Paris Day 4: Hidden Treasures

Our last day in Paris crept in on us and although we were already sad, we were surely going to make the most of it. After another breakfast at the apartment, which consisted of fruit, pastries and hard-boiled eggs, we hopped on the metro. We had our last bike tour with Blue Bike Tours and we were meeting at Place St. Michel like we did for our first tour with this group. The fountain is near both Notre Dame and Saint-Chapelle cathedrals, so we left our apartment with plenty of time to see these two beautiful structures. I was most excited to view Notre Dame because it was the first large European church I ever saw. It was just as alluring as I remembered it. Although people said San Chapel is more striking, I am not sure if I agree.

We met the tour guides and selected our bikes, which were right around the corner. By “selected” I mean picked our bikes by claiming one with a name we enjoyed. Each bike is labeled with a name, so it’s easier to keep track of our bikes when we take a break from riding them. I don’t remember the name of my first bike, but the name of my second bike was Napoleon III, and the name of my last bike was Croissant.

Today we were touring the back roads of Paris, so it was like seeing and learning about the little hidden treasures and facts throughout the city. Our first stop was the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, which was founded in 1951 by George Whitman and is now run by his granddaughter. This store welcomes authors to reside in the rooms at no cost. The only requirements are that they read almost a book each day and that they pen an autobiography to keep in the store’s archives. It was a quaint place and made me want to pick up several books to read. While there, we also learned about how the caste iron water fountains were established in Paris. They were a present from Sir Richard Wallace, who financed Charles Auguste Lebourg to design them after Paris faced much destruction after the Franco-Prussian War. With these fountains, the Parisians would never loose water connection during war or any other time. As we rode away, we passed by the “oldest” tree in Paris, which was brought from North America.

We then headed to Saint-Sulpice Church, which is a Roman-Catholic has mismatched towers and was recently feature in “The Davinci Code.” Inside it houses a gnomon, which is a device that casts a shadow on the ground to determine the position of the sun in the sky. Another spot we passed the church, Saint-Etienne, which has the steps Owen Wilson sat on in “Midnight in Paris.”

A really interesting thing that tied in with American history we saw was Paris’ oldest café, Le Procope, which was founded in 1686.Famous visitors include Benjamin Franklin, Voltair, Napoleon and Victor Hugo. The café holds Napoleon’s hat, which he left there as payment, and a few other historical artifacts, including a blood stain from someone who was shot while Benjamin Franklin was working on the Constitution.

DSCN0580.JPG
Le Procope

Our other stops included the Pantheon, which was originally built as a basilica, but then was taken over during the French Revolution and eventually dedicated to the great men of France. We also saw the roman arena, which is over 2,000 years old. It was used for animal and and human battles, but then was covered up and forgotten about once the Roman Empire collapsed. Another extremely old structure we saw was the 800-year-old wall that was built to protect Paris from Richard Lionheart of England, but was eventually uneccesary as Paris grew outside its borders. We rode through Mouffetard Village as well, and seeing the modern street art was interesting.One of the last stops was the Palace Royale, which is known for its charming red bricks and history. Apparently, not all the bricks seen on the buildings are real, due to building permits and regulations in Paris.

 

DSCN0611
Place des Vosges

Once we completed our tour, we had a few hours left to explore. Pop Pop and I decided we didn’t have time to climb into the towers of Notre Dame, so we quickly found our way to the Opera House. This was so special to me because Phantom of the Opera was one of the first musicals I became interested in on my own and possibly helped start my obsession with France. The Opera was drop-dead gorgeous. The history of it was incredibly interesting as well. Apparently, the opera was more of a  social thing and was similar to how we watch television today. In other words, people did not come to the Opera just to watch it. Also, people never came on time, because that meant they had nothing better to do with their day. I am so happy I got to tour it and learn about the famous house of music. And no, I did not see the phantom.

DSCN0625
Stairway of the Opera House

 

After that, Pop Pop and I took the metro and then rushed to the Les Invalides museum. This is where Napoleon III is buried, along with others, and has the history of all of the French wars. We had about an hour to see it before it closed. The room in which Napoleon is buried is gorgeous, and his tomb is massive.

 

DSCN0647
Aerial view of Napoleon’s tomb

We finished the night with a dinner at a place recommended by our host’s friend. Apparently, the “real” French restaurants don’t have the menu in French and English. This one only had the menu in French. An interesting thing in France is that its menus come pre-set, so you can pay to get an appetizer and an entre, or and entre and a dessert, or all three. We started with escargot, which we were determined to eat before leaving Paris, and had a satisfactory meal that followed.

 

 

DSCN0659
A horizontal view of me and my yummy snails

Our last day in Paris was amazing, and we did not let one second go to waste.  I will miss this gorgeous city tremendously, but hopefully one day I will be back.

Advertisements

Paris Day 3: Versailles

I see the sun! It was a pleasure waking up to weather other than rain or clouds. Pop Pop and I grabbed a quick bite that our host kindly left us, and then we were off to the Gare Saint-Lazare train station. Today we planned a bike tour of Versailles with Blue Bike Tours. We met the group and tour guide at the station and then hopped on the next train to the city. The trains are interesting here because passengers have to scan their tickets through the machine on the way in and as they exit. I assume this is to make sure they do not travel further than their tickets permitted. This is definitely not a very lenient system, and I’ve never seen it in America.

DSCN0464
At the market of Versailles

When we arrived, we walked through a market place in Versailles. The inside vendors were selling all types of food—vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, pastries, cheeses and sandwiches. The outside stands were filled more with goods such as clothing and knick-knacks, like one may expect to find at a flea market. We split up to grab some food that we would be eating on the royal grounds, and then walked to pick up our bikes once we regrouped.

DSCN0467
Pop Pop at the market

Getting our bikes was more stressful than it needed to be due to group members wanting extra bags to carry the food in and having issue after issue with the bikes, but all was remedied and we were eventually on our way to explore Chateau de Versailles. The town is a lovely place, filled with beautiful architecture, stone roads and trees lining the streets.

DSCN0469.JPG
View of the palace from the waterfall in front of it

We reached our security check, which was very relaxed, and entered the grounds of the palace. We stopped between a long grass section that sat between the parking lot and the pond of the palace. This was a huge man-made pond and it reminded me of the reflection pool in Washington, D.C., only much larger. Here our tour guide, Claire, told us about the history of the kings of France from Louis XII to Napoleon, which was incredibly intriguing. It is insane to think that a boy was made king at five years old and that another king had 200 mistresses. We learned that Versailles was originally built by King Louis XIII as a small hunting lodge to escape the people of Paris, but because it was so small, he got terribly ridiculed. He eventually had a larger one constructed, but it was still not “king-size.” So, he had the palace built and from there, each king added something extra to the getaway.  Claire also explained why there was a giant metal structure spewing water into the pond. Apparently, the museum selects a new piece of art every year to place on the grounds and this waterfall was it. Last year the chosen artwork was a cylinder that was placed on the grass and known as “the vagina of the palace,” which struck much controversy over the conservative people of Versailles.

DSCN0471

After receiving the most interesting history lesson of my life, we rode our bikes halfway around the pond to reach the other end that looked directly at the palace. We had a picnic there, which was quite lovely. The sun was shining and the grass was comfortable. After lunch, we rode our bikes around the rest of the pond and off to the summer house, known as The Grand Triaon. This was built as a request from King Louis XIV as a retreat for himself and his head mistress, which apparently was a high title to possess. We then rode to Petit Trianon, which was a smaller chateau created for King Louis XV’s mistresses. This palace was smaller and less grandeur than the Grand Trianon. This was later handed off to Marie Antionette as a place for peace and quiet.

DSCN0479.JPG
The King’s bedroom in the Grand Trianon

Speaking of Marie Antionette, she was the most intriguing part of the tour, in my opinion. Although she was beheaded as a traitor six months after her husband King Louis XVI was guillotined, there can be a soft spot found for her in one’s heart. She was married to King Louis XVI when she was brought to France from Austria as a young teenager. Before she met her soon-to-be husband for the first time, she had to strip herself of everything she brought from Austria, including her clothes and dog, and was given French clothes and servants. Just her entry into France was controversial due to the war that was just ended between France and Austria. She was then hated because she did not produce any heirs to the throne for more than eight years after she was married. However, that was because Louis XVI was an extremely shy individual and did not understand how producing children worked, or was too embarrassed to try. She did not enjoy her life, and to escape from reality, she had workers build her a farm and village on the grounds of Versailles. While there, she did not have to be a queen and could work on the farm like a normal person. However, she did not like getting too dirty, so she had a real farmer clean the animals and even brush off the chicken eggs before she would retrieve them in the morning. On the other hand, when people discovered the rumors about her farm village to be true, Antionette probably looked so far away from the normal life because she got a fancy level of treatment on her farm. All in all, I was absolutely blown away when I learned about her and her dream life.

DSCN0511.JPG
A building from Marie Antionette’s farm

The last stop of the tour was the main palace of Versailles. In it were paintings, rooms and furniture that showed how royalty lived while there.  It is truly incredible that all these items were preserved over hundreds of years for the world to now see.Versailles was absolutely spectacular and so impressive.  I can only imagine the planning, time and money that it took to build everything.

DSCN0530.JPG
The Hall of Mirrors

To finish the night, Pop Pop and I took the metro to Sacre Couer, The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. This is the highest point in Paris and overlooks the whole city. To get to it, one can climb stairs, or take the funicular, which are two cable cars that balance each other as one travels up and one goes down the side of the hill. We ate a mediocre dinner in the town of Montmarte, which is the town that surrounds the basilica. It is a cute town on the hill, but also full of tourists.

DSCN0548.JPG
Sacre Couer

It was a long day in Paris and Versailles, but well worth it. I couldn’t believe that the last day I would spend in Paris was only hours away.

Paris Day 2: Jam-Packed Fun

Tuesday was the busiest day yet. I mean it. It was jam packed.

We got up bright and early, ate some fruit and pastries and were out the door to start the day. The weather seemed to be holding up in the morning, and we were thankful for that. We rode the metro to the grounds of the Jardin de Tuileries, walked through and got in line for Musee d’Orsay. This is a former railway station that now houses mainly French paintings, drawings and sculptures that date from 1848 to 1915. The building was beautiful and the artwork was even more stunning. The main works we saw were by Monet, Monat, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Degas.

We ran into a speed bump at the museum when my Pop Pop realized he didn’t have vouchers for our reservation in the Eiffel Tower. We called the company through which we booked the lunch and luckily its main office is located on the other side of Jardin de Tuileries. We walked there and got it sorted out in no time.

DSCN0432

I have seen the Eiffel Tower hundreds of times and I was even there once, but as we walked under it, I could not believe how massive this structure is. It is simply incredible. My Pop Pop and I noted that it is the most beautiful piece of metal we have seen. We easily got to the restaurant on the second level and ate away. We were fortunate enough to clinch a table at the window, so our view during lunch was the beautiful view of the Parisian skyline, and more specifically, the Central Business District. Apparently there is a section of skyscrapers in Paris, and it is the CBD. Once we were done with our lunch, we climbed up to the next level of the Iron Lady and took in the views presented to us. We were so happy the rain held off and the sky seemed a bit brighter, since we had seen nothing but rain and clouds since Dublin.

DSCN0420.JPG
Lunch in the Eiffel Tower.

After the Eiffel Tower, Pop Pop and I marched to the sewers of Paris, Égouts de Paris, and took a tour. This was really special to me because we had tried to do this when we were in the City of Lights eight years ago, but were unable to head underground. I guess we completed our unfinished business by seeing other people’s dirty business! Anyway, it was really informative and it was more interesting than one would think to learn about how the sewers evolved over the years. My favorite part was when Victor Hugo was mentioned, who wrote about the Paris sewers in his famous novel (and my favorite show) “Les Miserables.” Apparently he knew the sewer master, and used a detailed map of the network to refer to while writing his novel. Although it smelled pretty bad (although not as bad as one would think), I am so thankful I finally got to experience the famous sewers de Paris.

DSCN0438.JPG
The Paris sewers.

We noticed we still had a decent amount of time to kill, so we hopped on the metro and visited the Arc de Triumph, which is at the end of Champs de Elysees. After a long construction and different symbolism, the monument is a token of gratitude to those who have served in war and represents triumphant France. As I climbed to the top, I recalled being on the top of it when I was twelve and waving down to my grandma, who understandably opted out of climbing the massive piece of art. The monument is only a few blocks from our apartment, so once we were finished, we strolled home.

DSCN0439.jpg
Arc de Triumph.

We had about an hour to rest and then got ready for our evening event: a show at The Lido. The Lido is a cabaret and burlesque show located on the Champs de Elysees. This street, by the way, was very popular and reminded me of New York City with its bright lights and vibrant energy. You may have heard of the Moulin Rouge, which is the most famous burlesque show in Paris. I went there when I was 12, so my Pop pop decided to take me to a different place. This was a bit sentimental because I wore the same dress I wore to the Moulin Rouge to the Lido. My Pop Pop could not believe I was wearing the dress eight years later, and to my satisfaction, it fit much better. The show was incredible. It was filled with beautiful and sparkling outfits, great dancing and singing, a mime, a juggler, ice skaters and other performers. We had a great view of center stage and an even greater experience.

DSCN0453
The Lido.

Finally, the long day came to an end and we prepared for the next day that would start with another bike tour, but in a new location.

 

Paris Day 1 Continued: Tour and Cruise

To begin our tour with Blue Bike Tours, we met at the St. Michel Fountain. The group consisted of a family with two young boys, a single man, a single woman and a gorgeous couple that was incredibly sweet. We began by grabbing our bikes and our journey around Paris begun. Below I have broken down the tour:

DSCN0326.JPG
St. Michel Fountain
  • We biked from St. Michel to the boat we would ride on the Seine. The boat we took was with Croisiere Bateaux Parisens. The most famous river boats on the Sein is with Bateaux Mouches, which is what I rode when I was here eight years ago.
  • During the boat cruise, we passed buildings such as the Louvre and the d’Orsay Museum.
  • We stopped at the Eiffel Tower where I (finally) consumed a long awaited French crepe.
  • We passed under and over Bridge Alexander III, which is regarded as the most ornate bridge in Paris. It symbolized friendship with Russia when it was finished in 1900. However, that friendship only lasted three years. It was also used to symbolize the power and greatness of the city in the 1900 World Fair.
  • We rode our bikes to the Louvre, which is the world’s most famous museum and largest historic monument in France. I could go on about how extravagant this building is, but I will leave it at it’s absolutely ginormous, it’s fancy and full of rich history as well as pieces of art (the Mona Lisa!).
  • We passed over Pont Neuf, which is Paris’ oldest bridge that has several intricately designed faces on the sides.
  • We passed by Grand Palais, which was constructed for the 1900 World Fair as well as Palaid Petit, which is directly across from the Grand Palais. This was also built for the exposition and now houses the Paris Museum of Fine Arts.
  • We stoppedd at the Conciergerie, which is the oldest standing Royal residence in Paris. Marie-Antionette was imprisoned here before she was beheaded.
  • We biked on the Champs-Elysees, “The most beautiful avenue in the world,” which leads to the Arc de Triomphe.
  • We gawked at the Place de la Concorde, which may be the most famous square in Paris. It has views of the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Conciergerie, a huge ferris wheel and Champs-Elysees.
  • We saw and learned of the Luxor Obelisk. This is a 75-foot engraved stone that was found outside the Luxor Temple in Egypt. It has a twin, but the first one was such a struggle to bring to Paris, the second one never made its way over, and is still there to this day.
DSCN0339.JPG
Pop Pop and I in front of the Pont Alexandre III.

The tour lasted about four hours. It was amazing riding around this charming city by bike and I could not get over how fortunate I was as I glided past 200 plus year-old buildings. We took the subway home and let ourselves in the apartment. We will be using this company for more tours, and I am excited to see what I learn next!

Paris Day 1: A Stroll and a Lesson

I felt the tears well up in my eyes as I exited the plane with a huge grin on my face. I had waited eight years to come back to the city that stole my heart. Bonjour Paris, comment allez-vous?

My Pop Pop arranged a driver to grab us from the airport. We moved through the airport very easily and quickly, and before I knew it, we were on the streets of Paris. We are staying at an apartment on Avenue Wagram. It is absolutely adorable and I cannot believe the building was originally built in the 1800s. One of my favorite things about Paris are the beautiful buildings–they are so romantic, yet to strong. Haussman, who designed the building in which I am staying, designed most of Paris in the second half of the 1800s. Napolean III commissioned him to create a cleaner and more modern city, so from 1853 to 1870, he basically demolished many buildings, made wide streets and then connected the separate sections with these streets.

 

IMG_0038
Our apartment room.

We met our host and by 2 p.m. we were at the Marche aux Puces: the flea market of Paris. You may think it is weird that I am going to a flea market in Paris, but this is not just any flea market. It is enormous and has hundreds of vendors selling things from new clothes and souvenirs to retro and antique items. Unfortunately, the rain was quite heavy and forced many vendors to shut down early, so we did not see as much as we would have liked, but the less temptation to buy things, the better!

DSCN0318
One of many indoor portions of the flea market.

The metro (subway) system in Paris is easy to figure out if you know where you are going and realize on which side of the track to board the train. If you have been on the NYC subway system, this should be a breeze, and a cleaner one, too! Transferring trains was easy as well, which we had to do both times we used it.

DSCN0404.jpg

When I told people my plans for this summer, many people warned me about how dangerous traveling abroad could be. Although I do understand this, I am pretty sure it is just as dangerous to walk into NYC for my internship. Of course, I was worrying about pick-pockets, which are very apparent in Europe. I always had my eyes scanning everything around me and I forced my Pop Pop to stay in front of me so I could watch him. My tight vigil of my surroundings paid off, which was helpful but frightening at the same time. As my Pop Pop and I were getting on the subway, I noticed two young men watching people enter the gate to the subway. I noticed one walk behind a woman and try to slip his hand into her coat pocket. Unsure what to do and not wanting to see this lady get robbed, I (very lightly and nervously) punched the guy in the back and wrecked his plan. I noticed the thief’s friend told him what I had done, and I was nervous I was going to get jumped. However, I made it out safe and I hope I tuned the unknowing woman away from harm. Anyway, the lesson is to be careful and always watch your surroundings!

On a lighter note, Pop Pop and I returned to our apartment for a brisk period of time, and then walked back to the subway to begin our next scheduled event: a bike and boat tour with Blue Bike Tours which I will speak about in the next post.