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Paris [Nov. 28th, 2006|02:05 pm]
If you can’t spend Thanksgiving at home with your family, you might as well spend it in Paris. We didn’t have school on Thursday, being an American school, so I flew out of Rome to Paris early Thursday morning. I got to my hostel easily, although it took a lot longer than I expected. Also I didn’t realize that most of the Metro stations have stairs instead of escalators, so lugging my suitcase around was not too fun. The hostel was on the edge of the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank, so there were lots of restaurants around and a lot going on. It was the most stereotypical hostel I’ve stayed in. I was unfortunately on the top floor, so I had to go up 4 flights of an incredibly tight spiral staircase. It seemed very Parisian in my room though because the ceiling was sloped and looked over the rooftops.

After checking in, I got a crepe for lunch that was a little heavy on the cheese. Then I went for a walk. I started at Notre Dame because it was close to the hostel. I’ve seen a lot of churches on this trip and Notre Dame was definitely the most impressive. The stained glass windows were magnificent and it was so huge inside. Then I walked down the Rue di Rivoli and did some reconnaissance for my shopping plans for Saturday. I walked past the Louvre and the Tuilleries up to the Champs Elysee where all the lights were coming on because it was getting dark. I got up to the Arc de Triomphe and decided I was exhausted, so I got on the metro and went back to the hostel. Also it rained during the entirety of this little walk, so I was wet too. I had tried to get in touch with one of my friends in Paris, but she was unreachable, so I went out to dinner by myself. So my Thanksgiving dinner consisted of French onion soup, beef bourguignon, and apple pie. When I got back to the hostel, I fell asleep almost as my head hit the pillow.

Friday I woke up bright and early to go to the Louvre. I went in the secret underground entrance and bought my ticket in a tobacco shop in the underground mall to avoid the lines, but I discovered that there were no lines at 9am on a Friday in November. I headed first to the wing with the Mona Lisa. One of the first things I saw on the way was the Victory of Samothrace, aka Winged Victory. It’s one of my favorite statues, so it was very exciting to see it in person. Then I saw a bunch of Venetian art pieces that I had learned about in class as well as some other Leonardos (it’s the Italian wing, naturally). Then I saw the Mona Lisa and wasn’t that impressed, because a) it’s small and b) you see it everywhere, so it’s not a surprise. The eyes do follow you uncannily however. I was much more impressed by the giant Tintoretto (or was it Veronese?) picture of the Wedding at Cana. Then I walked around for three hours, taking in as much as I could until I started going cross-eyed. I think I only saw about half of the museum, but I just couldn’t do anymore. Oh well, one must leave something to see the next time one is in Paris. I had lunch in the museum café and then headed over to the d’Orsay to continue the museum-going extravaganza. The d’Orsay is a remodeled train station, so the inside is very cool; it still has the giant clock on one end. It is also a collection of Impressionism as well as the art that preceded it and followed it. I skipped most of the academic art of the salons of the late 1800s and focused on the Impressionists. Since I took an Impressionism/Post Impressionism class last semester, it was incredible to see everything I had learned about in person. They had my favorite Manet picture, Olympia, as well as the Drummer Boy and Dejeuner sur l’Herbe. They had tons of Monet and Renoir and Degas as well as Van Gogh and Cezanne. I finished at about 2 and went to go see the Eiffel Tower. I came around from the back, so I didn’t get the full approach of walking up the Champ des Mars, but it was very impressive none the less. I decided not to go up in it because it was raining, and I feel like I’ve been to the top of every monument in Europe and the view is always very similar. So I walked down the Champ des Mars instead and kept having to walk backwards so I could look at the Tower. It was still relatively early so I went to go find the Moulin Rouge.

The Moulin Rouge is in a pretty seedy area that’s full of sex shops, so I just went and took a quick picture and moved on to Montmarte. When I got to Montmartre, I thought I was being clever by taking the metro to what I thought was the top of the hill and then walking down to Sacra Coeur. Turns out, the metro let out in the middle of the hill, so I walked down the hill, the wrong direction, for twenty minutes before I realized where I was. So then I had to walk back up the hill. I was glad that I didn’t give up, because the area near the church is very beautiful and quaintly Parisian. The view from the church is incredible and I felt just like Amelie when I walked down the steps. In front of Sacra Coeur, I finally got a hold of my friend, so I said I would head to the metro stop near her apartment and she would come meet me. She lives a block away from the Eiffel Tower and you can see it if you lean a few inches out the window. Her French apartment was pretty similar to my Rome one, so that wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. Then we went to dinner in an area near my hostel. We walked around for ages looking for a place to eat but we finally found a good place. I ordered beef tartar, and the waiter checked to make sure I knew what it was, I thought it was funny, especially considering that Whitney ordered escargots and he didn’t ask her if she knew what they were. I’m used to beef tartar being an appetizer and in a very small portion, but this was a whole plate of it! It was delicious and came with such good fries that I didn’t even mind that there was no ketchup.

Saturday morning, I got up and met Whitney at the Paris Catacombs because she hadn’t been there yet. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was a little shocked at the piles of bones right out in the open. I guess I had thought it would be a little more like the Capuchin crypt where they were laid out in designs. Or that they would be skeletons laid into niches. But no, they were just piles of bones. It would have been less amusing if we didn’t know any French, because there were all these creepy signs saying things like “it is only in death that I found freedom” and other morbid things like that. We couldn’t read them totally but between the two of us, we got the gist of most of them. After the catacombs, she headed home to write papers and I went off to do some shopping. I was very successful at H&M, which almost feels like cheating because we have that at home, but I got a great wrap dress and a swishy black skirt. I wandered around a bit more and then went back to the hostel to give my feet a rest. I wasn’t too hungry, so I went to a “pie shop” and had a nice piece of quiche for dinner.

Sunday, I went to Versailles. I’m so glad I did, because it’s really amazing. I was most impressed by the opera. It’s quite possibly the most beautiful room I’ve ever seen. Its all pale blue and gold and velvet and gorgeous. The rest of the palace is incredible too. Unfortunately, the hall of mirrors is being restored, so they only had part of it open, but they were very creative and put up mirrored panels over the construction, so in the reflection, you could get the feel for what it looked like. I loved the gardens too and would love to go back someday and go in one of the rowboats on the lake. Someday when it is warmer! When I got back, I did some last minute shopping, buying a pair of very “European” boots and some souvenir-type stuff. Then I had dinner and went to bed early.

I woke up at 4am, got up and dressed so I could leave by 4:30 to get my shuttle. The shuttle company wouldn’t come to the hostel, so I put down the Comfort Inn a block up the street. The shuttle said they would come at 4:40. So I’m out in front of the Comfort Inn at 4:30. And I wait and wait and wait. It’s almost 5 and it’s still not there. The guy in the lobby of the Comfort Inn sees me and says that the shuttle came at 4 and waited for about 20 minutes and then left. He’s nice enough to call me a cab and I get to the airport in plenty of time and it didn’t even cost that much (I was worried because I was running low on cash). The plane took off without a hitch but when we got to Rome, we had to circle for about half an hour because of fog. Then it took a record amount of time to get my baggage. Then there weren’t very many cabs and the guy I got was one of the ones that won’t obey their fixed rate rule and tried to convince me it would cost 50 euro to get to my apartment when I KNOW it should only be 30. So I gave up on the cab and took a shuttle bus to the Rome train station where I caught a cab to my apartment. It took longer, but at least it was way cheaper than taking the cab straight from the airport.