Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bus Tour, Musee d'Orsay, Arc de Triomphe and Sacre Coeur

Day two in Paris has been another success... and another busy, exhausting day!  We purchased hop on/hop off bus tickets, like we did in London.  This time, though, we got them for two days, so we'll get to do it tomorrow, too!  It's a great way to get around the city, while simultaneously sightseeing and hearing an audio guide as you go along.

On the bus tour in front of the Louvre

Our first big stop on the bus tour was Notre Dame.  We hopped off the bus and explored.  It is beautiful, as you would imagine, but I have seen a *lot* of churches on this trip, and I definitely don't think it was the most impressive.  Bath Abbey probably wins that award, in my opinion.  (By the way, can anyone explain to me the difference between a church, cathedral, basilica, and abbey?!)  Here are a few pics of Notre Dame...

Next, we hopped back on the bus and headed to Musee d'Orsay.  But first, we had lunch at a small cafe across the street from the museum.  Jared and I were both craving a caffeine boost, so we ordered a Coca-Cola.  The drinks were 4.50 euro each (which translates to more than that in dollars, of course).  And Europe apparently does not believe in free refills.  We made sure to savor every last drop of that Coke...

Speaking of expenses, it has amazed me how quickly money flies away into oblivion here.  I haven't added up my total costs yet, and I probably shouldn't for fear of heart attack at age 28.  Here's a pic of the euros... the few I have left anyway.  LOL  Thank God for financial aid!  Sure, I'll be paying for it years from now, but I can chalk it up to life experience, right?  RIGHT?

After our lunch and way-too-expensive Cokes, we explored Musee d'Orsay.  This art museum is famous for housing works of Monet, Van Gogh, and many others.  Unfortunately, photography was not allowed in the museum, but here are links to a few of the paintings that I saw:

...and lots more!

An artist outside of Musee d'Orsay, 
painting on the sidewalk with chalk

After wrapping up at the art museum, we hopped back on the bus tour and went to Arc de Triomphe.  This is an important landmark because Napoleon ordered it to be built so that he and his troops could march through the grand archway upon returning to France after victory in war.  Wikipedia explains it best:  "The triumphal arch honours those who fought for France, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. On the inside and the top of the arc there are all of the names of generals and wars fought. Underneath is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I."  We not only saw the Arc de Triomphe, we climbed to the top!  (Well, to be honest, Jared wanted to climb and I hesitantly followed behind.... but was glad I did once we made it to the top!)

Long, winding staircase to the top of the Arc de Triomphe

View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

After conquering the Arc de Triomphe, we continued on the bus tour, and passed by Moulin Rouge - home of the Can-Can girls, and inspiration for the movie:

We continued on the bus tour to Sacre Coeur, a beautiful basilica atop a hillside of Paris overlooking the city.

By this time, the bus tour had closed, so we grabbed some dinner and did some souvenir shopping.  Then, we made our way on the Metro to the Eiffel Tower.  I bought a choco-banana crepe and a bottle of water, and we settled on the grass to watch the tower twinkle at 10:00 pm sharp.

And so another day closes in the beautiful city of Paris!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bike Tour, Catacombs, and Eiffel Tower

Yesterday, our first full day in Paris, was a whirlwind of amazement!  In the morning, we had a scheduled bike tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours.  We had to meet at the Eiffel Tower at 11:00 am, so we grabbed some crepes for breakfast along the way (chocolate and banana is my favorite!).  We met our tour guide, Saydie, at the Eiffel Tower and waited for our group to assemble.  We followed Saydie to the bike shop to get fitted for our bikes, and then we were off!  It felt really good to be on a bike again -- I miss my bike!  This bike, however (named 'Picasso'), is a California cruiser... which means it has fat tires, wide handlebars, and a very big cushy seat.  (Think 'Wicked Witch of the West'!)  It was really comfortable to ride, but felt *so* different from riding my road bike that it took me a while to get used to it.  We rode around to various parts of the city for about 3.5 hours total, stopping along the way for some history and commentary on Paris.  Here are a few of the pics from the bike tour:

Our tour guide, Saydie

Ecole Militaire (Military School), where Napoleon was trained

Les Invalides (location of Napoleon's tomb)

Can't remember the name of this building  :)

Enjoying our bike tour....

Lunch break in the Jardin des Tuileries

Arc in front of the Louvre

Musee du Louvre

The bike tour was *amazing*!  Debo told me it would be my favorite thing to do in Paris, and I think he was right!  Loved it!  After the bike tour, Jared and I decided to visit Les Catacombes (The Catacombs).  Parisian cemeteries began becoming overcrowded, so in 1789 the French decided to uproot the bodies and move them into an underground burial place.  They used old stone mines as the storage location, giving us Les Catacombes.  There were lengthy stretches of nothing but bones.  It was creepy, and very, very cool at the same time.  There was no flash photography allowed, so some of my pictures came out blurry.  Here are the best ones I could get:

I realize it is creepy to be smiling in a situation
like this, but I couldn't help but get a self-portrait.

After exiting the winding, steep, and long (83 steps) staircase from Les Catacombes, Jared and I grabbed dinner at a cafe, then made our way to the Eiffel Tower.  We were determined to get to the top!  When we were standing in line to buy our tickets, the top level was closed due to congestion.  Luckily, we were able to buy tickets on the second level of the tower just an hour later, and made our way to the top!  The view is amazing, of course.  We timed it perfectly -- we were able to get up while it was still light out, watch the sunset, and wait until it was dark to see the lights of the city and watch the Eiffel Tower twinkling beneath us.  Simply divine!  Here are some pics:

Here is a short video of Jared
and I atop of the Eiffel Tower:

Here is a short video that I took on top of 
the Eiffel Tower at night, showing it
twinkling beneath us:

Words truly cannot describe what a perfect day this was!  J'adore Paris....

J'adore Paris!

I'm in Paris!  Jared and I took the Chunnel train from London to Paris yesterday evening, and we've been exploring the city ever since!  Our hotel here (Hotel Villa Fenelon) is much nicer than the one in London.  It's much bigger, cleaner, and has a lovely view of the garden.  It was only about a 15 minute walk from the train station.  Here are a few pics:

View from our room

After checking in the hotel and relaxing for a few minutes, we decided to go for a walk to the Seine River.  The river is about a mile from our hotel.  Here's a picture (and that's the Eiffel Tower in the far background!):

And today was amazing -- a bike tour, the catacombs, and going to the top of the Eiffel Tower to see the sunset!  But it is 1:00 am here and I am simply exhausted, so I'll have to write about that tomorrow...  Bonsoir!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Buckingham Palace, War Museum, and Cinema Premiere

Today was our final full day in London, and it was a busy one!  After grabbing some breakfast, we headed straight to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard and tour the State Rooms.  Buckingham Palace is a short (10-15) minute walk from our hotel.  The Changing of the Guard occurs each day at 11:30 am and is the elaborate 40 minute ceremony where the guards of Buckingham Palace switch shifts.  The crowds were monstrous, but we somehow managed to get a good vantage point standing on Queen Victoria's monument.  Here are a few pics:

After seeing some of the Changing of the Guard ceremony, it was time for our State Room tour of Buckingham Palace.  There was no photography allowed in the palace, unfortunately.  But look how excited I was to be entering:

I really enjoyed the State Room tour!  We got to go inside Buckingham Palace and see many of the ceremonial rooms that are used for special events and hosting dignitaries.  It is just as posh and intricate as you'd expect!  Today was the opening day for the palace -- it's only open for about one month each year, so we barely made the cut.  Here's a pic I took after the tour, as we were leaving through the palace gardens, of the back of the palace:

After leaving the palace, we grabbed lunch (more fish 'n' chips for me!), and then toured the Churchill War Rooms.  I enjoyed this museum much more than I had expected.  You get to tour the exact rooms that Winston Churchill used as his headquarters during WWII.  Some of the rooms were abandoned for decades until they were discovered, and the rooms were preserved just as they had been left.  The rooms were built in the basement of a large government building in London and were kept secret from Hitler throughout the war.  It felt very surreal to walk through the halls and think about everything that had happened there many decades before.

After the war museum, we decided we wanted to relax a little for the evening, so we made our way to a nearby movie theater to purchase tickets to see Inception.  Another movie theater nearby was hosting the UK premiere of the movie The A-Team.  We got to see the entire red carpet event -- so cool!  All the stars of the movie were there.  The crowds were massive, but the paparazzi in me (and the excellent zoom on my camera) couldn't resist snapping a few photos:

Sharlto Copley

Bradley Cooper

Quinton "Rampage" Jackson

The back of Liam Neeson's head

Jessica Biel was also there, but I couldn't get a good photo of her.  There were a bunch of other celebrities there that I didn't recognize (I only knew they were celebrities because as they walked by, large groups of teenage girls would scream).  It was so exciting to have just randomly stumbled upon this event!

After that excitement, Jared and I grabbed a light dinner at an Italian cafe and did some serious people watching while waiting for our movie time.  We saw Inception at the Odeon theater (Odeon is a chain cinema in the UK).  This particular theater was an actual theater venue, with curtain and stage and all.  Loved the movie!  Very thought-provoking and mind-bending.  I recommend!

And so our final day in London has come to a close.  Tomorrow, we take the Chunnel to Paris!

A Very London Birthday

Yesterday (Monday, July 26) was my 28th birthday!  How did I celebrate?  By enjoying the city of London!  Jared and I got an early morning start, had breakfast at our hotel, and then visited a few museums.  First, we went to the British Museum, which is not like you might expect -- there's actually nothing British about it.  It houses artifacts from around the world.  Here are a few pics:

Jared in front of the British Museum

Inside the British Museum

Rosetta Stone, inside the British Museum

After that, we grabbed lunch at a pizza cafe and then made our way to the Museum of London.  I loved this museum!  (Jared will tell you that I fell asleep in one of the film segments, but this is no indication of my feelings toward the museum -- traveling is exhausting!)  The museum gave a comprehensive, interactive overview of the history of the city of London (or Londinium, as it was first called by the Romans).

Then, we made our way to the London Eye (the big ferris wheel along the Thames River).  Admission includes one trip around the ferris wheel, and a 4D "experience" video.  It takes about 30 minutes for the wheel to make one revolution, giving you plenty of time to take breathtaking aerial photos of London.  Each capsule holds as many as 30 people. Here are a few pics from our London Eye flight:

After the London Eye, we came back to our hotel to rest up and freshen up. Then Jared treated me to a birthday dinner at Nando's, which is just down the street from our hotel.  Delicious!  After that, we went to Piccadilly Circus (London's poor attempt at mimicking Times Square) to meet up with Amanda (from my Oxford program) and her boyfriend David.  We went to a nearby pub and had a few beers to celebrate my birthday and catch up on our London travel stories.  Amanda and David headed back to their hotel, and Jared and I decided to walk around the city a bit.  London is so nice in the evenings!  It stays light out late and has a crisp coolness, like autumn in Virginia.  We sat in Trafalgar Square and did some ever-so-entertaining people-watching.

All-in-all, it was the perfect first day of year 28!