Journal (07Jan11)by Tourguide on Fri 07 Jan 2011, 12 AM CET, Views: 368
Happy New Year. Welcome to part II of our Parisian blog. So Twenty-Eleven, eh? Wow, that sounds like something out of the Jetsons. I remember before leaving the States I saw a high school marquee say Congratulations Class of 2010. Wow, seems so far in the future.
Hell, now that’s the past, crazy. Imagine in just four short years we’ll actually be the date that Michael J Fox warped too in the Back to the Future (though there was a cool internet prank showing that date as actually being last July).
So with our pseudo-legal fireworks festivities behind us, it was time to get down to some real exploring. Like I mentioned in the last blog, there is a lot to see and do in Paris. So much so, that we could only spend a brief amount of time at each locale prior to moving on. Again, when you are on a tour bus nothing moves quickly. It takes a good 15 minutes to get everyone off the bus, bundled up, organized and moving in any cohesive single direction. I actually imagined that a summer-time tour would be considerably faster, just because you would not have to worry about 50 people’s worth of coats, gloves, scarves and hats to deal with.
And getting people back on the bus is even worse. Amongst 50 people, someone is invariably late, or will cause some delay (missing camera, phone or in once case …child) that slows the other 40+ people down. It’s like herding cats. Food and rest area breaks go from 15 minutes to 45 minutes minimum. But, like, I mentioned last week its the trade off you make for not having to worry about any of the logistics, or parking, or getting lost, or worry about restaurant and museum hours. Did you know the Louvre is closed on Mondays, I know my sister does. She found out the hard way.
So like cattle, Rachel and I mooed along cordially and did our best to be patient while waiting for those inconsiderate others, or to hustle along if we ourselves had gotten sidetracked. But, no complaints here, Paris is a lovely city to get sidetracked in. And it’s the sojourns off the beaten path that typically give you the best insight into the new world around you. Tours and tourist stops are designed to be as professional, efficient and well, sterile, as possible wherever you go. Collect your money, move you through, and exit you through the gift shop. To glean anymore than an historical appreciation or, take a few pictures, you have to claw at the surface a little bit. This isn’t to say you should buck the system, but if everyone around you goes right, I’ve found going left has its own charms.
Our 2nd day of the tour began, well pretty late. Obvious New Year’s Day hangovers aside, it appears many of us iPhone-addicted tourists ended up discovering a pretty unfortunate New Years Day bug with the iPhone alarm clock feature. It didn’t work. Something about the phone’s alarm system not acknowledging it was 2011 already. Crazy. How that slipped through Apple’s testing was beyond me. So a good number of folks overslept, and we ended up losing a good 45 minutes off the start of our day.
Finally on the road we began our day’s tour with a trip to the world renowned Notre Damn cathedral. Roughly translated to “Our Lady”, Notre Damn cathedral claims to be the definitive cathedral in the world, and standing there staring in awe of the overwhelming stained glass windows and seemingly wafer thing pillars (aka filigree) reaching out to the sky, its tough to argue. It even had gothic gargoyles glaring down at you, daring you to enter. Brilliantly creepy. From there we moved down the Champs Élysée for a stroll up to the Arch De Triumph, which was quite a bit more impressive up close than you would initially expect it to be.
Finally it was time to for our visit up Eifel Tower. It had been visible at every turn of our tour, it was a tease we had to wait so long to each it see it up close. And, as it turned out, we weren’t the only ones with the ideas, as a good 50,000 visitors crowded the area around the four legs of the Tower. The line to get in stretched out over 3 hours. At 6 million visitor s a year, the Eifel Tower is actually the world’s most visited Tourist stop, take that Roman Coliseum.
Fortunately, we our group had advanced “reservations” (see previous blog about the advantages of tour group trips), so we were inside in just a few minutes. We all crowded into an elevator, filled with humorous signs to help us avoid pick pockets, and waited for it to go up. At that point a funny thing happened, the elevator didn’t go up, well not exactly.
It went up at a very odd angle. More like 50% up, and 50% to the side. Like the end of Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory. Of course as we were attached to the legs of the tower, this made sense, but clearly unexpected by everyone in the car, as we all leashed out and grabbed whatever we could. The elevator conductor, tucked safety behind his guard rail, let out a chuckle. Clearly screwing with tourists was the highlight of his day.
There were 3 main levels to the Eifel tower, but as the conditions were foggy, there was no point going to the top. Stepping out onto the 2nd level was very cool as well, as while we were well above the city still, we weren’t so high that we couldn’t make out our immediate surroundings. I will say though, that tourist uber-hype and mega-commercialization aside, it was very cool to hang out on the Eifel tower. Sipping an espresso on a bench looking out over Paris, was cool. I could see the allure immediately.
Time slipped away and soon we were hoping back into the Wonka-mobile elevator and sliding diagonally down to the ground
From here we were headed to another one of those Tourist-Trap required stops on our trip, the Hard Rock Café for dinner. But after the roasted liver, Duck ordeal form the night before I must say it was a bit of a relief. Also, as Paris was still overflowing with tourists, and locals take 3-4 hours to eat dinner, our options to try and dine out on our own seemed slim to nil. As we crowded into the Hard Rock, our decision to be mindless lemmings on the tour turned out to be a good one, as we saw other members of our group show up 45 minutes later looking crest fallen after striking out on their own. Sure we kinda sold out by going the American food approach for our second meal, but at least we had… French Fries, 😉
The final day of our Parisian adventure (there’s that word again) took us through the worlds largest Palace (including the Vatican) and the world’s most famous museum. Like I said before, Paris is a city if Superlatives. Now there was good news and bad news about our final day. Turns out the first Sunday of every month Paris museum are Free. Seems truly generous of the French, but keep in mind we come from DC where each Smithsonian museum is free year-round. So the good news is that both the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre would be free to get into, and the bad news was …both the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre would be free to get into. Yes, epic long lines were in our future.
Now as we got to the Palace of Versailles well before it opened we only had to wait in line 30 minutes. Which was not bad at all, considering that line quickly grew to over 3 hours by the time we got out. Now getting into the Louvre at mid day we assumed would be a catastrophe. Except our tour guide new about a …secret entrance!
No kidding, we walked up to see this huge line going into the front door, however there was a hidden alternate entrance that lead in from an underground mall that was completely empty. Again, something we would not have figured out on our own. I could not believe that there were thousands of people in one line, and a few hundred yards away we waltzed right in. Truly amazing. But there you go. Anyone want to know about the secret entrance to the Louvre, shoot me an email.
So the big payoff at the Louvre is to see 3 things: The Mona Lisa, the Venus De Milo and the Winged Victory.
Now we already knew not to get our expectations up about the Mona Lisa. It was very small, and very dark, and you couldn’t get close enough to it to truly take it in. But we were here to give a shot.
The thing I was told to look for with the Mona Lisa was to determine where her mysterious smile came from. Do not spend time wondering what was she smiling about, but was she actually smiling at all. I was told that if you look into here yes, or at her lips, or even towards her cheeks, you could not discern the smile independently. However, by taking in the whole image there was truly something there. And this wasn’t something you could photograph. Apparently the way Da Vinci layered the paint thicker in some areas caused subtle shadows and caused her to appear differently from every angle. Apparently her eyes were layered with the thickest amounts of paint, which accounts for why she seems to looking at you no matter where you are standing. Fascinating, the world’s first 3D painting.
Finally making our way around to the room that held the Mona Lisa there was no doubt where she was. Hundreds of photographers jockeying for position, flashbulbs popping off (though not allowed) everywhere. There was actually no way to see the Mona Lisa unless you took a deep breath and plunged your way into the throngs of people. After 15 minutes of what must be the world’s only art museum mosh pit, we eventually got pushed up the front to get an unimpeded view of the world’s most famous painting. The shifting eyes, the mysterious smiles, the subtle androgynous tones about the subject, the shades of paints and subtle shadows. Nice work Leo, you did good on this one.
Walking away I got a quick photo of Mona’s (we’re on a first name basis now, ha ha) viewpoint on the crowd. Hilarious.
Finally free of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free (yah, not a Louvre quote, but French in origin enough), we made our way out to the tour buses one more time to begin the trek back across the border to Germany. After 3 straight days we were spent. Paris is just too much city for one weekend, but C’est la Vie.
On our way out of town we passed by several more noteworthy locations. One was the Paris Opera House, where the famous Phantom of the Opera was to have been set, and the other was a good deal less glamorous. It was a small underpass tunnel of concrete and stone about 15 minutes outside of Paris.
As we drove through it you would not have even noticed the bouquet of flowers that laid inside the tunnel if you were not looking for it. However, here, on exactly the 8th pillar inside on the left hand side was the location of the violent car crash that cost the life of Lady Diana, Princess of Wales. A grim reminder that the City of Love is comparable of equally powerful heartbreak as well. That was 14 years ago already. Certainly one of those “Do you remember where you were” moments of our time.
And then, after 5 hours, and 1 more union-regulated rest break later, we were home again.
Though not cheap by any means, I certainly hope to return to Paris by ICE train next visit. Taking the ICE train, if we left our home at 11 am we could be in Paris just after 1pm. And we do hope to return Paris again in the spring, in particular get to see outside of Paris. They say a “city is a city is a city.” Implying anywhere you go, major cities are all kind of the same in a metropolitan kind of way.
I’ve found Dublin to be like Boston, and Tokyo to be like Time Square. To really understand a place, is to see its people. So I’m actually pleased to have gotten the obligatory been-there-done-that parts of Paris out of the way, so we can actually go out and meet some of its people and really take in some of the culture of its towns and inhabitants away from the city-centers. I colleague of mine rented a château with his family in France over the long Christmas to New Years break. He said the local markets offered very authentic slices of French life, and that sounds like a marvelous idea.
C’est la Vie.