Tuesday, September 24, 2013

European Adventure - Part 1: Paris, France

Okay....so I have basically written off the idea of this whole blog thing. It sounded like something I would enjoy when I started it two years ago. Needless to say, the last time I wrote in it was on January 29, 2012. Let's just say, life gets busy.

Now, though, I have something exciting that I want to document while it is all fresh in my memory. We have just returned from a European adventure that I do not want to forget. Over the next few days or weeks I plan to chronicle our trip through text, photos and video.

We have been planning this trip since the beginning of this year (2013.)  After countless hours researching accommodations and attractions we developed the following itinerary to be completed over a two week holiday from September 6 to September 22, 2013:

1) Paris, France (3 nights)
2) Tuscany outside Florence, Italy (2 nights)
3) Rome, Italy (1 night)
4) Prague, Czech Republic (3 nights)
5) Munich, Germany (2 nights)
6) Traben-Trarbach, Germany (2 nights)
7) Dusseldorf, Germany (1 night)
8) Amsterdam, Netherlands (1 night)

This first post details our stay in Paris, France...the first stop on our journey.

So step one....get to Paris. Kellie and I both worked a full day on September 6 and headed to the airport immediately after, around 3:30. Our flight, scheduled for 5:20 pm central time, departed on time and we arrived in Paris around 8:35 am local time. Thus, we planned to hit the ground running with a full day ahead of us. That....didn't happen. Getting through customs took what seemed a lifetime and we finally hopped on a train to reach our accommodations around 10:30 am.

Our stay in Paris lasted three nights. We stayed in a HomeAway rental two blocks from the Eiffel Tower. The apartment was awesome and the hosts were very helpful and kind. The picture below is of the front of our building. Our apartment was located on the ground floor of the building, just off the main entrance. It overlooked the building's central courtyard, which was excellent!

The apartment had everything we needed for a few day's stay. I took the photos below shortly after waking up from the nap we took immediately after checking in with our hosts, Paolo and Anthea. Yes, we took a nap upon arrival. I felt really guilty about burning daylight on the first day of our trip, but we were simply too tired after not sleeping a wink on our flight and basically missing a night's sleep. 

After a quick shower we hit the town. It was about 2:30 pm....and we were starving. We stopped at a market just down the street from our place to pick up some water and a few food items. Then, after dropping everything off at our place, we walked to the Eiffel Tower since it was so close. 

This is a wonderfully flattering photo below....but, there we are....in front of the tower!!

After visiting the tower we wandered around to find a place to eat. We chose the place pictured below, Le Champ de Mars. It was on a busy intersection where six different streets came together so we knew there would be plenty of people watching available. We ordered pasta and wine (sorry...no pics) and enjoyed our first Parisian dinner!

After dinner we did some more walking around, simply to take in all the sights. We were still really tired from our flight and decided to head back to the apartment just as it started to get dark. I snapped the picture below as we passed by the Eiffel Tower on our walk back. I am still entirely mesmerized by this monument; we have all seen pictures of it our entire lives....it is sooo recognizable as a symbol of France....and, to me, of Europe....and I simply couldn't get over the fact that I was standing there looking at it...at the real thing.

Upon arriving back at our place we cracked open a bottle of wine that we had picked up along our way and had a glass before bed as we planned our game plan for the following day, our second day in Paris.

We woke up relatively early on our second day with a goal of climbing the Eiffel Tower first thing, in an effort to avoid the long lines we had expected and read about. Kellie, below, is looking quite lovely in her new shades on our walk to the tower....her morning perkiness likely due mostly to the espresso maker (a toy I don't have but totally plan on buying now) provided in our apartment!!

For those who haven't been, the tower has three levels that one may visit. The first is directly above the main arches that make up the base of the tower. The second is slightly above that and the third is reachable by elevator from the second level. My plan was to make it to the top. When we arrived the lines were short and I was determined. We bought tickets to the second floor and started walking up the stairs, however, by the time we finally reached the second level where we would then buy tickets to the top I decided we had gone far enough. My fear of heights had been challenged enough already...AND....we had plenty packed into our day's plans already....so I'll have to put the third level on my list of things to do NEXT TIME!!!

The picture below is of the Champ de Mars (the name of the adjacent green space) from the first level of the tower....

....and this picture is of the Champ de Mars from the second level of the tower.

Here we were....all sweaty and stuff from our ascent.....

...sure we would look and feel like the people in the following picture by the time we reached the bottom.

But honestly....the climb wasn't that bad....I would definitely do it again. My fear of heights was the worst part.

Below is a panorama from the view opposite that of the Champ de Mars.

The second level of the tower also afforded multiple views of one of my favorite architectural features of the buildings I was seeing in Paris....the courtyards in buildings. As I mentioned before, our apartment had one and we could see that others did, too, as we walked past main entrances to buildings on the street. I snapped the following picture of one before we headed back to the ground. Cool, right?? I think so...

Next on our agenda was The Louvre, but we stopped for brunch on our way.

I ordered a beer with my food...

...and Kellie ordered a hot chocolate.

After brunch we continued making our way to The Louvre, snapping the following photos a long the way...

...before finally arriving on The Louvre grounds!

The first thing we did at The Louvre was visit the Mona Lisa, because....essentially....one has to. Then we spent a couple of hours wandering around the museum. Honestly, we didn't enjoy it, aside from the architectural features we noted including a few grand staircases and the apartments added on for heads of state back in the day...

...but ultimately, when in Paris, one must see it.

After The Louvre we had plans to walk toward Notre Dame and toward the Latin District. We snapped the pictures below on our way.

Notre Dame was absolutely amazing. I was completely in awe of the place. After a very short wait in line we were inside. We didn't think of it when we first walked in, but we had arrived at the perfect time...shortly before 6 pm mass. I was able to record the first several minutes of the service (seen here). I am not a religious person, however, that did not stop me from feeling the history of the place emanating from its walls. With the music and atmosphere it was hard to not get choked up a bit.

After Notre Dame our feet were pretty much killing us. We knew we wouldn't be able to do the Latin District so we decided to start heading in the direction of our apartment. After a quick replacement of Kellie's band-aids.....

...we hit the cobblestones...

...had a couple crepes...

...stopped in a candy store (doesn't that look amazing??)...

...and admired the architecture as we continued walking toward our apartment. 

After we finally made it back to our apartment (I swear, our feet were bleeding) we enjoyed a glass of wine and tried a few of the macaroons we bought from the candy store where we stopped along our journey.

Exhausted and tired, we walked across the street and ordered some beer...


...and dinner. Kellie ordered french onion soup and a salad.

I ordered a turkey salad. It was sooooooooooo good.

I ordered another beer.

Then we ordered dessert. Kellie ordered a chocolate mousse...

...and I ordered a caramel thing. I don't remember what it was called, but it tasted heavenly.

After dinner, even though our feet were killing us, we walked to the Eiffel Tower because we wanted to see it lit up at night. We stopped by our apartment to pick up a bottle of wine to enjoy while we admired the tower. Earlier we saw several groups of people doing the same...so we assumed it was legal. Turns out, it isn't, but I can assure you no one was arrested in the taking of these photos.

On the way back to our apartment, before turning in for the evening, Kellie found this lovely statue.

It rained on our third and final full day in Paris. We had planned on going to visit Versailles and the Paris catacombs. Unfortunately our research during the night before revealed Versailles is closed on Mondays. So instead we slept in a bit, got ready for the day, bought a couple umbrellas and spent the late morning wandering around the little shops near our apartment. When we got hungry we took the metro to the Arc de Triomphe and had a late lunch or early dinner. You should note.....Kellie's smoked salmon sandwich ended up being RAW salmon. I don't have any pictures...(I don't know what I was thinking)...she gave it a good effort...but the fish ultimately won. She couldn't finish the delicacy. I had a shrimp salad.

Taking the metro to the Arc de Triomphe was really easy. Overnight I had downloaded an app that detailed the Paris metro system, making it much easier to understand. Although we wished we had discovered it a day earlier (our feet still ached from the previous day) we took the opportunity to do a bit more exploring in the city and rode the metro to a few random stops.

As it became dark we hopped on the metro for a final ride toward our apartment. Earlier we had picked up some pastries, breads and cheeses to enjoy for a late dinner or snack with wine in our little Parisian apartment.

Paris was a lot of fun and I definitely look forward to going back someday. On our next visit we will be sure to include Versailles in our itinerary. We will also visit the catacombs, which we ultimately skipped due to the slow morning and weather on the day we had planned to go. We will also take better advantage of the city's metro system. It is excellent and I wish we had learned it sooner rather than later. Utilizing it to its full potential would have made the large city much less daunting...and easier on our legs and feet.

I don't have more pictures from Paris (although I did make this video tour of our apartment), but on our final morning we packed up our things and took one final stroll through the neighborhood surrounding our apartment. After an hour's walk we stopped back to grab our stuff, bought a metro ticket to the airport and set out for our next destination....Italy!

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