Sunday, March 27, 2011

Third Time Lucky: Paris

Surprise! "We leave for Paris tomorrow" was the battle cry; or that's how I recall it — even if thats not entirely true, or even remotely for that matter. We left the apartment at 6 P.M. sometime in late February. We picked up our train tickets and jumped on the slow train . I attempted to use some new software that would map the train route on a map, but … the map "got" deleted.  

Anyway, we arrived in Antwerp after 9 P.M. It's a huge station, 4 floors of trains high, and easily a 300 m long.  We exited up into the main hall. As soon as you enter the main hall you're hit by the vast size and the grandness of the hall.  Everything is marble: the floors, walls, stairs, columns, etc.  Where there isn't enough marble there is gold. It was late, there were men with german shepherds and funny hats, so we left.  But first we had to stopped to take photos quickly.

Immediately as you exit the  station you find the zoo and chinatown.  It's amazing how things can look different and sinister in the dark, even though we had been here before. Liz had a firm grasp of the direction of the hotel, so we followed it.  Again, like usually happens in these cases, Liz's sense of direction failed us (again, this may or may not be what happens, but hence for this is how I shall remember it.)  We tried to then use the iPhone and that failed due to the number of one way streets we had walked down.  Eventually after walking circles around the Cathedral (the only thing that we knew was close by) we found out hotel.  Right next to the side of the cathedral. I was woken up several times by the bells and the view was 'wall of church in drab'. In reality it was pleasant and the lady at the desk was very happy that we were Canadian.

We spent most of the next day seeing the city, shopping for chocolate and sorting the banking things (finally!) A small city with many things to see.  Instead of really taking in anything of culture, we wandered as we usually do, and debated about the "idea of going back to the land".

We left the Antwerp Central train station, which was beautiful. The station was built in 1903 and is an old Industrial revolution building.  Full of vast open steel arches and glass.  Inside the station was all marble and gold,  more of a palace than a train station. We then headed for Brussels on the slow train. Liz and I were stared down by a group of young girls, quite awkward (especially after I waved.)  Anyway, we missed our stop and then had to wait at some old broken down station that looked like something out of the Soviet bloc. We looked around and waited.  30 minutes later and we were on the next train back to Brussels.  

We arrived at the station and got tickets for the Thalys high speed train to Paris (with 7 minutes to spare).  I tried tracking the speed of the train, but my iPone can't read above 231km/h.  The intranet told us we were going at 303 km/h. Extremely smooth,  with hardly any wind noise. It puts most luxury cars to shame.  All travel should be like this. 

We arrived in Paris as the sun was setting,  We got on the subway to our stop and exited. Completely lost we wandered randomly until Liz, being fed up with the iPoop, stopped and asked where our hotel was to be found. A few minutes later we found the place,  right across from St. Severin church. We ran upstairs (all the way upstairs), dropped our stuff and went out for dinner. Liz picked the place, she was very hungry and tired.  A swiss styled "chalet".  It was hands down the WORST meal of my life.  Liz foolishly ordered mussels as an appetizer, we're still surprised she didn't get sick. She then ordered coq au vin: it was dry and could have passed for cajun by how burnt the skin was.  I ordered lamb,  it was a thin flank folded in half and disguised to look like whatever it was supposed to be.  Neither of us could finish our meals and rushed out of there as fast as we could, feeling worse than hungry.

The morning brought sunshine and warmth. We did our usual search for coffee and croissants and then headed out on a walk.  Soon enough we were standing in front  of Notre Dame de Paris. This time we went inside. It is really quite large, surprising from how it looks on the outside.  Similar to the Bayeux Cathedral. We sat for a while in a park by the Louvre, around a small pond.  There was a vendor renting little sailboats to children to "sail" in the pond, the kids used some sort of stick to aim the sail and off the boats  went, children in tow. After having our fill of the cold, we walked a bit further to a cafe in the middle of the park. Liz ordered us deux cafes to warm us up.

We walked parallel to the river. there is this long straight road, kilometres long. Closest is a park: flanked by some of the most expensive residences in Paris building, then grass, manicured trees and bushes, cars and people. Further in the distance you can see the Eiffel tower to the left, in the centre is the Arc with a giant French flag flying in it's centre, and just in front of it is a massive obelisk.  This is the really neat object. It was stolen from Egypt and brought to France and is a complete oddity with it's hieroglyphs. Very stark compared to the decadent french architecture. This is the Place de Concorde: where a few people lost their heads over a revolutionary idea.

The next morning we headed out on a mission to find the catacombs of Paris. With Liz leading the way, we arrived shortly after noon.  Ate lunch in the line (there are only a  small amount of people allowed in at a time), scammed our way in as students to save money and headed down a winding staircase.  83 steps later we hit the bottom. From what Liz tells me, the catacombs were originally a stone quarry that was taken over as a burial area years later.  The passage we were in was around 2 kilometres long, although the greater area contains many more kilometres of similar structure. Although no where else in the system has the mass graves. Almost the entirety of this section is "decorated" with skeletons. Bones were moved here in 1773??? after plagues caused by decomposing bodies sickened the Parisian population. The corridors had been consecrated, and there are plaques detailing the original location of sections of bones.

After what seemed like an endless walk we exited into fresh air. Our day went downhill from here, Liz's back was giving her trouble. But she wanted me to see Napoleon's tomb, and I the Eiffel tower, so we kept on.  This would prove to be a very bad idea.  By the time we reached the Musee d'Armee that Napoleon tomb is located in, Liz could barely walk. We skipped it, but she insisted she would be fine.  We headed to the Eiffel tower, got to the top and then had to descend,  She was in rough shape.  A cab back to the hotel and an early night in was in order.

Our last day in Paris was yet another sunny day.  We walked to the Musee d'Orsay. It is housed in a converted train station.  It houses impressionist paintings, some that come to memory are; van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Renoir, Chagall and many others.  Again, Liz's back was bothering her, so after 2 hours we left.  We headed back to the hotel, grabbed our things and headed back to Amsterdam.

I'm really beginning to like France. Out of all the countries we've been to so far,  it's by far my favourite.  I look forward to the end of April when we should be in Provence again. 

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