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07 August 2015 @ 10:12 am
Notre Dame is Overrated. There, I said it!  
All my recent blogs seem to be tools I use to avoid the nauseating fact that is riding a train facing backwards. This one is particularly bad. It sways like an ocean liner. Bleargh.

Day 39! My first full day in Paris. So what to do but... sleep in and then go on a walking tour! Yaaaaay~!

I took the Metro to Cité, which is where you'd find Notre Dame and all that, and met my free tour at Saint Michel's Fountain, which itself is a pretty sight. I arrived with about 15 minutes to go, so I took the time to grab a sandwich with tomato, lettuce and goat cheese that was grilled so the cheese was all melty and it was delicioussss~. And cheap. Cheap is always a bonus.

And then it was time for the tour! My guide was from Mexico and has worked as a tour guide both there and in Cambridge. So he's got about a decade's worth of experience. He gave us all an extensive speech about how we should tip ethically, and talked about how most local tours cost 20 euros, which was like – awkward, because sir, if I could afford to pay 20 euros, I would go to one of those.

So that got the tour off to an uncomfortable start, but he was a pretty solid tour guide. We of course went to Notre Dame and talked about how Napoleon basically told the Catholic Church to GTFO of his power structure.

Then we walked to the Pont Neuf, and discovered a fence where everyone now puts their love locks, because the love lock bridge is dead. Having subsequently crossed many bridges and passed many famous buildings, I can assure you that love locks are basically being placed EVERYWHERE IN THE CITY. So I think those dudes need to build a fence specifically dedicated to the love locks ASAP.

We also learned about how horse statues are actually symbolic, if they're made after a certain era, and the position of the horse's feet basically indicates how a person died. All I remember is that the front two feet up means that the person died in battle, all four feet down means they died of natural causes, and one front foot up and one back foot up means they were murrrdereeeddd. Don't ask me why I felt the need to stretch out that word.

Then we went to the Louvre, and as we were walking in I was all “What is this giant building here? Is this a government office of some sort? How odd. Where are the pyramids?” because the only thing I've ever seen/know about the Louvre is those glass pyramids. But did you know that those things are brand new and not really where the Louvre is? I did not. It's housed in giant buildings that are former royal palaces. And I'm staring at these things and going “DEAR GOD THE LARGEST MUSEUM”. It's not officially the largest museum but it sure seems impressive by how far it's spread out.

Then we walked through this park to this big square which are both famous but I don't remember the names of either of them, shame me in the comments if you must, and the tour ended there. So I walked down to admire the giant obelisk in the middle of the square. “You might think that Napoleon stole this, because he stole so much from Egypt” said my tour guide as we had arrived. “But it was actually a gift because a French man figured out how to read hieroglyphics by translating the Rosetta Stone.” So that's pretty nice, I guess. Although if somebody stole that much stuff from me I wouldn't be thrilled with the idea of giving them a priceless gift but WHATEVER.

Our tour guide had told us it was a really nice walk to the Eiffel Tower from there, so that sounded like a good idea. What I'd forgotten was that it's a so-hot-milk-is-a-bad-choice kind of day and I had to buy two bottles of water on this walk, which as it turned out, was about a 40 minute walk. I was more or less melting by the end of it.

Wow it was impressive, though. It honestly took me by surprise. I did not expect the Eiffel Tower to be anything special, but that thing is INSANELY tall. I had no idea how tall it was. I mean yes, I should have figured, considering how it stuck out from the rest of the city, but somehow, I wasn't expecting skyscraper height. It was just enormous. The idea that they built this thing as an ENTRANCE GATE for a world's fare that was only going to last 20 years – that is INSANE. No wonder public opinion was so strongly against it. I mean, I know that it's now the so-popular symbol of France, but my lord. Up front that would have seemed like the biggest waste of money.

Then I wandered around the fair grounds – I mean not really, but they felt a lot like them – and looked for a good souvenir and ended up finding a bunch of food stalls instead. So I checked my watch, discovered that it was actually dinner time, and decided to indulge. The thing that drew me was so damn weird that I had to stand and stare at the food for a long while, watched other people be served it, and then walked up to the woman at the counter and was like “C'est un peu mysterieux, tout ça.” and she laughed and explained to me that basically, they would give me a plate which was actually a big flat piece of bread, they would put salad and fries on it, and then they'd slap down a big serving of stew in the middle of it of one of many different types of meats. I asked for duck stew. There were peppers, and onions, and freshly fried up duck. Pretty delicious. Pretty difficult to eat, because the bread was a plate which meant that if I put it down somewhere, I couldn't eat it, so I'm just sitting there balancing my “plate” in one hand while trying to eat my duck with the tiniest fork one has ever had the pleasure of seeing. It was awkward, yet I managed not to get it all over myself.

Then I had an ice cream as I headed to the nearest metro, Metro'd my way home to my hotel – and I'm going to choose this place to talk about the Metro announcer on the #4 line, because it's as good a place as any. He announces every station twice. Once just before we arrive, and the second time as we come to a stop. But the first time, he says it like a question – like he's lost, and is trying to reassure himself that he's in the right place, but isn't entirely confident, and it's not until we come into the station that he's sure of himself. So it's like “Raspail?” and then there's a pause, and then as you can see the signs show up, it's as if he's gone “aaah yes, I'm right” and then he says “Raspail!” And inwardly you feel proud of him for getting it right. Good work, sir.

So I got off the Metro, had a brief adventure in a grocery store that was so poorly laid out that pretty much everyone there was wandering aimlessly trying to find what they needed. At first I was worried it was just me but then I heard three other people telling their shopping companions that this was the worst layout they'd ever seen, and I felt justified.

So I purchased a bottle of lemon squeeze which I figured would be lemonade-ish but turned out to really just be a giant bottle of lemon juice, which means I was lucky I bought several liters of water as well so I could cut it. I also bought some locally grown yellow plums, which were delicious, and some red currants, because I figured I wasn't likely to see them in another grocery store for a long time. I expected the currants to be sweet because they were huge and swollen, but NOPE. More sour than gooseberries. Pretty intense.

Then I watched some French TV, which was mostly English TV dubbed over with French voices, and also One Piece, because there seems to be a channel that just plays One Piece all goddamn day. I also saw three One Piece pirate flags in town, which is almost as many French flags as I'd seen the whole time.

Then it was sleep time. Zzzzs were had.

Day 40! Another milestone. Only one more number divisible by 10 until I'm home!

On Day 40 I decided I needed to see every thing that was stereotypical Paris I had not yet seen. So I went to Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Arc du Triomphe.

Notre Dame was first, so – first order of business was yet again subsisting off of a street food sandwich, which was tasty but not nearly as much as the one the day before. But I impressed the guy there who was speaking to me in English by responding to him every time in French. He wouldn't switch over, even still, but damn it this is a matter of principle.

So I waited in the substantial line for Notre Dame, and got inside, and I was like... y'know what, this church isn't so impressive. I can only assume that this is Victor Hugo's fine work, the fact that the cathedral is so hyped up. I have been to multiple churches that are a great deal cool-

OH MY GOD I CAN LITERALLY SEE A COOLER CHURCH OUT THE WINDOW RIGHT NOW. WHERE ARE WE.

We are in Lisieux! I got a picture. Sorry, I got distracted for a moment there, where was I?

Oh right, so Notre Dame. No big deal. Most notable thing: the fact that the confessional is set up like an office, with a giant desk with one chair on one side, one on the other, and filing cabinets.

Which – like- are you keeping records on what people confess, priests, because I'm pretty sure that's against the rules.

Other than that there were some nuns begging, and a little gift shop where half the stuff didn't even have prices on it, which meant I didn't buy stuff I might have otherwise, but – who knows. I assumed it was super expensive. Maybe I was right. I mean, the rosaries were priced and those were 10 euros which is madness.

So then I left Notre Dame, and walked to the Louvre, and avoided the many people trying to sell me selfie sticks – oh my God, tourists, you look insane when you take photos of things with your forward-facing camera with a selfie stick. Remove your phone from the stick when you are not actively selfie-ing, you lunatics.

The Louvre had a half hour line, which I spent behind THE WORST FAMILY IN THE WORLD. I'm sorry, human beings. Maybe you have good traits. All I know is that I was in line behind you, and there was a silent father, two daughters, and a son, and a mother who was actively encouraging the oldest daughter to shame the younger daughter for not wearing sexier clothing and mascara and looking a little more “like a woman”. SHE COULD NOT HAVE BEEN OLDER THAN 10. Like, listen, if your kid is precocious and wants to try using makeup and dressing up I'm actually of the opinion that they should be allowed to. But holy hell, if your 10 year old doesn't want to wear mascara, SHUT UP ABOUT IT. And then they moved on to shaming the son for not showing an interest in girls yet and being shy and I just wanted to shove this mother over the barricade and into the selfie-stick buskers so much.

Eventually I got away from these infuriating people and wandered the Louvre! It's a big museum, as I expected, and very easy to get lost in. I actually don't find art super interesting, so I just kind of rushed through the whole thing. So sue me, this segment of culture ain't my thing. I did see the Mona Lisa, and the Venus de Milo, and all that. I was prepared for the fact that the Mona Lisa is tiny and relatively inconsequential and has to be seen through a wall of 200 people, so it was pretty cool to see, but not particularly amazing. I wasn't actively disappointed, though!

The coolest part of the Louvre is actually the piece of the Louvre that was left the way it was when the royals actually lived there, which kind of leads me to think that they should have just left this palace the way it was and built themselves another art museum. I think that palace, if kept in its entirety, would have rivaled the Biltmore in a showing of ludicrous wealth.

My point: cloth “wallpaper” is the sign of a true madman with far too much money.

After wandering the entire museum in about 4 hours (and considering how fast I was going, that's an indication of how huge this place is) I headed out of the building and towards the Arc. It was visible straight from the Louvre, but my lord it was hot out. I stopped twice to purchase a drink because I desperately needed one. I also stopped in a souvenir store, where I broke a christmas ornament that they extreeemely kindly did not charge me for because there's nothing like spending 15 euros on absolutely nothing.

I saw the Arc! I – uhm – didn't do much there. Just looked at it. Then escaped to the Metro. Back home, found a bakery, purchased myself yet another sandwich (still not as good as goat cheese sandwich, probably the second best I had anyway) and walked home to my hotel, and enjoyed it with my giant tub of lemon juice.

Then I watched more TV, talked to the Motherly Unit, Skyped with Adam, and slept! With literally no idea of what I was going to do the next day, but with ambitions to be supremely lazy all day so my aching feet could recover.

And here I'll take a wee break for we are almost in Caën.

I'm here! But the reception of the hotel is locked. Fortunately it is a beautiful day so I can wait the hour until they open again out here on the terrace, typing my blog.

So! Uh, where was I going with this. Right.

Day 41! I woke up at noon, feeling incredibly well-rested, and basically right there and then decided that I would go to the Père Lachaise Cemetery where there are many famous graves, and also go on a walking tour of Montmartre, which is a cool neighbourhood that was built up by artists in the Belle Epoque. This tour got really talked up by my Mexican-Cambridge-French tourguide on day 1 so I was pretty curious. Turned out to be the best decision I made in Paris, but that story comes later.

SO. I get on my train and make my way to the Cemetery. What's there to say about the Cemetery? Well, I saw the grave of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and Edith Piaf, which is, in a morbid way, pretty cool. But I'll start from the beginning.

I just started randomly wandering at first, reading the tombstones and trying to puzzle out why all these people from EXTREMELY different time periods were all buried together and coming up with nothing, and then I was like “I should actually formulate a plan because this place is enormous and I will just end up lost with the dead people.”

So I went to Oscar Wilde's grave! Because it was closest.

His grave has a giant Egyptian figure on it for reasons I don't really understand, and is protected by plastic and a rotating host of armed guards. This is because apparently, ladies keep climbing onto the grave next to him (TACKY, TACKY, holy hell the people disobeying basic cemetery etiquette in this place), putting on bright coloured lipstick, and giving the grave a smooch so it leaves a mark on it. I don't quite understand this ritual. I mean surely, you would at least want your gentleman friends to be the ones participating in that action? I don't recall Mr. Wilde being particularly up for lady smooches. Maybe it's a reference I'm not getting.

From there I wandered in the general direction of Jim Morrison's grave, and on the way saw graves for every particular variety of war casualties France could have possibly had (Tunisia, Morocco, WWI, WWII, etc), as well as separate graves for their allies in the same conflicts, as well. They also had a bunch of graves for members of the Communist Party, which made me laugh because wow that would not fly in so many places, and here it's like “these heroes helped us oust the Nazis”.

Also, there were a bunch of graves that made me stop and stare at them and go “Wow, an ASSHOLE was buried here”. Because listen. Sepulchers and Mausoleums are cool. I am the first to admit that. But if you feel the need for yours to be 20 feet high and have “BLESSED BY JESUS THE SON OF GOD” written on them in enormous letters, as well as a bunch of statues of angels surrounding your sculpted charicature, I am going to assume you were an asshole with way too much money.

There were also really depressing graves, including one that said (all this is in French, of course), “My son was the only thing that kept me alive, but he preceded me to the grave”, or something like that, and that was THE SADDEST. People who buy a family grave where the first name carved on it is a baby's – HEARTBREAK.

I ended up taking a wrong turn and getting kind of lost on my way to Jim Morrison's grave, because this cemetery is huge and meandering, but eventually I found it. I had totally expected a bigger crowd in front of Jim's grave, but there were half the people there were for Oscar Wilde and the fence wasn't nearly so large. There was a tree covered in bubblegum, though. ...Another reference I don't get.

Then my last goal was to find Edith Piaf. Turns out, in my wandering to find Jim Morrison, I had passed her grave TWICE and not realized, which – I am disappointed in your lack of respect for Edith, tourists. That place should have been crowded.

So I found her grave, and stood next to it while listening to “Je ne regrette rien”, which was a pretty champ moment in my life. Her grave is pretty unassuming, and she shares it with several other people – as I recall they are all people with pretty tragic stories.

Of the three graves I saw, I have to say that hers was most meaningful to me personally – but I don't know why!

Then a bunch of tourists showed up and sat on all the graves surrounding her and like – climbed on top of graves around so they could get to her because I was in the pathway, and... AUUUUGH come on people respect the resting places of the dead, you dicks. I only accept that behaviour from small children who are too busy loving life to realize that there are people who might be upset by them climbing on these cool rock slabs.

Then I departed and made my way to where my walking tour was going to start! I walked out of the Metro and was like “...Well! There's the Moulin Rouge! ...That was unexpected!”

Second observation: “HOT DAMN THIS NEIGHBOURHOOD IS SKETCHY.”

Which, I guess shouldn't be a surprise, it's where all the sex shops, brothels and cabarets are. But it was nonetheless unpleasant to be there.

But I waited for my tour (and got a Subway sandwich because I had all of 10 minutes to eat before it started) and thus encountered the MOST ENDEARING TOUR GUIDE EVER.

Her name is Roberta, and she was born in the North of England (think: York) and then moved to Sicily (think: The Godfather) and then moved to France because she loved French culture and as a result her accent is BONKERS. She also has all of the delightful colloquialisms of Northern England and all of the exaggerated hand-gestures and energy of Italians. She was an absolute delight, my God.

So Roberta promises us a tour filled with “Sex! And sex! And art! And art! And sex! And suicide! And more suicide! And MORE suicide! And then a bit of sex at the end there.” and only she could make suicide sound so exciting.

So, we went on the tour. We talked about the red light district, and all about the Moulin Rouge, and the famous artists that frequented it. We talked about Amelie, and she showed us the café where they filmed most of it. We talked about Van Gogh, and she showed us an apartment where he lived for a while. It was obvious that everyone that currently lived there hated us. Apparently a woman once leant out the window of her apartment and declared in heavily accented English “'E dozzent live 'ere anymohre!” which the tour just found profoundly amusing.

IMHO, if you buy an apartment at a place that bears a plaque that declares that somebody famous once lived there, you cannot then be upset that tourists drop by to look at your apartment building.

Roberta also told us about the Bobos, aka hipsters, that took over the neighbourhood. But this isn't Main Street style hipsters – this is a worse vintage of hipster. Somebody who was born with a ton of money but has pretensions of artistic desires and thus moves into the “artsy” side of town, gentrifies the hell out of it, and turns it into the most expensive area in Paris. So many artisinal coffee shops.

So she complained about the Bobos a lot, which was funny. Then we walked up the hill to this statue of a woman named Dalida, who is a very famous singer, and had a lot of very famous romances, where literally every one of her lovers seems to have killed himself. “Not over her, which is even worse!” says Roberta. Is it really worse? I'm not sure. Anyway, she ended up committing suicide too, at 53, which is pretty rough. Poor woman.

It's apparently good luck if you touch statue Dalida's breasts, so Roberta encouraged us all to do it and then marched us up the hill to Sacre Coeur, which is legit already a more impressive church than Notre Dame, and it also features an amazing view, and I didn't even have to leave Paris to find it, so I repeat: what's all the fuss about Notre Dame?

Anyway! We got 4 minutes to take pictures of the view, and then she took us into the tourist trap restaurant central area by the church, and then down to Picasso's old haunt, and she finished the tour by being like “hey, a ton of people we talked about on this tour were depressed, but Pablo Picasso sure wasn't!” to which I say: “yes, but wasn't he also supposedly a huge jerk?”

I mean, I didn't say it out loud, but I thought it.

Then I followed her directions towards a supposedly good restaurant, but I couldn't find it where she said it was. Instead I found myself back in the supremely sketchy area of town, and was so intimidated I didn't even want to wander to find a restaurant. So I didn't! I went back to the area where my hotel was, found a place that served a savoury gallette and a sweet crepe and a beverage in one meal deal, was deeply impressed by how tasty it all was, and then returned to my room, very much wishing a grocery store was open so I could get something to drink.

Back up to my room, another Skype chat with Adam, another call to the parental units, and then it was 2am and I was like “Oh God I guess I should sleep” but also I was supremely glad that checkout was at noon.

Which brings us to...

Day 42! Today! Again, uneventful. I got checked out, I made my way through the metro system to St. Lazare, the train station I was due to be at. I got lunch there, which yet again involved a sandwich, as well as a supremely mediocre croissant. (Also, can we talk about how the places called La Croissanterie don't seem to actually sell croissants, because what's up with that?)

Then I got on a train, came to Caën, and got to the hotel via taxi... but they won't let me check in unless I pay for everyone's room, as it turns out! Which was not the scenario I was expecting.

I honestly can't remember if Kat & family are supposed to arrive at 7pm or 9pm, which now makes a substantial difference as to my level of feeling the need to pay for the rooms rather than wait, because either I'd wait an hour, which is no big deal, or three, which is more of a deal. I honestly cannot recall. Whoops.

Well, with the blog done, I guess I'm going to go inside and see if they have wifi. So I can post this thing, and also check when my latest traveling companions arrive!

UPDATE: She let me into the room without paying, although I think I'm going to have to pay anyway, because reception closes at 9 (WTF?) and everybody has to be paid up by then. So OH WELL.
 
 
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