A Rendezvous in Paris

Trip Start Mar 31, 2011
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39
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Trip End Jul 05, 2011


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Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Thursday, May 26, 2011

We arrived to Paris in the afternoon and took the metro to the hotel. The Paris metro system is pretty much impossible. It is a totally labyrinth with the worst signage you could possibly imagine-- and it smells like excrement mixed with cleaning supplies. A charming experience, overall. But after connecting in a few different stations and taking the metro and regional trains, we arrived at the hotel. Jenna and I had to walk around the block a few times to figure out how to get to the entrance of the hotel-- it was up a strange set of stairs. The French definitely need to work on their signage.
The hotel was really nice. We got a triple room, which turned out to be a quadruple, and it was really close to the metro stop. After resting and showering, we headed out to a different train station to pick up Adrienne! She arrived on the train from London, and we met up with absolutely no problem-- Jenna and I were on time this time and were waiting for her at the platform. Horray! We took the metro back to the hotel to drop off her backpack and spent some more time resting and organizing our stuff. Jenna and I have been running around like crazy people trying to get to Paris, so now that we have made it, we are slowing down a little bit. 
We ate our remaining bread and cheese picnic supplies then hopped back on the metro to the Arc de Triomphe. The sun was almost set, so we got some neat pictures with interesting sky. Then we walked to the Eiffel Tower to take pictures of the light show. Paris lights up the tower so well. For about 5 minutes of every hour, it sparkles insanely. It took us a while to figure out how to take pictures of ourselves in front of the dark tower, so the whole thing was a big ordeal. By the time we figured out the cameras, we were totally starving so we went to a little street stall and got some crepes-- ham/cheese, chicken/cheese, and nutella. Then we took the metro back to the hotel and figured out that we had bought the wrong metro tickets. Apparently, the hotel is in a different zone than central Paris, so we had to jump over the turn style... I know this sounds massively illegal and inappropriate, but literally everyone else was doing the same thing. Really-- everyone. I don't know why they even bother with the turn styles. Oh well, at least we made it. 
We had a pretty funny experience at with the hotel reception-- they only gave us 2 pillows so we asked the receptionist for another pillow. He went in the back room, emerged without a pillow, and told us he didn't have a pillow. We asked him if there was any way he could FIND a pillow since it was obviously necessary to sleep, and he offered to "make us a pillow." Not sure how he planned to do this, but we suggested that he go to an empty room and find a spare pillow for us. He thought this was a great idea, but didn't bother looking up which rooms were empty before going upstairs with us. So he randomly guessed a room and went inside, hoping it was empty... not very settling. Thankfully, it was empty and at least we got a pillow! Critical thinking/determination does not seem to be a strength of the French people we have encountered so far.
The next morning (5-27), we all slept in because we were so exhausted from getting to Paris. Made for a late start, but it was definitely worth it. We walked around an outdoor market for a while then went to a bakery and ordered the most delicious coffees and croissants ever! Then we stopped by the grocery store to pick up some baguettes for lunch. The baguettes were still hot and were definitely the best bread I've ever had. Then we went back to the train station to try and figure out our train to Strasbourg for the next day. No surprise, all the trains were booked, even though there were about 10 trains going to Strasbourg from Paris.  We asked the man to print us a schedule for the regional trains and he said it was impossible to get there on a regional train. Thankfully, we had already come through Strasbourg on the regional trains, so we knew it was possible. After some friendly direction, we got him to look up trains going from Paris to Mulhouse, then Mulhouse to Strasbourg. Takes about 3 times as long as the fast train, but at least we will get there. Stupid French trains.
From there, we went to the Catacombs. In the 1700s, the Paris cemeteries filled up and people were getting really sick from ground water contamination, so they dug up all the bodies and moved their remains to the catacombs. They were literally one of the coolest things I've ever seen. There were over 4000 bones stacked up from floor to ceiling, but the people who built the catacombs only kept their favorite bones-- the skulls, femurs, and tibias. Plus, they organized them into nice hearts/crosses/rows! One of the guards took a liking to us and helped us take pictures by shining his flashlight on all the places were were looking. It was a little too dark for our cameras to focus automatically, so I learned how to focus it manually very quickly and was able to get some good (creepy) shots. They checked our bags on the way out because apparently it is very common for people to try and steal the bones... sounds like bad Karma to me.
After the catacombs, we walked across central Paris to check out the Pantheon, Jardin de Luxembourg, a few other churches, and eventually made our way to Notre Dame and another big church.  The buildings in Paris are all so beautiful-- every balcony has nice flowers on it and all the buildings are old and quaint. We also saw a Pantheon in Rome, but the one in Paris is much more grandiose. We spent a while taking pictures in the gardens because there were gigantic pigeons everywhere!  These pigeons were about twice the size of normal pigeons... I don't know what the Parisians feed them but they are unnatural. We took some pictures in relation to the chairs so you can all judge the size. Notre Dame was really impressive as well-- especially because the lighting was interesting. Wish we could have gone inside, but the workers were on strike so we couldn't... no surprise there.
After walking around forever trying to find a place to eat, we found a lovely little French cafe. It was actually really hard to find because we happened to stumble upon the Japanese district of Paris. While I'm sure the Japanese food would be good, we had our hearts set on buttery French food. We ordered three meals and shared-- cassolet with duck confit, fattened duck breast with potatoes cook in duck fat, and shredded duck Shepard's pie with tons of butter. Needless to say, not the lightest meal of the trip, but it was easily some of the best food I've ever had. We finished off the meal with creme brulee and chocolate mousse-- fantastic! We were pretty tired after our feast, so we headed back to the hotel to sleep.
We woke up early to go to Louvre. First, we had to go back to the bakery and get more delicious pastries and coffee. We also went back to the grocery store to pick up 4 baguettes, 2 wheels of French cheese, a packet of salami, and a bottle of wine. Very excited for our train feast later. We took the metro to the Louvre and found a nice sneaky entrance from the underground metro station that avoided the main line for tickets. Entrance was free for students of the EU, but it was only 10 Euros for us anyway. Plus, the Louvre let us store our giant backpacks in their luggage room, which saved us the trouble of taking it to the station and paying for a locker. Because we only had a half day in the museum, we decided to prioritize the 1st and 2nd floors and skip the ground floor and basement (ancient art from various different civilizations). The collection was really beautiful-- saw the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, and a number of other famous pieces. We noticed that a large percentage of the paintings in the Louvre seemed to have one nipple sticking out and a corner of cloth/tree branch covering their genitalia-- not much else. Charming.
We escaped the crowds of the Louvre to get quiche for lunch. We decided to get three different kinds so we could try them-- Champignons, Polreaux, and Lorraine. They were so delicious! We ate them in the park by the Louvre and got tormented by pigeons the entire time. Then we went back to the museum, picked up our packs, took the metro to the train station, sold back our extra metro tickets, activated Adrienne's train pass, and got on the train to Strasbourg. Luckily, we only had one connection this time and we made it no problem! The picnic on the train was epic, just like we knew it would be, and we arrived in Strasbourg in the evening. 
A few general notes about Paris-- the people were absolutely lovely. We had no problems due to being American, and our stupidly basic French got us much further than we expected.  We found nice and helpful people every time we needed them, and service was courteous and fast. All in all, the only really negative aspect of our time in France was the trains. Very glad that we didn't encounter any hate-- I guess we filled our hate quota in Vienna.As nice as the French were, they were not particularly helpful when it came to logistics or problem solving. We had a number of hilarious experiences-- the train conductor couldn't figure out how to get us to Strasbourg without us walking him through it, the hotel receptionist couldn't figure out how to get us a pillow, a different hotel receptionist couldn't figure out how to do the math to add the state tax to our hotel bill without our assistance, the man at the train station couldn't figure out how to return our unused metro tickets without us walking him through it...Surrendering seems to be mainstream. Will post about Strasbourg in a few days. Au revior!
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Comments

Mom on

What a wonderful tour of your favorite art pieces at the Louvre. Thank you. I was so intrigued by some of them, I had to do some research, which I posted as comments. Interesting to read that the French were friendly to you American girls....that's wonderful, and not my experience 20 years ago. So, now Jenna leaves, and you backtrack to places you've been before...but that is good. More time in Tuscany is really worth it. Thanks for the informative and fun blog.

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