A tale of two cities

Thomas and I returned last week from a ten-day vacation (or, “holiday” as you have to call them here) in Paris and Amsterdam. Paris was – in short – hot and full of people. Amsterdam was – in short – full of prostitutes and smelled of weed. Here’s a bit of what we did.

Upon arriving in Paris, we took the RoissyBus from Charles de Gaulle airport – north of the city – to the Opera, near an apartment we’d rented for the week. Pleasantly, we were greeted by a motorbike on fire in the middle of the road, perhaps a portent of the hot weather we would experience. No one seemed particularly concerned.

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Aside from the uncomfortably warm temperatures and hordes of people on holiday, Paris was wonderful. Below are some photos of what we did while we were there.

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What did we do in Paris? What didn’t we do in Paris?! We hit most of the major sites but also skipped a couple because it was too hot, there were too many people, or we just didn’t feel like it that much. We had planned on going to Notre Dame, but once we saw the hour or so queue in the unforgiving sun and I started to get the visual symptoms that usually precede a migraine, we decided instead to go to the crypt, a place where I felt more at home, being half-vampire. They call it a crypt, but it’s the archaeological ruins of the heart of the city dating from 14 AD. They had some really impressive computer reconstructions of what the ruins would have looked like in the past. It was really cool because the crypt showed how street level had been raised 20 or so feet over the last two thousand years and that the path of the Seine had moved from where the Notre Dame currently sits to the river’s present location a few dozen meters south.

After that we went to the Pompideu Center and saw their random collection of art. Weird building, good view. Thomas liked the modern art. From there we checked out St. Chapelle, which has gorgeous stained glass windows and is worth a short stop. The pictures in the above gallery don’t really do it justice. Then our friendly guidebook recommended we grab some ice cream from Berthillon’s on the Île Saint-Louis, which we gladly did and it was delicious! (You can see pictures of Thomas enjoying his above.) It seems eating ice cream or ice cream treats is an essential part of any European summer.

The next day was Bastille Day! All the buses and monuments, etc, were decked out with French flags. We decided to hit up the Musee d’Orsay, probably my favorite museum in Paris. They house an impressive impressionist collection inside a converted railway depot. We had lunch in the museum cafe, which was forgettable. After that we got on one of the hop-on hop-off tourist buses, and decided to ride around a bit to give our legs a break. We got off the bus a short walk from the Pantheon. Impressive architecture, lots of big names in the crypt. I guess the only way to get out of the heat in Paris is find a crypt. Somewhere in here we ate more ice cream. That night we decided we would try to see the Bastille day fireworks. We didn’t want to go all the way to the Eiffel Tower because we heard you had to get there hours ahead of time and the apartment we were renting was quite far away. So we opted for a spot more near our place, which turned out to be fine. Not a great view, but you got the idea, it was pretty epic. At the end, everyone was cheering and clapping, even though we were about a mile away. Here is a nice little youtube video, the grand finale starts at about 34:00 minutes. We had a lovely walk home; I think Paris really is its most beautiful at night.

Monday the first thing we did was hit up the Louvre. I think we got there shortly after it opened, but it was still super packed. We saw all the major art highlights. My favorite part was playing “avoid the massive tour group so you don’t get trampled” and “try not to run into the tourist in front of you who abruptly stopped for no reason.” Next we made a stop at Musee de l’Orangerie, which was my surprise favorite of the trip. You couldn’t take pictures, but they had several rooms full of Monet that stretched the entire wall of each room. They were gorgeous and had additional exhibits that were surprisingly enjoyable, showcasing a mix of impressionist paintings and a special exhibit on some not-well-known Italian painters from the 19th century. After that we decided we needed at least one aerial view of Paris, so we bused over to the Arc de Triomphe and walked up the 200 some spiral staircase to the top. This reminds me I need to get a gym membership because I almost died before we got to the top. It was well worth the exertion though, the view was great! That night we did a river cruise, which was refreshing, and then ate a super awesome dinner in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Hilariously, both of the nice restaurants we ate at were full of Americans, which was fine, because the food was great, but it’s a contrast to Denmark where we rarely hear English when we are out.

Tuesday we went to Les Invalides, wherein that quasi-famous military guy is entombed. Last name Bonaparte.  There were several other small museums at Les Invalides that showcased armor, guns, and swords from around the world and from the history of France. They had a really nice exhibit on how the armor and weapons of knights had changed over the centuries. Additionally, there was also a nice explanation of the differences between guns with flintlock and wheel-lock firing mechanisms. After the guns and steel adventure, we hopped on over to the Rodin Museum, which was mostly closed for renovation. The grounds of the museum were beautiful and a perfect backdrop for his sculptures. Thomas really enjoyed this part and it was a surprisingly tranquil break from what was mostly a hectic, touristy city.

Our last day in Paris we attempted to visit Versailles. We found the correct train and followed all the tourists to the palace after getting off the train. Successful so far, but after learning we would have to wait in about a three hour queue to get inside the palace in the blistering sun, we decided that seeing the grounds would be good enough for us. The grounds were impressively vast, I couldn’t imagine one person owning that much land. We ate lunch at a cute little place on the grounds about a 15 minute walk from the palace and then started to head back to central Paris for our wine tasting! It was a short wine tasting, 3 glasses, but we figured since it was included in our ParisPass, we should take advantage of it. I learned quite a few things about wine tasting! For example, in Paris, when buying wine, they never put the type of grape on the label, just the region. It’s up to you to know what types of wine are produced in that region. Our sommelier also taught us this slurping technique that is supposed to enhance the taste of the wine, if you can do it without choking. Good times.

The next morning we were off to Amsterdam on the train. To be continued…..

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5 thoughts on “A tale of two cities

  1. We just love reading about your experiences. Thanks for taking the time to write about them. Can’t wait for the Amsterdam post. Take care, Karen

  2. How fun to be in Paris on Bastille Day! I can’t wait till we can start our own European travels. It looks like a blast.

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