Sunday, May 31, 2009

Our Paris Vacation Comes To An End

On our last day in Paris, we decided to take it relatively easy. We got up late, and then decided to do all the things on our list that we had missed earlier in the week. The first stop was Notre Dame. A relative had recommended seeing the crypt, but it had been closed our two previous times there. The crypt isn't what it sounds like--we weren't looking at old skeletons. It was basically an underground museum with an interesting display of the history of Notre Dame.

We had also wanted to try the restaurant in the Musee D'Orsay, and did so today. We only ate out a few times in Paris because I bought too much stuff when we went to the grocery store by our apartment, and that was my only real regret about this portion of our European trip. I was glad we had the opportunity to eat here though. It was reasonably priced, and I found the food to be good. We each had the plat du jour, which was fish (cod, if I remember right) over fettucine. For dessert, Hubby had the best ice cream I have ever tasted (and that includes all the gelato I ate in Italy), and I had a “Floating Island.” I’m not quite sure what a “Floating Island” is, but it tasted like a big, toasted marshmallow in a caramel sauce. Yummy!

After lunch, we went to the Orangerie to see Monet’s lilies. For those of you unfamiliar with these pieces, they are huge canvas paintings of...well...lilies. They were breath taking. I had originally had the Orangerie on the list of sites we’d see if there was time, and I am really glad we ended up going. That man was just a genius. I can’t believe he painted so many pieces of that size. Amazing. Here are some pictures (these paintings were about 8 feet tall by 25 feet wide):

And that was the end of our time in Paris. Of all the places we went in Europe, Paris is the one I miss the most, which suprises me actually, because at the time we were there, we felt as though we had done a pretty good job of seeing everything we wanted to see. But there is something about waking up and falling asleep with the Eiffel Tower that I'll never forget. Paris was magical, and I hope that all of you reading who would like to get there someday are able to do so.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


We watched Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst before going on this trip, and I knew then that I wanted to see Versailles. Versailles is about an hour train ride out of Paris, and the train ride was mostly uneventful. At one stop, a group of tourists taking a bike tour got on. They successfully loaded six bikes onto the train in the 45 seconds they had to do so. I was semi-impressed. Of course they put the six bikes directly in front of the staircase on the train, blocking passage for anyone wishing to go up or down, but the speed at which they did so was impressive. When we got off the train at Versailles, we followed the masses to the palace, and…NO! The marble courtyard was undergoing renovation. (Rent Marie Antoinette if you want to see what I'm talking about. It is amazing, but alas, wasn't to be for us.) It had sheets and tarps and scaffolding all over it. I was really looking forward to being able to see Versailles from this angle in person, so was disappointed to discover we would not be able to.

It took about an hour and a half to see the interior of the palace. My favorite part about the whole experience was looking for all of the hidden doors in the walls to see how many “secret” rooms there were. The exterior of the palace--now that was the highlight in my opinion. The grounds are massive, and immaculately kept. I loved the gardens—I wished I had had the energy (or the debate skills I needed to convince Hubby to rent a golf cart) to see even more than we did. And I absolutely loved the Hamlet. We spent all day at Versailles. It was a lot of walking (I had to rest a couple of times) but well worth it. Here are some pictures:

Above: Versailles

Above: Marie Antoinette's Hamlet. She had this built so

she could experience peasant life.

Above: The gardens

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Mona Lisa!

For our fourth day in Paris, we spent the morning at St. Chapelle, and then the bulk of the afternoon at the L'Ouvre. A relative had recommended St. Chapelle, and we really enjoyed seeing it. The chapel is almost entirely stained glass, so it's really pretty when the sunlight comes in and hits the different windows. Here's a picture of one of the windows:

After we left St. Chapelle, we stopped by Notre Dame again so Hubby could climb the tower. You are still able to climb some of the towers of the churches in Europe, and Hubby wanted to try this one. It was the same tower Victor Hugo wrote about in Hunchback of Notre Dame. I don't do heights, so Hubby was on his own for the 400+ stair climb. Here is a picture from the top:
After Hubby finished his climb, we were ready to see one of the most storied museums in the world. We headed first in the direction of Winged Victory and the Mona Lisa. Winged Victory was quite impressive. I liked how they had it displayed on top of a staircase, and it was much, much bigger than I thought it would be. We continued on, admiring all the paintings, but the best parts for me were the ceilings. Don’t forget to look up when sightseeing in Europe. You’ll miss some of the best stuff.

We got a peak at the Mona Lisa between the heads of the people crowded around her. By this time, we needed to get away from the crowds, so we made our way to the sculptures. And there I discovered my favorite piece: The Veiled Lady. I couldn’t believe I was looking at stone, it was so realistic and delicate looking. Before leaving, we saw the Medieval L’Ouvre, which Hubby and I also really liked—it is the foundations of the old building. I would recommend that as well, to anyone who is going.

You could spend a week in the L’Ouvre, and still maybe not see it all. One thing that really helped us was reading about the collection beforehand, and deciding what it was that we wanted to focus on. If we hadn’t done this, I would have felt very, very…lost.

We didn't take many pictures inside the building because it wasn't worth fighting the crowds, but here are is a picture of the outside:

That night we took a cruise down the Seine. The cruise was nice (bring a jacket!). But I think we were spoiled with our apartment. I enjoyed seeing all of the sights at night from the boat, but…it just wasn’t the same as looking out over all of Paris from our apartment. But I would definitely recommend the cruise nevertheless.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Plan B in Paris

On our second full day in Paris, we had planned to go to Versailles, in keeping with the castle/palace theme from yesterday's tour, but surprisingly in Paris a lot of things are still closed on Sunday, most notably train ticket offices, so we had to come up with a Plan B.

Because it was still early out and there weren't many people around, we decided to begin Plan B with a walk around Paris. We meandered over to Place D’Concorde and then down the Champs Elyses toward the Arc D’Triomph. It was a beautiful morning with perfect weather. Here is a picture of the Arc D'Triomph:

And a picture of the fountain at the Place D'Concord:

We walked back down the Champs Elyses, over a bridge Hubby had seen on the bus ride out yesterday morning that he had also liked, and back toward the Musee D’Orsay, which we’ve decided to see today.

On the way back, we noticed several walkways leading down to the Seine were roped off, but not by the police. We couldn’t figure out what was going on. We thought maybe someone was filming something. We crossed back over the river and walked along the street closest to the Seine, before realizing why those walkways have been roped off.

There was a Formula One race car on the street below. For those of you who don't know, Hubby. Loves. Cars.

We were so close to the Musee D’Orsay. I thought about all those masterpieces inside that building, and then looked at the Formula One car. It’s not even doing anything. It’s just sitting there in all of its exhaust-filled glory. There was a driver and a crew, but there was only one car, so it didn’t appear as though there was a race.

Hubby of course has to stop and have his moment of Formula One Worship. We lined up along the fence with other gawkers, and Hubby took some pictures. One of the car guards came over and started shooing people away, and I thought, “Yay! Now he’ll HAVE to leave.”

Oh no. Hubby just moved his pilgrimage a few feet down. The fact that the car was not doing anything was just fascinating to him, because it opened up all sorts of possibilities of what COULD happen. A race? A practice? Hubby was determined to find out. So while the world’s artistic masterpieces sat forlornly a few blocks away, we stood near the Seine, in the presence of…a Formula One car. Finally, finally the driver reved the engine, and the car sped off out of eyesight. Hubby is ecstatic. So am I, because it means we can leave.

The Formula One car:

We finally made it to the Orsay. I loved the Orsay. We mainly stuck to the Impressionist works, but did also see some of the sculptures, the print exhibit and an exhibit that was a glass floor with a model city of Paris underneath it. The thing I loved so much about Europe was that so many things that you just study in school here in the US, or only ever see pictures of, is there, in front of you, in Europe. I marveled at all of the Impressionist treasures under one roof, especially since Impressionism is my favorite style. We got close up to the paintings, and then stood back a few feet to take them in to compare/contrast the detail versus the overall effect. Lovely. I also enjoyed the sculptures, I think because of the way they were laid out, and the fact that all of the crowds are upstairs looking at the Monets. It was a very calming atmosphere.

We spent maybe 2-3 hours at the Orsay, and then headed back to the apartment for food. Then we headed back down to tourist central to see Notre Dame. The interior of this church is worth seeing, but we were disappointed that it felt like a tourist attraction and not a church. But the outside: Wow. Here are some pictures:

Later that night we walked down to see the Eiffel Tower. I hadn’t been that excited to see the Eiffel Tower up close, because I assumed it would just look like this awkward metal…thing. I was really surprised to see that it looked…almost graceful, and…delicate. It was actually very pretty close up, and a very ingenious design.

We staked out a piece of grass and waited for it to light up. It was kind of cool being there when it did light up, and hearing everyone around applaud. While we were there, a woman approached me and asked me in French if I spoke English. I could tell she was American, so I told her in English that I did because I was American. It turned out she and her family are also from the Minneapolis suburbs. We chatted with them for a few minutes and take turns taking pictures of each other. By this time it is completely dark, so we headed back to the apartment. We were reminded again of the importance to roll with the punches, because while we didn’t end up doing Plan A, Plan B ended up being one of our favorite days in Paris.