Sunday, March 28, 2010

Europe - Day Eight

Phew!  We made it!

We packed our things bright and early this morning and were getting ready to go down for breakfast at 7am, hoping to say good-bye to some of our tour buddies while we waited for our transfer to the airport.  Since, we had never gotten the info, we were hoping we would catch them in the lobby...

Just as we were about to head downstairs, our phone rang.  Our ride was here.  No time to say good-byes or have breakfast.  Ugh!!!!

We went down, loaded into the van and away we went to the airport.  Talk about anti-climatic as we left Paris!

Oh well....  The hubby and I have decided that we would come back to Paris only if we have someone with us that speaks French, and only in the summertime.  I'm glad we were there - as our tour guide, Monique, would have said, "been there, done that, check it off the list!"

Our flight was on time and uneventful.  We were seated in different rows, so we pretty much watched movies the whole time.  I couldn't fall asleep because the guy next to me was giggling so hard at a Bill Bryson book.  Too funny!  (Ha - literally, I guess!)

Mom and Dad, my sister Kayla, and our dog, picked us up at the airport and took us home.  So nice that they are willing to do that for us!  Makes the end of a long day so much easier!  Thanks again, guys!

Goodness.  Another trip over.  I would love to go back to Amsterdam in the summer.  I would go back to Belgium again in a heartbeat!  Paris?  Eh.  I can take it or leave it, I guess. I think it's really true that you enjoy places that fit your personality.  And Paris wasn't it for us.  And that's ok.  (I would like to see other areas of France still, though!)

Hmmm....  Wonder where we'll go next?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Europe - Day Seven

It's our last day in Paris...  I slept in til 9ish, skipped breakfast and nibbled on a bagguette and water instead.  Man!  Come to Paris, looking forward to french cuisine...  and I'm surviving on bread and water.  This stinks!

(You wanna know what's funny to watch on french TV when you can't sleep and feel miserable? "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons"!  Homer speaking french is enough to send anyone into a fit of giggles... I don't care how sick you feel!)

Today we took it slow...  Woke up late, ate just a little, and finally headed out for a walk around the city.  The weather was a little overcast and cool - so it was perfect for me!  We jumped on the Metro (underground train) and went down by the Louvre to explore a little.  The Metro was so easy to use!  The hardest part was buying the tickets - it's an automated machine and everything is in french... but we managed!  After that, it was a breeze!

We started the day at the Cathedral of Saint-Chapelle.  GORGEOUS.  The stained glass windows in this small chapel surround you on all sides!  We walked in when the day was cloudy and overcast... but in the time we were inside, the sun came out and room just glowed with color and light!  One of the coolest places I've ever been.  A must-see if you ever go to Paris!
(I found this last photo online, courtesy of the Sainte-Chapelle website, the photo is by Sean Munson - it's the closest I could find to do justice to the beautiful setting.  You really must experience it for yourself!)

We took a little time to walk along the Seine River and through the neighborhoods, looking at cool buildings, drooling over what people were eating and drinking at the sidewalk cafes, and enjoying the fresh air (although, I must say... there are LOTS of stinky smells in Paris!  Ewww....)

At 3pm we had our wine tasting experience at O Chateau - this, I LOVED.  So fun!  We managed to find the wine cellar after twisting and running down several back streets.  Too funny.  When we got there, we were taken into a back alley and down a steep winding stairwell into the bowels of the earth...  I was wondering if we were being led astray...  Until we walked in this uber-cool room with domed ceilings, dimmed lights, and lots of wine bottles lining the tables...  And a group of older ladies (from Bloomington, MN - 20 minutes from us!) from our tour group giggling at the table, waiting for their wine!
(The photo above is courtesy the O Chateau website.)
Our wine tasting guide was fabulous!  So funny and full of all kinds of interesting facts.  This was supposed to be a 1/2 hour event - we were there almost 1 1/2 hours.  Guess we were a fun group.  We got to try several kinds of wines, learn how to taste a wine - all the nuances of color, smell, taste, swishing, etc.  I thought it was really interesting and fun - and can't wait to go to another wine tasting! 
(This photo is also from the O Chateau website.  The cutey on the right was our guide.)

After this, we had the afternoon to wander around the city again.  We sat in a park and watched people, we walked through the sculpture gardens, and enjoyed just being in Paris without the need to spend a lot of money.  All the shopping in the area we were in was either ultra cheap tourist junk or high end Gucci and Prada.  So we decided shopping was not a priority.  Instead, we just tried to soak up as much of Paris as we could on the last afternoon of the trip.
(Coming back to the Louvre to hang out before our tour...)
At 6pm, we were to tour the Louvre!  We went to the Glass Pyramid like we were told to, only to not see any of our group!  It was time to meet... and no one was there!  We looked at our itinerary again - only to see an address on a corner a few blocks away!  We got directions from a security guard and booked it to the address on the paper - I was almost in tears, thinking we missed the tour that we already paid for AND we were going to miss the Louvre (one of things I wanted most to see while in Paris!).  We got to the address - and no one was there.  Then, as we walked outside, I looked down the street and there was a tour agency on the corner.  I said "let's go look in there, maybe they will be able to tell us where to find our group."  As we walked in, who do we see?  6 other people from our group!  Somehow, we managed to find them before the left...  How?  I'm not sure.  According to our paperwork, we were in the wrong place!

So we followed our tour guide back to the Louvre, entered through the Pyramid and began the tour.  Our tour guide must really love Greek sculpture... We spent over an hour looking at just that.  Cool, but I don't need to know every detail about every sculpture...  It took forever to get to the few pieces I wanted to be sure to see!  But let me tell you - the building itself was beautiful!  I wish we had had more time to just wander...  It really was a fabulous sight to see!
(Diane de Versailles by Leochares - beautiful.)
(Amazing ceilings in almost all of the rooms!  They are artwork all on their own...  It almost seems overkill to put masterpieces on the walls, too.)
(This is "The Wedding Feast at Cana."  You don't realize how immensely HUGE these paintings are until you stand next to one.  The details are incredible.)
(The inside of another room...  Wow.)
(Well, of course we saw the "Mona Lisa"!  She's about the size of my head, and a long ways from where you can stand, and behind glass.  Kind of hard to really see her...  Not quite the exciting moment I thought it would be.  I thought Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" was a lot more fun to see - so much detail when you can get up close!)

By the time we left the Louvre, I was once again tired and not feeling so well... So we caught the Metro and headed back to the hotel - once again insanely jealous of all the couples sitting at the sidewalk cafes, enjoying a candlelight dinner.  I felt jipped that I didn't get to enjoy those typical Parisian moments, or add a bunch of pounds due to the butter-laden cuisine!  Bummer.

When we got back to the hotel, we asked for our airport-transfer info at the front desk.  We were supposed to have received a fax - which the desk did not have.  After much looking and questioning, it turns out they had given our fax to someone else.  We asked if they could call the transfer company to find out what time they were picking us up in the morning - their reply?  "Oh, so sorry.  You do it yourself."  We went up to our room and tried to call - but our phone would not work.  We went back down to the desk and asked again - being polite and maintaining our composure very nicely at 11pm.  The desk clerk's response?  "Oh, so sorry.  I can't call for you."  Oh, so sorry?!  YOU lost our info, the least you could do is help us out!  "Oh, so sorry."  After speaking to three different clerks and getting the same response each time, we gave up.  Our advice - don't ever stay at the "Mercure Paris Tour Eiffel Suffren" hotel.  Great location - horrible service (which was what most of our group experienced).

We were so ticked off at them, that we decided we needed to finish the trip on a high note - no matter how tired and sick I felt. We walked over to the Eiffel Tower and decided to go up to the top. Oh yeah. The top level closes at 9pm. ARRRRGH. Ok, so we went to the second level - just as good really. It was a beautiful night and a great way to leave Paris.

(It's "sparkling" for us!)
Good night, Paris.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Europe - Day Six

Up and at 'em!  Today is (or was supposed to be) a busy day!

After breakfast, we all piled into our bus for a guided tour around the city of Paris.  We drove by all the major monuments and landmarks, only getting off the bus once or twice.  Our tour guide was fabulous - full of funny, scandalous stories - making us laugh as we viewed many of the same parts of the city we saw last night.  (The hubby and I thought this bus tour would help us get better acquainted with how to get around on foot later in the day...  Not so much!  So many side roads and curvy streets...  Maps would be our friend!)

Anyway, we once again drove the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, saw the Eiffel Tower in daylight, and drove through the Latin Quarter and the Opera District. 
The day started out reasonably well...
The Louvre - so excited to get inside that place!
We ended at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, where our tour guide took us inside for a look around - and once again entertained us with several interesting and entertaining stories.  Can I tell you some of them? 

Nope.  I was in the midst of what I thought was a panic attack.  As we rode on the bus all morning, I was realizing I wasn't feeling well...  and thought maybe I just needed some time off the bus.  But as we walked around Notre Dame (a sight I was very excited to see!), the darkness, crowds, and heat inside the building began to get to me.  When we had some free time outside, I barely took pictures and walked around... instead I sat on a stone wall watching the gypsies try out their pick-pocketing schemes on the masses of tourists.  The cloudy skies and gentle drizzles fit my mood and how I was feeling.  I thought the fresh air would help - but it didn't seem to be doing the trick.
Beautiful stained glass!
We got back on the bus and headed back to the hotel.  We had only about 30 minutes before it was time to jump back on and head to the Palace of Versailles.  The bus ride was uneventful - a nice quiet ride.  I was feeling better and excited to see the crazy extravagance that I had heard and read about my whole life.  I couldn't wait to see the art, the Hall of Mirrors, and the gardens!
This gate was just added in recent years - covered in gold leaf.  Millions of dollars worth!
We arrived at the Palace and stopped first in the cafeteria for lunch.  It was packed!  And very small.  The hubby and I got in line to get some lunch and the more I smelled and saw the food, the more I realized I wouldn't be eating anything.  I needed fresh air.  Once my hubby got his lunch (a tuna sandwich, I had a baguette and water), we went into the seating area only to find there were no seats left.  We ended up finding a place to sit on the floor in the hallway...  Yep.  The day was just getting better and better!

After a few sips of water and choking down a couple of bites of bread, I decided to walk down the hall to the restroom - a unisex, 2 stall bathroom - with several people waiting in line.  As I stood there, I realized things were worse than I thought.  I knew I was going to throw up!  Uh-oh!  I tried to inform the very large man in front of me that he should really let me go ahead - but he would have no sympathy...  I eyed his expensive leather shoes...  If I were to ruin them... I warned him!

I made it.  I got sick.  Very sick.  Gross.  But how many people do you know can say they threw up at the Palace of Versailles?!
The tour started shortly after. 

I tried to stay with the group - once again, we had the perfect tour guide with so many great stories.  I was so upset that I had to keep ducking out into the fresh air!  When we finally got to the gardens (which, in March are quite disappointing!), I simply pulled up another stone wall and breathed fresh air.  It's all I could handle.
I dozed most of the bus ride back to Paris.  When we got back to the hotel, I took a shower and put on my pjs... and went to bed.  It was late-afternoon.  My poor hubby decided to do a little exploring on his own that evening (and yes, I told him he should!  He didn't leave me willingly, but I thought it was pointless for him to waste his time in Paris in our hotel room!).  He walked the city and explored, people-watched, and found some dinner.  I watched CNN (the only channel in english), and slept. 

What a way to enjoy Paris, huh?
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