kathryne goes to france


parisian pizza thieves
8 February 2007, 6:40 am
Filed under: exchange student, france, paris, study abroad, travel

TGV. Left for Bordeaux’s train station before dawn on Friday. Got stopped by the tram patrol, got a ticket, missed the train, had to pay 16 euros more to get on the next train. Ug.

Hostel. Our hostel was great. It was close to the subway and the Sacre Coeur, less than 25 euros a night, and awfully cute. We stayed in a room with three bunk beds, a W.C. and a shower/sink. At first it seemed strange that we had to share a room of six beds with three strangers, but they all ended up being nice English-speaking young people. We met two Iowans who are studying abroad in Spain and an Australian girl who has been working in Germany. On Saturday night, a mysterious guy replaced the Australian. I never even got a good look at his face, but he did sleep about 10 feet away from me. He could have been Brad Pitt or Jack the Ripper. Strange. The one problem I had with the hostel is that someone ate the garlic pizza I stored in the fridge downstairs. I was bummed. The breakfast lady’s only explanation was “Lots of drinking last night.” My consolation is knowing that whoever ate my pizza likely awoke up with a nauseating combination of alcohol and garlic breath. Take that, pizza thief.

History. After settling in at the hostel, we took the subway to the center of town. I was astounded by the view after I climbed out of the depths of underground Paris. From the top of the stairs, I could see the obelisk, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the fountain, the tuileries, and the Louvre. Never before have I felt so overwhelmed by historical significance. Visiting Paris made me wish that I’d payed more attention in history. Everything was gorgeous, but it would have meant more if I understood the story behind it all. Growing up, I felt so far-removed from historical events that I couldn’t appreciate their significance. In Paris, history is unavoidable.

I saw too many monuments, museums, statues and famous Parisian buildings to write about them in detail. You’re better off just looking at the photos.

Here’s a brief summary:

Eiffel Tower. If it weren’t for the Eiffel Tower’s size and shape, it would just be a big tangled mass of metal. Le Tour d’Eiffel is definitely fun to photograph, though.

Le Louvre. The Louvre is so enormous that we didn’t have time to explore it thoroughly. I saw the Mona Lisa, which is surprisingly small. It’s no larger than two feet by three feet. It’s also covered with thick glass and surrounded by ropes, so I couldn’t get a good look at the shading in the background. We saw the Venus of Milo, which is an incredibly old, mysterious, and detailed statue. My favorite was the Nike statue. I’m still wondering how sculptors manage to make stone look like draping, tissue-thin fabric.

Napoleon’s tomb. This was actually one of my favorites. Instead of being dark and damp on the inside like the gothic cathedrals I’ve gotten accustomed to, light streamed through the windows in the church and filled the whole room with a warm glow. Brightly colored medieval flags hung in two long rows from the ceiling—I felt like I was in the castle in Sleeping Beauty. The actual tomb was cool, too. The air around the tomb felt heavy with significance. I can’t believe I stood ten feet away from wear Napoleon lies in rest. I don’t even agree with his conquest, but he did change history, and I got to visit his grave. The whole place felt a lot more like a shrine than a tomb.

Notre Dame. It’s beautiful. I expected it to blow my mind, but it’s just like all the other gothic cathedrals… on a grander scale. They all have the same basic floor plan, they all have stained glass windows, and they all have huge pipe organs. I’m frankly getting bored with them. While we were in the Notre Dame, a priest started mass, which was totally unexpected and cool to watch.

Sacre Coeur. La Basilique de Sacre Coeur overlooks Paris from a hill in Montmartre, the area we stayed at. It’s by far the biggest church I’ve seen yet. I could hardly fit the whole thing into one picture! The church was built after France went through some hardships as a way to give hope back to the community, or something like that. Although all the churches are incredible, the fact that they were built with money that the citizens needed detracts from my overall impressions of them.

Les Galeries Lafayette. This department store has nine floors worth of designer clothes, accessories, cosmetics, men’s and children’s clothing, and gourmet groceries, among other things. The women’s section was a separate building with a huge dome on the top and walls gilded in gold. I felt like I was in a Fabergé egg. The fabrics used in the designer clothes were extraordinary. I’ve never felt finer silk or softer cashmere in my life. If I had the money to burn, I could have dropped thousands of dollars there on a Balenciaga bag, a MaxMara sweater, and lots of chloé shirts, but I didn’t end up buying anything at all. I found a dress that I could actually afford, but after touching all the luxurious fabrics upstairs, the knit just wasn’t up to par. Everything was so fancy there that I felt like a peasant in a Gap overcoat.

Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge was not what I expected. I thought it would be a huge free standing building, but it just takes up the larger part of a strip of dirty shops. I imagine that it would be much more impressive at night when it’s lit up, but visiting that area of town at night is too dangerous to make the trip. I’d also like to see a can-can show, but the cheapest tickets are around 80 euros. I give up.

I think that sums up my first trip to Paris. As always, click on Esteban to see the pictures.

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