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?

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