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.
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.
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 : )
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.
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.
"The Dying Slave" - Michelangelo
"Mona Lisa" - Da Vinci
Fra Angelico"Venus de Milo"
"Psyche & Cupid" - CanovaDay 4, 8/7/08 - Museums, Galore!
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.