The ride across the English Channel was uneventful. As the train reaches speeds of up to 190 miles/hr, you could miss the entire Chunnel portion with just a short nap. The Chunnel is the longest of its kind in the world, and rides under the sea for 23.5 miles. In places, it is actually 250 feet deep. On the other side of the channel, we rode through fields until hitting the sprawling metro of Paris. With some luck, I managed to find my hostel about 3 miles from the station. Called Young and Happy, it was filled with people just that. I met a great group of Danes and Australians that night, and we explored the ancient, narrow streets of the Latin Quarter. We also crossed the Seine River and stared at the famous Gothic cathedral known as Notre Dame.
The City of Love
The next morning I had a decent breakfast with the Danes before moving my stuff into a studio apartment that Glenna and I had rented off Airbnb. Then I made the long walk out to Paris’ most visited site: the Eiffel Tower. Originally built as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, Gustave Eiffel’s tower was only meant to last 20 years. However, with the invention of the radio it was saved and has become one of the most recognizable structures in the world. It is a tourism mecca- with over 7 million annual visitors, it is the most visited monument in the world. It was packed!
Long lines to ascend it extended out into the square below while people filled the nearby grass spaces, picnicking, taking pictures, and gazing up in wonder. I did all three as I waited. Around 6PM I found her…
Glenna was officially here in Paris!
On the metro ride back to the studio, we caught up with what had been happening in our crazy lives the past couple weeks. We dropped our stuff off at the studio and headed out for some food. Crepes filled with eggs, cheese, tomatoes, and mushrooms did the trick. In line, we met a nice Australian girl and wandered the streets afterward with her. Along the Seine River, we came across a salsa dancing group. Some of the dancers were incredible. Glenna and I joined in, though I must admit, we were dancing to our own beat! Afterward, we called it a night. I was so happy to be in the city of love with my girl!
The next morning we bought some bakery and had a nice breakfast in a beautiful park called Luxembourg Gardens. We killed 2 hours in the nearby Pantheon, a dedicated art museum with a crypt that housed the remains of several prominent French writers and inventors including Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas. It was a bit frustrating though because none of the exhibits had any English. Next up was a nice walking tour that took us down the Seine River and showed us many famous sights.
We learned that the city was named after a Gaul tribe called the Parii who inhabited the area before the Romans wiped them out. In their honor, they named the new city Paris. We viewed the famous Notre Dame Cathedral. Incredibly, it took almost 200 years to build the Gothic structure. It would have been completely destroyed too, if not for the efforts of Victor Hugo whose famous story, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, revived people’s interest and garnered support for the cathedral’s reconstruction.
A little down river was the Louvre, one of the largest art galleries in the world with a ridiculous 17 km of exhibits! We passed by the recognizable glass pyramids, through an arch, and ended at the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in the city. This was home to the guillotine during the year long Reign of Terror. King Louis XV and Queen Marie Antoinnete were both executed here, as were thousands of others. During the height of the French Revolution, the whole square would have been drowning in the blood of those deemed to be enemies of the cause.
When the tour was over, we continued down the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. 284 steps brought us to the top of the arch where we were rewarded with some great views of the city. Even more entertaining was watching the roundabout below. 12 avenues all spill into what seems to be about a 10 lane roundabout, however there are no painted lines. Cars and bikes weave in and out of each other- normal rules of the road don’t seem to apply. Somehow, there were no accidents while we watched though I’m sure they are frequent.
From there, we hiked down to the Eiffel Tower. Long lines steered us to the Montparnesse Tower instead. As the highest building in the city, you really can see everything from the observation deck. Back at the studio, we popped open a bottle of wine and headed to the bank of the Seine. We talked and laughed, watching cruise boats float. A night-time stroll past bridges teeming with locks and through lamp-lit narrow cobblestone roads brought us back to our cozy bed.
The next morning Paris defeated me. We woke up early enough to get to the Louvre before it opened. So did 1,000 others. Despite trying three different entrances, every line was at least an hour long. Notre Dame was the same scenario. While we got into the cathedral easy enough, the line to go up the towers and see the famous gargoyles up close was a half mile long. Frustrated, we boarded a Seine River Cruise instead. The music on board lifted our spirits and the commentary was informative as well. With raised heads, we went back to the Louvre and got in in less than a half hour.
The crowds were thick inside, but it was the Louvre itself that was overwhelming.
Three floors, 3 wings, hundreds of rooms… Where should we start?
We toured ancient Greek and Roman statues, visited some Egyptian art, and then onto Napoleon’s own apartments. Knowing the crowds would be too much for us, we completely bypassed the Mona Lisa. Here’s a little back story on how an otherwise unremarkable painting became the most famous in the world. Back in the day when she was one painting among 80 others in her exhibit, an Italian Nationalist decided she belonged back in Italy, due to the fact that an Italian (Leonardo Da Vinci) painted her. He stole the Mona Lisa, and she wasn’t returned to France until years later. Upon her return, she became a legend and now requires constant security and a block of glass for protection.
Wore out from the Louvre, we sat down for a nice dinner of duck con fit and duck foie gras. Despite being the liver of a duck, Foie Gras was delicious. Stuffed and content, we walked the river to the Eiffel Tower and fought through another line to ascend the 669 stairs up to the second level. While looking out on the city, the tower’s 20,000 bulbs erupted in their nightly 5 minute sparkle!To make the moment more cliché, we danced to Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud. Yes, we’re just that cute sometimes! A nice stroll back along the beautiful Seine put an end to another magical night.
The next morning, we again breakfasted in the gardens of Luxembourg. The bakery in France is to die for. Then we headed to the train station to reserve our tickets onward. Nearby, we set up the hammock along the Seine and took a much needed nap.
Montmarte & The Sacre-Coeur
We tried our luck at the Catacombs, but the line wrapped around the entire square. We instead headed up to Montmarte for a walking tour of the famous artist’s tour. The tour began near the Moulin Rouge (home of the can-can) on a strip of road our guide called “the pink light” district. It was full of cabarets, sex shops, and other erotica. From there, we headed up hill while learning the sad fates of several artists and musicians who once lived there. To name a few: Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Monet, and Van Gogh. Our tour ended at Sacre-Coeur, a beautiful white cathedral on top of the hill.
It is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and was finished in 1914. Like at Notre Dame, its gargoyles were intense! In Montmarte fashion, we bought a bottle of vino and wandered the town. When it was gone, we got on the metro. In our buzzed state, we took it the complete wrong direction and only got out when we were forced out by the conductor. He had been speaking over the announcer but obviously we couldn’t understand a word. We did eventually make it back to the studio where we finished another bottle of wine and made our own version of Moulin Rouge. But that’s a story for another time!
It was a sad morning as Glenna took off for the train station and I strolled along the Seine for the last time. Paris may have its downfalls; the people are uptight, the service is horrendous, and lines will push even the most patient. However, Paris has a quality about it I have never experienced anywhere else. It has this romanticism, this sex appeal; the wine, the river, the bloody history, the art, and literature, the sparkling of a tower. Its streets beg to be walked, its neighborhoods cry out to be explored. While I have said my goodbyes for now, I know I will be back… Maybe just not in August!