Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Paris, France

Paris is one of those quintessential European destinations, a city not to be missed on the itinerary of a traveler to this part of the world. Despite that fact, it had been more than a decade since my last visit to Paris (though Doug has traveled there on business many times). It's an incredibly beautiful city -- perhaps the most beautiful in the world, and its reputation as the center of art, fashion, and cuisine is definitely deserved.  

We spent five days in Paris in all. We decided to spend two of them visiting the Disney parks on the outskirts of the city, and the other three days catching some of the major sights.  We had to begin, of course, with the Eiffel Tower, not only because it's an iconic tourist destination, but also because Carter has been obsessed with the towers of the world for the last few months. This was his first chance since he started studying towers to see one of the famous ones on his list. 

It's actually larger than it looks from a distance, somehow. 

Carter was very excited! We didn't want to wait in the long line for tickets to ride to the top, so we planned to come back on another morning at opening time. We somehow didn't manage to do it in the end, but Carter said he didn't mind. The important thing to him was that he saw it!  

There are many vendors selling little replicas of the Eiffel Tower everywhere, and Carter really wanted one. I realized that it might be a lot of fun for him to collect models of the towers he's visited, so this is the first in his collection.

Also, how cool is it that there is a playground right next to the Eiffel Tower? 

Another big sight we visited was Notre Dame Cathedral. It's a beautiful gothic structure on an island in the middle of the river- very impressive.

It's fascinating how different the cathedrals in France are from the ones in Italy. They're from a different architectural period and don't contain as much renaissance art as the ones in Rome do, but they seem more dramatic somehow with their massive arches, brilliantly-hued stained glass, and leering gargoyles.

The stained glass is remarkable. I don't think the photos really capture just how detailed the images in the glass are.

I find the extreme opulence of these old European cathedrals fascinating. I know enough about the history of Christianity to understand why this is the case, but it's still amazing to see. I can't help but wonder what the people who founded the religion would think if they could see these massive buildings with all their extravagant splendor.

We spent two days of our five days visiting Disneyland Paris, which means that Carter has now been to all of the Disney parks in the world! We're spending nearly a week in Orlando near the end of the trip, and so we'll have visited all of the Disney parks in the world in 2013. When we get to Orlando, I should probably ask if that gets us some sort of special status, shouldn't I?

Disneyland Paris was all decked out for Halloween. I'm not sure that Halloween is celebrated in France in the way it is in the US, but we did see people visiting the park in costumes, so it seems at least to be observed. 

And here is the requisite castle picture. We'll have a whole set of these by the end of the year!

Disneyland Paris is a really interesting park. Some of the rides are throwbacks to the 1990s (when the park was built), and others are years beyond what you see in other places. For example, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is the original version (not the revised one with Captain Jack), which I enjoyed tremendously. The Star Tours ride was also the old version, and compared to the new one you see in LA and Orlando, the special effects are incredibly cheesy and outdated. Carter loves Star Tours in LA and Orlando, and considers it his favorite ride, but after riding the Paris version twice, he said he was disappointed that it didn't have all the different endings of the one he's used to. The Space Mountain ride in Paris is incredible, though -- it even goes upside-down! 

I'm always fascinated by how different the It's a Small World rides are all around the world. They each seem to represent the world in different ways!

I especially find it interesting how the US is represented in these. In the Paris version, we're represented by the old west:

A farm:

New York and San Francisco:

... and Hollywood!

One of the other really interesting things about Disneyland Paris is that you can purchase a Premium FastPass ticket that allows you to get in any FastPass line at any time. It almost doubles the price of your ticket, but it means you don't have to stand in the lines for the most popular rides, or even stand in line for a FastPass and come back later. As far as I know, this is the only park where that's available. (It would be worth it in Tokyo at just about any price!)

It's also strange to me that which rides are popular aren't necessarily consistent across the parks, nor is it consistent which raides have FastPasses and which don't. The Autopia ride has a FastPass in LA, but nowhere else. We waited an insanely long time to ride it in Paris!

It's also interesting to note that ride management in the Paris park is not done with the same level of efficiency as it is almost everywhere else. Loading and unloading rides took astonishingly long here, and we couldn't figure out a reason why that was the case.

We also went to the sister park, Disney Hollywood Studios. This park was very small compared to one in Orlando, but we rode a few things there on the second day. Carter is still not quite tall enough to ride some of the big rides, most of which had a height minimum of 120 cm. He's very close (about 117 cm), but not quite!

Carter was excited to see Remy from Ratatouille -- in his home city of Paris!

We didn't stay at the Disneyland Hotel here, but next time I think we might. It's actually right at the entrance of the park, and so you basically walk right into the park from the hotel. From some rooms, you can even watch the nightly parades!  Being here made me really excited for the time we'll spend in Orlando. Since I've actually been to all the Disney parks in the world, I can say without a doubt that the ones in Orlando are the best. There are things that some of the other parks have that the Orlando ones don't, but overall, Orlando is the Disney mother ship!

The weather was overcast and even drizzly for much of the time we spent in Paris, but we still enjoyed getting out and seeing the sights. Our hotel was right above a Metro stop, and that made it very convenient for us to get to the center of the city and back.

One afternoon we found a Texas BBQ joint called Blues Bar-B-Q -- and so we had to eat there. It was remarkably authentic, down to the UT vs. A&M decor!

We talked to the owner afterwards and learned that she's from Dallas. She said she loves living in Paris, but found herself homesick for real Texas BBQ. So she decided to start a restaurant to cook it herself!

We also visited the Hard Rock one afternoon so I could add a pin to my ever-growing collection.

One place I'd never visited before was Sacre Couer cathedral, supposedly built over the actual heart of Jesus. (I will admit that I'm skeptical of that claim, but hey.) The cathedral is built up on a hill with a lovely view of the city.

No photos are allowed inside, so I don't have any shots of the interior, but it was smaller and less ornate than Notre Dame inside.

At the bottom of the hill was a playground, so we sat on a bench while Carter ran around and explored. 

On our last day in Paris, we visited the Louvre. This was actually my first time to visit, though Doug has been here several times before.

Since Carter has only limited patience for art museums, we had to stick to the highlights. Among them, of course, is the Mona Lisa.

This was as close as we could get.

And the Venus de Milo.

We actually spent most of our time in the ancient Egyptian wing, which Carter found really fascinating. We saw hieroglyphics and papyrus, and even small carved models and toys.

This turned out to be the nicest day we had while in Paris. The sky almost cleared, and we took a walk through the gardens near the Louvre.

We found a cafe in the middle of the park and had drinks, and enjoyed our last day there.

It doesn't get much more lovely than this!

We finally strolled back to the metro station, and it was with great reluctance that I descended the stairs and said goodbye to this beautiful day.

We timed it well, though -- by the time we got back to our hotel, it had started raining again! 

Overall, we had a lovely time. I even had an opportunity one evening to go an visit a friend who lives in Paris, where I got to meet her cats and see her beautiful Parisian flat right off the Champs Elysee. It was great fun to catch up with her after all these years, but on the train back, I found myself missing Carter and Doug terribly. I was so happy to see them both when I got back to the room that I was actually relieved that Carter was still awake. I suppose that we're so used to being together all the time that it's now hard to be apart even for a little while. I'm glad we have a couple of months more before Carter starts school!

The following morning we took a train to Brussels. More on that in the next post!

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