Archive for the 'France' Category

Paris, France

Karie on Dec 30th 2007 02:50 pm

Loosely following Frommer’s guide to “Paris in 2 days”, we started out with a bang.  Our first day began at the Louvre, the most visited art museum in the world.  It used to be a fortified royal palace, and it has been re-built and added to several times over the centuries, with parts of the existing building dating back to the 1500’s.  This place is massive.  You could run through the halls all day long and still not see everything.  Since Mr. Frommer had a huge list for us to accomplish that day, we prioritized.

We pretty much made a beeline for the Mona Lisa.  If you’ve never seen her, you might be surprised… some would even say disappointed.  It’s relatively small and unassuming.  I personally think that if they were to secretly move it into another area of the gallery without the plexiglas, ropes and guards, one might easily pass by and not give it a second look.  Nevertheless, it’s always cool to see a “masterpiece.”

We spent a couple hours hitting some of the other highlights, such as Venus de Milo, the crown jewels, etc., then we moved on.  We crossed Seine via the Pont Neuf, wandered through some parks, visited Notre Dame, walked the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, and ended the day at the Eiffel Tower.

We arrived around dusk, just as they illuminated the tower, giving an orange-colored hue to the clouds above, which hid the very top of the tower.  I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower before, but for some reason it seemed so much more magnificent this time.

We waited in line about an hour and a half to ride to the top, from which the view was… a cloud.   Dad is afraid of heights so I think he was actually grateful for the cloud, so he didn’t have to face the reality that the ants below were really humans.

We took loads of pictures of ourselves in the cloud before coming back down and stopping at level 2 (which was crystal clear with a beautiful view), then level 1… just because we really wanted to get our time and money’s worth.  Overall, we probably spent a good 3 hours in and around the tower.  It was one of the highlights of the trip for all of us.

Over the next couple of days we visited the Musée d’Orsay, which boasts the largest concentration of masterpieces, being stocked full of Monet’s, Manet’s, and Van Gogh’s in a renovated train station.  We also took a cruise along the Seine that was horribly boring.

Travelers Tip: do not follow Frommer’s advice to use the Bateaux Mouches company.  They repeated the same information in 7+ languages, so the boat moved sooo slow.  After a while you didn’t even bother to listen for your own language.  There are many other tour companies on the river that provide handheld devices allowing each person to listen in their preferred language, which would make the cruise much more engaging and enjoyable.

Magic in the City of Lights
Our final day in Paris was spent at none other than Disneyland Paris.  Since we had busted our tails with all the “must sees” in 2 days, we decided to take the opportunity to do something that we otherwise might never do again.

Disneyland Paris is about a 35 minute train ride outside of the city.  Despite getting off to a rough start after it’s opening in 1992, the happiest place on earth is now profitable, being one of the largest tourist attractions in Europe.

A few similarities between Disneyland Paris and Disneyland California: Main Street is almost identical, most things are in English, and the layout of the park is quite similar (except without a New Orleans Square, Bear Country and Toon Town).

A few differences: Space Mountain is 100x better in Paris, Indiana Jones is a completely different ride altogether, the Haunted Mansion is called Phantom Manor, and the Imagineers designed Sleeping Beauty’s castle to feel much more fair tale-ish, so as not to try to compete with the hundreds of “real” castles throughout Europe.

No matter what country you’re in or how old you are, Disneyland is magical… even if it’s damp outside and you discover that the soles of your tennis shoes are worn out and allow water seep in and soak your socks.

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Road Trip: Nice, France and Monte Carlo, Monaco

Karie on Dec 20th 2007 08:27 pm

The road trip continues as we head for the French Riviera, stopping in Nice for a couple of nights. “Côte d’Azur” (the blue coast), as they call it, is exactly what you see in the movies. Sand, crystal blue waters, and luxury cars as far as the eye can see.

From Nice, you can catch a 20-minute train to Monaco, which is one of the most unique places I’ve ever seen.  With roughly 32,000 residents, Monaco is the world’s 2nd smallest independent nation (following Vatican City)… and definitely among the wealthiest.  Walking through the casino in Monte Carlo makes the high rollers in Vegas look like amateurs.

We spent the first half of the day browsing through a Christmas market along the harbor.  There were vendors selling specialty gifts and food.  And of course, no sidewalk market on the sunny blue coast would be complete without a man-made winter wonderland for children, including ice skating, snow showing, skiing, snowmobiling, and a Christmas train.  It was possibly better than actually going to the snow.

From there, we walked along the Mediterranean, with yachts to the right and designer boutiques to the left, as we approached the infamous casino.  The front was lined with Ferraris, Bentleys, and an occasional Smart Car for the “green” millionaires.  Even the taxis are Mercedes.

After gawking at the opulence from every angle of the outside, we sucked it up and paid the 10 Euros each to go inside.  Unfortunately no cameras were allowed.  The inside was as ornate as any palace or cathedral we’ve seen in Europe.

I expected it to feel a bit like Vegas, with the noise of slot machines, ringing bells, loud chatter… Nope.  It was very quiet and subdued.  Just extremely wealthy men (mostly), complete with a few bad comb-overs, playing table games I didn’t understand.

It was still early, so there weren’t many people there.  In fact, we were the only ones in the slot machine room when I decided to kiss 5 Euro goodbye and consider it the cost of my brief entertainment.  Imagine my bliss when I turned 5 Euro into 9.35!   My profits covered half my entry fee, so I was pleased.

Then dad decided to give it a go at the roulette table.  He laid 10 Euro down on the first bet, lost it, and walked away.  But now we can say we’ve done it!

Our evenings were spent wandering through Old Town Nice, enjoying the good food, shopping, and soaking up the Christmas spirit.

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