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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Au revoir la belle ville

A brief nap later, the five a.m. Parisian sunrise greeted us on Thursday morning. It's a good thing that we were in Paris--the excitement of our daily agenda tore me from slumber. After a big breakfast, we rode the Metro across town to the Palais Garnier, otherwise known as the Paris Opera House. The city has since built a new opera house, but uses this neo-classical building for the ballet and other performing arts.

We spent several hours exploring the corridors, lobbies, endless staircases and nooks of this marble, glass and gold palace. As we walked down the long le grand foyer, we realized that we were among wall-to-wall mirrors, with ballet-esque bars as the chair rail. The four of us began to pose in the mirrors, admiring our reflections, and attempting to catch it on film without much luck.

As we explored the Opera House, we finally stumbled upon what we (okay, mostly I) came for: The Grand Salle. Not only did events that transpired within this ornate auditorium inspire Gaston Leroux to write The Phantom of the Opera, but my favorite artist, Marc Chagall, painted the ceiling surrounding the chandelier. We stood there in one of the boxes of this breathtaking room and marveled at the quiet solemnity. This was another one of those Parisian moments that I was determined to have seared on my brain.
A few minutes later, we found ourselves in another mirrored room, this one round and projecting thousands of our likeness into infinity. We were the only ones in this room, and it didn't sound like anyone was nearby, so the four of us began to dance around. At first, we danced proper ballroom style, then swing, then before you know it, we're doing the Electric Slide all around the room.

Our next destination was the area of Montmarte, which was famous for its altitude, art, pick-pockets, and one of the most beautiful churches I've ever laid eyes. It's also Amelie country, as much of the movie was filmed in the 18th arrondissement. This was obvious immediately as we exited the steps of the Metro, and I began to recognize the film's scenery. The four of us started up the long hill, and then began to ascend the hundreds of steps that led to the Sacre Couer. We finally made it to the top, and beheld, not only the gorgeous basilique, but the sweeping view of Paris below us.

Scattered along the steps were tons of people. It was like a swarming ant hill. We toured the church, took in a couple more eyefuls of the panorama, and started down the hill to do a little shopping for oil paintings. We'd almost reached the bottom when a man and a woman stopped us and said in a very loud, very southern (probably Texan) accent, "hey are ya'll from America?" Cringing, we slowly turned around, and she was on us like white on rice. "Do yall know where the art shops are?" The four of us nodded no with our heads down. "Honey, let's ask these people over here" [Attacking some Parisians nearby] "Hey do yall know where we can buy some art? They said we can't get it down here." By this time, the four of us are slinking off, hoping no one will notice that we're also from the States. No wonder the French think Americans are obnoxious.

We think we're out of sight, but then we hear a booming, "Giiiiiiiiirrrrls! They said the art's up this way!" I think we waved back sheepishly and booked it down the rest of the hill. "We'll go back up after she goes away, whispers Siebe."

Sacred Crack

Back at the bottom, we're a little exasperated. We've got to walk all the way back up to the top. But first, we spot a carousel, one of Mandy's required Parisian activities. And it just so happens to be the carousel that is featured in Amelie, complete with the music that is the soundtrack. The four of us hop on, and I pretend like I am Amelie as love eludes her.

After our ride, we started back up the hill, and finally made our way behind the Sacre Coeur to the streets full of art shops and cheap souvenirs. Mandy and I each found oil paintings, and by this time, all of us were hungry, cranky and tired. When we reached the bottom of the hill for the second time, we were stopped by a group of men with Jamaican accents, wanting to wrap our hands in string so they could perform tricks on us. We realized quickly that their idea of "tricks" weren't productive for us, so we got out of there as fast as we could. They didn't let us leave without a hard time though, telling us to be "nice and generous Americans" and "be polite, don't be rude." It's interesting how they try to appeal to your psyche.

Late in the afternoon, we made our way back across the city to visit Galleries Lafayette, the most famous department store in Paris. Again, we were hot, hungry and cranky, and almost didn't make it to the restaurant before passing out.

Friday morning beckoned us early, as we had to catch the bus for our Champagne tour. That'd be our air-conditioned bus (it was advertised as so) for our tour of Reims and Epernay, two ancient cities in the Champagne region of France. We boarded the air-conditioned coach, and quickly fell asleep on the two hour journey. And, we froze. We'd gotten a little accustomed to the humid museums, and weren't ready for the cold shock.

On the way there, we noticed more and more of those beautiful fields of bright yellow flora that we'd seen on our cross-Channel trip to Paris. Our multi-lingual tour guide (translating in four different languages), pointed out that the sea of gold was Canola, as in the plant that makes the oil. This time, it was even more beautiful, as we coasted over hills of the flower, and saw many small villages and cottages sprinkled amongst.

Stop one on the Champagne tour was the G.H. Mumm House of Champagne in Reims. The tour started almost immediately, and after a short historical film, we were led through the Mumm cellars. Now, there's not a ton to look at, considering you are in dark, underground tunnels with racks and racks of dark green, labeless bottles. However, the black mold on the cellar walls and ceilings was rather intriguing. The tour was very short, and we were led to a tasting room and offered a glass of either the Demi-Sec or the Brut. All four of us had the Demi-Sec, and it was sweet and juicy champagne, some of the best I've ever had. Keeping things in perspective though, we were a little disappointed at the Mumm tour. We were hoping for more.

Our group climbed back on the coach and about a half-an-hour later, we found ourselves in the ancient city of Reims, staring at a smaller version of the Notre Dame. After we had a look at the cathedral's twin, we broke from the group for lunch. The four of us found a street cafe, and sat down and ordered one of our finest French meals. We noticed almost immediately that very few people in Reims spoke English, in contrast to the touristy Paris. This was surprisingly refreshing, and felt very authentic. I had a savory buckwheat crepe, or a gallette, with cheese and ham and some amazing cream sauce on top. And it came with a green, leafy salad that had a fresh and tart lemon vinaigrette on top. It sounds simple, but it melted in my mouth.

We had some time before we had to catch our coach, so we spent a couple more hours exploring the cobblestoned roads of Reims, shopping, and finally ending up at a chocolatier. The four of us loaded up on chocolate, snapping up every kind of confection that you could imagine, and then we gorged ourselves once outside the shop. We had chocolate all over us...well, I did anyway. But that's not surprising.

Wistfully, we left Reims, with vows to ourselves that we'd come back someday and spend more time there. Our last champagne house stop was in Epernay at Moet-Chandon. The guide was more professional, the tour was more educational, and we learned the exact science that goes into constructing a quality champagne. It was well worth the price of admission. At the end, we sampled the bubbly, yet dry, Brut-Imperial. It was a long trip back to Paris, but we were exhausted from our day in the French countryside.

We arrived back in Paris at dusk, and ate dinner at an outdoor cafe on the Champs-Elysees. Because it doesn't get dark in Paris until close to ten p.m., we spent some time on a park bench in front of the Arc du Triomphe, in anticipation of viewing Paris at night. Finally, dusk arrived and we began the ascent up hundreds of steps to the top.

Views at the summit of this national monument were incredible. It sits in the middle of a "carrousel," with 12 tentacles, or roads, stretching out from it. All of the ant-like cars were lit up from below and it was a cool sight to see them merge in and out of the carrousel. And, it was the first look we'd had at the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, and other famous sights at night. It was a lovely way to end our evening.

Our last full day in Paris arrived with a heat wave. By the time we got to the Louvre that morning, it was quite warm and windy outside. After we finally gained entrance to the sprawling museum, we began to dissect the corridors of art and sculpture.

On our exploration through the museum, we saw many, many famous pieces of art. Our first discovery was the "Venus de Milo," then the "Winged Victory of Samothrace." I couldn't believe just how crowded we were when trying to navigate through the museum. A little while and a lot of art later, we stumbled upon the "Mona Lisa." And, we saw more sculpture, so much sculpture. We found "Cupid and Psyche," and so much I'd never seen or heard of that I thought was breathtaking and oh-so-sexy.

After about five hours (no joke) inside the museum, we felt like we had a handle on most of it, and broke for lunch. After trudging through what seeemed like miles of gravel and dirt on the Louvre pavilion, we finally found a table at an outdoor cafe. We were grimy from all of the swirling dust, but we were so thirsty and hungry that we didn't care.

Lunch was over, and we had our last Paris sight left: The Musee Rodin. Em highly recommended the museum, but I had no idea that it would be so incredible. We started in the outdoor, tree-laced garden, and viewed the original "Gates of Hell." We wandered on, and saw lifesize bronzed scupltures that, no doubt, weighed tons, but seemed to dance among the shrubs. I was taken by how expressive the faces, hands and body language is on these motionless figures. A little while later, our path led us to the original "Thinker," and he looked so strong, yet sensitive, up on his perch.

There was still so much to see inside, and we discovered many of Rodin's miniature replicas made of stone and marble. Talk about rated-R... Rodin must have been a sensual man, because his works are sex-u-al. We gazed at "The Kiss" and "The Eternal Idol." I was turned on by Rodin's "Hands" study. The Musee Rodin is one of the few tourist places in Paris that I would return again and again--and hopefully next time, with a date. Our day full of so much famous art was almost surreal, and the Rodin was by far my favorite museum on our entire European trip.

The four of us left the Rodin in the early afternoon, and headed back for the hotel. When we got back to Montparnasse, we passed a patisserie and stopped in for an afternoon delight. I had the best strawberry tart with buttery shortbread that I've ever placed upon my tongue.

It was a little early to return to our hotel, but Siebe, Mandy and I knew we had to get ready for a "special event." Lana, on the otherhand, was clueless. We tried to get her dressed up, as it had been requested of us, but had no luck. If you know Lana, you can't get her to do anything she doesn't want to do. We finally gave up, and set out for the Eiffel Tower, aiming to spend our last evening in Paris by the quintessential symbol of the city.

Siebe, Mandy, and I were nervous as we exited the metro station at the Champs de Mars. Lana? Still clueless. As we approached the Eiffel Tower, our pace got slower and slower. Like hawks, we were nervously on the lookout for someone. Finally, we spotted him, and Siebe said, "let's take a picture right here." I said, "Lana, go ask that guy to take our picture." As she turned around, she saw Barry, her boyfriend, standing there waiting on her.

The rest is probably self-explanatory. Barry proposed marriage on the lawn, hundreds of people clapped, and they sucked face for about fifteen minutes while the three of us stood there not knowing what to do next. After we exchanged goodbye hugs and oohs and ahhs of the ring, we left the two lovers and walked underneath the Eiffel Tower.

And then there were three. We'd waited all week long to buy our Eiffel Tower replicas, as the gift shop prices were outrageous. Earlier in the week we'd seen men selling the towers by the dozen out of trash bags around the Tower. Problem is, sale of these towers was illegal, and they were constantly being chased around the pavilion by armed guards.

Siebe, Mandy and I approached one of the hawkers and motioned that we wanted to make a purchase. I forcefully said, "I want 10 of that size for 20 euros, and that's my final offer." After a few minutes of haggling, they gave in. And by they, I mean the five of them that had gathered around us, trying to outsell each other. We threw some money at them, took our booty, and scurried off. I was so proud of us!

Hungry, we walked up the Trocadero to find a cafe to eat dinner. We enjoyed a leisurely last dinner and some traditional creme brulee. At this point, it's dusk, and we found a spot on the Trocadero to perch and wait for the Tower light show. The Eiffel Tower is magnificent during the day, but an astounding beauty lit up at night. Soon the light show began, and it was like a thousand diamonds sparkling in the sky. I wanted to cry tears of happiness. It was over a few minutes later, and the three of us emitted sighs of happiness. We basked there for a couple more hours taking it all in. Finally, it was time to go home.

The next day, we boarded a plane for Chicago and embarked on our journey home.

Closing thoughts:

1) Paris is the most romantic place I've ever been. I felt beautiful there. I was in love with myself, in love with the city, in love, in love, in love.

2) Despite six days in this amazing city, we only saw bits and pieces. I left so much behind, so much left uncovered. The art and culture are infinite.

3) When I got back stateside, all I wanted to do was walk around, drink wine, eat pastries, flirt with boys, and be inspired. I wanted to create, to paint, to write! I felt so alive in Paris, and then reality set in, and my plans revolved around my cubicle and rising gas costs. How depressing.

4) My lease on my house is up in March of 2010. If I'm not married yet, I'm on the last train to Clarksville, a.k.a. the City of Lights!

5) This post was a beast.


Blogger emmysue said...

I know you're glad to have this behind you. LOVE the Arc de Triumphe at night...one of my favorites. And, it warms my heart to hear you speak so fondly of Rodin. It's my favorite place, too...and so unknown. My favorite ice skating pair (Ekaterine Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov...they were married and then he passed away. She's now married to another of my favorite skaters, Ilia Kulik) did a routine based on Rodin's sculptures. It's called "Vocalise" and can be found here - http://www.gg-corner.de/?p=897. You'll LOVE how it ends. The announcer says it's based on sculptures be Renoir...he's WRONG, though. Enjoy! (and yes, I'm revealing a whole new side of me...my LOVE of pairs figure skating)

9:49 AM

Blogger Andrew said...

First of all, that last pic with the 3 of you is definitely cute. So you say Chagall is one of your faves? He is definitely starting to grow on me. I found a lot of good info and really nice images at http://www.masterworksfineart.com/inventory/chagall

Thanks for the entertaining post!

11:16 AM

Blogger Sarah said...

So I have never wanted to go to Paris. EVER. Until now...

Reading your blog and seeing the pix make me wanna go, and soon! I thoroughly enjoyed this post; 'twas well worth the wait. :)

I also love that y'all were able to 100% surprise Mrs. Brewer. Such a good story.

2:49 PM

Blogger Courtney said...

Great post! I seriously think I'm about to go look at flight cost! Oh wait, I just bought a house, crap.

Well, when I do go, I'm going to come back and read all your Paris posts!

3:05 PM

Blogger yours truly said...

thanks for posting! i love it! i also love love love rodin and was so excited to hear all about your days in paris and see pics finally! it looks fabulous! good job sass!

10:57 PM

Blogger thesciencegirl said...

Love this whole post. So many great photos. And you girls look so cute in that last one. And... ohh... Montmartre. I long to go back there. Man, I miss Paris.

5:49 PM


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