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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Paris, S'il vous plaît!

This one trip has so much to write on that I have been putting off the whole deal for ever.If I wait longer I will forget most of it! So here it goes -

I made the trip to Paris over the 6 day long weekend in the Netherlands (April 30th - May 5th). The trip was for 4 nights and 5 days.

We were 3 of us, and I am still so pissed at myself for not having researched about the place before leaving! Grrrrr!! That honestly is the worst thing to do! (Stupidity1). Luckily, one of my friends who had traveled to Paris before had a very good idea of what to do and he could speak French as well! I also had a great book at hand to explain a lot of things to me in Paris. :) (The lonely Planet Guide of course!)

Day 1

As all trips have their moments of "what the heck!?"ness; this one had it right at the beginning. All the 3 of us in combination forgot to bring our tickets to the bus and we were 10 minutes away from boarding! (Stupidity2) Seeing absolutely no way out, and after having played the blame game a bit, we let ourselves at the mercy of the driver. Thankfully he was a nice guy and he let us in without even checking any identification! Phew! close call!

The bus took us longer than the expected 6 hours and we reached Paris in about 8 hours time, stopping once in between in Brussels.

Paris is amazingly well connected by metros and that is the biggest plus in traveling the city with ease. We bought 10 tickets right there and it lasted us for almost the whole trip. We took the metro to our hostel - "The 3 Ducks" (25 Euro per night + breakfast).

We checked into the slightly creepy looking place, dumped our bags and walked our way to the wonder - "Tour Eiffel", which was built in 1889 as an entrance arch of the centennial celebration of the French Revolution. What can I say? Breath takingly beautiful!! I had to keep pinching myself to prove that I was actually there! The sparkling night view of the tower from the river Seine is perhaps one of the most romantic sights I have ever seen!

Probably just as a reminder of the 'gift' (Statue of Liberty) that the French gave to the Americans, there was a smaller version of the liberty statue nearby.

After the visit we had dinner and we crashed in for the night. The hostel beds were creaky and the loud music going on right outside the room kept me up most of the night!

Day 2

We started the day briskly and began with a good breakfast(the hostel wasn't that bad, we met and talked with some nice guys too). We began by going to Montmartre, a hill which was home to famous writers and artists like Pablo Picasso (Bateau Lavoir).

A picture on our way to the top of the hill; even the ordinary houses and streets looked so picturesque! -

On top of the hill is perched the "Basilique du Sacre Coeur" - The Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a church built (1873 - 1919) as an act of remorse after the defeat in the Franco Prussian war.

Walking by the artists' square full of people getting their portraits or caricatures getting done, we went into the Museum of Salvador Dali, a Spanish, Catalan artist.

This eccentric artist was renowned for his famous painting - Persistence of Memory, in which he introduces the image of the melting pocket watch. One of his famous sculpture is the elephant with spider legs and a pyramid on its back. Filled with bizzare paintings and sculptors, the museum thrilled me. Having never really visited an art museum before, the experience was enriching.

We went by the Jardin du Luxembourg (Garden of Luxemburg)next to cool off a bit. Large parks with fountains and chairs made it a favorite lounging spot for several tourists.

We completed the day with a visit to the Arc de Triomphe commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate his victories.

The body of an 'Unknown Soldier' from WWI is burried under the arc and a flame is rekindled every evening to salute the sacrifices of several such soldiers.

We climbed the top of the arc to see the view from above - 12 large avenues radiating from the arc.

By the end of this day we had resorted to a fun puzzle solving mode while we were traveling from once place to other. Was super fun! And if you are in Paris be ready to walk! I have never in my life walked so much. My feet literally came off. We went back to the hostel and slept peacefully. Loud music outside? what music? who cares!! ;)

Day 3

We deiced that the next day we would visit the Château de Versailles (Palace of Versailles), situated right outside of Paris. We again took the train and reached the place in good time and were pretty happy to begin early. What we din't expect though was a 31/2 hour wait outside the palace to get the tickets!! (Stupidity 3). Getting the tickets before hand would have saved us half a day.

The grand palace was built by Luis XIV out of a whim, to show the absolute power and glory of the monarch. He decided to rebuild his hunting lodge into a palace to fit 6000 of his courtiers. A symbol of excessive luxury and self glorification, the work all but emptied the royal treasury.

Several hundreds of artisans decorated every corner of the palace with frescoes, gilt, paintings and woodcarvings with many of the themes drawn from the Greek and Roman mythology.

The famed Galerie des Glaces (Hall of mirrors) with 17 mirrors on one side and 17 windows on the other gave a spectacular view of the gardens outside.

The gardens outside are a sprawling piece of geometrically aligned terraces, ponds, trees and fountains. It also contains the Grand Canal, 1.6km long. How they operated such magnificent fountains in the 18th century is a mystery to me. The fountains were on for a couple of hours with symphonies being played in the background.

Walking across these gardens transported me to another world. I kept thinking of how life must have been for the ones who had actually lived in these palaces.

Battered and completely exhausted we returned to Paris to end our third day.

Day 4

The fourth day was the first Sunday of the month meaning several of the museums in Paris had free entrance. We decided to make full use of this opportunity and rushed early in the morning to the world famous (especially after the Da Vinci Code) - Musée du Louvre. And oh boy! was there a big queue. To our luck they suddenly split the queue into two and we ended up being among the first to enter.

The museum was actually a palace built as a residence for the royal in the early 13th century, later converted into a museum in the 18th century. It contains artefacts, paintings and sculptures from all over the world.

Now, I have to say one must be mentally prepared to see this museum. It contains 4 floors and a spread over 60,000 sq meters of gallery space. The sheer size is absolutely overwhelming (Stupidity 4). It took me so much time to figure out the map and not get lost meanwhile. As suggested by most guide books, the best bet is to see the absolute famous pieces of art then focus on one section of the museum and forget the rest. Because it is impossible to see the entire museum in a meaningful way in 1 day (I have a feeling it actually may take a month).

The Mona Lisa, I have to admit, seeing it upfront with sooooo many other magnificent paintings, it honestly did not evoke any special feelings in me. The crowd though was impossible near the master piece. The best picture we got -

The winged victory of Samothrace -

Aphrodite -

Code of Hammurabi -

Psyche and Cupid -

The prism from outside -

Feeling a little let down, we took a good break for lunch and then attacked the second museum for the day - Musée Rodin by the artist Auguste Rodin, a French sculptor. Now this museum offered me much more than Louvre (I know that sounds crazy) just because I could absorb more both mentally and visually.

Most of his work consisted of realistic looking men characterized with large hands and feet and life like expressions on their face.

Some of his famous work. The Thinker -

The Burghers of Calais -

After the Rodin museum we decided to treat ourself a bit by going to an Indian restaurant for dinner. One of my friends tried to show his "macho" ness by eating a green chilli!! hehe...Fun time for a few hours after that..:D

Day 5

The 'green chilli eating guy' fell a bit sick, but we decided to battle on and see what we could before we left Paris. We went to the final museum of the trip - Musée Picasso, the showcase of the Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso. I found his work abstract and a little difficult to comprehend (the exhaustion was hitting on me! :) )

We next went to Bastille (or where it was), the notorious prison which was demolished by a mob in the 18th century to show the raising power of the common people against the monarchy. In its place stands Colonne de Julliet (July column).

Our final destination was to the Cathedral de Notre Dame (The Cathedral of Our Lady), a master piece of the French Gothic architecture. I spent a few a minutes sitting inside the cathedral after looking around and with the music, it was simply divine!

And with that, we were just in time to get into our bus back to Eindhoven. As I was heading back I realized how the trip was perhaps the most culturally enriching experience for me ever! It would not be justice for me to describe the beauty of the city which has been sung and glorified by patrons from all walks of life. The city literally has magic in its air! Be it for the Crêpe, the French onion soup or for the several unexplored alleys that I have left behind, I wish I could go back some other time to soak in a some more of this enchanting city.

Biking to Belgium

Such a glorious day today turned out to be! I simply love how you can make your own picnics here with bike routes leading everywhere. A bunch of friends from the Univ decided to bike our way to Sint Benedictus Abdij in Achel, Belgium famous for its beer..:)

With the 'mooi weer' (fine weather), we biked all the way to Belgium and nope, no border check, no nothing. We wouldn't have even realized that we had entered Belgium, if not for the message from the mobile phone service provider. After reaching the Abbey we found it to be closed! No need to worry, the beer shop was wide open! The guys were soooo into the cheap and tasty beer that we must have ended up buying around 60 bottles between the 5 of us! I was joking how we must have turned around the economy of the shop!! :D I bought something else that Belgium is famous for, chocolates! :)

Except for my knees complaining over the 35km of pedaling on my wheezing bike, everything else went perfectly well! Gezellig! :)
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