And it was a good order. We took our pastries, hopped on the subway, got off at Notre Dame, and sat in front of the legendary cathedral, listening to our Rick Steves audio tour and savoring every flavor. At least I savored every flavor. Andrew gulped it down. Amateur.

As already stated, Notre Dame was our first stop in France. This was the start of a Rick Steves audio walking tour of the area, including the Latin Quarter. Here are some photos:

The most famous gargoyle on the top of the Notre Dame. I'm pretty sure it's his relaxed body language. He's kind of a likable gargoyle!

The carvings over the main entrance. Close ups of this below. There are some crazy things going on on this building.

The birds around here are more spoiled than Disneyland birds. They were eating out of people's hands!

The most photographed gargoyle again. He needs a name.

Saint Denis is here, holding his own head. He is said to have been beheaded for converting people to Christianity, but after the beheading, he simply got up, picked up his own head and walked 6 miles to Montmarte, preaching the entire way. He died and was buried on the hill there in Montmarte (the highest hill in Paris).

The saints along the walls were standing on little people. I guess those were bad guys and that was their punishment or something.

Inside the Notre Dame. Beautiful stained glass.

Lots of people were lighting candles. The glow was pretty inside the dim cathedral.

Saint Joan of Arc statue.

Close up of the candles... like a candle army.

One of the chandeliers was down on the ground for cleaning. It was cool to see them up close. They are really really big!

Okay, here is part of the scene over the main entrance. These guys were naughty so not only are they not getting any presents from Santa this year, they're also getting thrown head first into the cauldron! Ouch! Hot!

This is Andrew. He's in front of the Notre Dame. He's got our backpack on under his jacket. He's being a hunchback. The hunchback of Notre Dame. These are two (assumed) Frenchmen who giggled at him.

This is the Isle St. Louis. The buildings were really pretty. I wanted to explore this area more but didn't get the chance. Not enough time. :[

Me with the Notre Dame behind.

The Notre Dame and the river.

As soon as we crossed the river, we ran into the book mart! The whole strip along the river was carts filled with books and some paintings too. This was one of the reasons I loved Paris. Lots of book shops, big and small. They had plenty of patrons too. But this street book mart... I really loved it. Here are some more shots:

Charming, narrow cobble-stoned streets. A real walking city. This is on our way to the Latin Quarter (or maybe technically in the Latin Quarter at this point).

Shakespeare and Company! This store began as a lending library in the early 1920's and retains it's original charm.... wall to wall, floor to ceiling books! It has housed (supposedly it has about 13 beds), supported, and intrigued authors and readers over the years including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce. Books were available in English here that were banned in the (uptight) UK and US.

At this point in the evening, we're looking for some dinner. Some of the seafood selections were right outside the restaurant to entice us! Unfortunately, I'm merely grossed out and not at all enticed by food sitting outdoors on display.

Fondue date night (Everybody Loves Raymond reference).

The Metro stop at St. Michel, the neighborhood where we at dinner 2 nights in a row.

The view on the river right after sunset.

The Conciergerie, former royal palace and prison. Marie Antoinette was held here. It is now part of the Palais de Justice.

The Arc de Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower behind it. It is a pretty impressive structure.

More of the same.

We searched and searched for the underground tunnel so we could walk around under the arc. We started by walking left. Turns out it was immediately on our right. If it were a snake it would have bitten us. Oh well. We found our way to get some close up photos.

See how big it is? There's Andrew in front of it.

When we got back to the hotel at the end of day 1, we had a bottle of Champagne and a box of cookies in our room! We mentioned to the guy who checked us in that it was our honeymoon and that paid off nicely! The next morning we wanted to check out the neighborhood of Montmarte and see the Dali museum there. We slept in so by the time we made it to Montmarte, it was 11. We decided to opt for lunch! We found this rustic bar with a generous lunch menu. Andrew decided he wanted fondue but there were so many choices on the menu, all in French, and we were a little intimidated by it. Luckily, the guy who ran the place (cooked, served, cleaned and poured drinks all by himself) was really friendly and helpful and spoke English. I can say the same about most other Parisians we encountered. I think the idea that they are rude or snobs or uptight just comes from the tone in the accent along with the dry sense of humor most of them possess. But Andrew and I are pretty dry and sarcastic and ruthless with our sense of humor so we were on the same page with the French. But I got off on another tangent. Back to Day 2: Paris. We told the waiter/cook/bartender/busboy that we wanted fondue and he guided us to this lovely choice:

Yes, that is a platter of raw meat.

And a pan of cheese.

And a platter of fries!

So you take the meat and you cook it on the top of this little portable grill stove thing.

And then you take the cheese and slide it in under the heat until it bubbles. We dipped the fries into the cheese and we had some bread we could dip into the cheese and put the meat on the bread, then top with the cheese... so many options! So delicious!

It was straight to the Dali museum after lunch. Andrew and I both like Dali. Andrew's favorite is the melting clocks.

My favorite. It's Dali's version of Alice in Wonderland. Love the roses as hair and the leaves on the face.

Walking around Montmarte. These leave climbing the building were so vibrant!

Close up of the oranges.

And the reds.

More beautiful fall foliage! I love it when nature and man-made structures collide.

These flowers had all the colors of Spring!

A fish market in Montmarte.

Moulin Rouge!

Andrew at the Games Workshop. His friends will know what this is.

Back to St. Michel for dinner. I really love the art nouveau signs and lamp posts!

Cool pots and pans lamp! I want one in my kitchen!

Mosaic art!

Still loving the signs!

The next day was a big one that I was very excited for. The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre! Big day because I was really looking forward to both. I did get a couple of views of the Eiffel Tower already. When we rode into town from the airport, our subway went right beside the Eiffel Tower. We were riding along, I was looking out the window, first we were underground, then we were above ground, lots of buildings going by, and then BAM! Eiffel Tower right there! But I didn't get any shots of it, of course. I had no idea it would pop into view. Here are a few of the shots I got with my camera out and ready!

I really didn't enjoy being near the Eiffel Tower. The area was swarming with salesmen peddling their wares. Every 2 minutes we were approached by someone with plastic junk. Not to mention the old ladies in their floor-length beggar dresses and shawls draped over their heads standing over us crying over and over for money even after we sternly told them "No!" That's all we could tell them. I didn't think they would understand me explaining in English, "I prefer to donate to charitable organizations rather than hand out money on the street. And I prefer to do so in my own country."

Crunching through the fall leaves as we were walking to the Louvre.

Loved the attention to detail on the dress on this statue!

The obelisk.

I'm sure this fountain has a name and is famous, but I don't know what it is.

I'm not normally a fan of gold. But Paris really pulls it off well!

The park on the way to the Louvre.

The park was a really welcoming place to come and just sit and relax. Lots of benches and chairs all over the place, fountains and ponds and statues, etc.

The bench where we sat and ate our lunch before we went into The Louvre (you can see it there in the background).

Us in front of our lunch bench and The Louvre!

Inside The Louvre standing under the pyramid!

My turn!

Venus de Milo. She was lovely. I like the dude in the background checking her out too.

Venus from another angle.

Beautiful vases.

Really impressive mosaic.

Andrew is such a charmer!

This was one of my favorite pieces. Winged Victory! I don't really mind that she's headless. What I love is the effect that she is standing facing the wind, and moving forward so gracefully. She's very feminine but still strong. I just love her. I can picture her on a giant cliff overlooking the sea. I took lots of photos of her. Here are just a few more:

Great view of the pyramid and the rest of the museum from this window.

Andrew liked this vase or tourine or whatever it was. The face was pretty interesting!

Andrew next to one of the Da Vinci pieces mentioned in The Da Vinci Code.

Me in front of the Mona Lisa. I wish we could have gotten closer to it.

Jesus turned water into wine in this painting.

I really really loved this one. The strength of the red stretched across the canvas.

The Coronation of Napoleon. This painting was HUGE! The biggest piece in the museum. It's 20 feet tall and 32 feet wide!!!!

I really liked this one too. It's The Rape of the Sabine Women. Rape in this case meaning kidnapping and not sexual assault. But considering the story, it's not all that different. The story is that the Sabine women stopped the Romans from murdering their relatives by allowing the Romans to take them as their brides. What I like is not necessarily the story, but really the dramatic body language in the photo and the woman in the center physically stopping the battle.

One of 2 "Slaves" carved by Michelangelo. These are early works and are unfinished but the natural positioning of the body as though the statues were once living and were frozen in an unexpected position (as opposed to earlier Greek and Roman posed statues) are signatures of his work. This one is The Dying Slave.

The second piece - The Rebellious Slave.

I do not know what this statue is called or who made her. But I loved her. She is so peaceful and serene. She just reminded me of having a nice Sunday all to yourself with beautiful weather, your favorite cool beverage, a good book, and no one in the world to bother you... or ask you to put clothes on.

I loved this one too. So passionate and meaningful. It's Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss. Psyche was lying dead just moments before Cupid kissed her. In Greek mythology, Psyche represents the human soul.

One of Andrew's favorites, a sphinx.

Some of the artifacts in the Egyptian rooms.

This statue was making a shadow puppet! Nice dog, statue!

We only saw a small part of the Louvre. It's really huge! Next we went to eat dinner at this really great place. I forget which part of town it was in. Andrew and I split the best onion soup we've ever had. It was so sweet and savory with LOTS of onions. For dinner I had fish and Andrew had the boeuf bourguignon (basically a beef stew). We were quite pleased with our meals on our last night in Paris. We took the speed train to London at about 10pm that night.

I will have really fond memories of Paris forever. I loved it there. We encountered nothing but beauty and art and entertainment and nice people. At least in the neighborhoods we hung out in. I would definitely love to go back very soon!

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