Feb 18, 2008

Paris - Part 1

I get packed for Paris and walked across campus with everyone to the Falmer station to catch a train up to London. We take the train to the Victoria Station to catch our charter bus out of town.
We get a goregous view of the sunset on our trip up and eventually unload at our destination. Now to find our bus. We find out the bus station is separate from the rail and tube station, and we walk the few blocks to get there. We find our gate, stand in line, and get our tickets.

And then we discover that there are two buses from the same company heading to Paris and that our group has been split in half because we didn't magically know to stand in the same line and request the same bus. I guess Brits are mind readers... Anyway, the buses are scheduled to leave at the same time so we figure that while it's less fun, it should be no big deal.

Adrienne, Christina and Trevor load on one bus, Kat, Sarika and I load on another. And then "no big deal" rears its ugly head. The other bus leaves at about five after 7PM, as it should, but we don't move. We sit, and sit, and sit.

National Express, the company we're traveling with, screwed up and sold one too many tickets... so we've got a guy on our bus with no seat, but he bought the ticket and he refuses to wait for another bus. I'm not even sure if waiting was an option presented to him, but don't get me started on the customer service. No one else is willing to give up their seat and wait either, so there's a big fight between one of the ticket agents and the guy with no seat.

We end up leaving an hour later with Mr. No Seat sitting in the aisle and complaining. Kat and I are already a little frustrated with the state of affairs, but we figure we'll catch up to the rest of our group and everything will be fine. An hour isn't that bad, right?

Until we notice we're going in circles.

More than half an hour after leaving the station we haven't made it out of London. Someone finally pipes up about our lack of progress and states that we're heading in the opposite direction of our destination. When he walks to the front of the bus to give the driver directions or at least figure out if she knows where she's going, we all discover that she doesn't speak English. Or French. Or Spanish. In fact, I don't even remember what language she did speak. Thankfully someone on the bus could translate and the driver turns around. We pass the Victoria bus station on our way out of London around 9PM.

For a little while Kat and I try to entertain ourselves and keep our spirits up by taking goofy pictures. We eventually give up and try to sleep. This was an overnight trip after all, and we were supposed to arrive in Paris around 6:30AM. Our extended trip had caused other passengers to become quite vocal about the poor planning and uninformed driver on our bus. They made sleep difficult.

The bus finally makes it to Dover at like 2AM if I recall correctly. We go through security where we have to present our passports to the scary looking guy in a uniform who climbed on our bus, and we drive through the gate. The bad news is that the chunnel is closed for the night, and there's one ferry leaving in about a half hour that we don't think we can get on. I don't know why... it wasn't clearly explained to us, that's just the way it was. The bus driver parks and calls the company office to try and sort this all out. Of course to our shock and amazement, there's no one at the company office to answer the phone.

Please tell me you picked up on the sarcasm. I mean really, I wasn't the least bit surprised when the phone rang off the hook in the wee small hours of the morning. Who gets paid to answer phones at 3AM? Only people who work for companies who care about customer service. This company is not one of them.

So we wait. Other riders are pissed beyond measure, and they decide to unload themselves and walk over to some building with vending machines. Kat and I are too tired to move and don't venture very far. Not long after people have left they are escorted back to the bus, food in hand, by some official. While standing in the doorway he announces to us all that should we choose to get off the bus again in the waiting area, the customs officers will be forced to conduct a thorough inspection of the bus, all our luggage, and our persons.

Obviously someone was very cranky.

We continue to wait. And wait. And sleep uncomfortably.

I'm asleep when the bus loads onto a ferry around 5AM. Someone wakes me up because we can't stay on the bus aboard the ship. I was not pleased. Kat and I climb a few flights of stairs and find some seating. All the big comfy seats are taken, including a few large red sofas that would make perfect beds. We end up in these tiny semi-circle red chairs that look like they could have only been found at IKEA. Kat sits across from me and we end up chatting with a fellow traveler.

Despite our conversation, I curl up into a ball in my tiny chair and fall asleep within a few minutes. Kat wakes me up as we arrive in Calais, and we load back onto the bus.

Things are pretty hazy for me from that point on as I drifted in and out of sleep. Eventually I spotted "Paris" on a road sign and decide it was time to perk up.

We pull into the bus station 5 hours late. Poor Trevor, Christina and Adrienne are still waiting in the station for us to arrive. The company couldn't tell them just how late we were, so they had been in Paris for 5 hours but hadn't seen more than the bus terminal.

Not wanting to lose any more time, we hop the metro to our hotel, check in, drop our bags, pay Sarika and head straight to the Louvre. Oh the Louvre.

Once again we take the metro and it brings us to the underground entry to the museum. Paris has a habit of putting malls and stores on top of and around metro exits. Before heading to the museum entrance we buy a two-for tickets for the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay at a discount at one of the nearby shops. This means skipping the line waiting to buy tickets and just waltzing right in. We take tourist pictures and go into the museum. Once inside we are greeted with large crowds and astounding architecture.
Thanks to the DaVinci Code hype, the first thing we all want to see is the Mona Lisa. We can't figure out the museum map to save our lives, so we follow the crowd and wander the halls. The museum is a piece of art in itself, with marble and columns everywhere. Now if only the stairwells made a little more sense. The number of photos I have from my first day in Paris is rather extensive, so they will be coming in rapid fire, perhaps with very little commentary.

First I give you a blurry Venus di Milo We wander some more. It's almost been an hour and we still can't figure out the maps. At some point in our search for the Mona Lisa we found ourselves on the second floor and I think I spent more time taking in the view through the windows.
And then suddenly, out of no where, we see a sign pointing us right to the Mona Lisa. We see the throng of people, the floating wall in the middle of a large hall, the two security guards, the stanchions with the velour rope, the no photography or video signs... and the smallest painting ever.


The Mona Lisa is small. Tiny really. All the prints you've ever seen of the Mona Lisa are at least four times the size of the original painting, and it is greatly overstated in it's film spot in the Da Vinci Code. It's the same with Dali's paintings, but that's another entry from another city.

The security guards protecting the painting are insane. They're snatching cameras out of peoples hands, or throwing up their arms to block shots before reaming people two inches from their face. People take their cell phones out and the guards are on them like white on rice. These guards are crazed and are being paid far too well as evidenced by the effort they're putting into their job.

I want a picture. In fact I'm not leaving the museum until I have one. Kat comes with me as we work our way through the crowd and I find a place to hide behind two people who are much taller than me. But I can't get a picture, I know I won't have enough time to focus and frame... I've got to be quick. I kick the camera into video mode and shoot literally a second of video before splitting.

The guards never even see me.

Kat thinks I'm crazy. Gutsy... but crazy.

I take a look at the video and realize that I forgot to zoom in before shooting the video clip. Not cool. So I decide to go back. This time Kat doesn't go with me. She's afraid I'll get caught.

Once again I make my way through the throng and I find two people taller than me. Turn on the camera, zoom in, put the camera up between the shoulders of the people in front of me and press record. A second of video later I'm gone again and walk up to Kat with a huge grin on my face. She tells me I'm the craziest person she knows. When I've got a camera in my hand, that's probably a fair assesment.

And here are the fruits of my labor... two screen caps of the video clips I took.


Impressive... not really. But the story behind them makes them that much better. I did what you weren't supposed to do. Two people were paid two stop me, and they both failed... twice. I should be a ninja.

Kat and I continue to wander around. We have some more time before meeting up with the rest of our group.

We find an unfinished room filled with items yet to be displayed.
This is by far one of my favorite shots from the inside of the musuem. The Louvre in the works...
We find Greek and Roman statues.
We find the Code of Hammurabi and several Egyptian artifacts. We find several other things that I just didn't photograph.

And eventually it is time to make our way to the front of the museum and wait for the rest of our group.
We leave the museum and enjoy the courtyard and Lovre Pyramid. At this point we decide to split up as some people are a bit tired and want to go back to the hotel and crash.
This will give you a better idea of the layout of the courtyard, and just how large it really is. video
We begin to walk toward the Champ d'Elysse. We see the Place du Carrousel, the Jardin du Carrousel, and the Jardin des Tuileries.
We take a bit of a detour before heading down the Champ d'Elysse because I want to see the royal gardens. I mean they are famous after all. On our way to the gardens, I catch this. How quintessencially French. And a gold statue. Gold statues are always good.
We make our way to the Jardin du Palais Royal, and I take in the gardens, the famous fountains, the modern courtyard. Then we head back to the Champ d'Elysee and we walk until we reach the Arc de' Triomph. The walk takes some time, but the view and all the things to see along the way were worth the walk, at least to me.We make it to the Arc just as the sun is setting. I had always known that the Arc sat in the middle of a large roundabout, but I had no idea just how large it was. According to Wikipedia, the Arc stands in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, also known as the Place de l'Etoile. We take the underpass and come back up to street level right by the Arc.
I walk below the Arc and admire the detail. Also below the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Solider from WWI, pictured above. The Tomb includes an eternal flame.

A funny thing happened while I was in Paris... I ran into another person I knew. Like bumping into Carly in Rome, I'm walking around the Arc and I suddenly recognize someone's voice. I follow the sound and who do I find but Geoff. Maybe it really is a small world. And this time I at least got a picture....
How tan am I?!
We were supposed to be meeting a few members of our party, but it seems there was a miscommunication or something... and about 45 minutes later, we were still waiting. So I decided it was time to take some more video.
video

After that humerous little piece, I will live you with one more shot of the Arc. I wanted to make it back to climb the 284 steps and take in the panoramic view of Paris, but it didn't happen. Next time, I'm going. And trust me, there will be a next time. I miss this city.

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