Goth Panda

April 14, 2016

Paris Day 2: Sainte-Chapelle, Cluny, and the Arc de Triomphe

After lunch, we walked over to Sainte-Chapelle, which is hidden behind the walls of the Palais de Justice. I was wondering how to get to it, when I saw a line of people waiting along the wall. All of these people cannot be waiting to see the Palais de Justice, I thought, and figured out that this must be the line for Sainte-Chapelle.

I got stopped through the metal detector on the way in, and upon being asked what I had, I answered “D’argent?” and pulled a bunch of coins out of my pockets. The guard smiled at me, either because of my lame accent or because that is an outmoded term. I learned French in the late ‘80s, back when there were still francs and not Euros. It seems like “monnaie” is more in use now.

I also didn’t realize you had to climb the stairs in Sainte-Chapelle, too. The ground-level entrance is plain compared to the upper level:

Paris Day One: Sainte-Chapelle.

Paris Day One: Sainte-Chapelle.

Paris Day One: Sainte-Chapelle.

After that, we walked over to the Cluny, but there were only a few things I was interested to see there, so we didn’t stay long. We saw the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, the illuminated books, and the stained glass. We came out into a Christmas market and bought beignets, which unlike their New Orleans counterparts, are pretzel-shaped dough covered in granulated sugar.

Paris Day One: Stained glass panel from the Cluny Museum.

Stained Glass at the Cluny Museum

We took the Metro to the Champs Elysees, and landed in the middle of a much larger and busier Christmas market. We walked up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, and then tried to turn off the Champs-Elysees to walk back to the Metro and ended up getting lost. I started feeling nervous as it was getting late and the streets are not in a grid pattern, so I felt kind of sure we were headed in the right direction, but not positive. We did find a Metro station and made our way back to the hotel, where we had a non-descript dinner and went to bed.

Paris Day One: Arc de Triomphe.

April 12, 2016

Paris Day 2: Notre Dame

We hit the ground running in on our first day in Paris, visiting Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle, making a quick detour to the Cluny Museum, and finally walking up the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe. Before we left, I’d ordered a Paris Museum Pass and Paris Visite Metro passes. I would definitely recommend the Paris Museum Pass if, like us, you planned to see a lot of museums. We visited the Louvre, Orsay, the Towers of Notre-Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, Centre Pompidou, and the Cluny, and it was extra worth it because in most cases, you did not have to wait in the ticket line.

We stopped for breakfast near our hotel at Le Grand Cafe Capucines, and ordered the petit-dejeuner Paris, which consisted of a croissant, bread, and brioche with butter and jam, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a hot beverage. We both ordered hot chocolate, or chocolat chaud, and this turned out to be the main reason we ended up coming back to this cafe twice more for breakfast. The chocolat chaud was delivered to the table as a jug of warm milk and a jug of melted chocolate, and you mixed these together in your cup to your own liking. I was able to order, get the bill, and pay, so I was feeling bit more confident in my French skills. When we got to the Metro station, the Visite cards did not work, and I successfully asked the ticket lady for new ones, and that was another confidence builder.

We took the Metro to Chatelet and were momentarily confused on coming up from the Metro, but signs for tourist attractions were prevalent. We followed the signs across the bridge, turned the corner, and there it was, fronted by a giant Christmas tree and a wreath.

Paris Day One: Notre Dame.

Notre Dame

Paris Day One: Notre Dame.

It was Sunday, so we were there as one mass was coming to an end, and by the time we left the next one was starting. Mike was impressed with the mass’ thundering organ finale and tried to get it on video, but it ended before he could. We wandered around the church, and paid extra for entrance to the treasury. This was probably not worth it, although we got to see a bunch of dead saints’ bones in there.

Paris Day One: Notre Dame.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

After exiting, we walked around the corner to get in line for the towers. When I first saw the sign for “Tours de Notre Dame,” I thought, “We don’t need to take a tour,” and then a few minutes later my brain kicked in: “tours” equals “towers.” We had to wait about 30 minutes to get to the front of the line, and amused ourselves by scouting out cafes and creperies to hit up for lunch. I’m sure everything in the area of Notre Dame is probably classified as a tourist trap, but I didn’t really care. This probably sounds like blasphemy to most people, but being vegetarians, I didn’t expect much from the food in France. I was focused more on the sights and museums than on the food, and it was difficult finding vegetarian items on menus. Mike fell back on eating fish, which he sometimes does when we travel to non-vegetarian friendly places.

The climb up the tours is not for the faint of heart, and I was out of breath well before the top. However, it’s the only place where you can get photos like these:

Paris Day One: Gargoyles on top of Notre Dame.

Paris Day One: Gargoyle on top of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Gargoyle

Notre Dame Gargoyle

Paris Day One: View from the top of Notre Dame.

Paris from the Top of Notre Dame

Roof of Notre Dame

Sacre-Coeur from the Roof of Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Roof of Notre Dame

April 7, 2016

Wyoming 2012 Wrap-Up

Grand Tetons

Why I Wanted to Go

This was one of the first non-necessary, just for fun trips I planned. I gave Mike a list of three possibilities: Seattle and Vancouver, a New England roadtrip, and Yellowstone. Not surprisingly, given his love of hiking and outdoor pursuits, he chose Yellowstone.

The Plan

I had originally intended to cover a much wider area and to make this more of a roadtrip, by flying into Denver or Salt Lake City. But after investigating further, I decided that I wanted to focus on Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. So we flew into Jackson Hole instead to maximize our time. We split the time almost evenly between the two parks, with a little more time spent in Yellowstone since it is much larger.

What I Would Do Differently

Everyone gives this advice, and it is true: when visiting Yellowstone, stay in the park. The park is huge, and even when you stay in it, driving from one part to another can take up a big chunk of the day. However it can be tough getting reservations during the most popular times of year. I changed our plans after reading more about it, and called up the reservations desk at some point late in the game, asking for any consecutive 3 or 4 nights within our timeframe. Luckily, we managed to get a cabin at Yellowstone Lake Lodge for three nights, which was a little less than we wanted, so we drove up to Yellowstone from Jackson for an additional day.

We didn’t stay in the park at Grand Teton, but we did drive around and visit the lodges there. I think that’s where my obsession with National Park lodges began, because after seeing them, I wished we had stayed there. But we did like staying in Jackson, it was definitely less expensive, and we had some great food choices there.

We focused more on Yellowstone, which makes sense since there is much more to do there. But as I mentioned above, getting around in the park eats up your time and it can feel like you’re spending too much time in the car. If I were staying for a week in Yellowstone, I’d move around to stay in different locations in the park to cut down on travel time.

I liked both Grand Teton and Yellowstone, but Mike ended up preferring Grand Teton. Although there is less to see, we did more hiking there, and I think he was not quite as interesting in the geysers and geothermal springs as I was.

Bison

Surprises

I was afraid we wouldn’t see any, but the buffalo were everywhere.

We went in mid-September, so technically the off-season, but the crowds at Old Faithful were still massive. I can’t imagine what it is like in the middle of summer. However, Old Faithful was the most crowded part of the park. In contrast, Yellowstone Lake, where we stayed, was peaceful and almost deserted. There is a lot more to Yellowstone than Old Faithful.

This was my first time in the Rockies, and my first time at any significant elevation. I was pleasantly surprised I had no altitude sickness.

We saw a bunch of geysers by chance, especially Grand Geyser, which turned out to be a big highlight.

Grand Geyser

Disappointments

Our second or third day there, there was a wildfire not far from Jackson. It never reached the town, but it caused a constant smoky haze in the sky. I missed the bright blue skies of our first few days.

We were hoping to spot some grizzlies in Yellowstone, but we didn’t see any.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

Best Parts of the Trip

The amazing scenery in Grand Teton, and the unexpected sensory perceptions in Yellowstone. The photos don’t prepare you for the experience – the constant smell of sulphur, the bubbling and hissing of the water, and the explosive rush of the geysers.

We also really like the huckleberry slushies.

Most Difficult Parts of the Trip

Our accidentally strenuous hike on our first day there.

Worst Parts of the Trip

We liked staying in Jackson, but some of the touristy, faux Wild West parts were off-putting.

We didn’t see anyone do this, but apparently people throw garbage in the hot springs in Yellowstone, and it is affecting the colors of the springs. This is an American treasure, people!

We ended up having to drive to the airport from Yellowstone before sunrise, which was nerve-racking because it is incredibly dark and full of wild animals and we weren’t exactly super awake. Thankfully there were no accidents.

Overall

We’d like to go back to this unique part of the world, and we’re planning to go to Yellowstone in winter next time.

April 5, 2016

Traveling Pandas Tuesday – New York City

Pandas in NYC