Our Second Day in Pahree

July 18, 2007

On this past Saturday, Christina and I woke up to our second day in Paris. What an great feeling! I took a shower in this crazy shower that turned off every 30 seconds. I had to keep pushing the handle in to get the water back in. It turned into a little dance: scrub, scrub, hit shower handle, scrub, scrub…

PARIS DAY TWO PHOTOS (part one)

PARIS DAY TWO PHOTOS (part two)

As with the first day, we had already made a to-do list for the day. Saturday was Bastille Day, so Paris was rockin’. There were tons of people at all of the major sites, and red, white, and blue French flags hanging from lampposts and monuments around the city. Oh, and lots of tourists. It was kind of funny actually because Christina and I kind of felt like the only tourists in some parts of Montmartre- it was just so relaxed and chill. Another funny thing: people seemed really surprised to find out that we were American. Maybe it was because we both have dark, curly hair and olive skin. I don’t know but it was kind of fun. It was very, very strange to be able to speak in English on the Metro and be sure that no one could really understand you. We did meet a lot of people who spoke a very minimal amount of English, but, surprisingly, most Parisians we talked to did not. This is surprising not because I think everyone should know English but because I thought that it was taught in the public education system. Guess not.

Our first destination took us out of the Montmartre area that we had become used to the day before. We hopped on a bus to the Ile de la Cite, one of two small islands in the middle of the Seine River. riverThis was the island upon which Paris was supposedly founded, and is still home to many government buildings and such. We just went to see Notre Dame, but ended up walking around a bit and taking some great pictures of what is surely one of the most beautiful areas of Paris- if you like water, great old buildings and lots of history. (And if you don’t, you are a sad person.)

Notre Dame was beautiful! The best part of it all was the fact that we found our way ourselves and only asked directions from a really cool French policeman once. (“Um…Ou et le Notre Dame?” “Well…it’s pretty big…” “Um…”) There were lots of French flags all about, and street blocked off for some sort of parade that was to be held later. While we were there there was also a caravan of police on motorcycles, driving down the street in formation. I also saw a tank driving down the street! Very cool vibe, being in France on their biggest national holiday. It was neat seeing how much the French Revolution is built into the city completely aside from the holiday. For example, the interior of the Concorde Metro station, one of the biggest in the city, is completely tiled with the text of the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen, one of the most important documents of the French Revolution. Very cool looking, even though at first I thought is was some sort of homage to the crossword puzzle. I had to write down the words I saw and Google them to figure out what it was.

We walked all around inside the cathedral and it was beautiful. I think these huge cathedrals are amazing- every single detail in the whole enormous place is focused on the Catholic faith. Nothing is just there- it all has a meaning. How wonderful. Even the huge reliefs and just gigantic stained glass windows tell stories. dogIf you inspect them well enough you can actually recognize famous Bible stories, or stories from early French history. Fun!

As at all the huge tourist attractions, there were a lot of beggars in large open area in front of the Notre Dame. As soon as they hear you speaking English, they assume you are a wealthy American or Brit and ask you for money. It’s a problem because if you give money to one, the rest see and come up to you. Some of the men will even put their hands on you and try to physically block your path if you won’t respond to them. It can be kind of frightening, even in very crowded areas like Notre Dame and it is certainly disorienting. I kind of wonder what the government is doing to curb this problem in what is 1) their capital city and 2) one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. It was hard because I did feel for these people but, though I am rich in comparison to them, I truly did not have any money to spare at all. On Sunday I actually had a man curse at me, inside a church no less, for not giving him any money. Very saddening.

But, back to Saturday’s events. Christina and I found our way back to the Parisian mainland north of the Seine and followed some arrows along a very roundabout path to the Musee D’Orsay. We ate lunch on the steps of the museum and then waited in a long line- kind of surprising since it was one of the museums not free on this national holiday. We paid the extra 1.5E for the Renoir/Van Gogh exhibit- well worth it. It was crazy seeing paintings that I had seen many times in books and on posters, in real life. Wonderful. The museum itself, much like the Royal British Museum in London, is itself a work of art. It’s a converted railroad station and is massive. The interior is very open with walkways and exhibits on multiple levels and a beautiful glass arched ceiling about four stories above the floor. We spent a couple hours there- including in the gift shop which, as with any gift shop, Christina was really excited about. Sillyface.

It was only a short Metro ride to the Arch D’Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees. The exit to the station sends you right to the sidewalk across the street from the arch. What a breathtaking sight! We had a “I can’t believe we are here!” moment before dodging about four lanes of unstopping traffic on the unmarked circle drive around the monument. I really did not realize how huge it was! archIt was very moving to think of the meaning behind all the words and reliefs carved into the arch. It has over 500 names of French generals from the Napoleonic wars carved into the underside, as well as the names of important battles, and reliefs full of symbolism. In the picture to the right you can see two of the most famous sculptures on the arch- the right is an allegorical depiction of a fiery France leading patriots into battle. Look in my album for a more detailed picture. I felt like I was standing in the middle of a postcard.

The day was really only half over- it was around 5:30 or so when we began strolling down the Champs-Elysees. Talk about tourist traps! The whole street is lined with outdoor restaurants charging 4 times the prices that cafes in Montmartre charge. But every table was full! Of course, all of the huge stores were packed too, especially since it is sale season. So we walked down and stopped in a few places. We tried on some sweet Ray-Bans and Christina bought a “Paris dress” at a store called Zara. It was a good experience (a requirement for anyone visiting Paris) and beautiful, but not for me- I prefer the historic stuff and quiet streets. Our poor feet were yelling in protest at the beating they had been through for the last day and a half, so we stopped at a park right off the the Champs-Elysees and took a quick nap. No worries, we were perfectly safe: the entire lawn was covered in people taking naps and picnicking. Walking around Paris is no easy business! The dogs were barking, let me tell you.

At this park Christina and I saw a very ordinary 60-something-year-old woman picking up trash off the ground and placing it into a trash can. The trashcans in Paris are more like trash bags: There is a metal hoop with some sort of clasp, and city employees go around replacing the bags that hang from the hoops. Seems pretty economical, and many of these hoops are connected to pre-existing lampposts and such. These are all over Paris, in every neighborhood and on every street. Anyway, we watched this woman and though “How nice, she is helping clean up the park”. But then she started digging through the take away bags that she was throwing away, and soon enough had gathered a sizeable amount of leftover salad from several containers into one plastic bowl. She rummaged around, found a fork in the trash, and then found an unopened thing of salad dressing. As she stuck the fork into the salad and brought it to her mouth, Christina and I both whispered “Oh nooo…” and covered our eyes. Pretty funny, actually. As she was leaving the park with her dinner she handed an unmarked bottle of water to a Pakistani family that was sitting on the lawn. We thought that they would surely throw it away, but when we walked by their two-year old kid was drinking it. There is just no accounting for…well, for a lot of things.

Anyway, we decided to spend the rest of the beautiful sunny weather relaxing before the big fireworks show, so we walked towards the nearest Metro station and I took some more pictures of a monument to Charles de Gaulle and the Grand Palaid de Beaux-Arts. We went back to the hostel so I could change my camera batteries, dump my memory card, and wash up. It was just so hot and of course the subway is very germy and you have to hold the railings while riding. So I constantly felt like I needed to wash my hands. Christina made fun of me because every time we were back in the room I washed my face and then put my makeup back on. But it was hot! I was sweaty!

While we were in the room these guys who lived in the apartment across the narrow street spotted us through our open windows and began singing and playing guitar in our direction. I ended up leaning out the window over the street, trying to communicate with one of the guys who didn’t speak any English. He kept leaning back into his apartment to get the English words for what he wanted to say from a friend. “Do you want… (leans into apartment)…to… (asks friend)…come with me…(excuses himself for a second)…to birthday of my cousin?” Hahaha! Of course we declined, but his English-speaking friend Sebastien came to the window and chatted for a while and that was fun. Before we said goodbye, our first new friend leaned out of the window with his guitar, strumming and singing in broken English: “Je t’aime, my girl-lover, you are on fire”, in Christina’s direction. Charming!

Next was the big event of the day: fireworks at the Eiffel Tower in celebration of Bastille Day. It didn’t occur to me that the ride over would be crowded, but it definitely was. It was standing-room only on the Metro, and the stairs from the Metro station to the street were ridiculous. Once we got to the street (the stations near the Eiffel Tower are above ground, unlike most of the rest) we simply followed the huge crowd of thousands of people to the Eiffel Tower. There were people everywhere: on the wall of the Seine, on the grass, on the dirt, walking around, in line at the few cafes that were open and selling sandwiches.

By the way, if you are picturing a July 4th/Houston Rodeo scenario with food and souvenir booths and vendors selling water and cold drink you are very wrong. There was not a single booth or vendor to be seen. One or two people were selling water bottles out of small coolers- but in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, that makes but a little dent. The closest foods places were several long blocks away and of course very, very overpriced. We each paid 5E for a very boring sandwich, which is a little less than $10. We had definitely been expecting a festival type thing, but the air was festive enough with the amount of people there.

We found a comfy spot on the grass, but as soon as it got dark and the fireworks began literally hundreds of people stood up and moved closer. towerSo we had to, as well. We stood for the whole show, but it was OK because we were able to get some great pictures and videos. The young Arab guy standing behind me, Amin, was really nice, too, and wanted to know I where my cowgirl hat was and why I left it in Texas. Overall, it was a beautiful show and I was super glad that we went. Especially cool was the glittering lights running up and down the Eiffel Tower for most of the show.
The worst was yet to come though. We waited in McDonald’s for 30 minutes hoping to miss the huge crowd at the Metro station home, but it made no difference. We got in a line/mass of humanity to get into the Metro, but it was literally at a standstill for 30 minutes. By standstill I mean that every inch of my body was pressing against the people around me and, let me tell you, Christina and I were by far the best smelling in the crowd. The line was backed up from the turnstiles, which for some reason didn’t seem to be working. After 30 minutes of fearing for my purse and general health the police came and opened the exit gate to just let everyone in. No one had to swipe their cards or buy tickets to get in, presumably because there were so many of us (hundreds in our line) and it was getting close to the last train.

After that long of a day- and that wonderful of a day- there was nothing left for us to do but go to sleep and try to recuperate. We took hot showers, tried to stretch our muscles, quickly reviewed our goals for the next day (the secret to our success) and went to sleep. Thank God it was much quieter on the street than the night before, when (as we now know) our friends from across the way threw firecrackers outside of their window until the wee hours of the morning.

I have a few videos of the fireworks, which I will try to post, and of course another post about our third day in Paris. Meanwhile, scroll up and click on the links to my albums- there are some great pictures! I promise that this is the last time I go through each day in such detail, but it was such a weekend…

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5 Responses to “Our Second Day in Pahree”

  1. Erin said

    Jam-

    I love reading your posts while sitting in random Internet cafes in Bolivia…it reminds me of the diversity of the Lord´s earth and the beauty he has created everywhere. It also makes me miss you!! Give Christina my love and continue enjoying your time…I´m praying for you :-)

  2. 3antar said

    I hope, I truly hope, that you didn’t end your Bastille Day eating McDonalds. Please tell me that you simply took advantage of it to escape the crowds.

    There’s no excuse for traveling around the world only to eat really disgusting bags of grease.

    Diatribe over. It sounds like you’re having a lot of fun up there. And I can’t lie; I’m more than slightly jealous that you’re studying literature at Oxford. But I’m sure everyone feels the same way. Anyway, please continue to entertain with tales of drunken Brits and stereotypical Frenchmen.

    ~عنتر

  3. a1000milesfromtheplaceiwasborn said

    don’t worry!! we didnt eat anything there- just waited. i’ve been avoiding american food like the plague!

  4. O'Shea said

    Besides the places, love the people stories. Serenaded outside your window in Paris (Pahree with a rolled “R”)– how romantic ! So smart not to grab the first lovers along the way!:) ! :)

  5. Kacie said

    I didn’t realize I could leave comments until now — yay! haha

    I’m so glad you guys enjoyed Paris! I can’t wait until you, Christina, Katie, Erin, any of our other world traveling friends, and I are back in Dallas so we can share our stories in person!

    P.S. Our shower in Prague was the same way — I had to do that same silly little dance. :)

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