We arrived in Paris around 5:30 pm, wrestled our luggage off the train, and mentally prepared to navigate our way through a non-English speaking country. We immediately had trouble. The machines to purchase train tickets did not take our American credit cards, and the man we asked for help didn't really speak English (fortunately, he was willing to try to communicate with us). So we waited in line to buy tickets at the kiosk, where I made a fool of myself trying to use the credit card machine. After some very amusing mishaps with my suitcases, we managed to get down to the train platform and on the train, and we were finally on our way to our hotel.
We all settled into our hotel, and then Rachel and I went out for some dinner. We found a cute bakery with delicious croissants, and decided to immediately start in with the French pastries. I didn't understand the woman when she told me the amount, so I just held out my hand full of coins and let her pick out what she needed, or what she wanted. I'm not sure. We picked up some Camembert cheese on our way back to the hotel, and enjoyed our first French meal. It was delicious and fattening, like most of my meals in Paris.
The next morning we took the Metro to the Arc de Triomphe, then walked down the Champs-Elysees to the Louvre, repeating to myself every two minutes: Champs-Elysees (I was determined to get the pronunciation right). We stopped at a little cafe near the Louvre for lunch, where, again, I had bread and cheese, and it was delicious.
|Arc de Triomphe|
|Walking along the Champs-Elysees|
We spent three hours in the Louvre, and it wasn't enough. We hit all the major spots: Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, the Lacemaker. We didn't even get to all the wings, and what we did get to was pretty rushed. I could have spent all day there. I loved it. Unfortunately the French don't like to provide provide English translations of the painting titles or descriptions, so I learned very little in the Louvre about the works of art. It was still pretty incredible.
After resting our feet, we made our way to the Eiffel Tower. We even got to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower that night, and overlooked all the city lights. At the risk of sounding sappy, it was magical and energizing (Sort of. I mean, it wasn't so energizing that it could overcome a day of walking and jet lag).
On Tuesday we made our trip to Versailles. After sleeping in until 9:30 (the latest we had slept in up to that point), we eventually made our way out of our hotel and to the Metro. Unfortunately, getting on the train to Versailles did not go as smoothly as we hoped. Again, the machine to buy tickets would not take our credit card, but there was no help desk this time. None of us had enough coins to buy our ticket, and the machine did not take bills, so we trekked out to find a bank to exchange our bills for coins. The bank we found was no help. In fact, the teller was quite rude. So we each bought a drink from a nearby shop and asked for our change in coins. And then we were on our way to Versailles.
Versailles was incredible. I have never in my life seen anything even close to as opulent as that palace. It was huge. My regret is that my memory of French monarchy history was shaky at best, so I've determined to do some research so that I can better understand what I saw. We didn't get to see much of the gardens, but they were so extensive it would have taken hours to knock out any significant portion of it. We did stumble upon Queen's Hamlet, a little village made by the request of Marie-Antoinette. It was a charming little corner of the grounds with old cottages, vegetable gardens, water wheels, and a little lake. If anybody reading this ever visits Versailles, don't miss Queen's Hamlet. I liked it even more than the palace because of its serenity and smaller crowds.
Wednesday morning, our last few hours in Paris (so we thought), we went to an ancient Roman arena that dated back to the first century BC. It was a nice spot to visit because it is not a huge tourist trap. In fact, there were probably a total of ten people in the entire arena, four of whom were doing Tai Chi. After that we walked over to Notre Dame, which I loved. Admission was free! It was so beautiful, on the outside and inside. The rose windows are incredible, and it was amazing to see them in person.
|Stained glass window in Notre Dame|
After Notre Dame it was time to catch our train up to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, a strike in Brussels caused our train to be cancelled, as we found out when we arrived at the station. We were given the name and numbers of some bus companies that could take us to Amsterdam. We were unable to work the phones, or communicate with the guy at the nearby kiosk that we wanted a calling card (he just waved us out of the store). So Arianne and I left Rachel and Christa to watch our luggage and went in search of an internet cafe. Eventually we found one, bought a few drinks, and spent about 45 minutes using an iPhone to buy bus tickets, map out how to get from the bus station in Amsterdam to my sister's apartment, and email my sister about the change in our plans. We used the iPhone to find a little shop nearby that might allow us to print off our bus tickets. Miraculously, we found it. It was a tiny, hole-in-the-wall shop that had computer stations and printers. We printed our bus tickets, ran back to the train stations, gathered our luggage, and took our last metro ride to the bus station. So we boarded a bus to Amsterdam about an hour before we were originally scheduled to arrive in Amsterdam. We waved goodbye to Paris, and enjoyed the French countryside until the sunset.
And thus ended our time in France.