Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Weekend in Paris

I had a wonderful, albeit expensive, long weekend in Paris. I left early on Wednesday morning, and took the metro into the city (which cost a ridiculous 9 Euros... the beginning of the end). I was a little early, so I walked around a little park near the Cite Universitaire, and immediately fell in love with the city. I have been to Paris before, but this was the first time as a real adult, and with my own free time. This little park right next to my friends dorm was beautiful, and one of the first things I saw was a petite bonbonerie and wanted to buy some sweets, but knew I needed to conserve my money for useful things (like baguettes and wine). There were a bunch of little children just hanging out, and, to the disregard of various signs, feeding the ducks. I was pleasantly surprised to find a public toilet. I don’t think I have seen a public bathroom since June. I know that it doesn’t sound too exciting, but it made me realize I was once again in the western world (a stupid phrase, and a little arrogant, but I didn’t know what else to say...)
After this quick meander, I headed off to meet Kathleen, who I have been married to on Facebook for a year and a half now, though that doesn’t really mean anything, at her dormitory. The place looked really similar, and I realized that we had talked about it in our French in Action course back in freshmen year of college. Every building is commissioned by a different nation, and then built in that nation’s style. It is a completely interesting area of the city, but, unfortunately, the individual rooms weren’t the greatest. However, I can never complain about free lodging, and settled into Kathleen’s characteristically messy room.
That night we played it a little low. I met some other BC kids that were studying in Paris, and Kathleen, Torie and I went out for Pho down the street. It was really good, and a nice price, so I was quite content with Kathleen’s choice. I was a little worried though because they told me to just hop the metro. It is a little different than Prague, I guess, but I was still worried I was going to be slapped with a 50 Euro fine... the first thing I did the next morning was buy some metro tickets.
The PT system in Paris is horrible. Even without strikes, the entire system is completely confusing, and it sprawls through gigantic stations. There will be signs with arrows that point to walls, or just to the ground, and you have no idea where you have to go. Plus, you need to keep your ticket to escape from the system as well... too much work.
On Thursday, Kathleen had class, so before she had to attend, we went to the center of the city to the Ile St Louis, where we got some espresso (which they serve with chocolate... my kind of city). Afterward, Kathleen had to go to class, so I was alone exploring the Latin Quarter. Of course, I went into Notre Dame, and then saw the Pantheon, St. Severin Cathedral, Ile de la Cite, some gigantic fountain, and a bunch of other things. The Latin Quarter is pretty nice, but it is a little touristy. I really liked the international section of the town, and am always really happy to find a gyro stand. I lunched on a pain au chocolat, and then met Kathleen back at Notre Dame. (I know the pain au chocolat was pretty insubstantial, but we had plans to cook dinner that night). After heading home, I made Kathleen a Czech dish, and afterward we met up with some more of Kathleen’s friends from home at the bus station... she is one popular girl.
Friday, after a long sleep, Kathleen and I headed out to the famous cemetery in Paris to see the gravestones of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, among others. The cemetery was beautiful, but overwhelmingly gigantic. Afterward, we went to a café, a favorite of Kathleen, and then bought a baguette with some goat cheese. I know it sounds cliche, but it is a really cheap way to get nutrition and tasty food... It also felt totally normal to be eating a baguette on the street. Strange town.
Afterwards, we went to Notre Dame, once again, and met up with Kathleen’s friend and walked to the Hotel de Ville, and eventually made it to the Louvre, which is free on Friday nights. I have been before, but was still excited to see some of the masterpieces. I was actually really quite disappointed. Mona Lisa is so tiny, and I don’t understand why Venus de Milo is so famous... I still really love Winged Victory, however, but that was the only part I enjoyed. All the other works seem to focus on Biblical stories, and I wasn’t that interesting. We were chatting about this, and realized that EVERYTHING was centered on Christianity until quite recently, and artistic expression has only dramatically changed in recent centuries. Amazing how one story can have such a huge impact on history....
After the Louvre, which is still beautiful, don’t get me wrong, we started heading home, but stopped to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle. This sparkling show could have been really kitschy, but somehow it just amplifies the beauty of the building (funny that it was once considered a gigantic eyesore). We decided to cap off this classy moment with McDonalds (hey, I’ve been in Europe long enough that I can eat McDonalds once in a while) but I ate too much. The best remedy? Kathleen and I went for a jog the next morning, which was gorgeous next to the Cite Universitaire. The difference between her campus’ beauty, and my campus’ hideousness is remarkable. But then again, I assume there is also a great disparity in price...
That afternoon was my favorite, as we went to Montmartre: a beautiful part of Paris that was built on a hill on the right bank. This is the old home of the artist of Paris, and there seems to still be various struggling artists trying to sell their crafts. At the top of the hill is the beautiful Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Cathedral, and we were lucky to witness a band covering some great artists atop the hill. Unfortunately, we also had to witness a crazy cat woman singing songs along with the band at a high pitched shriek, mais c’est la vie.
Even though Montmartre is completely touristy, I am completely in love with it. If you can get past the huge crowds, and just focus on the atmosphere, the entire place seems enchanted. It is almost an oasis from the bustle of downtown Paris. L’Ile St Louis is the same way, but without the tourists. These little gems were the best part of my vacation.
At Montmartre, we met up with my friend Petra, who actually lives RIGHT AT THE FOOT OF THE HILL, and saw her apartment. The guys then went to the Red Light District, which was a little sketchy, but it was nice to see Moulin Rouge. We also were offered a student discount for a prostitute, but don’t worry, I wasn’t tempted. Afterward, we headed home for a quick sleep, before my last day in Paris.
Sunday was quite interesting. Kathleen headed to Versailles with her two guy friends, and I was left alone to travel around. Museums are free in Paris on the first Sunday of every month, so I had planned to visit a whole bushel of them. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who knew about this great deal, so I ended up having to wait outside in the freezing rain to get into the Musee D’Orsay. My friend Tarun once told me that cinema is the last outlet that gives people a shared emotion, but I would have to disagree. Standing out there, getting soaking wet, but not caring at all because we were all heading into a fantastic museum, I felt a connection with everyone in line. We were all intellectuals braving the storm to see some art, how much better could life be?
The Musee D’Orsay is perhaps the best art museum I have ever been to. The first thing I saw was an exhibition of Ferdinand Hodler, an artist I had never heard of, but he has become one of my new favorites. His work was so varied throughout his life, and his ideas of parallelism were fascinating. Afterwards, I just wandered the museum and enjoyed the huge number of works all collected in a restored railway station. Of course, the museum is known for its collection of impressionistic masterpieces, and I got in my full share of Van Gogh, Monet, and Picasso. It is funny how quickly museums can wear you out, though, and after three hours, I was back on the street traipsing across Boulevard St. Germain. I found a 80 cent copy of Animal Farm, picked it up, and headed back to the dorm to find Kathleen diligently working on her homework. Once I started Animal Farm, I couldn’t put it down, and didn’t leave the dorm again until it was finished. I know it had nothing to do with Paris, but it was a frighteningly interesting novel, and I want to read more Orwell!
Kathleen was quite busy with her work, so I went with one of her friends Oran to see the Arc de Triomphe and wind up my trip with one last espresso. Although I didn’t make it to everything I wanted to see, unfortunately I didn’t make it to Versailles or the modern art museum, but I had a wonderful time in Paris. Although it is a ridiculously expensive city, I hope I can return and see some more of the great sites. Then again, there is a lot more to traveling than seeing every site. I’ve come to find that what is a lot more important, and long-lasting, is friendships made. I now have a couple of new friends I am going to hang out with at Boston College, as well as a couple of new correspondences. La vie Paris.
Oh, and the night life was grand!! Lots of nice bars, a super club on a boat, complete randomness with wonderful friends... Then again, 9 Euros for a cocktail is ridiculous...

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