Thursday, March 26, 2009
Much like Rome, Paris is a city that is able to blend both new and old. It is a city full of history and a city full of vibrant culture. When visiting Paris, make sure you have at least two full days devoted to the city and if you can, add a third day to be able to visit the beautiful Palace of Versailles located about an hour from the city and very accessible by train. There are so many different things that people think about right away when you mention Paris and because of this, there are so many things that you can do, see, and experience when in Paris.
We arrived in Paris in the late afternoon and began our time in the city with a driving tour much like what we had done in Rome. We drove past many of the main sites are were able to have some stops for photos. We also drove around the L'Arc de Triomphe in the Contiki bus which was a rather scary experience. After our drive around the city we headed to the hotel to check in and eat some dinner. After dinner we all headed out to the Eiffel Tour to see the city at night. Just so you are aware, right before we got to Paris there hd been a major ice storm so there was ice everywhere in the city and it was absolutely freezing. Unfortunately, because of the weather conditions many of the major sites were either closed or you could only go up so far. Thus was the case with the Eiffel Tower. What is magnificant about the Eiffel Tower at night is the light show. Recently the light show has been shut off early due to conserving energy, but if you get the chance to see it at night, it is absolutely spectacutlar.
Again, because of the weather, we were only able to go to the first level of the Eiffel Tower. This was incredibly disappointing. Also, a lot of the walkway was roped off as well because of ice on the Eiffel Tower so you couldn't get to the edge to take great pictures of the city. It is something that I am still glad I did, but I wish the weather had been better so that we could have gone higher and been able to take pictures of the city. After the Eiffel Tower we headed back to the hotel and most people stayed up a little while longer hanging out and having a few drinks at the hotel bar.
The next morning the tour group left the hotel around 8am to head into the city and visit a French Perfumery. I made the decision not to go with the group because there was so much that I wanted to do and see in Paris that I wanted to take the city on by myself. The train system in Paris is very easy to understand and I had planned my routes out the night before so I had no problem getting around. So, I slept in an extra hour and then headed out to explore the city. My first stop was to Sacre Couer and Montmatre. Yet again, the weather prevented me from seeing Sacre Couer inside as the gates were closed and you could not climb up to it. You could, however, climb to the top of Montmatre to get absolutely stunning views of the city and be harrased by gypsies and men trying to sell things to you. Often times, Sacre Couer is something that is overlooked on a visit to Paris, but I highly recommend going and seeing the beautiful church and experiencing the views of the city from the other side.
The next stop on my adventure in Paris was to head to L'Arc de Triomphe. To get to L'Arc de Triomphe you need to head underneath the road through tunnels that have been built. Do not attempt to cross the road, because more than likely, you will not make it across the twelve lanes of traffic. The L'Arc de Triomphe is the symbol of French victory and it was commissioned by Napolean in 1836. At the base of the monument is the tomb of the unknown soilder. When visiting, you have the option to climb winding, narrow stairs to the stop for rooftop viewing-PLEASE DO THIS. I am incredibly out of shape and do not like winding stairs, but what I experienced at the top of the L'Arc de Triomphe was amazing and unforgettable. There is a small museum explaining some of France's history and the history of the monument itself and then you walk up to the roof and are overwhelmed by the incredible views of the city. The cost is very minimal (just over 6 euro) and again, is worth it. You may have to stop a few times as you climb all the stairs (which I had to) but it was an incredible experience.
My next stop was to head over to the Louvre. The Louvre was once a royal palace and today is the home of the world's richest collection of art. The Louvre is most famous for being the home to the Mona Lisa and thousands of visitors flood the museum each day to catch a glimpse of the painting. If you are wanting to fully visit the museum, you could spend an entire day there. Also, lines can become long to purchase tickets, so try to do so in advance. There are also other entrances beside the glass pyramid and these entrances are much faster than waiting to go through the glass pyramid. The cost to enter the museum is just under 10 euros and just like the Sistine Chapel, you are not permitted to take pictures of the Mona Lisa, but somehow, many people from our group ended up coming back with pictures. I decided not to go inside the Louvre. Mainly I just wanted to see the palace and see the pyramid. I wasn't interested in spending the money to go in just to see the Mona Lisa. I realize this may make me seem crazy, but I wanted to explore and do other things in the city.
When I was at the Louvre, I ran into my two roommates for the tour and headed with them to Notre Dame. This was the one thing I was looking forward to in Paris. Generally, you are able to pay a fee and climb the bell tower, but because of the weather this was closed. The building is absolutely spectacular and is everything that you can imagine. Walking inside you can feel the holiness of the place and will be amazed by the beauty of the church and its famous stained glass windows. Visiting Notre Dame is a must do for anyone going to Paris. After visiting Notre Dame we had lunch at a cafe down the street where I got to experience real French Crepes. This is another must do when in France.
After Notre Dame we spent a couple hours shopping as Paris is known for its amazing shopping. After that, we decided to head over the Musee D'Orsay which I was very excited about seeing. Musee D'Orsay was originally a train station and has been transformed into an art museum that holds mostly modern art from the impressionist and post impressionst period. Admission is 8 euro and if you like you can purchase an audio guide to help you get through the museum or you can tag along on a daily tour. This is quite an impressive museum and if you are an art lover, this is a great muesum to spend a few hours wandering around. Musee D'Orsay was our last stop of the day and we met the bus across the street to head back to the hotel to get ready and all dolled up for our last night in Paris and our final night of the tour.
On our last evening, we had the option of attending the world's most famous cabaret for dinner and a show- the Moulin Rouge. This is an incredibly expensive dinner and show, but for me, it was part of the French culture that I wanted to experience and I knew I would regret it if I didn't go see the show. Dinner was incredible as was the lovely bottles of wine and champagne that we got during dinner and during the show. The Moulin Rouge is a very intricate show with beautiful costumes and showcases quite a lot of French culture. If this is something you may be interested in, I recommend that you attend. Also, there are a lot of half naked women, so if that is going to offend you, don't go. It is also important to note that you can't take pictures in the Moulin Rouge and that you actually have to check your cameras in. This may scare you, but our cameras were fine. Several of us did go ahead and remove the memory cards from our cameras just in case something happened, that way we wouldn't lose our pictures from the trip. After the Moulin Rouge we headed to the Irish bar next door to celebrate our trip, have one last big night out, and start saying goodbye. Paris was incredible and the last night was the most fun that I had on the entire trip.
Other great things that you should consider doing while visiting Paris include going to the Hotel National des Invalides which is where Napolean's impressive tomb is; visiting Musee Rodin which is the home to some of the world's most incredible sculptours; and taking a day trip to Versailles which is one of the most lavish and incredible palaces in the world. There are also many other art museums that you can visit in Paris and quite a lot of shopping if you are interested in doing that.