Tuesday, August 02, 2011

I had two goals for my time in Paris. 1. to see the sites and 2. to really experience the city. While I wanted to do some of the touristy things, I also wanted to just stroll around, shop, and EAT! You know how you make mental lists of all the things you want to do in your life? Sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Paris has always been on mine and it's the thing that I was most looking forward to. So instead of packing my schedule with site-seeing, I picked a few things to do and spent the rest of my time just going with the flow.

On Saturday, we toured the Notre Dame which was absolutely beautiful. The church's construction took place from 1160 to 1395 and is often considered one of the premier examples of French-Gothic architecture. This is the fourth cathedral I've toured in the past few weeks and they never cease to amaze me. The Notre Dame was incredibly ornate, with more details than I could ever take in. But my favorite part was the views from atop the towers! I climbed several tight, twisting stone staircases to a halfway point that offered gorgeous views of the city. Then I climbed several more even tighter and twistier staircases to the top. The view was just incredible.

Later that day, we took in more views from atop the Arch de Triumph, which honors those who fought in the French Revolution. It is situated on the Champs-Elysees and I had flashbacks to high school French class where we learned about the street. This in turn produced more "am I really here" thoughts.

I spent the rest of the day eating chocolate and banana crepes by the river (MMMM!), browsing markets, and laying in lawns. I was exhausted by the time I got back to the hotel, but when the opportunity to go back to the Eiffel Tower arose, I had to take it. After all, who knows if/when I'd ever be back! I went with a big group, but two of my flatmates and I decided to stay longer than everyone else and we rode up the tower at about midnight - I don't think there could possibly be any any better place to be at 12am!

On Sunday, the first thing on my list was the Musee d'Orsay which houses an incredible collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art. Among its pieces are 43 Degas, 86 Monets, 81 Renoirs, 24 van Goghs, and 46 Pissarros. It was AMAZING and the most incredible museum I've ever been in! To be honest, I actually teared up a little bit. I'm not sure what it was - maybe because I wasn't expecting it and was taken off guard {I heard it was great, but I didn't know it was going to be THAT great}, or maybe it's just because I'd never seen so many incredible pieces all at once {I mean, there was an entire ROOM dedicated to Monets} but for some reason, I was incredibly overwhelmed. If someone could only go to one museum in Paris, I'd tell them to forget the Louvre and go here instead. Seriously.

The rest of my day was spent just hanging out, walking around and eating. The food in Paris is even more delicious than I imagined. The pastries, the bread, the cheeses - all so yummy!! I'm glad I did a lot of walking because otherwise I would have surely gained 20 pounds.

So those are the wonderful things about Paris. But there were some not so wonderful things about it, too. I had quite idyllic, romantic notions of the city and those turned out not to be true. Though Paris is definitely gorgeous, it's really rough around the edges. It's dirty {especially the metro stations} and smells pretty badly too. Plus, it's pretty scary at times. One of the first things I saw when getting off the train were members of the military walking around with machine guns. They were also stationed around the major tourist sites, and I know this should have made me feel safer, but it actually did the opposite.

Another odd thing about the tourist areas were these girls who would come up to you with clipboards wanting you to sign petitions. They wouldn't say anything, but would stick the clipboards in your face to get you to sign. The sheets said something about helping mute children in Africa, so I suppose this is why they wouldn't talk. A new girl would come up every few minutes, and sometimes they'd follow you and keep waving the stinking clipboard in your face. While we were in line for the Notre Dame, we started talking to a girl from Australia who has lived in Paris for several years. She said that if you sign the paper, the girls force you to give them money. Grr!

Also in the touristy areas were tons of guys with little Paris trinkets set out on small blankets. They were selling them for super cheap, like five for 1 euro, and you couldn't walk through an area without having ten guys come up to you wanting you to buy something. Apparently this is illegal because there are handles with drawstrings on both sides of the blanket and on more than one occasion I saw the guys grab the blankets and RUN! After looking around, I noticed police officers in the area.

I don't want to end this on a negative note because overall my time in Paris was INCREDIBLE, so I'll talk a little bit about the language barrier - which really was not at all bad. I was surprised to find that pretty much everyone could speak English, so communicating wasn't that difficult. I spoke as much French as I could, but when I exhausted my vocabulary, I could always get by. I was also really surprised that a lot of people actually thought I was French until I started to speak. I have no idea why, but I got that comment a lot. One guy even yelled at me from a bus {in french} "Hello, my beautiful French woman!"

Ooh la la!

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