Monday, August 31, 2009

Paris Paris Paris

On Monday morning, our trusty crew of six boarded the train to Paris (thank God — and by that I mean engineers and public transport infrastructure — for the Channel Tunnel). We were pretty tired.

But by the time we got to Paris, we were geared up and ready to go. We started with the incredible Saint-Chapelle, a church with some of the largest and oldest stained glass windows anywhere in the world.

It's also only a few blocks from Notre-Dame Cathedral.

The inside of this famous, iconic cathedral is surprisingly plain, especially given how beautiful and ornate the interior of Strasbourg Cathedral is, and that's nowhere near as well known.

Also on the first day, we were inaugurated to Parisian cuisine: ham and cheese. I'm pretty sure that about 90% of what I ate over our three and a half days was either bread, ham, cheese, or some combination thereof (oh yeah, and wine). So after some awesome foot-long hot dogs with melted cheese on the square in front of the cathedral (we ate soooo much on this trip), we had a break, a nap, and headed out to Bastille.

It was the night before Bastille Day (France's Independence Day), so the area was packed, and we chose a Spanish tapas restaurant. Adam and I liked it.

So did the girls.

It was Steph and Julie's first time in Europe, so they were pretty apprehensive about ordering from a menu in both French and Spanish — without English — but once they found out how good the food was, they let their worries go.

We started the next day, our first full day in the city, with a trip to Montmartre and one of the most distinctive churches I've ever seen: Sacre Coeur Basilica.

Other sights that day included the Moulin Rouge (lame),

the top of Notre-Dame (the gargoyles are incredibly cool),

and the highlight of our time in Paris: the Bastille Day fireworks by the Eiffel Tower.

It's hard to describe such an unique and masterful show — it was, without a doubt, one of the most incredible travel experiences I've ever had. The light show projected on the tower made it look like it was twisting, dancing, even jumping with the music. The crowd, the park, the atmosphere — just being with our friends who we had missed for so long in such extraordinary surroundings — it was electric.

Our last full day in Paris started out with a trip to Versailles, an elaborate palace on the outskirts of the city that has been used for diplomatic purposes for centuries. Among other uses, the treaties that ended the American Revolutionary War and World War I were signed here. As a tourist site, however, it's not nearly as interesting as some other palaces we've been too. For example, in a gallery, the walls were not covered in marble but wood painted to look like marble.

And the famous Hall of Mirrors (below) isn't really that spectacular if you've seen the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican Museum.

In fact, my favorite thing about Versailles was its overwhelming garden. We went for a boat ride on the lake,

and found a bizarre collection of beautiful buildings — too small for royals, too adorable for peasants — in a back corner. To give you some sense of the size of these grounds, these little houses were a mile or more away from the main palace.

There was still one important landmark in Paris we hadn't conquered: the Eiffel Tower. Sure, we had seen it from afar the night before, but to stand near the thing — and to go to the top — was our goal.

The Eiffel Tower is a little like the Empire State Buliding or the Colosseum in Rome — it's impossible to explain to someone how enormous it is. However big you picture it being, when you see it for the first time, you'll still be floored.

Standing underneath it, even with my wide angle lens, I can only capture part of the awesome sight.

I did climb up and touch it though!

That night, we took the elevator up as far as they would let us — the top was closed for some reason. And it was magic.

And so, on Thursday, we made our way to the airport for the second leg of our odyssey: Italy. Bon voyage!

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