Fun With New Friends

Before our trip started, Amy had contacted numerous couchsurfing hosts in Paris. So even though we had Julien and Michelle’s place to ourselves, we had made plans to stay with a host, Fabien, and he sounded like such a great guy to hang out with that we packed up all of our stuff and headed back across the right bank to the 11th Arrondissement, not too far from Sheila and Austin’s place. It is always hard to pack everything up after spreading out and having tons of space.

We had plans to meet up with Sheila, Austin, Gus, and Jenn for an early dinner again at Chartier. Before that happened, we wanted to finally make it to Parc des Buttes Chaumont. This was the 4th time we had planned to go. Ideally with such a big and sprawling park, we would have a few hours. Unfortunately, we will have to save major exploring of this park for our next time in Paris. It was about a 1/2 hour walk from Fabien’s and without a convenient metro stop to get us there quickly, we had less than an hour to hang out in the park. We set up shop on top of a steep hill overlooking tons of people enjoying the scene and each other. We didn’t get to walk to the pond with the island, but more south Asians tried to sell us Heineken.

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IMG_1679We rode the metro back to Chartier to meet up for dinner at 7 before the crowds of people got there. It was a good thing we did because the line was very long just 30 minutes after we sat down. We ordered a string of traditional French food and shared it at the table. Fois gras, endives and Roquefort, smoked herring, steak tartare, duck confit, and poop sausage. Everything was great except for the poop sausage, poor Gus. He took it like a very polite champ. We were all eating, but he didn’t seem to like his dish. We each took a taste and it really tasted like poop. Gross.

Avoid andouillette!!
Avoid andouillette!!

IMG_1682After dinner, Sheila and Austin left to meet up with some friends and the four of us who remained headed to the Eiffel tower. We couldn’t get enough. We walked a completely different way and sat down in a green space near a giant fountain. The fountain nearly drenched dozens of unsuspecting tourists when it was suddenly turned on full blast.

Jenn and Gus are tons of fun and we had a blast taking pictures, eating another baguette, cheese, and more wine. At 10 the Eiffel tower began to sparkle again and it was glorious. Nathan started experimenting with the camera, using the lights of the Eiffel tower to paint the picture. Our couchsurfing host Fabien is into light painting as well, which is why Nathan was inspired to try his hand at it.

Somehow our hearts always end up shaped like mittens
Somehow our hearts always end up shaped like mittens

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IMG_1753A beautiful evening just couldn’t end, so we went off to find a hang out spot recommended by Fabien called Place de Tokyo where there were people who played with fire. We had to check it out. It was awesome. On one side of the plaza there were a few people playing with fire. A unicyclist, skateboarders, a balance beam. On the other side were about 75 people swing dancing. Many of them we had met at Austin’s surprise party because they are swing dance instructors. Above us was a posh cafe. A lot of Paris is this way, many people in public places enjoying the good life. We were doing the same. We headed off a bit early because tomorrow was the end of the Tour de France and we wanted to be prepared for a monster day.

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From the Depths to the Heights of Paris

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IMG_1365The catacombs opened at 10 am, so we figured that getting there at 9:30 would’ve been sufficient. We were wrong. At least the line wrapped only half way around the little roundabout where the entrance was located, instead of all the way around like it did yesterday. Despite it being so early, it was really hot and we tried to rotate so that we’d get evenly cooked by the sun.

IMG_1372Two hours later, we were finally descending into the depths of Paris. It was dark and cold and wet, but marvelous. You walk through all of these tunnels and then after 15 minutes you enter into the Domain of the Dead filled with the bones of more than 6 million Parisians. It would have been a very strange job to dig up graveyards, transport them underneath Paris, arrange them into walls and mosaic-esque designs, sometimes 80 feet deep!

IMG_1375The long bones formed the basic structure, with the ends of femurs lined up in rows and columns. Skulls missing lower jawbones are placed to form patterns in the walls. There are other mysterious things, like deep water wells glowing eerily, and small scale models of buildings, carved out of stone and hidden in random niches along the walkway.

After we reemerged into the land of the living, we headed back to the apartment to chill out and do some blogging and rest our feet before our planned climb of the 669 steps to the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower.

We picked up picnic stuff and headed off at about 5 to go to Parc de Buttes Chaumont, which we had been meaning to go to when we stayed at Austin and Sheila’s because it was a 15-20 minute walk. It turns out that leaving at rush hour was a terrible idea. The metros were really crowded and incredibly hot. Our metro also broke down, numerous times, leaving everyone (or at least us) to wonder if we’d all get stuck in between two stations.

So we hopped off once it reached the next station and decided once again to skip Parc de Buttes Chaumont. It turns out that pretty much anywhere you get off the metro in Paris, you’ll have an awesome spot for a picnic. We ended up near Canal Saint-Martin, which we had also been meaning to visit. We spread our blanket and got to work on our bread, cheese, meat, fruit, chocolate, and beer. Later we walked along the canal a bit and over one of the pedestrian bridges to get some pictures.

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Amy excited by her new sunglasses, since she had been going without for a few days after her old ones broke

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IMG_1420It was finally time to visit the Eiffel Tower and make our way up to the 2nd level. The heat was breaking a bit as the sun neared the horizon. We waited in the shorter “stairs only” line, and chatted with a group of guys from the US who were on a whirlwind tour of Europe. They had little champagne bottles to celebrate once they got to the top. Most of them were able to get through the security checkpoint, but one guy didn’t. Instead of trashing his bottle, he decided to drink it immediately, before climbing up the stairs. We laughed and hoped that he would make it without too much dizzyness.

The climb was on. Step by step, we spiraled up from the bottom to the first floor: 328 steps. The view was stunning and we were glad to have started the climb when we did in the early evening, as the light was really beautiful with the sun slowly setting. We continued the climb to the second level: 669 steps total. The sun continued to set and we walked around along the crowded fenceline, enjoying the magical view.

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When we first arrived in Paris, Amy was set on going all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but Nathan thought that the 2nd level would be sufficient. However, when the moment came, we had a role reversal and Nathan wanted to go to the top, and Amy didn’t care. As a side note, Amy was already a little nervous at being so high up (~400 feet at this point) and the thought of going in a small elevator shaft encased in glass up to nearly 1000 feet was pretty scary.

After some deliberating, Amy deferred to Nathan and we bought an inexpensive ticket up the elevator to the 3rd level. As the elevator ascended, Amy’s grip on Nathan’s hand tightened. But once we reached the top, everything was so beautiful. The sun set and lights started to come on around the city. The rosy scene turned violet as we reached the top at 281 meters above street level.

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A young Ukranian couple asked us to take a photo of them; we did so and asked them to return the favor. They took the first photo without flash and it was too dark. We turned on the flash and the guy took the second photo. He looked down at the camera to see if it was good, and a look of concern crossed his face. “What is that?” he said in a thick accent. We looked at the camera and started laughing. The bag Nathan was wearing has retroreflective material on it (to make it visible at night) and the flash had illuminated the bag into a glowing mass. Unfortunately the bag was positioned around his midsection; hence the concern from the guy (you can see for yourself what he saw here). A quick rotation of the bag and a final photo and we were all happy.

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Satisfied with our time on the tower, we went down to relax on the green space to the southeast of the tower, where tons of people hang out and (of course) picnic, drink and talk. It’s nice to have a tasty beverage when you’re sitting out on the grass at night in Paris. We didn’t have anything on us due to the restrictions of what could be brought up the Eiffel Tower. Not to worry… there are throngs of young men, mostly from south Asia, hawking beverages, muttering “1 euro, 1 euro” or “water 1 euro”, or “cold beer, cigarette”. Some have wine or champagne with them as well.

IMG_1497A guy approached us, and Amy asked him how much for a beer. He said “5 euro” and she said “no thank you”. He said “how much?” and she said “2 euro”. He came back with “3 for 10”. But what we really wanted was some wine. Amy asked him “how much for the bottle of red?” and he said “25 euro”. She said “oh, no thanks.” He said “4 beer and wine, 20 euro”. Amy painstakingly counted out her coins, and countered “I only have 10 euro for the wine” and he went for it. The barter queen strikes again! (There might have been another 20 euro hidden somewhere).

As night comes on, the Tower lights up with various colors. Right now, it’s red, green, blue and yellow in an arrangement that mimics the South African flag, in honor of Nelson Mandela. Throughout our time there have been numerous events throughout the city honoring Mr. Mandela. Also, on the hour starting at 10pm, there’s a sparkling light show for about 5 minutes that everyone stops to Oooo and Ahhh at. Although it’s touristy, it’s also magical, or at least was for us!

A Hard Day followed by a Refreshing Day

A Hard Day

Saturday was a hard travel day, but it ended well. Listen to our audio account in two parts:

Part 1 and Part 2

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Above: Look Joel, a giant Babybel! Wine tasting at a little spot near the Palais Royal (small batches from local producers). Amy on one of the many “love lock” bridges that always crop up in cities.

Emblematic of how we felt near the end of the day
Emblematic of how we felt near the end of the day

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All we needed was a good one-two punch of hospitality and friendship 🙂

A Refreshing Day

After our tough travel day Saturday, Sunday turned out to be really positive and refreshing. In the morning, we went to the “American Church” – yes, that’s what they call it on the map. It is near the American University in Paris, which may be why it’s called that. It’s a pretty old church… there are 50,000 expats living in Paris and for many, the church is the heart of their community. It may be the “American” church, but the pastor said well over 50 nations were represented in the congregation.

We went to the traditional service, which felt like a traditional Methodist or Presbyterian service; hymns, pipe organ, choir, doxology, scripture readings, sermon, offering, etc. It felt great to be in church. In all of our travels, this is the first time we’ve gone to church while abroad. The service was very welcoming and international in its focus, reflecting the international audience. And it wasn’t watered down, with the ultimate focus directed at our need for Christ both within the church as we love our brothers and sisters, and outside the church as we love the world. Specific time was devoted to praying for peace amidst the recent violence in Egypt.

The reason why we chose the traditional service is that there was a coffee hour afterwards, where we were able to mingle with some people. We talked with a young couple – an American woman who had been living in Paris for a year and her French boyfriend. After church, one of the church members stood outside where people were leaving and made sure everyone knew where they were going and gave suggestions if they didn’t. He told us we were very close to the Eiffel Tower, so we decided to go there.

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So, it turns out the Eiffel Tower is tall. And impressive. There are many places in Paris where you just turn a corner or get to the top of a staircase and turn around, and there it is. It is quite magnificent. We bought a crepe and sat down near the base to eat it, then walked around taking photos. Today was just about basking in the glory of the tower; we’ll return and go up it before we leave Paris.

Sidebar: Paris Scam Alert!! It amazes me that these scams are still active, as they are well documented in every travel book about Paris. The one that seems to be popular around the Eiffel Tower is the “survey scam”. Young people, usually in pairs, will come up to you and ask very sweetly and mournfully, “Do you speak English?” or sometimes just “You speak English?” and then try and get you to sign some sort of petition for the rights of the blind, mute and deaf (or insert other cause here). If you speak English and don’t help them, they accost you with pleas for help. We’re not exactly sure what the scam is – maybe if you sign, your hands are occupied and someone else is going through your bags or pockets. Other times they’ll just flat out ask for money. Either way, the easiest thing to do is either ignore them or say “Non” and keep walking.

IMG_3378Near the Eiffel Tower is a little street that Rick Steves loves (we have his Paris guidebook) called Rue Cler. We decided to check it out, and even though it was Sunday and half the shops were closed, it was still quaint and charming. We ate lunch at a cafe – giant salads. The French cafe version of a salad is a huge bowl with a bunch of meat and cheese, and a few leaves of lettuce and other assorted vegetables. A hefty amount of food with sometimes incongruous pairings of ingredients (to an American, at least).

In the late afternoon, after our lengthy Parisian lunch, we headed to the Musee d’Orsay. The first Sunday of the month, many museums around Paris are free. So, the lines are long and sometimes they close the museums early if they are “overcrowded”. This was announced at the d’Orsay as we were standing in line, but the line was moving quickly and we made it inside. Faced with less than an hour, we decided to head straight for the 5th floor to the Impressionist exhibit. The d’Orsay itself is quite an impressive building, as it used to be a train station. There is a huge amount of art (many sculptures of Rodin-he donated his entire art collection to the state and so you can find amazing Rodin everywhere, more on him in later posts) and we just passed by most of it on our way to enjoy the brilliant collection of paintings by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Pisarro, Seurat, and many more. Impressionism, neo-impressionism, cubism, pointillism… lots of the isms that we enjoy.

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After the d’Orsay closed we walked along the Seine and stopped for a happy hour drink near the statue of St Michael. Then we walked to Notre Dame to check out the exterior and get some beautiful photos as the sun moved lower in the sky. Finally, a late dinner back at the apartment closed out our Sunday nicely.

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