Chain Bridge, Budapest

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ma Vie a Paris (for a few days)

Its Easter Sunday in Paris and the skies have finally opened up and let sunshine into the city. It had been raining off and on in Paris since I got here on Thursday and when it didn't rain it was still very cloudy. Today, however, is an exception. As I sit in an interent cafe by the Pantheon using an American keyboard (win!), let me recap the past four days in the City of Lights.

I arrived in Paris on the TGV Lyria from Basel, Switzerland, at 1:30pm on Thursday afternoon. The train ride was nearly full and our seats were reserved. I happened to sit with an American family (mom, dad, and high school daughter) in a section of four seats. They were from Denver and had just stayed with relatives on the opposite bank of Lake Zurich and were now visiting Paris for the first time. The daughter is taking French in high school but claimed to be unable to translate what the French family across from us was saying. I told them that my mom and uncles attended Cherry Creek High School back in the day and the girl said that Cherry Creek is their main rival. The dad asked me if I had heard anything about the NCAA men's basketball tournament; we were both out of the loop. (note: right now the final game is between Butlter and Duke). We had a nice chat and watched the French countryside fly by as the train sped on. The train didn't travel very fast at first -- a litte faster than nearby cars, 70-90 mph -- but once we passed Strasbourg the track was straight line and the TGV started to mean business. We must have been going over 150 mph, but I'm not exactly sure how quick. I have a video I took of the farms speeding by so you can analyze it if you want to calculate the train's speed.

As part of the spring break adventure, I arrived in Paris without a place to stay for the night. I had booked a hostel for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, but they hadn't had any vancancies for Thursday, so I was on my own. I had planned to contact two very large hostels in central Paris for any cancellations. Out of hundreds of reservations there has got to be at least one cancellation, right? Wrong. Both hostels were completely booked. I asked the man at the Gare de l'est (East Train Station) tourism office where I could stay. He said the Hotel La Fayette was down the street as cheap as the hostel. I walked over there and booked their last single room for the night. After dropping my luggage, I walked toward the Seine waiting for my friend Alina from UT who is studying in Paris to get out of class at 5pm. We rendevous'ed at Notre Dame and walked around the Marias, stopping in the Luxembourg Gardens. Its amazing how the hustle of bustle of a huge city like Paris can dissapear once you step into a park. 
The next day I met up with my Budapest roommate Andy who was in Paris visiting his cousin who was getting married that weekend. We went up in the north part of the city to Montmarte, which is a neat little area on top of a hill with a big cathedral and lots of little shops and cafes surrounding it. It was cloudy but we got a great view of the city. I had to leave Andy to meet my other friends who were also visiting Paris, Rachel (from UT and studying in Dublin) and Kaitlin and her boyfriend Rob (both from Baylor studying in Scotland). I've known Rachel and Kaitlin from high school and it was great seeing them again in Europe.  Together we went inside the famous Notre Dame cathedral, on Good Friday no less. The place is huge. Paris is filled with old cathedrals, but this one takes the cake. Hundreds of people walked around inside the building as well as sat in chairs and silently prayed. Multilingual priests were available for people to give confessions. I learned that the building is over 650 years old and it took 200 years to build. No matter what religion you may adhere to or lack thereof, its hard not to be overwhelmed with awe at Notre Dame's grandeur. Afterwards, we split up; Rachel and I went to the Louvre and Kaitlin and Rob took care of their hostel and train bookings. 

If there was a ranked list of things to do in Paris, visiting Notre Dame and the Louvre Museum would take two of the top three spots. Among other things, the Louvre is the famous home to the Venus de Milo, Hammurabi's Code, and the Monna Lisa. We decided to head for all three and stop along the way if we saw anything else interesting. Even just sticking to that short intinerary, the quantity of paintings, sculptures, and ancient objects we saw was exhausting. We left the museum at closing time and reconnected with Kaitlin and Rob to go find a pub. Looking at the trusty Lonely Planet's Guide to Western Europe Guidebook, we saw a music pub in the Latin Quarter which looked interesting. We were almost there when we came across a roundabout lined with pubs and a college crowd. Good enough, we thought, and picked one out. The pub was small and catered to a young adult crowd with plenty of tables. Budapest is filled with pubs like this one, except that there they are filled with cigarette smoke while in Paris you can breathe easy: there is no smoking in bars. We had a lot of fun unwinding from the day's sightseeing and we agreed to start the next day at the Eiffel Tower.

That night was my first night in the hostel, and unfortunately I didn't get that great of a sleep due to the big guy snoring in the bunk below me. This guy was loud. If I had wanted to talk to someone I would have had to shout over his snores. Then he started talking and yelling in his sleep. Here was the dilemma: what is the proper etiquette for sleeping in a dorm room with four beds and one guy is severely disrupting the others with his snoring? Do you wake him up? Shouldn't he know that he snores that badly and therefore booked a single room as a courtesy? I decided to let him sleep and I woke up the next day perturbed. Oh well, time to go see the Eiffel Tower! 

Before I knew it I was standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. It is one of the few tall buildings that dominates the Parisian skyline. Thousands of tourists from all over the world crowded around its base waiting in line to go up to the top. We decided against waiting to go up the tower since it would have taken all day and it could've started raining at any moment, hardly ideal conditions. Instead we visited the original Moulin Rouge and tried to go the catacombs on the southern side of the city but there were closed when we got there. As a replacement, we went to Montmarte, the second time for me, and when the subway car came above ground the sun had come out and a rainbow appeared over the city. My return visit wasn't a waste since it was much more enjoyable due to the better weather conditions. Later the four of us and Alina had a beer in a cafe near the Bastille. The next day Rachel, Kaitlin, and Rob were due to leave Paris. Rachel was going back to Ireland while Kaitlin and Rob were continuing east and will be in Budapest on Tuesday morning. I plan on taking them to Kadar with my usual lunch group for their first taste of Hungarian food.
Today I have been on my own so far. While everyone went to church for the Easter Sunday service, I slept in. The night before I met my roommates before I dozed off. The snorer was still there -- turns out he is Italian -- and another guy named Fernando was from Monterey, Mexico. I told him I had been there a few years ago and still talk about going to Papa Bill's Restaurant and Bar to eat chicken fajitas and drink Indio. He said he had been to San Antonio as a kid and remembered going to Fiesta Texas and taking a riverboat ride downtown. The three of us talked for a while, but I intentionally dozed off mid conversation in order to fall asleep before the snoring Italian did. My plan worked and I didn't wake up the next day until he had gotten up and left the room. My first stop today was the Rodin Musuem, which is filled with statues and sculptures by Auguste Rodin. His most famous work is The Thinker, which sits on a tall pedestal surrounded by green trees and bushes. The weather today has been great and it was very relaxing to walk through the museum's garden admiring the sculptures. Afterwards I got a Nutella and banana crepe and headed to the Pantheon. The Pantheon is over 200 years old and was first built as a holy place but is now used as a national shrine to commerate the famous people throughout French history. Many famous French men and women are buried underneath it in the crypt, including Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, and Lagrange, a famous mathematician whose theorems I need to learn for my algebra midterm on Friday. Thanks buddy. The Pantheon looks like an American-style capitol building and has a large columned dome. I took a tour up the top of the dome to get a panoramic view of the city. The relatively nice weather has been worth the wait. 

My trip to Paris isn't finished yet. I will post a final update as well as pictures from throughout my spring break once I return to Budapest tomorrow. Until then, au revoir.

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