Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Arc De Triomphe

On the same day we went to Versailles in the morning we also went to the Musée d'Orsay and the Musée de l'Orangerie in the afternoon. After the last museum closed we walked through the Tuileries Garden (it was all dead since it was winter) over to the Place de la Concorde.

The sunset on the Seine.

This bridge wins the prize for the most random thing we saw. Looks like this has been going on for a long time, but I have never heard about it. This bridge out in front of the Musée d'Orsay is full of "locks of love." You bring a lock, write your initials and the initials of your love on the lock, lock it onto the bridge and then throw the key in the river. The entire bridge was covered with locks, and there are people sitting the the bridge making a living by selling locks to passerbys. 

We also got our first good look at the Eiffel Tower.

There are not a lot of tall buildings in Paris, and most of the tall buildings are out away from the city center in the business district, La Défense. So the Eiffel Tower really "towers" over the city and if you are in an open area (not surrounded by buildings) you are bound to see it.

Back to Place de la Concorde. It is most famous for being the place where everyone was guillotined during the French Revolution. Yes, this is the place where Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Robespierre were all executed. Today it is a happening place with a large Ferris wheel nearby and a giant Egyptian obelisk in the center of the Place. The 3,000 year old obelisk used to stand at the front of the Luxor Temple in Egypt and was given to the French by Egypt in 1833.

Statue at the end of the Tuileries looking towards Place de la Concorde.

It's also a popular gathering place for the French and where current marches are going on for the Je Suis Charlie movement.

A view of the Place de la Concorde from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

And standing right next to the Obelisk in the center of the Place de la Concorde.

Then we walked up the Champs Élyées, which is supposed to be magical, but we just ended up walking in a giant mass of people who also thought the Champs Élyées was supposed to be magical on the last Saturday before Christmas. There are a bunch of vendor stands and food stands on the first half or so and it was so crowded we couldn't do anything but shuffle along like cattle being herded from the pasture. After we passed the vendors the sidewalk opened up and there was more room to walk. 

This area was like the Times Square of Paris. All the best stores were there, even high end car dealers had showrooms. And we were impressed that everyone there was not from out of the country, it is just as much a destination the French want to experience as foreigners.

Also, traffic is terrible.

We stopped into the Disney store to see if we could find anything Frenchy for the kids and it was a zoo (last Saturday before Christmas...) There was a line to get in, a line to pay, and a line to get out. I don't know if they could fit anymore people in there. 

By this time it was getting late in the evening, we had been up since 3:00 am, we hadn't had dinner yet and Robert didn't want to stop and eat on the Champs Élyées. So I was tired and hungry. But we were almost to the end of the Champs Élyées, to the Arc de Triomphe, so I figured we might as well keep walking to the end and see the Arc de Triomphe while we were so close. 

We have two pictures from this viewpoint (we were standing in a crosswalk in the middle of the street) with Robert in one and me in the other that I debated posting. But Robert looks likes he's unhappy because he didn't want me to take his picture, and it's a close up of me so I look horribly exhausted. I figured those pictures don't need to make it to the internet where they have the potential of floating around forever.

We finally made it to the end of the street after walking 1.2 miles through dense crowds!

Standing directly across the street from the Arc, all that separates us is a giant roundabout full of crazy drivers.

Not an unflattering closeup=okay to post online.

Sure I was excited to see the Arc de Triomphe because it's an iconic Parisian landmark, but what I was most excited to see was the roundabout, Place Charles de Gaulle or Place de L'Étoile (Star). I remember learning about it in junior high French class and my teacher telling us about the chaos of cars all trying to get around this supposedly five lane roundabout (really just a free for all) with no traffic signals. And we thought being in a car driving down the Champs Élyées would be bad...

(All the aerial views were taken from the Eiffel Tower a few days later)

The roundabout did not disappoint. From the end of the the Champs Élysées you can walk through an underground tunnel that goes beneath the roundabout and brings you up into the center of the Arc de Triomphe. 

Once we got under the Arc de Triomphe I stopped and watched the cars try to navigate the traffic circle. Cars would just go and go one direction until another car from one of the twelve streets feeding in decided to barge in, and then those cars would go until the roundabout cars got tired of waiting and starting going again (a couple seconds). I thought it was a wonder there were no accidents. Except I was wrong, a few minutes later Robert pointed out there was an accident, a fender bender and the police were there taking a report.

Inside the Arc.

After seeing the Arc de Triomphe we took the metro back to near our hotel and I told Robert he could not be picky about finding a place to eat. I was getting grumpy and I needed food! It was close to 9:00 pm when we ate dinner (not really that unusual, nobody eats dinner there until 8:00 pm) and like 10:30 pm before we got to bed (the French do not eat- or serve- fast). We had one looong day, but we saw a ton in that day and ended up fitting in everything we had wanted to see in Paris in our short time there.

One last random thought. Before this trip I had never been to a French speaking country. My only exposure with the French language had been in French class at school and overhearing random tourists here and there speaking French. So it was so cool to me to be able to hear everyone around me speaking French! The French language really does exists outside of school! Even little kids were speaking French, which was so adorable, and their parents were yelling "Get back here, Charlie!" to them on the metro platform in French!

Eiffel Tower peaking over the buildings.

It sounds silly, but a highlight of my trip was hearing people talk. It's a pretty language and I was actually surprised how much I understood. I was expecting not to really be able to understand much, but I knew the gist of what was going on most of the time, even if I didn't catch every word said. It was a great trip!
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