Sunday, June 29, 2014

Paris

Paris was a whirlwind. Originally, we weren't going to see it at all. Our plan was to stay in Normandy for the entire last week. I was completely okay with this, especially before I knew that E was going to be joining me for that part of the trip. Normandy is beautiful and I knew we'd have plenty to do there. But when E decided he'd come, he said knew that being so close to Paris and not seeing it was going to be something I'd regret. So we decided we'd leave Normandy one day before the rest of our group (our train went through Paris, so the plan was to meet up at the train station the next afternoon to head back to England) and we'd try to see as much of a gigantic city as one can in 24 hours.

I was a bit nervous the morning we left Bayeux because I was still not certain the railroad strike was over. French newspapers still said things like "it is pretty much over, so 7 out of 10 trains are running." I was worried that our train would be canceled again, and worried that it would be harder to deal with logistics from a small train station like Bayeux, but our train was still listed online so we figured we'd go for it. We walked to the train station, and had a completely ordinary train ride to Paris. Just what I was hoping for.

Once in Paris we found our subway lines and transferred so we could get to the hotel. Once again I was happy we were not dragging bags behind us, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy the Paris subway system is to navigate. We popped up at Saint-Michel, right next to the Seine, and I couldn't stop grinning.

Paris felt like a dream. I'm not sure if it's because we had such limited time there, or because I've never seen a city like it before. But I was happy to be the goofiest tourist, ever.  God, it was beautiful.

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First look at the Seine
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Our hotel (the three open windows on the right are our room)
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Lunch, and Notre Dame peeking through the trees behind E
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Another day, another metric ton of fromage
We arrived about noon -- the bells of Notre Dame were just starting to ring as we walked down the Left Bank. Our plan was to drop our bags at the hotel so we could explore, and we'd go back later once we could check in. Our room was ready, though, so we were able to check in. Of course by then we were starving, so we just found a little cafe and got to work on consuming more cheese.
Our post-lunch plan was to take one of those (completely nerdy--I know--but easy ways to see a bunch of things in a little bit of time) hop-on/hop-off bus tours. And it was great, especially because our time was so limited. We both got sunburned, though, because it was HOT.
At the Eiffel Tower, we got off the bus and proceeded to take our mandatory Eiffel Tower photo. Of course this means handing my camera to some random person who looks like they might not run off with it, so of course I have a bunch of really bad photos. The first girl I asked to take our picture took just our picture. I have a picture of our faces with some black bars behind us--we might as well be in Sacramento. We decided we'd walk to the other side of the Tower and try again. The second batch worked, at least.
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Paris wins. I couldn't get over it. I will try not to embarrass myself by gushing, but I was awestruck. I definitely had a moment. Well, I had a moment when I wasn't regretting my dark grey jeans. I was so, so, so sweaty.
After we got off the bus (even though I was a sweaty mess) I made E go with me to Shakespeare and Company. The original had such history for all the Americanexpat writers in Paris during the 1920s (i.e. where the Lost Generation found themselves). That one closed during WWII, but this current store (named in honor of the first) opened in the fifties and has also been an important literary site since. It felt like another necessary stop on the Heather Sees All the Literary Things Tour.
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Me. Paris. Books. Win. 
In what I am sure will be the story of my life, by about 5:00 I had overdone it, not had enough water to drink, and I felt like crap. Our plan had been to go back to the hotel to clean up and then to go to Notre Dame or maybe Sainte-Chappelle, but of course I was a giant turd who felt like I was going to get sick. I just couldn't keep going. So even though the bells of Notre Dame were ringing just outside our hotel room window, we decided we couldn't do it. It was closing at 6:00, and there was just no way.
Les sads.
But listen. When you're in Paris, you're not allowed to be sad for too long. Because you're in PARIS. So I rested a bit, showered, and by dinner time I was ready to hit the fromage streets again.

We wandered the narrow streets around our hotel and eventually settled in at a little bistro and enjoyed every touristy minute. Even the accordion player playing La Vie en Rose over and over again next to each restaurant. I was happy for another nice, slow dinner that ended in cheese.
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Notre Dame from our hotel room
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Sunset over the Seine from our hotel room
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...and Notre Dame from our hotel window, by night. All lit up. Quite a view.
After dinner I realized that my time in this country was limited; we wandered the streets and I continued to eat French pastries with an almost academic dedication. We were back to our room just as the sun was setting on Notre Dame.

Our plan the second day (or what we had of it--we had to be to Paris du Nord to meet the rest of our group by 1:30 PM) was pretty much the Louvre. We were packed up early so we could leave our bags at the front desk and walk to the Louvre before it opened. I am so glad we were there early. We were inside right at 9:00 and had about an hour and a half of seeing things almost completely by ourselves. The busiest pieces--the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc had a small crowd, each, but the majority of the museum was empty and we wandered alone in front of so many great works.

Favorites: Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix, Canova's sculpture of Cupid and Psyche, Jacques-Louis David's massive painting of Napoleon crowning Josephine, Hammurabi's Code, the Assyrian winged human-headed bulls, and Michelangelo's sculptures of slaves. But I think one of the best things about the Louvre was just being in the Louvre. Miles and miles of art and history. My one bummer at the Louvre: the one thing I really wanted to see, Winged Victory, was out for restoration.

Basically, I'm saying I need to go back.

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We walked until our feet wouldn't carry us anymore. Which was (I think?) about 11:30. Somehow we managed to see all of things we wanted to see. We had about a mile to walk back to our hotel and we needed to eat, so we ducked into a pizzeria just after hearing the the bells of Notre Dame ring for 12:00 again. Our time was up. It was back to the hotel to grab our backpacks, then onto the subway so we could get back to Paris du Nord.
It ended up being a long travel day. Our train back to England was delayed about an hour, and then once we were back at St. Pancras we had to take the subway another hour to get out to our hotel, which was by Heathrow, and even then it was quite a walk. My legs and feet were really aching by that night. we ate a hearty dinner at the hotel and collapsed.
Heathrow was a crowded, insane mess when we got there. British Airways' luggage system was down, so the line was wrapped around the building. Luckily, we found an agent who helped check us in and we were able to get to our gate early. We decided at some point that we wanted to go straight home, rather than spend the night in San Francisco as had been our original plan. Luckily, I have the best friend in the whole wide world in K, and she agreed to drive to San Francisco that night to get us. We couldn't wait to see our kids, and we surprised them that night at my parents'.
This trip was amazing and I still don't think I've processed all of it. I'm happy to be home, but I'm already thinking about the next trip.

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