Thursday, July 5, 2012

When In Paris

Hello again! 

Are you in vacation picture overload yet? ; ). Thanks for coming back to see the final installment in my Europe trip series.

Have I inspired you to hop a plane to Rome or make a stop in Geneva? I hope so!

The last week of our trip we stayed in Paris. I studied French in school growing up and I've always had a fascination with the city. Of course, there is the architecture, the food, but there's also the people. I think the French get a bad wrap from us Americans. Sure, our politics are very different sometimes, but I think sometimes that is an overblown fact. Most French people are like most Americans, they have only a passing interest in international politics and many of them question their government as well. Most every French person I have ever met has been super friendly and helpful. Sure, it probably helps that I can speak a fair amount of the language, but honestly, most people we've met there spoke English. Many wanted to speak English because they wanted to practice it. 

I guess my point is.....I enjoy the city, I enjoy the people. Don't judge them until you travel there yourself. 

My first trip to the City Of Lights was more than a little stressful. We have, ahem, mechanical issues and the rough terrain got he best of us. Oh, and we stayed in a seriously flea bag hotel. My friend and I decided to return to make a better go of it. I really wanted to replace all the bad memories I had with some good ones. We took another chance on the city, and little more prepared this time. Man, am I glad we did. I have a serious crush on this country. I could have stayed another week, but, alas, I am no trust fund baby and I had to go back to work.

Until I go back, I have my memories and about a million pictures to relive my trip. Going yourself? Thinking of honeymooning there? Here's a list of a few things you may/may not know about. Just click the name to get more information.They should all be on your to-do list:


Also called the Key Bridge, The Lock Bridge (and there are versions in Rome and Serbia). This might be the most romantic place I have ever been. There's a tradition of lovers coming to the bridge with a key inscribed with both their names. They attach the lock to the bridge, and throw the key in the river. Eternal love. Sigh.....I know, I know sappy, right?
 
But really, look at that couple? That is the SWEETEST thing I ever seen. I am definitely doing this when I get married someday. Consider yourselves warned, family. 
 
 
Conveniently, the Love Lock Bridge leads you to my next pick....


 
Notre-Dame is in my heart as one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen. Religion aside, there is so much history in its' architecture. Add in the religious traditions and all the symbolism it has held for Catholics over the years, and it's a must see. And, it's still a working church. The first time we visited we heard part of a mass. That was really cool.

You can walk all along the perimeter and see dozens of small chapels decorated with monuments, paintings and religious artifacts. Do yourself a favor and get the audioguide. They are free, and totally worth adding. It will help you see things you may have missed and also help you not get lost in the maze of aisles and chapels. 
 
Don't rush off when you get through the inside. The facade is amazing, covered with thousands of sculpture. Go around the back (the picture below is the front, the back is the side with the flying buttresses). There is a fabulous garden with plenty of photo opportunities.


3. Dinner/Boat Cruise
I didn't get any great pictures when we took our night cruise (it was raining), so just pretend that I'm riding in the boat sailing past the Cathedral. There are lots of boat companies, we took. They had a dinner cruise option, but we decided to eat first and take the cheaper tour only cruise. We entered the boat dock near the Eiffel Tower and ate at the restaurant owned by the boat company. Sooo good, I would highly recommend it. The city is so gorgeous at night, and you see lots of building you may not have from land. (p.s. you also get a good view of Parisian teenagers who have snuck down to the river to smoke pot and make out...free of charge)


I gave the same advice in Rome, and I totally believe it. The first time we came here, we felt the pressure to see 'everything'. Of course you can't fit everything in and you miss the chance to just wander, people watch, window shop and appreciate the architecture. You absolutely need to take time to sit at a cafe, order a teeny cup of coffee or a glass of wine and relax.  Another way to relieve yourself of the 'Igottaseeeverything' pressure...

We used the Red Car system, because it was the first one we found with accessible buses, but there are goobs of them to choose from.

If there are sites you have heard about, but you are just not sure that they're worth the extra effort to walk to them, you'll probably get a great view from the bus. For obvious reasons it passes all the touristy sites. Sites I consider in the category of 'nice to see but not nice enough to waste energy/time to walk to' include: l'Arc de Triomphe, The Bastille, The Music Academy, The Military Museum. 

Oh, and you get an audioguide to explain things as you pass by. I love audioguides.

Don't I look happy? That's because I'm eating a crepe with Nutella...but we'll come back to that.


As I mentioned earlier, the hotel we stayed in a few years ago was a real stinker. It was tiny, dirty and at the top of an obnoxiously long hill. This time I took a recommendation from Rick Steves and stayed at Hotel Splendid and it was perfect! It's right by a #69 bus stop (see below), and only a 10 minute walk from the Champ de Mars where not only would we catch our tour bus but also the most fantastic view of the Tower.  Day and night we would stop and snap a few picture. 

The hotel staff is very helpful, the neighborhood is busy, full of activity, but not too loud. It's also clean and very safe. The bathroom was big enough for my wheelchair, and that earns a bunch of brownie points for me.

7. Eat as much Nutella and crepes as possible. Much like gelato in Rome you really can't eat enough warm, street cart made crepes. Trust me. 



Versailles falls into the 'worth all the extra effort'  category (much like the Colosseum in Rome). If you use a wheelchair like me, it is not the easiest trip. #1 there is an RER line that goes right there and you can catch it at the Invalides station, but they trains are not accessible. I read somewhere that they kept a ramp at the station they could pull out for you to use-they were fibbing. Trust me. Best just to climb up into the train the best you can. I've done it twice now, and I would probably do it again. The palace is not to be missed. It's extraordinary, indescribably so. It is big and ostentatious, spark;y as all get out. Everything is covered in gold. Like the front gate.


p.s. This gate has got me thinking of gold leafing my front door...why not?
 \
Oh, and I probably need to paint my ceilings. And I need a few murals on the walls..

Adding to the trip this year was a modern art installation they had incorporated into the palace rooms. Really beautiful pieces they looked great with the antique decorations as a back drop. Two pieces of advice: get the audioguide, if for no other reason as it will help you figure out what each room was used for and keep you going in the right direction. And they're free. Number two: get a train ticket to access the gardens, the Grand and Petit Trinons (smaller buildings behind the main palace. You could walk, but why? It's far...and the train is cheap. And when it suddenly begins to pour down rain you will be covered (I may know this from experience). Ok, I have one last tip. I gets crazy crowded sometimes and the rooms are small. Keep your cool. I started getting VERY stressed out because I could see this/that and I couldn't move as fast as I would have liked. Really, I probably missed a few things because I was busy scowling at the other tourists. Note to self-stay calm.



Oh man, the coffee...its strong, rich, and served to you in teeny tiny cups. No, you cannot get it iced. It's SO good! 



Probably the most famous museum in the world, the Louvre was another frustrating experience from our last trip. Housed in a former royal palace, it is a maze of steps, people, and elevators. And most of the signs are in french. In fact, all the tags below the art pieces are only french (why? I will never get that...). Last time we felt the 'wegottaseeeverything' stress so we hunted out all the biggies- Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo. We also missed just about everything else. And we left as soon as possible, frustrated and kind of cranky. This time, we were a little smarter. Firstly, we went later in the day, when it is so much quieter. Second, we decided to concentrate on only one wing of the museum and spent two leisurely hours exploring the Egyptian artifacts. It was awesome.
 
 

That's obviously not Egyptian, but isn't it pretty? We saw it on the way back to the elevator. Bonus tip: as you leave, take plenty of pictures. Sunset light is very flattering.


 Especially at night, the light show is fantastic. Watch it while eating a late dinner, or for a great and uncrowded view go to the Champ de Mars. We walked there every night on our way back to our hotel.

Also, on the river side of the Tower you will find a merry-go-round. Next to that you will find a snack shack that serves a ham & cheese crepe that will change your life. Maybe it's the view......

13. #69
Riding Paris buses are not for the faint of heart. They are crowded.......and crowded some more. But, if you learn to do anything, riding the bus will save you tons of money and time. The #69 is the route to learn. It goes EVERYWHERE. In general the drivers are very friendly and speak marginal English so you can ask them the name for the stop that you need, because you have to signal when you want to get off. 


Wow, that was LONG post, huh? Kudos to you if you read all the way to the end. I really do love this city, and I will definitely go back someday. Have I inspired you? Are you planning your trip right now? Do you need a translator? 

Thanks again for stopping by and as Rick Steves says ' Happy Travels!"

Michelle

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