Well, for my second to last weekend, I decided I should finally go to Paris! After work on Thursday night, I met Esther and we got the night train at 1030pm. For 8 hours we talked, slept and worked up quite an excitement for Paris! We arrived at 8am and headed to the hotel - Hipotel haha - thinking we would just check our bags and then go see the city. Fancy enough, the hotel allowed us to check in at like 830am! Impressed! It was a small little room with a baby shower and sink but was perfect and definitley in our budget.
After freshening up, we headed to the city center and first on the list was Notre Dame! I am a bit confused because in the States we call the school Notre Dame the Fighting Irish...but the church is in Paris. Does anyone understand it? It really puzzles me. Regardless, I got in my best Quasi-moto mindset as we strolled around the church - inside and out. It is massive! There were loads of tourists wandering around, all the heavenly songs of the church choir that happened to be practicing while we were there. I found out that the church's offical name is Notre Dame de Paris - which means Our Lady of Paris. Also, it was one of the world's first gothic cathedrals and the pioneer of the flying buttresses (those arched supports outside of the church). A very gorgeous church, I was most impressed with the sculpted boards that tell the story of Jesus. In the old ages, when everyone didn't read, this is how people learned about the story of Jesus, and the fact that they are still intact and in good condition is quite amazing!
We checked our watches and it was almost 11 - time for the free tour to start! When I was in Madrid the first time I stumbled upon a free tour in English and found out that they are offered all over Europe. I looked it up and saw they had one in Paris, so we definitley wanted to take advantage of a 3-hour free history lesson! With about 40 people in our group we were quite a sight walking around the city, but the tour guide did a good job of managing us while showing us the best spots and dishing out interesting information!
Our first stop was the walkway along the Seine River where we were briefed on hundreds of years of French history in a matter of about 10 minutes ha. I'm pretty good at my US history, but trying to remember France's as well is a bit challenging ha. I do recall it was filled with a bunch of Louis' haha. On the Ilé de la Cité, the island in the middle of the Seine, Matt (tour guide) told us about the early history of Paris - how in about 250 BC a Celtic tribe called Parisii found the area and made great use of the river. Through our history lesson we ended up at Pont Neuf, the oldest standing bridge in all of Paris! The best part about the bridge, I thought, was the fact that when the bridge was opened there was a huge party and Henry IV was so amused by all of his drunk friends he commanded his sculptor to immediatley come to the party and sculpt all of his friends onto the bridge. The sculptor questioned him because they were all so drunk but Henry IV thought it was funny and as a result, the faces that adorn the bridge do quite resemble a bunch of crazy drunk men. Ha. Atop the bridge is the statue of Henry IV and a great view of the river. From the bridge we were able to see the building where the Academy of French is (it was called something like that...more Frenchy but you get the point). There, Matt told us that this Academy is where the French people work dilligently to keep any trace of English words out of thier lovely language. For example, when we invented the word computer, the French people thought it sounded to American and instead, changed it to ordinateur. Also, because in French every thing is either masculine or feminine, we found out that the iPod is a masculine product in French and cars are feminine. Useless information for you to have!
The tour continued over the river and then to the Louvre. With the sun shining the pyramids shined bright and really showed the contrast between the old palace building that houses the museum and the pyramids that were only built in 1993! We passed by the Louvre (no worries, we go back on Sunday!) and headed to have a French lunch. Esther and I stopped at a sandwich place and I ordered a tasty le sandwich. I have determined that in order to speak French you just add 'le' to every word. I speak pretty much no French. In fact, most of the French I know is from Beauty and the Beast. So, as you can imagine, I am not an expert.
After lunch we walked through the beautiful Tuileries Garden. Once the private gardens of the Palace that used to be party of the now-Louvre museum, the Tuileries are still considered private property, so you cannot sit on the grass. As a result, people make themselves comfortable in many of the green chairs in the park and relax the day away with the reflecting pools and fountains. From the park you can gaze one way and see the Louvre and to the other, you can stare down Champs-Elysees and see the Arc de Triomphe! It was at this park that I first spotted the Eiffel Tower! We end up going there later, so I will spare you the details right now!
Our tour group headed down towards the Arc and ended after we heard how Paris was one of the only occupied cities in WWII that maintains it beauty and wasn't bombed to oblivion. While many soldiers were heading to Normandy, one group of French soldiers headed to Paris to save the city. Giving the impression that they were blowing up Paris (Hitler's orders) by burning insignificant buildings and bombing non-residental and non-historical neighborhoods, the allies were able to secure Paris and save the city! After the tour we headed to the Arc, where the allies marched after thier victory. Arguably one of the most famous Paris monuments, the Arc is huge and is in the middle of a round-a-bout that no car insurance policy will cover if you wreck there! We went in the underground tunnel to reach the Arc, since it is very ill-advised to actually attempt to cross the circle. Supposedly, an accident happens every 30 minutes. We didn't see any. The monument is set up to honor all of the wars that France has fought in...and let me tell you the whole thing is covered in names of wars! It also houses the Eternal Flame of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
After the Arc we shopped around Champs-Elysees, knowing we couldn't afford anything! It is the most expensive retail space in the world. We drifted in and out of stores and eventually headed to Sainte Chapelle - another church! This one is known as the Entrance to Heaven, so we had to see it! Who knew it only cost 5€ to get into Heaven! The chapel was probably the most astounding ones I have seen, and after travelling Europe all year I have seen quite a few stained-glass, awe-inspiring churches that make you want to be Catholic, but this was by far the most impactful. The entire chapel, which houses the Crown of Thorns that Christ wore, is made from tall stained-glass windows that are known to be the best in the world. From the pamphlet, I learned that in the old days they would make a mock-up of the window and then cut the glass and mold it together with the metal and after, paint the details. I also learned that stained glass was only made in yellow, purple, red, green and blue.
Next we jumped in the Metro towards the Eiffel Tower to climb to the top in the twilight. When we arrived we were sad to find out that the top level was closed, due to too many people being there. Defeated we started walking around the Seine and noticed a lot of barricades and finally asked a French police officer if someone was coming. He said yes and we asked who...and he said, Obama. We FREAKED out and then he was like no, no Mrs. Obama is coming. Since us Americans never refer to her as Mrs. Obama, Esther and I were confused for a split second and then realized Michelle Obama was in town. The nice police officer kindly told us the car route she was going to take to the tower (I am pretty sure that's against the rules but oh well) and we ended up seeing her pass in a motorcade! We rushed to the Eiffel Tower and pushed our way to the front of the crowd and as she was coming out after her Eiffelt Tower visit we saw her again and waved like 6-year olds seeing Mickey Mouse. Kind of funny, I wasn't in the USA for the election and where do I finally see the first lady? PARIS! You know, Michelle just wanted to hang out with Esther and me! After that we didn't care that we weren't able to scale the Tower that night and headed home happy. Esther and I recreated our excited faces for Michelle on Saturday, so that's what that picture is all about haha. A stop for wine and creme brulee topped the night off and after being on the go for about 13 hours, we happily said bonsoir (goodnight) and headed back to our Hipotel.
More to come for Saturday and Sunday in the City of Lights!