Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Paris Vacances, Deuxième Partie

When I left you off I was buying candy in the metro on the way home.  I didn't end up eating that candy, not just yet.  In fact, I saved it up until we were on the bus ride home two days later!  Impressive, I know.  Compared to my recent efforts in self control it really was though…
So, we got home around 10:30-11:00 and pretty much went straight to bed.  Except that I stayed up to talk to people on Facebook…Isa insisted that I wasn't bothering them by being on the computer, and you know how the French are about insisting…I didn't argue.  
That night we slept a lot better I think.  I remember that I woke up a few times during the night, due to unfamiliar surroundings and unfamiliar beds and that sort of the thing, but it was bliss in light of how horribly we slept the first night.  
The only thing we had scheduled for the day was the Cirque d'Alexis Gruss, and that wasn't until 2 or 3.  We had heard during our tour on the Seine that there was an exhibition of video games playing in the Grand Palais, and although that didn't really tempt Isa, Anouk and I were pretty interested (I was actually really excited), so we woke up a little late, took our time with breakfast, and walked out once again into a rainy Wednesday morning.  Consequently, the number of pictures I took during those grey days is equally as depressing.  
Upon entering the enormous palace-turned-exhibition hall we learned that the exhibition wasn't on video games, but rather games in general.  You could have cut my disappointment with a chainsaw.  Maybe that's a little dramatic.  It's true that I was disappointed, mostly because I'm a nerd, but I was still intrigued by the concept of an art exhibit based on the development and progression of toys throughout the centuries, so we bought tickets and walked through anyway.  
As was the unfortunate case in the Sacré Coeur, photographs were once again forbidden, and it's hard to take a discrete picture with an SLR camera so I walked out with nothing but my memories to paint the picture of what I saw…I would literally paint it but I'm horrible with a pen and paper so I'll just write.
Basically you walk in you and are completely surrounded by toys from as far back as 400 years ago.  Everything from wooden dolls and puzzles to stone action figures and toy farms.  Then you walk 20 feet further into the exhibit and you're looking teddy bears, robots, and more action figures.  There was one whole room dedicated to girls' toys from everywhere and from every decade.  We're talking the first Barbies, porcelain dolls, and cabbage patch kids among Bratz, My Little Pony, and Pretty Pretty Princess collections.  
There was always a direction of progression throughout the ages as you went from left to right or vice versa.  Side note: have you ever heard someone pronounce "vice versa" "vicee versey"? It's SO annoying…
After the room of girls' toys you walk up the stairs and now you're amongst the realm of men.  That's right  - toy cars, more robots and action figures, marbles, and FINALLY video games!  It wasn't a very big deal, actually.  Maybe five games were set up to show the whole progression of video games in the last couple decades.  Enough to make you go, woah. People (meaning I) actually played that back then…but not enough to make you go, woah.  NOW I get what made Pokémon so popular! or NOW I understand why they've been making Mario games for 30 years! NOW I see how Halo revolutionized the entire FPS genre!  That all takes at least…15 years of gaming experience.
Anyway, all gaming aside it was a pretty cool walk through.  It's not often I go through art exhibits at the Grand Palais in Paris…
We left with much bigger expectations in our hearts as our metro pulled us closer to the highlight of the day:  Le Cirque d'Alexis Gruss! Yes, Le Cirque Du Soleil was there too but Isabelle decided that since that was an international mix of artists it would be cooler to see a more local, French circus, which is very cool and impressive all the same. Before ducking into the classic circus tent we sat outside underneath a small awning by a lake and ate a sandwich while it rained.  We were eating sandwiches for the majority of the time we spent in Paris, now that I think about it.  
Eventually we made it underneath the typical circus shelter, about 45 minutes before the show was due to start. After finding our seats (which were in the second row from the front) umm…nothing happened. We just sat there and waited for the show to start haha.     
And what a show it was! I would've recorded bits of it but A) we were pretty sure it wasn't allowed, and B) I was too busy being wowed by the circus freaks, I mean performers.  They did all sorts of things.  They started by doing a bunch of different tricks with horses.  The horses would come in and run around in a circle and the carney brothers would run and jump and flip and twirl onto them and stand up and do more flips and jumps and stuff while the horses were still running. Then two or three more guys would join the one already on the horse.  It was really impressive!
The only thing is that after about 23 seconds after the first horse entered the scene my allergy senses started tingling. By that I mean my whole chest felt blocked up and I sneezed about every minute until half time.  Or whenever it was that we took a 20 minute bathroom break.  Even after the horses left and they moved on the bigger and better things, whatever they kicked up stayed in my system for the rest of the day.  Well, for the rest of the week I guess.  I did stop sneezing after the shooed the horses out, but I was still snuffling the rest of the show. 
Other things I saw :
An elephant. I don't think I've ever been so close to one, and it was one of the coolest things I've ever seen.  They had it trained to sit, give high fives, stand on it's hind feet and pick someone up with its trunk and wave him around.  
A guy juggling several plates while balancing by himself from the top of a 20 foot ladder.  Also, as he climbing up the ladder he would spin around it and even did a backward roll over the top rung like it was nothing.
Extreme pole dancing.  A guy and girl climbed up this huge pole and would slide down and stop themselves right before hitting the ground and just were crazy in every sense of the word.  I almost said every sense of the mot (word in French), ah!
Two girls dancing around, unattached in an open sphere suspended probably 50 feet in the air. This show was not for the light hearted!
In the finale, everybody came out and was either juggling pins, twirling giant metal squares around themselves, riding a horse, or something else very circusy.  It was wicked cool, but I wish I could've taken some videos or pictures.  Like just about everything else I've done thus far, I guess you'll just have to come and see it for yourself!    

I think the whole thing last about two and a half hours, and by the time we left it had already gotten dark out, even though it was still relatively early.  You know how it is during the winter.  Anyway, we had one more big sight to go see - Le Louvre!
Thankfully it wasn't closed like it was the first time I went with Baptiste, Elizabeth, Stephen and Justin nearly three years ago.  Apparently Tuesday is National Close National Museums Day or something.  It wasn't Tuesday, however, so we were able to make it inside!  They were only open for another two hours though, and if you know anything about the Louvre it's that it takes at least a couple days to see just the main works there, and about three months to go through the tour of every piece using the audio tours they have.  
Needless to say, we didn't see everything.  I wanted to see above all the Mona Lisa, or La Joconde in French.  (They call it that because the name of the woman, Lisa del Gherardini, married a rich silk merchant named Francesco del Giocondo, and they went to da Vinci to have a portrait made in celebration of the coming of their second son, and Joconde is the translation of Giocondo!)  
There was also la Victoire, Venus de Milo, the whole Egyptian exhibit, among countless paintings and statues that we passed in order to get to the other works.  I was obviously really impressed by all the different paintings and stuff, but unfortunately I didn't have time to stop and appreciate every one there so I grabbed a couple pictures and moved on.  
We saw la Victoire first, and it was way cool.  It looms above everybody and you can see it from pretty far away, which makes approaching it kind of eerie in a way, considering it's headless and armless and keeps getting bigger and bigger.
The Mona Lisa was the next stop, and to be completely honest, I wasn't even that impressed haha.  There were a million people standing around taking pictures of it, but the bulletproof glass over the front of the portrait makes it hard to see and even harder to take a good picture of.  In case you were wondering though, yes, her eyes do follow you!  
There's a path that leads to the Egyptian exhibit where you pass by the old walls of the Louvre before it was remodeled.  Did you know it used to be a castle? People LIVED there!  You wouldn't believe it walking through because it's just so freakin big.  I saw an artist's 3D rendition of what it would've looked like before it was knocked down, and it's incredible.  It's got to be pretty accurate because he used an old painting of the Louvre to make the model, and you really start to feel small when you see stuff like that.        
So we walked around the base of what used to be the Louvre castle, and eventually ended up in the Egyptian section of the enormous museum.  I couldn't possibly write enough to justify the amount of pictures I took, so I think I'll just do a little gallery thing.  Here goes!

I think my favorite part of the exhibit were the giant walls of hieroglyphics.  You always see in the textbooks the different pictures and drawings they had, but to see and touch with your own eyes and hands is quite the experience.  Also, the sarcophaguses and tombs were incredible.  The details these people put into their final resting ground!  I don't know, it was just awesome.  I think I want to be buried in a sarcophagus.  With giant Russian-doll styled Casey Garland's surrounding me.  And my guts can be sorted out and placed in little clay dolls in the shape of my friends. Is that…weird…?  
Anyway…I just need to finish this post. I've been writing it for like, five weeks now. We swung by the Venus statue on the way out.  It was cool! I have such a lack of appreciation for art it kills me…I guess I just mean that I think I saw cooler statues that were all just lined up next to each other, and then here's Venus with her own little exhibit. I don't get it! Who decide's what portraits and sculptures are more important or valuable or famous?! Is that a stupid question…? 
We left the Louvre just before they closed, and we were hungry and tired from walking around all day, so we went straight from there to the nearest restaurant.  It was a nice little place called the Thermidor, and I can't remember what I ordered. Knowing Parisian restaurants, however, it was probably delicious. 
That was the last significant thing we did in Paris.  It was a fantastic adventure, and even the lack of sleep made for a good story.  That night I managed to get a little more than we had been getting previously, even though we woke up relatively early to catch a bus to the Gare de Lyon station to catch our train to the Part-Dieu station that's actually in Lyon to catch a bus (where we finally ate that candy I bought in the metro) to Davézieux to catch a ride with Papi (Isa's dad) home.
Later that day I was hanging out with Alex when this girl walking through the neighborhood handed us this pamphlet for a free drink at a newish restaurant that had opened in Annonay called the Bombine, so that night we decided to check it out. We were the first and only customers for a while because we showed up a little early and they said they'd open early for us because I had volleyball practice later that night and if we didn't go until they opened I would've missed it.  Lord knows I need as much physical activity as I can get apart from biking to my classes every Tuesday.  Especially considering I don't bike into town anymore because I either have a ride from Alex or Thibaut and because Ashley moved to Valence so I have no one to visit there :(
The Bombine was excellent. Yet again, I don't have the slightest what I ordered.  Often on the menu is some sort of poultry (although mostly duck), salmon, a chunk of meat, or another type of meat.  After dinner Alex dropped me off at practice, and we said our joyeux Noëls and à la prochaines.  Practice went pretty well I'm sure, and after I got back Isa and Anouk decided that we should open presents before I left for Bordeaux the next morning.
My present from them was the trip to Paris, so I wasn't expecting anything, but of course they got me a little box of recipes using Carambar (a really popular caramel), crème de marrons, fromage à tartiner, and other stuff.  They're so nice!
I got them a blu-ray player and Anouk the blu-ray Star Wars saga to go with, because she's a big fan.  She watched all six within the next two days I think haha.  They were super appreciative and we shared some kisses on the cheeks (no hugging here - ever), but it might as well have been! 
I went to bed that night with a heart too large for my chest.  I was worried about not having the same Christmas Spirit here in France, but if there's anything I've learned from being here it's that people are generally all the same kind, generous, loving, people you will find anywhere else.  I love that feeling.  All the same, I couldn't wait to see Tiste and his family and friends, so I packed up that night and got ready for my eight hour train ride the following day.
Bordeaux, ho!  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

La Ville d'Amour, et Aussi de Mes Rêves - Paris ! (Lundi et Mardi)

Ok. Paris. Big time awesome.  Fun fact : "awesome" is being officially banished, along with "baby bump" and "man cave."  Don't ask, just accept.  If you don't accept then look it up!

As I was saying : BIG time awesome.  We got up early to catch our bus to Lyon, but first I stopped by the post office to grab two of the three Christmas presents I had ordered for Isabelle and Anouk.  One of them was wrapped really nicely because I asked for it to be (thanks Amazon!), but I had to wrap the other one myself with that cardboard looking/feeling paper because Amazon couldn't wrap something that big (it wasn't that big) and it ended up looking…not so great haha.  I tried to think of it as an oyster…hideous on the outside, but a beautiful treasure inside!

Anyway, we didn't open presents until that Thursday, so I'll shut up.  Papi (Isa's dad) took drove us to the bus station, which is just by the church up the hill.  My friend/teammate from volleyball was our chauffeur for the morning, and he drove us safely to the train station Part-Dieu in Lyon.  We had to wait an hour for our connecting train, but we were entertained by a couple little birds who flew down to say hello in the waiting room.  After eating a sandwich, another sandwich, and a yogurt drink thing we hopped on the train to Paris!

I forget how long the ride was, probably 2 hours or so.  We tried to catch up on some sleep on the way there, and before I knew it we showed up in the middle of a crappy weather streak.  It wasn't raining heavily, but it was like that Seattle drizzle where you're just miserable and everything is gray - until you realize in Paris! Then you're filled with the love of the capital of the République (that would be France) and La Marseillaise (the national anthem) starts playing in your head and in your heart, even if you don't know it.  It's incredible, really!

Mostly I was just cold and wet though.  We jumped on a bus, and then made our way through the nearest metro stop towards our warm and cozy apartmenwith in Montparnasse (pretty much in the middle of Paris, with a view of Les Invalides and even La Tour Eiffel herself!)  It's actually Isa's ex's cousin who is filthy rich and only goes there every so often, so he let's people stay there whenever they want.  The French.  So nice.

It wasn't very late at night, maybe 4 or 5 p.m., but it felt like it was 10 p.m. due to the weather.  But we were going to profit from our time there, so we dropped off our stuff in the apartment and headed back out into the rain to check out Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower, whose top we couldn't even see because it was covered by a shroud of mist and gloom.  The Invalides is this big, golden domed building that houses Napoleon's tomb, along with several other French army generals and is a museum of a bunch of army stuff.  It was closed by then but it was really pretty to look at.  Unfortunately it was raining and I didn't get a picture of it when we visited, but you can look it up on the interwebz if you really want...it's pretty dang sweet!

Next stop was the Iron Lady, better known as the Eiffel Tower!  I wish we would've gone the next day, or the day after, or the day after, but I was happy to see her again regardless of the wind and rain.  I wanted to take an awesome picture with my camera, but whatevs…I'll just have to go back I guess!  :)  We decided to take an elevator up to the second level, where they said the best view was.  Also Isa Anouk are afraid of heights, so they didn't want to go up to the top anyway.  I've been up there before, so I wasn't disappointed.  I feel bad though, they're totally missing out! Fun Fact : from the ground to the second level is the same distance as the second level to the top! Don't question.  Believe the crazy American guy from South Carolina I heard talking about it behind us in line.

I did get some interesting shots while we walking around the second level.  Check it out!  We walked the perimeter of the tower. which was really cold because it's all outside, and saw and read about all the monuments in the surrounding area. No pictures - A) it was too dark to take a picture without a tripod B) it was raining :(

We didn't stay super long.  After we finished walking around the perimeter we headed back down the elevator and walked back to our apartment.  There was this fancy looking Italian restaurant called Del Arte down the street, and we hadn't eaten yet, so we decided to stop there for dinner.  Isabelle offered to pay for me - she is so so nice!  I got this pasta sampler platter, with lasagna, salmon raviolis in a white sauce, and a spinach/chicken penne dish.  It was way good, and not very expensive!  For Paris anyway.  I've gotten used to dropping $20+ for a meal here.  TAKE NOTE LADIES.   

So after a delicious, hot meal we huddled together and shuffled back through the cold and wet to our apartment, where we all spent a very restless night trying sleep as the neighbor was screaming at the top of his lungs and the blow up mattress beneath me screamed at the top of its vinyl lungs every time I dared move. Needless to say, we didn't get much sleep.

If someone had said to me "rise and shine!" the next morning I definitely would have punched them right in the face.  I don't even remember if I woke up to someone moving around or if I was already awake and happened to notice that it was already 8 a.m.  We weren't gonna waste our time being there though, so even though we didn't sleep very well we still got up, ate a bowl of cereal, and headed out to the biggest cemetery in Paris, Père Lachaise.  
There are around 300,000 graves with bones dating as far back as 1141, across 110 acres and over one million bodies, not including the crematorium.  How are there more bodies than graves? you might ask.  Well, a lot of the time families are buried together - I mean like generations worth of families.    

We saw the graves of some pretty cool people I think, although I admit my knowledge of French painters from the 18th century is…limited…There was the grave of the guy who translated the Rosetta Stone (the one with the hieroglyphs, not the computer program), so that was cool! Except for the part that it was falling apart…

Also there was a big memorial grave for the hundreds of people who died in a plane crash that was heading from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.  That was probably one of the most depressing things I've ever seen.  It was this big glass mural with all the names of the people who died in alphabetical order, so you could see all the members of the same family and couples who went down together.  I was pretty somber for a while after that.  Even writing about kinda gets me down…

SO. Our next stop was the church Sacré Coeur, which is big and beautiful.  Before we hiked up there though, we did a little shopping.  Anouk was looking for a party dress, and while we were searching I stumbled across this sweet peacoat.  I'd been looking for one that wasn't a million Euros, and this one was only 50€ and I liked it a lot and I was on vacation sooo I bought it!  

I didn't buy, however, any of the watches or perfumes that were being sold all down the sidewalk.  Nor did I place a 50€ bet on a game where a guy puts a piece of paper under one of three button things and then slides them around and asks you where the paper is.  I watched probably 500€ get lost just from walking around and seeing people pick the wrong button.  How. Stupid!!! I was so frustrated at the idiocy of these people! I had a kink in my neck afterwards from shaking my head every time I saw someone hand over a 50€ bill only to lose it 15 seconds later (p.s. the first guy I took a picture of chased me down and made me delete it).

Finally we walked up the stairs to Sacré Coeur, one of the many beautiful churches in Paris.  We stopped halfway up to sit on a bench with a great view of Paris to eat a sandwich.  At the top there were lots of vendors in front and around the church selling cool bits and bobs, including hot wine, intricately cut up paper pop-up cards, and every sort of food you can imagine. We peeked inside and took a little tour around.  They had small and large candles for sale that you could buy for either one or two euros respective to the sizes, then you light it and place it on an altar or something.  I think they were prayer candles?  I'm not familiar with Catholic customs but that was the idea I got.  Either way, it was beautiful and set a very holy ambience inside.  The architecture was incredible, not to mention all the paintings and stain glass.  Pictures weren't allowed inside though, sorry! 

Not far from Sacré Coeur is la Place des Peintres, a famous plaza where tons of painters come to show off their work and to draw people on the spot.  There were at least a hundred painters there, but Isabelle said that during the summer the place is jam packed with people.  Regardless, it was really impressive!  Every time someone brings up Justin Beiber I just think of that place and my faith in humanity is restored.

The descent was a lot easier than the climb - duh.  Why do I even write these things…I consider erasing them, but I think leaving them up is at least sort of humorous.         

There are some nice people (typically hobos) who line the stairs towards the bottom who try to grab and use your finger to tie a cool bracelet thing with multiple, different colored strings and talk to you the whole time and then sell it to you afterwards, but the key is to not ever make eye contact with them.  Once you lock eyes there is no escape.  You will sell you that bracelet on the stairs of Sacré Coeur if it's the last thing they ever do.  I walked away bracelet-free.

Just a ways down the road is the Moulin Rouge, which I'd been to before but it's fun to revisit, if I can say so without sounding like a creep, but little did we know that the way there was lined with literally side by side on both sides of the street down the WHOLE street with just sex shops.  It's like they were the kebab shops of Paris.  As disgusted as I was, I couldn't help but laugh out of embarrassment.  How the heck do any of those places make any money?! There must have been just under a hundred stores and each one was in full blossom with people bustling in and out.  Bleh.
I took some pictures of the red windmill and we rode the metro back to our apartment to take a little break before tackling the Champs Elysée and the Arc de Triomphe.  I ended up on Facebook while Anouk and Isa napped, but it was nice to just sit down for a while.     

Maybe two hours later we were walking back out of the apartment and into the cigarette-smelling hallway and down the too-small elevator and out the perfectly normal door and into the kind-of-nice weather towards the famous Champs Elysée!  Whew...

We took a metro to the Place de la Concord where they have the Obelisk of Luxor, which was given by the viceroy of Egypt to the French in 1829.  The 3,300 year old monument is 75 feet tall and weighs 230 tons!!! It was quite impressive to stand underneath.  It had started raining again, but I had to have even a crappy picture.  Also there was a giant ferris wheel.  I've seen a million.  Not that this one wasn't cool or anything, it's just lost that special "woah!!!" factor.  You know, like when you see something for the first time...

That's also where the end (or start) of the Champs Elysée is, so we started walking from there towards the Arc de Triomphe at the opposite end, three kilometers away.  There are probably…well over a thousand stores including the little shops and vendors that line the street on both sides.  It was sort of like at Sacré Coeur where they were selling just about everything.  We stopped and bought some crêpes (I freaking love crêpes…) and chocolate dipped waffles about halfway down the Champs Elysée before we started seeing more legitimate retail stores and whatnot.  

There were some street dancers who were all right (they were really good) but they really plugged up the sidewalk, which is still like 20 meters wide.  Also, there were lines pushing into the sidewalk to get into certain stores that were literally marked with 45 minute waits, and people were lined up past them! Crazy sauce.
Eventually we made our way to the tomb of the unknown soldier, better known as l'Arc de Triomphe.  Little did we know that they were actually having some sort of miniature army parade right underneath it, so we stood there and watched for a while.  After they were finished they let the crowd flood underneath the arc to do our tourist thing, after which we went back down the stairs and crossed the busy roundabout (I honestly just had to think for a good two or three minutes how to say 'rond-point' in English...yikes...) back to the metro. 
We got off and crossed one of Paris's 37 bridges, the Pont des Arts, whose railings are completely covered with padlocks.  You cannot even understand the number of locks that are attached to this bridge.  Here's the story - every year the city of Paris has to remove hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of these locks from the Pont des Arts. Why? Because every year, hundreds, if not thousands, of couples cross the bridge.  As they cross, they take a padlock (most with an inscription on it or something with their initials) and lock it to the railing, then throw the key into the river.  How romantic is that?!  I freaking love the French.  I cannot stress the amount of locks on this bridge haha. 
Anyway, we crossed the bridge to make it on time to our boat tour!  It was around 8 I think, and we snagged front row seats outside on the main deck so we would have a great view of everything.  I wish I would've taken notes on everything I learned from the tour.  I honestly don't remember much! :/ Our tour guide was a French student who was studying tourism and stuff.  She spoke like a robot, but at the end I felt bad cause she's just a student like me and so I gave her a nice tip.  Also she was kind of funny (in French - she didn't make too many jokes in English).  
We didn't go very far, but we saw a lot of things that we had already seen before.  There's two islands in the middle of la Seine where the first inhabitants of Paris lived.  I don't know how they found that out…it's pretty sweet though! It's now the most expensive place to live in Paris.
We saw the the Eiffel tower twinkling twice, as she tends to do every hour, on the hour.  I took some videos of the touring, which I can't figure out how to put up on the blog, but if I ever figure it out I'll come back and add it here.  In fact, I took a lot of videos!  I'll have to figure out how to share them…

Our tour lasted about an hour and a half, and then we were in search of munchies.  Munchies turned into another little Italian restaurant, where I actually spoke Italian to the waiter - it was great! I had raviolis with a Bolognese sauce.  Delish.  No dessert tonight, however.  It's ok, I probably needed a break from the sweet delicacies that are French pastries anyway.  So I bought some candy in the metro on the way home…

I'm gonna break this here so I can put up pictures and you can stop gnawing your brain about how wonderful my trip was, then I'll go and finish writing the Wednesday and Thursday part of my journey!