Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Frenching it up

So finally after two weeks in London we made it to the second destination on our trip - Paris!! :)
The eurostar was awesome, really comfortable and super fast [though faster on the French side of the tunnel - they don't have speed limits!] and when we got off in Paris Mel and Brad were at the train station to meet us. By the time we got back to the apartment [cute, tidy, and very tiny!] we just had time to crack open the first bottle of cheap [tasty] French wine and catch up with Brad after nearly 11 months before crashing and looking forward to tennis the next day.
Tuesday morning the weather wasn't flash, and after how many rain delays there had been the week before, we were a bit worried, but by the time we made it to Roland Garros [managing to not get lost on the French metro system on the way!!] it seemed we would be in luck. First up was the women's quarter final, Ivanovic v Schnyder. It was a fast match, Ivanovic looking dominant throughout, and coming out on top 6-3 6-2 in under an hour and a half. While this was going on we could hear the cheers and roars coming from the second court, where Djokovic was battling it out with Gulbis... seemed that match still had plenty of action to go when our second round started and out came Nadal and Almagro. We were both stoked to get to see Nadal play live, and he was certainly on form, crushing Almagro 6-1 6-1 6-1. Not long before the match ended, the Djokovic battle finally ended, [5-7 6-7 5-7]
By that time we were pretty cold and tired, so headed back to the apartment in time to meet Dani as she got off the Eurostar and we were all there!
Wednesday the real touristing started, after croissants and coffee for breakfast, and making a picnic lunch with fresh baguettes. We walked to the Place de la concorde, and from there down the length of the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, which we were able to climb up to the top of. Nearly three hundred steps above the craziest roundabout in the world, we had so much fun watching the cars and wondering how any of them made it out unscathed!! Many photos later, we wandered back down and decided we deserved a coffee from a sidewalk cafe, where we sat and watched Paris wander past...
Thursday we put our arty hats back on again and took off for the Louvre. That is one amazing place, so ridiculously big you really could spend a month inside!! We had about seven hours, and managed to get through most wings, though some we really had to race through. Highlights include the obvious big attractions: Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, as well as the crazy opulence of the reconstructed Napoleon apartments, the amazing large [read: freaking massive] format French paintings, the Italian sculptures, and one of the biggest surprises of the day, the feature artist Jan Febre-a Belgian multi-media artist who was given free reign to place whichever of his works he chose all over a wing of his choice. There were some seriously weird pieces, in a real contrast with the fourteenth century Dutch, German and Belgian works they were placed amongst, but we really enjoyed them. After seven hours of going around and around the galleries and up and down the stairs between the different levels, Mel and Antony were feeling shattered so Dani and I missioned on alone to the Notre Dame cathedral. And it was absolutely worth a trip. Awesome amazing huge stained glass windows and fantastic gothic architecture - though it was a little odd that there was a service going on inside and yet we were allowed to wander around wherever we wanted and take photos... We made it home just in time for a quick dinner then we all took off for the Eiffel Tower, in the hope that we could get up in time to see the sun set and the lights come on over the city. Turns out we were a bit optimistic though, it took us longer to get there than we planned, and the sparkly lights came on all over the tower as we were still approaching it [didn't know it at the time, but this happens at 10pm every day, for ten minutes, then again every hour after that]. There was a literal collective cry of 'aaaah' from both sides of the road as all the tourists looked up and noticed the lights flashing away. We made it into the line for tickets, but not long after we joined, they closed ticket sales for the top level, as it was overcrowded, and it as it was already getting quite dark, and we really wanted to see the view from the very top, we decided to call it a day and try again the next day. Was still an excellent night out, as we got some great photos of the dying light behind the tower from the ground.
Friday we took the short walk to the Basilica of Sacre Coeur and had a walk around inside. It was very different to Notre Dame, but no less impressive, and well worth a visit. Once again, there was a service taking place, which we did our best not to interrupt..though there were plenty of other tourists there too. After Sacre Coeur, we took a train mission out to the Palace of Versailles for another dose of obscene opulence... and weren't disappointed. The rooms just got bigger and bigger and more and more grandiose as we went through...not exactly hard to imagine why the French people weren't so impressed when they were struggling to make ends meet ... Was awesome to be in the 'Hall of mirrors' where the Treaty of Versailles was signed, though it was a little hard to imagine the atmosphere when we were there surrounded by several busloads of big tour groups... We missioned back to Paris on the train and headed for the Eiffel Tower once again, stopping for a dinner of crepes on the way... yum! Made it into the line in plenty of time and weaved our way up to the top - wow do they pack you into those elevators! The view [or what of it we could see] on the ride up was awesome, and even more so once we got off on the second level. Took heaps of photos and wandered all around to get the complete view - crazy how tiny the Arc de Triomphe looked from up there, and we weren't even at the top! It sure felt big when we were up it on Wednesday :) Eventually took the final elevator ride to the very top, 300-odd metres above Paris, and the view, as expected, was spectacular. We watched the light start to dim, and got a shock once again by the sparkling lights at 10pm - they felt very different when we were in the middle of them!! It was awesome to see the lights of the city slowly turn on, and watch the last of the sun drain away from the day - a truly fantastic experience, so glad we made the trip back :D Sometime after 11 we decided it was time to head home and warm up, but the guys tricked me into McDonalds on the way home, claiming hunger, but really it was for a 'traditional' French experience, a.k.a. a McBeer... felt very very strange to be sitting in a McDonalds in Paris, around midnight, sipping on a Kronenbourg, very strange indeed.
Saturday morning I collected Michal, fresh off the train from Belgium, and we all headed for an Irish pub to watch the ABs v Ireland game, before having a few celebratory birthday beers for Antony. A relaxing end to an intense week.
Sunday morning came around very early as we all had different directions to head in for the next part of our adventures, though our departure on the eurostar back to London was somewhat delayed by a two hour bomb scare at Gare du Nord international terminal... which turned out to be an abandoned piece of luggage that the French police, after much standing around chatting and doing nothing, ended up destroying before we could get on our train and leave France behind... for now ...

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