Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Paris: The City of Lights!

August 13, 2008

Okay, I know this has been a long time coming, but I've been a lot busier than I expected here in Lucca, and there is so much to tell about Paris! First of all, I have to say I am very proud of myself. Not only do I have very little experience traveling (this is my first time in Europe!), but I haven't really traveled alone either. I'll admit I was a little apprehensive about going to Paris for 5 days by myself, but I'm so glad I did. It was hard, but I learned a lot, especially about myself and what I am capable of. It's also nice to travel solo because you can do exactly what you want, at your own pace. I really had an amazing time, and I've always wanted to go to Paris. In fact, I after my trip I was able to cross off two more things on my "Life To-Do List" (maybe I'll post the list later?). Anyway, since I was there for about five days and I want to be as concise as possible, I think I'll write this post in a day-by-day format. And just as a forewarning, I took A LOT of pictures... like so many I'm a little embarassed to admit the number. Obviously I'm not going to put too many on here, but I'll be putting up a few albums with as many as I can (the exact number... 850!!)

Day 1, 8/4/08 - Bonjour, Paris!

I left Monday from Pisa airport around 4ish. Pisa is actually really close to Lucca, so Gina gave me a ride and I didn't have to take a train : ) The airport was actually really cute, too, in fact it reminded me a little of the Santa Barbara airport because they are both so small but still nice. My trip started out on a negative note, however, because security threw away my toothpaste and facewash (that isn't sold here!!) because they were considered liquids and were bigger than the maximum allowance : ( They were really rude about it too, they just pulled them out of my bag and threw them away, and didn't even ask me if I wanted to put them in a checked bag, etc. Anyway, I finally made it onto the plane. I flew Ryanair, which doesn't assign seats, so everyone was trying to get on before everyone else to get a good seat, and since Italians are incapable of queuing, it was very chaotic. Also, let me just say that while Ryanair is cheap, there is a reason for it; it sucks. Maybe it was just the people on the flight, but it was extremely unpleasant. I have to say the views were incredible though! Taking off, I had a clear view of the Leaning Tower, which actually looked fake from that altitude, and then we flew directly over the Alps, which were absolutely breathtaking. Also, the clouds that day were amazing, super fluffy and plentiful.
The flight only took a little under 2 hours so it was still relatively early when I got there. I was really disappointed to find out that they had no customs whatsoever, and they didn't even stamp my passport! I flew into Beavais Airport, which isn't even in Paris technically, since Ryanair only flies into small airports, so I had to take a shuttle into the city. I booked it in advance, so it was super easy and actually really comfortable. It took a little over an hour to get there, but with great views of the French countryside to pass the time. The shuttle dropped us off near a Metro station, but not having a clue how the Paris Metro system works, it took me a while to figure out how to get to my hostel, but I eventually figured it out. It's somewhat similar to the Metro in Rome, except it has 13 different lines whereas Rome only has 2! Although the number makes it a little more complicated, it's really convenient because you can literally get anywhere on the Paris Metro as there are stops on almost every block. My hostel was literally right next to the Metro stop called Juarès so I found it right away. The hostel was called Peace & Love, and they think they are super hip and cool because they have a bar. In fact, the hostel consisted of a bar on the ground floor where you check in and then a ridiculous winding flight of stairs up to all the rooms. Naturally, I was in room 14 on one of the highest floors of the hostel. The room was small of course, with three beds stacked on top of each other, a sink and mirror, and strangely also a tiny shower. The bathroom (aka toilet) for each landing was down the hall. The two girls I was sharing the room with had already claimed the top two, so i had to settle for the smallest space on the bottom. I was quite tired but wanted to grab a bite to eat first, so I dropped off my back pack and headed back out to the streets of Paris. Right near the hostel there were several little cafès and restaurants, so I spent a good 30 minutes wandering around all of them, inspecting menus, trying to find something I could eat at a reasonable price. I ended up getting a yummy omelette and glass of wine at a cute little cafè that wasn't too expensive. Already I realized how much of a barrier the language was. It was hard not knowing a word of French (seriously, nothing!), and it made me appreciate my knowledge of Italian so much more. I ate solo obviously, which I actually really enjoy because I can think or people watch at my leisure, but I happened to attract the attention of an older French man named Allen, who sat next to me while he ate his dinner and chatted with me about politics, history, and France. He was actually very nice and quite intelligent, and certainly gave me a good first impression of the French, however he then offered to pay for my glass of wine and ask for my number! It was quite innocent and simply a nice gesture, so I accepted and gave him my number with the intention of never answering if he called. I was just happy I got a free glass of wine out of the situation!
After dinner I headed back to the hostel and by then my roommates had returned. Actually I think they were bitches, for a few reasons, but I don't want to get into it. I awkwardly showered while they were in bed (the shower was literally right in front of the beds), and had to use a sheet to dry off since they don't give you a towel (it turns out you have to go down and ask for one, which by the way they don't tell you either). I wasn't expecting any sort of luxury out of the place though, just a bed to crash on, so I really can't complain.

Day 2, 8/5/08 - Walking, Walking, Walking

Before going to Paris I had made a long list of all the sights I wanted to see and museums I wanted to visit and I knew seeing most of them would require my days to be very full, so my plan was to get up really early and head to my first Parisian destination: the Louvre! Unfortunately for me, it turns outs may museums are not just closed on Mondays, but Tuesdays too, including the Louvre. So I had to adjust my plans a bit, but the upside was getting to wander around the virtually empty courtyard of the Louvre with the famous glass pyramid, and I got to see the Arc du Carrousel, a smaller version of the Arc de Triomphe based on the design of the Arch of Constantine in Rome. I know the pyramid is the source of some controversy for it's design, but I have to admit I thought it was absolutely beautiful and one of my favorite things in Paris.
While I was attempting to take photos of myself with these monuments, a guy who was also solo in Paris approached me and turned out to be Italian from Venice! His name was Giorgio, he was really nice, and he decided t accompany me to the Musèe d'Orsay, one of the only museums actually open on Tuesday. I still hadn't bought my Paris Museum Pass yet so I still had to wait in line at the museum, but it didn't take too long thankfully. The Musée d'Orsay is a museum housed in an old grand railway station built in 1900. Home to many sculptures and impressionist paintings, it has become one of Paris's most popular museums, and certainly lives up to it's reputation in my opinion. The building itself was beautiful and unique; on one end is a huge gilded clock to parallel those on the outside of the building. Some highlights for me included gorgeous paintings by Monet (especially his landscapes), Renoir, Cezanne, Manet, Degas (my favorites were his ballet pieces), and Van Gogh and even some sculptures by Rodin. After a couple hours I was a little famished from not eating breakfast, and having seen most of the museum I decided to go try and find something for lunch. I just want to mention how difficult it was to find something cheap that I could actually eat in Paris, especially when you are hungry and just want to go anywhere that sells food.



Van Gogh

I walked along the Seine River for a bit, which I think is one of the jewels of the city, on par with the gorgeous churches and monuments it is so famous for. The bridges alone are fascinating and beautiful and add a certain charm to the city. I eventually found a place to get pizza and plan out the rest of my day. On the way I passed the Conciergerie, with the design of a castel and once a royal palace and later a prison, that played a dark role in the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. I was also kind of glad that I lost Giorgio in the museum, because I really wanted to be on my own to do whatever I liked while I was there. Next, armed with my Museum Pass finally, I headed to Saint Chapelle, located on the Île de la Cité. On the way I also passed the pretty Tour St-Jacques (St. James Tower), the only part that still remains of an old 16th century church. The magnificent chapel of Saint Chapelle was originally designed to house precious religious treasures, and at the time was known as the stairway to heaven. The chapel is one of the masterpieces of medieval architecture, but the interior is what is truly breathtaking; the upper chapel is a masterpiece of stained glass, covering all the walls up to the ceiling and depicting scenes from the life of Christ and the disciples. I happened to go on a lovely sunny day and the effect of the stained glass was truly remarkable. Afterward I walked to Hôtel de Ville, Paris's city hall and a grand fortress of a building. The design was quite impressive and beautiful, too. Here my day came to an abrupt and unexpected halt because the battery on my camera was low, so I reluctantly took the Metro back to the hostel to charge it for an hour and take a quick power nap. I headed back out and took the Metro to the Place de la Bastille (Bastille Square), which was the location of the notorious Bastille stronghold, which was stormed on July 14, 1789, triggering the start of the French Revolution. Today none of the original buildings remain, but the square does have the beautiful Colonne de Juillet, a column commemorating another revolution in 1830 and topped with the "Spirit of Liberty" statue, as well as the modern-style Bastille Opera. From there I walked to Notre-Dame Cathedral, but as I went to get in line to go up to the top, I was told that they were cutting the line off for the day. This was my first taste of something very common and quite annoying about sights in Paris: although they have one specific closing time, in reality they stop letting people come in a half hour to 45 minutes before that closing time. Anyway, at least I knew to get there earlier the next day. Instead I just took pics of the outside before walking across the Seine to the imposing Panthéon (which looks very similar to the one in Rome by the way). It took me a while to find it, even with the wonderful map I got from the hostel (this map was seriously a life-saver; I used it so much that by my last day it was ripped at the folds). Finally a nice young French guy who spoke English asked me if I needed help and then walked with me until we got there. On the way, he pointed out Sorbonne University, the famous university of Paris. Once again, even though I got there before closing, they had already stopped letting people in for the day, so I had to settle for just seeing the outside.

After I wandered to the Jardin du Luxembourg, one of my favorite places in Paris and popular among tourists and Parisians alike. Dominating the center of the park is an octagonal pond, known as the Grand Bassin and next to it to the North is the grand Palais du Luxembourg, currently housing the French Senate. Beautiful gardens of multicolored flowers were everywhere, but the best part of the park were the numerous Parisians scattered amongst the ample shaded areas, reading, chatting with friends, and just enjoying the day. Sculptures were sprinkled throughout the landscape as well as fountains. One noteworthy one was called the Fountain de Medicis, with a long, still pond in front of it with quaint boats made out of twine floating on the water. I wandered the park for a good hour, soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying my break from the streets of Paris.

By this point, not only was I exhausted, but my feet and legs were absolutely killing me from walking all day. All I wanted to do was find someplace to sit for a while and eat dinner, but once again, this proved a litle harder than I would've liked. Eventually, my feet hurt so much I just walked into the next bar I saw that served food. I actually got a really yummy pasta with olives and a beer, and the bar was on a perfect street for people watching. After I finished, I decided to try and find the Forum des Halles, a combination park, underground mall, and huge subway station (although to be honest, while I was in Paris I wasn't really clear about what exactly it was). It was actually really cool, very modern and hip, and fun to just wander. There was even a pretty carrousel!The sun was starting to go down by then so I had to rush back toward the Seine to go on the boat tour I had planned. A company called Vedettes du Pont Neuf runs the hour-long tours with commentary, past all the major sites and famous bridges. They even run at night, too, when everything is lit up (if you're in Paris I highly recommend doing it - it's cheap and a whole new way to discover Paris!). I went around 10pm, and right as we approached the Eiffel Tower, it started glittering (it does this for about 5 minutes on the hour at night)! Seriously so beautiful... When it's not glittering, the Tour shines a bright blue at night and is quite stunning. The bridges by themselves were gorgeous all lit up, too. The tours also depart from one of the most famous and beautiful bridges in Paris, the Pont Neuf (French for 'New Bridge') which, paradoxically, is the oldest bridge in Paris. Some other highlights were Notre-Dame, the Louvre, and seeing all the people sitting on the banks of the river enjoying the beautiful night. My camera doesn't do so well in the dark, so the pics are a bit blurry, but I think you'll get the idea : ) After I went back to the hostel and literally passed out.
Day 3, 8/6/08 - Eiffel Tour

On Wednesday I got up early again, and not surprisingly my feet and body ached from the walking te day before (I've learned flip-flops do not make good walking shoes, no matter how much I would like them to). I wanted to see and climb the Eiffel Tower as soon as it opened to try and avoid the ridiculous lines, but even though I got there a half hour after it opened, I still waited in line for over an hour, just to get my ticket to walk up to the first and second levels. Walking up all 668 stairs to the second level was more painful than I expected because I was so sore, but the view was certainly worth it. I debated back-and-forth whether to buy a ticket and wait in line again to go up to the vey top in the lift, and finally decided to go for it. So I waited in line again for about an hour, but at least this time there was a nice view to help pass the time. It was breathtaking at the very top; you can see literally everything in Paris. I was definitely happy I went all the way up : )

Afterward I walked to nearby Hôtel des Invalides, the large and impressive building with a royal courtyard and church, famous for it's gold Dôme des Invalides (you can see it in one of the pics above from the top of the Eiffel Tower) and for housing the tomb of Napolean. I decided not to go inside for lack of time and not wanting to spend the money, plus the outside was beautiful on it's own.I moved on to the Rodin Museum, a tribute to France’s most famous sculptor, Auguste Rodin. Let me just say this was one of the most exceptional museums I have ever seen, for both the artwork and the set-up. Rodin's works are housed in a mansion where the artist once lived and worked, as well as sculptures are scattered throughout a lovely walled garden. Upon entering te premises, one immediately layes eyes upon his most famous piece: The Thinker. Seeing such a famous piece of art up close was completely unreal, and it was even more remarkable than I could have immagined. The garden is set up perfectly for taking a leisurely stroll and viewing the various sculptures along the way. I loved the uniqueness of having part of a museum outside. Opposite of The Thinker was another famous Rodin piece, the Gates of Hell, a massive cabinet-shaped sculpture of humans trying to escape the jaws of hell. To really appreciate genius of this piece, you have to inspect it closely; the details are exquisite. Inside was just as great in terms of the art and also easy to navigate. My favorite was another famous piece, The Kiss, in which a man and woman are imbracing passionately. What I especially liked about Rodin was how he left part of the material of each sculpture raw, so it was as if the sculpture was coming out of the marble or bronze. I also loved how unpolished his pieces were in contrast to many French and Italian sculptors' works. One final impressive piece was The Cry, a head of a man yelling out with incredible emotion in his face.

After the Rodin Museum, I started walking toward the Seine when I saw Jason, a guy I knew from UCSB who is dating one of the girls in my sorority! When I got a little closer, I noticed a short girl with her back turned to me, who could only be Jamie! When she saw me she was just as shocked as me by the coincidence... Seriously though, how weird to run into someone you know, and on a random street too, not even a tourist sight?? We chatted for a bit, took pics, and then went our separate ways, but our surprise meeting put a smile on my face for the day.
I kept walking until I reached the Seine and the Pont Alexandre III, the city's most lavishly decorated bridge with lampposts and sculptures of cherubs and nymphs. On each end of the bridge are large gilded statues on huge granite pillars. Aligned with the Esplanade des Invalides, the bridge connects the Grand and Petit Palais on the right bank with the Hôtel des Invalides on the left bank, so I crossed it and went to check out the Palais.

The buildings stand opposite each other, both huge and ornately decorated as one would imagine a Palace would be. The Grand Palais, built for the World Fair in 1900, is best known for it's enormous glass roof. The Petit Palais is not smaller by much and no less fancy. It's highlighted by massive, ornate, gilded gold doors in the rounded front facade, and inside houses the Museum of Fine Arts. I didn't have time to go inside either so I just viewed their magnificence from outside.
From there I walked to the Place de la Concorde, Paris's largest square, situated at the end of the Champs-Elysées opposite the Arc de Triomphe. The square was once home to the famous guillotine responsible for beheading Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI. In the center is a massive Egyptian obelisk and at each corner of the octagonal square is a statue representing a French city. There are also two bronze fountains, at either end of the square, one called La Fontaine des Mers with mermaids and another "Elevation of the Maritime" fountain. The square is especially unique because of it's location: from there you can see the Arc de Triomphe (west), the Madeleine (north), the Tuileries (east) and, across the Seine, the Palais Bourbon.

I continued on to the Madeleine, an impressive greek temple that's actually a church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. The church is surrounded by huge columns on all 4 sides, and the front steps even had flowers on them that day : ) Although my feet were throbbing once again, there was one more thing I wanted to see in that area, so I kept on walking, stopping for a quick break at Starbuck's (which, by the way, is 10x more expensive than in the States!). I finally made it to the Opéra de Paris Garnier, a magnificent and opulent palace built for Emperor Napolean, today housing mostly ballet performances.
From there I took the Metro back to Notre-Dame for the sake of time and my feet. I went inside the cathedral for a bit and then got in line to go up to the top. It took about an hour, but while in line I made friends with a guy and his family from Florida. Of course there were about 400 stairs to be climbed to get to the top, but the view was fantastic and it was cool to see the famous gargoyles up close. I had wanted to go back to the Panthéon and go inside, but time was against me and I wouldn't have made it in time, so I had to resign to the fact that I wouldn't get to see it's interior : ( Instead I got an early dinner at an overpriced restaurant (13 euro for a crepe and small glass of wine!) and then made my way to the Louvre for part one of my visit since it stays open late Wednesday evening. Having already seen the outside, I went directly inside via the entrance of the glass pyramid (so cool, I had no idea it was an entrance!). After getting my bearings somewhat with the help of the mueum map, I made my way into the Denon wing of the Louvre. With my ipod in, I explored 16th-19th century Italian sculptures (i.e. "Psyche and Cupid" by Canova and "The Dying Slave" by Michelangelo), pre-classical and Greek antiquities (i.e. the "Borghese Gladiator", "Winged Victory", and "Venus de Milo"), French paintings, and Italian paintings (i.e. works by Raphael, Fra Angelico, and Botticelli, but the highlight I suppose being the Mona Lisa!). All the art, even those by artists I didn't know, was very impressive, but it was cool to see paintings or sculptures by famous people like Leonardo da Vinci. The Mona Lisa was small, as I had heard, but nothing special in my opinion, I'd like to know what all the hype is about. I also got to see those famous paintings of faces made out of food, although I didn't catch the artist's name. While wandering to the exit, I passed through the Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americans and saw some really cool "relics" of these cultures. Having seen one whole wing of the museum that night, I headed back to the hostel.

"Winged Victory"

"The Dying Slave" - Michelangelo

"Mona Lisa" - Da Vinci

Fra Angelico

"Venus de Milo"

"Psyche & Cupid" - Canova


Day 4, 8/7/08 - Museums, Galore!

Before I went to bed the night before, I had left the windows in our room open to let in some fresh air and also hung my towel out on the mini balcony to dry... But around 5am I woke up to some strange noises and discovered the craziest thunderstorm I've ever seen in my life! It was pouring rain, too, so our floor was soaked as well as my towel : ( The sky was completely lit up by the lightning that went off about every 20 seconds followed by roaring thunder. Maybe I'm just not used to storms like these, but for a while I seriously felt like I was dreaming. I was also pissed because I still had 2 days left and a lot of things I wanted to see, and I didn't really want to have to wander Paris in the rain. I slept in a little later than usual, hoping the weather would clear up by then, and lucky for me around 10am the rain had stopped, although it still looked pretty dreary. The night before I had also discovered that I ran out of money on my cell phone, so I had no easy way of contacting anyone, which is not the most comforting feeling when you're traveling a foreign country alone.
Despite these minor bumps in the road, I went along with my day, starting at the impressive Arc de Triomphe. Since 12 streets emanate from this famous landmark, traffic is chaotic and you have to take an underground passage to get to the arch. I wasn't expecting to be as impressed as I was, but the sheer magnitude and beauty of it was amazing. The arch also includes the Grave of the Unknown Soldier from World War I which was quite moving. I climbed my way up all 234 winding stairs to get to the observatory terrace at the top and once again the views were spectacular, especially looking down the tree-lined Champs-Elysées, the Eiffel Tower, and the sparkling white Sacré Coeur on Montmartre hill.
I wanted to hurry through the next few things however, in case it started to rain again, so I climbed back down and took a walk down the famous Avenue des Champs-Elysées, one of the most famous avenues in the world. The impressive tree-lined street stretches from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe and is filled with ritzy designer stores and high-class cafés and restaurants, but is beautiful all the same. I stopped off at a little shop on a side street to get a sandwhich for lunch, and then continued down the avenue.
At the end I wandered into the Jardin des Tuileries, the large public park between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. Before exploring the park, I went to the Musée L'Orangerie, a small museum within the walls of the park. The main draw of this museum for me was Monet's famous Les Nymphéas paintings, better known as his waterlily pieces. When I walked into the first circular room of the exhibit, I never expected to see all four walls covered with these huge, beautiful paintings that looked more like murals for their sheer size. Against the clean white background of the walls, the wonderful colors of Monet's paintings were especially vivid. I was overwhelmed to be in the presence of something so great and beautiful. Wanting to remember the experience, I took a video, circling the room to see the paintings in their entirety. There was a second room set up in the exact same way and just as beautiful. I spent a lot of time just staring at these images, trying to imagine the artist painting by a pond full of waterlilies. These paintings were certainly one of the highlights of my trip. Downstairs were other collections which included pieces by Renoir, Matisse, and my favorite, Picasso.
Unfortuntely as I went to leave, I saw that the clouds had caught up to me and it was raining again. It wasn't too heavy and their were lots of trees in the park that I could walk under, so I went out anyway. I wasn't very impressed with the Jardin des Tuileries, especially compared to the gorgeous park I saw Tuesday, but I'm sure the ugly weather didn't help. There's one large pond, lots of trees, some sculptures, and most noticeable, a large white ferris wheel, but few flowers or gardens.Having seen enough of the garden, I went back to the Louvre for a couple hours for part 2. I started out in the Richelieu wing with the French sculptures, including a cool one of hooded figures carrying a tomb. Next was Napolean's Apartment's, the lavishly decorated rooms of the general himself filled with various art and glittering chandeliers. There was also a sculpture here that I really loved of a small boy on the back of a sea turtle : ) On that same floor were "Objects of Art", aka various relics from different periods in history like the Renaissance and Middle Ages. My favorites were a crystal chess set and a pretty box made of of shells. Then I went upstairs to the Sully wing where there were 14th-19th century French paintings. Some highlights for me included "The Card Sharper" (a painting in which 4 people are playing cards and they all are looking in a different direction), a powerful version of the "Temptation of Christ", and several other beautiful portraits. It was really nice to just peruse the rooms at my leisure and discover what types of artworks move me, and the Louvre certainly has a grad collection. Before leaving, I briefly walked through a few rooms dedicated to the history of the Louvre where saw a cool mini diorama of the Louvre and it's surroundings. Having seen a good chunk of the museum, I have to disagree with those who told me it was daunting and set-up poorly; I rather enjoyed it as a whole. Before leaving I stopped to take some cool pics looking up at the glass pyramid.
I kept the museum theme going and headed to the Picasso Museum. It was a little harder to find than I expected, and it started to pour rain while I was looking, so I ducked into a chop to buy an umbrella and get directions to the museum. Luckily I made it there pretty quickly after that and didn't get too wet. Perusing the works of one of my favorite artists was the perfect way to escape the ugly weather. I think I came out of there loving Picasso even more than I did before. It was great seeing all different styles of his work as well, including sculptures and various painting styles. Even though he is well known for his cubism style, it was cool to see some realistic portraits he had done as well. I was a little sad that none of the peace lithographs he did during the war were there (I had really wanted to see the dove I have tattoed in person), but no luck. Still, his other works did not disappoint. There were even some paintings I had seen in books and posters, and there I was standing in front of the real thing!
My last museum for the day was an oddball compared to the rest - the Centre Pompidou, a museum of modern art. The building itself is a site to see; it is inside out! The pipes and ducts are all on the exterior and are color-coded: blue for air, green for water, red for elevators, yellow for electricity, gray for corridors, and white for the building itself. The clear "tube" you can see in the pic is actually the elevator! In addition to being a museum, it also contains a very popular library, a bookshop, a movie theater, and a panoramic terrace. I spent a couple hours perusing some of the art, and I have to say that I'm a little mystified by what qualifies as "art" these days. While some of the pieces were indeed impressive and thought-provoking, others were pure bullshit. For instance, one "art" piece was a statue of Buddha connected to a bunch of stuffed vultures by strings leading to his stomach! Wtf. Some memorable pieces included a room you could walk into with a black and white swirl design, a room of blow-up furniture, a rainbow optical illusion room, It was a cool change from the "traditional" museums I'd been going to up until then, however, and I was quite entertained. I saw a great quote I loved on the wall inside, too: "Chance, it's all just chance." While inside, it started raining again in spotty patches, so I got my final dinner in Paris, a delicious crepe naturally, in Beauborg Place, the square in front of the Centre Pompidou. Here there is also the quirky Stravinsky Fountain, filled with several colorful kinetic sculptures, along the same quirky vibe as the centre.
When I got back to the hostel, all I wanted to do was take a quick shower, pack my stuff up, and go to bed early since I was exhausted. To my surprise, however, my 2 female roommates had checked out that day and been replaced with 2 nerdy guys! Now luckily they were about to go out for the night, but I can't help but wonder how I would be expected to shower in front of male strangers! It wouldn't be an issue if the shower weren't in the room and tinier than hell, but no. I was just glad I only had to share it with them for one night!

Day 5, 8/8/08 - Au Revoir Paris!

For my final day in the city, I decided to hit up a few things in the artsy Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. I checked out of the hostel but left my backpack there and took the Metro to Sacré-Coeur, the famous and very beautiful crisp white basilica perched on Mantmartre hill. It took some work to make it up the series of stairs and ramps leading to the top, and sadly it was another ugly day in Paris, so the views of the city were not phenomenal, but they were still pretty. Inside the basilica was beautiful, with a golden mosaic of Christ on the dome of the altar, stained glass windows, a huge open dome in the center of the ceiling, and my favorite, a a beautiful mosaic with a rainbow! Pictures weren't allowed inside, but of course I sneaked a few : ) It was very serene and relaxing sitting inside the basilica for a while as it sprinkled outside; I found myself able to think clearly for the first time in several days.
Once the rain stopped I wondered to nearby Place du Tertre, a famous little square filled with cafés and aspiring artists displaying their work and offering their services for a portrait sketch. At one point, famous artists including Renoir, Picasso, Degas, and Matisse lived in the area, so many artists are here trying to follow in their footsteps. This was one of my favorite places in all of Paris; I loved looking at all the art and watching the artists work. There was just a bohemian kind of vibe that made it a really cool place to be. The neighborhood of Montmartre is just as quaint and cool, with narrow streets and cute little shops, often selling coffee or art : )
The last thing I really wanted to see in Montmartre was the Moulin Rouge, and it took me forever to find it as I had to actual address of where it was, jut a general vicinity. I was close to giving up when I decided to ask someone for help, and thankfully a nice woman told me it was just up the street! I could only see it from the outside, but it was cool to see something in person that I've seen in pictures and heard about in movies. I just wish I could've seen a show!
I took the Metro to my last stop in Paris, Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, probably one of the most famous cemeteries in the world for it's list of famous individuals buried there, like writer Oscar Wilde, musician Jim Morrison, composer Alfred Chopin, writer Marcel Proust, feminist writer Gertrude Stein, artist Camille Pissarro, and painter Eugene Delacroix, as well as many famous Frenchmen. The enormous cemetery is unlike any I have ever seen in the States; it is exceptionally beautiful with ornate graves packed together underneath canopies of trees, with winding paths taking you through the 97 divisions of the cemetery. The afternoon I went was perfect as the trees were multi-colored like in autumn and the sky was blue with fluffy clouds. I only had time to see Jim Morrison's grave and Chopin's both which were heavily decorated by fans of course, but it was a great experience just to wander around something so unconventional and different than anything you would normally see in a city like Paris.
Afterward I headed back to the hostel to grab my stuff, then took the Metro to where the airport shuttle picks up. I was more than exhausted, mentally and especially physically, but couldn't have imagined my time in Paris better spent. My flight went well and Gina picked me up at the airport in Pisa. Although it was nice to be back in Italy, my trip to Paris was worth every cent and something I'll remember forever. And like thousands before me, I too have fallen in love with Paris, the city of lights.

p.s. Check out my Facebook albums for more pics from my trip!


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