Goth Panda

August 8, 2016

Paris Day Three: Louvre

I approached visiting the Louvre like I was planning a military campaign. I had entrance and exit strategies, defined goals, and clear supply lines. I think it went as well as it possibly could have. There was no chance that the first time I visited Paris, I would not visit the Louvre, but I don’t think I need to visit it again if I go back.

We got up early and decided not to stop for breakfast so we could arrive near the opening time. We entered through a side group entrance rather than through the glass pyramid, and there was absolutely no line. We already had our museum pass, so we just showed them and were waved in. Once again, I set off the metal detector, this time with my iPhone, which my 1980s-era French definitely did not know the word for. I took it out to show it to the guard instead. Mike and I then discussed what the word for cell phone in French might be; there was a lot of “cellular” and “mobile” pronounced in a faux French accent. I googled it later at the hotel, and it looks like it is “portable,” which did not occur to us.

We stopped at the cafeteria for some quick refreshments, and then headed straight for the Venus de Milo. Then we came back around through the Greek statues to find the Winged Victory, which was our favorite.

Venus de Milo

Winged Victory

By the time we got to the Mona Lisa, there was already a crowd. We stayed near the back and did not join the line to get up close and personal. We also saw the Wedding at Cana and Ingres’ Odalisque and David’s Coronation of Napoleon, which are in the same area.

Paris Day Two: I think everyone takes this picture.

After getting these Greatest Hits out of the way, we started to slow down and we ended up getting lost. The Louvre is huge and parts of it are unconnected to other parts, so at one point we had to double back to the central area after heading down one of the long wings. If you go to the Louvre, wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of walking involved.

Inside the Louvre

The Louvre

We got lunch early at one of the Louvre cafes, since we hadn’t had much for breakfast. Mike got a milkshake fraise, which came with strawberry sauce you mixed into it with a straw. After lunch, it was significantly more crowded. We headed to see Michaelangelo’s Slaves and Cupid and Psyche, and then went to the Dutch wing for the Durer self-portrait, and Van Eyck and Vermeer. There was also a special collection on display of some impressionists, and after that we were museum-ed out.

Paris Day Two: Louvre.

We left through the underground mall and stopped to buy some gifts and souvenirs on the way. By this time the lines to get in were ginormous, so I felt very self-satisfied that my expedition had been a success.

The Louvre

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

March 1, 2016

Paris Day One

Paris from the Top of Notre Dame

Paris from the top of Notre Dame

I have wanted to go to Paris since I started learning French in eighth grade, so it has always been a high priority on my travel wishlist. We decided to go over the winter break since we could combine our vacation time for maximum effect and stay for two weeks. I also thought that since I had a heavy schedule of museum visiting planned, the winter weather might not detract from the trip. At some point, we decided to add in Brussels and Amsterdam. I had visited Amsterdam and a few other cities in the Netherlands in high school, but this would be Mike’s first time in Europe outside of the U.K.

We flew from Philly overnight to Amsterdam, and from there took the high-speed train to Paris. Our airport taxi driver in Philly had been to Paris, and he told us to forget about going to any museums and just sit in the cafes all day and eat. He said that is what he wants to do when he goes back to Paris. I didn’t mention that we are vegetarians, which ended up having a big effect on our food options in Paris.

I actually managed to sleep a little on this flight, due to a combination of Tylenol P.M., an eyemask, and noise-cancelling headphones. Usually I can’t sleep much at all, and I was worried about being tired since we then had to take the train and find our way to the hotel in Paris. Getting a little bit of sleep on the flight helped, but I was still kind of a zombie that first day.

I had booked the train later than our arrival time, on the theory that it would be better in case the flight was late. As it turned out, the flight took an hour less than it was supposed to, and we ended up with even more time to kill in Schiphol Airport. I remembered landing and flying out of Schiphol as a teenager, but seeing it again this time, nothing was like I remembered it. I don’t know if it has changed that much in the meantime, or if I don’t have as good of a memory as I thought I did.

While waiting, we had our first servings of frites, mine with mayonnaise, which I converted Mike to by the end of the trip. This first time, he still got ketchup. Then we took a table at a juice bar and got tea and croissants, marveled at the “smoking closet” where people could sit and smoke (do they charge to use it?), and listened to a roaming barbershop quartet sing American oldies (Elvis Presley) and Christmas carols. By this time we were in a sleep-deprived stupor, and we sat there until it was time to catch the train.

Train to Paris

On the train to Paris

I had booked our train tickets far enough in advance that it was not much more to get first-class tickets, and we were so tired that it was nice to have the cushier seats and snack service. Mike fell asleep on the train, but I mostly watched the scenery and worried about speaking French. I studied French for about seven years total, from middle school through college, but I was very shy about speaking it. When we went to Montreal about ten years ago, although I could understand the French speakers and translate all the signs, I would respond to everyone in English. This does not make you friends in Montreal, and I was pretty sure it wouldn’t work as well in France.

In first class, you get a taxi request form so you can have a driver waiting for you at the train station, and I did this instead of trying to figure out how to get a taxi or take the Metro in my sleep-deprived state. When we arrived in Paris, the driver was there holding a sign with my name on it, and we followed him around the building and down a ramp into someplace that looked like a loading dock, and I started to be afraid that we were about to be kidnapped. But we found the taxi, I gave him the address, and we drove through Paris. On the taxi ride, I remember most that sense of disorientation that comes from being surrounded by a foreign language. This was even more intense than Montreal, and I momentarily thought I had made a mistake coming to Paris. It had been about ten years since I had taken a French class and it’s not like I made any effort to practice in the meantime.

Then our taxi passed the hotel, and I timidly spoke up to the driver, in the first of many incomplete sentences followed by pointing: “Je pense que….,” pointing behind us. He got the message and said something I didn’t understand, and started to back down the street in reverse which made me so nervous I spoke up again. “Il ne faut pas…,” I trailed off, and by then he clearly had realized the limits of my communication potential. “A pied?,” he said, and, grateful that I had managed to understand that, I said “Oui!” and even managed to pay with a “merci.”

I had practiced asking about our reservation, but the hotel desk clerk spoke perfect English and she switched right away once I gave my name. We made it up to our room, and went to bed without dinner. I woke up in the middle of the night to fret some more about how we were going to manage with my limited and Mike’s non-existent language skills. Then I fell back asleep and didn’t wake up until morning.

February 9, 2016

Traveling Pandas Tuesday – On the Train to Paris

Train to Paris