Thursday, June 4, 2009
Friday, May 29, 2009
I'll let him blog more about our last few days later because I am on a borrowed computer right now! Chris is flying back to Indianapolis at this very moment. In fact, he probably only took off a few minutes ago, so wish him a safe journey. The plane he is on is not nearly as nice as the ones we've been on the last few weeks. I watched four movies on the flight back: Rachel Getting Married, Milk, Billy Elliott, and Ms Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Time went by rather quickly. :)
Anyway, thanks for reading, everyone! Hopefully you'll get a better entry soon from Chris with some pics and more info about his trip back! And stay tuned because I want to post some of our bad pictures...for fun!
Monday, May 25, 2009
Today was a weird day. There were a few disappointments, but a few nice surprises as well. The first disappointment was that Erica woke up this morning feeling nauseous, and so we stayed in the room for a while hoping she would feel better. At about noon we decided to head out to the cemetery, Père Lachaise, even though she was still feeling a little queasy. We toured the huge cemetery in a couple of hours, and it was cool getting to see the burial places of so many famous people. A lot of musicians, composers, and writers are buried there. We saw Jim Morrison, Georges Bizet, Fèdèric Chopin, Giacomo Rossini, Camille Pissarro, Honré de Balzac, Jacques Louis David, Eugène Delacroix, Marcel Proust, Georges Seurat, Oscar Wilde, and Victor Noir. But it wasn't exactly upbeat, as you can probably imagine.
After the cemetery we did something that we've been intending to do ever since we arrived in Paris: we ate crêpes at a sidewalk café. It was awesome because they were really cheap and really tasty. I also got an iced chocolate coffee drink, which was also very tasty. What made this visit really interesting, however, was that our waiter seemed to be having a rough day. He was moving way too fast and trying to do too much at the same time. Finally the inevitable happened: he dropped a tray of dishes on a young American girl, getting mustard all over her dress. Luckily, the family seemed to handle it fairly well. No one yelled or anything. But we did feel bad for the waiter.
After this we planned on visiting the Crypte Archeologique, the ancient Roman town buried under Notre Dame. We were very excited about this, but when we got there, we saw a sign that said "Crypt Closed"! It was very disappointing. We're still a little bummed about it. But I'm trying to be positive about it: it gives us something to do the next time we're in Paris!
After this disappointment, we decided to visit the Jardins du Luxembourg, which were nice, but not as nice as some of the other gardens we've been to. Also, it was very hot and humid today, so it wasn't exactly enjoyable to sit there in the sun. Because of this, we decided to make an unscheduled stop at La Défense. This is the commercial area of Paris, and there is a large mall as well as the famous Grande Arch, which was absolutely gigantic. La Défense is a district in western Paris that is basically like the downtown areas of most big cities (tall buildings and shopping centers, etc.), but it isn't in the center since the city wants to keep the historic feel of the center of Paris. We spent some time touring the mall, and decided to eat in the food court. The meal we had there was one of the best and one of the cheapest since we've been in Paris. It really surprised us. I had a four-cheese pizza and Erica got penne arrabiata. The restaurant was called Viagio, and was a kind of Italian up-scale fast food place (we decided it was somewhat similar to Quizno's in the US). It was awesome for me because I got a large soda for €1.30. I had become accustomed to paying at least €4.00 for a drink at a European restaurant!
Erica says she's still feeling a little funny, but that she's not feeling nearly as nauseous as she was this morning. Hopefully she'll wake up tomorrow feeling much better!
Tomorrow we have a busy day. We're going to attempt to see as much of the Musée d'Orsay as possible (a museum that holds a lot of works by famous painters such as Cezanne, Monet, Manet, etc.), then head off to the Catacombs, a centuries-old Parisian burial site, and try to catch our train back to Berlin by 7:48 pm! Hopefully it will work out better than our plans for today did!
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Oh, I totally forgot to mention that I told my mother that Chris and I didn't take our cameras to the Louvre because we didn't think they would allow photography. I was totally putting her on. Of course we took our cameras. We took over 1,100 photos today. Hahaha. She's always wanted to go to the Louvre.
After breakfast, we headed out to Sacre Coeur, a basilica not far from where we are staying. Sacre-Coeur is still in use and so photography is not permitted and appropriate attire is required. I actually had a bit of fun watching the basilica bouncer kick people out for wearing over-baring outfits or for having to be told repeatedly that photography is not allowed. The church itself was also gorgeous. Chris and I were way more impressed with it than with Notre Dame. Even the view from the church was spectacular. It sits at the very, very top of Montmartre. Did I mention climbing Mount Doom to get there? Well, we did. And it is all stairs. We were hoping to catch a concert rehearsal this morning inside but the rehearsal didn't happen. Unfortunately the crypt was closed, so we didn't get to run around with the crypt keeper. :( But stay tuned tomorrow and the next day...
After Sacre-Couer, we headed out to this like, really big art museum. The Loo? No wait - the LOUVRE. Yeah, that's the one. The Louvre is not doable in one day. And we knew this. But now we have the experience to back that up. We spent our first few hours on one floor. And they flew by. We made sure to catch the obvious favorites: Monna Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory. We also had a list of other things we wanted to be sure to see. Luckily, a lot of the items on our list were on the same floor as the Monna Lisa. Most of the other items on the list we managed to just happen upon while roaming, like the sleeping Hermaphrodite and the dying slave. We spent hours roaming halls filled with sculptures and then hours in the Egyptian antiquities halls. We accidently happened upon a moat (from the Medieval Louvre) and we accidently got turned around quite a bit. Two hours before closing, we decided we'd better go ahead and find the rest of our items on our list to make sure that we got to them before being kicked out. We located and appreciated the horses of Marley and then finally made our way to the second floor of paintings (which we had not even explored) to go see Vermeer's Lacemaker. Unfortunately, when we made our way to the spot that our museum map said the Lacemaker would be...
...we did not find the Lacemaker. Instead, we found a sign that basically said that the painting was going to be on exhibit in Tokyo until mid-June. AYFKM?!! So yeah...Big Bummer. After this let-down, we headed to Napoleon's Apartments, where our spirits were once again lifted (for the time being) as we explored rooms that we both thought were WAY more impressive than the rooms we had seen in Versailles.
Great things about the Louvre: Everyone was allowed to take pictures, which must be a new thing because I remember reading on the web that you have to make a formal request weeks ahead of time if you want to take pictures. Also, we were hardly in line for more than 15 minutes. Everything was really well organized as far as the business side goes and we were able to start enjoying the museum almost as soon as we got there. Fabulous. And a nice change from the way things went yesterday and the day before.
Bad things about the Louvre: I hate to say it but...a certain...group of people was in the museum and each individual in that group felt the need to have their pictures taken in front of just about every single large or famous piece of art. And there are a lot of large and famous pieces of art in the Louvre. Made it difficult to get your own pictures of the art ... you know, pictures free from people making wacky poses in front of your subject.
After the Louvre, we relaxed in the Tuilleries garden for a bit. I enjoyed some mango juice and Chris had some ice cream and soda. We pulled up some chairs and sat by a large fountain where we took in the sun.
This is Chris. Erica got tired of writing, so I'm going to take over! As she mentioned, we spent a good deal of time just relaxing in front of a fountain in the Tuilleries, the gardens that extend out in front of the Louvre. This was awesome, especially after the rather long day we had exploring the museum. I had coffee ice cream (my favorite, incidentally) in a cone and a diet coke, and this perfected the afternoon.
After we sat for a while and regained our energy, we began to stroll down the Avenue de Champs-Élysées toward the Arc du Triomphe. It was late in the afternoon, but the sun doesn't set here until around 10:00 at this time of year, so we had a while to go before sunset. The first thing we came across was the Place du Concorde (Concord Square). This is a rather small square, but it is interesting because of two large matching fountains and a huge Ancient Egyptian obelisk that stand in the center. The obelisk was a gift to the French from the viceroy of Egypt; it's made of granite and is over 2800 years old! It's covered in hieroglyphics and sits on a large stone slab, which has the details of how the obelisk was erected engraved on it. According to our guidebook, it is the oldest monument in Paris.
After the Place du Concorde, the Champs-Élysées turns into a kind of commercial zone, with high-end shops and cafés. There wasn't much here in our price range, but we walked down the street anyway just to get a feel for the area. We wanted to reach the Arc du Triomphe at dusk so that we could get some pictures of it at night when it is all lit up, but we arrived way too early for that. So, since we had time to kill, we (that is, I) decided to eat at McDonald's.
Now, before you go judging me, you have to hear the reasoning behind this decision! I had seen these McDonalds in both Berlin and Paris, and I was curious if their food is exactly the same as ours, or if it tastes different. And the only way to find out is to eat there! Also, we had time to kill, and all the other restaurants in the area would have been much too expensive. So, I got a "Royal Cheese" (for you Americans, that's a cheeseburger at a French McDonald's) with a side of "deluxe potatoes" (basically seasoned wedge potatoes). The food was actually pretty much the same as in the US, but I thought a regular french fry that was in with my "deluxe potatoes" tasted a bit different than McDonald's US fries.
After our detour to McDonald's, the sun had begun to set, and we got some good (and more bad) pictures of the Arc du Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and we took the metro back to the Louvre to get some night pictures of it as well. We got back pretty late, so we'll probably sleep in a bit tomorrow!
Tomorrow we're visiting Père Lachaise, a world-famous cemetary where tons of famous people are buried (including Jim Morrison and several famous composers--Rossini, Chopin, Bizet, etc.). After that, we're going to take a guided tour of the Crypte Archeologique, which is the remains of an ancient Roman town that was discovered near to Notre Dame during some excavation for construction. Then, if the weather holds (it's supposed to rain), we're going to head for the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens), which is supposed to be one of those "can't-miss" Paris experiences.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Versailles. What can we say about this massive building? First of all, it is massive. Like, ridiculously massive. Yet even so, the throngs of people waiting to get in seem to dwarf it. Erica and I waited in line to buy our tickets for two hours (in the rain!), before being told that we now had to wait in another line just to get in. We were in this line, which included a security check, for about 20 or 30 minutes, and then we waited in another line to get our handheld audio guides of the chateau. It was at this point that we were just ready to be done with the whole experience. But it was only just beginning.
The exhibits were not very well organized, and the audio guides left much to be desired. Consequently, we spent a lot of time just looking around the rooms trying to figure out what the significance of everything might be. To top it all off, the rooms were absolutely packed with people. There were many times when you simply couldn't move from one room to another, and the atmosphere was suffocating. All these things together took all of the enjoyment out of the experience for us, and when it was all over we were just so glad to be out of the place.
While the building was a chore to get through, the gardens that extend out behind it were a different story. By the time we got outside, it had stopped raining and the sun was shining. And it was free to get into the gardens after 5:30 pm (they turn off all the fountains and close off many of the areas). It reminded me a lot of the Schoß Charlottenburg gardens (which were an imitation of Versailles's gardens), but a lot bigger with tons of fountains and sculptures. We took a bunch of pictures, but I'm not sure it is possible to convey the expanse of these gardens in pictures. It was nice to just stroll around this beautiful area and enjoy the centuries-old ornamentations. I even think I fell asleep for a little bit when I laid down by the large lake.
When we tried to enter the metro (subway) on the way back home, Erica had to be let through the turnstiles by a French woman who very nicely let her go through with her. This was because Erica's metro ticket has been malfunctioning ever since she got it. We bought 5-day Paris Visité passes at the train station when we first arrived, and we have to insert them into a turnstile at the entrance to every metro station we enter. Mine always works fine and the doors open, but Erica's hasn't been letting her through. It says her ticket is invalid. We're going to have to talk to a metro person tomorrow and see if we can't get her a new one. Hopefully she won't have to buy another one!
Tomorrow is a big day. In the morning, we're going to visit Sacre Coeur, a church that sits on one of Paris's highest hills and overlooks the city. We're hoping to catch a choir rehearsal at 9:45 am. I read online that this is open to the public, but we'll have to see if this is actually true. Then we're off to the Louvre! We're going to spend tons of time in there, and probably spend the evening in the Jardin des Tuileries, the main garden that extends out from the courtyard of the Louvre, and touring the Champs-Élysées, one of the world's most famous streets. We're very excited!
Erica here. Let's see...where did we leave off? It seems like DAYS ago when we were in Berlin but really it was only yesterday.
Yesterday morning, we had "breakfast" as usual at the New Zealand cafe. After that, we headed out to the Berlin wall memorial. We walked alongside the wall, took some pictures, and uh...promoted its deterioration. We visited a really, really cool multi-media exhibit just across the street from the wall. It consisted of old photos, audio, and video. There was a lot of textual information as well, but it was usually an accompaniment to some other form of media. The images and the video were especially helpful in painting a picture of the life of the wall and the lives it affected. (The audio was all in German and Russian so...that didn't really hit home for us as much.) We did get to see some video of John F Kennedy and VP Johnson. All the Berliners were really happy to see them so that was neat to see.
After the wall, we headed back to the hostel to pack up and wait out the rain that had just started up. The New Zealanders had already left. At some point, we were hurried out by one of the hostel dudes. And when we went to check out, the New Zealand guy at the counter sort of "joked" about our late check-out, which wasn't fair - we had asked the previous day when we needed to be out and one of the dudes at the counter said it didn't matter. So there! So we headed out to the train station to wait and wait and wait for the train. The station was actually pretty cool, though. It's practically a shopping center, like a lot of the really cool airports.
Boarding the train was a little confusing, but we got it all figured out thanks to another seasoned traveller who just happened to be in the cart that we had initially boarded (the wrong cart, as it so happens). We rode 2nd class couchette. We both had the two top "beds" in the tiny little "room," which had its ups and downs. We sort of got to take over the luggage rack because we were the only ones who could easily access it, but getting up and down the ladder was sort of a hassle...and I bet annoying for the people trying to sleep below us.
I slept through most of the ride. (I'd get woozy if I stood up for too long while the train was moving.) I hardly took pictures at all. Chris was up for much more of it and perhaps can comment more on the ride later.
When we arrived in Paris this morning, we headed straight for the tourist office to buy our rail passes. The line was moving ridiculously slow and these two really annoying kids were bumping into us, pushing us and making all sorts of racket as they rough-housed. Where were the parents? They were taking an excruciatingly long time talking to the ONE GUY who was working in the tourist office. Ugh. I almost lost it when the little girl started crying and pushed past us to run to mommy. It's all fun and games until someone goes too far. She was wearing a beret too, which also irritated me.
We took the metro to our hostel (le Montclair Montmartre), which was relatively easy to find. Even though we had signed up to check in at noon, the front desk lady said that check-in doesn't start until 3pm. Ugh. Fine. We asked her where we could do laundry and she pointed us up the road. So we did some laundry. It probably cost us about $8 each to wash a week's worth of clothes. After laundry, we headed back to the hostel to drop off our bags. The nice front desk lady decided to go ahead and see if our room was ready...and it was. So she let us in early and we headed straight for the showers...
Showering here is difficult. I miss the awesome shower that we had at Schlafmeile. The showers here...you have to keep turning the water on. It automatically shuts off after about 5 seconds - no exaggeration. It's also really hard to navigate because the shower space is tiny.
After showering, we headed out to buy groceries. We spent 20 euros total for about a week's worth of lunch & snacks. A great deal, considering that we had each been spending close to 20 euros on dinner every night. I just wish I had known that the grocery store didn't give you bags for your items. I had to pack a bunch of stuff in my purse and Chris had to carry a bunch of stuff in his hands! We came back to the hostel with our groceries and fixed us some sandwiches. Then, we started the day.
First we headed out to Notre Dame cathedral, which was free. (That surprised me.) We took a lot of pictures there and bought a cute little token (sort of like our pressed pennies at home) as a souvenir. The only downside to the cathedral was the crowds. Every time I stopped to snap a photo, I felt like I was getting in the way of the meandering herd of people taking the suggested route through the building.
Then we headed out to the Arc du Triomphe. Which was big. There was some sort of ceremony going on when we got there. A lot of military personnel was present and everyone was barred from entering the center of the arch until the drills and ceremonial bits were done. Still don't know what was going on, but suspect that it has to do with the tribute to the unknown soldier.
After the arch, we headed out to the Eiffel Tower. Just before sunset, because we are awesome. We were able to snap day shots, sunset shots, and night shots of Paris from the tower. We stuck around long enough to capture photos of the tower while the millennium lights were twinkling, something that people here (mainly tourists) get really excited about. On the way back to the metro station, we dodged about a billion gypsies selling tiny little eiffel towers (some which lit up different colors...cheesy but also really cool...to me, anyway) before passing by the wonderfully-fragrant Iolanda restaurant. Chris had a ham omelette and I had some Tagliatelle aux eggplant. Mmmm
And now we are back here. Chris is sleeping because he was just not into doing this long blog and I am doing this long blog basically because Chris didn't want to. Well, my wrists hurt from typing so I am going to go to bed now. Check back soon for more of our adventures. Tomorrow, we head to Versailles.