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The Big Kahuna

sunny

Great Scott! It’s already been two weeks in France and it still feels as if I just got here. It’s like the remote control of life seems to be stuck in fast-forward and events flash by one by one (this is getting heavy, Doc). On a different note, school is continuing to go well! Thermo is trying to keep us on our toes with pop quizzes and numerous assignments that come back to bite you for deciding to take a 4-credit hour class during what many would consider a “vacation semester”. My deformable bodies professor continues to rock with his crowd-pleasing personality. He’s incredibly personable and genuinely makes an effort to learn a bit about each student. Suffice to say, he’s already up there among my favorite teachers I’ve had at Tech. I feel a special connection to him due to his past at West Point and time in the Army Corps of Engineers. Statistics is starting to improve, but I’m waiting to see how it shakes out. The runt of the litter is Materials Science. Being a survey course, the class flies through a multitude of topics and expects you to pick up most of it very quickly. Chemistry has never been my strong suit, so this is the class I’m most worried about. Next Wednesday is our first test, so hopefully I won’t need to order my coffin now (they go pretty fast as finals season approaches). Enough with the classwork, though, on to the fun stuff!

Friday night I went out into Metz and enjoyed the city. We ended up eating at what I would consider to be a more upscale restaurant. This, of course, meant that the golden ratio (the ratio between cost to portion size) would be pretty bad. However, the chicken breast I ordered was mouthwateringly delicious and the carrot puree and mushroom sauce were highly reminiscent of something from the Tailor and the Cook (a classy restaurant at home). I spent the evening getting to know some new people from the program and taking in the scenery of the city. After dinner, we made our way down to the water and enjoyed the evening with ice cream in hand. Geese floated along and terrorized the local ducks (jerks). I got back around 10pm and began to prepare for our trip the following day.

I’m glad I got plenty of sleep, because this weekend was the big kahuna! After seeing Paris in just about a million different films, I had always wanted a chance to visit the iconic city. Our plan of action this time was to hit up the Bastille and work our way left. Following this philosophy, it would lead us in a chain of sights from Notre Dame to the Arc de Triumphe. Leaving at 8am once again, the train ride to Paris was short and uneventful. It was only an hour and a half hop over by train, which gave me just enough time to complete one homework problem before arriving at the train station. We made our way down to the Metro and bought our day pass tickets. Then, for whatever reason, I was put in charge of the group and figuring out where to go…. BAD DECISION. The first train we hopped on travelled in the opposite direction from the way we wanted! Luckily, I realized the mistake after one stop and we made a quick course correction.

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When we got to the Bastille, I stepped out of the station and looked around in confusion. Whenever I had seen pictures of the Bastille, it had been of a giant, stone fort that loomed hundreds of feet in the air. What stood before us now was a pretty wimpy column. Apparently, I had dozed off during the part of history class where the Bastille was burned down by the French people. After snapping some disappointing pictures, we made our way down to the Seine. The dirty, brown water surged by and gave off a peculiar smell. The river was not as wide as I had expected, but we found a nice pathway to walk along it. Going on for some ways, we shuffled in the hot sun until we hit the first big stop: Notre Dame. Squatting on an island, it had massive stained glass decorating the outside of the building. We stopped short of our destination to grab a quick bite at a place that offered a 2-course meal for a reasonable price. I felt bad for the waitress who lured us in (we essentially lived up to every stereotype of an obnoxious tourist).

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After lunch, our group split and I headed on with my friend to check out Notre Dame. The line to get in moved at a fast pace and we were inside in no time. It seems as if each church I visit is trying to one up the previous one I’ve seen. They get bigger, grander, and take my breath away even more each time. The trend continued on with the real Notre Dame (not that faker in Strasbourg). I stopped at the statue of St. Theresa and lit a candle there for my aunt. Coming back out into the daylight, we had to take a few minutes to adjust to the drastic change in lighting. Then, we continued on our pilgrimage leftwards. We made our way over to the bridge which was home to thousands of locks of love. Well, it used to house thousands of these locks. So many were put on that it began to put stress on the bridge. They were all cut off, unfortunately, and replaced by rather ugly, plastic siding. Our crossing of the bridge brought us right into the Louvre, which means I can cross, “seeing the pyramids”, off of my bucket list. Before you ask if I saw the Mona Lisa, I will tell you straight up that I am not a fan of “high art”. With a super-packed day, I was not ready to wait in an hour-long line and shell out some serious dough for a picture that I’ve seen a hundred times over.

Continuing on from the Louvre, we walked through an expansive park lined with statues of Caesar and grand fountains. Eventually, our pilgrimage led us to the Champs-Elysees, one of the most famous streets in Paris. As if to mock us, our final destination (the Arc de Triumphe) sat at the very end of the Champs-Elysees and atop a steep hill. Folks, I have made some difficult treks in my life, but battling my way through crowds of tourists whilst in the heat and humidity of an 86 degree day and loaded down with everything for a weekend was up there among the top for difficulty. Our feet were already sore from the 6 miles of walking early, but our prize was so close now (and in plain sight!) that we could not give up now. We eventually made it up to the Arc and were confronted with one final challenge: it sat in the middle of a massive 8 lane traffic circle! The cars zipped around and tempted us to play frogger, but we did not rise to the occasion. Instead, we scratched our heads along with the other confused tourists and finally found the giant sign that read “ARC THIS WAY”. Thirty minutes later, we were standing triumphantly on top of the conquered landmark. For all of the trouble it had been to get there, the view was magnificent. You could see Paris in all directions. It was a definite highlight of the trip.

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Exhausted and battered by a day of trudging through the sweltering heat, we took the Metro to our Airbnb, which was situated in the southeast corner of Paris. After figuring out the correct building and dealing with a host who knew only a little English, we got some respite in a comfy bed and a room of our own. We took a much-needed rest and got prepared to head back out once more. This time, we would be heading for the Eiffel Tower. Every night, they have a light show on the Tower that makes it sparkle like a diamond. Getting there at 10pm, we found the park filling up quickly with other eager tourists and a fair share of locals. Gypsies weaved their way among the groups lounging on the ground selling beer, wine, and champagne. You had to be careful with them, because they would do anything to get some money from you. They weren’t afraid to touch, either. When we picked our ideal spot, we hunkered down with our stuff and got our cameras ready for some prime picture-taking. The show was not disappointing. The display was lit up like a giant, white Christmas tree and went on for several minutes. Despite my complete state of exhaustion, I’m glad we went back out to see the show. By the time we made our way back to the safety and comfort of our bed for the night, it was almost midnight and the metro was jam-packed. There was hardly room to stand, and the sweaty, smelly bodies did not make it any more pleasant. I collapsed into the bed when we got back and slept soundly for the next seven hours.

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The following day, we were out by 8am and on our way to the Tower again. This time, we wouldn’t settle for just looking at it: we would be scaling its steps! The line in front of the Tower wasn’t bad, until we realized that it was just for the metal detectors. Then, we had to wait in line for tickets to climb the stairs. After that, we had to wait in line on the stairs themselves (see a pattern here?). All told, the view was most excellent from the galleries. The Tower, although much taller than the Arc, did not seem to give as good a scene as the Arc did. I’m not sure what it was about it, but I seemed to prefer being on top of the Arc to the Tower. On the way back down, I chatted it up with some Russian tourists from Moscow (see, my Russian is so coming in handy!).

At this point it was just about lunchtime, so I convinced my friend to let us eat from a grocery store. Grocery stores prove the existence of Heaven on Earth, because I was able to pick up lunch and dinner for under 9 euros! With my stomach full, I was in a much better mood as we headed to Versailles. The train alone was much nicer than any other Metro train I had ridden, as if the palace’s royal influence extended to the railway that led to it. As we rounded the corner of the boulevard that led to the palace, we both had a moment of jaw-dropping shock. When Versailles is talked about as big, that word doesn’t sum it up well. Versailles is BIG. Scratch that, it is HUGE. Its golden (literally gold) gate gleamed in the sun and rounded its exterior. Waiting in the security line, we were given a mini sideshow as the cops pulled up and scared off the gypsies that were pestering us poor tourists incessantly.

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Moving inside the gate, we worked our way around to the back, where the gardens were. I’m a fan of the Botanical Gardens, but this was something from another world. The gardens stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction and were so large that it made you feel like you were Alice and had just been shrunk down to Wonderland. Being almost 2,000 acres, the gardens were dotted with fountains, statues, baths, and intricate hedge structures that were unimaginable. We made our way through the center and then along the outer perimeter to the newest feature: Neptune’s Fountain. We were mostly guided by the music, as the fountains would go off every couple of minutes and lead you to somewhere new. Golf carts zoomed among the hedges, as some lucky tourists had been patient (and rich enough) to wait for the privilege of riding through the gardens in the luxury of a covered, 4-wheeled, motorized vehicle. We were supremely jealous of them as they rode around and we plodded along.

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By this time, we were hitting the point of near-exhaustion and barely made it back to the metro before collapsing into two empty seats. Lucky for us, it was a long, smooth ride to get back to the city center. Our last stop on this great journey was Sacre-Cour. Not so lucky for us, it was perched on the top of a freakin’ steep hill. I guess the Universe had to come back at me somehow. The streets leading up to Sacre Cour were bustling with tourists and we had to fight off gypsies selling cheap bracelets on the ascent to the top of the mountain. Was the view from the top worth it? Even in my deranged mental state back then, I would still have said yes. It was phenomenal. You could see for miles and we were blessed with a nice strong breeze that came in. We camped out around Sacre-Cour for an hour or so before making our way down to the train station and closer to the safety of Metz. Hopping on the 5:40pm train, we slept for most of the journey back. I was almost crawling by the time we reached our rooms.

Paris was an amazing city and we were able to see almost all of the big attractions in 2 days’ time! If you want to stay sane, however, I would recommend making it a 3-day trip for those interested. Or conversely, find a better way to get around than by walking everywhere with a 35 pound pack on your back. Once again, another successful weekend! I look forward to what the next week will bring!

Posted by oklempay 12:12 Archived in France Tagged tower paris metro louvre arc versailles champs gypsies sacre-cour

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