August 22, 2014

Paris: Part One

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I'll be honest. 
Leaving London was tough. 
I had fallen in love with the city and didn't want to say goodbye. 
But...Paris was calling, and so we answered. 
We packed up our bags, said goodbye to our little flat in Pimlico, made our way to St. Pancras station, and boarded our train. The boy was weirdly excited to travel by train, and take the "Chunnel" from London to Paris. It was one of the things he was most looking forward to. I, on the other hand, did not like the idea of traveling under the English Channel. But thankfully, the whole process was rather pleasant...except for the fact that we rode in seats that faced backwards. It took a couple of minutes for my sensitive stomach to acclimate itself to the unfamiliar sensation. 
We were in Paris by 2:30, and hopped off the train to begin the next leg of our adventure. 
Within 20 minutes of our arrival, I began to regret my choice of foreign language classes that I had taken in high school and college. Spanish? Piece of cake! French? Holy heck! I thought I was prepared. I had downloaded a few "Learn French Fast" apps on my phone, and had been practicing my "common phrases." 
I thought I was ready. 
I was so wrong. 
We were able to get to our flat easily, thanks to Paris' fantastically organized metro system, dropped off our bags, and headed out. Our first evening in Paris was spent wandering aimlessly through the streets of Le Marais, trying to work up the courage to speak to the locals and find a bite to eat. We were a bit miserable. We finally settled on dinner at a creperie, and approached the counter, probably looking a tad shell-shocked. The owner took pity on us, and immediately jumped into English. We must have been that obvious. The food was delicious, and we actually ate at a few different creperies during our stay in Paris.
We got to bed early, and woke up the next morning rejuvenated, ready to take on the city. 

Paris 7.21.14
On the agenda for today?
The Eiffel Tower
The Army Museum and Napoleon's Tomb
Arc de Triomphe 

The Eiffel Tower: 
If you're going to Paris any time soon, and plan on going up the Eiffel Tower, buy a ticket in advance! The lines are crazy, and this will most definitely be your most overwhelming experience as far as crowds are concerned. When we got to the Eiffel Tower, our first response was, "Whoa. This thing is immense," followed by, "Holy crap. There are a lot of people here." We expected the crowds. We were in Paris in July. And we were STILL stunned by the masses of people there. But it was worth the trouble. The views were incredible, and now we can say, "We've stood on top of the Eiffel Tower." Okay, not on the top. Heights make me uneasy. So the second platform was high enough! But still. Built in 1889 as part of Paris' Universal Exposition, the Eiffel Tower was originally supposed to be a temporary exhibit for the world's fair. But the world's tallest structure was so impressive that popular demand kept the building intact, even to this day. While it is now dwarfed by many other taller structures, it still inspires awe in all those who visit it. Well, it did for me at least!

The Army Museum and Napoleon's Tomb:
We had only an hour to tour the massive "Invalides complex" where the army museum and Napoleon's Tomb are housed, so we had to go to the places where we got the most bang for our buck! Those were the WWI and WWII wings, as well as Napoleon's tomb itself. And let me tell you, they did not disappoint! I'm a sucker for all things WWI and II, and I think I spent most of my time in the museum oohing and aahing over all of the amazing artifacts housed there. And seeing Napoleon's tomb? Pretty cool.

The Arc de Triomphe:
The 165-foot-high arch was built in 1809 to honor the conquest of Napoleon and his soldiers after their victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. It provided amazing views of Paris, especially of its wide boulevards, and the iconic Champs-Elysees. I think we spent about an hour on top finding all of Paris' landmarks and observing the complex dance of traffic as it twisted around the base of the Arch. 

One travels abroad to experience a world different than their own, and so by the end of our first day, we had abandoned our original outlook on Paris. No longer were we timid in our approach to the city. We wanted to experience all of its delightful facets, and so we put ourselves out there. We knew we would mess up and botch the language at times, but we did it anyways. And I'm going to let you in on a little secret: In our experience, Parisians are lovely and gracious. While they might have been laughing inside at my atrocious attempts at their lovely language, they seemed to appreciate the effort, and were always willing to help. This little shift in perspective altered our experience entirely, and we were able to revel in the pleasures that Paris had to offer.

On the agenda for today?
The Victor Hugo Museum
The Shoah Memorial
A stroll through Il de la cite and the Latin Quarter
Sainte Chapelle

The Victor Hugo Museum:
Tucked back into a residential neighborhood in Le Marais, the Victor Hugo Museum provides viewers a glimpse into the illustrious author's home life. We quickly passed through the museum on our way to other sites, so I didn't really take any photos, but it was really neat to see where the author lived and worked! And, I think I spent the rest of the day singing songs from Les Mis, so my husband enjoyed that...

The Shoah Memorial:
We then stopped off at the Shoah Memorial, a museum dedicated to the Parisian Jews who were deported, imprisoned, and in many cases killed, during Hitler's occupation of Paris. Learning about the Holocaust evokes such feelings of sadness, and has a huge impact on anyone who hears of the atrocities that were committed. But there is something different about being in a place where it actually happened. It makes it much more real. It was a humbling and solemn affair, but Graham and I were both so touched by the experience and are really glad that we went. 

A stroll through Il de la cite and the Latin Quarter:
This was one "excursion" that was not planned. I think almost every portion of our trip was pre-arranged down to the most minute of details. But on this day...we just started walking. And I have to admit, it was one of my favorite experiences. As much as it pains me to concede that my husband was right...sometimes being spontaneous is just the best way to be. We took a walk through the Il de la cite, with a quick stop at Notre Dame. We knew we would be returning the next day, so we just spent a bit of time enjoying the haunting beauty of the great cathedral. And let me tell you. It is jaw-dropping. We then skipped over the Seine and wandered through the medieval streets of the Latin Quarter, pausing to enjoy a few stops along the way, including the park at Square Viviani where we were able to hear the bells of Notre Dame. We stopped for a bite at a little creperie, and ended up perusing the shelves of the Left Bank booksellers. I loved this relaxed approach to the historic center of Paris, and it is one of my fondest memories of the city of light.

Sainte Chapelle:
Oh, this hidden little gem! When you say "cathedral" and "Paris" in the same breath, Notre Dame immediately comes to mind. It is THE cathedral of Paris, and worthy of its fame. But I have to say, that little Sainte Chapelle stole my heart. It took only six years to build, quite a feat during the 13th century, and is a marvel of gothic architecture and stained glass. I was in love, and will definitely have to go back after all of the preservation efforts have been completed. Unfortunately, one of the walls was covered with scaffolding, but it still did not detract from my awe of this gorgeous building!

We spent the remainder of our day in a lovely little park at the edge of the Il de la cite, relaxing and watching a sweet grandpa play bocce ball with his two grandsons.

I loved this day in Paris, but was excited for the day to come! Next on the list? Versailles!
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