Henry Poon's Blog

Paris II

Day 146

Because I didn’t manage to see some of the attractions when I went to Paris the first time around, I went again. In this trip, I went to Paris as well as Normandy. This post only talks about Paris and I’ll write one later about Normandy. Even though it was my second visit to Paris, most of the sights I saw this time around were different.

Getting there

Since our trip involved going to Normandy, this meant that we needed to buy tickets using the French railway company rather than Deutsche Bahn. In order to avoid that, I used a EURail pass to go everywhere. However, since the EURail pass doesn’t come with train seat reservations, we had to go buy one for our train to Paris. It just so happened that the only train available for reservation was the City Night Line. We should have reserved seats for the train earlier than two days before. My friend and I managed to get the last two spots on the train. The third person we went with still had to buy his train tickets and ended up on a train that left earlier that night. This meant that we had to look for him once we arrived in Paris. When we got to Paris, we looked everywhere in the station for him and couldn’t find him. We couldn’t call him either because of the change in cellular network when leaving Germany.

Rather than waiting for him to show up we just proceeded to the hostel. I went to buy tickets from the lady at the ticket window and tried to buy day tickets for the Metro. Luckily, I had prepared for this due to my prior experience in Paris before. I had looked up the phrase in French for this and bought the tickets successfully. I managed to do this using only French. When I asked for the student discount the lady there asked me how old we were. Luckily I still remembered random French vocabulary from Grade 5 and I knew how to answer the question.

Once we got to the hostel and dropped everything off, we found that the check in time wasn’t until later in the afternoon. Finally, I got a text message from the friend we were trying to find and apparently he had been in the train station the whole time, but we somehow couldn’t find him. We went back to the station to get him and brought him back to the hostel.

The check-in process for our hostel was quite painful since the guy at the front desk looked like he tried to work as slow as possible. In order to check people into their rooms, each person had to fill out a form telling the hostel staff their names, nationality etc. Using the slowest work efficiency, he handed out the forms to one party at a time. It also didn’t help that the party ahead of us were a bunch of snobby American girls from Texas (they were probably even slower than the guy at the front desk). Once we filled out the forms, the guy would take his sweet time looking through the files to find our reservation while watching a Tennis game on the side. It look almost 45 minutes for us to check in. After checking in though, we began to see tourist attractions.

Arc de Triomphe

Although it was my second time coming here, I could still admire the beauty of the structure. It represented many of Napoleon’s victories and also featured many of his generals. On the ground directly underneath the arc, are plaques remembering the most recent wars that France fought in. Also there is a plaque of General de Gaulle’s radio speech to the French people over BBC. Near it is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

One end of the street is the location of the Arc de Triomphe, but on the opposite end is the location of the Louvre. We walked along this street for a little bit and stopped whenever we saw something cool. We ended up passing by the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. We also passed a bridge that had statues made of gold. Near the bridge, a couple was taking wedding photos. They definitely chose a wonderful place to do that. This is where we left the Champs-Élysées and walked across the street to the Invalides.

Les Invalides

This palace consists of museums and monuments that relate to the military history of France. It is also a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans. A few well known attractions there are Napoleon’s Tomb and the Museum of the Army.

Chapel of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides

The chapel here also matches the look of the exterior of the palace itself. It was inspired by Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Famous Tombs

The most notable tomb here is most definitely Napoleon’s. His sarcophagus sits in the center and directly beneath the dome of the Invalides. Among others buried here are some of his family and other French war heroes such as General Foch (he is the one who described the Treaty of Versailles in 1918 as an “armistice for 20 years”).

Musée de l’Armée

The Museum of the Army had exhibits that pretty much described all of France’s military history. We didn’t have enough time to see every exhibit so we only saw the exhibits on World War I, World War II, and France during the Medieval Age. Since we were all technically residents of the EU according to their definition (we each hold a student visa), they granted us free admission into the museum.

The exhibits on the two world wars had so many cool things to show. In addition to teaching the history of the wars, they also showed many weapons used in the wars. I got to see World War I and II era weapons, artillery, uniforms etc. They even had a V2 rocket. They also had a Nazi flag on display as well – something that people don’t ever see in Germany (even in museums).

The exhibits on the Medieval Age showed a large range of armour worn by warriors and even the armour used by their horses. The best part about this exhibit was that each set of armour had a different design in a variety of sizes. The exhibits even had a section showing Japanese and Chinese suits of armour. Also displayed were various weapons that the warriors carried. They showed different types of swords, crossbows, and even muskets.

Eiffel Tower by Day

This is probably the attraction that everyone goes to Paris for. I don’t think people come to Paris and don’t see the Eiffel Tower. It is just an amazing feat of engineering (at the time) and an amazing structure to look at.

Another thing I found out about the Eiffel Tower is that the grass fields in front of the, the Champ de Mars, is perfect for picnics. Anybody who has a chance to do that must do it. Maybe something like sitting on the lawn while eating a baguette while staring at the Eiffel Tower.

Notre Dame

This is another attraction that I revisited. I could have skipped going to this place when I came the second time around, but it is definitely a must-see for people who have never seen it before.

Place de la Bastille

Here is the historic location of the fortress-prison, Bastille Saint-Antoine. On July 14, 1789, an attack on this prison marked the beginning of the French Revolution. Every year on this day, France celebrates Fête de la Fédération, which is known as Bastille Day in English. Although the prison is no longer there, a historical plaque on the side of a building describes it. In the center of the roundabout here is the July Column, which is a monument to the Revolution of 1830, that saw the downfall of Charles X of France.

Eiffel Tower by Night

Because I never got to see this the first time I came, I had to take this opportunity to visit the tower in the night. However, since it is still early summer, the sun didn’t finish setting until around 11 PM, so I had to wait a little while before I could get a picture of the tower in the night without the light of dusk. While at the tower, I spotted a couple hugging in such a way that I could get a romantic shot (at least I tried to) of them with the Eiffel Tower (3rd pic).

Our reservation for the Eiffel Tower was at 11 PM, but we only managed to get tickets for the second level and not the top level because those tickets were all sold out. It was okay for me I guess, since I’ve already gone up to the top before. The lights of all the buildings looked really nice, but unfortunately my camera couldn’t really capture it that well. I tried playing with the exposure time, so that kind of helped.

On our way down, we didn’t want to wait for the elevator like everyone else so we took the stairs. I can’t prove it, but I think going down the stairs was totally faster than waiting for the elevator. Going down the stairs also allowed to see the giant lights that lit up the tower in the night. In addition to just the bright lights, the tower would have a light show every show often where the lights on the Eiffel Tower would flash. I only managed to see a bit of it as we left the tower.

Moulin Rouge

Another famous tourist attraction is the Moulin Rouge. It is located in the red light district, but the place attracts so many tourists who wish to see musical dance entertainment. The Moulin Rouge is also best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern can-can dance. We only looked at the outside, because the shows there were very much out of our budget (90 euros minimum).

Musée du Louvre

Since the Louvre was so large that I couldn’t see everything last time, I went back again this time to see the things I never saw the other time. One of the exhibits I missed out on last time was the exhibit on the interior design of the residence of Napoleon III. I also saw the inverted pyramid that the Da Vinci Code made so famous.

Château de Versailles

I originally thought that this mansion was just a mansion that Louis XIV lived in, and I never knew that the palace took up so much land area with its canals, gardens, and orchards. I knew Louis XIV lived extravagantly, but I never saw it firsthand until coming to this place. Seeing the remains of his rich-flaunting lifestyle gave me the impression that this guy must have been the biggest douche-bag ever. Almost everywhere around/in the palace was something made of gold or a fancy statue (sometimes both). Going inside Versailles would have cost us 15 euros, but since we’re residents of the EU, it was free.

When we got inside, we were surrounded by so many tourists that it was almost impossible to walk anywhere. It’s as if the staff there just kept letting people in regardless of how many people were inside just to make more money. It didn’t help that each doorway acted as a choke-point for all the people trying to get out.

Once we got outside, everything was okay. The air suddenly smelled nice, and we got to feel the gentle summer breeze. And we go to enjoy the beautiful gardens and orchards. There was even an artificial lake a few hundred meters down that people rowed boats on.

Père Lachaise Cemetery

Even though this place is a cemetery, it still attracts a lot of tourists probably because a lot of famous people are buried here. Names I know off the top of my head are Frédéric Chopin (pianist), Joseph Fourier (mathematician and physicist), and Jim Morrison (from The Doors). I didn’t really try to look for these people, but we did stumble onto Chopin’s grave. That was a really cool find. The graves here have the most extravagant design I’ve ever seen. All the graves I’m used to in Vancouver are just plaques in the ground, but the ones here are huge. One grave could be for an entire family and not just an individual.

Catacombes de Paris

I had no idea that the remains of about six million people were buried beneath Paris in a series of tunnels until I came here. The catacombs here used to be a limestone mine and even now the rocks on the ceiling of some of the tunnels still drip water. Before going in, we found out that the staff there only permitted 200 people inside at a time, so we ended up waiting in line for almost 2 and a half hours before being able to get in. Even though the tour was only about 45 minutes, it was so worth it. Never in my life have I seen skull and bones stacked up in such macabre ways. In some parts of the catacombs, some of the bones were loosened from the stack and people could easily take a giant femur and start waving it back and forth (I don’t know why anyone would do that though). And for those who are sick enough to, could steal a skull as a souvenir. Although, I couldn’t resist touching century-old skulls and bones. It is also said that Robespierre is among these remains, but no one knows exactly which one.

Photos: here

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