Parking it in Paris

The City of Romance.  I looked forward to coming here for a long time.  We’ve been to Sydney, to Beijing, to Antarctica – so imagine people’s surprise when they find out we’d never been to Paris!  It wasn’t for lack of trying.  We booked a trip seven years ago for our one year anniversary.  We chose an arrondissement (district) and found about a million activities we wanted to do.  And then in the news there were suddenly protests in Paris, fires in France.  (Maybe it was the other way around but this sounds better for all you alliteration lovers.)  When we called our airline and they were willing to REFUND our money, we knew it might be smart to take them up on it.  So instead, we discovered Bermuda that Fall, and Paris went back on the wish-list.  And with the price of the US dollar falling just as we started enjoying more traveling together, Europe kept getting pushed lower and lower on the priority list.

It’s now seven years later.  We made it to Paris.  I’m ecstatic!!!  Not about the things I thought I would be, though.  Seeing the Eiffel Tower was somehow amazing and underwhelming at the same time.  I thought it would be… *shinier*.  Why they have painted it brown and not silver I do not know.  I hope it is because brown was the original color, but I honestly have not researched it yet (note to self to do so).  The Eiffel Tower was in a beautiful, serene location, where people sit on the grass and relax, or walk their dog, or have a picnic, or run around playing catch.  This brings me to the best part about Paris, in my opinion: the parks!  But I’ll get back to that in a bit.

We never saw the inside of the Louvre.  We walked a long, long way to get there, saw a huge line, tried to find the other “shorter” lines in front of lesser-known entrances that supposedly exist, and eventually were told they do not exist (at least not when we are looking for them).  We were told to go back to the original entrance and line.  So we did – just in time to have it be closed off in front of us!  Who knew there was a maximum human capacity at the Louvre?  The place is so crazy big I’d think all the residents of Paris could fit in there with room to spare.  At least the outside was beautiful, and certainly worth the walk.  And hey, we managed to get some great photos where we’re touching the top of that pyramid!

The Arch de Triomphe is indeed enormous and… overarching, hee hee.  Not a disappointment at all, even though reading about it and seeing photos beforehand might have made me wonder if it was any more special than our beautiful arch in Valley Forge National Historical Park.  It is bigger – much bigger.  It wins in the size category.  It loses in the location category, being in the middle of many busy traffic roads and a circle.  (The Valley Forge arch is in a nice quiet location!)

Notre Dame is gorgeous, inside and outside.  Seeing Notre Dame was a bit overshadowed by the saga of getting there.  Beginning what we thought was an hour long walk, we were quickly tired and drained by the heat of the day.  My sweet husband slowed us down as he realized how pale I looked, until we noticed the time – and the fact that we had about 15 more minutes to get to the one tour of the day offered in English.  Fifteen more minutes of time until the tour, and at least another half hour to 45 minutes of walking.  Oops – I supposed we had underestimated the time to get there.  We started sprinting – and I can’t even begin to explain how awkward this was, carrying our bags, dressed in touring clothes, our bodies unused to any type of workout over the last month.  Hopefully no one had their video camera on the streets that day.  We managed to get to the cathedral just five minutes after the tour began, hot and sweaty and completely dehydrated – and then could not find the tour group.  No one who worked there seemed to know where the tour group would be five minutes after starting.  It only took asking three different employees to find out that the English tour had been canceled for the day.  No reason, just randomly… canceled.

Yes, Notre Dame is gorgeous, if not a little tougher to appreciate in all its glory, after a half hour of sprinting in the heat and in need a toilette (as they say in Europe).  Once inside, we were afraid to go back outside to use the only toilet for fear of having to wait in the 45 minute line to get back in!  We walked around, trying to take it all in, and lit a candle for Mom and Grandma.

Outside there was the Bird Lady.  In all my life and travel adventures I have never seen anything like her.  We were sitting eating some snacks outside of the cathedral, and I noticed a woman feeding the pigeons.  They loved her – they’d sit on her hands, her shoulder, her head!  And then I noticed she was giving others food to feed them.  She’d give someone some rice, they’d feed a pigeon, and then she’d coax the pigeon onto *their* hand or head.  I watched for a bit.  I looked to see when she was asking for the money, but couldn’t catch her in the act.  After another five minutes of watching, I looked around for the thugs pick-pocketing the tourists who were distracted, feeding and holding pigeons – and I could not find them.  After another ten minutes had passed, and my trained eyes could find nothing wrong with this seemingly odd situation, I jumped up exclaiming to Elliott that *I* wanted a pigeon on my head.  And that is exactly what I got.  I’m still not sure how to describe the feeling of a pigeon burrowing into your hair and scalp for every last grain of rice it can find.  It was…heavy.  And a little strange.  But kinda cool.

The Basilica of Sacre Coeur made up for everything we were unable to appreciate in Notre Dame (except for the photos(!), which you are not allowed to take in Sacre Coeur).  It is located on one of the highest points in the city, atop many hilly streets or even more steps, depending how you go.  Our first view of Sacre Coeur was at night, and boy were we in for a surprise.  Instead of a quiet, serene church, we found a happening social scene on the steps in front of the church!  Our couch-surfing host explained that the locals love to hang out here, socializing, playing music, sometimes drinking.  The church is so high in the city that it makes a perfect base for taking photos of some gorgeous views in Paris.

The next morning we walked back on our own and we were able to explore the inside of the church.  Filled with high domes and mosaics everywhere, it was breathtaking.  The stained glass windows were less-detailed than those in Notre Dame but still note-worthy.  I was taken aback by the beauty of this place, and lighting another candle for Mom and Grandma made us so happy.  No photos or videos could do it justice in my opinion.  That being said, if you would like to see some of the inside of this beautiful building, you can watch the video at this link.  Photos of the inside start at about 3 minutes into the video, and you can see some of the mosaic work at 4:53.

http://sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/us/basilique.html

Earlier I mentioned that the parks in Paris were my favorite thing.  They were amazing and everywhere you looked (and didn’t look), filled with grass, trees, flowers, statues and fountains.  Paris is very big on fountains and parks with water, which I just LOVED.  There was the grassy park around the Eiffel Tower where we sat and relaxed after climbing the tower.  The gorgeous and famous Jardins de Tuileries filled with flowers, fountains, sculptures and benches and chairs (and tourists if you don’t time it just right in the summer).  There was a little park near our first host filled with little teepees and a floral Tour Eiffel and other designs made out of flowers.  Elliott took some photos of me in front of the gorgeous rose bushes in that park.  There was the park that houses the Pere-Lechaise Cemetery, the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever visited, filled with trees that are hundreds of years old (more on this cemetery to come in another post).    An old railroad bridge converted into a park near our second host with multiple levels of flower beds, graffiti-ed statues, and kids playing in the grass.  The park where we walked our second host’s dog with a huge pool of water spilling down a wide flight of steps and all the cool cultural statues representing people from different parts of the world.  And there was Disneyland Paris (ha ha, maybe that doesn’t count).

On our last day in Paris we returned to Notre Dame from the back side, in order to look for the famous flying buttresses we had missed the first time.  We discovered something more – a tiny, beautiful park tucked behind the cathedral that no one seems to know about.  There was a swing, a jungle gym of sorts, and something we call a tilty wheel.  The tilty wheel is a large metal plate that is titlted and spins around, so when multiple people sit on it and you get it spinning, it can spin perpetually with no outside help if weighted just right.  Why don’t they have these at home?  We played on the swing and spun around on the tilted wheel with people from all over the world, speaking a silent giddy language to one another that transcends even English.  We admired the beautiful trees and flowers and felt as if we had just been let in on one of the best Paris secrets that few tourists ever learn.  It will live on as one of my favorite Paris memories.

…..

The note to self just won out and I googled, “Why is the Eiffel tower brown?” and here is what I found:

The tower has in the past been painted red, orange and yellow. It’s maintained a signature brown color, which overseers say best accents the Paris skyline, since 1968.

Hmmm.  I still think it would look shinier in silver.

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