USA, Baby!

I arrived back in the US last Sunday. Ah, home, sweet home! I had an amazing time in Europe, but I was definitely ready to go home by Sunday. Living out of a suitcase and not being in any one place for longer than two days is not easy. On one hand, I was sad to leave the group of people I had gotten to be friends with on this crazy adventure, but on the other hand, I was looking forward to seeing friends and family at home. Other things I had been missing included my bed, my shower, a stable and inexpensive Internet connection, being able to charge more than one device at a time, being able to do laundry, and the mild climes of the Pacific Northwest!

If I had to sum this trip up in once sentence, I would say that this was a whirlwind vacation in which I saw many amazing sights and met many interesting people from all around the world! Below are some things I learned along the way, in no particular order.

1) Sometimes it’s better to pay for a toilet than to use a free one. Just trust me on this one. . .
2) The strudel in Austria is nothing short of life-affirming, as are the waffles and chocolates in Belgium.
3) In some places in Europe, it is actually cheaper to drink beer or wine than it is to drink bottled water.
4) Keep an open mind because a place you might not expect to enjoy very much may end up being one of your favorites (Hello, Switzerland!), and a place you think you will love may end up disappointing you (Sorry, Venice!).
5) There is nothing wrong with having a lazy vacation day, especially if in the French Riviera.
6) Europe is a wonderful place full of great history and culture, but at the end of the day, you realize how lucky you are to come from the best country on earth – USA!

Paris, Je T’Aime!

We had most of the day free in Paris last Saturday. I had sketched out a very rough agenda for myself the night before. I had planned to spend the free time on my own. I have forgotten a lot of the French I once learned but can still speak enough to get around and feel comfortable on my own. The majority of the people in our group were planning on spending a good part of the day at the Louvre. As much as I love the Louvre, I had already been there (and most of the other Paris museums) 11 years ago. I decided to forgo the Louvre, being that we only had one full day in Paris and knowing how you could spend days in there.

I ended up sleeping in since I went to bed really late the night before. By the time I finally left the hotel, it was around 10 am. I walked to the nearest metro stop, transferred lines at the Champs-Élysées-Clemenceau metro stop, and got off at the Hotel de Ville metro stop. I did not necessarily want to go to the Hotel de Ville, but it is a really short walk from there to Notre Dame. My plan was to start at Notre Dame and to make a loop of some of my favorite sights in Paris, ending at the Arc de Triomphe.

Immediately after emerging from the Hotel de Ville metro stop, I was accosted by 3 gypsy panhandlers/scam artists – one right after the other. The first two were begging for money for their babies. Incredibly, they both had a picture of the same baby but were each pretending it was their own! The panhandlers in Paris are extremely persistent. They will continue to pester and follow you, even if you have forcefully told them no several times. With the third panhandler, I literally had to put my hand in her face before she would go away! I took a couple of pictures, and then walked over to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame turns 850 years old this year. A large viewing stand with signage commemorating the occasion had been erected directly across from the front entrance. This made it somewhat difficult to get a good picture of the front of the cathedral. Some renovations are being planned for the 850th anniversary, including new bells and restoration of the organ.

The line at the entrance appeared long, but moved very quickly. I was inside within a few minutes. Some things seemed different than the last time I was there. There were 4 large tapestries hanging near the alter that I didn’t remember from before. There were also modern looking confessionals on the south side of the nave. The confessionals basically looked like offices with glass fronts. The glass had frosted stripes in the middle, so as to provide some privacy. Each confessional had a sign in front indicating which languages the priest spoke. I also don’t recall being able to walk in the ambulatory and see the chapels behind the apse before. This time I paid €4 to see the treasure room, which was full of blingy priest accessories. I don’t recall the treasure room being open the last time I was there. There was also a new, modern holy water font with sayings in different languages engraved on each side. The last time I was there, I was lucky enough to be there for a mass, which was really interesting. There wasn’t a mass this time, but I was glad to have seen some new things since the last time I was there. I walked around outside to take some pictures of the east side of the cathedral, where the flying buttresses are, and ended up running into a handful of people from my group! They invited me to go with them, but I was going to get lunch, and they just had lunch. I was sort of relieved since I wanted to do my own thing and not worry about everyone else’s agenda.

I decided that I would enjoy a nice walk along the Seine on the Left Bank before crossing over to the Right Bank near the Louvre. I was surprised to see a few makeshift beaches set up along the Seine. The last time I was in Paris was during winter, so I had no idea that they did this. What a great idea! I figured it would be quick and easy to get lunch at the food court in the Carousel du Louvre. I browsed in a few shops there after lunch. There was a child’s carnival set up near the Jardin du Carousel that included a large Ferris wheel which I had spotted the night before when we were on the Eiffel Tower. The child in me was determined to ride the Ferris wheel, and I did! It gave a really nice view of the city, although it was not great for taking pictures due to the plastic enclosure.

Next, I cut across the Jardin des Tuileries and back to the Left Bank, where I went to the Hotel des Invalides (a military museum). I nearly fainted on the way there. It was so hot and sunny, and I had done a lot of walking by this point. I had been here before, so a lot of you are probably thinking that a military museum is a strange choice for me to revisit. I chose to go back since I remember having liked it before, it was on my route, and I knew it was a museum that wouldn’t take too much time. Plus, Napoleon’s final resting place is right next door at the Eglise du Dome, and you don’t get much cooler than Napoleon! I went through the museum, then immediately went to the cafeteria and guzzled down a bottle of Powerade and a bottle of water in no time flat. One thing that I saw at Les Invalides that I didn’t last time was the church of Saint Louis, which I didn’t realize until now is directly connected to the Dome des Invalides. I also didn’t realize until this trip that the Dome des Invalides was constructed by Louis XIV to be a chapel exclusively for the royal family. No wonder he was known as the Sun King! I then went to the Eglise du Dome (admission is included with the ticket for the Hotel des Invalides) and saw Napoleon’s tomb. It was just as glorious as I had remembered.

The final item on my agenda was to walk to the Champs Élysées, then go to the Arc de Triomphe, go up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, then walk back down the Champs Élysées while doing some window shopping and take the metro back to the hotel. However, by this point, I was still feeling really zapped from the heat, plus I was running out of time to get back to the hotel before we had to leave for a cabaret dinner show. I ended up walking to the Champs Élysées and taking some less than impressive pictures of the Arc de Triomphe from afar before jumping on the metro to go back to the hotel. Now that I think about it, going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe is one of the only touristy things in Paris that I haven’t done, so maybe I should have made that a priority. However, I was really happy with how my day went, so I will just have to remember to do that next time!

We got on our bus at the hotel and were dropped off near Place de Clichy, then walked to Nouvelle Eve, the cabaret where we attended a dinner show. There are a lot of cabarets in this area, most notably the Moulin Rouge. I enjoyed Nouvelle Eve, but I definitely preferred the Moulin Rouge, which I had been to the last time I was in Paris. It was fairly late by the time the performance was over at Nouvelle Eve, and I still had to pack my bags for my flight back home the next morning, so I decided to go back to the hotel. It turned out that only one other person took the bus back to the hotel with me, and it was the other 35 year old in our group! Everyone else stayed out late at a bar near Nouvelle Eve. I was able to say goodbye to most people the next morning at breakfast before leaving for the airport. It was kind of bittersweet to be going home but knowing that I was probably never going to see any of these awesome people again that I had gotten to be friends with over the past few weeks.