Yeah, I'd like to go to Paris one day....maybe even France.....
Because big cities like London, Rome and Paris tend to be pretty pricey, and because money isn't infinite, I jumped at the opportunity to go on a one-day, thirty six hour excursion to Paris with the 'other' Greg and Blake. John M rode the train with us, but was planning on spending the entire weekend. Once there, we were to meet up with Bridget, Art, Kathy, and Tim, (who somehow managed to make getting to Paris via a direct train an adventure).
Our first challenge was finding our rooms. Blake and Greg had booked a room at the FIAP Jean Monnet, which was in the same 'system' as our wonderful accomodations at CIARUS. Fortunately, it turned out to be a little nicer and somewhat quieter, even if the hallway did reek of b.o. (I found out the next morning we were lucky; apparently, the small child problem was so bad at FIAP that the sixteen-year-olds were ready to kill.) John, on the other hand, was staying with Art in a hotel on the north end of Paris (ours was on the south end), near the Gare Nord (for those of you who haven't been there, Gare Nord is the north train station; it's one Metro stop west of Gare Est, the - you guessed it - eastern train station, into which our train pulled.) We agreed to meet in one hour at the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
We arrived at Notre Dame to find two things; one, there were a TON of people around, and two, we were going to have fun trying to find John. Fortunately, it didn't take long until Blake and Greg saw him. We flagged him down, and he joined up to tell us that - he'd just been mugged. Apparently, two men had cornered him in the Metro station after he'd taken a photograph with his digital camera and gotten €40. Now, I say apparently, because there is some doubt as to whether or not this actually occurred. According to John's story, the he surrendered the money only after the thieves brandished switchblades. But luckily, he was able to keep his digital camera, and he negotiated them down to the €40, even though they had seen his wallet and saw that he had more than that on him. You decide if you think it's true. Finally, he said he'd talked to a police officer, but they were unwilling to do anything, even to go into the Metro to see if his story was true.
After hearing the story (and offering support - it wasn't until later that people began to doubt the story), we went through the Cathedral. While it was nice, and fairly interesting, when compared to St. Peter's in Rome, or the Basilicas in Florences, well, it wasn't very exciting. From there, we wandered around, trying to find a water taxi that John had seen in a guidebook. We finally found it, and spent the €7.50 to go from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower. On the way, I burned off the rest of a roll of film.
We got to the Eiffel Tower around 6:15 or so. John wanted to take the stairs, but confusion over whether or not we'd be able to go all the way up from the second level (where they end) added to the fact that we were fairly certain that no one was admitted to the stairway after six (they aren't) let to us merely opting to take the elevators all the way up. This involves a two-step process; first, you take an elevator up one of two legs to the second level. Once there, you switch to another elevator which goes up a central shaft to the top, 860 feet up. At the top, you have the choice of staying inside, or going up one level to the outside view (which we picked). We hung out up there for a good hour, and I took about 30 more pictures.
After we left the Tower, we headed off to meet the others for dinner in Montmarte. For those of you who are art buffs, this is where Renior painted one of his more famous paintings (the name of which escapes me, but I believe it's Dancing in the Park on Sunday Afternoon, or something along those lines). Dinner was thoroughly enjoyable, and John got to tell his mugging story several times to an astonished Art, Kathy and Bridget. After dinner, we watched the light show on the Eiffel Tower, then Blake, Greg and I headed home.
We woke up around 9, and headed over to meet up with everyone at John and Art's hotel. We all wanted to see the Tour de France start, but no one was sure when it started. Blake, Bridget and I wanted to go to the Louvre, which we thought we could do by 1:20 (when we thought the race would start), especially if we kept to a schedule. We breezed through the Louvre (yes, we saw the Mona Lisa) and headed toward the Champs-Elysees to try and catch the start. Instead, we wound up at the Place de Concorde, across the Seine from the National Assembly, where we found out three things: First, the race didn't start until 3:50; second, it was a time trial, so the riders would go off one at a time, a minute apart; third, since he won last year, Lance Armstrong would not go until last - at 7:05 pm. If we stayed for that, we'd miss the last train back to Strasbourg. So we decided to wait for the parade at 1:20. Afterward, we headed to the Musee d'Orsay, where we were supposed to meet Greg at 3:00. But he never made it; we found out later that he'd spent the whole day sitting with the others at the Eiffel Tower, waiting (in vain) for Lance.
We, however, did get to see the Museum, and I spent a good amount of time in the Impressionist section, soaking up all I could, and even eavesdropping on a tour here and there. We stayed until they started closing. At 5:15, Blake, Bridget and I headed back to Place de Concorde to watch some of the Tour. I had two, maybe three pictures left, and I wanted to get a picture of the first thing I'd seen when we'd arrived, but hadn't photographed - the Arc de Triomphe. We'd seen it as we emerged from the Metro on our way to the Tourist Bureau (which, ironically, would be featured the next evening on the news back home in Chicago), but I was carrying all my luggage at that point, and unwilling to dig out the camera. So, after snapping a photo up the Champs-Ellysees, we hopped on the Metro and got off at the Arc. I took a picture of the Arc by itself, and Blake once again bailed now-out-of-film me by taking a picture of me with the Arc in the background. He'd done the same in the Louvre when my camera developed a new habit of automatically rewinding the film after photo 31 of 40.
After the Arc, we headed back to John's hotel to get our luggage (where we'd dropped it after checking out of the FIAP). Greg finally made it at 6:45, and we began our long five hour journey back to Strasbourg.