Sunday, July 6, 2003

2003 July 6-8---Paris

The last city on Angie's and my 2 week trip around Europe.  It was a very busy 2 weeks.  We started in Prague  (where Angie had just completed a semester of school)  , then went to Ronchamp, Geneva, Rome, Cinque Terre, Barcelona, and now on to Paris for a couple days.  To check out our trip from the beginning, click here:  Prague

July 6:

AFter spending a hectic day traveling all over Barcelona the day before, now it was time to head on to Paris---our final stop of our 2 week whirlwind trip. 
This was a full day of travel. We were up and at it early--about 7:30am. So early that we had about an hour to wait for the train. So we went to international reservations and reserved first class seats for the 2nd part of our train ride to Paris, the TGV out of Montpellier to Paris, for an additional fee of 3 Euro @ for reservations on a premium train. Angie went hunting for our breakfast. She did good---chocolate doughnuts and pineapple juice. We boarded the train about 8:30 and again were in a different configured first class train car. It would have been nice if the air conditioner in it hadn't gone out as soon as we left. Our 4 1/2 hour trip got VERY uncomfortable by the time we reached Montpellier, but there were no other seats available on the train(good thing we had made reservations the day before).

We made our connection for the TGV about 30 minutes after arriving in Montpellier and were off for another 4 hour trip to Paris. The TGV was very nice. It had a fold out table with seats facing each other. Angie and I sat on the side of the train with one seat facing each other. As on most of the other trains, there was a snack car where we were able to get some lunch.

I was surprised at how smooth the train travelled even though we were supposedly going in excess of 200m/h. The countryside was again lush with lots of farmlands. Looking out at a distance, it was really hard to tell we were going so fast. The only hint we got that we were going that fast was that the electric poles next to the tracks were just a blur as we went speeding by them.

Sometimes it was hard to stay awake on the trains.

We finally arrived at the Paris's Lyon rail station about 8pm and looked for a way to get to the Paris Airport (CDG). We were sent to what we thought was a public bus stop, but it ended up being a shuttle stop. For 11 Euro @ they would take us to the airport. We decided to take the offer.
Once at the airport, we waited for a shuttle to the Comfort Inn---in the middle of nowhere. I had made reservations there for 2 nights thinking it would be convenient for getting to the airport on the 8th and convenient to getting to and from Paris on the 7th. I also thought it was an American chain hotel and thought I knew what to expect! After waiting about 30 minutes for the shuttle, we finally got to the Comfort Inn. Then we waited what seemed like forever to check in. Once we got our key, we figured we'ld take our luggage to the room, then head back down to the hotel buffet for dinner. The room was hot, dirty, had mold in the bathroom, had no soap, had a very noisy ceiling fan, had no window screen, had birds nesting with chirping baby birds right outside our open window, and no apparent AC. I called the office and they promised to "fix" the AC problem as soon as they had a chance. We went to dinner---which happened to be terrible: meat not cooked (and I usually like rare meat), no leaf salad (on a buffet!), chicken in sauce, canned potatoes, lumpy pudding, smokey green beans, and watermelon (which was ok). By far the worst meal we had on our 2 week European trip! At 12.50Euro@, plus another 2.50 Euro for water, not a cheap meal either.
Back to the room, still noone to "show" us how to get AC. So we decide to go down to the bar for a drink and ask again. The bar was closed so we went straight to the reception desk. There was another hotel guest there who was complaining about the AC, too. So the receptionist came with us to solve the problem. First stop was the other guest's room. He was told those are the older rooms and that the ceiling fan is the air conditioning. He told us the same thing at our room, I threw a fit---birds flying in and noisy fan (Angie laughing). He said that's all they can do for now, so I said I wanted to cancel the next night's reservations and go somewhere nicer. I had made the reservations months in advance and was sure the internet had said there was AC. He asked if I wanted to speak to the manager--- I said yes. We went down, he talked to the manager and offered us a different room---saying why am I so mad when he's trying to help me.   The new room was small, but it was in the newly remodeled, clean, and air conditioned wing of the hotel. It was good enough for 2 nights at about 50 Euro/night.
A stressful end to a long day. I was feeling the dispise of the French towards us Americans!  Wonder if our last name had anything to do with this room suddenly coming available (LaBeaume).

July 7:

We were up about 9 and ready for our day in Paris. I had tried to charge some batteries in our 1st room the night before while we were at dinner and blew a fuse or ruined my charger, so we didn't try to charge the video camera battery or laptop. So we got photos of Paris, but no videos.
We caught the hotel shuttle back to the airport train station. I had read that there was train service into Paris, so we showed our passes and were off to find the train. Ended up on a metro and didn't realize it until we got into Paris and needed a metro ticket to get out of the turnstile. We ended up hopping over the turnstile. Visions of "Locked Up Abroad" going through my mind!  We had gotten off by Notre Dame Cathedral , but decided to find some breakfast before starting our touring. We found a great little restaurant nearby called La Petit Pont.
Dcp_4341-La Petit Pond for breakfast
We ordered an American breakfast combo meal and were shocked by all the food that was brought out. It was a very good breakfast!
Dcp_4340-Breakfast feast
With full bellies, we were off to Notre Dame--widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in the world. Construction on it began in 1163. During the French Revolution in the 1790s, it suffered desecration. During the 19th century, an extensive restoration project was completed. Then in 1991, a major program of maintenance and restoration was started, which was intended to last 10 years but was still in progress as of 2009

The intricate sculpting throughout the building are amazing. This is the part above the main door.

Under the 1905 French law on the separation of Church and State, Notre Dame is state property, like all cathedrals built by the Kingdom of France; but exclusive use is granted to the Roman Catholic Church.  Masses are still held here. One just ended as we entered the cathedral.

Here is one of the plaques inside the cathedral.

There was even a separate door for pick pocketers? :)
Just a few other pictures from within the church.
 The famous "Rose window" of Notre Dame.
 Interesting shadows.
 Ironwork throughout the church.

Notre Dame is one of the first buildings in the world to use the flying butress--(an arched exterior support). The building was not originally designed to include the flying buttresses, but the high thin walls of the Gothic style developed stress fractures.  Architects found they could build butresses around the outside walls to support them. It's hard to see them in this picture, but they're there.

One last look at the front Notre Dame.

After visiting the cathedral, we shopped the little stores nearby and waited for the city tour bus which was well worth the 20 Euro @.

Too bad we didn't have more time to get on and off the bus. There are so many sights to see in Paris that one day isn't enough time to see much of Paris.
Here we're riding past the Hotel de Ville--the building housing the City of Paris's administration since 1357.

Looking similar in style to the hotel de Ville is the Louvre--- a historic monument and  national museum of France. It started out as a fortress in the 12th century, although much smaller then it is now. It was expanded into a Palace and finally into a museum.
Here is the Palais de Justice-- From the sixteenth century to the French Revolution this was the seat of the Parlement de Paris. The Palais also contains the ancient structure of the Conciergerie, a former prison, now a museum, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before being executed on the guillotine.
The Musee D'Orsay--It is housed in the former Gare d'Orsay, an impressive Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1915, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world, by such painters such as Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

The Palais Bourbon, where the National Assembly meets---
The Madeleine Church was designed in its present form as a temple to the glory of Napoleon's army.

The Place De la Concorde-- it is one of the major public squares in Paris and is the largest square in the French capital. 
During the French Revolution they erected the guillotine in the square, and it was here that King Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793.
Queen Marie Antoinette was also executed here.  The guillotine was most active during the last part of the "Reign of Terror", in the summer of 1794, when in a single month more than 1,300 people were executed. A year later,  the guillotine was removed from the square.
 On 25 October 1836, King Louis Philippe had The Obelisk of Luxor  placed in the center of Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine used to stand.  It is one of two obelisks the Egyptian government gave to the French in the 19th century.
The Opera de Paris Garnier is a 1,979-seat opera house, which was built from 1861 to 1875 for the Paris Opera.

The Galeries Lafayette is an upmarket French department store.
One of the many sidewalk cafes Paris is famous for--
 In 1702 Place Vendome was made as a monument to the armies of Louis XIV.  More recently it has been renowned for its fashionable and deluxe hotels such as the Ritz.
The original Vendome column was started in in 1806 at Napoleon's direction and completed in 1810. It was modeled after Trajan's Column, to celebrate the victory of Austerlitz. its veneer of 425 spiraling bas-relief bronze plates were said to be made out of cannons taken from the combined armies of Europe.

The first Godiva shop outside Belgium was opened in Paris on the fashionable Rue St. Honoré in 1958.
Opened in April 1878 as the Hôtel Continental, it was intended to be the most luxurious hotel in Paris at the time.  The Hôtel Continental remained the largest hotel in Paris for decades.  Now it's the Westin Paris-Vendome.

Here's just a typical street view from the bus with an entrance to one of the many subway stations.

Another typical city street view.

The busses ran about every 30 minutes. It was another beautiful day so we found a spot on the upper level.

Here are some views along the famous Champs Elysees.

There had just been a big parade here and the stands were still in place.
I love all the landscaping!

The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. It honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

I can't imagine trying to drive along parts of Paris like here that lead into the round-about at the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile ! People on scooters were even cutting between lanes and in front of vehicles. A scooter went around our bus and ended up running right into the car in front of us.

There are 12 boulevards similar to the above one that come together at the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile.  When construction on the Arc begun in 1806, there weren't cars to be concerned about. A policeman is now stationed at each entrance to try and control the chaos. Just riding a bus in and around the round-about is a thrill ride!

Looking towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Petit Palais  is a museum. Built for the Universal Exhibition in 1900 to Charles Girault's designs, it now houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts.
Some people didn't seem to enjoy the tour as much as we did!
The Pont Alexandre III is an arch bridge that spans the Seine, connecting the Champs-Élysées quarter and the Invalides and Eiffel Tower quarter, widely regarded as the most ornate, extravagant bridge in Paris. It is classified as a historical monument.
The American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, America's Episcopal/Anglican church in Paris, has served the American community since the 1830s.
The Musée Galliera is a museum of fashion and fashion history.
The Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine is a museum of architecture located in the Palais de Chaillot.  The museum also houses the French Institute of Architecture which presents temporary exhibits in addition to maintaining an extensive library and archives; and the School of Chaillot, which grants post-graduate degrees in specialized aspects of architecture such as restoration and urban design.
The Trocadéro is across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.   The palais de Chaillot features two wings shaped to form a wide arc.  The buildings now house a number of museums.  The space between the palais and the Seine is set with gardens and an array of fountains. 
As seen from the top of the Eiffel Tower---
Les Invalides, officially known as L'Hôtel national des Invalides , is a complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement of Paris containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building's original purpose.  It is also the burial site for some of France's war heroes, notably Napoleon Bonaparte.

 Column on the ample grounds of L'Hôtel national des Invalides .
The Louvre—is one of the world's largest museums, and a historic monument.  Nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st  century are exhibited over an area of 652,300 square feet.  With more than 8 million visitors each year, the Louvre is the world's most visited museum.
Couple more pictures of the Louve.

After riding the whole 2 hour guided city tour, we rode it again as far as the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889 for the World's Fair and was the world's tallest tower at that time. It isn't anymore, but it is the most visited paid monument in the world --- which is very interesting since there was so much opposition to it when it was built. Eiffel only had a permit for it to stand for 20 years, then it was suppose to be dismantled. But by then the French found they could use it for communication purposes and as a tourist attraction.

After wandering around the base of the tower, we bought tickets and waited
nearly 3 hours to go up the structure.

Views from the "top" were awesome. Love all the white stone buildings of Paris.

 Map showing most of the places we saw while on the bus.
The Trocadéro again.
Here we are---proof that we were here!

We were able to catch the last tour bus from the Eiffel tower back to the Notre Dame area. We walked around Notra Dame again and did some more shopping, then went looking for a place to eat dinner. When we saw this place, we decided to give it a try. Finally got a steak!--first one of the trip. Even got a beer since I was tired of iceless soda and expensive water. For 15.50 Euro, it was a very good meal.
Dcp_4693-hippopotumus restaurant

After dinner, we headed to the metro to go back to the Eiffel tower to see it lit up at night. We got to the 2nd of the 4 stops when that metro car stopped and everyone was told to get off. I was worried the metro was done for the night, but we found a metro guard and he told us the last one back to the airport didn't leave until about 11. So we found another car still in service and continued on to the Eiffel tower to get our pictures by night. Then we hurried back into the metro and made our way back to the airport station where the shuttle to our hotel was.

The Seine at night.

When we got to the airport, we hurried out of the station to find we went out the wrong doors. We managed to find our way back in and to the right doors. By then it was about 11:35pm, so we had to wait 'til about midnight for our shuttle back to the hotel.
Although my initial impression of Paris from the Lyon train station wasn't good, downtown Paris was beautiful--clean, well maintained, big, and the people were friendly.

July 8:

We got to sleep in today---got up about 10:30.
We headed down to the shuttle about 11:30 and were off to the airport.
At the airport we waited in a HUGE line at the NW counter. After waiting an hour for an initial security check, we finally made it to the ticket counter. Then we were off to another huge line waiting another 2 hours to go through security and onto the plane. Once on the plane our departure was delayed another 40 minutes.

Finally on our way---lunch was a good meal of roast beef, green beans and mashed potatoes. We also saw 2 movies---Al Pacino in Recruits and Steve Martin's movie Bringing Down the House, as well as a couple tv shows like Trading Spaces and a special on Central Park--very interesting.

This was a very different vacation for me!  I don't usually travel somewhere without knowing where I'm going, how I'm getting there, and where I'm staying.  But it was nice having the option to be spontaneous at least for part of the trip.  It was wonderful traveling around Europe by train---especially with 1st class Eurail tickets.  I would love to do another Eurail train trip---but with a lot less luggage!

 It was a great 2 week trip starting in Prague and going on to Ron Champ, Geneva, Rome, Cinque Terre, Barcelona and finally Paris.  Not just because of the sights, but also for the fantastic undivided time with Angie!

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