Thursday, February 26

Noteworthy Thursday #11

For this Noteworthy Thursday, I give you a petition. This is just one of many petitions we made. As you can see at the top, the undersigned believe that Adam is wrong.

There are actual names of my classmates here (cross your fingers that some of them will be famous someday!), but there are also a handful of questionable names. A few of my favorites: Tin Woodsman, Ben Dover, May Dup, Loren Order, Mary Tyler Moore, Kermit the Frog, Socrates, Superman, Oliver Clothesoff, Dick Van Dyke, Lorena Bobbitt, Jimmy Hoffa, Chelsea Clinton, Paddington Bear, Madonna, Cindy Brady (and the entire Brady clan), and Big Bird.

A few of the actual signatures I recognize include my dad and my sister. I can’t believe I got them to sign this, because I seriously doubt they knew who Adam was, much less why he was wrong.

Wednesday, February 25

Wednesday, December 31

We started the day bright and early so we could successfully see the Louvre. We woke up at 7:00 and were in line at the Louvre by 8:45. We had another Rick Steves audio tour for this museum, which directed us to the underground entrance. There’s an entire underground mall surrounding the museum. Who knew? At 9:00 the floodgates opened and we were swept along into the museum. We then waited in another line to actually purchase tickets, then got in another line to show our tickets to get inside. Despite having all these lines, they actually didn’t take that long to get through. They were, however, full of rude, pushy jerks. What is it about tourism and lines that brings out the worst in people?
So we get into the museum (the popular wing, of course) and turn on Rick Steves. The first thing he wanted us to do was to go up some stairs and immediately turn left. And the museum had the “left” blocked off. We could only turn right. Before we’d even seen any art, we were off the tour. We tried to find the right exhibits to catch up, but it was frustrating. We had just about given up on it when we saw the room the audio guide was telling us about.
Andrew and I weren’t as big a fans of the Louvre as we were the Orsay. It was just too crowded to enjoy anything, though I did appreciate the building as a palace. We saw a lot of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael—you know, all the turtles. (HA!) The Mona Lisa room was insane. Literally hundreds of people filled the space, holding their digital cameras overhead, hoping for a shot of the smiling lady. We weren’t even allowed to get close enough to appreciate it. To me, the best thing about museums is that you get to see the parts of paintings that don’t come through in prints. Things like the brush strokes, the textures—that kind of thing. But the Mona Lisa . . . First of all, there was a sheet of bulletproof glass in front of it, so there was this glare from certain angles. Next, they had a c-shaped wooded barrier about five feet in front of the painting, presumably to allow more people to see it at once. But on top of that, there was another rope barrier another ten feet past the first. Plus, the guards kept everyone moving. I worked my way up to the front, and literally two seconds after I got there, I was told to keep moving. Insane. I was able to see the Mona Lisa from 15 feet away for two seconds. Why is this a “must-see” attraction in Paris? But I took my obligatory picture (with the flash on, since clearly no one was enforcing that rule).
We left the Louvre after just under two hours, having seen only a fraction of the art there. But we had lots more to see in Paris today.

We took the metro to the Catacombs. This was probably one of the most awesome things. But I’m getting ahead of myself. When we first got there, we saw a few people in line. Maybe 20 people, we thought. So we stopped at a little stand for a quick lunch to eat while we waited in line—delicious ham, egg, and cheese crepes. While the crepes were being prepared, I went across the street to get in the line. But I could hardly find the end of it. It just kept curving around this little park. And then it moved sooooooo sloooooowly. When we’d been waiting for about 20 minutes, a guy came to tell us that he expected the wait would be another hour to an hour and a half. We decided to stick it out, even though we still wanted to be sure to make it to the Eiffel Tower (again) to try to go up in the stinking thing before we left town (and since it was New Year’s Eve, I worried that the festivities would close it down. And our guide book told us it was closed on New Year’s Day, and we are leaving on the 2nd, so this was our only chance). But we waited. In the end, we waited about two-and-a-half hours. Outside. Where it was cold. And cloudy, so no sun to warm us up at all. But we finally got in.

The Catacombs, for the uninformed, is a series of underground tunnels constructed toward the end of the 18th century after the cemeteries got overcrowded and disease and decomposing bodies contaminated the groundwater. So someone had the idea to dig up the bodies and turn the bones into decorative tunnels. Shortly after, it became a tourist destination.
It was awesome. We went down a long spiraling staircase. It was damp and quite dark in there, with just a few lights. We walked down several long narrow tunnels before we ever even saw the bones. But then. We saw them. Thousands and thousands of bones, stacked up and piled along the walls. There were patterns in the bones. A section of stacked femurs, then a row of skulls, then more femurs. We saw skulls formed to make a cross and a heart. And a literal skull and crossbones. And behind the neat stacks were piles of bones that looked like they’d just been tossed back there. I believe we walked about a mile of tunnel, most of it lined with bones. The whole thing was very weird and very interesting. It was totally worth the wait.
When we left, we made our way to the metro (we came above ground in a totally different spot than where we started, so that was a bit disorienting, figuring out where to go from there), then headed back to the Eiffel Tower. We’re getting pretty good at making our way to the Eiffel Tower. I was still impressed with it, even seeing it for the third day in a row. And thankfully, it was open. The third level wasn’t (of course), but we got in line for tickets. This turned out to be a long line as well. I think it took close to two hours. What a miserable day it was for waiting in lines, but I guess that’s what we get for going to Paris in winter.

When we finally got to the front of the line, the ticket lady asked us if we wanted tickets to the third level, so we said yes and hoped for the best. Once we had tickets in hand, we got in this huge cluster of people trying to get on the elevators. Crazy. The line system completely fell apart. But we got on and rode to the second level. It was awesome watching to city get smaller and smaller. Too bad it was so misty/foggy/overcast. At the second level, we had to get in another line to get on the elevator that went to the third level (which was miraculously open). That took another twenty minutes or so. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been colder than I was today. We spent so much time outside just standing around.
Standing in cold lines stinks.

But we made it to the top. It was dusk by the time we got up there and the blue lights turned on. I never even got a picture of the tower without the lights on. Next time we go to Paris, I’m getting a picture of it in the bright sunshine. So our nighttime view from the top wasn’t great. But it was cool to be so high up. We could see the river and point out a few landmarks. The haze made the spotlight that’s on the top of the tower look really cool. We circled the top, took some (bad) photos, then took the elevator back down the second level. This level was super crowded. The views were a little better because you could see through some of the haze. Andrew and I both agreed, though, that the best views in Paris were from the Arc du Triomphe, because from there, you could see the Eiffel Tower. And what’s a view of the Paris skyline without the Eiffel Tower? It’s the best part.
We walked around the observation deck on the second level, then went into the interior area to warm up. We got some hot chocolate that came with a huge mound of whipped cream on top. It came with a little spoon, which was awesome. We went into the gift shop and saw lots of little Eiffel Tower crap. Then we took the stairs down to the first level. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the stairs because it was so cold out, but Andrew wanted to and I’m glad we did. It was cool to be that close to the architecture and see up close how the whole thing was put together. The first level wasn’t crowded at all. There was music playing and they had this white winter wonderland bar set up. The interior area had another gift shop and snack bar, as well as a cinema room where they showed clips of the tower in pop culture and its history. Most of the first level was closed for some kind of remodeling.

It was about 7:00 by this point, and after over four hours of standing in the cold today, we had pretty much wimped out on the idea of waiting around for a New Year’s Eve celebration. But I really couldn’t just not do anything for New Year’s. We were in PARIS, for crissakes. We decided to go find a good place nearby to have a long, leisurely meal. Then we’d be warmed up and ready to spend another couple hours outside waiting for midnight to roll around. We found a restaurant just a couple blocks away that looked good, so we went in.

We started with a couple glasses of champagne and ordered a bottle of merlot. We wanted the meal to take a long time, so we ordered several courses. We had onion soup to share. We each had an entrée, then later ordered chocolate mousse and café au lait. We ate a ton of delicious bread and drank a lot of wine. We spent about two hours there. And after we paid our astronomical 92 € bill, it was about 10:15. We’d had a good meal, with a nice waiter who spoke English better than we spoke French (though we tried to speak French).
So then we went back to the tower, though we weren’t sure what kind of celebrations were going on. It wasn’t nearly as crowded as we expected it to be. There were a lot of police there, though, so something must be going on. We wandered over to the Right Bank and found a good place to see the whole tower without straining our necks. We kept moving around to stay warm. There were lots of people out, drinking and having a good time. Lots of people setting off fireworks around us. General merriment, you know. The crowds kept growing, but it was never the shoulder-to-shoulder action we expected, a la Times Square.

About a minute before midnight, the 12 stars (representing the original members of the European Union) began to slowly fade, one at a time, counting down to midnight. The anticipation and cheering in the crowd grew until . . . Happy New Year! The Eiffel Tower lit up brilliantly with sparkling white lights. It was just as beautiful as the last five times we’d seen it do that. And nothing else happened. We were expecting fireworks or something. We’d seen a clip of the year 2000 New Year’s Eve spectacular, and that was, well, spectacular. But no such show this time. It was still exciting to be there, amidst this crowd of people. After ten minutes or so, the twinkling lights faded away and were replaced by a golden glow instead of the blue. I don’t know if this was a New Year’s Eve thing or a new year thing, but it was much nicer than the blue and purple lights, I thought.
See behind us? Those sparkly lights indicated that it was 11:00.

video
We didn't start the video soon enough, so you can just see the last of the twelve stars fading away. But here it is: New Year's Eve 2009 at the Eiffel Tower.

The sparkly lights behind us here indicate that it was a new year!

Since we’d been out since early this morning, we decided to head home and call it a day. (I know, we’re lame. But you already knew that.) We had to fight and push our way through the crowds of people to get back to the metro station. It was more intense than the crowds at the Mona Lisa, even. Because of the massive crowds, the subway ride was free, and since we didn’t have any transfers, it was a surprisingly easy ride. Super crowded, and tons of security everywhere, but it was okay. We got off at the Republique stop, and by tonight we knew which way to walk to get back to our street (toward Buffalo Bill). Aside from the intense cold, long lines, and more long lines, it was a fantastic day. We spent New Year’s Eve in Paris. What more could we ask for?

Monday, February 23

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

We woke up early today so we could get to the Louvre and be in line before it opened. Of course, I got up too late, so we had to rush to get there. When we got there, we were shocked at how few people we saw. We were thinking, what’s all this about long lines? This is nothing! Well. Turns out that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays. So yeah. We’re smart.
We walked over to the Museé d’Orsay, another museum that we wanted to see, just a couple blocks away. There was quite a long line at the Orsay. After we’d been in line about 45 minutes, it started to rain/sleet. Luckily, we had our umbrellas, but it was awfully cold. We finally got into the museum after another 30 minutes. We had another Rick Steves audio tour for the Orsay, and it was awesome. The tour told us exactly where to go, and which piece to look at, then he’d explain the history or background of the piece we were looking at. I don’t know a lot about art or art history, so this was the way to go. The Museé d’Orsay is pretty cool. It’s in an old train station, so it’s got this long central hall with a high arched ceiling. We saw lots of Impressionism there.
It was still drizzling when we left the museum. We walked through the Jardin des Touilleries, stopping at a café in the park for lunch. This park has beautifully manicured lawns and shrubs, but they weren’t so impressive in the winter. We saw a pond with a thin sheet of ice on it, and these birds were walking on the ice. Yes, it was that cold. Afterward, we continued on through the park to see the Place de la Concorde. This is where the big obelisk is, where the guillotine was in the late 18th century.
After looking through our guidebook, we decided to check out Des Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb. This is the military history museum. We thought it might be awesome, but it turned out to be really disorganized and not tourist-friendly. Most of the building was being renovated, so hardly any exhibits were open (which they failed to tell you before you went inside). In a four-story building, three floors were closed. We did see these old models of land that were used for army tactics and strategizing were kind of cool, but that’s about it. We asked someone where Napoleon’s tomb was, and we were told that it was closed. This was really disappointing, because that seemed like the main attraction there. But there must have been some sort of language barrier, because on our way out, we saw a sign that pointed toward the tomb, so we followed it, and a few minutes later we were there. It was in a different building altogether, though our tickets got us into both. I don’t think our guidebook explained that very well. This new building was much bigger, more elaborate, and much more impressive than the military museum. It had this huge gilded dome and lots of marble everywhere. The tomb itself was enormous. Thirty people could have fit inside it. Maybe Napoleon had a bit of a Napoleon complex, eh? (Ha!)

Next, we took the metro to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. There was no line, but we had to climb about a thousand steps to get there. We’d read that the view from the steps of the Sacré-Coeur was the best in Paris, but it was super misty and foggy, so . . . no such view. Outside the church we saw a guy who looked like he was ready to propose to someone. He had candles, a picnic basket, two glasses of champagne, and he kept looking around for someone. He was clearly waiting and watching for someone, and he looked nervous. I wanted to see the proposal, so we waited about 15 minutes, but she never came, so we went on inside.
It's not a great picture, but he had candles and everything!

The basilica was neat. it had a big round dome, not cross-shaped like the other cathedrals we’ve seen. This felt like a real church, not so much like a historical monument. People were really there to pray and such, and it all felt more serene, somehow.

We walked around the area for a long time—Montmartre. There were tons of cool little shops, and charming restaurants, and it was all very lively and Parisian. We walked to the Moulin Rouge, which did not look very historic. We wanted to go in, but it cost something like 160 € per person just to get in. We ended up going to dinner at a little place a block or two away, and it was awesome. We had goat cheese salad and a pizza. I think the pizza was called “pizza du chef” and it had little pieces of hot dog (okay, hot-dog-like sausage) and a fried egg on it. Weird, but not bad.
After dinner, we thought we’d go back to the Eiffel Tower and go up to the top. Since tomorrow’s New Year’s Eve, we were afraid it might be closed, and we didn’t want to miss it. Who knows when we’ll be back, you know? So we make our way over there. Andrew wanted to try to get off the metro at a different stop this time, because he thought it was closer. We got off and walked toward the tower, and about ten minutes later, we were at the stop we should have gotten off at. When we finally got there, we found out that the entire thing was closed because of ice. We felt really stupid for not going up yesterday. BUT! We took more pictures!
Tomorrow we’ll try the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower again. Cross your fingers that they’ll be open this time!

Thursday, February 19

Noteworthy Thursday #10

There is only one way to describe the following note: ewwwww.

(Yes, you are understanding it correctly. When I got this note, there was an actual hair in it. A mystery hair. Yet she stuck it to a sheet of notebook paper, folded it up, and passed it to me between classes. And then she had the gall to ask me to save her a seat on the bus. The nerve…)

Tuesday, February 17

Monday, December 29, 2008

We slept in a bit on our first day in Paris, then headed out to explore. On our way to the metro, we stopped for a pain au chocolat. Mmmmm. So good. We took the metro down toward Ile de la Cité, then walked along the Seine, crossed the Pont Neuf bridge (the oldest bridge in the city), and went on to the Notre Dame. The line was long to get into the Notre Dame, but because it’s free to get in, the line moved quickly. Fortunately, the sun was shining, so even in the lines, we stayed pretty warm (because it was very cold out).

We listened to Rick Steves’ mp3 audio tour of the Notre Dame, which was awesome. He described the features on the exterior of the building, which we listened to while we waited in line, then he directed us where to look and where to go once we were inside. I would definitely recommend this when traveling. It was a bit awkward at times because Andrew and I shared my iPod headphones—one ear bud each—so we’d be hearing the same thing at the same time. So we stayed very close the whole time. I thought it was fun, though, walking arm in arm through Paris. The Notre Dame was very cool, much cooler than everyone said. We’d heard that the inside wasn’t nearly as interesting as the outside, but I liked it. The huge rose window was beautiful. We got in a long line outside in order to go up in the Notre Dame tower. This time, the line was in the shady side of the building, so it was freezing. After ten minutes or so, we hadn’t moved much, so I went up to the front to investigate and make sure we were in the right line. At the front, I saw a sign that said the tower was closed due to ice, and the time they said it would reopen had already passed. So we decided to give up on that. Too bad we didn’t get to see the gargoyles up close, but waiting in a cold line that wasn’t moving wasn’t our idea of a good time.
Don't you love those flying buttresses?

Next we crossed over to the Left Bank and wandered through the Latin Quarter. It didn’t take long before we stopped in a café for hot drinks to warm up. It was probably about 25 degrees out. Rick Steves had an audio tour for the Latin Quarter too, so we listened to part of that. It was a little harder to follow, because the timing of walking from place to place didn’t match up with the audio. But it was still nice walking with Andrew.
Apparently this was the oldest tree in Paris.
What's with all the "oldest trees" we've seen on this trip?

A few things we saw: the Sorbonne, the Cluny Museum (didn’t go in, though), the Jardin du Luxembourg, and the Pantheon. Because we were so cold, we decided to go in the Pantheon. We didn’t know much about it, but we figured it was a cool building, and at least we could warm up while we were inside. But we were wrong. It was almost as cold inside as it was outside, and the signs were all just in French, so we couldn’t read any of them. We saw a lot of tombs of famous people, but I’m just not that into tombs. So, eh.
We walked on, saw more of the Latin Quarter. Lots of students here, I think. Later we stopped at a café where we ordered a crepe with Nutella and coffee. It was getting dark by this point (we really did a LOT of walking today), so we decided to head back to the apartment, take a little break, eat some food, and then head back out later. On the way back, we stopped at the grocery store just down the street and bought some wine, a baguette, oranges, and coffee. We ate the bread and oranges for dinner, then changed into our long underwear for more Paris exploring.

I was so excited to see the Champs Elysées and the Arc du Triomphe, so that’s where we went. It was gorgeous. The street was wide, much wider than I had pictured it, and it was beautiful. Full of interesting shop windows and people everywhere. Andrew loved stopping at the Pegeot and Renault stores and seeing their “future cars.” We kept crossing the street, but stopping in the middle to try to take pictures of the Arc du Triomphe. We got some good ones, I think.
We went up inside the Arc to the viewing deck on top. It was so much bigger than I imagined. Just huge! If you’ve never been there, picture it the Arc, then double your imagined size of it. That’s how big it really is. It was awesome from the top. Even before we got to the top it was awesome. We had to climb this narrow spiral staircase that just went up and up and up.

I have no idea what is prohibited in the second picture from the left.

There were a couple of levels to stop at that had some history of the building. There was this neat machine that let you shine a light on a tiny part of a model of the structure, then it would project it on a screen and tell you about what you were seeing. And at the top, the views were fantastic. It was such a clear night, we could see forever. We got our first excellent view of the Eiffel Tower, which was all lit up in blue lights. So incredible. We saw it sparkle with little white lights for a few minutes.
We decided to go ahead and go to the Eiffel Tower. We had been told that it was cool to go at night, and it was night, and we were there and excited, so we took the metro just a couple stops down and walked to it. We passed what could have been an awesome reflecting pool if it hadn’t been iced over. (We were not sorry that we’d put on the long underwear.) I’m sure no one would be surprised to hear it, but the Eiffel Tower was incredible as well. I couldn’t stop looking up at it. It was at least twice as big as I had pictured it to be, and it was gorgeous. Unfortunately, the top observation deck was closed. We tried to find out when it would open, but the guard we talked to didn’t speak any English, and my French was not good enough to communicate that. Since this was just our first full day, we figured we’d come back later to go up in the tower. It was already after 10:00pm anyway, and the whole thing closes at 11, so we didn’t have a ton of time to be there. Plus, the camera battery was low. It was a sign that we should just try again later. So we decided we’d check the internet to see when the top level would be open and then we’d go back.

We took the metro back to the apartment. I was starving, so we stopped for a slice of mushroom and goat cheese pizza from a street vendor before going inside. It was so good. We went to bed relatively early, because we know we want to get up early tomorrow to get to the Louvre before the lines get too long.