Friday, March 14, 2014

Family Adventure Part 2: Paris, France!

 Hello Everyone! This is the second part of my family's big trip.  We are now in Paris!

When we arrived at our house in Paris, we were a little apprehensive at first.  Our last experience with renting a house was a little..eventful.  As we were heading to the front door, it opened up without us even having to knock.  Dominique, our host, was standing there with a big welcoming smile.  As we stepped in the door, Judy laughed and said "Okay, this is nice."  Kari and I dropped our bags and began the exploration.  We would run into a room, freak out, and then run to another room.  It was an old factory that had been renovated into a vacation home.  There were 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.  We absolutely loved this house!!  It was huge and had so much room!  We wanted to take that evening to just relax and enjoy our fun home.  We explored the neighborhood and went on a little adventure to the grocery store, Monoprix.  (No matter how hard I tried, no one could get the name "Monoprix" right! They said everything except Monoprix. There was Metroprix, and Motoplex.  Jeesh, I tell ya!)  We grabbed a bunch of snacks and went back to the house.  We sat around our large 10 person table and had lots of wine, cheese, and bread (so French!)  We relaxed, and talked and laughed a lot.  As night rolled around, we decided to go to a little Italian restaurant not far from our house.  The area that we were in was not very tourist oriented, so the workers at the restaurant didn't speak English, and the menus did not have any English on them.  Bob and I tried our best to translate as much as possible, but there was definitely some guessing.  The food turned out to be great and our first meal in France was a success! 

On the 26th, we woke up to breakfast waiting on the table.  Dominique came in every morning, would make breakfast and put everything on the table, then quietly disappear again.  That was very nice!  We went to the train station close to our house, and took that to the main station in the center of Paris.  Then we had to get "Paris Visit" passes that gave us access to all public transportation, unlimited, all day.  Figuring out the transportation was a bit crazy at first, but we got the hang of it!  We started sightseeing on Champs Elysees.  This avenue is one of the most expensive places in the world.  Due to property prices being so high, only a handful of people still live there.  It is now stores, office buildings, and hotels.  At one end of the avenue is the Arc de Triomphe.  This was built from 1806-1836 by order of Napoleon.  This arch is dedicated to all of the victories by the French armies.  Surrounding it is a very large, very dangerous roundabout.  Twelve roads feed into this giant circle.  Because of this roundabout, the only way to actually get to the arch was to go underground and come up right beside it.  It was massive, and beautifully decorated.     

After the arch, we headed over to the Eiffel Tower!!  The tower was completed in the year 1887 for the Paris Exposition of 1889.  When the exposition was over, they found out that it would be a lot cheaper to reinforce the structure and leave it up, than to take it down, which was the original plan.  At first, the people of Paris did not like it, they thought it was ugly.  Now, it is the most visited monument in the entire world.  The top floor of the tower is the highest publicly accessible viewing deck in all of Europe.  The Eiffel Tower was the tallest building in the world for 43 years until the Chrysler Building in NYC took its place in 1930.  (The Chrysler Building only had a one year reign until the Empire State Building took the title in 1931.)

We had reservations to eat lunch in the restaurant up in the tower!  Usually the line to get onto the elevator that takes you up the tower is about 4 hours long.  Since we had reservations, we got to skip the line and go straight to the front.  We had a very yummy 3 course meal, and we drank none other than Bordeaux wine.  When we made the reservation, we had to pay for our meal upfront.  So when we were done eating, there was no hassle about figuring out what everyone had to pay, we could just get up and leave.  After eating, we were faced with a difficult decision.  We were not allowed to get back on the elevator from our level to take us to the next level.  So it was either go back down, or climb to the next level.  We decided to climb...22 flights of stairs later our legs burned and we could barely breathe, but we made it!  Then we had to wait for another elevator that took us to the actual top of the tower.  When we finally got to the top, we were about 80 stories high.  There was a little shop where you could buy glasses of champagne, and we did just that.  Looking out over the city of Paris, we toasted and then sipped our wonderful champagne.  You could see just about everything from the top.  You don't realize just how massive the Eiffel Tower actually is until you see it!  

(Champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower!)

After lunch, we did a little more sightseeing from a bus.  Then we were on to the Louvre!  The Louvre is the most visited, and possibly most famous, museum in the world.  The building is an old fortress dating back to the 12th century.  In 1682, Kind Louis XIV built the Palace of Versailles as his main residence, leaving the Louvre Palace as a place to display the royal collection.  In 1793, it was officially opened as a museum.  Today, the Louvre displays 35,000 pieces of artwork in its 650,000 square feet.  That means that if you looked at every single piece of art for 60 seconds, it would take you 600 hours, or 25 whole days, to see everything in the museum, it is huge!!

Since the Louvre was originally a palace, the building itself is a major piece of art.  It is the perfect place to hold all of the wonderful and important art that is inside it.  In the picture above, Kari and I are standing in front of the Mona Lisa!  This is the most visited piece of art in the world, with a staggering 20,000 people that come to see it daily.  It is held in a very secure room, which is essentially a large vault.  The painting, usually smaller than what people expect it to be, is 30in x 20in.  So many people had told me that it was smaller than they thought in person, that when I saw it, it was actually bigger than I had imagined.  There is always a large crowd in this room.  You have to wait in a sort of line formation until you reach the railing that is about 10 feet away from the wall, with guards standing next to it.  That is the closest that they will let you get to the painting.  The Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci from 1503-1506.  It was carried by da Vinci for his entire life, never leaving his side.  Throughout history, numerous artists have been fascinated with the painting and studied it.  This attention from others, and da Vinci's own fascination helped create the great myth that surrounds it: Who was she and why did Leonardo da Vinci paint her?  To see the Mona Lisa, one of the greatest works of all time, was absolutely incredible! 

(Venus de Milo)                                         (Code of Hammurabi)

Two more of my favorite pieces were the Venus de Milo, and the Code of Hammurabi.  The Venus de Milo is one of the most recognized sculptures from ancient Greece.  It was created somewhere between 130 BC - 100 BC, and is 6 ft 8 in tall.  This is a sculpture of Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of beauty, love, and sexual rapture (this is the same as the Roman goddess Venus.)  A large reason for her fame is the mystery behind her arms.  Did she once have arms, and where the heck are they?  She did in fact have arms, but they have been broken off in her 2000 years of existence.  The other picture above is the Code of Hammurabi.  This bad boy was created around 1750 BC in Babylon, when Hammurabi was the ruler.  It is the most comprehensive code of laws from ancient Mesopotamia.  Carved into the stone are numerous laws relating to many aspects of life and Babylonian society at the time.  It also has a prologue and epilogue glorifying Hammurabi, making it a royal inscription.  Other famous art pieces that we were able to see were: The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I (painting), The Wedding Feast at Cana (painting), Colossal Statue of Ramesses II (statue), Saint Louis Metal Basin (basin), the Louvre's medieval moat, and we toured Napoleon's apartments, among many other things!          

We only had a little over 3 hours to tour the Louvre, so we had to move quick.  We used their maps that highlighted the most famous pieces and tried to make a plan to run around to see all of them.  This would have been easier if everything wasn't so confusing.  The Louvre is absolutely huge, has the weirdest layout, and the worst signs I have ever encountered.  We had maps, followed signs on the walls, and asked for directions from workers several times, and we still would get lost after every other turn.  It was just insane!  Through all of the headache, we still got to see amazing pieces, which made me extremely happy!!  You see, my minor is Humanistic Studies, which means a lot of my studying is on ancient civilizations.  Many of the main art pieces at the Louvre are all things I have studied in books for the last three years.  Seeing them in person was crazy!! (Yeah, I am a bit of a history nerd.)  As they say: "One of the most important parts of the future is understanding the past!" ;)

(Palace of Versailles front gate)

We walked for nearly 12 hours that day and everyone was very tired.  The next day, on Thursday, half of the group stayed back at the house to just relax and enjoy the neighborhood.  The rest of us were on our way to the great Palace of Versailles!

The Palace of Versailles is one of the most beautiful achievements of French art.  In the 17th century, King Louis XIV wanted to build a new palace.  A palace where he could impress everyone with the symbol of royal absolutism and to glorify the French monarchy.  Louis XIV took his father's old hunting lodge and completely transformed it, and the surrounding area, into a huge palace filled with amazing decorations and art.  The picture above shows the hall of mirrors.  This hall is where all of the functions and parties took place.  It was absolutely beautiful!!  King Louis XIV loved the Palace of Versailles so much, he didn't want to leave it.  This lead him to moving the entire court and government of France into the palace.  Kings Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI, were the only three kings to live there until the French revolution in 1789.  After the main palace, we took a little train ride through the massive gardens to two other mansions and a little lake.  One of the houses was built by Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France.  She built the very large estate so she could often go there to feel like she lived a more normal life.  Keep in mind that this home was still huge and on the same property as her palace...boy oh boy.  

We spent all day at the palace, wandering around and learning about its history.  We did a little souvenir shopping and then took the train back to the center of Paris.  When we finally got back to our neighborhood, we decided to eat at the restaurant right next door.  It was Indian food!  Some people in our group had never tried Indian food before, so there was hesitation, but it ended up being really good!  

(Notre Dame)                                    (Jesus' Crown of Thorns)

On Friday the 28th, we had a very shaky start to our morning.  We left the house, excited for all that was ahead of us.  We got to the train station and everyone bought their tickets.  Then some lady that spoke English came up to us and informed us that all trains had stopped because someone had jumped in front of one.  Sadly, this is pretty common in Paris.  So we decided to go find a bus stop, and keep riding buses until we got to the main train station.  We were walking down the street, Bob was leading the group and I was right behind him.  All of a sudden, I saw something drop and splash all over Bob.  My first thought was a puddle of water dumped off of an overhang, so I laughed...but then I got hit too.  It took everyone a few moments to let what had actually happened sink in.  Then Bob said "You have got to be kidding me!!"  To say that this bird pooped on him would be a serious misrepresentation of what actually happened.  This nasty vile creature all but exploded on him!  It was all over his head, running down his face, on his jacket, it was everywhere!  It was not normal bird poop, it was like a bucket of diarrhea and the smell was absolutely repulsive.  I got some in my hair, it was running down my forehead, there was some on my back, down my sleeve, and on my purse.  We had to run back to the house, clean as best as we could, and start the day over.  Bob and I carried Febreze with us for the rest of the day because we felt like we kept smelling it!  

 Eventually, we were on our way.  Our first stop was at Sacre Coeur.  This is the highest point in Paris.  There are a ton of stairs to get to the top of this great hill, but we cheated and used the lift.  This site is considered one of the oldest and most sacred places in all of Europe.  For centuries it has been a very popular place for pilgrimage for people all over the world.  There are a lot of little streets at the bottom of the hill that have fun tourist shops.  We spent some time shopping around while we were there.  

Next we went to the amazing Notre Dame Cathedral.  Construction on this building began in the 12th century.  The story that we all know, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" takes place in this church.  The novel was written by Victor Hugo in 1831.  Part of the reason that he wrote the story was to get the attention of the French to be on Notre Dame because the cathedral was in bad shape.  It was this book that ultimately saved Notre Dame, and allowed it to still be here today, and in great shape.  It is very beautiful on the inside as well.  We explored the inside for a while, and spent time just sitting and looking at the architecture and designs.  Something that was really interesting is that the Crown of Thorns that Jesus had worn is kept here.  It is held in a red glass case.  You are not allowed to get very close, but you can still see it from where you stand.         

When we left to go outside of Notre Dame, we looked up and there was a very bright double rain bow by the side of the church!  It was so beautiful!  We walked across the street to a little restaurant and had crepes as an afternoon snack, and then did some more shopping.

We were sightseeing from the bus again and we got to a stop by the river.  Jeremy looked out the window and said "Hey look, it's the Lock Bridge!"  We quickly hopped off and went over to the bridge!  None of us had even thought about going there.  It was just a fun spur of the moment type of thing.  The Lock Bridge in Paris is a bridge right by the Louvre.  Starting around the early 2000's, people come to this bridge with a lock and they hook it onto the bridge.  Then they keep one key, and throw the rest into the Seine River, to signify that their love will last forever.  Luckily, there was a guy on the bridge that was selling locks.  We bought one for the group and on one side we wrote "LeRoy WI Tour 2014" and on the other side we wrote the first letter of all of our names.  Kari and I then both took a key and at the same time we threw them behind us and into the Seine River.  The 3rd key is currently with me here in Bordeaux!  I was told I should put it on a necklace, and I just might do that!  After we threw the keys, we all looked at the bridge and slowly made our way back to the bus.  It turned out to be a very bittersweet moment.  We were all so happy that we got to put a lock on the bridge, forever locking our memories of this trip.  Then it dawned on us, it was all coming to the end.  That lock also signified the ending to an amazing trip.

We took the bus to the Eiffel Tower one more time because we wanted to see it up close at night.  We waited until the top of the hour because there is a five minute light show that makes the tower look like it is sparkling.  We enjoyed the view from right next to it!  Then it was time to go back to our lovely home one more time.  We were so tired we decided to just take cabs home, and we barely made it to the car!  We got home and went to Monoprix to get a bunch of random food.  Then we sat around our table and had a feast with the most random arrangement of food!  Since my 21st birthday was around the corner, everyone surprised me with the cutest makeshift birthday cake.  It was made out of little, individually wrapped, chocolate filled bread cakes, stacked in a pile, with a match stuck on the top serving as a candle.  It was quite the birthday cake!  But I absolutely loved it!!  For hours we reminisced, told stories, discussed life, drank a lot of wine, and listened to music.  Perfect last night in Paris.

Waking up on Saturday was depressing to say the least.  I had been looking forward to this trip for almost a year, and in the blink of an eye it was gone.  It wouldn't have been so bad to end it, but saying good bye to loved ones for long periods of time is never easy.  Again I had to watch my dad walk away, and listen to my mom's voice crack as she turned to leave.  I won't lie, it's hard.  But..."It's not good bye, it's I'll see you later."  So I took my solo 4 hour train ride back to the south of France.  When I was once again in my old stomping grounds, I was feeling much better and ready to begin the end portion of my study abroad experience...weird!

London and Paris: Absolutely amazing...incredible...terrific...trip of a lifetime.  Words cannot fully express how glad I am that I got to go on this trip, and with a group of people whom I love dearly.  I will remember it forever.  And boy will I always laugh about our trip abroad.

Thank you everyone for reading my blog, I truly hope you enjoyed our grand adventure!!


"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."
-Maya Angelou

"Having a place to go - is a home.  Having someone to love - is a family.  Having both - is a blessing."
-Donna Hedges 

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