Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cathedrals, Museums, Basilicas...and Cabarets

So after a crazy second day in Paris we decided to take it a little easier and only go to three places our third day :) We went to Sainte-Chapelle, the Musee d'Orsay, and then we ended our day at Sacre-Coeur.

The Sainte-Chapelle spire.

It was built by King Louis IX to house relics from the Holy Land, and it is across the "street" from Notre Dame. Actually it was started around the same time, but finished more quickly (around 1240).

More gargoyles....they really were on every church building...we were not sure of the significance, but now I have read that they helped to shed rain water from the building and it was believed they could ward off evil spirits.

And more pieces that fell off of the cathedral

Sainte-Chapelle is located inside of the Conciergerie which was the prison where Marie Antoinette was kept during the French Revolution. Like everything, the prison was once a palace, and it seems all the palaces had their own chapels....I guess Notre Dame wasn't good enough...

You enter from the lower level into this gorgeous blue room, with fluer-de-lis everywhere. Then you get to go up this very, very, small staircase to get to the main level. I am codes? That would be interesting...

So you enter the main cathedral...(cue the angelic choir music here)...just kidding, but it is like that: you ascend into this room that is flooded with light and color and more stained glass per square inch than I have ever seen or will probably ever see again.
Each panel tells one of the Biblical stories....the detail was incredible. more celestial music...on to the Musee d'Orsay. This is the museum dedicated completely to favorite paintings, I might add. The museum is in an old train station, which makes for some really great architecture. The whole inner area was filled with sculptures, and the galleries were off to each side.
Of course there is Renoir's famous painting of a french cafe....and if you just imagine current clothing styles, the French cafes still look very similar today.
One of the many paintings by Van Gogh- "La Nuit Etoilee"....painted in Arles (south France). Yes, it's one of the famous "Starry Night" paintings. At this point in the vacation we thought we were going to go visit Arles during our cruise....that story will come later :)

Then there was Degas, he painted a lot of ballerina paintings, and actually sculpted quite a few too, which I personally liked better. It was cool to see them juxtaposed in the same gallery.
Up on the roof was a beautiful area with huge sculptures that overlooked the Seine.
In the distance the Basilique de Sacre-Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart)....we are on our way there next.
We get dropped of by the Metro somewhere in the middle of the hill (not at the bottom, thank goodness) and at first we couldn't see the Basilica, but just followed the hordes of tourists. We found ourselves climbing this insanely steep cobblestone "street" that was full of tacky vendors on either side with dirty water running down the ditches on the sides of the street....I honestly felt like I was in Chinatown, not Paris.

At the top of the long street, we finally see Sacre-Coeur come into view; it was really different than the other cathedrals because it was designed in a "modern" Byzantine style. It was built in the late 1800s and early 1900s in honor of those who lost their lives in various French wars. The hill it sits on is called Montmartre, and there are long multiple flights of stairs to the top.

Yes, again...lots of people just hanging out....we stepped over lots of people making our way up the stairs

Once inside, the Byzantine style was very apparent! They didn't allow photos, so I had to sneak a few pictures while trying to avoid the security guards.

We then exited the basilica and began to wander the streets to the west of the church and found this wonderfully quaint artists area. The history here is interesting...the area on Montmartre was favored by many famous artists, including Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Renoir. As it was outside the city limits, it was cheap to live here, and it also was surrounded by vineyards and became a popular drinking area. Soon many cabarets filled the area (Moulin Rouge and The Chat Noir are two of the most famous) and it became the center of decadent entertainment and art. The Bohemian movement also finds its roots here.

This area truly was the first place we visited where I felt transported back in time. It was enchanting...the small shops, narrow cobblestone streets, and quaint old homes.

This cafe had this sign above it that basically says that it was a rendezvous for famous artists...listed here on the sign.

There were many of these shops that sold these famous old cabaret posters

The area was really a village and was famous for the many windmills that powered it. That is why the Moulin Rouge has the windmill on it. A couple still exist today.

We went on kind of a wild goose chase to find Vincent Van Gogh's house. I really wanted to find it and David obliged me. I knew the general area, and I thought if we just asked in the shops, someone would know where it was (it would seem that it would be kind of famous). I guess I was wrong, no one knew where the heck it was. So after much wandering around, up and down hills, we found it. The blue door is the entrance. Yes, he only lived here 2 years, and he lived with his brother who owned the place....but I still wanted to see it!

One of the many creperies. They were wonderful!!!

So... here is was, the famous Moulin Rouge...still in use...very unimpressive! We literally got off the Metro (the stop is right across the street), climbed the stairs out onto the street, took a picture and went right back down the stairs to the Metro again.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Small Cars (and Bikes)

I was so fascinated by the smallness of the cars we saw in Paris. I have never seen so many Smart cars (half cars) in my life. They have so many cars that we don't have here in the States, and they all seem to be sub-subcompacts! We saw a few "midsized" cars and they seemed huge! There were no trucks or SUVs. Also many of the streets are so narrow! And the parking spots are very small, I cannot imagine trying to maneuver my SUV in Paris!

There are also TONS of motorcycles and bicycles! And everyone just shares the road together, even the buses. The cars, buses and bikes just seem to weave in and out of each other; it is strange.

I wonder... do Europeans think we Americans are excessive?....With all our big vehicles and big houses?
We figured out the cost of gas....after figuring for the euro/dollar and liter/ comes out to over $7 per gallon! Wow, I would have a small car, too (or ride a bike!)...About bikes, there were these kiosks everywhere, you can "rent" one of the bikes and then return it at another kiosk station.

We saw this gas "station" on the side of the road on our last day in Paris....we realized that this was the first gas station we had seen in Paris. Yes, it is just on the sidewalk!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Eiffel Tower

From there it was on to the Eiffel Tower; we were trying to get there late so we could see the sunset and see the lights go on. It got dark in Paris after 10:00 was weird. And then everyone ate dinner at 10:00pm, too...the cafes were packed until well after 11:00pm.
The Eiffel Tower was much larger than we pictured it! It was fabulous :)!

At the each of the four bases there are elevators.

The scroll work at the base

View of the structure while going up the elevator

So after dodging all the gypsies selling Eiffel Tower key chains, we paid to take the elevator to the 2nd level. There are 3 levels, but I didn't want to go to the top- I had been told the second was high enough and indeed it was (you have to pay more, the higher you go). The elevator first goes at an angle and it is completely glass so you can see the structure as you go up. It gave me a bad case of vertigo! Here are some pictures from the second floor. I guess we were only 1/3 of the way up, it seemed so high, it was hard to believe!

Picture looking up from the second level

Residences...they have these kind of courtyard areas inside.

This is the main entrance from the northwest across the Seine; we came from the park to the southeast. That is the picture below.

Notre Dame

Hotel Des Invalides

Sacre Coeur...we would go see this in a couple days

Picnickers on the lawn under the was around 9:45 at night!

At night it lights up and then sparkles every hour on the hour

Now for our journey back to the hotel. It was slightly after 10:00 PM and we got on a bus to go back. Two stops later the bus stops completely and the drivers tells us it is done for the night and we have to get off. By now it is almost completely dark, and we are not sure where we are! The driver tells us we can take the Metro instead (the Metro is the subway in Paris), there is an entrance just a few minutes walk "down that road". Ok. So we get off and start walking through a kind of creepy area, we walk for about 10 minutes and are not sure if we are in the right we ask at a cafe- yes, they tell us, keep going another 10 minutes or so. At this point we realize directions are not very specific in Paris, down "that" road can mean you just go that general direction, it doesn't mean you stay on "that" specific road. And a few minutes walk can mean half an hour or more.

By this time my legs and feet are killing me, and I am trying not to freak out as we walk for another 15 minutes and still can't find the Metro. It is totally dark by now, and this area has very few cafes and very few people out. We ask at a couple more cafes and eventually find the station entrance...only it is surrounded by tons of police cars and maybe 20+ armed officers. We asked the people standing around what the deal was, they told us there was an "incident" in that Metro station. Now I am totally freaked out! Where is another entrance, we ask?

They point another direction and say it is just "a few minutes" that way. We ended up walking, in a very round about way, almost back to where we started. I think it took us over an hour (total)! So we go down into that Metro entrance, and ask the teller how to get to our hotel area. She says to take the yellow C...anything else we need to know? No, just the yellow C.

Ok, so we go down a gazillion stairs and get to the yellow C to find out this is a train (still underground, but a train), not the Metro.... with the Metro there are just two directions (with 2 tracks, they are simple) , but with this train there are four tracks and many directions!! This yellow C seems to go everywhere! There are 3-4 trains listed coming to each track, and they all have different names (like "NASH" or "FOLT") that have nothing to do with where they might be going! Sheesh! For the life of us, we cannot figure out which track to take. If it was in English, I am sure it would have made sense, but all the fine print on the signs explaining this system was more French than we knew how to get through..

So we ask a lady, who speaks fairly good English, and she says to stay on this track but wait for the 3rd train, which is in 10 minutes. Hmmm....I personally think that this first track seems to go the wrong direction...So we keep walking down the track, there are almost no people at this hour. We ask a another young guy, who is the only person we can see anywhere at this point, he says, no she was wrong....that IS the wrong direction, but he can't help us other than that! Arggh!

We wait for awhile and keep studying this insanely confusing signage trying to figure things out. We honestly could not make sense of it. Probably if we weren't so tired and confused at this point, we would have fared better. I started to wonder..."do the trains stop at a certain time?" It was about 12:30AM. Finally we came upon another young man who spoke excellent English and pointed us toward the 4th track, and told us to wait for the 2nd train...he also showed us that we had to go back up into the terminal to cross the tracks. He seemed the most confident so far, so we followed his advice. Thank goodness it was right! I fell into the train seat completely exhausted.

When we got off the train, we still had to walk another 10 minutes or so to our hotel, thankfully our hotel is in a student area, and it was still hopping. When do these people sleep, I wonder? Maybe they have to stay up for a few hours after they eat dinner at 10:00 I guess.

I think we finally got into bed at about 1:30 in the morning....