London bound

A quick post because I am leaving in approximately two minutes for Gare du Nord–but I’m off to London this weekend!  I wish Kate could have held on a liiiitle longer so I could have been there when HRH George of Cambridge was born, but still excited to see and do all things London.

We are taking our usual line, RER B, to Gare du Nord, a major train station in Paris, then the Eurostar through the Chunnel to London’s St. Pancras’ Station.  I hope our travels go a lot smoother than they did in Rome, but even if we have a few bumps in the road I am still incredibly excited (and still in disbelief) that I’ll be seeing Big Ben, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, and so many other famous places.

Cheerio! (being a mega dork right now, but ah well 🙂 )

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Pont des Arts

Paris is famous for the “lock bridges” where you write the initials of you and your significant other on a lock and put it on the bridge to signify your lasting love.

However, when we were exploring the city the first week, I realized that there is more than one lock bridge–there is a small one to the east of Notre Dame and another further west, by the Louvre.  The one by the Louvre is called Pont des Arts and is a footbridge and the “original” lock bridge.

I have tried looking up legends about what the Paris lock bridge started by it seems to be a trend started either in Italy or Serbia and then it spread to other European cities.  This article describes how a young Serbian couple pledged their love on a bridge (in Serbia, not Paris) before WWI but then he married someone else when he was off fighting.  This legend is sad and unfortunate so I hope I can find a more optimistic Parisian legend tied to Pont des Arts.

I knew about the bridge before leaving so I planned ahead and bought a lock that I planned to write my boyfriend, Marty’s, and my initials on.  I didn’t get the throw-the-key-in-the-Seine memo, but figured a combination lock still serves the purpose.

While the French police are said to cut down locks every so often, there was not a lot of places to put it directly on the bridge, rather than attach it to another lock already on the bridge.  I found a little spot on the east side facing Notre Dame–you can’t see our initials from the angle, but I liked the spot a lot.

Our lock is the black combination one
Our lock is the black combination one
The amazing view from our lock's spot on the Pont des Arts
The amazing view from our lock’s spot on the Pont des Arts

Invalides

Invalides isn’t one of the most well-known Paris monuments, but I think it should be.  Louix XIV built it as a hospital for war veterans in the 17th century and it is now used as a war museum and is the final resting place of Napoleon.

the famous gold dome of Invalides
the famous gold dome of Invalides

We toured the World Wars and Charles de Gaulle exhibits, both of which were very interesting and made use of multimedia to explain their subject.  I have always liked learning about the World Wars and it was different to hear it from a European, not US, perspective.  It really put into perspective just how damaged and vulnerable the countries were after WWI and how they directly contributed to WWII.

a model of the trenches in WWI
a model of the trenches in WWI
It was chilling knowing that an actual Nazi once wore that uniform
It was chilling knowing that an actual Nazi once wore that uniform

 

The Charles de Gaulle exhibit opened in 2008 and has interactive screens and information projected on the walls.  Your headphones picked up the audio of a video you were within the sensor area for so you could wander the rooms and watch videos in topics in de Gaulle’s life that you found interesting.

The Charles de Gaulle exhibit
The Charles de Gaulle exhibit

Napoleon’s tomb is in the tomb of Invalides, and while I had a general idea of what it looked like I was surprised by its design.  His tomb is on a platform on the bottom floor, so when you walk in the main entrance you are actually looking down at it.  It also is a simple (albeit large) coffin without the ornamentation or grandeur that is characteristic of him.

Also, a random historical tidbit I learned today from Prof. Savage–Napoleon may not have actually been very short (I read that he was 5’2″, which is my height, so I was very excited).  He was just self-conscious of his stature and the papers of the time made fun of him in political cartoons about it.

Napoleon's tomb.  The names that surround it on the floor are names of his battles
Napoleon’s tomb. The names that surround it on the floor are names of his battles

Wine Tasting

It is very nice to be legally allowed to drink in Europe (I am 10 months short of being legal in the US) but the main reason is not because you can drink when you go out to bars or clubs (where shots are 5 euro and mixed drinks upwards of 10 euro, so they tend to dent your wallet).  It’s a refreshing change to be able to get a glass of wine with dinner or buy a bottle of wine at the food store to enjoy while picnicking.*

We decided to sign up for a wine tasting at Ô Chateau because none of us had a background in wine, it was a good price, and it came with a rousing recommendation from Emily, who went to the same place with her mom before our program began.  Ô Chateau and our sommelier were great and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting Paris–no matter your background, you can learn a lot and have fun in their beautiful restaurant.

The beautiful room where we had our wine tasting
The beautiful room where we had our wine tasting

My knowledge of wine consisted of a) there is red and white, and b) I generally prefer white, before going to the wine tasting. For 45 euro, we had a two hour wine tasting of one champagne, two whites, and three reds.  We also had a cheese platter to split between the three of us.

I learned a lot about wine (including why people swirl wine) and reaffirmed my preference for whites.  I also learned about the different wine regions of France and how to read a wine label.  I am by no means an expert now, but I now have a foundation in wine knowledge and can now swirl my wine and know what I’m looking for.

Cheese and wine, two of my favorite things
Cheese and wine, two of my favorite things
Becca and I at the wine tasting!
Becca and I at the wine tasting!

*Europe doesn’t have open bottle laws, so you can drink champagne while sitting underneath the Eiffel Tower or have wine at night in front of the Trevi Fountain without legal consequences, both of which I have enjoyed immensely.

Thunderstorms & Bakeries

We have moved into the Belle Epoque era (late 1800s) and 20th century this week.  The 20th century was very turbulent for France, with two world wars fought on their soil, a Nazi occupation to go with that, a threat of communism, and issues with colonial Algeria.

On Tuesday we had a lecture in the morning in the park across the street from the Cite Universitaire–a stone’s throw from our window (but not if I’m throwing, I have a horrible arm).  It was a relaxing way to start the day and it was capped off by a great lunch in the nearby Port d’Orleans.  We ate at a restaurant called Paris Eclair and I had the entree du jour and plat du jour, which were artichoke hearts in oil and turkey on a skewer with rice and salad, topped off with a glass of vin Muscadet.

There was a bakery (my favorite place) right next door so I picked up a framboise macaron (raspberry macaroon) and a double layer eclair type of thing.  I was happy and dandy and all smiles until we turned to leave and a torrential thunderstorm started.  We had to make a mad dash to the tram stop and then from the tram stop to the Canada House, but we were still soaked.

Two very, very wet girls after getting caught in a thunderstorm
Two very, very wet girls after getting caught in a thunderstorm
Thankfully my bakery goodies didn't get too wet (the raspberry macaroon was too good to wait to taste until after the picture)
Thankfully my bakery goodies didn’t get too wet (the raspberry macaroon was too good to wait to taste until after the picture)

The one good thing about the thunderstorm was that it helped cool down the weather–it’s been in the 90s during the day and still at night, which makes for an uncomfortable night sleeping in an non-air conditioned room.

After peeling off our soggy clothes, we were off to the Pavillon de l’Arsenal, which has a really cool urban planning exhibit.  They have a timeline of Paris’ development along the walls and scale models of the city.  The most exciting part of the museum was a huge screen that had a panel from which you could zoom over parts of the city to see what architecture and development plans are going to happen in the next 10+ years.  It was very high definition and was really interesting to see how Paris is combining its rich history and historical buildings with eco-friendly and modern designed buildings of today.

a photo of one of the original Metro stops, created in the Art Noveau style
a photo of one of the original Metro stops, created in the Art Noveau style
the amazing interactive screen of Paris
the amazing interactive screen of Paris
a scale model of the city
a scale model of the city looking from the southwest

Pere Lachaise and some Monday exploring

We didn’t have to meet until 1 p.m. on Monday for class, so Emily and I explored around the Tuileries Gardens and Place Vendome in the morning.  I couldn’t find a good diagram on the internet to show it, but the Louvre, Tuileries Gardens, and Place de la Concorde (where the Egyptian obelisk is and where the guillotine was) all line up along the Seine, with the Place Vendome next to the end of the Tuieleries.  The Eiffel Tower is a bit farther down the Seine and the Musee d’Orsay is directly across the river bank, so this area is very beautiful and offers a great view of many of the city’s sights.  

The Place de la Concorde is an square with a monument to Napoleon’s conquests in the middle.  Stores like Dior and Chanel line the edge, so unfortunately all I could afford was to window shop.  Most prices were not marked, but the ones that were had 5 digits, so I can’t imagine how much the unmarked prices were.  

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I absolutely loved the blue earrings in this store's window.
I absolutely loved the blue earrings in this store’s window.
When I'm a eccentric old rich lady I want a flamingo ring like that
When I’m a eccentric old rich lady I want a flamingo ring like that.

We went to a cafe for breakfast, and their fixed menu included a croissant, bread with butter, espresso, and lemon press (all for 8,50 euro!).  I hadn’t heard of a lemon press before, but it’s lemon juice or concentrate in a glass and you can add water and sugar to taste.  It was a more authentic lemonade and was really tasty.  

For class we visited Père Lachaise cemetery (pronounced pair la-shez), which is the biggest cemetery in Paris.  It was started in the 1800s as a nondenominational, cross-class burial place because the church graveyards were getting too crowded.  It was placed in the eastern end of the city because the wealthy didn’t want it in the center of Paris near them (how nice).  

The cemetery is huge and is the final resting place of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Jacques Louis David (my favorite!), Gertrude Stein, Baron Haussman, and countless other famous French people (and some non-French, like Jim Morrison).  We had two scavenger hunts to complete but with the immensely hot weather and size of the cemetery it took us longer than expected and we missed the graves of Oscar Wilde and Jacques Louis David, who were my top two to see.  

The grave of Abelard and Heloise, medieval lovers who had a tragic end.  Abelard established the Sorbonne.
The grave of Abelard and Heloise, medieval lovers who had a tragic end. Abelard established the Sorbonne.
Jim Morrison's (of the Doors) grave
Jim Morrison’s (of the Doors) grave
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One of the windy roads of Pére Lachaise

After we were done with class I was not feeling well from the heat and past crangry (our group likes to mix hungry and whatever emotion we are in, so tired + hungry = tungry, grumpy + hungry = grungry, etc., so I was cranky + hungry).  We went to Chatelet, which is in more of the center of the city, and ate at a cafe. 

Afterwards, we explored some stores on the Rue de Rivoli and then read in the Tuileries Gardens.  It was 9 p.m. and the sun was just beginning to set, which made for some pretty pictures.  

A wing of the Louvre as seen from the Tuileries Gardens.  The Eiffel Tower is in the right but you can't see it with the sun.
A wing of the Louvre as seen from the Tuileries Gardens. The Eiffel Tower is in the right but you can’t see it with the sun.
The Tuileries Gardens and a view of the buildings and stores along Rue de Rivoli
The Tuileries Gardens and a view of the buildings and stores along Rue de Rivoli
Sunset in the Tuileries
Sunset in the Tuileries
Sunset along the Rue de Rivoli looking towards the Place de la Concorde
Sunset along the Rue de Rivoli looking towards the Place de la Concorde

Tour de France

I’ll admit it–I wasn’t overly excited to see the Tour de France.  I don’t know much about cycling and was planning to travel this weekend (the plans fell through), and only went because I could say I was in Paris when the Tour de France finished.

My indifference proved me wrong.  Despite crowds and a long time waiting, it was amazing* to see the hundred bikers fly past us.  I don’t know how fast they actually move, but if you look straight ahead of you and are in the front row (which I was for a brief time) they all pass in a blur.

There are some life lessons to be learned from going to the Tour de France (or any major non-ticketed event with crowds)–arrive early and be patient.  Emily, Pat, and I left the Cite Universitaire around 5 p.m. to make our way to the Tuileries Gardens, which the cyclists lap ten times.  We found a spot against the railing less than half a block away from the edge of the Tuileries Gardens and across from the Louvre so we figured it was pretty good to see the cyclists.  They passed directly in front of us during their first lap in the city, but after that a new barricade was put up so we had to find a spot across from the Tuileries Gardens. A handful of people trickled out throughout the next few laps so we were able to inch towards the front until I got a coveted railing spot.  With six laps left, we were able to watch the cyclists from our hard-earned prime spot.    

About two hours before the cyclists came through a caravan of float like cars came by advertising products and stores.  These were some of my favorites:

Male dancers on a detergent float..
Male dancers on a detergent float..
it must be tough to be upside down for so long
it must be tough to be upside down for so long
the water bottle mobile!
the water bottle mobile!

We also met a girl from Malaysia who is interning in Paris and came to the race by herself.  Her family and boyfriend are in Malaysia, so she said she’s been lonely and explores the city by herself on the weekend.  She joined our group and was a lot more knowledgable about cycling than Emily, Pat, or I so she helped lots.  She was really sweet and it was nice to meet an international student. 

 

Our group taking a gloating selfie because we got to the front row. From left -> right--me, Pat, our Malaysian friend whose name I forget, and Emily.
Our group taking a gloating selfie because we got to the front row. From left -> right–me, Pat, our Malaysian friend whose name I forget, and Emily.

 

And of course, some pictures of the cyclists coming through and other pictures from the race: 

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*I feel like the two most words on my blog are incredible and amazing.  I should really expand my vocabulary or be more descriptive about Europe.

Musee d’Orsay and the Eiffel Tower

I have been a bit behind on my blogging and that’s due to some combination of being busy, laziness, and writer’s block.  With a busy schedule and inconsistent Wi-Fi, it’s hard to write everyday and also to write about everything that happens–I realized I still haven’t written about amazing stores I went to in Rome, how annoying the pick-pocketing gypsies are, or how I had French fondue last weekend.

Maybe I’ll have time when I get home to think back over this amazing and jam-packed four weeks and post about some things I forgot to write about, but for now I’m going to cover as much as I can whenever I can.

Which brings us to the end of week three–notably the Musee d’Orsay and going to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

While I love art from all periods and cultures, Impressionism is probably overall my favorite movement, so I was very excited to visit the Musee d’Orsay, which was built in an old train station and has works from the 19th century.  I saw works from Cezanne, Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir, but I didn’t have quite as incredible an experience as I had at the Louvre because we had to follow a tour guide rather than move through the galleries at our own pace while doing a scavenger hunt.  I wasn’t able to stand in front of some of my favorite works or see some of them close-up, so I may try to go back to the museum if I have time.

The Musee d’Orsay also has a strict no cameras or phones rule, which helped quell would-be obnoxious crowds but also was a little frustrating because I like being able to remember the size and scale of paintings.  I did buy myself the museum guide so I would have a list of the works that are in the museum.

The one picture I was able to snag in Musee d'Orsay.  This is the clock and iron and glass ceiling of the train station-turned-museum.
The one picture I was able to snag in Musee d’Orsay. This is the clock and iron and glass ceiling of the train station-turned-museum.

After Musee d’Orsay we went to Montmartre and climbed Sacre Couer (some reactions from which you can read here) and explored the neighborhood a bit.  It’s very different from the rest of the city–it was essentially untouched by Haussman-ization, so the the streets are winding and it has an artsy feel.  It was once the stomping grounds of Renoir, Picasso, and (briefly) Van Gogh.

We also went to a French restaurant for a group dinner that was a bit fancier than our usual.  While I have loved trying French food, I felt a little out of my element with things like duck and escargot on the menu.  I wimped out and ordered an appetizer (entree in French)  that I wasn’t really sure what it was–pâté–and beef stew for my main course.

Turns out that pâté may contain liver depending on what type it is (when I received it I couldn’t remember what the menu said) and even though I had already eaten half of it, I couldn’t finish it.  I was slightly ashamed at my American palette that I couldn’t branch out more, but c’est la vie I suppose.

We then saw “How to be a Parisian in One Hour,” which was very funny and lots of jokes about American mannerisms versus Parisian mannerisms.  According to the show, we are more friendly but also more in a rush than Parisians.

On Thursday we had a behind the scenes tour of the Eiffel Tower and went to the top.  I had no idea that there were service tunnels under the Champs du Mars that have storage for the restaurants on the tower and a safe area for the president in case of national emergency.  We were able to walk into the tunnels a little bit and then we went up into the tower.  While we have many aerial views of Paris during this trip, the view was absolutely incredible.  It was also a lot windier as you got to the 2nd level and the top, which was a nice relief on the 90 degree day.

It was so peaceful watching the city from 1,000 feet that I could have stood there all day and looked out over Paris (if the champagne was less than 12 euro a glass, I may have).

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Liz, Becca and I on top of the Eiffel Tower
Liz, Becca and I on top of the Eiffel Tower

We went to 58 Tour Eiffel, which is on the first level, for lunch after going up.  It may be my favorite meal in Paris so far.  The food was delicous and served in mason jars.  The main course came in a pyrex dish with lid, but was still amazing. The entree was fresh mozzerella in a glass with vegetables in a red sauce underneath.  I had roasted chicken with mashed potatoes for my main course and fromage blanc avec fruits rouges for dessert (white cheese with red berries).  I was so hungry that I didn’t have a chance to take pictures of the food, and I wish I did because the presentation was so cool.

We were then free for the weekend, and a few of us went shopping in the area across the Seine and a bit to the South.  I bought myself a white tunic shirt (which I am actually wearing today) and navy sweater for 70% off.  I really am enjoying these government-issued sales, or soldes.

On the agenda for the weekend is very little–hopefully some exploring and then the Tour de France comes in Sunday evening.

The Lehigh Complex

There are probably several complexes that this could refer to, including preppiness and drinking.  However, I am referring to the stairs complex. Since Lehigh is built on the side of a mountain, there are many stairs.  As such, Lehigh students think that they can conquer any staircase that appears in front of them.  Not only this, they feel the need to show off while doing it.  I definitely have this complex, and when at the mall or elsewhere at home, I make sure to take the stairs, all the while while bragging how the staircase does not have the same depth/height/pattern difficulty that Lehigh stairs have.

Why this odd anecdote?  Because Europe, you have won the stairs war.  Despite my background in the fine art of stair climbing, you have won.  I am humbled and defeated.  My quads may be in better shape than ever before, but my spirit and bravado are crushed. It seems to go that if something is worth seeing or there is a great view involved, there is most certainly an old, stone spiral staircase also involved. On the list of things I have climbed in Europe:

  • Notre Dame
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Tour Jeans san Peur (a medieval castle in Paris)
  • the Spanish Steps in Rome
  • run up and down the stairs of the Louvre several times looking for my favorite paintings
  • and most recently, Sacre Couer (or Sacred Heart, a church on the top of Montmartre)

But while the trek up these spiral staircases is exhausting, the views are well worth it.  Also, I’ve noticed that compared to views I’ve had in the US where I’ve gone up in an elevator (like the view from the Empire State Building or Gateway Arch in St. Louis) the views in Europe are great because I feel like I’ve earned it.  My calf muscle may be twitching and water bottle be empty, but you walked every step to earn that view.

They are truly incredible views–I’ve now seen the city of Paris from most directions, and still cannot grasp how beautiful it is.  The Haussman-era apartment buildings are short enough so that you can see all of the monuments in between.  It’s also easier to see how the city is laid out.  I try to keep track of where we are so I can better navigate the city, but sometimes it’s hard to remember where things are relative to each other and the Seine.

It’s also incredibly peaceful when on top of the Eiffel Tower or other monument (that is, once you find a spot along the railing and don’t have to push through other tourists).

The view from Champs Èlysees
The view of Champs Èlysees from the Arc de Triomphe

 

The view from Sacre Couer, on top of Montmartre.  You can see the Eiffel Tower through the haze
The view from Sacre Couer, on top of Montmartre. You can see the Eiffel Tower through the haze.

 

One of the views from the top of the Eiffel Tower.  The Champs du Mar is in the right foreground.  Invalides is the gold dome in the center and Notre Dame is somewhere in the background.
One of the views from the top of the Eiffel Tower. The Champs du Mar is in the right foreground. Invalides is the gold dome in the center and Notre Dame is somewhere in the background.

 

Week 3 (already)

I was so concentrated on all of the great things that we did last week, including the Louvre and Versailles that I didn’t even think about all of the great things that we’re doing this week.  Here’s the rundown:

Monday–tour and climb the Arc de Triomphe, walking tour of Baron Haussman’s developments, tour of Paris Perfume Museum, tour of Garnier Opera House (of Phantom of the Opera fame)

Tuesday-tour of catacombs, lunch around Luxembourg Gardens, tour Pantheon

Wednesday-go to Musee d’Orsay, Museum of Montmartre, tour and climb Sacrè Coeur, dinner at Restaurant Ancien Chartier, go to theater performance of “How to be a Parisian in One Hour”

Thursday-tour of Eiffel Tower and lunch at its restaurant

…whew.  It’s been a great week so far and I’m behind in my blogging because they have been long days and we had a quiz yesterday that I had to prepare for.  So here comes a mega post with everything from Monday and Tuesday.

The Arc de Triomphe stands on the Champs Èlysèes and was commissioned by Napoleon to honor his military victories. The walk to the top is less than 150 stairs, so it is not the highest thing we’ve climbed by far (stairs are a common theme in Europe) but the soreness has really set in, making it harder than I thought it would be.

The views from the top rival Notre Dame.  You can really understand Haussman’s characteristics of a wide boulevard lined with trees and cutting through the city when you have an aerial view of Champs Èlysèes.  To our left and the north was Montmartre and Sacrè Coeur, directly in front of us was Notre Dame and the spire of Saint Chapelle, and to our right was the majestic Tour Eiffel (you can see my panorama of the view here)

Posing on top of the Arc de Triomphe
Posing on top of the Arc de Triomphe

We also visited Fragonard’s perfume factory, which give tours.  We sadly could not take pictures inside, but it is in a Haussman-era building and is decorated in classic 19th-century France decor.  I learned a lot about the process when the essences are extracted from the flowers and the history of perfume, like that it was originally for religious purposes.  We also got to do a scent test (I got all but 1 right) and sample some of the company’s perfumes.  I splurged and bought myself some perfume since we are in the perfume capital of the world and all.

We then visited the famous Garnier Opera House, which holds nothing back in terms of opulence and decoration.  The late 1800s theater is absolutely beautiful and reveals a lot about society in the period, especially between classes (i.e. the poor came in the front door and wealthy a side door because their carriages could pull right up to the door so they would not get wet if it rained).

The grand staircase of the Opera House
The grand staircase of the Opera House
The Phantom of the Opera's booth
The Phantom of the Opera’s booth
Our group at the Opera House
Our group at the Opera House
a view of the magnificent theater
a view of the magnificent theater

On Tuesday we toured the catacombs, where the Parisians buried the dead (or moved them there) when cemeteries started overflowing.  I’ve gone into caverns before so I wasn’t worried about going underground.  I also didn’t think that the bones would bother me, but I was wrong.

After learning about the geology of Paris we entered the ossuary (catacombs).  Let’s just say it was interesting for the first five feet, then not so much anymore.  I wasn’t scared, but the stacks of femurs, skulls, and other bones were very unsettling.  They go about 5-6 feet high and several meters back (in some places, up to 30 meters deep).  I couldn’t get it out of my head that these were real people that walked the earth.  With the ceiling dripping on me occasionally and the cold temperatures down there, it was an unpleasant and unsettling experience and I was glad to get to ground.  I am still glad that I saw the famed catacombs, but it’s an experience I would prefer not to repeat.

The very ominous catacombs
The very ominous catacombs

We visited the Pantheon after lunch.  We could not go to the top because there are extensive renovations, but we could tour the interior, which is in beautiful classical style, and the crypt underneath.  The building was commissioned by Louis XV as a church in honor of Saint Genevieve but after the Revolution it was renovated to honor France’s great men (and some great women too).  Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Rousseau, and Voltaire, among many others, are buried downstairs.

Victor Hugo's grave
Victor Hugo’s grave