December 6th, 2014.
Stephen and I couldn’t wait for our first trip to Paris. We were counting down the days from the moment we first booked the trip. I had all kinds of daydreams of sitting in a cafe reading F. Scott Fitzgerald (Hemingway is a bit too self-satisfied for my tastes), and Stephen wanted to decide for himself if the Eiffel Tower was all it was cracked up to be. We took the Eurostar through the Chunnel, which is the most relaxing way to make the trip. It puts me in a much better mood when I don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to drag myself through airport security. After departing, we arrived in Paris two hours later.
That was the easy part. From there, we needed to take the metro to get to our hotel. We have now visited Paris three times total and have come to appreciate and love the Paris metro, but that first trip proved to be fraught with all sorts of anxieties. Where do we buy tickets? How many should we purchase? Why are there roaming groups of soldiers with guns walking past us? How do we get through the gates? Do we need to keep the stamped ticket for later? We have since come to terms with these feelings and understand there is going to be some anxiety every time you travel. No one ever steps out of their comfort zone without a bit of fear.
After we located the correct line, we managed to relax a bit while the stations whizzed by. In fact, we were a little too relaxed because we ended up missing our stop, which resulted in a longer walk than we wanted or anticipated. The good news is that we got some good views. It is hard to be too irritated when you’re staring up at the Eiffel Tower the whole way. We got to see a Statue of Liberty twin that we otherwise never would have seen, so it was worth it just for that. Sometimes it pays to get lost!
After we checked into our hotel, we decided to take the rest of the day to get acquainted with the city. Since we were in Paris, we could only do this flâneur style. Armed with a tiny pocket map, we hit the pavement.
First up, the Eiffel Tower. I honestly didn’t have very high expectations for a monument that looks like a radio tower. Sure, I appreciated its contribution to the skyline, but we had much more interesting things on the agenda for the day, so I wanted this bit to be over as soon as possible. I was not prepared for how remarkable it would be up close and personal. Only then do you get a sense of how large and heavy and solid a thing it is, and yet how elegant. I never before realized that iron could be so graceful. Stephen stood in the very center for a long time, gazing up at the rivets and latticework before nodding to himself and turning away, saying “that is just incredible.”
From there we walked along the Seine and crossed over to the Right Bank along Pont Alexandre III, which is a gilded white-stone behemoth of a bridge that has some of the best street lamps on the planet.
And it also has a very nice view:
Then we wanted to walk down the Champs-Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe. While we were there, a Christmas market lined part of the historic street, so we made a detour in order to look at all the wares. A few months after this, we visited Bordeaux, which is the birthplace of my favorite pastry of all time: cannéle. Cannéles are in the shape of gumdrops and have a hard, dark, caramelized exterior, but once you bite into them, the center is a cross between cake and custard, and they have a strong vanilla taste. They are divine. But it was here, at this market, that I had the best cannéle of my life. It was shockingly expensive. Several euro just for two, but they were hot from the oven and the smell kept wafting towards us, so I ended up coughing up the coin despite Stephen’s grimace. And after one bite, we both knew it was money well spent!
After that, Stephen bought an uninspired and wilted-looking ham and cheese sandwich, and we continued down the street. It looked like a short stroll to the Arc, but it was an optical illusion. We kept walking on and on, and we thought we would never get there. But we finally made it. We wanted to cross the street to see it up close, but the intersection was heaving with cars. We decided seeing it from afar was just as good, and we turned around and walked back up the boulevard.
Along the way, we stopped by the markets on the other side of the street and admired all of the Christmas decorations before ending up in Place de la Concorde.
The square is supposedly the site on which Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed, along with a thousand others during the Reign of Terror. Today, there is no clue to its bloody past, and it is as beautiful and charming a square as any I’ve seen. When we were there, a bride and groom were getting some photos taken among the beautiful environs.
Stephen loves the obelisk in Place de la Concorde above all other obelisks. On the sides, gold engraving details the entire process of dissembling, shipping, and re-erecting this giant stone monument. I think he would appreciate if all structures displayed their construction techniques in this way.
The two beautiful fountains in the square were also decked out for the season. Each of the water nymphs or mermaids or sea gods or whatever they were wore a red Rudolph nose.
From there, we walked through the Tuilleries garden to the Louvre. We rested a while in green lawn chairs by the pond and watched the ducks before we got too cold and needed to walk around some more to warm up.
The Louvre is everything you would image a french palace to be, with that distinctive Parisian architecture that just makes you want to don a grey wig and a big poofy dress and join the court at Versailles.
After competing with hundreds of people for stranger-free photos, we walked through an archway, where there happened to be a large window. So even though we have still never been inside the Louvre, I do have one picture of the interior!
Then we walked back down to the Siene to go to the lock bridge, Pont des Arts. I read online that all of the “love locks” have been taken off and measures put in place to prevent further locks being placed. All of that metal (something like 1 million locks weighing 45 tons!) was causing the bridge to become dangerously unstable. Some of the locks just had peoples’ names written in black sharpie. Others, presumably placed during their honeymoons, were in the shape of hearts with engraved names and wedding date, symbolizing their unbreakable vows. Except the locks were fairly easily broken and disposed of by Parisian authorities. Let’s hope their vows have more permanency than their love locks.
We got some more great views from whatever bridge this was taken on (Pont Neuf, probably.) Looking back at our photos, it appears we spent more time crossing bridges than crossing streets! I also took a photo of Stephen, but he had crazy eyes going on, and coupled with his black beanie, looked a bit deranged. I am not sure the photo will ever see the light of day, so you’ll have to make do with a photo of me instead.
We got to Notre Dame right as it was starting to get dark outside, making all of the Christmas lights more pronounced. Outside, the church had erected an enormous tree with blue lights and a huge wreath with one large plastic candle lit for each Sunday that had passed during Advent. We waited in line in the cold for a while before we made it inside the cathedral. The inside of Notre Dame was darker and gloomier than we were expecting. It definitely wasn’t our favorite cathedral, BUT it has our favorite statue outside of it, so that evens the score. The statue depicts Charlemagne and his guards looking fierce. Have you ever seen such wonderful mustaches? No wonder Charlemagne was so successful. You do not say no to that ‘stache.
Look how pretty! Does it get any better than Paris at night? The architecture, the lights, the glow, the river, the boat sailing past: just perfect!
Even though it was very late at night, we decided to make the journey to the Moulin Rouge. Since it is way to the north, we took the metro there, walked the block to the famous windmill, and walked immediately back to the metro to head to our hotel. At night, the area around the Moulin Rouge is quite the red-light district, which we were unprepared for. We have since visited during the day, and it wasn’t nearly as overwhelming, but at the time, it threw us for a loop.
Stay tuned for my next post on our second day in Paris!