Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Holidays Part 2 - Paris

Getting to Paris was a nightmare in itself. Since we hadn't booked our train tickets in advance, when we tried to do it the night before naturally all the cheap tickets were gone. Instead of paying the original $65 it would have cost if we'd done it a month ago, we wound up paying 4 times that for a 2nd class ticket. Blah.

And remember how I said our tour guide laughed at our plan? And that we only spent 30 minutes in Oxford because we had to try to catch our train? Well, this is how that went....
  • Thanks to dumb people on our tour bus who couldn't tell time, our tour had gotten more and more behind schedule throughout the day. Now, instead of arriving back in London at 6:30, it would be more like 7:15. Which did not give us time to catch our 8pm train halfway across town. 
  • Thankfully, we had an amazing tour guide who looked up train times on his phone for us, from Oxford to London. We went on a 20 minute walking tour of Oxford with him, while lugging our suitcases so we could leave as soon as the tour ended. Then he pointed us in the right direction, waved bye, and probably laughed as he watched us sprint down the streets.
  • As soon as we arrived back in London we had another a couple metro stops and some more streets to sprint down. By the time we finally arrived in St. Pancras International Train Station, Matt was limping and I was clutching my side.  
Then we had a 2 hour train ride to sleep on before we pulled into Paris. And then spent the next 3 hours trying to find our hotel while refusing to get a taxi. 3 different people told us 3 different ways to get to our hotel, but each pointed us in a different direction. So basically, nobody had any clue.
Let's just say that when we finally made it, I slept like a rock that night.

The next morning we were still feeling the effects of our late night running across town. We got up, ate breakfast, and made it as far as seeing the base of the Eiffel Tower before admitting defeat and returning to the hotel for a nap.

Feeling invigorated, at 5pm that night (oops), we headed for the Louvre and Notre Dame. Both were closed. Fail.

But we did get to enjoy them in all their glowing glory at night. So that was cool.

This place looks deceivingly small from the front.

Then, as we were walking back to our hostel, Matt pulled a sneaky move and gave me my Christmas present midway across a bridge, overlooking the Seine River. I'm such a sucker for romantic things like that :)
And then my wallet got pickpocketed on the metro. So that sucked.

Friday was a much more productive day. We checked into our new hotel (in a nicer part of town) before 10am and then spent the entire day exploring. Our new hotel was off of the metro stop 'Marcel Semblat'. If you've ever seen the youtube video 'Marcel the Shell with Shoes On', you'll understand why this entertained us for the rest of the weekend.

On Friday we saw:
  • Pont Nuef - the oldest standing bridge across the Seine river in Paris, built in the 1570's.
  • Notre Dame - Construction started in 1163 and finished in 1345. It is the most popular monument in France, even more so than the Eiffel Tower. (Who knew?) I fell in love with the stained glass windows pretty quickly. 
  • The Islands - We found the most delicious ice cream place ever, Berthillon Ice Cream. Look it up if you're ever in the area!
We stumbled across this band playing on the bridge by one of the islands. The saxophone player and singer were both from the U.S.!

    • Shakespeare & Company - a cool quirky bookstore near the river; by day its a regular bookstore, by night its a place for writers who need a place to crash. My uncle stayed here for a while when he was younger, so it was neat to stop in and see it.
    • The Louvre - We saw the Mona Lisa, and that was about it. My tolerance for museums is fairly low...but I do regret not spending a little more time poking about.
    We did see this gem of a statue though as we were passing through. Seeing the looks on peoples faces as they passed by were priceless! Everything from a hand clamped over the mouth, to outward disgust, to puzzled looks. I could have stayed and people-watched all day!
      • Place de la Concorde - In my opinion, this was one of the most interesting places in Paris. In the past, this was where the guillotine was held and where all the public executions were done. (During the 'Reign of Terror' in the summer of 1794, over 1,300 people were executed in this square.) Then in 1829 the Egyptian government gave the French government a giant obelisk, that had once guarded the entrance to Luxor Temple.  The obelisk was placed in the square over the spot where the guillotine had been. The square was named Place de la Concorde as a reconciliation effort with its bloody past. 

      This is largest square in France. And easily the most impressive. 

      Whew. Busy day.

      Saturday morning it was decided that climbing up the Eiffel Tower (instead of taking the elevator) was a worthwhile thing to do. 
      Does anybody know how many stairs that is? 
      Well, it's the equivalent of climbing up a 43 story building. 
      So a lot. 
      But it was a great experience, I would definitely recommend that versus taking the elevator. But because we walked, we only went to the 2nd floor, and not all the way to the stop. I was fine with that though, the second floor is still very high up there!

      Little, tiny people waiting in line

      After that little excursion we saw...
      • Sacré-Couer Basilica - located on the highest point of the city. You can choose to walk up the front steps or take a elevator-like  escalator for 1euro. Guess which one i chose :)
      • Christmas Markets - Yes! They still had Christmas Markets up! 
      • Arc du Triomphe - Placed in the center of the largest roundabout in the world. This place was a f***ing mess, pardon my French.

      Then it was time for a brief siesta before heading to the Eiffel Tower for New Years Eve fireworks!
      There's really nothing compared to standing with thousands of people, cheering and popping champagne, while watching the Eiffel Tower light up and glitter with thousands of little lights. Although the fireworks show was a little (okay, severely) lacking, the sheer amount of excited people and energy made up for it.

      Right at midnight. And no, the fireworks didn't get any better. 

      We learned later that the fireworks show used to be better, but that Paris is having some financial difficulties...but who isn't these days??

      Sunday, on our "last day in Paris", we spent 2 hours waiting to by bus tickets to take us to the airport, and another 6 hours waiting in said airport. Fun.

      The highlight of our weekend in Paris was definitely when I got a present from "the panini guy" at our metro stop. Matt and I got sandwiches from him on Thursday and then went back for dinner on Friday. I said hi and ordered the same sandwich, but I wasn't sure he remembered us. Then, while my panini was baking, he started making a crepe.
      Matt and I looked nervously at each other, because I had been talking about getting a crepe when we walked up, but I'd never actually ordered it. "Did he think we wanted one? Should we say something? Uhh..awkward..." But I figured that if he was making it for me I would pay without complaints, cause let's be honest, I'm always up for a little desert :)
      We watched as he added Nutella and carefully spread it evenly around the crepe, and then neatly folded it up and wrapped it in tin foil. By this time, because of the care he was putting into this delicious crepe, I was certain that it was a snack for him to take home or something.
      BUT THEN!! He handed me my panini followed by the crepe, saying "a small gift for you".  I was so shocked I couldn't even thank him properly. What a nice guy!! He was in his 60's, graying hair, but...I think I'm in love :)


      1. I ONLY ate crepes when I was in Paris. They are the BEST!

      2. He said "A small gift for you" and don't forget that he wrapped it up in that little bag too :) And are you forgetting anything from Paris? :/