Voyage a Paris!
Trip Start Jun 19, 2008
16Trip End Aug 25, 2008
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Where I stayed
St. Christopher's Inn
Saturday was a long day, beginning at 4:00 a.m. on a coach bus trip to Ashford. Ashford is about a couple hours east of the University where the Eurostar station is located. Going through the Eurostar station was a lot like going through one of our airports. There was a security check-in station, a baggage xray conveyor belt, a metal detector, and passport checkstation. This was my first journey on a bullet-train, and let me tell you: 186 mph looks as fast from the inside of the train as it does from outside! The landscape just seems to blur by, except for what's farther in the background. The trainride reminded me of traveling by air, except better! The seats were more comfortable, bathrooms of equal quality, and there was even a bar on-board where you could purchase food and drink
The hostel we stayed at was a newly built one called St. Christopher's Inn. It was very modern and the walls all over the hostel were covered with American pop-culture, which was a little disappointing to see. A small posse gathered up and we headed out into Paris to do some sight-seeing. After figuring our the metro, our first destination was the Notre Dame. It's magnificence on both the out and indoors was staggering. The ornate carvings on the face of the church and its buttresses were unbelievably intricate and precise. Whenever there was a repeating pattern it was done with such delicate symmetry that you might believe a machine had created it in a factory. Indoors we were hushed and allowed to walk around the entirety of the church. As I strolled down the side corridors, I couldn't tear my gaze away from the vaulted ceilings and stained glass which seemed immeasurable lengths above me. You could tell in an instant why people risked their lives on long pilgrimages just to see this place, and why they were so ardent in their religion. Seeing this place as a lowly peasant in the Middle Ages must have stirred your soul and moved you to undoubtedly believe in heaven on earth. As amazing as the intricate and mammoth-sized architecture was to me now in 2008, I can only imagine the reactions back when it was completed in the 14th century.
After Notre Dame, we walked the streets of Paris, following the Seine River up to the Louvre Museum
The rest of the evening went by without much cause for celebration. It was wonderful seeing the beautiful buildings of Paris, but I have to admit I wasn't really attracted to the really touristy areas we had been visiting. It wasn't the Paris I had seen in my head - I hadn't even heard one single accordion player yet. The University bought us tickets to a River Cruise, so we went on that. It proved to be quite chilly since the sun was setting, but it gave me a nice review of all the places we had just seen along with the outsides of some sort of famous museums. As we passed the Latin Quarter we heard live salsa music playing and people dancing and having a good time in a sculpture garden, which was pretty cool, but still not the Paris I had envisioned.
It finally became dark, and we decided to get in line for the Eiffel Tower. The tower was lit with a beautiful blue at night, and every hour strobe lights covering the tower activated, making it sparkle among the black night sky. The line took a long time, but we finally made it to the elevator. When I stepped out onto the first observation deck (about halfway up), I have to admit I was a little timid. I don't know why, but being on a structure where I can see the crooked steel girders and supports totally exposed made me feel a bit uneasy. Regardless, I tried to acclimate and admire the gorgeous view as we waited in line for the second elevator that would take us all the way to the top.
We were crammed into the second glass elevator and shot straight up. We went floor after agonizing floor, getting higher and higher, wondering if we would ever actually reach the top. It was worth it, though. As the doors opened and we all plunged out of the claustrophobic space we were greeted by the observation deck. I don't need to use any fancy language to dictate: we were reeeeally high up. The panorama was beautiful, though. In every direction you could see the avenues and streets of Paris lit up and then sparkling along the River Seine.
On Sunday the group I was with planned on going to Versailles. I wanted to take a little break from the masses of tourists and their souveneire-facade of Paris, so I decided to have the day to myself. I had planned out a few places I really wanted to see before arriving in Paris, and didn't get the chance to follow up on them the day before due to the logistics of trying to get a group of people to do something everyone's okay with. I hopped on the metro with the Versailles group and got off before them at le Metro Blanche
I got a little lost trying to find the Sacre-Coeur, but went on a wonderful little detour of Montmartre. Ivy was growing everywhere, people were taking Sunday strolls, and the sun itself seemed to follow me as I walked the residential streets. I eventually made my way to Sacre-Coeur, which was marked by a 500% increase in tourist congestion. I had to brave an ally-way where stereotypical keychain-and-shot-glass tourist fare was out in full force and swindler's tables were set up all along its length
I then decided I would see the Arc de Triomphe, one of the few features I'd missed the day before. Traveling through the metro system again, I made it aboveground to find the Arc neatly displayed in front of me. I took the underground tunnel and got really close, but shyed away from going into the dead center by the throng of people gathered there. I backed up, took some nice pictures, enjoyed the scenery for a while then decided to be on my way. Of course it had lightly rained and before I could get completely back into the underground tunnel I had to slip and fall down a short flight of steps in front of a cute French girl and her family. So embarrassing...
It had finally happened: I was hungry! So I returned once again back to Montmartre, ready to eat the whole street out of all its wares
My last stop of the day was the one I had first planned on and was most eager to see: the Musee du Vin - the French Wine Museum! Nestled into a length of underground tunnels dug by wine-monks of the Passy Abbey in the 15th century, the museum was a testament to all things wine. It was not nearly as busy as I thought, I was practically the only one in there! Had I stumbled upon a gem? I ended up talking to the guy working the desk (he was about my age and we discovered he spoke English very well) and for a relatively modest fee he gave me an audioguide in English with the promise of a three-wine tasting session after the tour. I feel like a wino for saying it, but the museum exhibits were amazing. They had a collection of grape-pruning/harvesting tools, wine-making equipment, wine glasses, pitchers, and bottles all ranging in antiquity from the 15-17th centuries
After the tour I saw Stephan again and he showed me to the seating area for wine-tasting. He brought out a French red (rouge), white (blanche), and pink (rose) for me to try and explained a little that they were all from the Gaillac region. I went from red to white to pink, stopping for a slice of bread to cleanse my palate between each. These wines were the smoothest I've had since being in Italy last summer, maybe even a bit better. I tasted no biting acidity, and could actually stand to hold and taste the wine in my mouth. The Gaillac Rouge ended up being victorious over the other two, and Stephan allowed me to try one more glass before I committed to purchasing a bottle. I'm sure it won't last long, and I'm sure I'll be back again for more!