Europe 2016 — Paris

Happy Thanksgiving! Yuki and I are back from our 3 week tour of Europe and now that I’ve got a computer to format my pictures, I can post the blogs. Enjoy :)

Day 0, 15 September 2016

Our flights are booked with Air Transat, a French airline. We were initially surprised to see touch screen TVs with the latest movies but were disappointed that the meals were bare sandwiches. Unknowingly to us, this was a foreshadow of French food to come.

Day 1, 16 September 2016

We landed in Paris at 8:00am after an 8.5 hour flight with no sleep. We met Yuki’s parents at the airport, them having flown in an hour ahead of us from Bangkok. Fun fact: the tourist information booth in the airport sells train tickets, but they are more expensive than the machines at the station -.-. Not impressed.

The metro into the city is, however, fairly straight forward and were were able to get in without a problem. Unfortunately, we’d booked an Airbnb and the checkin time was later so we spent an hour in Gard du Nord, one of the major train stations in the city, trying to find the baggage storage area so that we could walk around. We eventually found it, but then we saw that it costs 9.5 euro for 24 hours so it wasn’t worth the 1.5 hours that was left to wait so we just sat around.

The Airbnb we booked was an apartment at the edge of the city. We weren’t sure what door, or even what floor, it was because the directions weren’t clear but then a girl showed up with the key and let us in. We found out that Europe typically call the ground floor the zero floor and go up from there; 1, 2, 3 etc…

We were all tired of the plane ride so we had a long nap and woke up around 5 or so to go down town to visit the Louvre.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, a smaller arch in the Plaza
Yuki’s family at the Louvre

Summer hours are still strong and we arrived outside the Louvre in the plaza. We got some photos outside of the glass pyramid. I was relieved that there wasn’t any line up and even happier that 25 and under is free. We could have gotten Yuki in too because they didn’t check very carefully but we paid for the ticket, 15 euro, because we’re good citizens now.

The Louvre is a large place and difficult to appreciate; especially for people with no background and little interest in art. We walked through a short Egyptian hall with mummies and then a hall of roman statues. The statues were cool to see because I recognized some of them and they’re just there. No fences, no set backs, you can just go up and touch it — an oddly satisfying experience. Also, they don’t have rules against photography so you can take pictures of everything.

Yuki in front of a statue that looks like it’s taking a selfie
Yuki and her mom in a Greek Hall with pieces of Greek

We wandered our way towards the Mona Lisa which had a small crowd of people taking photos in front of it. Because it was late on a Friday night, there weren’t too many people. Yuki, like most people, found it smaller than they thought it would be. I knew it was small, but I actually thought it was larger than I expected. Either way, it and the many other paintings in the museum only got a short glance before we moved on to the next.

Finding dinner proved somewhat of a challenge. We exited the Museum to a district filled with asian foods so we kept walking in search of French cuisine. We couldn’t find any French food, unless you count all the cafes selling hamburgers, sandwiches, and pasta. The one we chose was okay but pretty bland, a reoccurring theme of this trip. It’s weird how Paris was full of street cafes but they served the same bland food.

Day 2, 17 September 2016

Still jet lagged, we got up in preparation for seeing the city properly. Yuki’s dad insisted on going to see the Victory gate which we decided was probably L’Arc de Triumph, also on our list. The monument is massive but doesn’t seem overpowering because it is surrounded by 5 and 6 storey buildings. It, like the Louvre is hard to appreciate because most of the carvings and statues are high up and easily replicated in today’s age. We took some photos from the outside and then ventured in.

Signs suggested that we would have to pay but we just walked in and climbed the spiral steps up to the top. I was surprised to find 4 or so interior floors. This is pretty impressive for a monument constructed in 1808, presumably from brick and stone. These floors aren’t even small, some are a good two stories tall. There’s some museum like exhibits and a gift shop. The very top is the vantage point where you can see in all directions. We were able to point out many of the iconic monuments and also make reference to the Movie Inception, such as the repeating look of the apartment buildings and the bridge of mirrors.

Yuki at the top of the Arc de Triomphe

It’s cool that there is a grave of the unknown soldier at the base with an eternal flame and that the monument is so large.

Yuki’s Dad wanted to walk down the Champs de Elysées street which is a well known street lined with many shops and cafes. Yuki got excited when we found a Faubourgs — also in Vancouver — that sells macaroons. What we can’t get in Vancouver are big macaroons, so she got a chocolate one. Some more wandering and we were getting hungry for lunch. All the cafes seemed pretty touristy and very expensive so we turned off the main street in search of cheap authentic French cuisine. We found nothing. There are many streets but what few cafes there are all sell the same generic bland sounding sandwiches, cheese burgers, and spaghetti.

On the River Seine, we started walking towards the Eiffel tower, our next anticipated stop. I wanted to take a photo of the Eiffel tower from the Palais de Chaillot so we kept to the North side of the river. Fortunately for us, at the base of of the Palais there was a sandwich stand so we got two sandwiches and a tea and had a picnic on a bench.

Yuki along the river Seine

The macaroons were pretty good. It was interesting that the mini macaroons are crunchy on the outside but the big one is soft.

We took some photos at the Palais de Chaillot, among the many hawkers. This museum is where most of the photos of the Eiffel tower are taken from. Between the Palais and the Eiffel Tower we came across a 3 cup street game where the man puts a ball under a cup and shuffles them around. We were very confused because the whole time we knew exactly what cup it was under but other people were betting 50 euro and kept loosing. Afterwards we figured that it might be because we were watching from the side instead of right in front of him so our perspective might have helped.

The typical Eiffel Tower photograph

The Eiffel tower itself was not as impressive as I thought it would be. I found it small and it just looked like a truss to me. Unfortunately the summit was closed due to elevator problems so we only went up to the second observation platform. That was good enough though because it is still much higher than the rest of Paris and the wind was cold so we didn’t want to spend too much time up there. The tower also wasn’t as large or tall as I thought it would be but the views were still cool to see. I think in some ways, we just went there to say that we’d been to Paris more than to actually see the tower. Also, I’d heard that in the summer the lines can be 4 hours long, ours was closer to 30 minutes so that was also a huge bonus.

Dinner, like all meals in Paris, was a challenge. It was just down the street from the Eiffel tower. I had a chicken sandwich which was 3 pieces of bread, some lettuce, tomato, hard boiled egg, and chicken. I had to use ketchup to give it taste and even then I had a hard time finishing it. This was the worst food of the trip.

Looking back at the Palais de Chaillot from the Eiffel Tower

Day 3, 18 September 2016

Our day started quite late, leaving the apartment around 11:30. We took the metro down to the Cité on the island that has Nortre Dam Cathedral. Exiting the station, we saw the Sainte Chapelle but there was a long line outside that wasn’t moving so we keep walking. Down the street I spied the Fountain of Saint Michael and we crossed the Bridge of Saint Michael to take some photos in front of it. It’s weird that it is literally the end of a 5 storey apartment building. This was, apparently to hide the end of the building. The fountain had an inscription about remembering prisoners of war that died in concentration camps.

Yuki and her parents at the Fountain of Saint Michael

Our goal had been to visit the Cathedral of Norte Dame but we had to make a diversion to find coffee for Yuki’s parents. This was a good diversion because we found a small district of narrow streets filled with cafes. This was the first and last part of town we found that was lined with cafes and restaurants. It also helped that it was very cheap.

At the cafe we ate at, I had a chicken salad with pasta noodles and Yuki had a crepe with spinach inside called a Popeye. It was probably our best “French” meal of the trip, this chicken not being dry and tasteless.

After a good brunch, we made it to Norte Dame Cathedral. I admit that it wasn’t as impressive as I had imagined. It is very large but the interior space was lost on me because it was so crowded. The interior is set up such that the centre nave is reserved for pray and mass, which according to the schedule occurs throughout the day, while the sides are for the tourists to walk around the interior. Yuki wondered how anyone could focus on praying with so many tourists walking around taking photos but I suppose the holiness of the place wins out somehow. Norte Dame is also well known for its stain glass, but that is high up on the wall so it is difficult to see.

Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral Rose Window
Notre Dame Cathedral nave

I think the impressiveness of Norte Dame was lost on me because I visited my first cathedral in Quebec some 12 years ago. That cathedral was no doubt smaller, but it was a novelty, brightly lit, and empty so the enormity of the space was apparent. Anyways, I did find a picture of the Cathedral de Remin, which I’m pretty sure is the cathedral I based my grade 12 contemporary studies model on.

The French it seems are very fond of scale models. Every attraction we went to had a scale model inside and we visited a chocolate shop that had several chocolate models. There’s even a museum of miniature models but we didn’t visit it.

After Norte Dame, we walked around the outside, avoiding the stagnant line to go up the bell tower, and then down the river Siene beside the green kiosks. I read a story not too long ago about how these vendors use to sell rare old books but they’re slowly disappearing in the internet age and are being replaced with tourist stalls. I admit that there were some nice posters and paintings that we could be bought, even if they were prints, but we didn’t.

Pont des Arts — This use to be the love lock bridge of Paris but one of the railings fell off last year and all the railings were replaced with anti lock railings.

We walked to Saint Germaine des Près, which I’d read was a good place to walk around. We didn’t find anything, no narrow streets lined with cafes or boutiques to shop in so we took the Metro to the Sacré-Coeur. We walked up the hill from the back side.

I’ve been so excited to visit landmarks in Paris because I know them from playing Midnight Club 2 on the playstation, a street racing game and Sacré-Coeur was the one I was most excited about. In the game, I would race the hill to the cathedral and often times be going so fast that I’d crash into the side of the building. To actually see the cathedral was pretty cool, but again the interior was not too interesting. However, one thing I didn’t know about was paying 6 euros each to climb up to the roof top dome. Yuki and I did this and it was by far the best thing we did in Paris. The 300 steps up include a spiral staircase, claustrophobic just like a castle and a walk in the valley of the roof. It is narrow and feels like being a monk 200 years ago on a maintenance walkway. The view was spectacular and we took some photos with the Eiffel tower in the background.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica

Sacré-Cœur Basilica dome lookout

Eiffel Tower

On the way down the hill we found another shell game but this guy was very tricky and Yuki’s mom lost 70 or 80 euro. Watching him, I got it wrong a few times so I’m pretty sure he had a slight of hand as well as some very mischievous tricks I saw him pull on people. We couldn’t find any food around so we too the Metro back towards the apartment. We almost had sushi but decided to go for the French cafe one last time. The meal was kinda bizarre. Yuki ordered a Salmon tartar for her dad that ended up being raw salmon on a plate, that he didn’t like so he took her cod and yam instead. Meanwhile, my bacon cheese burger ended up being pretty tasty, and I wondered, are french fries actually french? Supposedly they might have originated in Belgium. In any rate, we were happy that this was our last meal in France and that we will be heading to Switzerland next; not that we know what Swiss food is…