Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Paris: Day 3

Today we started out by hopping on "l'Open Tour" bus and going to the Louvre. This was after I ran into a shop to get a pain au chocolat and tried to ascertain in my best Franglish whether the tub of white stuff with berries on top was yogurt. (It was-- although I ascertained that from purchasing it and tasting it, not with my excellent Franglish.)
Palais de Louvre
The bridge nearby
The main courtyard
We basically spent all day at the Louvre and it was AWESOME! The palace itself is beautiful and well worth a visit. There was a huge indoor courtyard full of amazing French sculpture, endless rooms of beautiful Greek and Roman sculptures, halls full of Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Raphael, and more and more and more. I saw Venus de Milo (although technically, because it is Greek, it should be Aphrodite de Milo). I saw the Mona Lisa and liked it much more than I thought I would-- I had heard it was small, but I was picturing "Ginevra di Benci" small (the only Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery in D.C. is about the size of a human head). It was actually really great in person. I loved the Botticelli frescoes when you entered the Italian wing. There were tons of random things that I loved, most of which the names have escaped me. At the end we visited the part of the Louvre that served as the apartments of Napoleon III-- it was totally over-the-top.
The giant indoor sculpture courtyard

The apartments of Napoleon III

Sweet digs!
I suppose one could live with this....

We ate lunch at a small outlet of "Paul" (the Parisian boulangerie equivalent to McDonalds or Starbucks) in the Louvre. I finally got vegetables in Paris!!! I ordered a salad, which was delicious, but the bacon on it seemed nearly raw, so I ended up picking it off. (Which is truly astonishing, considering how much I enjoy bacon.) Then we went back for more art-till-you-drop. I even had Ranell take a picture of me chasing a pigeon in front of the Louvre today, just for my husband and his friend Jared. (It's an inside joke from when they were in high school.) :)
Chasing pigeons (inside joke).
Under the glass pyramid.

Ranell in the main courtyard.

We finally finished at the Louvre about 3:00 pm. We were both exhausted from being on our feet all day- the Louvre is huge- and just needed to sit. We hopped on a different line of our tour bus, but ended up on a different bus than the one that we had originally intended to get on. A lot of the tour was quite boring. The Place de la Bastille, as Rick Steves puts it, is the biggest non-site in Paris: the Bastille isn't there anymore. Then we got exciting views of some stadium and a building where 4000 people work per day. (Definitely the Paris I've been dying to see....)

And while the open bus tours in London had awesome live narration telling you about the sites you were seeing, on "l'Open Bus" the narration was pretty marginal. The narration itself wouldn't have been so very bad except that it had about a minute of monotone talking punctuated by three or four minutes of horrible French jazz. There was one song in particular that had the French equivalent of Neil Diamond growling in wounded tones, "Mon couer! Mon Couer!" with the back-up of a wailing muted trumpet. Tres terrible! And pretty much every time we got on the bus, guess which song was blaring on the audio headphones? You guessed it, Mr. French Neil Diamond. (No offense to Neil Diamond lovers. Neil Diamond is great... just not in French... or with a jazzy muted trumpet.)
Ranell at Place des Vosges
Place des Vosges
We got off the bus at the Place des Vosges: a small, but beautiful Parisian park in a square surrounded by buildings (including Victor Hugo's house). Then we walked through the Marais district. This was a lot of fun. There were winding narrow streets filled with cute teeny shops. We stopped at L'As du Falafel and got my very first falafel for our dinner (super yummy!). I popped into a shop to try two mini-macarons. If I'd had any idea how good they were going to be, I would have bought a whole box of them, but we'd already walked away before I took a bite. From my Franglish conversation I knew that one was vanille (it was AMAZING) and I thought the other was "pumpkin almond." Since the cashier didn't speak much English, I didn't want to spend 10 minutes trying to figure out what the flavor was. I figured as long as the flavor wasn't "cafe" I was fine. My "pumpkin almond" cookie turned out to be caramel. Seriously, so delicious-- it was the best thing I ate in France! We finally got back on board our bus and tried to head out to get a different tour on another line.

Wandering the Marais district
L'As du Fallafel

Yummy falafel!

Ranell in the Marais district
We walked across the bridge to the Ile de la Cite, got sidetracked buying some souvenirs, walked past Notre Dame and crossed another bridge onto the Left Bank of the Seine. We got to the bus stop only to realize that the last tour of the day had already left. So instead we ended up wandering around the Latin Quarter. We saw a cute shop with kitchen gadgets so we spent a few Euros to get the crepe batter spreading tool that they use at the crepe shops here. We also stopped at Starbucks-- only to use the restroom. It would have seemed like a travesty to eat at Starbucks in Paris-- even though they had a serious selection of pastries.
Beautiful bridges on the Seine
By this time we were really tired, so we tried to find a cafe to sit down and rest. We found one the guidebook recommended, but got seated outside under a tent- which while great at protecting you from inclement weather is also great at keeping in all of the Parisian cigarette smoke. (Seriously, Parisians smoke so much. I've probably inhaled a whole pack's worth of secondhand smoke on this trip. Yuck!) It was very crowded, I was practically sitting on the lap of the guy sitting at the table next to us and the girl at the table on the other side of us was glaring at Ranell (maybe she was trying to save that table for friends). So we got up and left and wandered around some more until we got really, really, really tired.

We had wanted to spend the evening going to Sacre Couer or l'Arc d'Triomphe, but we decided we were just too tired. We got crepes (this time I got "citron et sucre"- lemon and sugar) and took the city bus back to our hotel. We met a girl at the bus stop who was also an American- she is in Paris for school, studying to be a French teacher. We had a fun conversation with her and got her recommendations on how to spend the rest of our limited time.Then we stopped at a mini-market outside our hotel on the way home. I got a European-style drinkable yogurt (yum) and entertained myself by checking out Parisian candy, cookies and breakfast cereal. I have to say, only in Paris would you find fresh ginger, 25 kinds of cheese and 10 different kinds of butter at an urban mini-market!

So here I am, back at the hotel. It was an exhausting but fantastic day. My feet and legs are SO SORE! You know how your legs feel when you've spent a whole day of skiing and you haven't been in a couple of years? That's similar to how my legs feel right now. I wish I had thought to wear a pedometer on this trip: it would have been fun to see how much we've walked.

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