Paris

Paris was one of the cities we were most looking forward to on our trip, and it didn’t disappoint. Over the course of our three full days in the city (a good amount of time, we thought), went to a mass and heard the pipe organ at Notre Dame, took in the Arc de Triomphe, strolled down the Champs-Élysées, walked/elevatored to the very top of the Eiffel Tower, saw the Mona Lisa (et al) at the Louvre, and spent two evenings on the lawn in front of the beautifully-lit Eiffel Tower. We also ate crepes everyday.

We were surprised how far away we had to sit to get a good view — it’s pretty massive in-person.

Our first stop, the famed Notre Dame cathedral, was every bit as impressive and beautiful (in its gothic way) as pop culture (AKA Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame) portrays it to be. The dark interior of the cathedral draws attention to the signature large, circular stained-glass windows that adorn each of the four ends of the cross-shaped church. There was something special and awe-inspiring about hearing the power of the organ fill (and sometimes seemingly shake) Notre Dame while the bright light from outside made the stained glass glow. As someone with very modest knowledge of the proceedings of a Catholic mass (and even less so in French), there was still plenty to see/hear/contemplate.

Not the biggest church we’ve been to on our trip, but definitely one of the most beautiful

After mass concluded we grabbed the first crepes of our visit and walked along the Seine to see the Bastille, the infamous French prison that was stormed during the French Revolution. Turns out the Bastille doesn’t exist anymore (probably should have known that), but we saw the nice monument, the July Column, in its place as a consolation prize (interesting fact: about 600 victims of France’s 1830 “July Revolution” are interred in the column’s base). From there we hopped a metro to the Arc de Triumphe, and then made our way down the Champs-Elysee (Paris’ most famous street, now lined with fancy schmancy shopping) to the beginning of the Louvre before looping back to the Eiffel Tower, where we took in the first of two evenings there. In addition to the obvious beauty of the tower during sunset/after dark, we also enjoyed seeing the 5-minute light show (hundreds of flashbulbs on the tower going off at random) that happens at the top of ever hour after sunset. There were many people trying to sell us wine/beer/champagne, but we had come prepared with our tarp, red wine, cheese, and baguette — a lovely way to spend an evening.

No Tour de France finishes during our visit, but still cool to see

The thing I was most looking forward to seeing in Paris was the Louvre, and, like the city in general, it did not disappoint. It is massive, and the map provided by the museum wasn’t very helpful, but by the end of our 5-hour visit we managed to see the Mona Lisa (nice but still not sure why it’s so incredibly famous), the apartments of Napoleon III, most of the museum’s pieces by the famous French artists Georges de La Tour and de La Croix, and assorted works by Rafael, Caravaggio, Goya, and Rembrandt. We were museumed-out by the end, which prevented us from getting to the Musee d’Orsay (which houses much of the work of famous French impressionists a la Monet), but we were still satisfied with what we did see.

We saw French masterpieces like de La Tour’s “The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds” and Delacroix’s “Lady Liberty Leading the People” (my favorite)…
…And international masterpieces like “Venus of Milos” and da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”

We spent our final day braving the lines to get to the very top of the Eiffel Tower, and on the way up I was most struck by how much steel was used to build the thing — it’s hard to appreciate until you’re inside the structure itself. The views from the top were nice, and the apartment that Eiffel had built for himself at the very top was nicely preserved. We went during the middle of the day, but didn’t find the waiting to be unbearable at any point. It’s a tourist trap, but one worth going to if you’re interested.

While walking around the city (approximately 10 miles each day) I enjoyed hunting for/analyzing places that sold crepes, from the ridiculously expensive cafes surrounding the Eiffel Tower (€7–8 per crepe) to the street stands selling them for a much more reasonable (and sustainable) €3 a piece. Over the three days we were there I tried the Nutella, strawberry, and lemon with sugar varieties, and while I enjoyed them all (no such thing as a bad crepe in my experience) the Nutella crepe my favorite (rich, warm, gooey Nutella in a thin folded pancake shell — drool). At one point we purchased crepes from a street stand on one side of the Seine, ate them as we crossed the river, and then promptly got in line at the crepe stand on the other side (this was after the 10,000 step-mark that day, don’t judge!). So good.

Next on the docket is Austria (Salzburg then Vienna), followed by Budapest and Prague. Hard to believe that we’ve been traveling for two months already, and it’s been great so far. I hope you are all well, and thanks for reading!

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