Thursday, June 7, 2012

Our trip to Paris and Nice: Part 1!

Shane and I are back from our wonderful (and exhausting!) trip to France, and we're ready to go back! 

For a bit of background, Shane and I went on this trip through a travel company called ACIS with my high school French teacher, Madame Saralee Peccolo-Taylor (or just Madame for short) and a group of 29 students and parents from Powell, Bearden, Farragut, and Catholic High Schools, as well as my mom and sister. This is mine and my mom's fourth time to go on one of these trips, and Shane and my sister's first time going. The trip lasted for nine days and was planned out with activities down to the minute! 

Over the next few blog posts, I'll be sharing excerpts from my travel journal as well as lots and lots of photos. I've also added links in case you are interested in learning more about a certain place. So let's get started... 

Day 1: March 28, 2012

Today we leave for Paris from Washington Dulles International Airport. And it's going to be a long, long day. Instead of spending 5.5 hours on public transit, or $90 on the "economy" airport parking lot, we asked  our friend John to drive us to the airport. He was having his carpets cleaned, so he dropped us off early. We got to the airport at 9 a.m. or so, and the flight doesn't leave until 4:40. The ticket counter doesn't even open until 1:00. After that, we only have a 7-ish hour flight until we're in Paris! We're not even there yet and I'm already exhausted.

Day 2: March 29, 2012

You can tell that I'm not pleased.
And probably asleep with my eyes open.
We finally made it! Shane was so excited the whole flight that I could barely keep him quiet, he was like a little kid going to Disney World for the first time. We flew Air France to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and arrived at 6 a.m. (12 a.m. at home). Just as we made it to the passport counter, someone abandoned a suitcase. You know how airport security is, one abandoned bag and the whole place shuts down. Considering that I barely slept the whole flight, I was not really in the mood to sit around for 45 minutes while they detonate someone's duffel bag full of tube socks and underwear. 

The rest of our group left from Knoxville and was set to arrive two hours after we did, so while we waited, we met up with our tour guide, Angélique, for breakfast. Shane talked with her about everything under the sun, including her recent trip to Jerusalem, and then we watched as she tried to rearrange our itinerary to fit in all of Madame's requests. Once the rest of our group showed up, it was on the bus and off to the hotel (not to sleep or anything, just to drop off our bags and change our clothes before a busy, busy day).

You can't help but hope you'll see Quasimodo.
Our first stop of the day was the Île de la Cité. We had lunch at a small café, which I must say took a lot longer than we had planned. We had two hours of free time for lunch and it took the whole two hours, but then again, that is the French café culture. After lunch we met up with the rest of the group to have a look around the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris (yes, that Notre Dame). The workmanship that went into every carving and gargoyle is just amazing. I wish that our lunch hadn't taken so long, I would have loved to take Shane inside to see all of the beautiful stained glass. Oh well, there's always a next time. 

Of course, when you go to Notre Dame, you have to stop at Berthillon, home of the best glaces (ice creams) and sorbets ever made. I had the chocolat blanc (white chocolate), which was amazingly creamy. Shane had the sorbet au cerises (cherry), also very tasty.

There is a reason why the French can eat things like whole fat ice cream and stay's all the walking! After we finished the ice cream, we burned off calories by walking to see the second oldest house in Paris (built in 1644), and then the Centre Georges Pompidou. We were given a bit of free time there to wander around and check out the shops. We looked around some souvenir shops and then promptly fell asleep sitting up on some stone stairs. Yep, we were that tired. (See video below. Really, it's hilarious.)

L'Arc de Triomphe
Dinner was next at a little restaurant called Chez Papa. The main course was duck, so needless to say I ate a lot of bread that night. I also drank lots and lots of water because I was still dehydrated from the plane. This turned out to be a bad idea, because as we were walking to our next activity, I remembered that there are not really public restrooms in Paris. If you're lucky, you can find a pay toilet out on the street or in a shop, but those are few and far between. And it's not like here in America, where you can just sneak into McDonalds. If you can even find a McDo (as they call it), you likely need to buy something to get the key to the bathroom. 

So we arrived at the Arc de Triomphe to climb the 284 steps to the top, and I really didn't think I could make it. Madame assured me that there was a restroom at the arch, but of course it was at the top, and possibly fictitious, because she couldn't really remember, and I couldn't take that risk. If I was a French man, I would have just found a corner somewhere. But I'm not so I decided to  take Shane with me and try and find a café to sneak into. Of course you can guess how this goes...Lauren tries to sneak in, gets caught by maître' d, Lauren gets nervous when confronted, Shane steps in and saves the day by buying a French beer. 

The view from the top was breathtaking.
We did finally make it back with the rest of the group and we climbed all 284 steps. And guess what? There really was a bathroom up there. And the view was spectacular. I had never been to the top before, so this was a first for me and Shane both. And Shane got his first, real life view of the Eiffel Tower! Today was definitely a great way to start out our trip. My only suggestion for future visits to the arch is to wear grippy shoes, because that stone is slippery up there! 

You might think that would be the end, but you'd be wrong! We walked down the world famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées next and made a stop for some macarons at Ladurée. I've never had a macaron before this trip, and let me just say that OMG BEST THING EVER! Shane and I tried several flavors but the best by far was the fruits rouges (red fruits). Today was definitely a great day for tasty desserts. 

L'Hôtel des Invalides
Once we reached the other end of the street, we were given a choice. Use one of our métro tickets and ride back to the hotel, or walk. We were assured it would probably take about 30 minutes to get there. I was a bit tired, but Shane wanted to walk, so I decided I'd walk too, along with the half of our group who also decided to walk. This turned out to be my second bad idea of the day. I don't know how far or how long we were walking, but it sure wasn't 30 minutes (Google Maps now tells me that the route is approximately 2.9 miles, and an estimated 58 minutes to walk. Yeah, maybe if you're the world speed-walking champion and haven't been walking around Paris all day). By the end of the trip, Madame and her sister Teresa were calling it the "death march." We'll all sleep well tonight, and we'd better, because tomorrow will be another whirlwind of a day! 

And of course, be sure to check out my video! It has some more photos from days 1 and 2 of the trip. 

More pictures will be posted online (probably on my facebook) as I get time to go through them.

À bientôt!
(See you soon!)