Monday, February 11, 2013

Trip Report: Paris [Day 1] Overnight Trains, Sightseeing, and the Louvre

In the 2013 spring semester, I studied abroad with the Clemson Architecture program in Genoa, Italy where I lived and studied in the Charles E. Daniel Center, also known as "The Villa".  The program is actually quite a rigorous study abroad program, but we were allowed a week of travel at the end of February to go wherever we liked.  So naturally, I chose to visit Paris and Disneyland Paris.  Of course, when I was imagining Paris, I was thinking of warm spring afternoons and beautiful flowers..... in February, Paris was anything but.

I traveled the Paris portion of the trip with my friends Abby and Alex.  Alex's friend, Eliza, was studying abroad in Paris and so kindly invited us to stay with her at her apartment in La Defense.

Overnight Train to Paris

One of the awesome things about Europe is how advanced their transportation system by rail is.  The three of us booked a private room on an overnight train to Paris, which was more for the experience than to save time or money.  We traveled from Genoa to Milan on the regional train and took the overnight train to Paris from Milano Centrale.  Our train departed at 11:30 PM and arrived in Paris at 9:30 AM the next morning.

We booked a private cabin for three people. Alex was first to the room and says, "I call the bottom bunk." Then Abby poked her head in and quickly says, "I call the middle bunk.' I poke my head in and.... top bunk?

So we were basically sleeping in a closet, but we would wake up in Paris - it's an adventure!


It was actually a pretty nice set-up. They gave us nice toiletry kits with slippers, toothpaste/toothbrush, soap, etc. We also each got water bottles (hey - that's a 2 Euro value!). And, we were given vouchers for a free drink and free breakfast. We were just one train car away from the bar/restaurant, so we headed right down to use our drink vouchers. They offered us champagne or orange juice... is that even a question??

I actually slept surprisingly well on the train. I only woke up a few times and it was because it was hot, so I kept reaching over and turning down the thermostat. I feel like I had to have been the hottest, being in the top bunk. But besides that, I really didn't mind sleeping up there.

La Defense

Alex's friend, Eliza, is studying abroad in Paris, and she so kindly invited us to stay with her at her apartment in La Defense. Our train arrived at Gare Lyon, and Eliza told us how to take the metro to La Defense. We exited the metro, and she was there waiting for us!

The metro is right by the Grand Arch -

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It was REALLY cold! Wayyy colder than we had expected! When we arrived at Eliza's apartment, the first thing we did was add layers.

Champs-Elysees

After warming up and piling on layers, we set out to explore Paris! Luckily, we had our tour guide Eliza who was very familiar with the metro routes which really eliminated a lot of hassle for us.

We started at Champs-Elysees, the well-known high-end streets of Paris.

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Architects are crazy.

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Then we made it to the Arc de Triomphe.

Arch de Triomphe

Arch de Triomphe

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier -

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Arch de Triomphe

The Grand Arch was lined directly with the Arch de Triomphe. You can kind of see it through the fog.

The Grand Arch, Paris

The Louvre

Our tour guide, Eliza, decided it would be a good idea to go ahead and go to the Louvre today because it's really crowded on Sundays since that's when everyone gets in free. This lead us into a very confusing decision on whether or not we should purchase the Paris Museum Pass. Rick Steves said it was a great value - says over and over in his book to definitely do it. If you want to see four museums, then you've gotten your money's worth, and it saves you the wait in line to buy tickets at the door. We had done a museum pass in Torino and found it to be a great value (it was also half the price), so we figured what the heck - we'll go ahead and get the museum pass.

The Louvre, Paris

The Louvre, Paris

The Louvre, Paris

The Louvre, Paris

The Louvre, Paris

The Louvre, Paris

The Louvre, Paris

We made a beeline to the Mona Lisa because let's be honest - it was the only reason we were really here. Honestly, I didn't really care whether or not I saw the Mona Lisa in person, but it was really important to Abby and Alex, so I figured what the heck. Cross that off the bucket list!

She's not hard to find, surrounded by the crowd of people -

The Mona Lisa

And, of course, she was behind glass. You do not want to start me on my rant about art behind glass!!!

The Mona Lisa

Now, perhaps it's because I see it all of the time and have studied it rather thoroughly, but I am quite uninterested in Renaissance artwork. Really, it's the same thing over and over again done by different artists. They use the same symbolism, same scenes from the Bible. It's just repetitive, and I've had enough of it. So we got out of there rather quickly.

The Louvre, Paris

Despite my distaste for the Renaissance, I do admire their ceilings.

The Louvre, Paris

Being architecture majors, we were much more fascinated by the exterior of the Louvre. It's one of the buildings that we've studied throughout the years in school (the I M Pei glass pyramid addition, at least), so it was cool to see it in real life.

The Louvre, Paris

Lock Bridge

Lock Bridge, Paris

The concept is that couples lock their love to the bridge and then throw the key in the river to symbolize unbreakable love.  However, I couldn't help but notice that all of the dates said 2012 or 2013. I am beginning to think that they must cut the locks off or something.

Lock Bridge, Paris

Lock bridge, Paris

Paris

Notre Dame Cathedral

On to Notre Dame to find the Hunchback...

Notre Dame Cathedral

We stood in a long line to enter. We probably waited about 10-15 minutes in the cold, which wasn't too bad, except for the weather. Inside was very congested and difficult to move around in. It must have been the most packed cathedral I've visited... and I've visited a lot, now, being an architecture major.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedrals

You might walk by this without noticing, but it's one of the famous Metro entrances. We learned about this in our third semester of history of art and architecture.

Metro Entrance Paris

So, we were FREEZING and had to go inside to warm up. Anywhere was fine! So we ducked into a cafe and got crepes.

Nutella crepe.... is like Heaven.

Nutella Crepe

Cappuccino

That lovely cappuccino cost 5.70 Euros - the prices we pay for warmth!

It was now snowing outside.

Snowing in Paris

Our plan next was to go to the Pantheon. It was included in our Paris Museum Pass.

Pantheon, Paris

However, the Pantheon must've closed early that day because the most we got to see of it was the exterior.

Pantheon, Paris

Again seeking warmth, we saught out shelter in the church nearby.

Church in Paris

Church in Paris

Stained Glass Paris

And then we called it a day and headed back to La Defense.

I was in love with the hotel/mall which was connected to the Metro station.

La Defense, Paris

Note to designers - if you want people to occupy your public space, free Wifi is a definite crowd-pleaser.

That evening, we went drinking with other Clemson students in her study abroad program. We went to Latin Quarter, but by the time we got there, Abby, Alex, and I were exhausted. The bars were crowded, and we were starving, so we sought out pizza (which is ironic because we were studying in Italy but visiting Paris) and then headed back to go to bed.