Paris: The City of Lights

Paris Travel Blog

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October 22nd, 2009 - October 27th, 2009

It isn´t until you leave Paris that you truely understood why the city is nicknamed ´The City of Lights.´ Paris lights up every monument and major building in the city, and with long, wide streets they can be seen from miles away.  The city truely is one in a kind.  It´s no wonder it´s been labeled the ´Capital of Europe.´  Paris is a beautiful city, with a great culture, superior fashion, great food and breathtaking architecture.  The first thing I did when I got to Paris was visit the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.  For something built in 1200 this is an incredible achievement to mankind.  You just don´t see buildings built like this any more.  Light up at night, Notre Dame is truely remarkable.  Crossing the bridge to get to the mainland you see the River Seine and it´s amazing bridges all lit up.  I began walking down the coast and the first destination just ended up being the Louvre.  It is incredible how big the Louvre is, for an art building, that sure is a lot of art.  I later learned the Louvre used to be the palace for the royal family before the French Revolution and was later turned into the art museum we all know.  At night, the Louvre pyramid lights up and reflects off the water fountains and looks absolutely incredible.  The Louvre itself, like every major building in Paris, is also lit up and looks exceptional at night.  Across the road from the Louvre is a huge arc with a statue of horses ontop (I don´t remember the meaning of this one, the French create something for everything).  You continue walking and you end up in a park which is setup with statues by the Louvre for a limited time, but the park is locked up at night.  After hours of walking, you end up in the main boulevard which every major road in Paris leads into.  At the middle is a needle like monument which was stolen from Egypt sometime ago (The french like to saw it was ´given´ to them), which is very similar to the one in England, which was ´given´to them as well.  Behind that monument is a beautiful fountain (probably the only thing that doesn´t light up at night) and on either side of the wide (12 lane roads) you have two huge, gorgeous buildings all illuminated.  The roads may go on for miles, but it feels like there right infront of you because of the way the city is laid out, with long straight, wide roads.  There sure was a lot more walking to get from monument to monument then it looks like.  To the right, you have a Loonngg road which leads to the Arc of Truimph, a huge arc commissioned by Napolean for himself  to walk under after his last great victory.  Unfortunately for him, he never made it under the arc alive.  It was under his cousin was in office that his body was returned to the city and he finally got his wish of traveling under the completed arc. 

The next day I woke up early to meet up with a Bike tour of Paris.  We met at the incredible Notre Dame and he took us through all the side streets, infact, we never even went past the Effel Tower.  He took us through the Latin corner where a gargole sat smiling at us (a smiling gargole?  Aren´t they suppose to be scaring off demons?)  One of the first stops he took us to was a ´hidden garden´which are these small gardens kept inside walls.  From the outside, buildings look like normal buildings, it isn´t until you go inside that you realize they aren´t actually buildings, there courtyards like the hidden gardens.  Later on the bike ride, he pointed out some tile markings created by the ´Space Invader´- apparently a famous guy that goes around putting up mosaic tiles in the shape of old nintendo characters.  We were found all over the city.  We traveled around to wear the crown of thorns, which Jesus wore to the cross was held, and realized the massive demonstrations french students were putting on.  They were having a lot of fun for a protest - it made me want to quit the tour and join in.  Then he took us to the next hidden garden, which was nice.  Although he over stated them a little, in Paris the vines travel up the buildings and since it was fall, they were all changing colours, leaving them red and yellows which was truely remarkable.  Then we went to the Modern Art Museum, which is ... modern art (what can I say).  The building was created with all the ugly parts of the building, like the vents and poles, on the outside.  With the tour we stopped at a bakery, French bakeries are truely incredibllee.  I couldn´t get enough of them, everything was soo good there.  Because I came as a late show, he never asked me to pay, so I got a 3 hour tour for free.  Score!  After the tour I headed over to Notre Dame, this time to go inside the incredible cathedral.  As beautiful as it is from the outside, the huge hall and the coloured glass windows make this place breathtaking.  As the Canadian in my hostel sayed ´I had to put my sunglasses on when I saw it, it was so nice.´ It´s true, you just don´t see things like this back home in Canada.  It was similar to the cathedral I saw in Edinburgh, only ten times nicer inside.  Later that day, I went inside the famous Louvre museum.  Besides having the most famous painting in the world, Da Vinci´s Mona Lisa, there isn´t a whole lot of famous artwork in the Louvre.  I spend about two hours in there, and I barely made it through the painting section alone.  It´s said if you stayed at each artwork for 3 seconds, you´d be in the Louvre from open to close for three months straight to see every exhibit.  It´s incredible the massive amount of art the French royals have collected over the years.  When I finally got to the Mona Lisa it was .. a bit disappointing.  Inside this room are a bunch of people - fenced off for about 10meters with hords of people around it.  Bullet proof glass goes up to the ceiling, and the painting is only small.  My first impression was that it sure is small for such a valuable piece.  I still do this day do not see why the Mona Lisa is the most valuable painting in the world - but hey, that´s art for you.  After finishing the paintings section I left without visiting the other sections, just too many artworks.  After the Louvre I headed over to a boat cruise of the river Siene.  It was then that I realized the Effel Tower was celebrating it´s 120th birthday and to honour the event they´d been putting on a lightshow on the Effel Tower with a special where the Effel Tower sparkles for 10 minutes.  How many people can saw they´ve seen that?  Several thousand lights all twinkle to light the Effel Tower up like a christmas tree.   After the Effel Tower sparkles for 5minutes it then goes into a colourful light show, it´s like the Effel tower has gone to Epicot - Disneyland.  At one point the Effelt tower ever lit up in the colours of the France flag, ¨Viva La France.¨ From there it was off to the hostel for a.. nights sleep.  The hostel, by the way, was the worst hostel I´d been in.  They shoved as many beds into the rooms as possible, barely enough room for our luggage.  It was cramped, the shower was cold and the staff were plain rude.  The guy at the front desk repeated was rude and abnoxicious and continued to put girls infront of every else, trying to flirt with them all. 

The next morning I decided to check out the other famous art museum in Paris, the Musee du D´Ossay.  This was a great museum, many paintings and sculptures, and not so large you can´t go through it all (unlike the Louvre).  They had a large collection of the impressionist, Vincent Van Gogh here and you learn about his life and how he painted many of his paintings for his brother before cutting off his own ear and putting himself into the psyc ward (for lack of a better word - give me a break, I´m writing from Barcelona on 4 hours sleep - that story will come shorty).  You can really see how messed up Van Gogh was through his paintings - makes me want to try some of that Abseneth if that´s what your seeing afterwards.  Later that day I went on another walking tour.  I´d never done so much walking before Paris.  You can see every monument and major building from miles away which makes you think it´s only 15minute walk away when really it´s an hours walk away, very deceptive.  And even though the Metro was all in french, it was surprisingly easy to navigate once you get used to it.  Infact, all the European subways are - and I was worried I´d get lost and have no clue when taking the subways in Europe, now in my 3rd city I´m a pro.  After the walking tour ended I walked over to the Arc of Triumph, a monument Napolean commissioned to complete for his final battle so he and his soldiers could walk under it in triumph.  Napolean never won that war, and never got to walk under his great Arc of Triumph either.  Again, this seemed like a 20minute walk, but by the time I got to the Arc it had been well over an hour.  And that´s after already walking an hour toward the Arc from the Louvre, where you first witness the massive monument.  Of course, Napolean finally did go under the Arc when his cousin, Napolean the 3rd, brought his body back to be barried in Paris.  That night I headed over to the Effel Tower to finally go inside.  Because of all the walking toward the Arc, by the time I got to the Effel Tower it was already 10:30pm and they´d closed the elevator to the top level.  I only got to go to the 2nd level, although it was still an amazing sight.  The city of Paris lights up like a christmas tree on christmas morning.  I even met a Canadian couple on there - we took a few photos of each other and decided they should get a new camera because mine is so great. :) 

At this point, I had to stay an extra night in Paris because all the trains to Barcelona were completely booked up.  I couldn´t even use my Eurorail pass to get my ticket to Barcelona, I had to get a sleeper ticket - atleast I got a discount, but still why´d I pay $1300 if I don´t even get my tickets for free?  Anyway, more on that later.  Because I was staying in Paris an extra day, it gave me the opportunity to see Versailles - the great palace commissioned by King Louis XIV.  Previously, the royal family had lived in the massive Louvre, but because of King Louis XIV´s dislike for Paris, he moved to Royal Family Palace outside of Paris to Versailles and he went BIG.  His palace was MASSIVE, with gold everywhere - including the fence to keep intruders out.  Inside had gold trim everywhere as well, but it isn´t until the Hall of Mirrors that this palace truely is unlike any other.  The Hall of Mirrors is an incredible hall with mirrors on one side, gold trimmings around the ceiling and a ceiling painted of remarkable artwork with crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling (although they were not the originals).  But it´s outside that Versailles is truely remarkable, in the garden.  The garden is absolutely massive, with about 20 different subsections, each with it´s own fountain.  All the trees are trimmed and kept neat - I was lucky enough to go during the fountain show, and it truely was remarkable.  A friend I met during the tour of Versailles and I rushed through the fountains - snapping pictures and running to the next.  We had one hour to go through the palace and the Hall of Mirrors and through the fountain show before meeting the guide to head back into Paris.  The main fountain is truely remarkable and breathtaking.  My favourite was the waterfall fountain and the Giant Titan (I do like my Greek Mythology - and so did King Louis). 

The next day was my final day in Paris.  I was leaving for Barcelona at 8:30pm by overnight train.  That gave me all day to go discover.  So I decided to get lost in the Montmartre (pronounced Mont-mark) district.  I had showed up outside the famous Moulin Rouge building to meet with a tour group going around the area but they never showed.  So I got my last taste of fresh bakery (a tasty Jambon & Fromage Crepe..mMm.. delicious) and went on my own tour.  The buildings in the area were magnificant, all were the same size, tall enough to be spectacular, but short enough that the sunlight came in through the streets to make the buildings glow.  I found my way through a Paris cemetary which was guarded by several cats (I like to think they were protectors of the gravesights anyway).  Next, I found my way to some palace of some sort, still not sure what it was I was looking at, but it looked similar to the Taj Mahall.  Beside it there was a little white train that took you around the Montmartre area.  So I hopped on and he gave us a guided tour around.  I went by Vincent Van Gogh´s appartment building, where many of his famous painters were created (and a lot of Absinthe was drank), but still do not know which building it was.  It wasn´t until we drove past my hostel that I realized what a great neighbourhood I was actually in.  After my tour of Montmartre I headed over to the African museum where they had many artifacts from the America´s and Africa from BC.  It was okay, but not really my thing - I should have gone to the Dinosaur museum - but hey, live and learn. 

Later that night I caught my train for Barcelona.  I was 3 hours early so I got a sandwhich and a Amstel at the cafe.  The train was huge, but the cabins were tiny.  There were four us us in this tiny cabin and only enough room for two regular sized suitcases.  There was no room for my gigantic backpack so I had to sleep with it at my feet.  The beds were orinigally unpleasant, but when you have a giant backpack shrunched at your feet, it isn´t very pleasant.  So I went to the bar onboard and met a couple people from Barcelona, we had some drinks and met up in the morning ...

To be continued in the Barcelona section ...

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photo by: Sweetski