Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 3 - Versailles - The Sugar Land of Paris

Hi Team,

Well it's my first full day in Paris.  As it turns out, I was so excited about finally making it to the city, that I decided to immediately leave it the next morning and go to the Palace of Versailles.  It is in the 'burbs which obviously accounts for how these royalty folks could afford and build such a nice house.  Property taxes are probably a killer though.

Overall, it's quite a nice place to live I would think:  Wood parquet floors (no berber carpet to be found, however, not even in the bedrooms, which was a turnoff for me honestly), marble walls, gold inlaid crown molding, and a couple of pictures to hang on the wall.  Not quite as good as my living room shots of Lou Gehrig but passable. Unfortunately, I didn't see an indoor basketball hoop either so I had to take points off for that, but in the end, I could see the appeal.

In all seriousness, this place is huge.  I mean monstrous.  There are 700 rooms in this place.  And I don't mean ones that could be a small study or a closet.  I mean you could park 10 cars in there.  It's no wonder the French people got fired up and beheaded some of these folks.  And I'm only talking about the house right now.

If you go outside, you get to the Gardens with a capital G.  If you walked from the palace to the end of it (or at least what I thought was the end) it would take a solid 10 minutes, and walking the other two cardinal directions would take you probably twice as long.

I took the Metro out from the city center to Versailles around 9 or so in the morning.  It was about a 20-30 train ride.  While I was getting tickets I ran into a couple by the name of Fred and Cheryl Wood from Tuscon who were heading the same way. We started talking and hung out the entire train ride and up to the Palace while waiting in line.  They are wonderful people and I really enjoyed the visit.  Here is a shot of us after we finally got past security:

After that I started my trip inside.  They are constantly doing restorations on the palace.  Here is a shot of the before and after.

This is the backyard.  I spoke to the groundsman and he claims he can mow, weed eat, edge, and blow in an hour, but I'm skeptical.

Obligatory shot of me photoshopped into a picture of Versaille to "prove" I'm there.

To give you an idea of how big the Garden was, this is an absolutely beautiful lake that was on the side of the house that I had no idea was there until I walked up on it.

Me taking a shot of myself in the famous Hall of Mirrors.

This is the Queen's Bedchamber.  19 kids were born here, all in public so as to validate the legitimacy of the heir. Turns out they sell the exact same bed at Ikea for those of you who are interested.

My favorite room in the Palace:  The Hall of Battles which is over 30 paintings of this size in the largest  room in Versailles at 120 meters long.  In it are depictions of all of the famous battles in French History.  This is kind of like their trophy room.  Over a 1500 year period or so, France has won the mythical national championship 35 times.

After a good 6 hours round trip, I headed back to the hotel and rested for a bit.  Grabbed some ice cream and went off to get some food a little later.  I went to this place called Le Camille which was a little cafe in the heart of a section of town called Marais.  It is near the Bastille and St. Paul Cathedral.  I had a rumsteak and more butter with mashed potatoes.  And for dessert this berry thing with a crumbled topping crust.  It was not my famous chocolate taco (you who have been fortunate enough to experience it know what I'm talking about) but it was good nonetheless.

I was seated next to a couple from near Vancouver, Doug and Anne, and we hung out and had dinner together.  This is turning into my favorite part of the trip in the early going.  I get to meet a fair number of people who I'd never meet otherwise and visit.  It's really quite nice.

This is a shot of a typical intersection near the Bastille. Controlled chaos at it's finest.    

And here is a shot of the Bastille.  This is where the famous prison used to be that was stormed by the French common folk in 1789, which is considered the beginning of the French Revolution. 

So that concluded my first full day in Paris.  The only issues I'm having right now is finding enough time to do everything and still get some sleep.  Good problem to have I think and will hit the trail again tomorrow.  Homann out.

Day 2 - Paris Baby!!!

Alright folks, after 23 hours of travel time, consisting of 4 planes, 3 security checkpoints, 2 airlines, 1 being pulled to the side to unpack and check my bag, and 0 delays (Thank God), I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport on the northwest side of town around 1:30 PM local time (7 hours ahead of CST).

First order of business was to get from the airport to my hotel in the city center.  I won't go into the details here but let's just say my lack of knowledge regarding the French language combined with my superior sense of direction made for a little longer than normal trek than I was hoping.  However, it all worked out in the end and I figured out (the hard way) how to navigate the rail system in town.

I made it to my hotel, Grand Hotel Levique, on Rue Cler, which is about a 10 minute walk from the River Seine.  I'm staying in a single room by myself which looks like this.  Shared bathroom and shower down the hall (which isn't as bad as you'd think).  Kinda like a poor man's Motel 6.

Actually, it's not bad at all and the location is wonderful.  Rue Cler is a very busy street with shops and cafes and fruit stands all up and down it.  Very Frenchish (new word alert!) and I'm very happy with my choice.

After settling in (and recouping for a few minutes from the trip) I decided my first order of business would be food (at a little place called Cafe du Marche) and then on to the Eiffel Tower.

At the restaurant I met an older couple from Denmark who spoke English, and we chatted for quite a while.  They were really nice and it was great just to talk with someone.   This will be the challenge of the trip I believe:  Going long periods of time without somebody needing to tell me it's time to play a round of "The Quiet Game".

Moving on to the Tower, I went close to twilight and went to the second of three levels.  I decided it wasn't that big of a deal to go to the top (save it for another time perhaps).  Lines weren't bad and I made it to my spot within 30 or so minutes.  The second tower is a little under 400 feet high (all the way to the top is 900 ft) and the whole thing weighs over 10,000 tons.  I really lucked out with the weather.  It's a solid 70+ here during the day and a nice 60 or so at night with a breeze.  The views were outstanding and I hung out till after nightfall to see the "City of Light" when it was doing its thing.

Here's a shot of me and if you squint, you can see the dome of Notre Dame Cathedral parallel with my right shoulder.

Here's a shot at dusk of the River Seine.  As you can tell, Paris is essentially a less prettier Houston.

This is a shot after I decided that I didn't need the elevator and would just walk down to the ground level.  Apparently, P90X does not do a good job of preparing one for stair climbing.  For those of you who will get this I did not quote "Bring It!" unquote.

This is from the bottom of the tower looking up.  I just thought it looked cool.  Useless FYI about the Eiffel Tower #3:  There are 336-600 Watt sodium lamps used to illuminate the tower (hence the yellow color)

And this is a shot of The Ol' Girl from a distance.  Quite impressive I think.

Quite a first day for me.  Paris, French food, Eiffel Tower:  these were all impressive things, but as always seems to be the case, some of the most spectacular events in one's life are also the least expected.  While walking home, I decided to get something to snack on in my room and stopped into a small store, when out of nowhere, fate ran me into this:

Chocolate and Caramel in one cereal!?  I may never leave France.