Friday, September 28, 2007

Last European Vacation Post: Paris!

Say it isn't so! I cannot believe that it has been a month since I last wrote. I've gotten really bad about this. Uff.

This is my last post about the European vacation we took this summer. I wonder how much better I'll be at posting now that I don't have a million photos to pour through every time I want to write. Ha. As if it's the photos' fault that I've taken this long!

So, last I wrote, we were in Amsterdam and Utrecht. From there we took a train to Paris, our final stop. Our hotel was near-ish to the Eiffel Tower and the first thing we saw in Paris was just that! As we walked to our hotel from the Metro (subway), we saw it looming in the distance. So, we grabbed dinner and then walked toward the light. Here it is in the evening (quite beautiful, if I do say so myself):

Sometimes -- I think it was every hour, on the hour -- the Tower just starts to sparkle all over, with the background lights going off and only little lights lighting up (and seeming to move) all over the tower.

The next day, we went to Notre Dame. Incredibly (to me), Notre Dame took nearly 200 years to build!! According to Rick Steves, much of the work on the cathedral was done (for free) by the parishioners themselves. You would recognize it if I were to post a picture that looked like this. I have to laugh, because I am probably the only person in the whole entire world who comes back from Paris with only a picture of the back of freaking Notre Dame!! How did I do this? I don't know. Truth be told, though, I think the back is almost more beautiful. A very lucky thing that happened to us as we were touring Notre Dame is that there was a choir practicing while we went through. I felt very lucky having a chance to hear the church used that way -- a non-touristy way. It gave you a sense of what it's like to worship there, not just be a tourist there.

From Notre Dame, we wandered around the Left Bank area and walked by a very famous book store (Shakespeare and Co.) that Ernest Hemingway wrote about in "A Movable Feast." There is so much history in Paris -- so much art (visual and verbal) history -- that there is always something exciting to see just around the corner, it seems.

Another way that we got to see some architecture (especially getting a close-up of the bridges) was on a boat tour. Our tour was not so great in the sense that, as I said of the one in Copenhagen, there is little room for the narrator to ad-lib when they have to present in multiple languages, so we learned only very by-the-book info about the stuff we saw. It was still nice to give our weary legs a rest, though, and to see the city from a different perspective. We saw all the usual stuff on the tour, but we also saw this:

I know it's not very good paparazzi-ing, but this is a shot of some big Ratatouille shindig. It looked quite swanky. It was along the river and it was a perfect night for just such a soiree, it seemed to me. I have no idea if anyone famous was there or not, but it was clearly a big, expensive party -- unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of the gigantic cake they had.

On our way home from our boat ride, we stopped by the Louvre. We walked home from the boat and it was a verry long walk. Still, it was nice to see the Louvre all lit up at night.

I think one of the most shocking things about the European museums is how unbelievably large the buildings that house the museums are!! This place was HUGE. It used to be a palace. Note the, um, interesting pyramid from (I think) I. M. Pei in the middle.

We went another day to see the inside of the Louvre. We did see the infamous Mona Lisa. She is small. But, I'm glad we got to see her. I really, really wish we had been able to get into some of the modern museums, but our timing was off for that while we were there. I am actually a much bigger fan of modern art than of the old classics. This is not to say that I don't appreciate the older stuff a all, but I just don't get quite as excited over it as I do the newer and Paris has an incredible, gigantic collection of art from every age!

From high art, we went the next day to Montmartre, where many famous artists have spent time doing some very not high minded things along with their art that eventually became known as fine art. We are talking here of Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Van Gogh (briefly), and many, many others.

High atop Montmartre is the Sacre-Coeur. It is an amazing church that looks like it is much older than it is. Not only is the outside beautiful, but it has gorgeous mosaic all throughout the inside. I am a nut for mosaic, so I enjoyed the inside of this church more than even Notre Dame. Please note: BIG freaking hill.

After climbing the BIG freaking hill to get there and walking through the place, my husband naturally thought it would be a good idea to walk to the top of the church.... Yes, we walked hundreds of tiny steps to the top of the darn church. We even climbed around a little bit outside on the roof, to follow the path to the top. Yes, this was kosher. We paid an entrance fee to do this. So, basically, we paid to climb. Oy.

Then we walked around a much more profane space: the market place at Place du Tertre.
I kinneared a shot here, basically. All around there were current, active artists selling their goods, painting, and playing chess! It was great! It was very moving to think that years ago, it could have been Picasso, or one of his colleagues, that was selling here. I thought that was pretty cool.

Two more images from the area:
The building on the right is the Lapin Agile (Agile Rabbit -- named for the picture of the rabbit jumping out of the stew pot painted on the building). It is another place on Montmartre that is famous for being an artist hangout. Specifically, Rick Steves mentions Picasso, Renoir, Utrillo, Modigliani, etc. Quite impressive!

Lastly, at the end of our trek around Montmartre, we saw the infamous Moulin Rouge, which means, by the way, Red Windmill.
As it turns out, there had been lots of windmills in the area. This one just happens to be the famous one because of the cabaret that was associated with it. The can-can was started there, I believe.

On our last day of Paris, we finally made it to the yarn store. Yes, our last yarn for the trip and the blanket. The store we went to was La Droguerie. Apparently there is also a yarn store at Le Bon Marche, a department store in Paris, but given my experience with the yarn store at Stephen's Green in Dublin, I didn't even want to take a chance. Here is a photo of the outside of the store:
Why only the outside, you ask? Because the people inside wouldn't let us take one of the inside!! Seriously!! I have very mixed feelings about La Droguerie. They had some really wonderful embellishments and good stuff for sale there -- beads too! A person who likes that kind of stuff could get lost there forever even though it's not that large of a place.

So, what's negative about it? Well, mostly the vibe, I thought. The first thing that happened was that we were told not to take a photo. They certainly have the right to say no, but it was kind of a turn off. Then, their yarn selection was kind of limited. Well, not exactly. I mean, they had a wide variety of colors and a couple of different blends, which was great, but they only carried one brand of yarn -- presumably theirs (it had no labels or anything on it).

So, I looked through the yarn and decided to get something very neutral, because, once again, I had forgotten to bring my clippings from the other colors that I had. Fine, so I took them off the hooks and walked around the store to look at all the other goodies. All around us there were shiny objects just begging to be touched, but all of them had signs on them saying not to touch -- a salesperson would help you. As I was sitting with Andrew, fondling my yarn, taking it all in, a very polite and quiet saleswoman came up to us as asked if there was anything else we needed. I said no, thank you. At which point she explained to me that at that store, you weren't even supposed to pick up your own freaking yarn!! There were no signs to this effect on the yarn, but I guess I was supposed to know this somehow. It was very embarrassing. :( I handed over my yarn and she took it back behind the cage (where the crabby no-photos lady stayed to complete the sales transactions for everyone as they checked out. It was kind of weird and definitely not the happy, fondle-our-yarn experience that all of the other yarn stores throughout Europe were. I know a lot of people like this store and I can understand why, but I was apparently having a culturally inept day and it kind of turned me off. Oh well. Here is our yarn:

Despite how uncomfortable the experience was, I did enjoy shopping for yarn in Paris and think that the store is a really unique place. On another day, I might have fallen in love with it. By that time, we were both pretty tired from travelling and about ready to get home and I'm sure this colored the experience.

So, at the end of our stay in Paris, we got on a plane and jetted off for the U.S. We had a great time, got some wonderful yarn, and were pretty happy to get home, too.