Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Week Forty-Seven One Half: Day Three: The trip home, Thoughts on Paris

This time, the trip through the countryside was conducted in daylight hours, and it was as green and beautiful as promised. When I say green, I don't mean green forest mind, but rolling green hills. This was a bright and lovely green indeed. It figures, of course, the sun would finally shine on our way out!

There wasn't honestly much to see however. Most of France lives in Paris, and those that don't tend to live in either the suburbs of Paris, or on farms. There is, according to our guide, very little else.

There was, at this one odd point, evenly space tie dye balls on wire on one side of the road, and tie dye blocks set into the opposite hill. I was both amused and curious, but the guide didn't know, so no answer there. Still, it was interesting, and they had obviously been there awhile, so maybe one day I'll find out.

That's essentially why I can include both halves here.

Paris was a beautiful, city, even without the sun shining on it, and at the tale end of winter. It was still chilly enough to need my winter coat at points, but still very nice. They are an active city, from what I saw, and while not as bike friendly as Amsterdam, there were still rental bike stands in several places, and I think it may be rental bikes, rather than owning a bike, which is preferred.

Most of the city, thanks to careful planning, is not what we might consider a tall city, but it is certainly a sprawling city, as far as I could see from the Eiffel Tower. I don't recall seeing an end in sight! Though, of course, there are many suburbs nearby as well, including Versailles.

There is so much to see in Paris that you could live there a year and not see half of it. So much history, so much beauty!

However, it is a pricey city to visit. When it comes to souvenirs, don't count on spending less than 5 Euro, unless you want a 2 Euro postcard. The Louvre, and the illegal and frighteningly persistent souvenir hawkers, offer decent souvenirs at decent prices, but that's about it.

The beautiful city does have it's downsides though. Streets are often narrow, as are most streets in Europe, and traffic is a beast. Public transportation seemed decent enough however, and if visiting, you might be able to get around on that, to be certain. The guide seemed to think so at least!

The people in Paris were polite, but very firm in things being in a particular order. They were not, as a rule, loud, or very friendly, but they were certainly polite, and understanding. At the tourist locations, someone who works there will speak rudimentary English, though this isn't guaranteed at any restaurants, where they likely won't. Or may pretend not to.

As for shopping in Paris. Call me when you're rich baby. The prices are exorbitant anywhere you are likely to find. I'm sure at the 'local' places prices are decent, but elsewise? Yeah not so much. However you are certain to find brand name and one of a kind pieces of fashion that you won't get anywhere else.

The graffiti though! Bleck! Argh! Yuck! Name, name, name, name, name, name, names! Everywhere names. Here a name there a name, every where you look a name! Of non-name graffiti I saw...a fire hydrant, Bart Simpson, and a series of pictures on utility boxes. The utility box pictures were the best, the fire hydrant cute and cartoon-y, and Bart was, in fake a near perfect likeness. Other than that, I saw stenciled graffiti, and names. Everywhere.

I understand you can make your name as bubbly as a hyperactive sixth grader who just discovered the art of bubble letters, and you can add stars, stripes and what have you, but...


I suppose it is artistic, but it's also narcissistic.

One Girl's Byte: Pickiest Graffiti Connoisseur on Earth: Found Right Here!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Week Forty Seven: The Louvre!

Day Three: The Louvre

And now, finally the big one, the visit I wanted, no needed to see above all.

The Louvre.

According to our guide, the museum is so large that in order to see ever painting for ten seconds (only the paintings on displays, not including the displays, artifacts, or sculptures by the way.) it would take you four straight days. I had three hours. I needed a plan.

A game plan, right! Bottom floor first, zoom to see Michelangelo's Captive Slave and to see Eros and Psyche. I had a map, I was well armed, and I knew what I was doing. I stepped inside and....okay, how do I get in again?


It was a bit confusing on how to even enter the museum. You see, there are multiple entrances. I went in the Richelieu one and became, promptly, lost. Ah crab apples. Yep. Once I finally figured out how to get inside the place, I began the quest of the century. Take in as much as possible while hitting the major highlights. I could do this!

And I became lost again, somewhere around the Grecian sculptures. Whoops. Did I mention my lack of a sense of direction entirely? Because it was not paying off here.

However, I am not a man, and I can ask for directions! Which I promptly did. I managed to see it all, starting with the important Ramses II sculpture in the Ancient Egyptian permanent collection.

If you don't know, Ancient Egypt holds a special place in my heart. By this I mean I went on an ancient Egypt bender in middle school and so know enough about it that I do love it so. So getting to see the artwork and the hieroglyphics from that time period was pretty much a dream come true. I was all kinds of in awe over pretty much everything in it. The ancient Egyptians apparently had this thing with the colors Red and blue. by blue I meant neon blue by the way.

I managed to stumble into the Hallo of Apollo which houses the French crown jewels. The are just oh so tacky. Well, three crowns, a sword, and several broaches are here and they are just not as tasteful as the british crown jewels currently are.

More beautiful and interesting are the portraits that line the hall. These aren't painting up there by the way. In this relatively dim all the portraits that line every the place are made of elaborate tapestries. From the ground you can just see the weave. It's all so absolutely beautiful. It's all men of course, all around the sameish time period and all very serious and solemn. Still.

From here I got very thoroughly lost again, until I managed to figure out where I was. I now had a new orientation. The Winged Victory of Samothrace, a headless armless statute of a woman with wings on the prow of a boat. He hand, by the way, it kept in a display case nearby. Much like my father's hand, only one finger remains on it. It's even the same finger, I think. Hard to tell with a complete lack of reference points on the very old hand.

I was looking for the Code of Hammurabi. This historic column contains the first know legal system including the penalties, and is absolutely famous. It didn't have nearly enough gawkers at it, and I nearly passed it up. That's how you find famous things in the Louvre by the way. You look for the crowd.

I did manage to find it though, and took several pictures. From there, I found my way back to the Winged Victory (a centalish location by the way) and went on to see the great, the magnificent, the not so very large and oh so very super crowded Mona Lisa. Using my mighty powers of shortness, I managed to get in deep the crowd, so I only had one layer of people between me and my quarry.

I, however, had a rotating view screen on my camcorder, and all I had to do was hold it up high and suddenly, I could see once more! Let there be sight! It's always amazing to see famous paintings up close. However, on my winding route to try and find Michelangelo's Captive Slave (which, despite being first, proved hardest to find) I found a painting on loan from London.

Because it was a temporary exhibit, we weren't able to take pictures, however I do believe I shall remember L'execution de Lady Jane Grey for a very long time. The lighting there highlighted the pure white of Lady Grey perfectly, her attendant faint nearby as, blindfolded, the Lady accepted her grim fate.

This is a beautiful painting, and I admit I stopped to admire it as I could. It left me near breathless. Ah, if only I had been allowed to take a picture of this beauty. Still, after pausing to swoon over the painting (I completely forgot to get the artist's name, so enamored was I of the painting itself) I had to regretfully move on. There is more to the Louvre than just one painting after all.

I did find the Venus de Milo, which, if you don't know, if the armless statue of a chick that finds its way into everything from cartoons to pop culture. There was also this giant statue of Ares with one arm lifts up, and the other palm side up, outstretched as if in offering. Considering this if the Greek god of war, I advise you not to take the hand.

Then I found myself suddenly in the Ancient Egyptian exhibit, which made me all too happy. They had a Sphinx, and of course hieroglyphics were everywhere, and of course there was the Ramses II statue of which I had to take a picture. I can't forget the stone of hieroglyphics half drawn, half chiseled that I imagine must have been a work in progress forever frozen in such a state, and a burial mask. There was a sheet of papyrus, and musical instruments (some of which looked familiar), a makeup case, with containers, all long empty. So many artifacts.

I can't help but wonder, thousands of years from now, will there be museums dedicated to the artifacts of our civilization (which, we must be honest, will no last forever). Will there be old print books on display, crumbling aged wedding dressed, photographs and paintings of modern art? Will shirts from Walmart be on display, and there be an entire exhibit dedicated to, of all things, the Simpsons in their multimedia prevalence? Will our curtains hang in a future museum, or piece of out buildings, models of famous buildings, be on display?

I don't know. We're hardly an interesting exhibit, at this first decade of the millennium. Perhaps our second decade will be more interesting. Then again, they could always place things from the sixties next to things from the nineties as an example of our culture. Imagine a hippie VW bus placed next to the Android statue.

Ah, but back to the now, and not to the future. The Louvre.

Apparently, the ancient Egyptians had some sort of zodiac as well, and there was this zodiac wheel, no joke, on the ceiling. It was hard to manage a picture of this at all!

I will say, that from their exhibit of Ancient Egyptian artifacts, blues, green, and reds were definitely preferred colors. Teals were there a lot as well, on statues, bowls and the like.

As I continued on, I must remind myself to look up. Why? Well, if you look up, you can see a painting of France and Egypt's relationship, which is, of course, a good one historically. I say this because there was a very clear painting on the ceiling of the Louvre (at one time a palace, which must be remembered) of an Egyptian ruler, the spirit of France, and several angels. Only the ruler was a female, and not very Cleopatra-ish, so I am assuming that this is the spirit of Egypt.

It was rather on the ceiling, so hardly had a plaque explaining which is what. Suddenly, after exiting this very Egyptian themed room, I find myself in a room of Grecian artifacts, such as jewelry and the like, then back to a central location, where, no joke, I got to see a restoration area for many of the artifacts, though it was not currently in use. I still took pictures.

Now I didn't take my Mona Lisa pictures very well the first time through. It was hard to press in. But when I found myself back in that area, I decided to take my time through this long hall of paintings, examining many of them with the occasional statue to look at. This time through, I managed to get decent pictures, and it was much nicer. I was, at this point, more interested in other painting though, such as a giant one that depicted the fall of Lucifer, and several of the Madonna and child,and the St. Stephen.

There was also this set of portraits of two women who looked almost exactly alike. They were apparently mother and daughter, as a nearby tour guide explained, and the differences were clear in age by the amount of skin showing. That is to say, Mother had the skin of her arms showing while Daughter wore long gloves to hide this.

I suppose I should mention something I found odd. In the Palace of Versailles there were large paintings adorning the walls. In the Louvre, there were, no joke, the exact same paintings, on a slightly different scale, with every detail the same. It wasn't even a mockery. Both were about the coronation of Napoleon, apparently, but both involved him crowning a woman, who I will assume if his wife. This isn't the only duplicate.


However, I ust move on from this conundrum to another curiosity. A painting of Selene and Endymion. This was, by the way, the Roman moon goddess and a shepherd boy so handsome she believed herself in love with him. He was put into an eternal sleep however, and it's a rather sad tale in all.

As I continued my whirlwind self guided (lost again) tour I was forced to pause in utter confusion at the sight of a man's head on a platter. Like one you'd display a cake on, and no that isn't a joke. I suppose there's a reason for the idiom "head on a platter" after all. Paintings. Who knew.

I don't think I want to know the story for that one.

Of course, there was also a painting of David and Goliath which took me a moment to recognize. Then, finally, I found my way to what was supposed to be the first stop, Michelangelo's Captive slave!

Okay, dude. You don't look like a captive slave to me, unless it's a captive slave to love. Seriously Michelangelo. That expression, and it looks like he's removing his shirt. There had to be context I do not know here. There just has to be.

Well, I was in the Greek sculptures area again (there's like three of those by the way. At least) admiring the artwork of talented men and probably talented women, when I say something that I had to get a close up of. But I couldn't get close enough, due to a tour group surrounding it, so meanders around, taking pictures until I could.

There's one of a guy who's slayed a dragon. Now these are Greek sculptures, so it isn't Saint George. Any ideas? There's also one of a veiled woman, and one of a woman facing away on her side. I should like to note, no matter where you take this woman's picture, she's not looking at you. That took talent.

Then, three or four statues later, I was able to get close enough to actually see the expressions. This was the famous Eros and Psyche statue, and the expression on both was positively enamored. It was also one I had seen before, and for a moment, just a moment, I saw not Eros and Psyche, but my sister and brother in law. That was how they looked at each other when no one was looking.

I was astounded. Huh. So that's what love looks like. It's always good to know. If anyone asks me, I can now tell them. But enough sap (again).

Onto more statues! These are made of multiple types of marble, and apparently I missed a famous one in this exhibit, somewhere, but that's fine by me. I saw a wonderful statue out of myth, and the back of a giant statue in storage, standing upright in a box. Apparently, there was no other way to store it. As the thing was at least two stories high, I can understand.

From there, I managed into the Hall of Apollo again, thoroughly lost, and trying to find my way out to look at the glass pyramids of the Louvre. Perhaps someone with my lack of sense of direction shouldn't explore museums the size three stacked football fields unaccompanied. Then, lo and behold, an exit! I looked around outside, snapped a few shots, nibbled my lunch, before heading back inside and to the bus. My trip to the Louvre was over. But oh, it was so very worth it, every single step and second.

One Final Byte: I will go to Paris again for this.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Week Forty Six: One-Half: Day Three: Versailles!

I was tempted to interject with political commentary here, but restrained myself.  But let's just say when this series if over, oh the news I have for you.

Day Three: Versailles

Oh Versailles. Your palace, the treaty, the Sun King! So much rich history, so much grandeur. I was in awe of it all, yes, jaw actually dropped in awe. To see you in the summer when your gardens are blooming would overwhelm me. I do believe I would faint.

Versailles! I got to go to the Palace of the sun King, Louis XIV.

Swooning is a distinct possibility here.

So here I am, a nice foggy day, we're there before it even opens so we can actually get in. There's a Russian tour group before us and about six Japanese tour buses behind us. No joke on that by the way, I counted. Six of them. There's also the same group of high school kids who were on our boat last night. How odd.

I'm just in awe of the golden gates. The front gate of the Palace of Versailles is in fact painted gold. At one point it may have been actual gold, but some how I doubt it is now. Either way, they're big, they're gorgeous and they shine brightly even on this foggy day.

The Palace was built because Louis XIV rightfully didn't trust Parisians who had stormed into the previous lodging to check that he was alive when he was all of eleven. No trust there, obviously. I wouldn't either. It's like biking past this one house that I brace myself for every time. They're dog is too big for that tiny fence, and barks up a storm at the sight of me. It's jsut around a corner too, so is a wee bit startling.

Anyway, Louis had huge gardens, as far as the eye could see, hundreds of fountains, statues of people, rivers, and gods everywhere. He compared himself to the sun god Apollo and this motif was absolutely everywhere. Here the ceilings are painted in mythological scenes more than religious scenes, and the floors are made of marble. Walls are decorated in marbles of different color, or with huge tapestries.

Make certain you explore every nook and cranny of this palace. I missed a room thanks to a very stern security guard. Traffic is strictly one way. I did get to see Marie Antoinette's room. It was lovely. The bed looked short to me, but I must remind myself that people then were several inches shorter than now. We seem to grow taller each generation. They also had a display on Napoleon there, which included a red major's uniform and a uniform from the dragon something that was black.

Most importantly was the Hall of Mirrors, in which I very nearly squeaked. In this hall was where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, along with so many other treaties. At the end is called the peace room, and shows a scene of Peace being offered to Europa on the ceiling. Oh glory. The mirrored wall ran the length of this long hall like room and reflected the light from the windows quite well. they were, of course, aged mirrors that needed to be re-silvered, but I doubt anyone would dare to try and move such a giant sheet of glass!

Decadent was the name of the game in this palace. There were statues every few feet, the furniture was sumptuous, the ceilings were painted and painting and tapestries hung on the wall.

The royal chapel was huge and beautiful, and everything there, from the gardens that are impossible to see in a day, to the statues and paintings are just so lovely. The statues were all in, for statues, very dynamic poses, that made them seem much more lively and lovely. More interesting to look at, you now?

Aw, so many pretty things. There was even a painting that was clearly having some restoration work done on it, to my amusement. It was covered in little pieces of tissue paper.

After this morning of decadence, we went to the bus. I say went to the bus, but the truth was, it was more like fighting our way through a mob of vendors hawking counterfeit Eiffel tower key-chains. One of which started to come on the bus. Me?

I took shelter behind several of the tall guys and decided there was safety in numbers. Someone else could make those guys back off. Here's a hint: Don't look at them, don't look at their goods, and don't ever, ever meet their eyes. They will stalk you one after the other and follow you for several yards, trying to press things into your hands and make you buy them.

This is a place that you pretty much have to see yourself to truly believe it. To take it in requires several hours, good walking shoes, and perhaps, the late spring early summer for nice weather and flowers.

All of the Palace wasn't open of course, but still what was seen was awe inspiring. Besides, the palace is huge. I'd get very lost if it was all open to the public.

One Final Byte: French security guards take their job seriously.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Week Forty Six: Paris Day Two: Evening

So This was meant to go up yesterday, but I couldn't get my bog to upload it.  Sorry for the technical difficulties!

Day Two: Evening

Here we go, are you ready? Before our boat trip, we have a traditional French dinner. That's right. Traditional. French. That means, I, intrepid traveler, tried the all too fame escargo! I ate snails.

So here's the dish on snails. It's fresh garlic, butter, and snail, cooked inside the shell. You get a shell clamps and a pick to pull the meat out of the shell with. The meal itself, well.

Fresh garlic is green. Bright green like green peas. The butter is melted and will remain liquid. The snail is, of course brown. It is not an appetizing looking meal at all. In fact, it looks downright disgusting. But I am a brave, brave explorer of foreign tastes, willing to try any food once. After figuring out how to get the little bugger out of the shell, I nibbled, cautiously.

It is still snail after all.

I tasted, I determined, I decided.

Eh. Not so bad. Like claims, but less tasty. About the same texture though, and takes to be honest. Kind of chewy, made of meat, tastes like sea food. Tastes decent, but not my favorite meal in the world. Not really all that gross to eat, though it's still gross to look at. Escargo, by the way, is an appetizer. The main course was salmon on a bed of mixed vegetables covered in a white sauce.

This is the best salmon I have ever had in my entire existence, and I not only approve, I rejoice. It was, no doubt, the sauce. The sauce made it phenomenal. Some sort of hollandaise, I think, though I'm not certain one hundred percent.

Desert was a rich chocolate cake with a chocolate cream in the middle, and with raspberry sauce on top. It was sweet, flavorful and not too much of either flavor.

From here, we had our boat trip. This was a beautiful ferry ride around the Seine river where we say Paris by night. At light, the city it lit up, the monument all illuminated. It's a beautiful city at night, awe inspiring.

The ride was beautiful, and fun. Teenagers and young adults sit on the edge of river to wave to the boat riders, though some of the more crass ones will moon you. We shared a boat with a class of American teens. Under each bridge, and there were many, a shout went up. It pretty much had infected the entire boat around the middle, though at the end of the hour long boat ride, we did give up. We got to see the Eiffel tower at night and it's light show. It's every night on the hours, a sparkling Eiffel tower, lights sparkling all over an already lit beauty.

At night, you can see beautiful statues by the bridges, and you see the most lovely thing.

There are bridges that seem to have flecks of gold woven into them. These are lock bridge. Here, you take a lock and attached it to the bridge with your girlfriend or boyfriend. Then you throw the key into the river, and you'll love each other forever. At night, the lights make it seem like someone wove golden shapes into the bridges support.

It's a touching, and very European tradition. They do the same in Amsterdam, and in other European cities. It's not uncommon to have names or dates on the lock, scratched in or carved there professionally. It's all very romantic, and makes the bridges very beautiful.

I went to bed that night very excited for the next day, which was, I admit, the whole reason I had planned on coming to Paris. The third day, would be Versailles, the Versailles, and then, then the Louvre.

I couldn't wait.

One Final Byte: Paris by night is a must see event.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Week Forty-Five and a half: Day Two: Morning in Paris

Day Two: The Morning Half

Goodness Gracious, it was a good thing I had a good night's rest! After a French breakfast of a fruit bowl and croissant for myself, we left the hotle at 8 am to head to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Yes. That one. THE Notre Dam. I was a little excited. By which, I mean a lot excited, but not squeaky excited, not yet. So, the very first thing that you absolutely must realize is that the Notre Dame Cathedral is, in fact, still an active church. It's not just a tourist trap, just a very famous church worth the visit. There was, in fact, a service beginning as we left. It opened with singing nuns. I felt like I was in the Sister Act before Whoopi spiced the nuns singing up a little. Absolutely brilliant!

But let's not go too quickly past this beautiful church. We did have to be quiet in side, which meant figuring out how to silence my noisy camera. It is a church, after all.

Inside, lay the mortal remains of several apparently great men, along with giant frescos detailing either biblical scenes of scenes with saints. These are three of my brother in law high and of course the statues were all larges than life. But it depended on the statue as to how much larger!

Combined, it was an awe inspiring experience. There is a main chapel area in the middle, what my baptist roots tell me must be the sanctuary. It's semi-partitioned on three sides. Surrounding this were several prayer areas dedicated to two different saints. Now, normally when I'm in these churches I do light a candle and pray. I'm not Catholic, so I'm probably doing it all wrong (it didn't help I dropped my candle this time) but I like the gesture.

This time, I lit a candle for my mom at the virgin Mary, as there was no Mary Magdalene. This is is in reference to our middle name of Marie (Mary), and I figure she's a saint we share a name with so she works out well. I prayed for my family's health and happiness and for the health and happiness of my siblings and my sister's family.

Touchy feely feelings out of the way, I have got to tell you about this church. Giant beautiful windows look like they are nothing more than dark glass on the outside, but oh! Inside! A beautiful scenes in every window, stained glass artfully arranged into beautiful green blue and gold patterns with a single medallion in the middle with a gorgeous scene in it. There were the colors of this otherwise drab stone church. Even the paintings paled in comparison to these bright bursts of color.

I managed to snap pictures of rose windows from the outside, but not the inside, apologies. but don't worry, I snapped over 1500 pictures while in France. I just have to go through them all. Give me a few weeks on that one. I did snap a pic of Joan of Arc who is everywhere in Paris, and the baptistry, which, to my not Catholic mind, reminded me of a drinking fountain at first. Whoops.

This is a gorgeous example of baroque architecture with devils, angels, and gargoyles decorating the outside and giant peaked arched everywhere. Beautiful, and with stories all around it. Over each door a different biblical story presented in stone relief.

So we arrived at like 8:15, so not so many tourists, and we didn't stop right at the cathedral. Instead, we stopped at this protest square where Parisians can protest and be noticed for it. This doesn't mean that the tourist sharks of Paris were not there. Beware, the persistent souvenir vendor! That early, they're still waking up, but later in the day? They spread out in arcs of 'vendors' and try and hawk wares that the police and many posted signs inform you are from underground networks. No joke. Underground networks of souvenir vendors are out to topple the Parisian tourism industry. How dare they charge one euro for five cheap keychains, when the official price is not less than 3,50 euro for that cheap tin painted keychain that you can probably buy in mass quantities online for even less. I mean, I'm just saying. They'll sell you a 35 Euro scarf for 5 Euro also, and a 25 Euro statue of the Eiffel Tower for 7 euro.

They are outside every single monument, near it, but not inside. Once you are inside, in the patrolled area, you are safe. Also, Paris police won't go after the vendors for hawking these counterfeit goods. They will go after the purchaser. At least a 500 Euro fine for buying them ladies and gentlemen, if the police decide to go after you.

There's something wrong in the Force, Luke.

Right, so one to our next stop with some sight seeing on the way. As we left the Notre Dame by the way, there were like 20 alter kids all over the plaza in front of the church. They were taking photos with tourists as they poor things shivered. One hadn't pulled the robe over her head yet, and I saw her and her mother slip into a nearby shop for a quick bit before hand. She had shorts and a tank on under a white slip. No wonder they were all freezing.

So on our way to the Luxembourg Gardens, we say the oldest hospital in Paris, which was, apparently, also the first, and is still a working hospital today. This is all on the city isle by the way, in the middle of the Seine river in the middle of Paris. The area is known as the city center. We passed the national library of France, a construction from the 80s meant to look like four books facing each other around a plaza. Not so much to me.

It looked like a confusing maze to find any of the first edition books (all of them since 1945!) in the confusion of that maze. I mean really? The architect did not keep in mind the purpose of the building, apparently. They also made them entirely of glass, because faded books are cool things. So it's an expense heat sink with electric bills out the wazoo that, according to our guide, no one in France really approves of. Apparently, they could have built several more with the money that goes just to heating in, since it was built.

We passed the final resting place of Marie Curie and Alexandre Dumas. It's a building based off the Greek pantheon, and was originally meant to be a church, but is not a mausoleum/Hall of Fame. We're in the Latin quarter for most of this part by the way, and it's a gorgeous place, named for the fact that when college all spoke Latin, the students live in this area.

So. Luxembourg Gardens. In early spring. Before the final frost. They weren't very garden-ish. In fact, while landscaping was clearly underway, and the ground prepared for flowers, there were no flowers, bushes, or tiny trees in pots. They were all in their winter home of the Orangerie, which is basically a green house not made of glass. A green house by any other name Paris, a green house by any other name.

Interesting fact: The original resident of the attached palace never moved in. Other interesting fact: All the statues in the gardens are female, and they all have metal antennae.

Okay, yes, I know it's rods to ground lighting, I do. But it looks like someone stuck a crown of antennae into every single statue not on a fountain and it makes me laugh. So basically before we could take a breath, we were walking on to our next stop where the bus driver would pick us up. Obviously, not far.

The next stop was a so called 'secret' church, whose name escapes me, but I can look up easily enough. This had considerably less tourists than most places, though it did come fully equipped with a stray yorkie that marked eery third post in the ground. This church was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and we did go inside as well. It is, though, and incredibly mismatched church. With a design the mimics the Notre Dame, it has considerably less oomph thanks to a long building time and six different architects. It was also in the process of being cleaned, so was half clean and half dirty.

So in the Da Vinci code, this is the church where the cornerstone was kept, if that means more to you than it does to me. I was more interested in how they measured the solstice and equinox there, so could calculate when Easter was. They used an obelisk with a copper sphere on top. When sunlight struck this, it was winter solstice. From there, there is a copper strand in the floor, heading straight to a copper oval in front of the altar. when the sunlight strike this opal it's summer equinox. Using this, they can calculate Easter. Totally primitive, but super effective!

So now we'ere on our way to the famed Opera house. On they way, I saw lots of little girls in coats that were shaped to be dresse, a fountain made of sidewalk tiles that looked like a pipe had blaste them up from teh ground (but was obviously mid burst, thus done on purpose), the olderst Parisian church and an awful lot of high end clothing stores with gorgeous outfits. We also passed by the Louvre which is long, and saw Sphinx everywhere.

On the way, we even passed by Louis XIV's medical herb gardens. There was an attached menagerie where we could see an ostrich.

One the trip was a planned photo op of a column commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate his victories. This is a giant metal thing cast from over 1200 cannons. I snapped a few quick pictures, but they aren't swell ones. There was apparently a protest, and a police blockade. Our guide assured us this is fairly normal as Parisians like to go on strike.

So then the opera house to see and eat near, and some free time to shop. I had a nice French lunch of a sandwich whose name I couldn't pronounce, some melon and a chocolate mouse. It was lovely, but I didn't see anything that caught my eye to purchase.

So. This opera house.

You know the Phantom of the Opera, as in Christine and the Opera Ghost and Raoul? That Phantom of the Opera? This is that Opera house. The one for the basis of the story. It's huge, it's gorgeous, its sigh worthy, and going inside to poke around cost too much and took too much time. I didn't have that much free time left after all, having gotten myself lost. Still I stepped inside and glanced around in curiousity.

This house was commissioned by Napolean the Third, Boneparte's nephew. Surrounding it was the busts of famous composers and choreographers. Of course said nephew had a bust and a statue as it was his Opera House. The style was baroque stone work, over top of, get this, a steel skeleton. Wow oh wow. Not what I expected, but hey!

Also, the architect? The Third knew he wanted a place designed specifically for Opera, so held a contest. One hundred seventy architects applied. The winner was this unknown new guy who no one had ever heard of. Talk about talent.

So there were styled metal lamps surrounding the Opera house with four ships in the four cardinal directions on each one. One of them had eyes on each ship, but each lamp had different shops. I think I may have seen the muses up in the front, and I know that above each window I saw a different face of drama.

Next up, we loaded ourselves back onto the bus for a bit of sight seeing on our way to the Arc De Triomph. We saw the half cleaned Madeline church. Parts of it were shipping white colums. The other have was nearly black.

You know how the mausoleum earlier started out a church and became a hall of fame. This is the opposite. the Madeline church started out a Hall of Fame and became a church. As a result, it only had itty bitty windows along one wall.

We drove past the Plaza de Concorde, where in the Reign of Terror, the guillotine stood. Now there is a fountain where the guillotine was placed, and an obelisk form Ramses II to show that France and Egypt are friends. On our way to the Arc, we passed the French President's home.

Quick, who can name this guy?

Not me.

Our tourist guide told us his name, which, okay, I don't recall at all, but I do know his nickname now: President Bling Bling! After becoming president, he divorced his first wife to marry a super model apparently. Bling Bling indeed! Aroudn this time about half the bus decided they wanted a cup of wine. I was amused.

We pulled to the side and walked to the Arc De Triumphe, which is in the middle of a super busy intersection. In order to get to it, you have to go under the street then up. It's also possible to get tickets to the top, but a combination oh heights and lack of time meant no go for me. Maybe when I go again.

This thing is huge. By huge, I mean absolutely huge. So everyone knows about the arch and how it looks, but I didn't know that underneath they have the French tomb of the unknown soldier, whos flame gets relit every single day. Seriously solemn.

The entire thing is, of course, a monument to Napolean's victories. On it, he had carved the names of generals. Those who died in battle had an underline beneath their name. He also had many battle names carved on there that he had won, and scenes around the top. He even had himself garbed as Caesar in statue form there.

From here we went on to the big ticket deal of this day. That's right ladies and gentlemen. We went to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower. World Fair, giant metal construction, centerpiece of Paris! That one.

Okay, here is squeel time. It's the Eiffel Tower! We had reservations for the elevator to the second floor at two. I was excited, we were ready to go...

And when we arrived we discovered the elevator reserved for those with reservation was, in fact, down. As in broke. There was only one working elevator, which is nothing short of a disaster when your on a tight schedule, they don't let anyone know this, and a ten minute wait suddenly becomes an hour wait when you only have a thirty minute window of opportunity. Curses! Foiled!

Or not.

There are, in facts, stairs to the first and second floor. To the first floor is about 360-370 stairs from the ground. To the second floor is exactly 690 stairs from the ground. To the third floor, well, there an elevator and the ladder. No stairs. Predates fire safety standards what? Hm? Oh well yes. Plus there's no room for stairs. However if you get permission to, and really want to take the ladder, I suppose it's only 1000 rungs, following the elevator shaft. Hopefully no one will come down.

Yeah, no. I didn't got all the way to the top. I'm a bit more sane than that.

Still, I did walk.

To the second level.

Six hundred ninety stairs.

These stairs don't let you lose count by the way. They're marked every ten steps, so you always know how far you have, in fact, climbed. I'm sure this is bother blessing and curse.

The view from the tower though. That made ever single step worth it. Every step, one hundred and two thirds percents.

The Eiffel tower is visible in so many parts of Paris, in so many views. From a distance it looks black, but up close, it's brown. It's huge, it's beautiful. It's definitely a required part of the visit and the highlight of the day.

The elevator line down is much smaller by the way, and I took that down. We were due an afternoon break at the hotel before the evening festivities. We did take a break at Les Hommes Invalides, the first home for disabled soldiers built by Louis XIV. This is the first of it's time, and now hold the mortal remains of Napoleon, along with his Hat and Uniform. There is, in front of this place, a copper statue of Athena on a pedestal, surrounded by soldiers in WWI uniforms. We passed by the back of the Thinker statue, and Louis XIV's herb gardens once more, down the Champ L'Elysses, than then back to rest and recharge my camera.

One Final Byte: The most important thing to do: Charge Camera.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Week Forty-Five: Paris!

Week Forty-Five: Paris Day One: The Trip Down

So, I promised something big, and decided that no, I wouldn't put it off with my political blatherings. The big trip? I went to Paris! That's right, Paris, the city of love, the city of lights, the city where many a famous writer, painter, and singer have lived and worked. A city with a history! I went to Paris.

The head is still spinning a little, and it hasn't quite sunk in. But I am super excited to share all about it. Paris! My goodness gracious.

So normally, of course, I travel with my family, as this is much cheaper on a college budget. Then this opportunity came up to go with a friend and I took it! At the last minute though, my friend dropped out on me, leaving me on my own in Paris.

Okay, so in a tour group of around 20, but still. I didn't know any of them. I was also pretty nervous I mean, I've never gone on a trip like this without family. For me, I might has well been on my own. It was mildly terrifying. I think God gave me this opportunity though before my big belated birthday trip next month. This let me know that I can travel just fine without my family there to guide my steps, you know/.

So big trip, first one without family. I get on the bus the first day at 5 pm and I look around, convinced the bus is going to have more people. At this point, I believe I'm going to be sharing a room with a chick I don't know. I'm expecting it too be rush rush rush constantly. Right now, my scenery consists of seats made of tan faux leather and a carpet like seat fabric that looks like a digitized sandstone.

The tour guide does a final head count, and I realize something awesome. I have two empty seats behind me, and an empty seat next to me. Superb! I'm reminded, to be honest, of the inside of an airplane, but with uglier seats, and more cramped. Yes, it gets more cramped than an airplane. Still, totally worth it, and I don't exactly need leg room here. So our tour guide introduces herself and the bus driver, and I forgot to ask to use their names, so you don't get those. But the tour guide was a little awkward about it all. It's the start of a new season for her, and had been a few months since her last trip down, apparently.

So, I know you want to get to the meat and gristle of the trip. But I was in the bus driving through the French version of Kansas for several hours. So I am going to describe the bus, because the scenery was nil. Very green, then it was evening and it was very dark. The route we took made the country look down right empty. The scenery that is.

There was a toilet provided, but we were asked to use it as little as possible, so the bus would smell nice on Sunday. No joke. We were also told that no strong smelling food was allowed on the bus, but drinks are of course, and in fact there were sodas, wines and some water provided as well.

There was a movie after a super brief dinner stop at L'arche Cafe in somewhere in between the base and Paris. anyway, I scarfed half a lasagna piece (the thing was huge), some fruit and some lettuce and carrots in a vague attempt at a salad. I didn't get to finish because I was last in line, and it was a thirty minute dinner for the whole bus. I did grab a bag of French skittles in curiosity.

Okay, French skittles: Simply bag design, bolder colors, different flavors. They are French skittles, and skittles, apparently, change from country to country.

We sang Happy Birthday to a really embarrassed teenage boy on our trip, and then settled in to watch Ratatouille for the last half of the trip. Our final destination that night was the Hotel Mercure Paris Ivry Quai de Seine. That, by the way, really is the name. Seven words long, but I suppose descriptive enough. Mercure is the hotel brand (like the Hilton hotel, but better) and it's found in Paris on the River Seine. I'm not certain about the Ivry Quai part, but still.

Gorgeous 4 star hotel. The service was nice, well dressed and polite, and they spoke English. The interior decorating was sleek and smooth, and super stylish. My room was very white with red and mahogany accents, but it pulled so well together that I was charmed. The toilet and shower were in seperate little closets and there was this little separator between the shower and sink area and the carpeted bedroom area that, no joke, could be clear or opaque with the flick of a switch. I video tapped much switch flicking and changing. It was fun.

The bed was absolutely perfect for sleeping or sitting on. There was one little trick to the room however, and I suppose it certainly prevents losing your card or misplacing it. In order to turn on the lights/AC in your room, you have to put your room card in a card holder by the front door. No joke. Remove the card, and after about five minutes it all turns off. Did I play with this to?

Well. Only a little bit.

Anyway, that was my first day. And then it was evening, and I rest.

In the interest of not having way too much to read in one sitting, I'll be splitting this up into about four posts it appears. The final day and all the little things that just tickles me but didn't really fit in elsewhere aren't written up yet, but I have at least two more posts already typed up. Maybe even five posts! Either way, until the trip is up in its entirety, I'm thinking Monday, Wednesday, Friday sound good. That way, it shouldn't take more than two weeks! Good deal?

Lemme know.

One Final Byte: Hotels are absolutely fascinating little places to sleep.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Week Forty-Four: In which my glasses arrive

And I'm working, and studying, and working and studying, and my head is spinning. So these past two weeks, that's what I've done for a trip I'm taking soon, that will likely result in yet another super long extended blog post. Yes, I know, but I think it won't be in three parts like Amsterdam was. Maybe. I'll be packing an awful lot into those few days, so I don't know....

Anyway, in order for me to study and get ahead enough I could, I made a schedule so I could manage that! After all, I'll be fitting in forty hours of studying around work and life in general, so it'll be hard right?

What. Was. I. Thinking?

No seriously I know what happens when I make a schedule and stick to it! I finish that days tasks quickly, because suddenly I have focus. Then I stare at sudden free time, and decide to do something productive. So I do more work, because hey, school work is productive, right? I'm in college, that's my biggest job!

Oops. Focus. I forgot what a focused Marie is like! A dangerous thing is a Marie with focus. Avoid at peril. So I concentrated, and I worked and suddenly, I was done with the week's work, sans two 2 pm on Sunday. Technically, the exams were scheduled for today. I got bored Monday, and Tuesday, and figured on Wednesday I could do, you know, my pre-trip errands.

So I've been kind of chilling, even while working ahead, because suddenly, I'm stress free and have plenty of time to chill.

Except Friday. Last Friday I did not chill. Why? People called out at work for the next shift. I work mid shift, and all the people who knew drive thru called out on Friday. All of them. They had no one who knew drive thru, but one girl who couldn't stay late, and Friday is one of our 24 hour drive thru days.

So I was asked to stay, and I did stay, but I had forgotten my house keys. This means that I was stuck waking some one up near 1 in the morning so I could get inside. I wasn't impressed, nor were they, and by then, I was more than a little loopy and tired. Still, I managed it.

The shift itself wasn't hard. I kept my energy up with plenty of food (there goes watching what I eat) and got through it all alright, once evening struck with a vengeance. Evening shift is a pretty calm crew.

Oh yes! The big news!

My dad has been in a custody battle over the littlest of course. On Tuesday, he won it. On Friday, he had full custody over her, and they were home again by Sunday, as all that took place in the states, in a gripping legal- Okay so I wasn't there. It was probably somewhat boring, proper and the like. No Judge Judy needed.


She's back again! The littlest sister is back in Germany again! Monday was spent getting her all checked in on base, re-enrolled in school again, and the like. Paperwork, you know? How the government stays afloat.

The next big news: NEW GLASSES! Yes that's right, new full frame black glasses that look excellent on me and come in two lens colors: clear and fuchsia! Gotta have those sun glasses, after all. Very important.

I love the look. I love Zenni Optical. Super cheap prices for excellent quality frames, and a prescription that fits perfectly. I think I'm addicted.

Also, I shopped for new clothes for the upcoming trip, so I'm not just cute on the glasses, I'm cute on the clothes too. Super ready for the weekend, to be super sure! I can't wait to tell you all about it!

One Final Byte: This weekend, I'll see somewhere I've always wished.