Thursday, November 26, 2009

...and Boy, are my Arms Tired.

The jet lag is a lot harder to overcome, flying east, than it is on the return trip. I'm not sure exactly why that is - but it's always a much longer struggle for me to figure out the time zone once we're in Europe than it is after returning home again.

That said... coming home took 20 hours of nonstop traveling, so it took some recovery time, too. Even though I wanted to get the last day in Paris written up and posted sooner, my brain and fingers just wouldn't cooperate. Between the horrible all-wrong day that I stumbled through immediately after getting home (ever try to have a cordial chat with your kid's school principal, following a painfully cute kindergarten Thanksgiving play, when you're so tired you're nervous about blinking for too long and your tights have just sprung a run?) and then the excesses of Thanksgiving at my father's, it took a while to get the systems realigned. And so...

In theory, our last day in Paris would involve waking up early to get the most out of the day. In practice, we were all hitting our own respective walls of fatigue and overstimulation, so we had to accept "before noon" as being "early enough." I've always tried to adhere to a three-day rule of travel: go out and sight-see, do things, experience the vacation hard-core for three days, and then plan to take the fourth day off, something that involves a lot of sitting or lying down, preferably in the presence of a pool, ocean or masseuse. Repeat as necessary. But for this trip, the fourth day was also our last day abroad, so there was a sense that we needed to try and get as much done as we could.


So, we were, eventually, up and at 'em, and headed to the oldest part of Paris, near Notre Dame and the Palais du Justice. En route, my mother and sister indulged in some illegal activity, according to the sign:


I still don't know exactly what the sign was actually forbidding, but I thought it was probably safe to share the photo now that we're back in the US. I doubt hand-holding is an extraditable offense.

Our destination for the day was Saint Chapelle, this beyond-gorgeous medieval building. It's hard to get a decent photo from the outside, because it's quite massive, and quite close to the neighboring buildings.


What was most impressive - and a little sad - to me was the evidence of the building's inevitable crumbling over time, despite ongoing efforts toward restoration.


There are only two rooms open to the public, a large open upper chapel and a smaller lower chapel used for entry/exit as well as gift shop. I tell you what, my camera breathed an audible sigh of relief at only having two rooms to photograph. As it was, I think I probably strained a few camera muscles during the visit.

First, the Upper Chapel:


Even the stairs on the way back down to the Lower Chapel are picturesque:


And then, the Lower Chapel:


I can't think why I'd never been to Sainte Chapelle before; my only guess is that it's fairly small, and it's tucked away on the grounds of the Palais du Justice, which is still an active courthouse. You can take tours, but we've always opted to stick around outside, take a few photos, and then wander elsewhere. I imagine it's worth a tour, on its own, someday - it does figure prominently in Victor Hugo's Notre Dame du Paris (a.k.a., The Hunchback of Notre Dame), if I recall correctly - but we haven't gotten inside yet.


From there, we had a delightfully long lunch - and for those thinking of traveling to Paris, there is apparently an official city salad dressing, so be forewarned. It tastes a bit like Caesar dressing, often with a kick of horseradish, and they put it on any poor, unsuspecting raw vegetable they can find. It's not bad, but it does get a little old after a few days.


We talked about going to Les Invalides or the grounds of the Tuileries, but it was now mid- to late afternoon and places were closing for the day. My mother and sisters felt obligated to do some fashion-clothes-perfume type shopping while in Paris; I had no desire to look at clothes I can't wear now anyway and wanted to go back to pack my bags and nap for a while before dinner, so we parted for a few hours. But not before staring, baffled, at the window display for the friendly neighborhood exterminator:


Once more into the Metro, and back to the hotel...


A few hours later, we wound up at a seriously wonderful Italian restaurant (yes, I get the irony, Italian restaurant, Paris... but it was an easy walk from the hotel and we were starving) with the kind of food that leaves you perfectly willing to pick up the plate to lick every last taste, if only you weren't too full to do so.

The next day consisted entirely of traveling, from the 4:00a cab to the airport to the 45-minute wait for them to open the check-in counter to take our luggage, to the brief, crowded layover in Dublin (too short to actually experience the country at all, but the signs are in Gaelic and the accents are lovely, and I'm determined that the British Isles will be the site of our next international adventure), to the long delays in New York City... but eventually, we were able to get to our respective homes.


I should, in the next month or so, be able to get a hold of photos from my sisters' and mother's cameras, so I'll share some of those here (especially those that include me, just to prove to my kids that I was actually on the trip). And then this blog will sit, sad and lonely, until next time...

Au revoir!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fewer (but More Famous) Dead People - OR - Approximately $10 Per Nipple

Day three, and we still had enough energy in the morning to plan on a full day's worth of activities. After breakfast - and French hotels do breakfast nicely, because it's very hard to have a bad start to the day when faced with a big old basket full of croissants and pain du chocolat - we headed out, and no matter how nice breakfast might have been, there was still time to pause and reflect on the delight that comes from knowing this is all available for sale mere steps away from the hotel:


After salivating, sighing, and generally acting like lovesick swains, we continued to the Metro, with a destination of the Panthéon.

En route, we accidentally stumbled upon a former residence of one of my collegiate archenemies:

Seriously, who needs Electrical Science, anyway? Certainly not I... though it took me three attempts before I stopped trying to pretend I might someday understand it, or at least competently fake understanding.

We also passed one of the ancient walls of Paris, built by Philippe Auguste in the 1300s.


This is cool enough in and of itself, but that coolness was only amplified by one of my ongoing reading projects recently. I read a review of Paris: A Secret History some time ago, and went out and bought a copy when my mother told me about this trip. I'm normally quite a fast reader, but this book is so fact-dense and narrative-intensive that it has taken me several months to get halfway through it. I find it immensely readable, very interesting and accessible, just not a quick-skim sort of experience. So by the time of our journey, I had read up to the Revolution of 1789, and therefore was considerably more aware of ancient, medieval and pre-Revolutionary events than of recent stuff. It's just delightful to have read about a landmark and then say, "Hey! I know about that! I read that such-and-such, and so-and-so..."

(Give me a break, I'm a stay-home mom with a limited social life, after several years of working comparatively high-level sorts of jobs. It's fun to feel smart and informed again.)

Sarah performed an impromptu experiment, in which she determined that, yes, the wall was, indeed, a formidable defense.


The Panthéon was originally built as a cathedral for Ste. Genvieve, patron saint of Paris (and someone about whom I also read, in my trusty history book). After the Revolution, France went all anti-religion for a while - going so far as to start their calendar over from Year I and rename all the months after non-religious references - and the Panthéon was messed with in various ways, finally being dedicated as a final resting place for a smattering of famous people, religious and otherwise, under the heading of "Hall of Great Men."

The architecture makes the word "impressive" seem inadequate, and the sheer scale of it all, plus the dimmed lighting, make decent photography difficult. But I was up for the challenge, and I'm pleased with my results. (And I do so love that we live in the age of digital photography; I took approximately 250 photos in one day - yes, really - and only kept the ones I liked. And I still have too many, but at least I didn't spend a ton on film developing to sort it all out...)

A few favorites:


And as for the famous dead people...


Pictured are Voltaire, Alexandre Dumas and Louis Braille. (I have great appreciation for the fact that Braille's grave does, indeed, contain Braille characters... but I find it a little cruel that there's no Braille elsewhere in the building, and the tomb is quite deeply buried within the crypt. It's nice to reward a blind person for finding the grave, but how's about we make it a little less impossible for them to get there in the first place?) Victor Hugo, both chemist Curies, and a number of others are in there, but the photographic oomph is low... the graves are all very similar, and only visible at oblique angles from doorways.

There was also, over the entrance/exit, a mystery: click to enlarge.


How do you suppose that got there? Not just got there, but got so firmly wound up. Not a ladder or scaffold in sight...

From there, we had lunch at a crêperie, which was arguably the best French meal we had all weekend. (We also had really good food the last night there, but it was at a little Italian place.)

And, of course, since we could see it, we had to take a picture or three:


Then it was back to the hotel, to rest and recharge a bit... because the day started out with grand intentions, but three days seems to be the maximum amount of high-intensity travel and sightseeing I can handle under any circumstances, much less pregnant and jet-lagged and with back problems. But no complaints about that, even some of the Metro stations are picturesque...

Cluny La Sorbonne

Now, a better - or at least, more conscientious - blog author would end this post here, because the evening's entertainment was so vastly different from the morning that it really felt more like two separate days. But for one thing, I took great delight in the fact that our cultural, um, exposure was so varied within one day, and for another, I'm typing this from JFK airport while awaiting my last flight back to Boston, and it's already taking me forever to do all this copy-and-pasting and formatting without a mouse.

So... after some down-time, we got dressed nicely and headed out. To the sex district. Our hotel was only a few blocks from Pigalle, which bears quite the reputation - and deservedly so - but we were in the right direction and distance such that things stayed quiet and not terribly shocking near us. But if you were looking for shock, it was only a short walk away... and I would wager that no matter how worldly you are, you could find something to shock you there.


We had reservations for the 9:00 show at the Moulin Rouge. I haven't seen the movie with Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor, so I have no idea how it might compare... but I can tell you that the in-person experience is pretty wild. Overpriced, sure, and it's a bit of a mystery exactly why there's so much toplessness (and why the men in the show are wearing so much more than the women), but generally a sensory experience that I can't regret forking over for. I estimated that, given the number of dancers, I paid about $10 per nipple, with more exposure to some than others. My mother's eyes were very big throughout the show. (No photography allowed past the coat check, which is probably better for the moral fortitude of my camera, but I do have one group photo taken by the Moulin Rouge staff... eventually, I'll scan it in.)


Afterward, it was a strange dinner at a BBQ place across the street (not to be confused with the type of bar-be-cue we had discussed at the Pere Lachaise cemetery the day before!) and then back to the hotel, to collapse and attempt to recharge for one more day in Paris...