August 30, 2012
Voila! My adventures traveling Europe as part of the Georgia Tech Lorraine program. Here is the first video our stroll down Champs Elysee, completely Jet lagged. Subscribe to stay tuned to weekly video blogs on Youtube! All feedback, comments, and questions are welcomed!
Flying Over the Atlantic Ocean (8th August)
My journey began on August 8th. I flew from Atlanta early in the morning and arrived to Miami at midday. There, my good friend Leonardo took me out of the airport to eat at a Colombian restaurant. Then at six in the afternoon EST time we departed to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport. As the hours passed by we looked outside the window and always saw it bright and sunny. Our internal clocks were very confused. We took turns sleeping on each other's laps, reading the manual for Leonardo's new DSLR camera, and reading a tourist guide book for Paris. We avoided eating meat or cheese in the airplane food to prevent our vacations from being ruined. After a long 9 hours, we arrived at 9 in the morning in Paris! Nous sommes arrivés à Paris! We had a whole day ahead of us. I was super excited. After this point, we now start counting time in 24 hour military clock.
Dragging our Luggage Safely to the Hostel (9th August)
Now we were on a mission to protect from pickpockets and blend in as French people! Course this was difficult given the lost look on our faces. Found our way to the Bus by asking the staff "Excusez-moi, Je suis désolé, Parlez-vous anglais?". This phrase is nice because it does not assume that they speak english, as we were warned that that would get them angry, and it shows that as tourists we are trying their language. Inside the bus ride I caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, and my heart pounded in joy. The bus stopped at the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile which stands in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle. In english this translates to Triumphal Arch which honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. I could not wait to stand under it. By the street there was a line of taxis, to get one I had to go to the very first one, as they are in turns. When we arrived to the Hotel des Batignolles, the staff spoke English with an accent and held our stuff while we explored the city. Our stomachs were growling so we took a walk and found a sandwich restaurant. There I got a Falafel pita. Falafels are deep-fried balls made out of ground chickpeas and fava beans. We were thirsty and trying to figure out how to get free water, when I said L'eau Libre, they did not understand me. Luckily, a lady nearby taught us to say Une Carafe D'eau s'il vous plait, which means a jug of water. Then they gave us crystal jug of water and cups for free. Technically, they only give this out if you ask for it, so tourists tend to get trapped and spend money on water bottles. They are actually traditional Arab food, not french. We then walked to a train station, activated out 10 day Eurorail pass and reserved our tickets for our trip to Normandy, France in a few days.
While we strolled the city we observed this electric vehicle that was recharging while parked. Cars in Paris are very small, and apparently the government subsidizes energy efficient and pollutant free vehicles, making it more accessible and attractive to everyone. For dinner, we ate pasta at a restaurant, which tends to be the cheapest food around, and by cheap I mean € 7-10 euros.
Le Avenue des Champs-Élysées
We then took a walk through Le Avenue des Champs-Élysées. This street is filled with cafés, luxury specialty shops, and beautiful horse-chestnut trees. Water here will cost as much as €3 euros. This is were I learned to always carry your water bottle and refill them at restaurants. We decided to lie in the grass and contemplate life. It was some of the most carefree and relaxing moments of my life. The Champs-Élysées leads to the Arc de Triomphe which is at the center of one of the largest rounabouts in the world. As pedestrians, we walked through an underground tunnel to get to the Arc. The top of the arc is free for those with Student ID Cards. The monument has the names of all the French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces.
Le Catacombes de Paris et la Tour Eiffel (10th August)
The next day we were still very jet lagged. To prepare for the beautiful day, we bought fruits at a local super market, and pain au chocolate (Leonardo's favorite) et escargo au raisin (my favorite). Carrying snacks around saved us many times from paying expensive food in desperation to satisfy our hunger. We also bought wine for a perfect picnic at the Eiffel tower later in the day. We took the metro to the catacombs. Around midday, the line is humongous, wrapping around a garden park. The entrance to the catacombs was not an expensive price. Inside was dark and cold, we walked through tunnels filled with inscriptions. Then we encountered an entrance that gave us a warning. As we proceeded we saw entire walls filled with bones and skulls. They were in different arrangements that formed different patterns. L'Osuaire Municipal,or ossuary holds the remains of about six million people, more people dead than those alive in Paris today! Because the catacombs are right under the Paris streets, large foundations cannot be built and for this reason there are not many tall buildings in Paris. The catacombe contains bones from various Paris graveyards when they ran out of safe in the city. I think this is a great idea, as Paris looks very beautiful without graveyards on site.
La Tour Eiffel
The classical moment you realize you are not in the states anymore is when you walk around, under, and on top of the iconic Eiffel Tower. On our way there, there were many African people selling €1 euro key chains of the Tower. Upon arrival we took pictures at every angle of the Tower, we could not get enough of it. The tower is located in the Champ de Mars in Paris. It is the tallest structure in paris, and the most-visited-paid monument in the world. It was engineered Gustave Eiffel but protested by many artists who thought it did not contribute to the beauty of Paris.
Experiencing the tower at night is a whole different experience. Every hour the tower has a spectacular light show. The yard is filled with many couples, families, and friends having picnics and music. We very much enjoyed this eventful and surprising day. It costs money to get to the top of the tower. The elevator would transport tourists till the 3rd level for the full price, but the line was humongous. We decided to pay half the price by taking the stairs and admiring the view of the city. This way we fully experienced the Tower every step of the way. Then we payed the second half of the price to take the elevator to the third level, since the line was short and it was the only way to get up there. Thanks to our tripod and DSLR camera, we took breathtaking night pictures of the city.
Notre Dame, Louvre, Seine (11th August)
Île de la Cité
On our last day, Leonardo and I took the metro to the two remaining natural islands in the Seine, called the Île de la Cité, which is within the city of Paris. It is filled by the city's Prefecture de Police, Palais de Justice, Hôtel-Dieu hospital, Tribunal de Commerce, and the famous Catedral de Notre Dame. Which reminds me of the French movie "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame." The back of the cathedral looks like a Disney or fairy tale castle.
We walked to the Notre Dame de Paris, which means Our lady of Paris in french. It is a historic Roman Catholic Marian Cathedral that has gargoyles standing on its windows. The gargoyles are part of its French Gothic Architecture. There was a huge line to get inside, so we walked around it.
We saw a man standing with his arm stretched out and holding bread and countless birds. We decided to give it a try. Leonardo was very successful.
After a bit of hesitation, we decided to experience a sip of wine by the seine. The restaurant only allowed two or more people to sit, and minimum of two drinks. I will not be doing this again!
Then we crossed the bridge to walk towards the Louvre and found a huge crowed packed around a performer. We stuck around and enjoyed the show.
Musée du Louvre
We walked to the Musée du Louvre, or Loure Museum. The first thing that popped into my mind is the book Davinci Code and the painting The Mona Lisa. This is the most visited museum in the whole world. The Museum is actually underground since it began as a fortress in the 12th century. We took the classical picture poking the top of the pyramid and proceeded to go inside. Unfortunately, it was closed after 5 pm so we drank wine by the water fountain. After we were done drinking, we discover a sign that said it was prohibited. Oh well! We then went to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which was right besides the Louvre. It commemorates Napoleon's military victores.
Finally, it was time to head home and prepare for my first European train ride to Normandy, France!
Stay tuned as the next blog post of my adventures in Caen, France!