Monday, February 16, 2009

Paris holds the key to my heart?

Eeeeeeeh, wrong. I'm sorry, you are not a winner, please try again.

Ok, so that is not to say that I did not have a good time in Paris this past weekend. Quite the contrary - it was a very fun experience. Yet I just did not feel that Paris was quite all it is always made out to be. Examples follow.

The 6 of us arrived in Paris around 7 pm on Thursday night. Now, we had bought cheap airline tickets, so the airport we arrived at was quite small. In fact, it was far, far smaller than even the Lesser (Greater) Peoria International Airport, if you can believe that. We were still not too phased by this and proceeded into the airport where we were immediately confronted with a ticket booth to buy a 13 euro one-way bus ticket. Now, we thought that this was a big pricey and inquired about the metro or a taxi - turns out, we were over an hour outside of the city and it would have cost over 200 euro to take a taxi! Well, that 13 euro bus ticket suddenly sounded pretty good.

So after a 70-minute bus ride, we arrive in the actual city, found a metro and navigated our way to the hostel where we then found some pizza (I was starving and did not care that pizza is not very French) and crashed. The next morning I awoke and attempted to take a shower. I have to say, I have rarely been less sure of my cleanliness after getting out of the shower. There was practically no water coming out of the shower head and what water there was was spraying in every possible direction but towards me. Also, the water shut off every 30 seconds. Needless to say I opted out of a shower the next day.

So the 7 of us (we had joined up with a friend of two of the girls the night before) headed out in the rainy-snow mixture around 9 towards the Bastille. The Bastille was apparently very significant to the start of the French Revolution, and I don't know what I was expecting but it was not a monument in the middle of a roundabout that you can't even walk up to. What a let down. We then hopped on the metro towards the Pantheon. This is an old basilica that now serves as the final resting place of many of France's significant historical figures: Voltaire, Rousseau, Louis Braille, the Curies, Victor Hugo and my personal favorite, Alexander Dumas. I promised dead-Dumas that I would read the Three Musketeers this summer. I'm sure he cared greatly.

After the Pantheon it was off to Notre Dame. Amy, one of my travel companions, and I decided that we thought it would be bigger. Not to say that it is not impressive and beautiful, but it just has always been portrayed as being overly huge. The inside was much more impressive, if you ask me. Though the crappy weather was a downer the rest of the day, the gloominess really added to the mystery of the inside of the cathedral. I could definitely worship God there (though they would probably be reluctant to let me since I'm not Catholic).

At this point it was time for lunch at a little cafe where I had some pretty decent quiche and had to pay 50 cents to use the bathroom. I was pretty irked by this fact, considering I was not sure when I was going to find a public restroom next (they are not as common in Europe as they are in the States) and I really needed to pee. Jackie and I ended up going in together so as to save a bit of money. I will say that it was the only completely clean, acceptable bathroom that I found the entire time I was in Paris (it actually had a soap dispenser AND soap - imagine that!), so I guess it was worth paying for.

After lunch the majority of the group went to see the catacombs, which is apparently where they dumped all of the beheaded bodies during the Revolution. Jackie and I were not so interested in seeing a bunch of dead people (because you do actually see them), so we opted to go to the Arc of Triumph (another let-down if you ask me, plus it was bitterly cold) and then shopping down the Champs Elysees. Pretty much every store was far out of our price range, but it was fun to look nonetheless. We also took a delicious pastry break where she had a chocolate-banana tart and I had a take on coconut cream pie. Yummmmmmmm.

We had agreed to meet the rest of the group at the Louvre at 5:45, since it is free for students on Fridays from 6-9:45. Emily, who had been there before, told us to meet at this glass pyramid by the entrance where you buy tickets. Jackie and I took the metro, got off, followed the signs and ended up by this glass pyramid that came down into the building and was right next to an entrance where you buy tickets. Great!, we thought. Here we are! So we wait, and wait, and wait, and the rest of the group never appears. After a couple of very confusing phone calls and much frustration on both ends, it turned out that we were at the wrong glass pyramid. Apparently the one we were supposed to be meeting at is the very famous entrance to the museum. Well, this country bumpkin had no idea and neither did Jackie. In retrospect it was all pretty humorous, but then we were also rather sleep deprived.

At any rate, I did get to see the Mona Lisa - she's much smaller than I would have expected and was frankly too far away to get a really good look at her. My favorite painting in the place was one of about two Monets that they had. I was disappointed to learn that every van Gogh ever painted is at a different museum about 5 minutes from the Louvre. In general, the Louvre would have been a much more interesting experience if I had had someone with me who knew anything about art and could have told me about what I was seeing.

At this point we still hadn't seen the Eiffel Tower, but by golly everyone was determined to get it in that day. We ended up getting there around 10:30, bought our tickets to the top and got on the elevator. We got to the first level and I was already higher than I ever wanted to be. I ended up getting separated from the rest of the group on the actual elevator to the top and ended up with these British girls, one of which was as freaked out as I was. We were both about having a heart attack, only her's was with an accent. The top consists of two levels: a lower one surrounded by windows which did not freak me out too much and then you climb the stairs to get to the actual observation level. Yes, is is enclosed with wire mesh but no, I still did not feel particularly secure. I stayed up long enough to take about 5 pictures and then went back to the glassed-in area. That was enough of that. I much preferred the view from the ground, which really was quite impressive.

The next morning we all headed out bright and early (and a little grumpily) to Versailles. Now, this was definitely the one thing that was every bit as cool as everyone always says. I have never seen anything so massive or shiny. It was too bad that it was not warmer and we didn't have more time because I would have liked to have seen the gardens in bloom, but even so it was absolutely amazing.

The flight back, unfortunately, turned out to be a nightmare. The airline we flew (the cheap one) allows you to have one carry on, purses included, that can weigh only 10 kg. The people in Madrid did not care about any of this, but the people in Paris sure did. Jackie and I were just over the 10 kg and the lady, who thought her job was the most important in the world, told us that we would just have to check our bags. Heck no. Not for an extra 20 euro. In the end we did some switching around of some things and a little trickery (Emily, who already had her boarding pass, took my purse to "put into her bag", and then I just put it back into mine once I had my boarding pass) and got through. Then, as we were standing in line to go through security, a different man insisted that three of us (me included, of course) put our bags into the little blue box to make sure they fit. Kristy told him that we had just done this five minutes before, but he didn't care. Turns out that you have to put my bag in upside-down for it to fit. Go figure. So as we are doing this, another lady comes up to us and starts yelling at us in rapid French and when we didn't understand her, she just started yelling louder! Turns out she wanted us to "MAKE A BETTER LINE!!!", though we were really just being pushed along by the crowd and had a few problems accomplishing this task. By the time we got through security, my hair pins had set off the beeper, Jackie's bag had been searched and we all decided that we hated the French. I have never been so glad to be in Spain in my entire life. Sure, I can only passably speak the language but as it turns out, that is far more than I can do in France! Every time someone in Paris spoke to me in French I froze, giving them this deer-in-headlights look. I couldn't remember a single phrase to say to them! Luckily they quickly picked up on the fact that I could not speak one word of French and usually slipped fairly easily into English.

So, in general, here is my impression of France in comparison to Spain: it is dirtier, the people are snottier and the famous monuments are not quite all they are cracked up to be. Perhaps my expectations were just too high, but why not? I was supposed to be in the most romantic city in the world!

I love Madrid.

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