It only took me four months in Europe to finally getting around to posting about travel in Europe! Let's start with my favorite of the cities I've visited to so far: Paris! In the past year, I've been to the City of Lights four times. For the first weekend, I went straight to Versailles. Next, a four-day weekend with my mom and my aunt, hitting up all the tourist spots we can. The second trip to the city itself, a weekend trip on my own, trying to see everything I had missed previously. That Saturday, I left my hotel at 6, not to return until 11; according to my fitbit, I put in 50k steps that day, a record I have yet to come close to beating. Most recently, I spent Easter weekend in the city. I think I could spend another twelve days there and maybe get close to seeing everything. Here are my favorite pictures from my time there, summarizing the sites. Putting the post together was fun; it gave me an opportunity to review my time in Paris, and the pictures. To be honest, I was really ready to be disappointed by Paris. I had built it up so much mentally and my friends who had visited weren't that impressed, saying the city was dirty. But it lived up to my expectations and then some. I really enjoyed the city and would go back again in a heartbeat.
On to the pictures! From those 12 days, I have over 1500 pictures. Here is a much smaller subset of those! Info comes from Lonely Planet, Wikipedia, and me.
First up: Versailles! I arrived at my hotel Friday night and arrived at the Chateau an hour before it opened. I stood in line in the cold with a bunch of other tourists but it was worth it; the place was practically deserted while I explored. Versailles was transformed from a hunting lodge to the royal seat in the 17th century by Louis XIV. It was the home of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, until the revolutionaries beheaded them.
To be totally honest, the inside was kind of a let down. What was there was over the top and beautiful, as Sofia Coppola's film led me to believe. My only complaint was how small it seemed. Within 90 minutes, I had eye-balled everything there was to eye-ball in the palace itself. That being said, it was interesting to see the actual living quarters of the king and queen of France, all very well preserved. To me though, it really got interested on the other side of the palace.
The gardens were overwhelming. While I spent less than two hours in the palace itself, I spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday exploring the gardens.
Including the Grand Trianon, a retreat for the King, and the Petit Trianon, a retreat for Marie Antoniette. Like the palace itself, these two chateaus were stuffed with exquisite furniture and artwork, providing additional insight into the daily lives of the royal family.
Behind the two Trianon chateaus, there is a mini English village, with multiple buildings, a mini-farm, and lots of animals, including goats, cows, and chickens. It was a bit surreal to go from the opulence of the palace to the simple buildings in the back of the immense garden. Also, I did not expect to encounter farm animals on my trip to Versailles; it was a welcome surprise.
The gardens were fun to explore. There would be the usual manicured trees and hedges and then I would come across some impressive fountain or similar structure, called a bosquet according to Wikipedia. The gardens cover over 800 hectares and were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979. I honestly had to get a map just to cover the gardens and make sure I didn't miss any bosquets.
At the end of the gardens, there is a large grand canal. Sunday afternoon, the place was filled with boats and what seemed like every Parisian was settled on the grounds around the canal (the gardens require a ticket, the canal does not). People were going for a jog, participating in yoga classes, having a family picnic, etc. The weather was lovely and it was just a nice, relaxing place to be on a Sunday afternoon.
And now for the city itself! I ended up going to the top of the Eiffel Tower twice, both times with a tour. I highly recommend booking some kind of tour ahead of time; it's the worth money - otherwise, you're in line most of the day. Also, the Eiffel Tower will never not be crowded. Getting a decent picture, view, or breathing room requires aggression and a modicum of asshole-ness.
My mom, aunt, and I, on our first day in Paris, at the very top. First, this was a great introduction to the city. Because, second, our guide was great. He pointed out all the major tourist attractions and answered all our questions. It was a great way to get an overview of the city. My aunt's only complaint? The city is very, very white. We had been to Prague the weekend before and it was a stark contrast. Prague was colorful with variety to the architecture. In Paris, most of the buildings had the same style and were a various shade of beige. It was very obvious when viewing from the Eiffel Tower.
I visited Notre Dame twice, first with my family last year and again this past Easter. It's a beautiful church, originally built in the 1100s. The windows are lovely and impressive. I recommend coming early in the day to avoid crowds and to enjoy the peace and beauty of the church with minimal crowds.
I really tried to get tickets to a show here, but they were either sold out or crazy expensive. I will just go rewatch the excellent Baz Luhrmann movie instead.
I also visited the Louvre twice. First, with my mom and aunt; we had a lot of stuff to see, so we just hit the high-lights here: the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and everything in between. Second, on my own, without such a time crunch. Another recommendation: get here early, go see the Mona Lisa before the crowd gets insane, then go explore the rest of it. We were there when it opened and the crowd at the famous painting was already sizeable; on our way out, it was insurmountable. As for the painting itself, it's remarkable to be in its presence, something that has so much attention and fame. Additionally, the Louvre has done an impressive job of protecting the thing and catering to the masses: there are signs everywhere directing one to DaVinci's most famous work.
Venus de Milo also had quite a few signs pointing visitors to it... It's in a hall with other sculptures. Sculpting impresses me so much. Unlike painting, there's no fix to a mistake in a chunk of marble. And the way sculptures can capture movement and delicacy out of stone? It's just remarkable crafstmanship.
I did my first reverse Google image search to find the name of this painting. It's in the room behind the Mona Lisa (also, going from that room to the next is such a huge change, from crazy crowds to silence and alone-ness). This is one of my favorite paintings. It was great to see it in person. I also picked up a post card of it. Thanks Louvre!
The building of the Louvre is a masterpiece in itself. I could have posted another dozen images of just the museum. Each hall, room, is completely different. Each display is so well put together. It was originally constructed as a fortress in the early 13th century and became the royal residence in the 16th century. It's been a museum since the 1700s. I got lost many times, and this was with a map and handy placards all over the place. Another great section I didn't mention: Napoleon III's apartments.
One of the most visited cemeteries in the world, we purposefully stopped by the final resting places of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde. America's favorite fighting Frenchman, Lafayette, is also buried in Paris but unfortunately his cemetery was under construction when I visited.
There are many ornate bridges connecting the Parisian banks. This one, near Notre Dame is the lock bridge, covered in locks from tourists wanting to leave a piece of themselves in the City of Lights. Like good tourists, my mom, aunt, and I added our lock to the bridge. It was still there when I visited on my own a few weeks later. This year's visit? Not so lucky. The locks had to be removed for structural reasons. When I visited this Easter, the bridge was still under construction and mechanisms had been added to prevent people from adding locks. Oh well, we lasted there for a bit!
The Basilique du Sacre-Coeur at night. For my first stay in Paris, our Airbnb was near here. The basilica was lovely both during the day and the night and offered an incredible view of the city.
On our last day in Paris, my aunt surprised me with a tour of the catacombs. A pre-booked tour is definitely necessary; otherwise, it would have been a few hours of waiting. The catacombs themselves were incredible and I highly recommend visiting just because it's such a unique site. Sure, many city have catacombs but Paris is the only one that's turned theirs into a mass grave sites. Originally created for mining purposes, the Parisians got creative in the late 1700s when overflowing cemeteries within the city limits became a serious problem and, eventually, transported the remains of six million people to the catacombs. Supposedly, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are down here.
The Flame of Liberty is a replica of the flame sitting atop the Statue of Liberty in NYC, a symbol of French-American friendship. Currently on a Revolutionary War kick, let's take a moment to remember how instrumental France was in creating our country. Additionally, the flame became an unofficial memorial for Princess Diana; her fatal car accident occurred near the site.
Actually called Pont de Bir-Hakeim, my Eiffel Tower guide knew just what I was talking about when I asked to see the Inception Bridge.
Replica of the Statue of Liberty on the river Seine. Seeing the real deal in a few days!
The Museum d'Orsay was/is my favorite museum in Paris (Sorry, Louvre). It houses impressionist, post-impressionist, and art nouveau pieces. Initially a train station, the building itself is a piece of art. The museum had some of my favorite artists - Manet, Monet, Degas, and, of course, Van Gogh. I also had lunch here; the food was okay, the view lovely, and the Iowa native I sat next fun.
I fell in love with Van Gogh after visiting the superb Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. The Museum d'Orsay had an exquisite Van Gogh collection, including the famous Bedroom in Arles. I honestly can't wait to see Starry Night at MoMA next week.
And now for a few more great sculptures: The Museum Rodin. The museum is a moment of tranquility in a busy city; Rodin sculptures are sprinkled around a quiet garden. Pictured is his most famous pieces: The Thinker.
Hotel des Invalides is home to largest collection on French military history. I skipped it. Sorry, Dad, priorities.
The tomb of Napoleon, in Eglise St-Louis des Invalides. According to Lonely Planet, it is a Russian doll coffin, with six coffins nested within each other.
Story time! This is the champagne I bought myself after a mini-freakout. I was on the island, getting ready to visit Conciergerie, when I stopped at a souvenir shop to pick up a t-shirt for myself and a coffee mug for my grandmother. Afterwards, I was walking towards Conciergerie when I realized I didn't have my phone. I panicked for five minutes as I thoroughly went through my bags, checking and rechecking. Mentally, I resigned myself to having lost my phone, thinking about all the pictures I had lost since my last Google back-up and how to go about getting a new one. I went back to the souvenir shop, hoping I laid it down when looking at t-shirts. A quick look through the store itself brought up nothing. I went to the cashier to see if I had left it there. As soon as she saw me, she grinned and pointed to my phone; she had added it to the display behind her. I was so relieved! She wouldn't take any money but did let me hug her a couple of times. Much more careful with my phone after that!
And then I made it to the Conciergerie! It was originally built as a royal palace but became a prison following the revolution. Marie Antoinette was one of the prisoners.
Inside Ste-Chapelle, consecrated in 1248. The windows were really beautiful and my crappy pictures do it no justice.
Not far from Conciergerie and Ste-Chapelle is one of the most famous ice cream stops in Paris. I waited in line for half an hour, doing the tourist thing. Spoiler alert: the ice cream was not great, but the French couple in line next to me were lovely.
One of my favorite spots in Paris, the Jardin du Luxembourg. A large park that includes sailboats and tennis, it's a great place to people watch and relax when the weather is nice.
After the Eiffel Tower, Paris's most famous spot is the Arc de Triomphe, symbolizing Napoleon's 1805 victory at Austerlitz. Beneath it is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The detailing on the Arc is exquisite and worth a stop. I wasn't patient enough to actually go to the top of the thing but just walking around the base of the Arc was a site to see.
I ended my busy day in Paris along the banks of the river. There were several stalls that provided food and wine, though many people seemed to have brought their own. I bought a bottle of wine, found a spot, and enjoyed people-watching and boat-waving for awhile. A great ending to a very fun day in Paris.
Place de la Bastille, or, as Lonely Planet calls it, the most famous Parisian monument that no longer exists.
Museum Picasso. The museum, housed in Hotel Sale, features more than 3500 works from the prolific artist. I haven't been a huge Picasso follower but I was mesmerized by the variety and size of his work.
The Pantheon, started in 1750 as an abbey and completed in 1789. There are some very famous men buried beneath the building. Also, there's a great shop just a block away where I bought some very lovey scarves. Finally, I had lunch at a restaurant near here that afforded a surprising view of the Eiffel Tower. It's also near the Luxembourg Gardens, which is always a plus.
For my return to Paris this year, I booked a night cruise of the river. It was lovely to see all the buildings lit up at night. I went right after the terrorist attack in Brussels, so many of the buildings were lit up in the Belgian colors.
Including the Tower itself!
The view from the top of the tower.
Jardin des Plantes. Covering 24 hectares, this botanical garden had everything, including a zoo and a natural history museum.
For my trip this year, I used a 'private room' from Airbnb for the first time. It was a great experience, not least of which was because of the location: a few blocks from Palais Garnier, the opera house built in 1860.
Inside the Palais Garnier. It was a really lovely building and had balconies offering a great view of this part of the city. Next time, I'm going to plan ahead a little better and make plans to attend a ballet here.
La Madeleine, a Roman Catholic church founded in 1182, located near the Place de la Concorde.
View of the Arc de Triomphe from Place de la Concorde.
Place de la Concorde, in front of the Louvre. The Obelisk is covered in Egyptian hieroglyphics and was a gift from the Egyptian government in the 19th century.
Jardin du Palais Royal, built in the 1600s to house a cardinal, today the Palais Royal is an office building, housing the Ministry of Culture.
Shakespeare and Company; the original bookstore was opened in 1919 but closed during German occupation of France during World War II. This bookstore was opened in the 1950s and renamed in honor of the original in 1964. It's become a tourist attraction. I bought a couple of books here (complete with a Shakespeare and Company stamp on each one, like a good tourist) and then had lunch next door. I ended up sitting with a lovely New York couple who had recently lived in Paris. They gave me great recommendations for the rest of my time in Paris and my upcoming trip to New York; thanks, guys
Memorial de la Shoah, a small but moving museum on victims of the Holocaust.
The Museum de l'Orangerie is similar to the Museum d'Orsay as it houses impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. It is located near the Louvre and required a bit of a wait to get in. What made it worth the wait, though, were Monet's Water Lilies. Two large rooms, bathed in natural light, were devoted to eight in the artist's series.
Between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde is the Tuileries Garden. There are several sculptures throughout the garden and several places to stop and enjoy the sun and people-watching.
Wall for Peace, in front of the Eiffel Tower.
And now: food. Full disclosure, there are lovely cafes all over the place in Paris. The pictured restaurant was one of the best meals I had in Europe, period. The food was great (best soup ever, some great chicken thing) and we had a view of the Eiffel Tower from our table.
Another place the food and service combined with a great dining experience. This supper in Paris had everything: bread, wine, cheese, and something with strawberries and ice cream for dessert.
Along with Van Gogh, Europe helped me discover my love of macaroons. Mmm macaroons.
Cheers to Paris!