The next morning, we met at Notre Dame, which sits on a very small island in the middle of the Seine. We went inside, where there was a mass because it was Sunday morning, and walked around for about half an hour. After that, we walked around the outside and got some great pictures of this church. From there, we took the bridge off the island, walked along the river and into the St. Germain neighborhood and had crepes for lunch. I also managed to find some fresh churros which I couldn’t seem to find in Madrid. From there, we took the RER to the Eiffel tower…
We chose what would end up being the best day of the week weather-wise to visit the number one attraction in Paris, the Eiffel tower. The tower was completed in 1889 and was only built as a temporary structure for the World’s Fair, and was only meant to stand for 20 years. It soon became a national landmark and was taken over by the city of Paris and it was decided to keep it standing. Since then, the tower has survived lightning strikes, fires and even orders by Hitler for it to be destroyed and is now reigns as the world’s most visited monument. The tower is about twice as big as I had expected it to be and is one of those things that you can never have enough pictures of. There are three levels open to the public, and you have the option of any or all of them. Pili and I decided to buy tickets to go all the way to the top. There is a double-decker inclinator up to the first observation area (which also houses two restaurants) that we passed, before getting off at the second observation deck. The view from this deck was impressive and I actually would have been fine just going here, having developed a slight fear of heights in the past five years or so. From this deck, we boarded a regular elevator which takes you to the top. The ride is pretty quick and there is a window on the top of the elevator so you can watch the top of the tower get closer. We walked around the outside of the top, grabbed a few pictures and learned that Pili was 10,245 km away from her home town of Lima, Peru as they have the distances to some of the world’s major cities listed inside. It was pretty crowded at the top so we decided to head down after twenty minutes. (On a side note, part of the crowding was parents who brought their screaming toddlers in strollers up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Who does that? I can see the parents wanting to bring the kids to Paris, sure – even to the Eiffel tower, but do you really need to drag a kid in a stroller to the very top? Do you think he’s going to remember this day a few hours from now?)
We met with Rick and Fanette and decided to walk to the Arc de Triomphe, commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon to commemorate his many victories. We got there at the perfect time of day, as I got some of my best pictures of the trip here of the Arc just at twilight. Luckily, we took the underground walkway to the base of the Arc, as we watched some people who didn’t know of its existence try to dart across the busy roundabout which it sits in. We had a long day by then and decided not to go to the top of the Arc, but instead just walked under it for a while. After that, we went to check out a few really cool animated window displays in some near by department stores. That night, we took the RER out to Fanette’s house and had another really great home-cooked meal with Rick, Fanette and Fanette’s mother.
The next morning, Pili and I decided to take the metro to a hill named Montmartre, which is home to not only the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur, but home to one of the best views in all of Paris. After we got off the Metro, we had a quick breakfast then got cornered by two guys who quickly approached us and asked for our hands. I was thinking this was some kind of magic tick, so we offered our hands with no problem. They tied strings to our fingers and began weaving a pattern onto it, and we soon realized that they were making bracelets. Before you put it on, you make a wish and they “bless” them. They are supposed to bring you your wish if you wear it for one year (mine fell apart after two weeks, so I cut it off). They asked for some “small money” as a donation for the impending wish that we would receive in one year’s time, and the smallest I had was a €10 note but they were kind enough to give me a €5 back…yea I felt like a schmuck. I’m sure we were their best customers that day and I consoled myself for paying €5 for ten cents worth of string by convincing myself that their kids would eat tonight because of our generous donation. There is a funicular that is supposed to take you to the top of the hill, but it looked like it had been closed for several months, so we opted to climb the stairs up. The Basilica is a very nice Catholic church that we walked around inside, then we took some great pictures from the top of the hill, just outside of the church.
From Montmartre , we took the Metro to Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, which is a beautiful cemetery and home to many famous corpses. The weather was perfect for our visit, as it was just starting to rain lightly. The cemetery is a great place to take pictures and we got some great black and white shots while here. Soon, the rain was starting to come down a little harder, so we made it a point to see the graves of Chopin and Jim Morrison and left after less than an hour. After that, we went back to the hotel for a nap and to hopefully emerge to some better weather. That night, we met one of Pili’s friends from Paris, Caroline, whom she met while studying English when they were in the US in 2002. We met in the Saint Michel neighborhood, the walked over to Notre Dame where I was able to get some great shots of the church at night. We had dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant in the Barrio Latino, a small neighborhood of ethnic restaurants. After we said goodbye to Caroline, we headed back to the docks near the Eiffel Tower to see if there were any available night cruises, but it wasn’t in the cards. We decided to head back to the hotel as we had an all day trip to Versailles planned for the next day.
Versailles is a hour long train ride from downtown Paris, and was well worth the trip. We arrived just after 10 AM and bought tickets to tour the two open parts of the Palace. The public is allowed to see just under 40 of over 4,000 rooms at the palace! Versailles is a palace that has been handed down from generation to generation of French royalty and is now owned by the French government and used largely as a museum. Every room is more stunning than the one before it and it equaled the Royal Palace in Madrid in terms of luxury and decadence. Most impressive to me were the paintings on almost every ceiling in every room of the palace, it’s mind-boggling to imagine the amount of time and work that went into creating these masterpieces:
The grounds of Versailles are huge and you could easily spend the entire day there, touring the gardens and other buildings on the property, but it was freezing that day so we opted to just walk behind the palace and get a few pictures of the man made canals and fountains. We left Versailles around 2 PM and headed back to Paris on the RER.
Our next day was our last in Paris, our train leaving just after 3 PM. We slept in late and decided to try visit the La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, which is a hands-on science museum that we had seen advertised all week on the Metro trains. They were promoting this Alien exhibit that looked really fascinating from the posters, but wasn’t nearly as exciting in person. It was kind of geared towards the kids, as was most of the museum. We took a look at some of the other exhibits they had which were cool and reminded me of a similar place in Philadelphia, The Franklin Institute. After that, we went back to the hotel to meet with Rick and Fanette one last time and to do some shopping for some French items before we left. Rick and Fanette walked us to the train station and we made this train with plenty of time to spare. : ) The train left right on time, but this time we were back in 2nd class and the train was full. Not as enjoyable as the trip from Amsterdam to Paris, but still pretty exciting as we quickly hit 300 kph after leaving Paris.