Out of France and into Spain

Wed, June 25th – We awoke early, locked the door to the garage of our Bordeaux home, and shoved the key under the door. It was a short dawn hike to a tram stop where we got to navigate another French ticket machine so we could buy some passes to the train station. Tickets in hand, we boarded the train with other early morning commuters and basically realized that we could’ve easily gotten away without having tickets anyway. Four stops later, and we were back at Gare St. Jean where we had started our time in Bordeaux. We wound our way to an information office where they directed us to the shuttle that would take us to the airport for our 9am flight to Seville.

On a rail map, everything seems to connect. It’s a pretty series of colored lines spiderwebbing their way all over Europe. Pass sellers like Eurail give you these maps as if to say “you can get anywhere effortlessly.” What they don’t outright tell you is that to go a few inches on a map from say, Bordeaux to Madrid, involves a ridiculous number of train and station changes, and long trips on slow moving regional routes. France and Spain use different gauge track, so except for the high speed lines, nothing else really connects. That apparently simple trip from France to Spain would in reality take about 14 hours and untold amount of headache. So for a couple trying to get from Bordeaux to the south of Spain, Ryan Air steps in to save the day.

For those unfamiliar with RyanAir, it’s an Irish airline that is the epitome of budget airline. You can find $10 tickets, but they charge you for EVERYTHING you can imagine. It’s one big sales pitch for more luggage, in flight cell plans, travel insurance, food, scratch off lottery tickets, duty free junk, and whatever else you can think of. If you ignore all that, you can fly for half nothing.

Our goal was to get from Bordeaux to Tarifa, the southern tip of Spain just across from Morocco. With rail options being an enormous time drain, we booked a flight to Seville for $75, total, for two people. When we finally did the research on checking in for the flight, we realized that RyanAir offers cheap flights, but they get you when you assume that you get the same carry on baggage allowance as any normal airline. Both of our bags easily fit carry on restrictions in the U.S., but you get a tiny space and weight allowance on RyanAir, so…. Steve had to check his bag. Nooooo!!!!   At a mere $40, you get to check a bag up to 15kg, so we pack his bag full of all the non-essential stuff and left it at the mercy of the budget airline.  Thankfully, it was waiting for us in Seville.

Other than the annoyance of having to check a bag, the RyanAir experience wasn’t terrible. It was a short flight, they spoke English, and everything went smoothly. By 10:30am we had left cold, wet France and stepped out into the cloudless warmth of Andalucian Spain.

A short ride on a packed-to-the-brim bus trip from the airport took us to the Seville train station where we got off and walked the last 3/4 of a mile to Plaza Alfalfa to meet our first Spanish host.  After all the walking we’ve done, the distance is nothing, but doing it with heavy bags and in a heat that was entirely new to us, 3/4 of a mile seems like 10, and it makes you start to question the confidence in your directions when you end up on increasingly narrow, old city streets.

Eventually we found signs saying Alfalfa, and being half an hour early, we sat in the square and people watched. Surrounded by an interesting mix of what seemed to be American students, a group of wheelchair bound elderly, and an ever-changing group of soccer playing kids, we sat absorbing things, hoping that our contact would show up early… because we were sweaty and starving after a morning of travel.

After our meeting time came without sign of our guy, we started looking around and saw a man standing by himself, looking around and at his phone. For all the great things about AirBnB, one of the extra challenges it adds is that you have to arrange check-in times with most of the hosts. Just imagine trying to arrange a meeting in a place you’ve never been, with somebody you’ve never seen, hoping that your flight or train will be on time… and you don’t have a phone if something happens. You basically end up with both parties looking around a hot Spanish square at noon, hoping that one of the people there is the person they’re supposed to be meeting. At that point, you make a guess and walk up to the guy that’s by himself, looking around and at his phone, and approach him hoping that he’s Mario, your contact. This time, at least, you’ll be right.

The apartment was simple, but had all we needed for a single night’s stay. We did some laundry and used the “dryer.”

Our dryer - i.e. the sun

Our dryer – i.e. the sun

We wandered out of the apartment and went to a nearby restaurant that Mario had recommended. We were both instantly in love. Cheap tapas, cheap beer, and a team of pleasant waiters that Steve could half communicate with in choppy Spanish. We got shrimp, tuna and red peppers, mushrooms, chicken skewers, and some sort of pork with some sort of sauce that was baffling but delicious. Four San Miguels and five plates of fantastic tapas for roughly $20. Why oh why had we spent so much time in Paris???

After lunch we entered “wander the city” mode. The streets of old Seville are the non-sensical mess of narrow and winding pathways that you come to love in some European cities. You get a tourist map that doesn’t point north in a city where half the streets aren’t labeled, and learn to love being lost. We meandered our way to the Cathedral of St. Mary first of all.

Carriage rides in blazing sun

Carriage rides in blazing sun

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Past old walls and buildings mixed in with rows of men offering carriage rides from fly covered mules, we found the bus station we’d need to be at the next day for our trip to Tarifa. We went through the park and suddenly saw Plaza de Espana on our left.

Seville is the capital of Andalucia, one of the regions of Spain. The impressive Plaza de Espana was built in the early 1920’s and now houses some government offices.

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These tile images depict various scenes from Spanish history and surround the plaza

These tile images depict various scenes from Spanish history and surround the plaza

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Ceiling decorations at Plaza de Espana

Ceiling decorations at Plaza de Espana

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After getting our fill of the plaza and trying to get away from yet another native american pan-flute band, we bought some orange and lemon slushy drinks, walked along the Guadalquivir river, and got lost once or twice on our way back to to the apartment.

Covered shopping street

Covered shopping street

The Spanish siesta always seemed like an odd concept, but after seeing it first hand in Seville, it’s easy to understand the idea. Get up early, do some work. Take a break when it gets really hot out. Go back out at 9 or 10pm for dinner after the sun goes down and the weather is tolerable again. We thought we’d be able to find seating at on of the many restaurants around Plaza Alfalfa, but everything was packed at 10pm. We ended up getting some pizza and taking it back to the room to consume alongside the little six pack of San Miguel that we picked up at the grocery earlier in the day. We had pizza in France, why not in Spain?

San Miguel beer, or as our waiter referred to it - "vitaminas"

San Miguel beer, or as our waiter referred to it – “vitaminas”

The next morning we got up in time to get a full breakfast at a cafe on the square. Eggs, toast, and some of the iberian ham that they sell everywhere. Followed up with a chocolate covered donut of course (as every meal should be finished). From there, we left the room, loaded up the bags once again, and walked to the bus station to catch our ride to the southernmost tip of Spain.

Breakfast, with iberian ham

Breakfast, with iberian ham

iberian ham, which looks like this in stores...

iberian ham, which looks like this in stores…

Four Days in Bordeaux

Early on Friday morning (June 21st) we said goodbye to our little apartment in Paris and started the trek to the train station. We had a 6:30 train to Bordeaux, not exactly our first choice, but the seats available to Eurail pass holders in the summer apparently fill up quickly. Lugging our bags to the same metro station entrance we’d used over the last few days, we found out that it apparently wasn’t open before 6am.

Going a couple more blocks we found another metro station, bought tickets, and trucked into the tunnels to find the right line. As already mentioned on Facebook, this is the moment where Steve is moving ahead, looking for signs, when he suddenly finds himself on the ground after slipping in a giant puddle of puke. When you’re running late for a train and fall in a pool of vomit, you can’t help but think that you must’ve done some horrible things in a past life to deserve this. …It could have been worse. Apart for a small bit around the shoe, nothing really going on any clothing, which the passengers on the train to Bordeaux should have been glad about.

We made it onto the train with about six minutes to spare. No worries.

In keeping with the trend established in Paris, it was wet and dreary out when we got to Bordeaux. We were staying in a young couple’s basement loft. It was a mile walk in a hovering mist, but we made it without getting lost, thanks to realizing that even though we don’t have a data plan for our phone here, we can still take pictures of maps at train stations or on the computer and use those to get around.

I couldn’t tell you if the place we stayed was at all typical of what you’d find near the city center, but it was gorgeous. They had the first floor and basement of a residential building, including a courtyard area (other people lived on upper floors). Well, here are a couple pictures.

Our room in the lower level.

Our room in the lower level.

No, we didn't pick the lock and take their wine.

No, we didn’t pick the lock and take their wine.

Living room

Living room

Kitchen

Kitchen

View of the staircase from the courtyard.

View of the staircase from the courtyard.

They had a pet cat and guinea pig. The cat was sick while we were there and actually pooped on the rug in our room at one point…  They put him in the garage after that. This was their guinea pig, Dedier.

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See how he loves Jenny? Well at some point he got out of his cage, chewed through part of the power cord to the couple’s printer, so when Steve went to turn it on, he got shocked and tripped the circuit breaker to the whole kitchen. And this happened when the owners were out of town for the weekend. And the circuit box was nowhere to be found in the house. So a few minutes of frantically moving plugs around to get the internet working (it was set up in the now powerless kitchen), we were able to contact the owners, find out where the circuit box was, and get power on again so we didn’t ruin all their food while they were away…

In typical fashion, we got into town and started wandering around. Julie, our host, was kind enough to give us a map and circle the main sights around town. We went out of the house and zig-zagged our way to Rue Saint Catherine, a pedestrian only street that is supposedly one of the longest shopping strips in Europe. Starting at a stone arch by the University of Bordeaux, it goes all the way to the square in front of the Grand Theater. On one end are some cheap shops where Jenny bought a 2 euro belt (that almost immediately started falling apart), and on the other end are higher end stores, capped off with a McDonalds. It was crowded with people out for an evening shopping trip.

Rue Sainte Catherine

Rue Sainte Catherine

We walked all the way down trying to figure out where we wanted to eat. Then we walked back the way we came. (We’re a decisive pair). Of all places to go, we settled on an Irish pub, partly because of all places, we figured we’d get in there and they might speak English. Sure enough, we encountered a genuine Irishman at the bar, and he helped get us a pair of much needed hamburgers and beers.

Just a couple Americans eating hamburgers at an Irish pub in Bordeaux.

Just a couple Americans eating hamburgers at an Irish pub in Bordeaux.

Fully nourished, we once again walked down the shopping street to the end at the Grand Theater. The grand theater is one of the oldest surviving wood frame opera houses in Europe. It would have been cool to catch a show there, but I’m sure we would have been severely underdressed. Conveniently, there is an office of tourism very close to the theater, which we went into to arrange a chateau tour for Saturday. Continuing a short distance, you run into the Esplanade des Quinconces, which basically seems like a football field sized gravel square capped with a couple of stone pillars at one end and a massive fountain and pillar at the other.

Grand Theatre

Grand Theatre

The sculptures at fountain were impressive (moreso because they were actually spouting water instead of being shut down like at Versaille). Jenny’s time in sculpture classes have given both of us a greater appreciation for the work that goes into making sculptures of this scale.

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All must worship the mighty rooster!

All must worship the mighty rooster!

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The weather changed from mist to solid rain, but we kept moving toward more of the circles that Julie had drawn on the map. A few minutes from the square, there is a large public park and gardens, bordered on one side by a museum of natural history. It was a pretty setting with a few kids roaming around, a guy playing songs on an acoustic guitar, and joggers doing laps.

Tree huggers

Tree huggers

Jardin Public

Jardin Public

From the park we headed toward the Gallien ruins, a small remaining bit of what was once a Roman amphitheater, abandoned in the 3rd century. With the rain coming down, we didn’t stay long. The ruins give you an idea of the age and history of the city. The homeless man with a trio of dogs wearing brightly colored raincoats give you an idea of its character.

Palais Gallien

Palais Gallien

We found a grocery store on the way back to the room. After almost a week in France, we were grocery store pros. We got our eggs, milk, orange juice, some meat, cheese, and bread for a sandwich. And wine, of course we got wine. After the grocery store we walked past a small square with restaurants and a band setting up a small stage.

Back at the house our other host, Alexis, got home from work and walked in to say hello. He told us that there was a big music festival going on in the city tonight and that there would be bands out all over the place. Definitely worth checking out. Unfortunately, this was the point at which Jenny really started feeling sick. A sore throat had turned nasty and she had sinus issues. Traveling, especially to major cities with tons of people around, means you’re exposed to all sorts of unfamiliar germs, and she obviously picked something up. She went downstairs to lay down, and the couple shouted down that they were leaving for the weekend. We were tasked with feeding the guinea pig for a couple of days.

Jenny went to sleep and I (Steve) waited for dusk before going to wander around the city after dark. The music festival that Alexis spoke about had started, and as promised, performers scattered around the city drew the people out in droves. Young people carrying wine and beer filled the streets. Every few blocks there was another musician set up. The styles were all over the map – a French rapper, a reggae band, a moody rock trio, an acoustic singer/songwriter. I walked down the same shopping street as before so see the grand theater in the evening. Then to the square with the fountain, then to the Place de la Bourse, which is set of buildings that you’ll probably see on any postcards from Bordeaux.

Place de la Bourse has a large pool set up in front of it in the evenings, appropriately called the “miroir.” It’s only a couple inches deep, and when still, reflects everything around it beautifully. After dark, the lights at Place de la Bourse go on and offer some amazing views from the other side of the miroir.  I stopped to take a few pictures and watch all the kids (I say kids – it seemed like every 17-25yr old in the city was out) hang out.

Place de la Bourse from across the miroir d'eau

Place de la Bourse from across the miroir d’eau

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On the way back to the room, I got to see some of the small streets and alleys at night, which I loved. So many small streets, unevenly lit, with stone on all sides, make for some great street scenes.

Bordeaux streets at night

Bordeaux streets at night

Saturday, June 22. We awoke with just enough time to grab a slice of brioche with Nutella before running out to catch our tour. “Vineyard tour” was one of the few things on our wish list for the trip, so we did it right. This was an all day guided tour to three different chateaux, lunch, wine tastings at each place, and finally a stop at the medieval town of Saint Emilion.

Neither of us are big on package tour deals, but we had good luck with this one. Instead of the maximum 25 people on the bus, we were 12, and all English speaking so there was no having to sit through everything in two languages. There was an indian couple, a pair of retirees on their “trip of a lifetime,” a very well traveled pair of Canadian men, a guy from the Bay area, one from Hong Kong, and a couple of students from China and Taiwan.

The weather finally gave us a break. Instead of gray and wet it was sunny and mild. After a short drive on the bus and some initial chatting from Bridgette, the old, French, tour guide, we arrived at the first Chateau, Le Lastille. One of the owners met us in the small shop in front before taking us to the room where they make the wine. It was a combination of old and new. Some of the wine is processed in concrete vats from the early 1900’s, updated with modern thermal controls. Other wine is processed in large steel tanks. If you’ve been to visit a microbrewery, the rooms look largely similar. Large tanks to hold liquid at a steady temperature while fermentation takes place.

Cement vat

Cement vat

He walked us through the vinification process – the art/science of deciding when to harvest the grapes, the machines used for harvesting, pressing out the juice, fermentation, malolactic fermentation, aging, bottling. After the tour, we got to sample a few of the wines. We’re not exactly wine snobs, but they seemed good.

At the second chateau we skipped most of the wine making details and got more bits about the business, how they sell it, distribution, labeling for all the different countries they sell to. We were fed a lunch of assorted French meats, salad, and wine of course, followed by cheeses and fruit for dessert.

Lunch table

Lunch table

Grapes grapes grapes

Grapes grapes grapes

Wine being aged in oak barrels.

Wine being aged in oak barrels.

15L bottle of wine?  Yes please.

15L bottle of wine? Yes please.

The third chateau was in the prettiest location of the three, overlooking a valley of grape vines.  Our male guide at this chateau started off by asking where everybody was from, and after hearing from the Californian, he said “Good wine in California” which got a nod from everybody. “No, only France make good wine.” This one was a jokester, but he knew his stuff and gave us a sample of a couple of his wines. One of the higher end wineries, these grapes were all hand harvested and the bottles were something like 50-60 euros (at the Chateau itself, would be marked up more in stores).

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After the last wine tasting, we went a short distance away to the medieval town of Saint Emilion. There we had enough time to roam around, relax with a coffee, get lost at least once in the twisting, hilly streets circling the massive church around which much of the town was arranged. A few spots had fantastic views over the rooftops and beyond into the surrounding vineyards. Just as the clouds and rain started rolling in again, we boarded the bus for the drive back into Bordeaux.

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After 10 straight days of traveling and seeing things, we rested on Sunday. Jenny still wasn’t feeling great, so we ventured out for lunch at a Japanese place that our host recommended, tried to get caught up on sleep and writing, and watched Jurassic Park in French. The next day was somewhat the same. We went out for a few hours to see one of the major old churches in town, got some ice cream, Jenny bought a belt. We got salads from the grocery store for dinner, and went to bed early so we could get up at 5am to start our trip to Seville the next day.

Note to gutter punks in New Orleans - you don't have nearly enough dogs.

Note to gutter punks in New Orleans – you don’t have nearly enough dogs.

Gargoyle...er... calf??

Gargoyle…er… calf??

Place du Palais

Place du Palais

The exit door for guests you don't like.

The exit door for guests you don’t like.

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Interior of St. Michel

Interior of St. Michel

Stop! Here lies the empire of death.

On Thursday we made our way back to the catacombs. This time we were able to find the entrance without the help of a little old French lady. This time the catacombs were open, which meant that this time there was a line to get in. They limit the number of people inside at any given time to no more than 200, so the line doesn’t exactly move quickly. We should count ourselves lucky that this was the only really long line that we had to sit in during our six days in Paris, but it still took two hours to make it through. Advice for others though – if you’re going, go early. They stop letting people in at 4pm and they weren’t going around cutting off the line, so some people probably waited for an hour and didn’t get in.

We'd make it to that part of the line in an hour...

We’d make it to that part of the line in an hour…

Once you get inside, there’s a small ticket desk and then you immediately start descending a spiral staircase to get about 60ft below street level.

Yay stairs!

Yay stairs!

At the bottom of the stairs, you get some information on the geology of the area, which explains why these tunnels are where they are. They’ve basically been quarrying stone from beneath Paris for centuries, so tunnels such as these are leftover. The fact that the ground beneath the city is full of holes is supposedly one of the reasons there aren’t taller buildings in much of the city.

After you get through learning about rock layering, you pass through some long tunnels, before entering an area with some eerie carvings and archways.

Sorry - I'd have to translate a picture of the sign in French explaining exactly what this is.

Sorry – I’d have to translate a picture of the sign in French explaining exactly what this is.

Underground tunnels.

Underground tunnels.

Eventually, you arrive at a this.

Looks like a nice spot for a picnic.

Looks like a nice spot for a picnic.

A rather foreboding sign reads “ARRETE! C’EST ICI L’EMPIRE DE LA MORT” or “Stop! Here lies the empire of death”  Past this entryway, the catacombs begin.

The brief history – In the late 18th century, the cemeteries in Paris were causing some problems, i.e. they were full and posing health problems to the surrounding areas. They started by removing the remains from one cemetery to the empty quarry tunnels, and then moved others. After initially just tossing the remains into piles, some genius said “Hey, people are fascinated by dead things, let’s make these bodies look cool and charge people to see them.” (might not be the exact translation, but close enough). So they started organizing the remains in various patterns and shapes using the skulls and long leg bones (tossing the other bits behind the pretty skull/leg walls). Cemeteries, churches, and whoever else had a body surplus, moved them into the collection, eventually reaching around six million people.

The experience inside these dark, winding tunnels, lined on both sides with row after row of bones, is sort of surreal. You have to stop and remind yourself that these were once living, breathing people, that had lives on the streets of Paris. When you first walk in, you’ll say “holy crap, there are bones in here!” By the end of the walk, you’ll just be dumbfounded by the sheer number of bones packed into the tunnels. It’s morbid, but there’s nothing quite like it.

Without further jabbering, here are some pictures.

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At two bones per person, somebody count how many people are in this one picture.

At two bones per person, somebody count how many people are in this one picture.

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The skulls won't eat me, the skulls won't eat me.

The skulls won’t eat me, the skulls won’t eat me.

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Ghost Jenny.

Ghost Jenny.

Years and years worth of visitors carving things into the wall at the end.

Years and years worth of visitors carving things into the wall at the end.

The tunnel out.

The tunnel out.

A day in Versaille

Versaille is another one of those super-touristy things that you kind of need to see when you visit Paris. Words and pictures don’t really do it justice. The scale and lavishness of the palace and gardens really must been witnessed in person to be fully appreciated. We made our pilgrimage outside of Paris on Wednesday to see things for ourselves.

Gold, gold everywhere.

Gold, gold everywhere.

A quaint chapel for the palace.

A quaint chapel for the palace.

Enormous paintings covered this room (appropriately called the Hercules room)

Enormous paintings covered this room (appropriately called the Hercules room)

No simple window latches for Louis XIV.

No simple window latches for Louis XIV.

A class of kids at Versaille. Jenny - "Our class went to Cosi once..."

A class of kids at Versaille. Jenny – “Our class went to Cosi once…”

Us making the palace classy.

Us making the palace classy.

The hall of mirrors.

The hall of mirrors.

They have a bunch of these, probably won't care if I just take one home, right?

They have a bunch of these, probably won’t care if I just take one home, right?

The royal family ate in front of an audience.

The royal family ate in front of an audience.

Restoration project taking place - being funded by an American "friends of Versaille" group.

Restoration project taking place – being funded by an American “friends of Versaille” group.

Hall of statues

Hall of statues

The gardens of Versaille are one of its most impressive features. A huge space filled with statues, fountains, and well manicured plants, you could spend hours walking around. Unfortunately for us, they’re doing a major renovation project on the main fountains, and apparently had to shut the water off to the whole fountain system. None of them were on. :(

Fountains... without water.

Fountains… without water.

Massive, huge, ginormous gardens.

Massive, huge, ginormous gardens.

Nice day for a row.

Nice day for a row.

Sorbet!

Sorbet!

A happy peasant dinner after a day at the palace.

A happy peasant dinner after a day at the palace.

Ferme, Train Stations, and The Eiffel Tower

On Tuesday we roughly planned to see the catacombs in the morning, go to the train station to make about eight train reservations, and then go out to the Eiffel Tower in the evening. It would be a nice, full day taking us from 60 ft below to 376 feet above Paris.

We hopped on the metro to go to the catacombs, got out of the station, and proceeded to do loop around a small park, trying to make sense of street signs, and not seeing anything pointing to catacombs. Finally a little old lady comes up to us with a smile and said something in French to which I (Steve) could only respond “Les Catacombs?” She spoke no English and I speak about 10 phrases of French, which the little old lady pretty much exhausted during a “conversation” as she guided us to the entrance to the catacombs. We had missed it because the entrance is just a couple of green doors with minimal signage. We also came to understand what this word “ferme” was that the lady said a few times. “Catacombs – Ferme” – closed – for three days for some renovation. C’est la vie. We’ll come back to the catacombs later.

We headed up to Gare du Nord, one of the main train stations in Paris, where there was supposed to be a Eurail aid office that we could use to make our train reservations. Now to me, an “office” is a room, usually with a marked entryway (e.g. a door) and signage to indicate who or what is located there. After wandering to one end of the station, we asked a lady at the information desk where the Eurail office was and she just pointed and said “straight and left.” I guess technically, she was right, but “straight and left” meant going all the way to the other end of the station, past one ticket counter after another, until Jenny finally spotted a queue with a piece of paper referring to Eurail passes. We finally got some help making some of our reservations. We couldn’t do everything we wanted, but that’s a story for another post.

In the evening we took the metro back out to the Eiffel tower. We can understand why Parisians wanted to tear the thing down at one point – because it’s basically a big, brown, cast iron bridge into the sky. There’s a lot of construction going on in the center to install a glass observation area on the first level, so a lot of the space looked like a construction zone. The north tower has the massive lines for the elevators up. Psssh. Who wants to wait in line for two hours and take an elevator up? We got in line at the south tower for the stairs and were making our way up to the first level in about 15 minutes.

They also have a post office in the pillar...

They also have a post office in the pillar…

Part of the line for the elevator up the north tower.

Part of the line for the elevator up the north tower.

There are a bunch of signs with history of the tower breaking up the climb to the first level, so it goes quickly. Of course there’s a small bar serving drinks and a full restaurant on this level. For now, we went to the steps and started climbing toward the second level. After 674 steps, we arrived and did a lap around for some great views of the city.

View of Montmarte from the tower.

View of Montmarte from the tower.

If you've got good eyes or a telephoto lens, you can spot Paris' copy of the Statue of Liberty.

If you’ve got good eyes or a telephoto lens, you can spot Paris’ copy of the Statue of Liberty.

View from the tower.

View from the tower.

From the second level you can take an elevator (not stairs) up to the top, but the waits were around 45 minutes and you have to pay more… so we headed back down to level one. Sucking up the big city stadium prices for drinks, we sat and enjoyed a beer while looking over the city. We stayed until after 9pm before heading back down.

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Beer is bon.

Beer is bon.

Some random couple.

Some random couple.

Jenny loves the stairs.

Jenny loves the stairs.

We found a spot on the grass to sit and wait until dark when they put on a light show. This is where the city earns it’s reputation for romance. All around are couples having small picnics, drinking wine, giggling in languages you can’t understand. If you pause long enough, you can’t help but be taken in by it. It would be perfect if not for the army of guys going around selling beer, wine, champagne. They were EVERYWHERE.

"Wine, champagne, cigarette" (read in a thick Borat-esque accent)

“Wine, champagne, cigarette” (read in a thick Borat-esque accent. Also notice his “Newyork” t-shirt.)

After several of these guys came by, I finally responded saying “How much?” The guy said 25 euro for a bottle of red wine, which is ridiculous because wine is about the only thing you can buy cheaply in Paris. I shook my head and told him that was way too much, not because I was negotiating, but because I literally only had 10 euros on me. So he says 20. I say I only have 10 (I didn’t really care if we bought wine or not). He says 15. I tell him that I’m not trying to negotiate, that really, I only have 10 euros. “12 euro, best offer.” You’re not understanding me my friend, I only have 10. “Ok, 10 euros.”

And I probably paid 10 euros for a 3 euro bottle of wine...

And I probably paid 10 euros for a 3 euro bottle of wine…

A little wine did seem appropriate to the experience. So we sat and drank, listened to the people, and watched as the tower lit up in a darkening sky.

I wanted to challenge this girl to a standing backflip contest, but... you know, I wasn't wearing the right pair of pants.

I wanted to challenge this girl to a standing backflip contest, but… you know, I wasn’t wearing the right pair of pants.

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The Louvre

On Monday our only plan was to hit the Louvre early. It was supposed to rain anyway, so we figured it would be a good museum day. In typical fashion, we didn’t exactly wake up with the sun to be the first in line. By the time we got there, the rain started coming down, making for a very cold and wet wait in line. Thankfully, we didn’t have to suffer through one of those three hour waits you hear horror stories about. 45 minutes, max, and we were inside.

We waited in line in this. And, yes, an hour after we got into the museum, it turned into a gorgeous day.

We waited in line in this. And, yes, an hour after we got into the museum, it turned into a gorgeous day.

The Louvre is simply too massive to write about in detail. We spent at least six hours there and still skipped a couple entire sections.  One can’t help be be awed by such a collection of art and history from all over the world. Of course the first thing people go to see when they get in is this.

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Ok, so that’s the mass of people all squeezing into a room to try to get within eight feet of this.

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The most famous painting in the world is this relatively small painting of a lady that you probably wouldn’t look twice at if there weren’t such a history around it. Sure, you have to see it while you’re there, but the experience will be more about fighting the crowds than really being able to appreciate the work in person. Sadly, 75% of the people that shot in to see the Mona Lisa probably skipped right over the other four Da Vinci paintings right down the hall.

Da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks

Da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks

Another highlight is the Venus de Milo. As with the Mona Lisa, mystery is part of the allure with this sculpture. They found the sculpture with its arms already missing and don’t know exactly what they were doing.

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There are some extensive Egyptian exhibits at the Louvre.

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2400 year old writing on papyrus

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Incredibly intricate hieroglyph text carved into stone.

Other bits and pieces –

One of many sculpture galleries.

One of many sculpture galleries.

Woman painting a painting.

Woman painting a painting.

Jenny admiring some work. ...or just resting her feet.

Jenny admiring some work. …or just resting her feet.

 

 

First full day in Paris

We took the Eurostar train from London to Paris on Friday and managed to hike our way from the train station to our apartment by the Louvre. After traveling and carrying heavy bags around all day, all we did after that was go grocery shopping which took way longer due to the whole “I can’t figure out what’s in this box unless there are pictures” issue.

The next morning, we did an introductory walk around the city. Walking straight from the Louvre, all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, then toward the Eiffel Tower, then finally walked back along the river, crossed at Pont Neuf, grabbed some food at a cafe, and headed home. It was a long walk with a million sights along the way (more than we would ever care to photograph or write about). Here are a few highlights.

The view from the Louvre goes all the way to the Arc de Triomphe.

The view from the Louvre goes all the way to the Arc de Triomphe.

There was some sort of bike event going on. Lots of people doing laps.

There was some sort of bike event going on. Lots of people doing laps.

I get the crepes, those are everywhere. But so are hot dogs. I don't want hot dogs in Paris. At least give them a fancy french name.

I get the crepes, those are everywhere. But so are hot dogs. I don’t want hot dogs in Paris. At least give them a fancy french name.

This city has a thing for rows of trees lining their paths.

This city has a thing for rows of trees lining their paths.

Very Bad Trip 3? Is there no translation for "hangover"?

Very Bad Trip 3? Is there no translation for “hangover”?

There was a crazy gypsy-punk like band playing outside the Virgin store on the Champs Elysees. Good stuff.

There was a crazy gypsy-punk like band playing outside the Virgin store on the Champs Elysees. Good stuff.

The city's lightning rod.

The city’s lightning rod.

The Eiffel Tower itself is... not pretty. Except for a few curves at the bottom, it's mainly a big hunk of intersecting metal beams painted brown...

The Eiffel Tower itself is… not pretty. Except for a few curves at the bottom, it’s mainly a big hunk of intersecting metal beams painted brown…

Looking across the Alexander Bridge with its gold statues.

Looking across the Alexander Bridge with its gold statues.

Book sellers line the river around the Notre Dame area.

Book sellers line the river around the Notre Dame area.

There are a couple of bridges that people have covered in love locks.

There are a couple of bridges that people have covered in love locks.

View across the Seine of the Louvre from Pont Neuf.

View across the Seine of the Louvre from Pont Neuf.

Dinner at a cafe. Simple food. Outrageously priced. Welcome to Paris.

Dinner at a cafe. Simple food. Outrageously priced. Welcome to Paris.

Our apartment is about 15 ft from a boulangerie patisserie, so our first order was a pair of eclairs.

Our apartment is about 15 ft from a boulangerie patisserie, so our first order was a pair of eclairs.

Walking in the sun for six hours takes it out of you...

Walking in the sun for six hours takes it out of you…

A little bit of London

We gave ourselves two nights in London at the beginning of this trip. One, we knew we’d be jetlagged and wouldn’t want to run around doing much, and two, starting in London is a good way of easing yourself into a different life. Things are different (traffic, getting around, money, etc.) but at least it’s still happening in a language we can understand. We’ll pass back through here for a few  more days at the end of the trip. Until then, here are a few things we saw during our brief wanderings there.

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Big Ben

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View of the Thames from the Lambeth Bridge

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A guard at his post.

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Marching after the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

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Each guard was getting inspected. Our guess was that the taller the furry hat, the higher the rank.

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We ran into several protests in London for a variety of things. The police were out in force, but were basically just watching.

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London has a ton of park space. This is along the souther side of St. James Park.

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The downside to the park space – the “plane trees” on a bad day (which we encountered) drop these seeds into the air everywhere, which get in your eyes, nose, mouth, and everywhere.

A pair of acrobat street performers. One guy was from the U.S.

A pair of acrobat street performers. One guy was from the U.S.

Inside the great court at the British Museum.

Inside the great court at the British Museum.

Jenny smashing her finger on one of those coin flattening machines.

Jenny smashing her finger on one of those coin flattening machines.

The London Eye.

The London Eye.

Motorcycles. Motorcycles everywhere.

Motorcycles. Motorcycles everywhere.

Outside the national gallery in Trafalgar Square.

Outside the national gallery in Trafalgar Square.

Traditional red phone booths.

Traditional red phone booths.

The Rosetta Stone inside the British Museum. This museum was pretty amazing (and was free if you ignore the whole "suggested donation" thing.)

The Rosetta Stone inside the British Museum. This museum was pretty amazing (and was free if you ignore the whole “suggested donation” thing.)

Can't go to London without getting some fish and chips in a traditional pub.

Can’t go to London without getting some fish and chips in a traditional pub.

Skaters enjoying the skate park by the London Eye.

Skaters enjoying the skate park by the London Eye.

The Brits have to be different. European power adapters don't work, and the UK adapter I found didn't accept grounding prongs. Solution - US to EU to UK combination. Safe, right?

The Brits have to be different. European power adapters don’t work, and the UK adapter I found didn’t accept grounding prongs. Solution – US to EU to UK combination. Safe, right?