Thursday, July 02, 2009

Day Fourteen: Paris, France Part Deux

The second day in Paris, we joined our group for a city tour in the morning. All throughout the trip, tours were provided in the cities. There were also opportunities for 'extras excursions', which were more money. In Paris we could have joined the group for Versailles, or a tour up the Eiffle Tower, A Cabera Show, etc etc etc, but we choose to go off on our own during some of those times. Our tour was hosted by a local guide, though our tour director came along as well. We started out the morning by going to Notre Dame. When we arrived about nine, very few people were around, but in the afternoon, when we came back by on our own, there was a wait to get into the church, and an even longer wait to go up the bell tower. We walked around the outside of the church, and saw the gargoyles, and Quisimodo were pointed out to us. The sphire on the church is black, compared to the rest of the church, but apparently this is due to pollution, and the rest of the church was just recently cleaned.

We saw scaffolding all over Paris because of the pollutions impact on this limestone material. Next, we went inside the church. Our guide gave us some history of the church. This is where Napoleon was crowned, and we later saw a picture in the Louvre depicting this occasion. The Pope had traveled all the way from Rome by carriage for the ceremony, but at the very last minute, Napolean grabbed his crown and put it on his own head-showing nobody had power over him, not even the church. After the tour of Notre Dame, we got back on our bus and we were taken to a park overlooking the Eiffle Tower.

After that, we drove by some of the major sites (more pictures to come later). After a shopping/lunch break some of the group walked over to the Louvre.

We go the 'whisper head sets' again, and our guide was able to direct us to some of the most famous paintings, and sculptures. There are over 35,000 pieces dating from the 6th century BC to the 19th century AD, and it's not hard to find a name you recognize. There are also over 60,600 square meters of floor, and I forget the mileage, but it's pretty impressive. There are also many steps. Again, our group-both young and old were struggling by the end of this fast passed tour up and down flights of stairs, and through long hallways. The painting's colors are so vivid, like photographs, can take photographs . The walls, and floors were COVERED with paintings, and sculptures in this massive space, with long galleries. We didn't even scratch the surface. I swept by many of the highlights, but I'm sure I missed more than I saw. When I think Louvre-I think-Mona Lisa. Seeing the Mona Lisa has been on my 101 List. The room she hangs out in was really crowded (no surprise). I had been told she was smaller than you would expect, but since my expectations were so low-she was actually bigger than what I thought (I was expecting something the size of a piece of paper after the warnings), I'd say she was almost the size of a piece of poster board. What's so great about the Mona Lisa? Well, she's famous-regardless of whether it deserves that reputation or not-because of that, you get to add your name to the list of guest who spent some time with her, and I'm sure there is an impressive guest list. She also appears to be looking at you, regardless of which angle you look at her from. That's pretty unique to have a painting watching you so closely. And, she's pretty mysterious....who knows why she was so important she made her way to canvas. Our guide gave us the most interesting suggestion as to her origin. There is a theory that her face is actually that of Leonardo da Vinci's own face.

The thing that always resonates with me when viewing art is how many of these artist never knew the work would be anything more than a hobby. It's pretty neat to think you may have such a long lasting impression you may never know about. Moving on....we could have stayed at the museum all day, but....we didn't. Mom and I left the group, and we walked to the Latin Quarter where we grabbed some lunch at a location with tables overlooking the busy streets of these old college quarters at a little place called Starbucks. I recommend it. :O) We then found a bookstore called Shakespeare's that is in the Latin Quarter, but on the edge facing Notre Dame. This is a famous little, English bookshop that author's are invited to hang out at from time to time, and leave their impact. I went as a reader, who can appreciate these authors, and got a copy of the Hunchback, and a Shakespeare stamp to prove it's authenticity. Then, I headed onward.

The last major stop for the day was Galleries Lafeyette which is three huge stores sitting together, with as many as 7 floors in each store. This is a lot like Harrod's with some pretty impressive decorations, and high end merchandise. In contrast, they do have an affordable 'food' court towards the top, with a view of Paris, and the Eiffle Tower to watch as you eat. They also had a food store, but it reminded me of more of a gourmet grocery store, and we bought a few things like, madelines (I love these!), cheese bread, and....canned Diet Cokes (very Parisian, I know). We also found a few affordable souvenirs (something we didn't experience in London at Harrod's).

I would definitely visit again. The last thing we did was head back to the hotel, walk around the streets, and we stopped in a local grocery store, found some dinner in a pastry shop for me, and a burger at a fastfood place called 'Quick' for Mom, and then headed back to our hotel for the night. I guess now would be the time to address one little quirk of Paris. There were some interesting situations in each location, but I would say this was the most likely place to have your pocket picked, or to be approached by people looking for funds. We had some explanation prior to going out on our own that really helped, but you still had to be on your guard. We were asked numerous times "Speak English?" by young ladies, usually categorized as "Gypsies." They were hanging out all around the major attractions. We were told to say "Non" with a French accent....or anything but American, and sure enough, they walked off, but if you said "Yes" At some point they would ask for money. They were definitely on a mission. We also heard they would drop a ring, pick it up and ask if you dropped it to initiate a conversation which would lead to a request for money. There were also lots of men selling Eiffle Towers in all sizes that they carried around on a large 'hoop,' and there were more aggressive men selling portraits, and bracelet who would come up and place the object on your hand, or begin the portrait unless you kept your hands well away, and your "No!" very firm. I also saw a lady cover her hand with her scarf, and have her two young kids cover both sides of her as she approached a lady in our group with a backpack on as we were waiting at a light, and she tried to slip her hand inside before she was caught. Luckily, she didn't get anything from our group. We were warned over and over about pickpockets in each country (and I imagine the same warnings are given when visiting American cities), BUT despite my travels, this was the most aggressive I saw people regarding these issues. It wouldn't keep me from visiting again, but I'd be cautious about my belongings, and my personal space.