A Travellerspoint blog

Getting Cultured in Paris

Louvre, Notre Dame, an evening on the Eiffel Tower and confirming stereotypes

View Post-College Eurotrip on atbrady's travel map.

This morning we woke up early to get to the tour bus almost as soon as it opened. We stopped for breakfast on the way. I was able to get an omelet, my favorite breakfast meal at home, although it was rather expensive. Hunter got orange juice with his meal which ended up being more expensive than last night’s Bordeaux. Coca cola is also ridiculously expensive here at 2-3 euros (4-5 dollars) for a bottle smaller than the ones at home. Though I’m not one for soft drinks, Hunter has had to cut down. Everything here seems to be much less expensive than London (bus tours, museum/attraction admissions) except for the food, which is astronomically higher. Curiously, we were given mustard with breakfast just like we for last night’s dinner, apparently it’s relatively common in Paris? It’s very spicy and interestingly tastes like it contains Wasabi. If I spoke French, I might ask. While the food comes out faster in Europe, the check can take forever. I suppose Americans don’t sit around to relax after their meal like the Europeans do, which is part of the issue.

The bus tour again proved to be a good investment, taking us directly to the major attractions while filling in the gaps with tidbits about Paris and other buildings rich with history. Our first stop was the Louvre. The building itself was unbelievable. It was once a palace and includes all the grand architecture and sculpture that goes along with that. Neither Hunter nor I are all that into art, so we mostly hit the three most famous works while stopping at whatever looked interesting along the way. Winged Victory was perhaps the most impressive of the three, partially because of its placement in an enormous hallway at the top of a grand set of stairs. I had heard the Mona Lisa is smaller than most expect and often disappoints, but even going in with such tempered expectations it still seemed less than the masterpiece it is made out to be. I would have been interested to get closer and see more detail of the painting, but as you might expect, there are both velvet ropes and hoards of people gathered around it. Its presentation also makes it look quite small, on an otherwise barren wall in a room filled with paintings 4-10 times its size. Another famous work, the Venus de Milo, was in the Greek sculpture wing. I can’t say that it stood out from the other Greek sculptures. In fact, there were many sculptures I found more impressive. Overall, it was definitely a worthwhile experience even for someone with no real knowledge in art.

After the Louvre, we hopped back on the bus until the next stop at Notre Dame on the Isle de City, an island that is the oldest part of Paris. The cathedral was an impressive building, not only for its size but also its intricacies. We were a bit disappointed to see that the line to go up to the towers went the length of the tower itself and decided an afternoon in line would not be well spent. We went to the nearby isle de Saint Micheal, another ancient part of Paris full of centuries-old mansions and lined with quaint restaurants and shops. We both had crepes at the restaurant, which were authentic and enjoyable.

We re-boarded a tour bus which took us down the famous Champs Elysees, one of Paris’ most famous streets, full of high end shops and restaurants. At the end is the Arc du Triumphe, which was commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his military victories. It was an impressive building, but the view from the top was the true gem. The spiral staircase to the top seemed to never end, but once on top, the skyline was beyond words. This was probably my favorite part of the day so far. It made me realize that Paris was far larger than I could have imagined, with buildings as far as the eye could see in every direction. I may have to come back tomorrow night to see the City of Lights at night. Also, under the arc lies France’s tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was here that we experienced our first rain of the trip. Luckily, it lasted no more than five minutes before the sun came back out.

Hopping back on the bus, Hunter and I went to an internet café to confirm our respective airline reservations for Sunday morning. I was able to thankfully find a European converter plug to recharge my camera battery. We also figured out that Hunter’s parents had received a call from his hospital visit, leaving both our families worried. Typing on a French keyboard was also quite the experience , with about half the letters in the same place. It was of course a smaller issue than they made it out to be, but our lack of internet between this hotel and the WiFi in London on our last day has left us disconnected from the world.

We found a restaurant nearby recommended in Hunter’s guidebook that was great because we were probably the only tourists there. The downside was that there was no English menu or English speaking wait staff, so we had to rely on Hunter’s French and his dictionary to decipher the menu. It was taking forever to look up words in the dictionary so I panicked and ordered the pasta dish because it was the only thing I had any idea what I was getting into. I was pissed at myself for ordering pasta when I would be in Rome in just a few days, but it wasn’t at all an Italian dish and was probably my favorite meal so far. Nevertheless, I vowed to be more adventurous with my food selection in the future. We also ordered a carafe of the house wine which was fantastic and ridiculously cheap. It made last night’s wine seem just ordinary. It’s funny how they pack you into a restaurant around here. Hunter and I were in a tiny corner, with so little clearance for passersby that at one point a waitress moved our carafe from one edge of the table to the other against the wall to prevent a spill. Almost all of the tables here are small two person tables, and when you’re not in a corner, you tend to be in a row of these tables so that you are right on top of the people at the table next to you. It does make for an intimate, cozy feeling and tonight’s dinner felt truly authentic.
To end the night, we hopped on the Metro to the Champs de Mars which is near the Eiffel Tower. We stopped along the way for a few glasses of wine and laughed because we thing the waiter thought we were a couple. Hunter decided he wanted ice cream and they brought it out with two spoons which was pretty funny. Dusk had just settled in making it dark enough for the lights to turn on. It is truly a wonder to look at, especially because the sky was a deep blue/purple in the background. After a long but not unbearable line, we took the stairs up to the first two level and then the second, taking pictures along the way. Part of what makes the Eiffel Tower so unbelievable is that there is nothing even remotely close to its height anywhere near it. Unlike New York, where you can’t see the Empire State Building until you are at its base, the Eiffel Tower can be seen from quite a distance in the city. So you can imagine that at the second level, you can see for quite a distance in all directions. I would be interested to see what it looks like in the day, as I’m told you can see for over 30 miles. Unfortunately, we were unable to get to the very top of the tower as it is tiny and often closed due to congestion and by the time they reopened it, we didn’t make it to the front of the line. It was fantastic nonetheless, as even from the second level, you are towering over Paris. At night, many of Paris’s most famous monuments were lit, but overall, the city looked sleepy (granted it was 12:30). We decided that what truly gives Paris the reputation as the city of lights is the Eiffel Tower itself. On the hour, white lights flash all over the tower giving it the appearance of a glistening jewel. No picture I could take did it any kind of justice, but it is a sight I will never forget. Also, on the way home, we passed the Ecole Military which looked truly majestic at night.

Many of the stereotypes about France are true. For example, at every meal so far, the person who brought out our food really does say bon appétit. Also, at dinner tonight, I noticed a few locals greet each other with kisses on both cheeks, even between two male friends (good luck with that in America). Also, the Public Displays of Affection (PDA) have been spotted all over town, with couples making out at restaurants, on the Eiffel tower and on the street as if nobody else were there. Furthermore, we noticed that police in France get a mixed bag. On one hand, they carry guns which we noticed few British police did, yet they don’t get to drive BMWs, instead sporting Puegeots. The streets in Paris are often hard to follow. Many intersections involve several streets meeting in a central location so that you could keep walking straight but be on a different street. Sometimes, the street name changes without any warning at all, and rarely do you see uniform blocks laid out.

As I head to sleep after my second day in Paris, it has really grown on me. Now that I have seen the character in the small restaurants and those frequented by locals as well as the tourist attractions, I can say that this is an unbelievable city. In my eyes, London may still have the edge because its kept cleaner and every street seems quaint and cozy even though you are in one of the world’s largest cities. However, both deserve their reputation and have been unforgettable.

Posted by atbrady 12:56 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.