Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bonjour

Recently, my friends Kevin and Matt came to visit from Kansas City. After several days of showing them around London, we went on an excursion to France. Paris is quite close to London and due to the proximity, a train ride is entirely feasible. The chunnel goes under the English channel for around 20 minutes with the total commute from London to Paris being 2 hours and 20 minutes.

My knowledge of French is extremely limited but prior to departure, I consulted with some native French speakers at work. During the trip, I practiced essential phrases such as Combien ca coute? (How much does it cost) Bonjour, Merci, Excusem moi and counting to 10. The lady I sat next to was a native of Paris and she informed me of the reason Paris is known as the "City of Lights." This pseudonym comes from Paris's distinction as being the first city to light up the major sites around the city at night.

We arrived in Paris on Monday night around 10:00 pm. After attempting to say in French "can you take us to our hotel," the driver took a look at the name and location of the hotel and called a compatriot who gave presumably better directions than those I printed off from the internet. The driver spoke virtually no English but as a fellow classical music connoisseur, we proceeded to say composer's names to each other with smiles and nods. "Beethoven, Bach, List, Berlioz, Handel, Debussy."

The hotel room was quite small with room for precisely three small beds and littel more space. But who's looking for luxurious accommodations when you're in a great city to explore in? We got up early the next morning and headed into town on the underground train which had a stop just outside our hotel's front door.

We were well armed with an itinerary thanks to Frommers.com. I highly recommend their advice for any city you'll be travel to for sightseeing. They have excellent general overviews of the city, recommended itineraries, reviews of top sites, eating, and basic getting around information.

Our first stop was the Louvre which for some unexplained reason was closed on a Tuesday. We took a picture and promptly set off for the Seine river. The Seine and its accompanying river walk is quite beautiful especially with the changing autumn leaves. We then went to Pont Neuf, Vert-Galant Square, and Place Dauphine each of which offered nice general views of the city and some of its sights.

The next major place we visited was Sainte Chapelle, a Gothic chapel with beautiful stained glass windows all around. Stained glass windows literally covered all the walls in a brilliant array of colors with each window pane telling a portion of the Biblical account. As a side note, we learned that sometimes stained glass windows were used to help those who could not read still see and understand stories from the Bible.

Shortly after, we wandered through the Latin Quarter on our way to Notre Dame. Restaurant proprietors stood in the doorways inviting us to try their fares. However, we put lunch on hold until after Notre Dame.

Notre Dame was my favorite site in Paris. It has beautifully intricate Gothic architecture and is magnificent both inside and out. The cathedral was finished in the 1200s and took approximately 80 years to complete. Inside it was very beautiful but dark and tall at the same time. We were there during a Mass which was in French and that we clearly could not understand. Kevin and I climbed to the top via stairs and were greeted by stunning views of the city as well as some interesting gargoyles and statues on top.

After a lunch at a kebab shop in the Gothic Quarter, it was on to Place de la Concorde which contains a large obelisk allegedly built in 1200 B.C. We made this journey on foot which though a bit laborious, seemed more reliable to the newbie than the underground train system. I'm sure the train system works well for those who know its ins and outs but it did not seem as intuitive as the London Tube system.

We then made our way down the Champs de Elysees, Paris's most famous boulevard. Each summer the Tour de France participants race down Champs de Elysees on international television. The focal point of the avenue is the Arc de Triumphe which is 49 meters tall. Continuing our foot journey, we made our way to the Effiel Tower for a view of Paris's most visible landmark. It is 317 meters tall and one must get quite far away to take an adequate picture. Unfortunately, my wide angle lense stopped working so I had to take two shots of the tower with my telephoto lense. The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 for the World's Fair and remained the tallest building in the world until the completion of the Chrysler Building in New York was built in 1930. Kevin and I took an elevator to the top for a view over the entire city. This completed the first day. The second day we went to Normandy which I will discuss in a separate entry.

On the third day, the main site we saw was Sacre Cuer which is a beautiful basilica with another superb view of the city. Inside a choir was singing and the effect was one of reverence. The stated mission of the church is for worldwide prayer and intercession. The rest of the day was spent exploring the city a bit more then making our way back to the train station for the return to London.

Overall, the food in France was excellent. I had crepes on a couple occasions as wells as multiple tasty pastries. I'm not a big fan of cheese but was equally impressed with the quality. I'd place it on a completely separate level to that which I've previously tasted. The French can definitely cook.











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2 comments:

liz said...

Nice shot of you at the top of Sacre Coeur with the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Was that Kevin's doing?

aallen820 said...

Actually, it was the top of Notre Dame and yes Kevin was the photographer.

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