Monday, April 6, 2009

Paris: Part One, Eiffel-Dame-Louvre

3:00PM April 2

I took off immediately after class at 4:00 on Thursday and left the apartment with John in time to catch a 5:30 train to Pisa. At the station we met up with a large group of the girls and Tryson along with a few other NYU students who were also traveling to Paris that weekend. The Florentine airport is so tiny that many airlines don't fly there, using Pisa or Rome instead. As most Italian travelers get around by train, I'm sure this is not a big issue. People who want to see the city can fly in somewhere else and stop by Florence along their trip. For our purposes though, it meant an extra two hours of travel each way.

I sat in the aisle seat, and it was dark anyways, so I didn't get any pictures over France or Italy, but the flight was smooth. The only problem was that Ryanair, besides flying to Pisa instead of Florence, also flies to Paris Beauvais instead of Charles de Gaulle, which is much further out. Much like getting into Barcelona, we had to take an hour bus ride to reach the city. Several people in our group, including John, knew other students who were studying in Paris this semester and got to stay with them. The rest of us stayed in a cheap hotel--the girls didn't want to take any chances with a hostel after the Barcelona experience--not too far from Montmartre.

It had been a long day, and by the time we got set, around 2:30AM, we were all starving, so Jaimie, Tryson, Marielle, Rishma, and I headed out for a late night bite. It took a little while for us to find anything, but this was Paris, not Florence, and we eventually stumbled into a fine restaurant open on the edge of the night district where the Moulin Rouge is. I'd say it was like a nice version of a Friday's, with very American-tinged food, but of course, in France, they had items such as foie gras on the menu. At that early morning hour I was in the mood for breakfast food, so I got poached eggs, while everybody else ordered burgers or fries. The food was all fine, but we were also ready to sleep, excited to take on our first day in Paris.

I still got up on the earlier side Friday morning, and I was out walking around the city by 8:15. I headed south towards the heart of the city but with no particular destination in mind. Eventually I reached the Place de la Concorde though, and that's when it really hit me that I was in Paris. I remembered seeing this large plaza at the beginning of American In Paris so many years ago. It was yet another reminder of how attainable everything is in Europe. Back in America all of these incredible places seem so distant, but there I was, standing in the footsteps of Gene Kelly, staring down the Champs-Élysées towards the Arc de Triomphe.

A church on Boulevard Malesherbes

Place de la Concorde

The fountain at the center of Place de la Concorde

As I made my way down the grandest of boulevards, I called John, and we planned to meet up by the Eiffel Tower. Apparently his apartment was only a five minutes walk from the greatest of all landmarks. Kate, who was staying with a friend in Montmartre, met us there too, and the three of us took the elevator to the second platform--while waiting in line, the top level was closed as there were too many people up there. It was just as wonderful as I'd imagined, and the views of the relatively short city were spectacular (I say relatively because there are far more skyscrapers on the outskirts of the city than I've seen anywhere since I've been in Europe.) We took the stairs back down, which was really great, exposing all of the great geometric shapes created by the vast maze of criss-crossing beams.

Need it be said what this is?

John, underneath the tower, soaking in the city which he hopes to call home someday.

Looking towards the new business district from halfway up the Eiffel Tower

Looking south towards the cavalry from halfway up the tower

Walking down the stairs

The three of us then went to meet up with a large majority of the other girls at Notre Dame. The church was certainly spectacular, but at this point I've gotten a bit burnt out on incredible gothic churches. I've seen so many of them that I've become a bit numb to their effect. In comparison to the brilliant marble facades and floors of the Duomos in Italy, Notre Dame was not anything I found as noteworthy. The French did not have the abundance of marble that the Italians did though, and they focused more on the stained glass, which was far more dazzling than any I've seen in Italy. John was telling me that the French actually took out all of the glass during World War II, for fear of the Germans stealing or breaking it, and it was then all replaced after the war.

Outside Notre Dame

Inside Notre Dame

After Notre Dame, we headed over to the Louvre, planning to go in for a few hours after 6:00, when it was free for students. I certainly loved the grand exterior to the building, and I quite like the new pyramid entrance, but I completely understand where others see it as a scar on the museum and the city. I've always enjoyed the juxtaposition of new and old structures, but the biggest problem with the addition is that it makes no attempt to connect with the existing buildings. Alone, it is brilliant, but as an addition to such an antique set of buildings, it doesn't quite work.

City Hall

Walking along the Seine towards the Louvre

The Louvre (new) framed by the Louvre (old)

Marielle posing in front of Jen, Rishma, and Kate.

Jen and John

I started out walking around the extensive Egyptian section with Kate, Marielle, and Rishma, but I separated before long, as I wanted to see other things at the massive museum, and we'd all planned to meet at the exit after only two hours. At that point, I tried to do too many things, and it became difficult to enjoy any of it, especially given the massive number of people populating the museum and crowding around such landmarks as the Venus de Milo. The Mona Lisa was a mess, as a body of smelly tourists, at least five or six people deep, was forever huddled around it. Even from the front of the crowd, there were at least ten feet in between the barrier and the painting, which is not large enough to be appreciated from such a distance. That one experience really reflects my entire time at the Louvre. It is a wonderful museum but hard to enjoy in that atmosphere and with that time constraint. I would love to come back during January and spend several hours over a few days on each floor, in the same manner that I was able to take in Uffizi--I hear from others that there is quite a line outside those doors these days as well. My time at the Louvre was probably my least favorite part of the trip, which is unfortunate, given all that the museum has to offer.

A fresco on the ceiling in the Louvre

I always enjoy a good Artemis statue

In the Louvre

That night, I went out for dinner at a small family-owned French (I say that because there were at least as many Italian restaurants as French and several Indian ones as well) restaurant near our hotel with Marielle and Tryson. It was really nice to have the intimate dinner because eating with the large group can be a little much sometimes, and the conversation is usually better. As I was in France, I ordered foie gras as an appetizer. It came over a bed of salad in a vinigarette dressing, which was also quite good. The foie gras was served on a crunchy piece of bread, and I gave a little bit each to Tryson and Marielle, neither of whom had eaten it before. Marielle was so enamored by it that she had to order her own. It really was spectacular. For an entree I had a dish of scalloped potatoes with ham and eggplant, which was also really excellent.

After dinner, around 11:30, most of the group was planning to see a cabaret near the Moulin Rouge, but I was already feeling pretty tired, and the show cost a good bit, so I declined and went to bed knowing I had another day in Paris to enjoy.

Foie gras. It's a little tough to take a picture before eating sometimes because the food is just so tempting when they set it down in front of you.

Scalloped potatoes

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