Sunday, October 30, 2011

Friday 28/10/11

Friday was our last full tour day with our group. We had a guided tour with Elizabeth again, which would be our last, and then a Bon Voyage dinner that night.

Elizabeth took us through the Mussee de L'Orangerie. The museum holds a total of 8 Claude Monet Water Lilly paintings that he did specifically for installation in the museum. They are massive and surround the interior of two oval shape rooms. Elizabeth gave us about a hour lecture on Monet which was nice. Not so much because Monet is a very interesting person, in my own opinion, but because she was very good at what she does and could have made a rock seem interesting.

Side note: I'm not a big fan of the Impressionist movement. I just took a class last semester with a teacher who was completely in love with it, yet she was very boring about it. One thing that does impress me with the movement is their determination to continue with what they where dedicated to doing - which was painting in a style that defined themselves. It's hard for me to look at an impressionist painting and think of it as revolutionary, but they are. Anyway, just some personal thoughts.

The basement of the Orangerie also has a collection of other artist that where really great. Overall, this is the only museum that we have been to that has been completely manageable in size.

All week long there was question whether or not the Orsay would be open. This is another museum located across the river from the Orangerie and it has a ton of great stuff - including quite a few Van Goghs. All week long the museum workers had been on strike and facility was closed.

Our luck has been running hot and the Orsay opened its doors this morning for the first time in 9 (?) days or so.

It is a great building and the installations where very well put together, but honestly - after you see a couple Romanesque statues, you've seen them all! Luckily they had a very cool furniture installation and the painting exhibits where great as well.

Have I mentioned the Paris is a hard place? Everywhere you go your standing on 6 inches of marble or a slab of concrete, a cobblestone road, or a rocky side walk...can a brother get some cushion for his poor little baby feet? No seriously, everyone tells you that you need comfortable shoes, what they should tell you is to bring a gel pad to stand on. Ha-ha. It's been good. You find your grove and go with it. Ours has been strategically placed naps and wine drinking.

Our final dinner with everyone was such a good time. The wine was flowing, the conversation was great, and the food was good. We sat at a table with Toni, our Steve's guide, and got to pick her brain on european politics and her travels over to the states.

Everyone was having such a great time we grabbed a few bottles of champagne and took a short walk over to the Champ de Mars. If I haven't cleared this up before, that is the park area you see in Rush Hour 3 when Jackie Chan is hanging off the side of the Eiffel Tower.

We proceeded to watch the light show on the tower that happens on the hour. What a great way to end the time spent with these people. For being a group of strangers at the beginning of the tour, it sure felt like we had made some friends in the end.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thursday 27/10/11

Thursday, Thursday Thursday!

This morning we where on a trip out to Versailles. Very interesting history of rich fools that moved out to the country side and tried to hide from the turmoil caused by continually fighting wars and becoming entirely detached from what was actually happening with the, I kid.

This is a very important place and a pivotal setting for the French Revolution. It was also the grounds of the incredibly important Treaty of Versailles.

Honesty while inside and wandering through the Hall of Mirrors and other rooms full of wealth and history, I would get a glance at the grounds out doors and just think: damn, I can't wait till we get out there.

Elizabeth, our guide, did a great job telling stories of the inhabitants of this amazing home. Her enthusiasm was fantastic and she really amazed us at how excited she could still be about something she has done so many times.

Skip ahead - we made it outside! It was exactly as I thought, simply amazing.

Our goal - rent bikes. Our guide Toni informed us that you could get bikes to ride around the grounds and that it made for a great way of getting around. She couldn't have been more right. It ended up being the highlight of the trip up till that point. It was so awesome that we almost freaked out and rode off into the sky like Falcor in the Never Ending Story. Ok, maybe not, but it was a blast.

Number one recommendation while in Paris - Rent Bikes at Versailles.

After Versailles, we came back to the hotel and got recommendation for seafood from the owner. Although not on the coast, Paris has a solid connection of great seafood. When you live in the middle of the country, as we do, you hook up on good seafood when you have the chance.

Dinner was great and an experience. It was really our first eating experience with a server that spoke and understood very little English. She worked with us and it was a great meal. One of the highlights was when I tried to order a carafe of wine and she said: no. Then she proceeded to bring us a different type of wine that was fantastic. I should have been embarrassed, but she knew what she was talking about.

Our night ended at the Eiffel Tower. We made it to the 2nd level, which is best for viewing the city. All height fears aside, you are simply taken by the city at night. Many had told us that it was ideal to go up at night...and they were all right.

Later Jess and I chilled on a bench in the park area just staring at the tower. It will forever be one of the most memorable days of our lives. Such a great day.

Wednesday 26/10/11

Pardon some of my errors and poor writing in some of these. Although I have my iPad, I have found it easier to just use my phone and the app with loading pictures. It also helps for making quite a few typing/writing errors. Jessie is going to proof them for me from now on though.

We headed out to the neighborhood of Marais. We walked through, stopping at a couple of homes with very cool courtyards. The neighborhood has a history in that it was once occupied by by the privileged, but was abandoned at some point. Although at one point it was getting pretty well beat up, over the years they have been restoring areas.

After checking out a couple homes and churches, we where set free to wander, which is pretty much the formula for the tour - guided tour in the morning, freedom to do whatever you want, then a meeting again later on some days. The format works well.

We ended up hitting up this Falafel joint for lunch. It was damn good. Like I could probably carry on a bit about it....

After lunch, Jess and I headed back to the hotel for an afternoon chill session. This is our format - do morning stuff, head back to room and chill, do stuff in the evening!

The evening event was a guided tour at the Louvre. I was very excited to check this place out and was possibly more taken by the actual building than most of the stuff in it. Our local guide, Elizabeth, who ended up doing 3 additional tours for us, was full of life and information. The place is just amazing and entirely too much to soak up.

After the Louvre, Jess & I went back to the Marais neighborhood and ate at a place we had seen that morning. It ended up being a very good thing we did. I had my first taste of foie gras and we shared a dish of Boeuf Bourguignon (basically beef stew). It was so good.

Forgot to mention - there's an Apple store in the Louvre...which I thought was strange until I saw the 3 Starbucks, McDonalds, and Subway.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tuesday 25/10/11

Alright, hadn't had the chance to mention it yet, but our hotel has been very nice. It is extremely small by most standards, but in Europe in general, space is valuable and very limited - this also applies to personal space. You pack into trains, you squeeze into tables, you walk in packs - it may sound intimidating, but you get used to it quickly.

The hotel provides breakfast every morning, which consists of cafe (coffee), cereal, fruits, yogurt, pastries, and bread. I have been basically eating the same thing each morning. This for some reason helps me deal with eating insane food and drinking wine and coffee all day long.

Tuesday morning we headed up to the neighborhood of Montmartre. The area is rich with history of artists and just plain partying. Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir, and Lautrec all lived and worked in Montmartre.

This tour of the area was our first provided by someone aside from our Steve's guide: Toni. Genevieve, who is living in Paris working on her dissertation, provided us with many stories and the great views from the area.

The tour ended atop of a hill at the Sacre-Coeur Church. Another church yes. This one was different in that it was built with a special limestone the had a cleaning ability, so it amazingly looked very clean, even though it has never been washed.

Side note: Paris is very clean to our surprise. When you get in a big city you expect a level of nastiness, just based on the amount of people and pollution. We might just be here at the right time, but a ton of the buildings have been cleaned/restored over the last 10 years and she's looking really good.

We grabbed lunch in Montmartre and then started back towards the city to see: The Arc De Triomphe!

The Arc is in the middle of 12 converging streets, this monument was commissioned by Napoleon, who never got to see it finished before his death.

This was my first experience with some heights since we got here and it wasn't bad at all. The views make you feel like you're flying around the city. It's really fantastic.

Just as we had gotten down the Arc it began to rain. It was a pretty good downpour for about 30 minutes and has been our only significant amount of rain since we arrived.

Ave de Champs-Élysées is the most well known street in Paris. It leads from the Arc de Triompe and runs into the Louvre.

Along Champs-Élysées you'll find everything that you can possibly imagine when it comes to consuming. Think Michigan Avenue on steroids. One of the crazier parts of it was the car dealerships. They have all these walk on dealerships right along the mall front. Pretty cool.

After wandering around that street and trying to find a specific store, we quickly hurried back to our Hotel for a wine tasting.

We showed up towards the end but where able to try most all of the reds, which is what I came to do! The wine was great and we found out favorite was only 5 euros a bottle - we have not figured out how to get a boat load of it home at the same price?

The wine tasting was followed by a group dinner at Cafe Bousquet. Great place. The snails where awesome! Jessica most enjoyed that we where able to sit with two girls that had been very reserved and snobbish until this point. We had dinner with them and forced our friendship upon them. They excepted and have since been quite lovely.

The night ended at the wine shop, a couple barks at the moon, and a little bit of dancing. It was a great evening.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Monday in Paris

Jess is writing up Sunday as I'm typing this up now, so we can attempt to get back on track.

Paris in a nut shell is nuts! It's impossible not to immediately get transformed into a wonderful mood once you get out and traveling around .

The morning started out with an introduction to the city subway, which is no more intimidating than any other train system, just obviously in another language. Parisians are very quite an personal and the train is a perfect example of that. Even fully loaded, the train can be almost silent except the movement of the train on the rails.

Our walking tour started on a bridge that led us to the island of Ile de la Cite. This is where the city of Paris began, even in its earliest stage beginning with the Romans. This island is flanked on all sides by the River Seine (pronounced Sen - like ten with an 's' instead of a 't' as Jessie taught me.

Our 1st stop was at Sainte-Chapelle, which is the first of many chapel stops through the entire tour. The chapel was pretty incredible, with the highlight being a rose window (pictured below) that depicts the stories of Revelations.

Second stop was at the great Notre-Dame Cathedral. The front of the Cathedral had some very awesome sculpting and individually many stories...really too many to tell, so I'll focus on my favorite:

In the picture below, you can see the front of the cathedral and there is a row with around 28 (?) Kings. All of them have been restored, but during the French revolution, the people thought these to be Kings of France, when in fact they are Biblical kings. Regardless, it was a very non King friendly time, so the people went about beheading and destroying that row on the chapel.

Skip forward to our next destination, the Cluny Museum, and you will see a picture of these heads. These heads where just found in the 70's in a local garden. Apparently someone felt they were important enough to transport almost all but a few and bury them together. Quite amazingly they were found and now are all on display in the Cluny.

The Cluny itself was built and sits in the grounds of an old Roman bath house. It's crazy to think that these building are just erected on top of other structures, because the elevations have change so drastically over the centuries, that once was above ground - is now below.

The Cluny is wild in that: the Roman bath house is a pretty incredible room, all the artifacts are very much out and completely accessible (not to touch - but you could, if you want to get hollered at), and it apparently has some sort of gravitational pull for only the best mullets in the world! Also, if your really into the Middle Ages, it's one the best collections on the planet.

After the Cluny it went: nap, which lasted longer than planned, then followed by dinner at an Italian place on Rue Claire (very hip eating/shopping street), and then a stroll over to the Effil Tower in the rain.

Our plan was to go up in the Tower, but we where having such a pleasant time eating and drinking wine, we lost track of time.

Couple things leaned:
Sortie - means exit. Important on subways and at many of the tourist attractions.

Vin = wine. It's cheaper than Coca Cola here and way more delicious.

Merci - means thanks. You never realize how often you say thanks in a day until your using it in another language. Unless you don't say thanks and that just means your an ass.

Food - you can eat a whole ton of it when you walk around all day! In a place where food taste as good as it does here - this is a double bonus.

Alright, my wine glass is almost empty and it's about my nap time, so until the next post..