Whew!! What a whirlwind of a week I’ve had!! It’s hard to believe that I was only in Paris for a little over 4 days – it feels like it was a lifetime!! Again, as in Barcelona, I promise in advance that this will be a very long blog, but I will do my best to make it interesting for those valiant readers of mine who are willing to make it to the end :).
The times for my flights to and from Paris were much more reasonable than those for Barcelona, so no crack-of-dawn rises were necessary. We left Seville around 10:00 in the morning on Wednesday, had an uneventful flight, and were in Paris by early afternoon. We had to take a bus from the airport to the city – that lasted about an hour. By the time we actually got to Paris, I was famished, and so we stopped in at the first little café that we could find. That was the beginning of our adventure. Apparently the café that we chose was not one often frequented by tourists – no one in the entire café spoke English (or Spanish), and none of the four of us spoke a word of French. After lots of hand gestures and pointing, and more than a little laughing at the dumb American tourists on the part of the Parisians, we were able to order some food. I think – although I’m not quite sure – that I got some sort of creamy ravioli dish. Whatever it was, it was yummy.
We had another rough run-in with French when we got to the metro station. Paris is a huge city, and also quite spread out, so we had already decided that the metro would be our primary mode of transportation, so we wouldn’t lose tons of time walking. The first kiosk that we got to wouldn’t change to English, and the second one was broken altogether. We finally made our way to customer service – to find out, once again, that English and Spanish are not common languages in France. In France they speak French, period. After more sign language we finally were able to purchase some metro tickets. By the time we got to our hostel, however, I had a splitting headache. There was a grocery store right by our hostel, and we bought some microwaveable food and Nick, Sarah, and Silvia made dinner while I took a nap to try to get rid of my headache. Luckily, it worked, and I was able to appreciate the rest of the evening. We went up first to see the Sacre Coeur, which was literally right outside of our hostel. In fact, this is the view that we had from our window…pretty awesome, huh? 🙂 We just walked around the sanctuary, but it was lovely. Mom told me that she had been there when she went to Europe way back when, so I kept wondering if she had seen and noticed the same things about it that I had. I’m not sure what it is about the Sacre Coeur in particular, but there was something about that church, out of all the ones I’ve been in, that struck a chord with me. I really liked it. More on that later… 🙂
We were all pretty tired by the time we finished at the church, but we decided we could sleep once we got back to Seville, and so we made our way to the Eiffel tower. That was incredible…absolutely breathtaking. Touristy to the max, as well, but really truly lovely. It was all lit up with lights, and at the top of the hour it came alive with a light display. Aside from the Sacre Coeur, which ended up being my favorite place in the entire city, I think I liked the Eiffel Tower at night more than anything else in Paris.
Thursday – Thanksgiving! – we found out about another free walking tour, like the one that we found in Barcelona. So we set out early and decided to go to mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral before the walking tour. Unfortunately, some Parisians have rightfully earned the reputation of being rude and unhelpful to foreigners – a French woman we asked for directions to the cathedral intentionally sent us the opposite way…I was told later that lots of French people do that with tourists. So we missed the beginning of mass, but we still caught most of it. I didn’t understand a word of it, but the songs that they sang during the service were absolutely lovely. Listening to that beautiful music, under the roofs of Notre Dame, in the enchanting City of Love, simply blew me away. It was definitely a wonderful way to start my Thanksgiving day.
The walking tour was just as interesting and informative in Paris as it was in Barcelona. The only thing about this one that I didn’t like was that the group was huge, and so I didn’t hear a lot of what the tour guide said. But I did learn and see quite a bit, nevertheless. We started out at the Saint Michael fountain, right across the street from Norte Dame. From there, we migrated down to the banks of the Seine River. The large metal rings on each side of the bank used to be there for protection – defenders would tie rope on rings on opposite sides of the river, and then yank it tight when enemy ships came, hopefully destroying the ship (it didn’t always work). But now they’re considered lucky rings, so of course I had to run over and touch one of them :). The bridge near the lucky rings had a lot of grotesque faces carved into the stone – apparently, one of the Kings of France (I can’t remember which one) got all of his distinguished guests drunk at a party once, and then decided to etch their faces from that night forever in stone. I truly hope the artists used some artistic license, and the guests didn’t actually look like their stone likenesses under the bridge are depicted, lol. I also saw the Samaritain Building; for you Jason Bourne fans, that was the building whose letters Matt Damon hid behind when he was staking out Conklin in the Bourne Identity. I saw another space invader on the bank of the Seine, by the same guy who did the one in Barcelona. I saw an artist sitting on a bridge painting the river that snakes through Paris, a model in the middle of a photo shoot (the poor girl must have been freezing!!), weird modern art, and lots of other fantastic buildings throughout the city.
I also met some really interesting guys, Chris from Australia and Adam and Ash from England. When I mentioned to them that it was Thanksgiving in the USA, they had all sorts of questions for me about it. It was nice to talk about Thanksgiving, which I was sorely missing, to a willing audience. At the end of the tour we all went with the guide to a little mom and pop Parisian café. It was really good. I got a quiche and a salad, with crème brulee for desert. I also tried spiced hot wine – I don’t know what they put in it, but it tasted more like apple cider than wine. It was the only alcohol that I’ve ever had in my life that I can honestly say I rather liked. Don’t worry though, I’m not going to turn into an alcoholic, lol :).
After dinner the Aussie and Brits and Americans went our own ways, and we decided to walk around the old latin quarter. No, it’s not the region of the city where lovely hispanics can be found lounging around and drinking mojitos – there used to be a university here in which all of the courses were taught in Latin. This latin influenced permeated the area, thus giving it the name which still remains to this day. We walked past the Jardins and Palace du Luxembourg, as well. That had been on my list to go visit in the daytime – I’ve heard the palace is amazing, and there are puppet shows held in the gardens that I wanted to check out. We never made it back there in the daytime, but it was cool to see them, nevertheless, albeit obscured because of the lack of light.
Dinner Thursday night was chicken cordon-blue – supermarket style. Benefit of having a hostel near a grocery store, I suppose :). It wasn’t exactly Thanksgiving dinner, but it was pretty good, anyway. I had several people send me messages on Thursday – the one from mom made me tear up just a bit. It was good to know that I was in my loved ones’ thoughts that day, even though I was physically very far away. I hope you guys know that you were in my thoughts, too!!
Friday we decided to go to Versailles. We were originally going to skip it, since Versailles is basically an all-day affair, but we decided that it was worth the trip. We didn’t leave until around 11:00, however, so I made another trip up to the Sacre Coeur before we left. I had heard that you could climb to the top of the Dome, so I wanted to try to do that. I walked all around the sanctuary and didn’t find anything, nor did I find anyone I could ask. I was about to head back down the hill, dejected, when I looked on a whim around the corner of the outside of the church and saw a sign for it!! That was the coolest thing, in my opinion, of the whole trip. Perhaps it was the solitude – everywhere else we went was so touristy, but up here, on top of the Sacre Coeur, I saw not a soul, and it was like I had a priceless treasure all to myself. Perhaps it was the fascinating system of stairs on the outside of the building. Perhaps it was the views that I saw from the top. Perhaps it was the stories etched in the stairwells of people who had come before me. But I think the largest reason that I liked it so much was that I had an amazing experience with God up there. Before I left for Paris I had taken pictures of my Bible study and all of the Bible passages for every day that I would be in France, so that I wouldn’t have to lug around the actual books. Of course I brought my camera with me on my adventure to the top of the dome, and so while I was up there I decided to do my Bible study. The topic was just what I needed to hear, the silence was serene, the view was breathtaking, and the heights that I was at made me feel as if I could almost touch the throne of heaven. Perhaps I sound like I’m babbling, but it was worth every single one of the 772 steps that I climbed to experience it, and then some.
After I came back down, we made our way to Versailles. Versailles is on the outskirts of the city, and it required 3 metro rides, an INTERMINABLY slow train, and about 2 hours to get there. But it was so worth it – especially since I got in for free, as a student (I tell you what, the student and senior discounts in Europe put those of the United States to shame!). The Palace and gardens of Versailles is probably the most extravagant display of grandeur, luxury, and selfishness that you will ever find. It was exquisite to behold – places like the Hall of Mirrors or the gardens have not become famous without reason. But it was also rather sickening, to think that the French monarchs lived in such excessive and ever-increasing splendor, while the people that they were supposed to govern and protect were dying of hunger in the streets.
But anyway, that’s enough of my philosophical meditations. We had brought food with us, so we ate lunch on the steps of Versailles, overlooking the fantastic gardens. How many people can say that they have had a picnic lunch at a palace…and not just any palace, but one of the most famous palaces in the entire world?? I truly am a blessed, blessed young lady…. As we were finishing our lunch, it started to snow, so that was pretty exciting. Sarah, Nick, and Silvia are all northerners, so they thought it quite tragic when I mentioned that that was probably all the snow I was going to see this year. I, on the other hand, was ecstatic to see any snow at all – and at the Palace of Versailles, of all places!! This is one of my favorite pictures of the snow at Versailles; isn’t it beautiful??
The train to get to Versailles was complicated and rather nerve-wracking to figure out, but we got it. The train to get back to Paris was impossible. We had no idea which train to take, and the little French woman who valiantly tried for a good 10 minutes to tell us exactly what we needed to do was not at all helpful. So we finally got in line at the ticket office. We already had our tickets, but we just wanted to ask for help. The women ahead of us turned out to be our guardian angels. They turned around and asked us something in English while we were waiting, but it was English with a strong Spanish accent, and so we answered them in Spanish. Turns out they were Mexican, and they thought it was the greatest thing ever to find students in France who spoke Spanish. It also turned out that they spoke excellent French, and were headed the same place we were, and so they helped us get back into the city. They were really sweet and sooo, so helpful – getting back to Paris required multiple transfers and 3 different modes of transportation – train, tram, and metro – and at every change they checked back to make sure that we were still with them. It was so comforting to have a friendly face in a city full of unintelligible strangers.
After getting back into Paris, we decided to pull a walking marathon and visit the Louvre the same day we went to Versailles. That wasn’t the greatest idea in the world. We made it about 2 hours, and then all of us were absolutely completely worn out. But entrance to that was also free, so I don’t feel like I missed out much. I would have been impossible to see it all, even if all I had done while in Paris was look at artwork – do you know that if you looked at every piece of art in the Louvre for 30 seconds, you would be there for 3 months straight…and that’s assuming you never take breaks for bathroom, food, or sleep! I still got to see lots of great works of art – including, of course, the Mona Lisa, which was disappointingly small and unassuming. I don’t really understand why it is one of the most famous paintings in the world – it doesn’t seem to merit its reputation.
Despite our complete exhaustion (or perhaps because of it), we decided to go out on Friday night instead of making dinner in the hostel. That was such a good meal. I got a salmon brochette, walnut cheese and spinach pita sandwich, hummus, salad, French fries (in France…ironic, isn’t it? :]), and a piña colada, all for €13. The restaurant was called Le Paradis du Fruit, and their specialty was, of course, fruit. So for desert I had this strawberry and banana and coconut and ice cream and whipped cream and chocolate and waffle cone concoction. It was very tasty – definitely worth the 5 pounds that I’m sure I gained by consuming it :).
I kept thinking of the Grand Canyon on Friday. At first I couldn’t figure out why, but I think I finally came up with an explanation. It’s hard not to think of natural wonders when I see all of these man-made wonders in front of me. The Sacre Coeur, the Palace of Versailles, the plethora of diverse artwork in the Louvre, the architecture of the Louvre itself…all of them are exquisite in their own way. But I don’t really think they compare with the pristine beauty of God’s natural wonders, like the Grand Canyon. Just think, our God not only made the Grand Canyon, but He also gave men the inspiration to make the Sacre Coeur. What an incredibly vast amount of creativity He must have!!! So I think to myself, it’s really quite silly to worry and stress about resolving your problems…God’s already got you covered, and probably in a way that would never have even occurred to you. But, unorthodox or not, His way is always the best way. I find that quite comforting :).
Alright, I’m determined to stop philosophizing and actually finish my tales of Paris!! Saturday we slept in a bit – Friday had really worn us out, lol. We went back to the Eiffel tower in the morning and went up to the very top. My fear of heights started kicking in on the second lift, which seemed never-ending – we just kept going up and up and up!!! The view from the top, however, was lovely. They also had cities all over the world listed on the tower, along with the direction and distance that they were from the tower. I found Costa Rica, as well as Washington and New York City, the only US cities listed. It made me happy :).
Sarah has some friends studying in France, Maggie and Taylor, who came to Paris to spend the day with us on Saturday. So after the Eiffel tower, she and I split off from Nick and Silvia to go meet her friends at the Arc de Triumph. We found a subterranean stairway that went under the roundabout that encircles the Arc, and came out directly underneath the monument. Our walking tour guide on Thursday told us that every year there are idiots who die because they try to get to the Arc by running across the street, instead of taking the stairs. That roundabout is the most dangerous roundabout in the world. With a width of 12 cars, no marked lanes, and no rules of the road, except seemingly that all cars entering the circle have the right of way, instead of the other way around, it’s no surprise that no insurance company will cover an accident at the Arc de Triumph – one happens every 30 minutes. I actually saw one while I was at the top of the Arc, counting how many streets feed into the roundabout. There are in fact 12 major streets that all feed into the circle, none of them with less than 5 lanes of traffic. What…a…nightmare!!
After we came down from the Arc, we walked down the famous Champs Elysées, the Fifth Avenue of Europe. The only thing I could afford to buy was an éclair, and even that I split with Sarah. At the end of the street, we found a Christmas Village that sets up there every year around the holidays. Sarah had been craving a French crepe since we got to Paris, so we found a place in the Christmas Village to buy one. You actually got to watch them make the crepes – it was pretty cool. I did a little bit of Christmas shopping (I’m not telling who I bought for! :P), but most of the stuff was really expensive, so I contented myself with just looking for the most part.
The last place we went to with Maggie and Taylor was the Pompidou Center, a huge monstrosity of modern art. It’s actually a modern art museum, but the art begins outside, with the statues in the fountain, the street performers, even the building itself. I’m not a fan of modern art, so it was interesting to see, but not particularly enthralling. We did see, however, a street performer paint a picture blindfolded, standing behind the canvas, in 4 minutes flat. THAT was impressive :). After we parted ways with Maggie and Taylor, Sarah and I walked to see the Moulin Rouge. It was actually less than ten minutes from our hostel – it’s crazy how fast the neighborhood changes. Our hostel area is a good, albeit touristy, location. The Moulin Rouge is located, for obvious reasons, in the Red Light district. If you don’t know why I said it’s obvious, go watch the movie Moulin Rouge – but read a summary first, so you know what to expect :).
Sunday, our last day in Paris, I decided to go up to the Sacre Coeur one last time to see the sunrise. Paris is a late riser on Sunday mornings – I was the only person outside the church, except for the intimidating French soldiers wielding heavy-duty machine guns that are always around every famous monument in the city. I was about to head back down the mountain after the sunrise, but on a whim I decided to go into the church one last time. I’m so glad I did. The first time I went in the Sacre Coeur, I was trying to keep track of where Nick and Silvia and Sarah were. The second time, I was looking for the entrance to climb the top of the dome. The third time, however, all I was doing was drinking in every detail of the church. The prayer candles scattered all around the sanctuary, lit by the faithful who have been present nonstop for the past 125 years, day and night, praying to the Lord. The incredible stained glass windows, flooded with the early morning light. The reverent statues, paintings, pictures, and mosaics nestled in every alcove and corner of the building. The delicate smell of the hundreds of flowers that could be found all over the sanctuary. It was all lovely – but the most lovely thing of all was the music. There was an Office du Matin, a morning choir of nuns, while I was there. That was, without a doubt, the absolute prettiest music I have ever heard. They sounded like angels. I could have stayed there all day…unfortunately, though, my plane back to Seville was calling my name.
The trip back home was uneventful – 1 ½ hours in bus to the airport, 2 ½ hour flight, 45 minute bus ride home, and a 15 minute walk after that. It’s so nice to be back in a country where I can communicate with ease. I spent most of the afternoon on Sunday sleeping, and then organizing pictures and writing this blog. I went out for about half an hour to take medicine to Justo, who’s sick. I brought some of the medicine that my family had sent me when I was sick, but that I hadn’t used. I figured what better way to use it than to pass the love on, right? 🙂 I’m glad I got to see him, even if he was coughing and sneezing – I won’t get to see him again til next week, because he’s traveling tomorrow and then when he gets back I’ll be in Morocco. And now here I am, with a six-page single-spaced blog, pictures on my flashdrive ready to be uploaded, my bag packed for classes tomorrow, and midnight rapidly approaching. I’m going to say au revoir for now…next update (most likely) will be from Morocco! Check out all my pictures from Paris here. I love and miss you all tons…see you soon!!!!