Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thoughts from Places: Lots of Geeking Out

So my internet is being an entirely new brand of cranky right now; hopefully I'll be able to slap this post online tomorrow morning before I start my work for the day.

Our journey to Paris, naturally, started at an ungodly hour of the morning. We all got up, grumbling, scrambling around and blinking in the too-early, too-bright lights in our flat, getting dressed and throwing toothbrushes into already packed suitcases before heading out the door to the tube, King's Cross, and then the Eurostar. I now know, from the journey home, that the Chunnel is rather unexciting - it's simply twenty minutes of dark, rather than the flat fields of France or the rolling hills of England - but on the way there, I slept through just about everything, which was probably a good thing, as two very full days were ahead of me.

If any of you are ever planning to go to Paris, do yourself a favor - spend more than two days there. I loved it there, and it's on top of my list of places to return to when I'm rich and famous (ha) someday. (The second is Venice, during Carnival.) We did an awful lot, as you shall see, but there's certainly more that I would have liked to see, given the chance.

Once we had arrived in Paris, found the hostel, and dropped off our bags, my French Revolution professor took us back onto the Metro and we began our French Revolution walk, starting, naturally, at the Place de la Bastille. We saw, among other things, the site of La Force prison and the oldest cafe in Paris and the Conciergerie and Notre Dame and the Palais Royale. The Conciergerie and Notre Dame especially were the first of many instances in Paris where I was utterly overwhelmed with amazement at the simple fact that I was standing where I was and seeing what I was seeing. I've done so much research and written so much about the Conciergerie, and there I was, standing right in front of it. I've seen so many pictures of and read books about Notre Dame, and there I was walking through it; I even touched one of the many Gothic columns. (That's one thing I like about old architechture; it feels like walking inside a work of art, and yet you can reach out and touch it to remind ! !yourself that it's real, that someone once made the thing you are marveling at.) In simpler terms: I did an awful lot of geeking out in Paris.

After the walk, we returned to the hostel to check in properly and put our things in our room; we were quite pleased to find that there was a lot of floorspace (more on that later) and that our beds each had curtains on them, rather like sleeper cars in a train. It felt very fancy.

Lisa and I then had a snack (mmm, Croque Monsieur), and then a group of us headed back to the Metro (the Metro, by the way, is very efficient and very easy to use, but feels a bit like people have been put onto a train, and then the train placed in a box, and then the box shaken by a very eager small child) to go to the Louvre, which is free for under-26s on Friday nights (the student discounts in Paris, by the way, are epic). We of course went right to the Mona Lisa - we were, after all, there, and could hardly pass it up - and then we spent another few hours wandering around the Greek and Roman statues and the Egyptian section before our feet decided they had had quite enough. We stopped for some dessert (mmmm, chocolate mousse), and then attempted to complete our plan for the evening, but we quickly discovered that while the Eiffel Tower LOOKS like it is quite close to the Louvre, it most definitely is NOT close, and as we were quite certain we would not make it all the w! !ay there before the last elevator at 10:30, we went back to the hostel and collapsed for the night.

The next morning, Lisa, Tory and I were joined by our friend Bonnie, and the four of us jam-packed our day. We started off with a visit to the Catacombs; after having a bit of difficulty initially finding the entrance, we descended the twenty-six meter spiral staircase (with every step, I gained a new appreciation for just how much my characters must hate me for putting them through that) and headed off into the dark tunnels. There is quite a long walk in the tunnels to get to the actual ossuary, but that was fine with me; the whole time, I was taking mental notes, glad to see that I'd gotten the approximate size and general feel of the tunnels right, telling myself that I ought to write the dampness of the air down there into my manuscript, and again thinking that Rose must hate me so very much for making her walk down there without any light. Finally, we reached the entrance to the catacombs themselves (I might have freaked out a bit upon seeing the "Arrete! C'est ici l'em! !pire de la mort" sign over the entranceway; I asked the others if it was morbid of me to think of the catacombs as one of those places where I could hardly believe I was actually there, and some other American tourists seemed to get a kick out of that. Hopefully they also heard the impromptu history lesson on the catacombs that I gave, so they know I'm not a complete weirdo... just a little bit of a weirdo). The catacombs are kind of unreal. I almost could not process what I was seeing as anything other than, say, a movie set. I could not believe that there were really six million skeletons all arranged down there, and that six million skulls were watching me as I walked past them. The bones go on forever, with the skulls sometimes arranged into hearts or crosses, with plaques on some pillars or propped up by more skulls explaining where the bones had originally been buried or presenting a quotation on the nature of death. It was extremely eerie, but absolutely fascinating.! !

After the catacombs, we stopped for lunch (because seeing six million dead bodies naturally makes you hungry, right?) and then we headed off to the next stop on our itinerary - the Opera Garnier. There, of course, I geeked out quite a bit more, although I refrained from the impromptu history lesson this time. I was thrilled by this place not because I had written about it, but of course because Phantom of the Opera is one of my favorite musicals, and there I was, in the Phantom's opera house, looking at the real chandelier and the real Box 5. The building is stunningly beautiful, with every hallway filled with chandeliers and mirrors and gilt woodwork. I could easily have spent hours there poring over every room, wishing we could have visited the cellars, and imagining Faust being performed on the stage or the staircase filled with people at the Masquerade.

We had to be off to our next stop, however; we went back to the Ile-de-la-Cite, crossing the Pont Neuf and walking alongside the Conciergerie (which was sadly covered in scaffolding) to stop in at Shakespeare and Company, a really neat English-language bookstore across the street from Notre Dame. It was a really neat little shop, if a bit crowded for its size, and I had a good time poking around before we got back on the Metro for our last stop of the day - the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower involved an awful lot of standing in line - first, there was the line for the tickets, and then the line for the elevator to the second floor, and then the elevator all the way to the top, and then again for both elevators on the way down - and while the weather was sunny and gorgeous on our first day in Paris, it was cold and a bit drizzly that evening while we were standing beneath the tower and waiting. I do think however that the view from the top, the way that the rain looked like golden glitter in the lights on the tower on the way down, and the fact that I can in fact say that I've been to the top of the Eiffel Tower all made the long lines worth it.

We left Paris late enough the next morning that I was able to stay awake on the train, but early enough that we couldn't really do anything much other than visit a boulangerie. Even though every time I return to London from an adventure, it feels more and more like home, I definitely felt that I had not had quite enough time in Paris, and I will definitely be going back there someday.

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