Monday, June 11, 2012

Paris (Part 1)

Just a warning, this is going to be an EXTREMELY long post. Or should I break it down some ... make it three posts ..? Who knows. Here goes the description of the long weekend in Paris these past few days. I would like to preface this with the little known fact that Paris is a dirty, smelly, mean city and nothing at all like the loving, romantic city shown on the Hollywood silver screens.

After I left work and went home for the day on Wednesday, I gathered my things from my apartment and cut up a cucumber to take with me for dinner / breakfast on the train. I rode my bike to the Paderborn Hbf and locked it up outside and headed inside to wait on my train. Turns out I was over an hour early though so I went back outside the station to enjoy the sun a bit and found a McDonald's. I went in and decided to get a "Chicken Burger" (it was like a McChicken but it had sweet and spicy sauce on it, seemed very "American Chinese food restaurant" to me.) I had to wait for the food to be ready because I also bought fries and since I had to wait so long, the manager gave me two extra sandwiches. I didn't know what to do with three sandwiches, gosh, I wasn't that hungry. I went back to the station, ate some food and shared some fries with the pigeons and finally my train arrived at 6:21 PM. I boarded and was "whisked away" toward Belgium, wait, no I wasn't. The first train I was on was an ERB train, meaning it stops at every. single. stop.

I made a switch in Hamm (Weftf) and again at the Aachen Hbf and then I left Germany. This kind of sucked since I was used to having email on my phone to communicate with my mother and leaving Germany meant I had little to no service and what I did have, cost me an arm and a leg.
"Innerhalb der EU kosten anrufe 41 ct/min, eingehende anrufe 13 ct/min, exkl. sonder rufnummern. SMS verstand 13 ct. In der EU nutzen Sie Internet für 50 ct pro angefangene 100KB. Der Versand einer MMS kostet 69 ct."
To quote the text I received from my provider. 41 cents/minute for calls, 13 cents/minute to "special numbers" and 13 cents/text message. For even starting the Internet it cost me 50 cents and every 100KB I used cost me 50 cents more. To send a multimedia message, cost me 69 cents. I understand that this isn't actually that much but I have always had a contract and I send maybe 2,000 texts a month in the US and it's unlimited, I'm not used to having to pay per message and find it a bit ridiculous. Also, while in Germany, I don't ever text, I call or I use the Internet to connect.

Anyways, while I was at Aachen Hbf, I was approached by a Romanian guy and he asked me for help. He was supposed to be on the same train as me and we sat together. Once I finally arrived at my next stop, Liege Guillemins, in Belgium at 11:25 PM, I realized that I would be spending the night there. Crap. My next train didn't leave until 4:43 AM. Him and I wandered the train station, it was huge and beautiful and eventually we had seen it all. We then decided to wander town and see if there was anything going on. The last time I was stranded in Belgium for the night there was a festival / carnival going on. We walked and walked and my bag just got heavier. We found the center of town and took photos of the buildings and the sights and decided to go back. If it were just me, I would have walked back exactly how I came but he was leading and soon we were lost. Crap.

We wandered through the streets (passing a lot of homeless people sleeping on the streets, under the bridges, everywhere) until we finally saw the station and made it back with two hours to spare. We sat on a bench in the train station and fought off the sleep until we had to leave. Again, there were homeless people all around. I found an outlet and charged my phone but it was no use, I had no service. Finally, it was time to depart and we boarded our train to Bruxelles-Midi where he would stop and I would continue on to Paris.

When we were in Bruxelles-Midi, he left with a friend without saying goodbye and I went to board my train. I found it, found my seat and slept until I de-boarded the train in Paris. I made me trek through Gare du Nord train station and hit the exit just to smell the scent of urine, exhaust, and city air. Man, Paris really isn't the picturesque place you'd imagine it to be from all the movies and pictures, but, then again, you can't smell when you're watching a movie.

Before I left Germany, I printed walking directions to my hotel and the cultural agency where I was to pick up my Paris Pass. These didn't help at all. I was lost for nearly two hours before I finally found the hotel and I had to ask maybe ten people how to get there. Apparently, I walked in the wrong direction and it was super easy to find after that. When I got to the hotel, I was told that my room wasn't ready yet but there was a room where I could leave my bag and if I came back around noon, I could get the room. It was a relief to be rid of my heavy backpack and I walked to the city center where I had to pick up the Paris Pass. Walking there was a bit easier using my directions that I had printed and I found it (OK, it still took me another hour and a half ...) and then I walked back to the hotel where I was able to check in. I just wanted to collapse on the bed but I needed to go to the Louvre to look around and meet with Emily so I changed into clean clothes and headed back out.

Finding the Louvre was difficult and I wandered in circles for a bit and found the church "Saint-Vincent-de-Paul" which was built between 1824 and 1844, and designed by Cologne-born (yes, a German) architect Jacob Ignaz Hittorf, the church is characterized by its colonnaded classical front. The layout of the church however, is that of a typical Christian basilica. Finally, I found the Louvre. Funny, later, once I had taken the Metro a few times, I found it was really easy to get anywhere, but at first, I walked everywhere.

I went inside the arch that I found first and immediately saw the huge glass pyramids that the Louvre is so well known for, I took a ton of pictures and even found a nice German couple who took a photo for me too. After a million or so photos, I wandered out and found a market set up in the square. There was French beer and pamphlets on where to go while visiting other countries. I talked to the brewery guys for a bit, he was from Austria originally and lived in France now and he's into home brewing. He gave me his e-mail address and told me to let him know if I ever come back to Paris and he'll tell me where his new bar is, 20 micro brews on tap. He even gave me a free beer and we talked for maybe half an hour.

I left the festival and wandered through the Louvre's courtyard to another exit where I found "Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois", a church located right near the Louvre, this church was once the church of the French Kings. The church is notorious for its connection with the massacre of August 24, 1572 when thousands of Huguenots were killed. The massacre started the moment the church bells of the Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois rang.

I even saw the "Temple de L'Oratoire du Louvre" which had some interesting statues in the front. I still had a bit of time before Emily showed up for our afternoon meeting and I walked toward the Arc de Triomphe du Carroussel This smaller arch was built by Napoleon at the same time as the larger, more famous Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysses. Where I was accosted by a Jamaican man who made me a bracelet. He then asked me for money and I lied and said I had none, only change and nothing bigger than 20 cents. He was asking for ten euro. What the?! He then asked me to "be his girlfriend for the night" and to "come make 'boom-boom'" with him. Jeez, I don't like Paris. This wasn't the only time things like this happened either, this was just the first instance.
Finally, Emily and I met up for the first time outside the Louvre and we walked to a cafe for dinner and I had Croque Monsieur, which is as Emily put it, inside out grilled ham and cheese. some water "with gas." Then we walked down the street and the Eiffel Tower was above us. Honestly, I thought it'd be bigger. Everything seems to have disappointed me this weekend. We sat on the lawn, well, the steps near the lawn since it had rained hard all day, and then we went home to our respective parts of town.

On Friday, Emily and I decided to meet at 2 PM since she had a meeting at one and I wanted to see the inside of the Louvre. I got up at 8 AM and got ready for the day. Notice there's no shower in my
room, only a sink. Luckily, they gave me towels though and I could "shower" in the sink. Like a real European! The toilet is also in the hall, not in my room and I had a roll of toilet paper in the room that I had to take with me to the toilet when I had to go.

I stopped at a fast food restaurant the night before and bought a muffin for breakfast and it was the most delicious thing I have ever eaten! OK, maybe that's an exaggeration, but it was delicious. It was a blueberry muffin with filling, not like a blueberry here, a blueberry there, no, a solid blueberry filled center.
I had been told that the Louvre opened at 9 AM so I was there at about 9:15 AM and got in with no wait, and no problems. I went immediately to see the pieces I wanted to see first. The Mona Lisa, The Wedding Feast, the Venus de Milo ... The essentials. Since I was there so early, there wasn't lines to see the paintings and artwork like there would have been later in the day. The room with the Mona Lisa is huge and it gets filled quickly during peak hours. Plus, this was the last holiday before the summer school holiday and EVERYONE was on vacation. After 2 1/2 hours in the museum, I left. I know that there was no way for me to see everything and there was so much more to see in Paris!

I stopped in a shop and bought a baguette, wasn't feeling too adventurous though so I went with a basic, lettuce, tomato, egg, cheese, and mayo. I walked around the outside of the Louvre for a bit, eating my sandwich and eventually I headed toward the Pantheon and found "Les Concerts de I'dglise Saint-Ephrem" a small church that often holds classical concerts. The acoustics must have been amazing inside but I couldn't go in because the gate was locked.

Once I got to the Pantheon, I found "Saint-Étienne-du-Mont", one of many interesting churches in Paris, which houses the reliquary which used to hold the body of Sainte-Geneviève, patroness of Paris. Of equal importance is the only surviving choir screen in Paris. It is a relatively small but remarkable Church tucked behind the massive Pantheon. The church replaced a small chapel dedicated to Sainte Geneviève, patroness of Paris. The chapel was part of the Sainte Geneviève abbey.

It was nearly time for me to meet with Emily at Notre Dame and I left the Pantheon to get on the Metro. I got off at the stop named for Notre Dame and somehow walked the wrong direction. I was an hour late to our meeting and Emily had gone inside because it began raining. Apparently she texted me, but I never got it. I found out when she told me she was on the Metro back home. Man. I wandered Notre Dame alone and I really wanted to go up to the walk but there was a really long line and I wasn't sure I could do the stairs. I was supposed to meet Emily for dinner anyways in an hour so I didn't have time. I walked around the area until I had to leave (left a bunch of time to make sure I wasn't late even) and we met at a small cafe near her apartment.

I had tomatoes and mozzarella with balsamic vinegar for dinner with water and it was delicious. Emily took me to see her apartment which was only a few meters away and I got to see where she was living. I decided I was going to take a boat tour and see the Eiffel Tower that night so I left. When I got to the Eiffel Tower, it was around 8:45 PM and, of course, I got lost and finally made it to the boats around 9:30 PM where I got my ticket to the boat on the 10 PM ride. As we were taking off, the Eiffel Tower lit up, maybe Paris isn't so bad. When the boat came into the dock, the Eiffel Tower exploded with tiny while lights everywhere, blinking. I remember Emily telling me it did this every night, every hour even, but it was still spectacular to see. I got off the boat and waited in line to go up the Eiffel Tower. Rather than taking the stairs, I took the elevator and make it up to the highest point you can go. Honestly not that high, but when I tried to turn on my camera, it was dead and I pulled out my phone and of course it was dead too. Man. It was a marvelous view of Paris at night though.

I walked slowly back to the hotel and finally made it back around 1 AM. I got lost on the Metro and went one stop too far on the wrong line and would up in an even worse part of town than my hotel was in. I was being hit on left and right. Eew! I hopped back on the train, went to Gare du Nord and walked back to the hotel. The guy working the desk was pretty cute and he joked with me for a bit but I was way too tired. I was meeting Emily at 10 AM at Anvers Metro station so that we could go to Sacre Coeur and Montmarte.

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