Henry Poon's Blog


Day 77

From the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, to the Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Musee du Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe, it wasn’t very hard to take tons of photos in Paris because all the tourist attractions were just so beautiful.

After being in Europe for over 2 months, I finally visited Paris three days ago. Going to Paris is something that many people in North America (probably the world too) dream to do. I woke up early in the morning for my train from Stuttgart that left at 7 and met up with my friends from Bosch.

On the train, sitting together proved rather difficult because that went against the preassigned seating provided by the French TGV. We tried our best to find vacant seats, but in the end, two of us ended up sitting elsewhere. I managed to sit with the rest of the group for the duration of the train ride.

Along the way, the train passed through the French countryside. Only farm fields separated Paris and Stuttgart, with the exception of a few cities and towns. We joked about how the only things in France were farm fields and an Eiffel Tower. After a four hour journey, we arrived at the eastern train station in Paris.

The train station in Paris set my first impression the city. I didn’t see Paris in the beautiful setting that all the tourism advertisements showed. Seeing that the first place I go to in any city is often the train station, I ended up basing my first impression on that. To my surprise, the metro here lacked the maintenance that the trains in Stuttgart got. In general, the trains looked much dirtier and vandalized in more places. I saw graffiti in all of the train tunnels, and beside all the train tracks. In some areas, the station smelled like a dirty washroom. The trains themselves looked very old as well, but that’s just aesthetics. One of the trains even used tires and not train wheels, so it ran like a bus on train tracks. Despite this, the metro served as our only means of transportation within the city. We took the train to our first destination.

Our first destination was the Sacre-Coeur, a basilica located on the summit of butte Montmartre, the highest point of Paris. Unfortunately, the Sacre-Coeur was not exactly in the best part of town. The enormous amount of street performers, street vendors, and people trying to get me to donate money caught my attention right away. They really liked bugging the foreigners. I guess they think that if foreigners can afford to come to Europe, they must have lots of money. Some of them were like pushy salesmen that wouldn’t leave people alone. Some of them even know how to greet people in different languages. I heard them say phrases like “ni hao”, “konnichiwa”, and “arigatou”. I wondered about how many more of these people there’d be at the Eiffel Tower, when I already saw of many of these people at a lesser known landmark. I tried my best to ignore these people and focus on where I was, the Sacre-Coeur.

Looking at the basilica from afar reminded me of the Dom in Cologne, but this place was a little smaller. Unfortunately, the church did not permit photography, otherwise I’d post pictures of this place. I must say though, after seeing the Cologne Dom, this place didn’t seem that special to me.

When we left for the Notre Dame afterward, we passed through the poorer part of town. For some reason a big crowd of people stood outside selling prepackaged food that one could get from the supermarket. Why would they end up selling the food that they bought? Or maybe they never bought them at all.

Our next destination was the Notre Dame. The Notre Dame was one of those places that almost everybody knew, so many tourists visited it. In fact, there were so many tourists there that the city decided to post armed guards wielding FAMA’s at the site in case anybody tried to cause trouble. Like many other European churches, the church also had the old European design. The design here definitely rivaled the Cologne Dom.

The Notre Dame was situated beside the Seine River, so the natural next thing to do was to walk along the Seine. Unlike the Rhine River, the Seine was a lot more polluted. As we walked, I saw many more street vendors, but these ones sold retro photographs of Paris, post cards and various antiques. In the distance, we could see the Eiffel Tower. Before heading there though, we went to visit the outside of the Louvre. Seeing the pyramid in the courtyard instantly reminded me of The Da Vinci Code, when they revealed the location of the Holy Grail. Further outside the Louvre was the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel which was a smaller arch that served the same purpose as the Arc de Triomphe. Further down the road, was an obelisk that Napoleon once took from Egypt during the Napoleonic Wars.

We walked along the Avenue des Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, but before getting there, we had to hurry to the Eiffel tower so that we didn’t miss the time we reserved online. Because of our reservation, we didn’t have to wait hours like everyone else. Hundreds, if not thousands of tourists waited their turn. As I expected, there were a lot of street vendors here too, but the ones here weren’t as pushy.

In every picture I’ve ever seen the Eiffel Tower looked so small, so the sheer size of it total surprised me. At the base of the tower, I tried to take as many pictures as I could of the tower using the photography knowledge that I crammed the night before. Hopefully, my pictures turn out really well.

The view at the top of the Eiffel Tower totally struck me in awe. One could see as far as the eye could see. I pretty much saw all of Paris from here. In the distance, I could point out some of the landmarks such as the Louvre, Seine River, Arc de Triomphe, and Les Invalides. I also saw how the streets were laid out in the whole city. It differs a lot from the modern urban planning in the way that the roads don’t form grids. They seemed to go in random directions. No wonder it was so hard to find where we were going at times.

I could even see rain clouds slowly moving toward us. We didn’t choose the best day to go to Paris, but we couldn’t exactly predict the weather a month in advance. On the way down, it rained pretty hard, but it stopped about two hours later.

In the evening, we decided to go for a drink at a local cafe, since we were all so tired from carrying our things and walking around all day. Looking at the menu, I found that the price of beer is very high. In Stuttgart, I typically pay around 3 to 4 euro for half a litre of beer, but here, it costs 8 euros. That makes sense, I guess. Stereotypes do say that Germans are a lot more crazy about their beer than the French. I ended up trying a beer called Saint Omer. I don’t really know how to describe the beer so I can only really say that it tasted quite good, but not as good as German beer though.

After our little break, we went back to the Eiffel Tower to take pictures of it from afar. As the sky began to darken, the tower lit up. It must look even prettier at night. Unfortunately, we didn’t stick around to see it.

We went to the hostel since we were all so tired. For dinner, we ate baguettes that we bought from the local supermarket. And since we were in France, we had to have a bottle of wine. From the window, we could see the Sacre-Coeur.

After dinner, we went around some more to see what Paris looked like in the night. Because of the rain earlier, the wet cobblestone roads reflected the lights nearby. We stopped at a bar for a quick drink before heading home. This time, I ordered a beer called an Amstel. It had quite a strange after taste. By about 11:30 pm, we were all ready to sleep because we all woke up so early to catch the train and walked around so much, so we went back to the hostel where would recharge before continuing our journey the next day.

Little did we know when we organized our trip to Paris, this weekend would fall on the time change for daylight savings time, and as a result we had one less hour in Paris. We just slept one hour less to make up for it.

In the morning, we woke up early to get to the Louvre when it opened to avoid the enormous line up that we saw the day before. After passing the security check, we went to get our tickets. To our surprise, residents of the EU could get admission for free. I showed the ticket staff my work visa and got my free ticket. That saved me ten euros.

The main highlight of the Louvre was probably the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. I don’t think many people know why the painting is so famous, and I don’t either. Like everyone else, I went to see it purely because it’s famous.

The whole area we were in housed many Italians and Spanish paintings from the Renaissance. I didn’t understand any of the paintings, but I noticed that people back then really liked to paint about Christianity. A lot of the paintings showed Jesus on the cross. In other paintings, they really liked to paint naked people. Naked men, women and kids showed up in so many paintings.

The next group of exhibits we went featured art from the Americas, Africa, and Asia. They displayed mostly sculptures from various native groups living in the area a long time ago. It was quite interesting to see the difference in art among all these cultures.

Afterward, we looked at the section on Egyptian art. Here they showed various relics left over from the Ancient Egyptian civilization. They displayed various styles of sarcophagi used in the past and also urns of mummified remains. Among all the relics, the ones they showed the most were the stone tablets and papyrus paper with hieroglyphics written on them. I don’t know what any of it means, so for all I know the writing could just be something ordinary like, “today I went fishing by the river.”

At this point, we realized that the museum was so large that we wouldn’t be able to get through it all. So we looked at the map and chose to see what we wanted to see most.

We then arrived at the exhibit about French culture from the 14th to 17th century. The decorations in the rooms was decorated the same way as the old French style and it made the room look so beautiful.

Our next exhibit was Ancient Greece. The majority of items here were statues of the Greek Gods. These statues were pretty much everywhere, but they were all interesting too. It goes to show how devout the Greeks were when it came to worship.

The next item on our list was to find the Code of Hammurabi. Along the way, we went through the exhibit for Mesopotamia. Although not far from Greece geographically, their culture differed immensely.

When we arrived at the Code of Hammurabi, I saw a giant stone, but on it were a set of laws inscribed into it. It basically spoke of the consequences of actions that people did. A lot of it resembled the principle of “an eye for an eye”. For example, if a builder builds a house collapses on its owner, then the builder shall be put to death.

After being at the Louvre for about five hours, we were ready to leave. We didn’t even see half of the museum. I’m sure there are people that stay there for like ten hours or something. I even saw people sitting down with their artboards and drawing the sculptures they saw. As we left, we saw a huge crowd of people waiting to get in. I’m glad we went early. We barely waited at all.

After leaving the Louvre, we went to the metro to make our way to the Arc de Triomphe, located on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, the rich district in Paris. It is a monument constructed for Napoleon to showcase his triumphs. It stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle. The monument also honours the soldiers who fought and died for France during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Also there is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War.

The flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is always lit. It serves as a memorial for all the soldiers killed in action who could not be identified during the First World War. I went up to the grave to pay my respects and gave him the traditional three bows that the Chinese typically give to the deceased.

Also there was a plaque of Charles de Gaulle’s famous BBC radio speech to the French people in 1940, telling them not to lose hope, and that the war does not only affect France, but rather the entire world.

The arc also named the major victorious battles of the Napoleonic Wars. The inside walls of the arc name most of the generals who served under Napoleon and the names of those who died are underlined.

When we were finished at the arc, we went back to the Eiffel Tower to get one last look of it before leaving. On the side of the tower were the names of famous French engineers. As an engineer, myself, I had to look at each name to see which ones I recognized. I ‘d say I knew about a quarter of them. They were people like, Lagrange, Carnot, Ampere, Fourier, Clapeyron and Laplace.

While we all took more pictures of the tower, we had the idea of getting our French friend to wear the stereotypical French hat and hold a baguette while we took pictures of him with the Eiffel Tower in the background. It was so stereotypically French that this teenage girl got so excited seeing that she wanted a picture with him. We joked that if working at Bosch didn’t work out for him, he could make a living taking pictures with tourists in Paris! We stayed there until it was time leave for our train back home.

Paris was quite a beautiful city to visit, especially in the tourist locations, but some parts of the city were quite dirty, especially on the metro. That part of the city I didn’t really like, but the rest was amazing.

On the train, I tried to go to my assigned seat, but unfortunately a family had taken up all the seats there. I didn’t want to make them all find new seats, since I knew how hard it was to get everyone to sit together as a group without reservations, so I went to find an empty seat instead.

On the way home, due to some technical difficulty, the train made an unscheduled stop in the middle of nowhere. This delayed us by about twenty minutes and we all wondered how we were going to catch our connecting train. We found out later that our connecting train was going to wait.

As we crossed the border, the police came by checking people’s passports. In the entire wagon, only one of my friends and I were checked for passports. They did that probably because of the fact that we looked foreign.

As the train got closer and closer to Stuttgart, I was reminded of the fact that I’d have to go to work the next day and that I’d return to my usual routine once again. At the same time, I felt really good about the fact that I can now cross off another place on my list of places to visit.

Photo album here

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