May 15, 2008

Paris - Part 2

If I thought the first day in Paris was filled with famous sights and photo ops... did I have another thing coming. After the problems we'd had in Italy associated with traveling in large groups, we decided to split up. This was probably the smartest idea we'd had yet... especially since we had so many people who wanted to do some very different things.

Trevor if I recall wanted to see churches. Lots of churches. I like churches, but I can only take so many of them. I also don't like walking around like a tourist and snapping off pictures while other people are using the space for its intended purpose. It just feels wrong.

Sarika, Christina and Adrienne wanted to shop. I like shopping, but like Kat, wanted to monitor the cash flow a little more tightly.

Besides, Kat and I wanted to do some serious sight seeing. And thanks to the Metro, we fit quite a bit in.

We start with the George Pompidou Center, and the unique Stravinsky fountain. Getting there however was a challenge. Kat and I hop the metro, and come out in a mall. A huge mall. Ginormous really. And it had no map. We searched the 2nd floor, the 3rd floor, made it all the way to the door to the car park, and to the completely enclosed food court. In fact, I don't even remember how we made it out of the mall. I know it took us more than 20 minutes. It was a little frustrating.

Anyway, we finally make it out of the mall and we walk some blocks to the Center. We couldn't see it from a distance... it was one of those moments when you clear a building, look to your right, and there it is, like it was trying to sneak up on you. Architecturally, it's a black sheep compared to its surroundings.

Of course it is supposed to represent all that is modern in art in France. Makes me wonder what's inside, since we didn't have time to check it out. I'm also pretty sure we made it to the Center before it was open. I didn't see any open doors, ticket windows, or queues. But what I really wanted to see, was the fountain. The fountain was a collaboration between Niki de Saint-Phalle and Jean Tinguely, and is named after Igor Stravinsky, the composer. I don't know what it is about Saint-Phalle's work, but I am drawn to it. I was quite disappointed when the statue above wasn't spraying water from the crown like it's supposed to. La Siren, another one of Saint-Phalle's sculptures.Something about this photo makes me think of a line from a Beatles song... "I am the egg man." But I digress.

We finish with the fountain that isn't spraying water and we go back to the metro. Our next stop is the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. I'd never heard of the church, but according to Kat it's in Amélie, one of her favorite films, and well worth the trip. I believe her and we make our way to the Abbesses stop in Montmartre.

Once off the train we head to the exit. We see a sign for the lift and a sign for the stairs. We see a line for the lift and no line for the stairs. We figure we'll take the stairs. Bad call. The stairwell goes on forever. A couple hundred steps at least. We finally see daylight, and I cannot tell you how happy we were. It meant no more stairs.

And how famous is this sign?We walk around Montmartre; the scenery is beautiful. It doesn't have a big city feel, more like a quaint town hours away from the hustle. It was quite peaceful.Speaking of peace. Love the street art. And then we find them... the stairs we have to take to make it to Sacré-Cœur. We have some idea that there is a funicular somewhere, but we don't know what it means, where it is, or how much it costs. So we climb.We enjoy more beautiful scenery and blue skys. I love plants on top of buildings. And then we climb some more... Notice how you can't see the top of the stairwell?Sweaty and gross we finally reach the top of the Montmartre butte, the tallest point in the city. Walk to our right, turn to our left, and there it is, Sacré-Cœur, otherwise known as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. We catch our breath, buy a ridiculously overpriced soda, and take in the view. It's the best view of Paris. I have a wonderful video clip for you , but blogger does not want to cooperate. Hopefully I will be able to post it later.

After a few minutes we take a brief tour of the inside of the church. I didn't take any pictures inside as I didn't want to be disrespectful. We then venture around Montmartre and make our way to the artists hill.

On the walk I spotted the Eiffel tower and this antenna. If I were that guy, I would totally brag that my antenna was taller than the Eiffel tower. But anyway...
I also happen to love flowers in window boxes. This place was just too adorable.I don't think cars are allowed in this part of Montmartre as evidenced by this performer sitting in the middle of the street. She was playing music and whistling and singing and in French. It felt like all she was missing was a dressed up monkey to sit on her shoulder. Believe me when I say I certainly looked for the monkey. I still think she had one, somewhere...And then we find artist's hill. It's really just a square packed full of little booths filled with art. Most ask that you don't take pictures... like this one, but I managed a shot anyway. The art is goregous but expensive. I guess several famous artists have peddled their wares here, including Van Gogh, Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec.Kat grabs a savory crepe from a streetside vendor, one of those walk up and order places where you never leave the sidewalk, and we find a place to sit. By find I mean walked for a little while, gave up, and sat on the sidewalk near a Dali museum. Kat's crepe starts falling apart, and a few pieces fall on the ground. Next thing we know we've got four pigeons right next to us fighting over the crumbs, puffing chests, pecking and all. Kat ended up throwing an extra piece over just so the birds would go away. They're bold little suckers in Paris.

Eventually it's time to head down the hill to see some more of Montmartre before going to Notre Dame for mass. We walk back towards Sacré-Cœur and low and behold what do we find but the funicular. Not only is there not a long line, but it doesn't cost us anything because of the daily metro pass that we've already paid for. Feeling like suckers for climbing all those stairs, we take the funicular back down.Kat cut half my face off so I gave it a try... and cut Kat off. I'm not very good at taking pictures from in front of the camera.After getting off the funicular, this is the view of the basilica. There's even a little carousel not pictured, camera left. Next stop in Montmarte is the Moulin Rouge. So we step away from the quaint little town feel and make our way to the place where peep shows for 4 euro are squeezed in between the pharmacy and pizza. I'd seen Le Chat Noir posters everywhere... we had one in our living room sophomore year. I had no idea the place was so famous because it was on the corner next to the Moulin Rouge.There's a metro stop right next to the Moulin Rouge, litterally feet from where I took this picture. We take the stairs to the metro and head towards Notre Dame.

At some point the train is running along a track elevated above the city streets. Out the window I see a protest, so Kat and I hop off the train and head toward the crowd.

Just what my Mom wanted to hear... that I went to a protest in a foreign country instead of avoiding it.

Given the current political climate I don't have to speak a word of French to know what's going on. Since I am writing about this trip nearly two years later, I'll give you some help. It's July 29, 2006, just a few weeks in to the Israeli-Lebanese conflict, also known as the 2006 Lebanon War, or the July War or Second Lebanon War, whatever you want to call it. From the chants, the signs, the flags, and the conversations I understand, the protest is being held by Lebanese and Hezbollah supporters who are protesting Isreal's actions as well as US involvement in the conflict. I move quietly amongst a few people in the crowd, but I mostly let people pass as the crowd moves forward. A truck with a loudspeaker stops and people line up holding banners and flags to chant to the music being blared over the loudspeaker. That's when I got this shot. Pictured above are both the Lebanon and Hezbollah flags. I never thought I'd see a gun on a flag. Chanting behind me is this woman... with a sign that says "Don't be afraid I'm from Hezbollah" in crosshairs. It's at about this point Kat says it's a bad place to be if you're American. A few people turn their heads, and that's when we decide it's time to get out of there. We go back to the metro and wait for the train. I see another a female protester who must have decided it was time to take her son home. This was the metro stop where we'd hopped off. We called it Barbie-Rochey.Next stop is Notre Dame, and of course I must give you some of the scenery on the way there. We tour the inside, and it's almost expected that you take pictures. Not wanting to insult anyone, I oblige.
If I recall correctly, Kat wanted to attend mass. Since I'm not Catholic, I didn't think it was appropriate that I attend mass with her. I went back outside and eventually did some souvenir shopping across the river.
This guy was one of those street entertainers looking to make a euro or two by taking pictures with tourists. His box says photo? and has a smiley face. He's the new Quasimodo.

And then there's this guy. Buys some crackers and some water, gets the crackers wet and feeds the birds. Some tourist sent his kid over to feed the birds and paid the gent for the photo op. Interesting... I'm surprised the birds in Europe aren't fat. They get fed everywhere.

An hour or so later, mass is over, I've got some souvenirs and it's time for our last stop of the day, the Eiffel tower. Once again it's the metro and some walking, but we finally make it there. We meet up with the rest of our group and sit down on the surrounding lawn. The sun is starting to set and the tower has a beautiful golden glow. On a side note, we also notice several French guards carrying around AK-47s. It was a little unnerving. But on to the view.
Eventually the sun sets and the tower is lit up. For the first 10 minutes of every hour, these bright white fashbulbs go off continuously, creating this flashing, almost Christmas tree like effect.
After 10 minutes, the white flashbulbs turn off and the tower glows yellow.
Or white, if you prefer.
We stay at the tower for quite a while, walking around, enjoying the view. The line to climb up the tower or take the lift is too long, so we decide we'll come back tomorrow. We haven't had dinner yet, so we opt to leave the tower and get some food. On the way we pass this performer who can do some pretty awesome things with fire. Oh the joys of a tripod.

Kat, Sarika, and I break off from the rest of the group and eat dinner at an Italian restaurant not far from the tower. After dinner it's time for dessert. Kat and Sarika opted for large ice cream sundaes, I went for the cheesecake.

After some delicious cuisine it was time for a little night photography. Sarika was in a digital photography class and had a Nikon DSLR and tripod for the weekend. We took advantage of these tools to the fullest.
This Coke sign sits right next to the Moulin Rouge. The picture of course was taken for the biggest Coke afficionado I know, my Grandma.

Unfortunately, the Moulin Rouge lit up at night failed to impress. The windmill was not turning and even worse, was not lit up. Maybe we needed to get their earlier... who knows. A few guys decide they like three women standing alone, and we decide it's time to bolt. Next stop was the Louvre. I'd seen beautiful shots of the Pyramid and the Louvre courtyard lit up at night. I was hoping to catch a shot of my own.

The view from the bridge on the way to the Louvre was great. The colors were fantastic, and the bridge was covered with people hosting their own party on the benches. It was interesting.
The view from across the courtyard was decent and mostly abandoned.
But like the windmill of the Moulin Rouge, the Pyramid was not lit. In all fairness, I think it was about midnight by the time we made it to the Louvre, and I can understand the need to conserve engery. I guess next time I'll just have to be earlier.We take a few shots of the Louvre and pack it up. We contemplate trying to get some shots of the Arc de Triomphe lit up before heading back to the hotel, but figure the lights would be turned off by the time we made it that far. Apparently Paris is not one of those cities that doesn't sleep. So instead of more photographic adventures we go backto our hotel and get some sleep before our last day in Paris.

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