Thursday, May 31, 2012

The last Paris blog, I promise!

Not that it’s any surprise (to me, at least), but it took me more blogs than intended to cover my week in Paris. Between my tendency towards long-windedness and the number of photographs I took, cramming it all into one or two posts would have been too much. So thank you for sticking with me, and I promise this one is it! After this it will be back to the usual (and probably infrequent, because I’m terrible at blogging regularly) book/writing posts.

The last two days of my trip were relatively uneventful. The weather took a nasty, cold turn, which kept me indoors more and made it hard to get decent photos. The first of the last days (Tuesday), was not only cold (in the 40s) but rainy and windy. A triple threat of unpleasantness, let me tell you. Because of that, the majority of my Tuesday was spent—I’m almost ashamed to admit this—in a mall. A Paris mall, but still a mall. I did get a little tourism in there before and after the mall, though.

First order of the day, however, was a little sleeping in. I had to get up early the day before for my Giverny excursion, so I treated myself to a little laziness, knowing the forecast wasn’t good, and slept until around 10am or so. Then I puttered around, taking my time getting ready and out the door. Finally, I was out and on my way to the Saint Denis Basilica, a big old church on the northern edge of the city. Actually, it might even be in a suburb, but it’s close enough to be on the main metro line, and was easy to get to. Unfortunately, it was still cold and windy outside, so I hurried to the church from the stop rather than linger at one of the big street markets set up nearby.

I just realized I never posted a photo of my apartment. The bed is over by the TV in the back. Excuse the mess. I was in the middle of packing to go home when I took this. :) There are better photos on their AirBnB page.

The Basilique de Saint Denis

Despite this being my third trip to Paris, and despite all the reading and research I did to prepare for the second trip, I had never heard of this church before. What makes it so interesting (because Paris has a metric ton of churches, and after a while they all start to blur together) is that this particular church holds the tombs of nearly every French king all the way back to around the 7th or 8th century. Including, to my surprise, the tombs of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Though it's not really their entire bodies there, but a few remains that were dug up in 1815 and moved there. According to Wikipedia, they were originally buried in a mass grave in the Madeline churchyard, so there's no telling if what was moved to Saint Denis was really their remains or now. Their tombs are in a darker section of the church, with very low lighting, so I was unable to get a photograph without using flash. For all I knew, flash photography was allowed, but I don't like to use the flash in churches, so I refrained. The rest of the tombs were better lit, but still dark enough that most of my photos were blurry. I did mange one decent one, with my camera phone of all things.

The photo below is how most of the tombs looked: multiple bodies grouped together under one slab, with statues on top. Each grouping was labeled with the names and dates of whoever was there, in addition to some extra information in French about their rule. The grouping below was of particular interest to me because some of the tombs belong to my own ancestors. One branch of my family tree can be traced back to Charlemagne, and within that branch are a bunch of European rulers: some from England, some from Scotland, one from Italy, and a couple from France. I went to Saint Denis hoping that they might be there, and they were! In this group of tombs is Robert II (972-1031), his wife Constance (986-1032) and their son Henry I (1008-1060). Another of my ancestors, Charlemagne's father, Pepin le Bref (the Short) is also there, but I didn't get a good photo of his tomb. Supposedly he's the one who built the original church that sat where Saint Denis is today. Also, Robert II's father, Hugh Capet, is supposed to be at Saint Denis, but I don't remember seeing his tomb anywhere. There were so many, it's very possible I missed it.

I spent a good amount of time in the church, partly because I was reading every name to look for ancestors, and partly because I knew it was nasty outside and was avoiding going back out into it. But eventually I had to, and found it had rained while I was inside. It was still misting a bit, and even colder and windier than before, so I hurried off to the metro station, pausing once when a Japanese couple stopped me to ask for directions to Sacre Coeur. Poor things, they were seriously lost, but I was able to tell them what metro station to go to, and I think they understood me well enough.

It was at this point I decided I needed to find something indoors to do. I still hadn’t gotten any souvenir shopping done, so I headed for Forum des Halles, an underground shopping mall that sounded promising.  It was huge, and busy, but most importantly, the stores were heated. Ahhh, heat. I struck out on the shopping front, sadly, even though the stores were more in my budget. I just couldn’t find anything I liked, which became a trend during my week there, and I ended up coming home mostly empty-handed. It made packing easier, but I felt like a shopping failure. A week in Paris, one of the world’s shopping capitals, and I couldn’t find anything to buy! What a shame.

The only other thing I did that day (I spent quite a few hours in Les Halles) was metro over to the Pantheon, another big old stone church I’d never gotten around to visiting before. It’s not used as a church today, but rather as a really huge mausoleum. Rather than royalty, the French citizens buried here are regular, but famous, citizens. Some of the more widely-known are Marie & Peter Curie, Louis Braille, Voltaire and Victor Hugo. Like Saint Denis, their tombs were in dark places not easily photographed without a flash, so I only have very blurry pictures.

The Pantheon

Foucault's Pendulum, in the main area of the Pantheon. They were renovating inside, so it was hard to avoid the construction stuff.

Unlike Les Halles, the Pantheon was not heated. It was pretty cold and drafty inside, so I didn’t linger too long. I wanted to go to a restaurant for dinner, but my plans were once again foiled, this time by lack of wifi with which to look up where to go. Frustrated, I gave up and went back to my apartment to warm up, stopping by a supermarket along the way to get something to cook. I ended up with bread and soup for my meal, but the soup was hot and yummy, and I didn’t burn down the apartment with the hot plate, so I considered it a successful dinner. Actually, I did try to go to a restaurant that night. There was a highly-reviewed place just a block from my apartment that I’d never noticed before, and their website claimed they served dinner starting at 6:30, but when I went over there (at 6:30), they were closed and even though I could see shadows inside (the windows were heavily tinted), my presence outside was either unnoticed or ignored, because no one ever came to open up. It was too cold to hang around on the street, so after waiting five minutes or so, I gave up and went to the supermarket instead.

On my last day in Paris, I did nothing but try to shop. Try being the key word there. I went over to the Louvre area again after reading that there are a lot of souvenir places along the Rue de Rivoli, and walked down the street for a while. Unfortunately, the souvenirs shops there sell the exact same crap as the ones in Montmartre, so I had already seen it all. No luck there. I popped by the Palais Royal to sit for a little while. There was a café near there I wanted to visit for lunch, but I changed my mind when I saw how many people were smoking outside (and it was still cold). I probably could have eaten indoors, but I wasn’t that hungry yet, so I wandered some more, ended up back at the Louvre, and went down into the Carrousel du Louvre shopping center, which is adjacent to the Louvre, underneath the Arc du Carrousel. Sadly, this was another designer mall with prices out of my budget, but it was warm and had a food court. I had my worst meal here, incidentally. Really nasty, half-cold lasagna for €9. I should have gone back to the café.

I had time for one last shopping trip, and after a little research, found that the area not far from my apartment, République, was supposed to have a lot of stores. So I headed that way, wandered around, finally found something for a couple of people (but not nearly everyone I wanted to get souvenirs for), and called it a night. I had to get back to the apartment and start packing.

For the most part, I saw everything I wanted to see on this trip. I never got to the Chateau du Vincennes, or took an excursion to Fontainebleau, but I need something to do the next time, right? Oh, there was one other place I managed to visit:

5 Rue des Pyramides

So what building is that? Well, according to the Contract Ticket List, 5 Rue des Pyramides in Paris, France is the address Henriette Yrois listed as her last place of residence before boarding the Titanic. I have no idea which apartment would have been hers, or if it was even any of those windows, but that’s the general building at #5. One of those may have been her home. When I knew I was going to Paris, I couldn’t resist tracking down her apartment.

If you’d like to see more of my pictures, you can look at them all at my Flickr Paris album. I didn’t post every one on the blog, and the first half of that album is from my previous trip, so there are a lot more photos over there.

Thanks for sticking with me while I recount my trip. It really was a fantastic vacation, despite the sometimes crappy weather. The cough I brought home hasn’t quite left me, so that particular souvenir just keeps on giving, but otherwise I’m fully recovered and back to life as usual. And already wondering where I should go next. I’m aiming for Italy next year!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Almost the last of the Paris blogs

I intended to write this last blog up over the long holiday weekend, but laziness prevailed and I instead spent most of the weekend curled up with a book rather than working on the computer. That’s what holidays are for, right?

I wanted to sum up the last half of my week in one blog, but it didn’t work out that way. Too many photos taken on the first day, so I’ll have to keep the last two for another blog. But that one will be the last, I swear.

Monday morning dawned bright and clear, but cold. I wasn’t feeling too great, either, so I was worried how my day was going to go, but the ickiness eventually passed. The forecast had it warming up later (which it did), but initially it was a pretty chilly morning, which messed with my plans a little. This was the day I’d decided to take my one excursion out of the city, to see Monet’s house and gardens in GIverny. Part of that plan was to rent a bike once we arrived in Vernon (the train station closest to Giverny), and ride it to Monet’s house rather than wait for a bus to take me, but it was a little cold for bikes, I still wasn’t feeling completely great yet, and no one else was renting them, so I chickened out and got in the bus line with everyone else. If I have one regret about that day, it’s that I didn’t go ahead and rent the bike anyway, but at the time it seemed like the best thing to do.

My research before making the trip told me that the bus from Vernon to Giverny was 2 euros each way, so I had my coin all ready to hand to the driver. Only when I boarded, he announced the fare was €6.50 instead. I scrabbled to get the right amount, nearly fell on my face as I turned to walk down the aisle (there was a step I hadn’t seen, and I tripped), then staggered back to an empty seat, feeling confused and mildly embarrassed at my clumsiness. I searched the ticket I’d been given to try to see if I’d paid a round-trip fare or one-way, but couldn’t find anything, so I decided I would walk back rather than chance paying another €6.50 to return. Later Internet research told me the €6.50 was round-trip, so I basically wasted half of it by walking back, but the return walk was lovely, so I don’t regret it too much (my feet did, however).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The train ride to Vernon was uneventful—though I almost missed the stop because I didn’t hear the announcement for Vernon—and the bus ride was quick. The line to get into the attraction wasn’t too bad, so my not being able to buy tickets at FNAC in advance didn’t hurt too much. I went to the gardens first, as instructed by online advice, but since I arrived with a busload of people, it was already getting crowded. Still, the gardens were lovely, and kept nearly identical to how Monet had them when he lived there (and painted them).

(Many of his paintings from Giverny can be seen here: Yes, it's a poster site, but it's one of the larger groupings of his art I could find. The Giverny stuff is all mixed in, but it's mostly obvious which is which.)

Since photography is a hobby of mine, and I especially love to photograph flowers, I took a LOT of pictures here. I won’t post them all, but you can find the others on my Flickr page. I’ll put that link when I’m done with these blogs. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Japanese bridge in many of his paintings. I loves the pretty purple wisteria hanging over it. I'm a sucker for anything purple.

Such a pretty, scenic place

There they are, the famous water lilies. Minus the actual lilies. Must have been the wrong time of year for those.

Everything was so vibrant and colorful. It was beautiful.

The house itself

It only took an hour or so to wander the gardens and tour the house. Photos of the interior weren’t allowed, though that didn’t stop people from trying. One woman near me was very boldly aiming her camera phone everywhere and shooting (after checking to see that no employees were around), until she was caught in the last room and reprimanded. I can’t deny I wasn’t a little pleased at that. People like her, who think the rules don’t apply to them, drive me nuts.

Once I had seen everything and circled the garden a couple of times, it was time to leave. It wasn’t even noon yet, so I decided since I had lots of time, I might as well make the trip back to Vernon on foot. The day had turned gorgeous: cool but sunny and very comfortable. I knew people walked it all the time, so I set off for a leisurely stroll to soak in the countryside. It was about 4km, about 2.5 miles, but that didn’t sound too bad.

It was a looooong walk. At one point, when I thought I must be almost there, I passed a sign saying 2.3km left. Not even halfway! Good thing it was such a nice day, and I had lots of time before the next train, because I needed to stop and sit on the benches along the way more than once. My poor feet. But if I hadn’t walked it, I wouldn’t have seen the cute little church where Monet and his family are buried, or any of the other picturesque views along the way.

Such a pretty little country town, and so peaceful

Horse! I love horses, so I was really excited to come across this cutie. He came right up to say hi and then walked alongside me for a bit.

I finally made it back to Vernon, and was able to make a quick detour to see something I'd found online (which is a big reason I decided to walk back): A castle! I have a thing for old castles, and this one is from the 12th century. One of the towers was destroyed by a bomb in WWII, but was recently rebuilt (the whiter one in the front). It sits along the bank of the Seine River, near an old mill, and the whole area is so pretty. I sat down on a picnic bench in front of the castle and soaked it all in for a while before moving on. One thing I learned on my previous trip to Paris: I really love little French country towns. They're just so quaint and peaceful.

Tourelles Castle.

The Old Mill. It used to sit at the end of an ancient bridge (about as old as the castle), but all that's left of that are a few stone pilings.

At this point, I crossed the Seine back into Vernon and set out to find the train station so I could finally have lunch (it was well after 1:00 by then). The signs up until that point had been very clear, so I wasn't worried about finding it, but I must have missed one because once I was across the river, there were no more signs to the station, and I got horribly lost. I don't know how many streets I wandered (at least they were pretty?) before finally spotting a sign to the "gare" (French for train station). I still had some time before the next train, but not as much as I planned, so I ate at the cafe across the street. Another croque monsieur, which was delicious. They always are.

I was back in Paris by about 4pm, and headed to the apartment for the night, needing to put up my sore feet. This was becoming a theme. If I ever go back, I’m going to have to make an effort not to walk so much. I never once got out after dark to see the city lit up. Though part of that was due to the city not even getting dark until after 10pm.

I really wanted to get the rest of my trip into one post, but I should probably stop here and save the last two days. There wasn’t as much on those days, so I should be able to wrap it all up in one last blog. It may take me a few days because I have work on my day job’s website to do tomorrow, but I will get it up by the end of the week, promise!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Paris Days Two & Three

Thank goodness it’s a holiday weekend. I’m still trying to kick this cough and get my sleep patterns back to normal. Maybe if I sleep lots this weekend, I’ll get my internal clock reset.

All right, let’s see if I can get more than one day into this post. My second full day in Paris also happened to be my birthday, one of the reasons I decided to take the trip when I did. All in all, it was a pretty great day. A little colder than the previous day, but bright and sunny. Perfect weather for exploring the city further, which was what I did.

I started out by going to the Ile de la Cité to see the Saint-Chappelle church. On previous trips, I’d always missed fitting it into the itinerary, so I wanted to be sure to get it this time. Also, they say to fully appreciate the stained glass windows, it’s best to visit on a sunny day. Well, it doesn’t get much sunnier than that day, so I set off on my way.

Along the way, I got this nice, sunny shot of the Concergerie, the prison where Marie Antoinette was held before being guillotined. I visited it last time, so didn't go in on this trip.

Since I didn’t buy a Museum Pass (which gets you in free and lets you jump ticket lines), I had to stand in line to get in, but it wasn’t too bad. I waited about 20 minutes, bought my ticket, and was in. And… was kind of disappointed. The area was dark and low-ceilinged (for a Paris church) and the windows were pretty, but nothing spectacular. I wandered around, took some photos (none that came out well enough to post), didn’t see that there was anything else around, and headed back out. Something didn’t feel right about it, but I had a lot of things I wanted to do, and there didn’t seem to be much reason to linger when I’d seen everything there. Well, it turned out I hadn’t seen everything. I was in the lower chapel, and the main part of the church, the part that makes it such a major monument, was the upper chapel. Apparently, there was a narrow, winding staircase off to one side of the lower room, something I hadn’t noticed in the dark. If I had gone up, I would have seen this:

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Yeah. I feel pretty stupid. I was going to try to go back, but the cheap side of me didn’t want to spend another €8.50, and when I did the math, buying a Museum Pass wasn’t going to save me any money, so in the end, I didn’t return. It’ll have to be on the list next time I go, because while I’m not much of a religious person, I love beautiful old churches. This one looks pretty dazzling, too, so I’m bummed I was right there and missed out. They need bigger signs! This was one time I would have benefitted from not going alone: a traveling companion surely would have said “Hey, we need to look around more. There must be something else here!”

I was going to do a walk all around the island, to see the parts I’ve always missed in the past, but my feet were already starting to hurt, so instead I headed for Notre Dame. The last time I was there, it was a rainy day and there was a big, ugly tent out in front for some kind of festival, so my photos weren’t as good as I’d like. I wanted to get better ones, and it was the perfect day for it. So I did. (I posted one already in the previous post.)


I was going to go inside, since last time we went on a Sunday during a church service and it was really packed. But this time, even though it was a Saturday, the lines were pretty crazy. In the end, I figured I’ve already been in there twice, so no reason to kill my feet by standing in line. Maybe later in the trip I’d find myself back there and be able to get in quicker (I didn’t). I had more to see, so I moved on. At the back of the island, behind Notre Dame, there’s a memorial I never knew existed: La Mémorial des Martyrs de La Déportation. It’s a small memorial, built in a former morgue (I didn’t know that until I came home and looked it up), to honor the Jewish citizens who were rounded up and deported to Nazi concentration camps in WWII. Anyone who has read the fabulous Sarah’s Key will be familiar with this. And if you haven’t read it, do. It’s a great book. Anyway, the memorial is a small room with a couple of alcoves and this one long hall (behind bars, so you can’t get closer). According to Wikipedia, those are 200,000 backlit crystals, symbolizing each of the deportees who died in the camps. There’s also supposed to be an eternal flame there, but I don’t remember seeing one (unless it’s at the end of that hall?).

There wasn’t anything else to see or do on the island, since it was too cold to get the famous ice cream I always mean to check out there. I probably should have gotten it anyway, but once again, I thought maybe I’d be back before the end of the week. No such luck. So I crossed to the other bank of the Seine and found a metro that would take me to the Eiffel Tower, my next stop. The one thing I wanted to do on my birthday was have lunch on the grass in front of the tower. I misread my map and got off at the wrong stop, so I ended up walking much further than intended (my poor feet), but eventually got there. And I came upon a great bakery along the way that not only made fantastic sandwiches (the best I had that week), but had an adorable, fuzzy cat lounging in their window to help ease my homesickness for my own kitties.

View of the tower from where I had my lunch.

My next stop was Les Invalides, which houses a massive Army museum and a church with Napoleon’s tomb. It’s one of the places I’d never been, so it was at the top of my “must see” list. Since it’s not too far from the Eiffel Tower, I walked there. As it turns out, the metro stop I used previously was closer to it than the tower, so I would have been better off seeing Invalides first, but my empty stomach was leading me at that time, and it was Eiffel Tower or bust. The church at Les Invalides was beautiful, and for a little man, Napoleon’s tomb was pretty massive.


Despite my aching feet, I made myself see as much of the attached museums as possible, but to be honest, they didn’t really excite me too much. It was a lot of rooms (and I mean a LOT) of armor, weapons and other military clothing. Room after room after room of the same stuff. If you were into military history, you’d love it. I know my grandfather would have probably camped out in there for weeks if he’d been allowed, but for me, it didn’t do much. And my feet were really hurting, so I probably should have skipped it. That’s my cheap side again: I paid €9 to get in, so I was going to get my money’s worth!

I headed “home” a little earlier that day to rest my feet, and despite every intention of going somewhere special for a birthday dinner, I ended up grabbing a crepe and eating in in the Tuileries garden by the Louvre (I went back there with the intention of seeing a museum before calling it a night, but I missed the metro stop I was aiming for and ended up walking from Les Invalides back to the Place de la Concorde, and by the time I got there, I was too tired and sore to walk any more. So, on my birthday, in Paris, I called it a night at about 5pm. Pathetic, I know.

The next day was light on sight-seeing. At this point, I was planning to get the Museum Pass later in the trip, so I was saving all of the museums and monuments that were on it for later. Also, it was a pretty cold day. Sunny again, but cold. When I got up, i t was 46 degrees! My first order of business was to go to the train station and buy my train ticket for my excursion the following day to Giverny (Monet’s house and gardens). I’d read it’s better to buy them ahead of time so you don’t get stuck in a long line the day of and miss the train. Good advice, and it had the added advantage of letting me time how long it would take me to get there the next morning.

Whoever says the French are rude hasn’t ever been to Paris, as far as I’m concerned. On two occasions that day, a Parisian saved my butt. First, after buying my train tickets, I headed out of the ticket office to a bench to sit down and organize some things. While I sat there, this man came running out after me, holding out my return tickets, which I’d either dropped or left before the ticket agent could give it to me. One crisis averted. Next, once I had all of my things back in order and was ready to head out, I stood up and immediately the man sitting on the next bench over called out “Madame!” I turned, and he pointed to the ground… where my wallet lay. I’d dropped it and would have walked off without realizing it if it weren’t for him. I’d have been in BIG trouble, because all of my cash, credit cards and driver’s license were in there! The only thing not there was my passport. I had a moment of “what if” panic, thanked him profusely, then stuffed it back in my bag and was on my way. My next stop was supposed to be the FNAC nearby, where I could pre-buy my admission ticket to Giverny, but it was Sunday, and most stores in Paris are closed on Sundays. Drat.

When researching my trip, I kept reading how you had to see a street market at least once, and get the fixings for lunch, then go to a park and eat. Well, one of the major markets, at Rue Mouffetard, was open on Sundays, so I metro-ed over to St. Germain to check it out. It was busy, but I think I was expecting something bigger. Still, I got a sandwich and a basket of (over-priced, but very sweet) strawberries, then walked over to the Jardin des Plantes to eat.

Part of the street market. The cat was so cute. :)

The yummy, but expensive, strawberries

Near my lunch bench in the Jardin des Plantes

Next stop: Montmartre. I wanted to check out the cemetery there, and stop by Sacre Coeur for some sunny-day photos (again, it was gloomy there on past trips). And since it was Mother’s Day, I couldn’t resist e-mailing my mom a picture of the sex shops I was walking past. Because every mother wants to know her daughter’s hanging out in the red light district on Mother’s Day, right? I also e-mailed her a photo of a flower shop, so hopefully that made up for it. Anyway, the only reason to be in the red light district, at least for me, is to see the Moulin Rouge:

I think this is the first time I've seen it during the day.

The cemetery wasn't too far from there, and I spent a good hour or so wandering around. I love cemeteries, and the older the better. There's something about this style of cemetery, with the above-ground crypts, that I especially love. They're so charming and picturesque. Am I weird for thinking that?

I spent more time there than planned because I had a hard time finding some of the famous graves. This was my own fault: I read a tip the night before to be sure to pick up a map at the entrance. But when I walked in, there were no maps I could see other than the giant sign posted (which wasn't portable). Turns out, on my way out, I spotted a little office where a guy was handing out paper maps. D'oh! But there was another big map-sign in the middle of the cemetery, so I was able to use that and my own Paris map book, which had a small map of the grave locations, and eventually found the two famous graves I was looking for: Edward Degas and Alexandre Dumas. After that, I headed for my last major stop, Sacre Coeur.

Sacre Coeur is my favorite of the Paris churches. It's beautiful, for one thing, and so different than the rest thanks to its gleaming white facade. And it stands up on this hill overlooking the entire city that makes you feel like you're on top of the world. It's also very crowded. Knowing to avoid the main stairs (where the crowds and hair-braiding gypsies hang out), I came to it from the side. This had the added advantage of less up-hill walking, which my feet appreciated. I circled the church, took lots of pictures, considered going in, saw the line, changed my mind, then headed down the steps towards the metro that would take me back to my apartment. Along the way, I killed some time in the multitude of souvenir shops lining the Rue des Abbesses, the main road out of Montmartre (and the location of the metro stop). Every store sells the same stuff, and most of it's tacky tourist junk, but it's still interesting to nose around. I hadn't gotten any souvenirs myself yet, but didn't have much luck there. Nor would I have much luck for the rest of the trip, sadly. It's amazing: Paris is probably one of the shopping capitals of the world, I couldn't find anything to buy! I blame my budget for that one.

That's it for now. Later in the weekend I'll try to do the rest. Au revoir!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Paris in the Springtime

Yes, I’m still alive. I apologize for going so long without updating the blog, but I have a good excuse: I was on vacation. In Paris! (Okay, I wasn’t on vacation this whole time, but between decompressing from the craziness of the TItanic centenary and preparing for the trip, then recovering once I was back home, there hasn’t been much time for blogging.)

I’ve been home almost a week now, and finally have some time to get my photos sorted out and my thoughts written down. It took a little longer thanks to the nasty cold I brought home with me, but I’m starting to feel normal again, finally.

Because I can be long-winded, and tend to take a lot of photographs, I’m going to split this travel blog up over a few days. Today’s post will be the first couple of days of the trip, which were also the days I did the most, so it will probably be the longest. I will aim for brevity, but make no promises. “Short” has never been my strong suit in writing.

We’ll start with a random pretty picture of Notre Dame, because Blogger makes the first photo the post’s cover shot, and otherwise my first photo would be a set of keys to the Bastille. Interesting, but not as pretty.

A little background on how this trip came about. I had the hankering to go somewhere this summer, but couldn’t find anyone able to go with me. So rather than stay home I decided I’m a big girl: I can go on vacation by myself. People do it all the time, so why shouldn’t I? Since this would be my first solo vacation, I figured my best bet would be to start with something familiar. That way, if the experience was overwhelming, I’d at least be somewhere I knew, so I wouldn’t feel too lost. Enter Paris. I’ve been there twice before, and am completely in love with it. Going back was a no-brainer. I know my way around, there are still parts of the city I had yet to see, and the more I thought about returning, the more excited I got. I could rent a cute little studio apartment for myself and feel like a Parisian for a week. It would be great!

And it was great. I found that I really enjoyed vacationing by myself. I Skyped home every night to talk to my family, so I never got lonely, and during the days I had the whole city in front of me to do with as I pleased. I could rush through places that didn’t interest me and could linger at others if the mood struck (or if I was getting camera-happy and taking a bazillion pictures), without it bothering anyone. Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoy traveling with other people. It’s nice to have someone else to talk to and share the experience with. But now I know that if I find myself companion-less again, I can travel alone and still enjoy it.

I took an evening flight from Tampa that arrived in Paris around 2:00pm, thinking it would help with jet lag to get in later in the day. I don’t think it did, and by not arriving in the morning like most people do, I ended up losing that whole day for sightseeing. In the future, I think I will go back to arriving in the morning, to maximize my time. As it was, by the time I got to the apartment I’d rented, it was after 4pm. There was some miscommunication between me and the landlord, so it took some extra time to get me and the guy meeting me in the same place, but eventually he found me and we got into the apartment. It was as cute as advertised, and I was excited to get settled in, but it would be another hour before that could happen due to some trouble we had with the TV and Internet. But he was very kind and determined to get everything working, for which I was very grateful, and by 6:00, he was gone and I was finally on my own. While I never had much use for the TV (all the channels were in French), the wifi was essential, so I’m glad he got it working. But at that point, all I had time for was a quick dinner (a crepe, something I’d been craving ever since my last Paris vacation) and some unpacking and relaxing from the long flight.

After a long night of not much sleeping thanks to a combination of jet lag and very stompy upstairs neighbors, my first full day dawned grey and rainy, but in the upper 60s, so not too cold. Given the weather, I started with a museum, the Museé Carnavalet, a free museum about the history of the city. It’s in a big old hotel (the Hotel Carnavalet) in the Marais district of Paris and covers the long history of Paris, from a prehistoric dugout canoe from 4600 BC to the present day. It’s a fascinating museum, one I might have enjoyed even more if I was fluent in French: all of the signs and descriptions were in French only, and while I do understand some of the language, a lot of it was lost on me. I could have gotten an audio guide that would have helped, but by the time I realized it would be useful, I was too far into the maze of rooms to go back.

A lesson to anyone going to Paris that doesn’t speak French: always get the audio guide in museums! Most of them don’t have English descriptions posted.

My favorite part of the museum had to be the section devoted to the French Revolution. That era of French history has always fascinated me, and I wasn’t disappointed here. One of my favorite displays was the room about the Bastille, which included these keys from the prison:

See, not as pretty for a cover image

Once I was finished with the museum, I headed for the Place des Vosges, the oldest “planned square” in Paris (according to Wikipedia). It has a beautiful old Paris look to it, surrounded on all sides by what I consider typical French buildings. It also has the house where Victor Hugo once stayed (back when it was a hotel, I believe), which is another free museum I wanted to check out. It was much smaller, and to be honest, not as interesting to me, but that’s mostly because I haven’t read much Hugo and therefore wasn’t as interested in him. But the square was beautiful and peaceful and it was nice to sit and rest for a little while before moving on with my day.

Place des Vosges

Since I was already halfway there, my next stop was the Place de la Bastille, the site of the Bastille prison. There was a café there I wanted to check out after seeing glowing reviews about the croque monsieurs (ham sandwiches with melted cheese on top. Yummy!), and it was nearing lunch time. It was still gloomy out, but that’s Paris for you sometimes. The sandwich was fantastic, and it was nice to spend a little time sitting at a café and writing in my journal. One of the great things about Paris is that they don’t mind if you linger over a meal, so there’s never any pressure to hurry up and clear the table for the next diner. The only downside to the outdoor cafes? Smoking is banned indoors now, so that’s where all the smokers go. I probably sucked down more secondhand smoke in that one week than I have in the last ten years. All part of the Paris experience, I suppose.

The July Column (Colonne de Juillet) in the Place de la Bastille (the glass building on the right is the new opera house, the Opéra Bastille)

After lunch, I was off and walking again. (This would come back to bite me in the ass – or rather, the feet – later.) It was so nice out (still gloomy, but no longer raining and a very comfortable temperature), I wanted to explore some more. I headed for the Hotel de Ville next, walking along the Seine for maximum scenery. You can’t actually go inside, as it’s now a government building, but I love the Robert Doisneau photo, Kiss by the Hotel de Ville, and have always wanted to see the place for myself. Well, here it is:

The Hotel de Ville, minus the kissing people and from the other angle

More walking along the river was next, with no specific destination in mind. It was a lovely, if grey, day, and I was enjoying my wander. At this point, my feet weren’t hurting and I was marveling at how wonderful my Dr. Scholl’s shoes were. Not a blister in sight yet and I felt like I could walk for days. So off I went, enjoying the scenic views of the river despite the overcast skies. I had my first sighting of the Eiffel Tower (for this visit)…

...and a lovely view of the Ile de la Cité, the larger of the two islands in the middle of the river, where Notre Dame is located.I’ve always meant to check out the park at the point of the island, but never made it there. Something for the next trip!

It wasn't long before I was nearing the Louvre, somewhere I hadn't planned to go on this trip, as I've already been there twice. But it was there, and it didn't cost anything to see from the outside, so I figured why not? That little detour turned out to be one of the highlights of the day, so I’m glad I made it. The museum building is huge and beautiful, and I'm always happy to spend some time photographing it from every conceivable angle. Once I was done wandering around and aiming my camera everywhere, I headed for the park in front of it, the Jardin des Tuileries, to sit for a while and take in my surroundings. Along the way, I stopped to get a pastry and a water, and had myself an impromptu snack. And made some new friends.

One wing of the massive Louvre building, as seen from the Jardin des Tuileries

My new friends, who appeared about two milliseconds after the first crinkle of my pastry bag. The male had no fear whatsoever of people, so clearly this wasn't his first encounter with a snacking human. They were both cute, though, quacking and sidling up to me. I'm a sucker for animals, so I contributed to their delinquency by dropping a few scraps of croissant.

The other end of the park is the Place de la Concorde, the site of the guillotine during the French Revolution. Since I was practically there already, I headed that way, got some photos, wandered around a little, then set off for my last quest of the day: shopping. I wanted to get myself a scarf or two to wear during my stay, in the hopes that it would help me blend in more and look less like a tourist. But my choice in shopping locales that day left some to be desired: I went first to the two big department stores, Au Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. Designer department stores, with prices to match. Not even close to my budget. After much walking around (and now, aching feet), I found a little shop having a sale and picked up two for 5€ each. They were pretty and kept my neck warm all week, but I live in Florida, so I have no clue when I’ll ever wear them again. Very sad: I really loved the purple one.

The Place de la Concorde, shot on a later, sunnier day. The obelisk originally stood in front of Luxor Temple in Egypt.

This is Luxor Temple, taken on a previous vacation. So now I've seen the whole set, thousands of miles apart!

I’m a little ashamed to say my first full day in Paris ended with dinner at, of all places, McDonald’s. But in my defense, I’d been walking ALL day and my feet were aching (complete with blister). All I wanted to do was go “home” and rest, so I grabbed a burger and fries before jumping back on the Métro to return to my apartment. Sadly, this would become a theme at dinner time. A full week in the city and I never once sat down in a restaurant for a proper dinner. I was always too tired, so dinner would become a crepe or a baguette or, yet again, McDonald’s. I guess that’s one advantage to traveling with other people: they force me to eat a proper dinner. Left to my own devices, even at home, I don’t eat much.

Well, that's day one of my trip. My intention to combine a few days into one post seems to have failed. Rather than let this get way too long, I'll stop here and pick up where I left off tomorrow.