Paris Part 1: Ooh La La

Back to travel recapping, which, I gotta be honest, even I am getting a little bit sick of.  Shall we get this over with?

Our first full day in Paris (Tuesday) began with a trip to the Louvre in the morning, in an attempt to beat the crazy tour group crowds to see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc. etc. and so forth.  In retrospect, I don’t think it matters how early you get to anything in Paris: tour groups are there before you, guaranteed (sidenote: I always spell “guaranteed” wrong on the first try.  Always).

I can’t emphasize enough how motherclucking ginormous the Louvre is.  There are four floors, and I feel like each wing is multiple football fields long, with weird winding staircases throughout that make you confused and weepy and wishing you had just left the Louvre to the Da Vinci Code instead.  Tom Hanks made it to the Mona Lisa in record freaking time in that movie.  I don’t buy it.

Speaking of the Mona Lisa, here she is, surrounded by tour groups.  The number of photos I have of famous attractions in Paris is limited to how many times I was willing to stick my elbows out and fight for a front row view, which is to say, not many.

I left that tourist’s scalp in the photo, for authenticity’s sake.  The Mona Lisa is not large, but not postcard-sized, which I had been lead to believe that it was.  The astonishing thing is that on the wall opposite the Mona Lisa is The Wedding at Cana, which is 21 feet tall and 33 feet wide.  It’s ridiculous.

We wove our way through hundreds of other Renaissance-era paintings, that look as vivid today as they probably did in the 1500’s.  Nothing looked run down or aged.  Art preservation is fascinating.

After getting lost in the Egyptian wing, having a minor panic attack, and finally finding our way to Very Important Piece Of Art #2, the Venus de Milo, it was elbows out time again.

Victory is mine.

We spent some time wandering through Napoleon’s apartments before leaving the Louvre and heading to the Musée d’Orsay, which I have no pictures of whatsoever because photography is not allowed inside of it.  But we did see a lot of Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, Renoir, Cesanne…I could go on.  I really, really loved the Orsay.  Maybe because it was smaller, less crowded, and more logically laid out than the Louvre OH SNAP!

{not my photo, FYI}

We implemented a hard and fast rule while visiting Paris: a mandatory bottle of wine every 4 hours.  This was essential to our survival, as it kept us (me) from trying to do too much at once, and also, we were all more pleasant when seated and boozy.  Additionally, Bordeaux is super cheap and tasty in Paris, so if you go there, drink it up!  I miss it already.

We went back to the Louvre in the evening, because our museum pass allowed it and our apartment guide told us that it is open late on certain nights of the week.  We leisurely walked through some of the more obscure corridors, hunted for particularly suggestive paintings that the boys wanted to view, and finally bid the Louvre adieu once they kicked us out.

It was my brilliant idea to walk down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe (it’s possible that we missed a wine break, which is where I became disoriented).  I know now that these two sites are more than 2 miles apart, which is not a desirable distance to cover after wandering through museums all day.  And can I just say, as glamorous as the Champs-Élysées is portrayed to be in movies and such, it’s just a busy street full of H&Ms and Disney Stores…it was like an outdoor shopping mall.  Maybe I was just too tired to appreciate it.  But it was exhausting.

We tried our hardest to find a legitimate cafe where we could eat dinner, but ended up heading to McDonald’s, relieved to be off of our feet with food in front of us.  Foreign fast food is so interesting to me, and Mickey D’s Paris did not disappoint.  They have a whole separate dessert bar inside, with good little macarons and such.  So fancy.

Hubs had the McBaguette, which it pretty much what you see above.  I don’t know if it was any better than a regular burger, but according to him, it hit the spot just fine.  Also to note: McDonald’s fries taste the same pretty much everywhere.

For some reason, about 1,000 cop cars drove down the Champs-Élysées with their sirens blaring while we watched from the 2nd floor of McDonald’s in astonishment.  Maybe it was an impromptu police parade, or maybe it had something to do with the presidential election that was going on at the time.  I guess we’ll never know.

We finally made it to the Arc de Triomphe, took a quick gander, then wisely jumped on the metro and headed back to homebase.

I want to be brief enough not to bore you, but also lengthy enough that I go over everything I want to look back and remember, so I’m going to cut myself off here rather than squeeze another day in Paris into this post.  As a preview, Thursday involved Versailles, stinky cheese, Notre Dame, and devils.  You’ve been warned.

Europe Continued: Safety First!

On Monday, our last day in Munich, we checked out of our micro-hotel, stashed our bags, and headed out into the city to kill the last 10 hours of the German leg of our trip.  One of the items on the boys’ bucket lists was to take a tour of a German brewery (any German brewery would do), so we hit up Paulaner to see how 4-ingredient beer is made.

We got to wear really sexy reflective vests, so that we wouldn’t be lost in the underground beer tunnels.  There is beer running through those pipes right this second.

The most unsettling part of the tour was when they showed us the original barrels that were used to brew Paulaner.  See that hole at the bottom?  Somebody had to CRAWL INSIDE THE BARREL to clean it out between batches.  I’m so scared.

We received a “snack” at the end of the tour, which consisted of giant pretzels, a hunk of bologna loaf the size of my face, and MORE potato salad.  Oh plus a weißbier, which is the German version of Blue Moon (or Blue Moon is the American version of weißbier, whatever).

We met a nice Canadian couple during the tour, and by met, I mean none of us spoke German so we were addressed separately from the rest of the tour group.  The wife was French-Canadian, and made us really nervous about being outcasts in Paris when she told us that Parisians are rude to her because although she speaks fluent French, her accent is not Parisian.  Again, so scared.

After souvenir shopping, presumably eating some stuff, and  stopping at Augustiner in the evening, we finally headed to the train station to find our overnight couchette.  A couchette is a compartment on a train with beds in it.  Some have 2, some have 4, ours had 6.  Kinda like this:

The bottom bunk was so close to the middle bunk that it was impossible to sit up on it without feeling like Quasimodo (foreshadowing!).  But since we hit the lottery and had nobody sleeping in the middle two beds, we were able to slide them up (after getting scolded by the hall monitor for tinkering with them at all) and have a little sitting area.

By little sitting area, I mean knee-to-knee, face-to-face, all up in each others’ business kind of sitting area.

It was a special night.  I might be crazy, but it was actually fun.

The British man who came around to check our tickets reminded us to lock the doors, because overnight trains are breeding grounds for shady people doing shady things (not us, obviously, but all of the other shady people on the train).  It was super comforting.

Our train arrived in Paris over an hour late the next morning, so we had to rush across the city on the metro, with all of our luggage during Parisian rush hour, then run 3 blocks through the pouring rain to the apartment we rented (via homeaway.com), which was up a 5-story spiral staircase (at least it makes cool picture?).

{Note on the metro: from what we read, the cheapest way to get around the city for an abbreviated stay is to buy books of 10 tickets at a time, which will run you about €11.  Each ticket will get you in/out of the metro once.}

We settled into the apartment, which had a fully functional kitchen with a washing machine, separate toilet and shower rooms, a separate bedroom and a living room with beds for 4 people total.  It was a great place, relatively affordable, and coincidentally owned by an American couple, so if you’re interested in where it is and how to rent it, email me and I’ll be happy to share all the details with you.

Our first order of business was to see the Eiffel Tower, which was only a 5 minute walk from the apartment.  I think it hit me then that we were really in Paris, ready to eat croissants and drink Bordeaux until we were bleu dans le visage.

{I would’ve centered this shot but there are about 50 tourists on segways just outside of the frame on the left.}

We spent the rest of the day on foot, getting lost, drinking wine, finding the Louvre, Notre Dame, and Shakespeare & Company bookstore, before stumbling through (not drunkenly, but lostily) the Latin Quarter on our way back home.  You’d think we would just be able to shoot for the Eiffel Tower, but it’s not always visible, and the streets through Paris are hella windy.  Nothing is a straight shot.

We saw and did so much in Paris that it’ll be really, really ridiculously good-looking difficult to recap succinctly.  I’ll do my best to include relevant travel tips without boring you to death.

Onward!