Thursday, January 20, 2011

Honeymoon in Europe - Part 5

Day 13: Arrival in Paris

We had to wake up very, very early on Friday, October 1, to catch a plane to Paris.  Sadly, our stay in Venice ended about as well as it began - I came down with a horrible head cold!  I hardly slept at all that night and then had to wake up at 3am the next morning to get ready to go.  Needless to say, I was pretty miserable.

After a very long Vaporetto ride, we arrived at the Venice airport only to find that the flight attendants were on strike.  Fantastic.  This meant they had just a handful of staff members running the whole airport, and apparently couldn't spare anyone to help passengers check in.  Their solution was to have everyone use the automated check in machines.  This was a complete and total disaster.  For whatever reason, most people could not figure out how to work the machines and no one was around to help them, so we stood in line  f  o  r  e  v  e  r......

A couple of hours later, we finally got checked in, cleared security, and RAN to our gate.  It was just about 15 minutes before the plane was scheduled to take off and we were worried we might not even make it on the flight.  But when we got to our gate, we discovered all the other passengers just standing around - boarding hasn't even begun!  You could tell everyone was getting antsy, thinking something was seriously wrong.  Then about five minutes later, three flight attendants came racing through the airport to our gate, scrambled to get the computer started, etc., and boarding finally got underway.  Craziness!

The short flight to Paris was easily the worst flight of my entire life.  My head was so congested that the added pressure of take off and landing was simply unbearable.  I just wanted to cry.  My ears refused to un-pop for most of the day and I was pretty sure I was never going to hear right again.  Luckily we had managed to find some decongestant at a pharmacy in Venice before we left (after a fun time trying to explain what Sudafed is to an Italian pharmacist - apparently they don't carry that brand in Italy), but that seemed to hardly make a difference.

Since Mike was going to be staying in Paris for an entire week to attend a conference, we decided to save money and rent an apartment through  Basically, it's a service where private home owners rent out their rooms to tourists, usually for longer stays like a week.  We've done this kind of thing before, so we felt comfortable taking the risk.  The downside is it's not a hotel, so there's no one at the front desk to answer your questions, no community computer to use, and no one makes up your bed or prepares your breakfast in the morning.  But it does save you a LOT of money, especially in a place like Paris.  We wanted to stay in the 7th Arrondissement (the neighborhoods in Paris are numbered), because that would put Mike walking distance to his conference and save him time and money on transportation.  Naturally, the 7th is where the Eiffel Tower is, so its popular, and consequently, pricey.  But we did find an apartment for just 585 euros for 8 nights, which is a pretty sweet deal to stay in that area, so we took it.  In case you're interested, it was home away property #234084, located at Apartment 24, Avenue de Tourville.  It was itty bitty, and had a pull out sofa for a bed, but it clean and reasonably comfortable, so it made a suitable place to crash.  When you're in Paris, you don't spend much time lounging in your room anyway.  That was the plan at least.

But finding our way to the apartment in Paris was yet another whole big ordeal.  The lines to buy tickets for the train ride from the airport into Paris was extremely long and slow moving.  And we couldn't figure out which type of ticket we needed, so we bought the wrong ones the first time and then had to stand in line again.  The directions I researched and printed off were wrong, so once we got to the metro station, we had to figure it out all over again.  And then of course we had trouble connecting with the person who was supposed to meet us and give us the keys to the apartment because we couldn't figure out how to use the French pay phones.  When we got into our apartment hours later, I was absolutely miserable and exhausted, so I crawled into bed.  Mike went out to find me some soup.

After a warm bowl of soup and a long nap, the drugs finally started to kick in and my energy level picked up a bit.  I decided I better take advantage of this and go see a bit of Paris before it got dark.  We were just a short walk from the Eiffel Tower, so we made that our first stop.  Maybe I would have been more taken with it if I hadn't felt like my head was going to explode from the sinus pressure.  But at that moment, I really wasn't in love with the Eiffel Tower initially.  I mean, it's big.  And from a distance, I think it looks kind of romantic in the skyline.  But up close it's just...I don't know...a lot of metal.  And not all that attractive.  But like I said, I was very sick so hopefully you can forgive my grumpy attitude. 
My first view of the Eiffel Tower
By this point, we were feeling kind of overwhelmed by Paris.  And given how I was feeling, I was sure we were going to need to scrap our original jam-packed itinerary and find more low key activities.  So we decided our next stop had better be a book store where we could pick up a tour book of some kind.  We jumped on the metro and went to the mall.

The mall probably would have been super fun, except it was almost closing time, so we only had time find what we needed at the book store and get out of there.  As we were leaving the mall, we were both starving, and neither of us had the energy to wander around searching for the perfect place to eat our first Parisian meal.  Just then, we spotted the unmistakable neon sign of a burger joint outside the mall.  It took us a minute to get over the ridiculousness of eating American-style fast food for our first dinner in Paris - city of world famous cuisine.  But desperate times call for desperate measures!  They were some delicious burgers though. ;)

Day 14: More Paris

When I was planning out our trip, I had a long list of things I wanted to do and see in Paris: tour the Louvre, ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, take a Seine river boat cruise, eat at some world famous restaurants, wander through all the pretty parks and gardens, etc.  But when I woke up on Saturday, October 2, I didn't feel like doing any of those things. :(  Although I was feeling quite a bit better than the day before, I was still pretty sick.  But I badly wanted to see Paris, so I forced myself get out of bed and go out.

Our first adventure was finding breakfast.  There's no shortage of amazing pastries in Paris, but how do you decide which one?  And then order in French?!  Contrary to the stereotype, everyone was super nice to us and very helpful.  I did my best to ask for two chocolate pastries in French, and although I'm sure I butchered it, they smiled and gave me two chocolate pastries.  Yum yum!

After breakfast, we walked over to see the Eiffel Tower again.  I will admit, I liked it much better this time.  But it was crazy crowded!  And the lines for the elevators to the top were insane, so we decided to save that adventure for a future trip to Paris.  Between the obnoxious pushy street salesmen trying to sell you miniature Eiffel Towers and the hoards of children running around like crazy, we didn't feel like hanging around for very long.

We decided to go see Notre Dame instead, so we rode the Metro over there (the public transportation in Paris was fantastic!  So much better than Italy...).

Notre Dame is quite an impressive cathedral (and on our travels through Europe, I've seen a lot of churches!).    It's so popular, we had to stand in line for awhile just to get in.  But it was worth the wait!
Notre Dame from the outside - look at those incredible architectural details!
The south rose window
The altar and center of the church
Looking up at the ceiling from the center of the church
I just love Gothic style architecture!
There were beautifully painted three-dimensional wood carvings of bible stories all along the wall
We spent awhile touring the inside of the cathedral, which was just incredible.  I really wanted to go up in the bell tower (where you can see the famous gargoyles!) but unfortunately the line was ridiculous, so we decided to skip it.  But that is definitely something I need to come back and do someday!

After Notre Dame, we decided to head over to the Arc de Triomphe.  But we decided to walk instead of ride the Metro so we could see a bit of Paris along the way.

First we walked along the Seine river, which looks so romantic with all those ornate old French buildings.
We saw the Louvre! (this time only from the outside - we'll go inside next time)
Then we walked through the Jardin des Tuileries.  Which, as you might expect from a French garden, is simple exquisite.  It's kind of hard to believe, but there are beautiful public gardens like this all over Paris!
Look at those perfected manicured trees!  So French. ;)
Next we went through the Place de la Concorde (basically, a large public square) which has a real ancient Egyptian obelisk and two ornate fountains.
Then we walked up the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées, which is filed with designer stores and was for some reason super crowded with people.  Like New York City at rush hour crowded.  This made it kind of hard to see anything, or even enjoy the walk, since all our attention was focused on not getting lost in (or trampled by) the jumbling crowd of people around us.

About an hour after leaving Notre Dame, we finally made it to the Arc de Triomphe.  We followed the passage way that leads beneath the road so we could view it up close (the Arc is surrounded by a giant traffic circle which you cross by going underground).  If I'd been feeling better, I would have loved to go up to the top and see the view.  But for this trip I felt like seeing it from the ground was good enough.
Then we rode the metro over to the Jardins du Trocadero for a view of the Eiffel Tower across the Seine river at sunset.  Beautiful!
Finally, we went out to dinner.  There was a whole list of places I wanted to eat at, but unfortunately none were very close by, so we just wandered around until we found a restaurant with a menu that looked good (and affordable).  I don't remember the name, but it was crowded with locals and had good food.  If I ever go back to Paris, I'll make more of an effort to find the well-reviewed placed to eat, but on this trip I just wasn't up to walking far for food.

On our way home, we stopped by a little grocery store to pick up a bottle of French wine and some breakfast for the next day (we settled on crepes with nutella, yogurt and juice).  Then we headed back to our apartment to relax and enjoy our wine.

Day 15: Last Day in Paris

We started the day with breakfast in the apartment, then headed out for a walk around the city.  Our tour book (the Lonely Planet Paris) had some walking tours that sounded cool, and I just really wanted to see what the different parts of Paris looked like.

We began our walking tour of Paris with the neighborhood of Montmartre.  We rode the Metro up to the Blanche stop, which is right near the Moulin Rouge!

I don't remember the exact route the Lonely Planet guide book had us take, but it was lovely!  We made our way up picturesque cobbled streets lined with old fashioned pastel houses.  We took our time and stopped into little shops whenever something in the window caught our eye.  I think we even stopped for lunch along the way, but I can't remember for sure.  In any case, it was a fantastic walk - one of the highlights of our stay in Paris!
We walked all the way up to the top of Montmartre hill (the hill gives the neighborhood its name, and is the reason this entire walk was uphill).  At the top is the famous Basilique du Sacre-Coeur (in English, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris).
From the church steps, you get a an amazing view of Paris!
You can even see the Eiffel Tower waaaaay off in the distance. 
We walked back down the hill by way of the Place des Abbesses - a cute little park which seemed to have a mini carnival going on.  There we caught the Metro back.

Our next stop was the Jardin du Luxembourg (the Garden of Luxembourg) - another pristine garden/park of Paris.  It was SO pretty!
In the middle of the park, there was an enormous fountain (it looked almost like a small pond).  There were chairs all around it, so we snagged a couple and sat for awhile to enjoy the beautiful setting and do some people watching.
Apparently kids can rent these little toy sailboats and sticks.  They'd put their boat in the water, give it a push with the stick, then watch it go!  Then they'd run around to try and catch it on the other side so they could give it another push.  It was pretty cute to watch.  
We eventually left our comfy seats in the garden and walked back up to the Seine river.  We took a long meandering walk along the river and enjoyed the pretty view of the water and Parisian buildings.
We eventually reached the Pont Alexandre III - an ornately decorated bridge that spans the Seine river.
Both sides of the bridge are decorated with massive, elaborate lamp posts and statutes of cherubs and nymphs.
One of the statues up close:
At either end of the bridge are enormous granite pillars with gilded statues on top.
Two of the pillars up close:
From the bridge, we walked over to the Les Invalides.  As the name implies, this building was originally constructed as a home and hospital for invalid soldiers.  Today it's a massive complex of museums relating to French military history.  We didn't go inside, we just stopped briefly to admire it and then continued walking.
By this point, we had made it back to the 7th Arr. just in time for dinner.  A place caught our eye near our apartment, so we ate there.  The food was quite good, even though our waiter was a little grumpy (and I don't think it's just because we're Americans - he was grumpy to the two French ladies sitting next to us too).

After dinner, we took some wine and waked down to the Eiffel Tower.  The tower is all lit up at night, which really neat to see.
Every hour on the hour, the lights twinkle for about 5 minutes, which makes it look like the whole thing is shimmering.  It's so pretty!
This is my attempt to show what the twinkle show looks like.  But it's much better in person.
After walking around and admiring it up close, we found a bench in the park across the street where we could sit and drink our wine while gazing at the Eiffel Tower.  It was really the perfect way to spend the last night of our honeymoon in Europe. :)

Day 16: Going Home

On Monday, October 4, the honeymoon was officially over and it was time for me to go home.  Mike went to the first day of his conference, and I headed off to the airport.  I still felt sick (and continued to be sick for a good two weeks after I got home), but all in all, we had an amazing trip.  Paris really is a beautiful, romantic city.  And you really don't need to visit all the tourist attractions to enjoy it!  We had so much fun just wandering through the streets.  I actually think with just 3 days in Paris, spending hours standing in line to get into the Louvre or to ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower would have been a tragic waste of time, so I'm kind of glad things turned out the way they did.  And I guess I'll just have to return to Paris some day to see all the things I missed out on this time around. ;)

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