Saturday, June 18, 2011


It was an exciting reunion at the Amsterdam train station finally meeting up with the others again. It'd been 2 years to the week since I'd seen my parents in Thailand and 2 1/2 years since I'd said goodbye to Savannah and Kees in Egypt. They're all here now in Alkmaar, a pretty little town north of Amsterdam. I'll talk more about it later once I've seen it better. The weather has mostly been less than ideal for exploring.
A few days after my arrival in Alkmaar it was Savannah's 21st birthday. She'd made plans with the others to go to Paris for 2 nights to celebrate it there so the 5 of us drove the 5 1/2 hours down and stayed in a hotel right in the city centre, within spitting distance of the Louvre. I'd been to Paris for just 1 day almost 11 years ago, oddly enough just 2 days after my 21st birthday, so it was good to get a chance to go back and see some more of the city. In fact it was the first non-English speaking city I'd ever gone to so I was looking forward to having a chance to see the city with "experienced" eyes and put it into perspective in my own mind.
It's really nice to have such late sunsets and it was light out until about 10pm. This was essential as I can honestly say that it's actually a pretty retarded idea to try to see everything you want to in Paris in 48 hours. We'd all been there before but had all seen different things making it a little awkward for prioritizing since we'd all be together the whole time as well. It's not terribly surprising that I also immediately took over city navigational duties and once again had a little group of followers trailing behind me. Walking is really the way to go even though they have a good (if old looking) metro system because then you can really see and appreciate the more minor monuments and general grandness of the buidings that seem to be around every corner.

That first evening after checking in we walked along the Champs Elysees from the Egyptian obelisk at one end to the Arc de Triomphe at the other. From there we went to the Eiffel Tower where we were unable to go to the top for dad at sunset because they closed it early for some reason. We walked back in the dark by way of the Hotel des Invalides, a war veterans hospital and retirement home which had been looted for its rifles during the French revolution and has the church holding the remains of Napoleon as well.

The church at the Hotel des Invalides.

We started the next day, our only full day in Paris by visiting the opera house. Wow is it ornate and grand. It's not very old having been opened in the 2nd half of the 19th century, but it holds it's own as an attraction. Next we went by the Moulin Rouge and would've gone to a show that night but could not pass the dress code :( It's in the red light district area just below Montmartre so we walked up the hill and saw the church and views over the city. We missed the last tour of the catacombs by 10 minutes so went over to the cemetary Pere-Lachaise, the world's most visited cemetary apparently. There are quite a few famous names in there but we only saw 2 of the most famous, Chopin and Jim Morrison.

The opera house.

The church at Montmartre.

We finished off the day by running around (mostly lost) in the Louvre for it's last 2 hours of opening. We'd've never been able to go if not for the fact that a couple days a week it stays open until 10pm. The Mona Lisa was actually bigger than I'd expected though I had very low expectations really. I really have to say that art has no real affect on me generally and I found that aspect of the Louvre quite boring. The building itself is impressive in parts and it's size is just way out of control. We only saw a very small portion of what was on offer but surprisingly the most interesting exhibit to me was the small section of African and Polynesian carvings. They have good signs guiding you to the room with the Mona Lisa but unfortunately other than that the whole layout seemed quite confusing and very few displays or signs had any English either. On that note I thought that the reputation that the Parisians have was not really justified in our experience this time. The city didn't really stink that much, there were more English signs than I'd been lead to believe and I've met much ruder people manning various information stations or ticket booths in other countries...

The Louvre

One thing that is definitely true is that Paris is ridiculously popular. It's a cool city but that much so? Really? It's so packed with tourists everywhere that you temporally cannot see and do everything you want to in a short time. Everywhere we went there were crowds and crowds of people (I've not heard so many American accents since leaving home) and while it's ok in some of the larger areas, things like the catacombs or the tower of Notre Dame where numbers are restricted and staggered it can make for some very long lines.
Dad and I got up early on our last morning and walked over to the Notre Dame for another viewing but didn't have time to wait out the lines to go up the bell tower. Instead we continued to walk around the area to see whatever else we could find like the Pantheon where other great names are buried.
After checkout we drove by the catacombs again but the line to get in was around the block so we abandoned that plan and continued out to Versailles to see the huge palace and grounds built there by Louis XIV. What can I say other than it's another one of those huge European palaces built by a king at the height of his empire's power? Like the opera house it too was ridiculously ornate and grand. I'm glad I convinced the others to go. It would take an entire day to properly visit all the palace and it's grounds and our rushed version still lasted a few hours. From Versailles we drove back to Holland.

Chateau de Versailles.



At 8:38 AM , Anonymous Nikki said...

great shots!


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