Carve me in marble and call me a masterpiece: Paris Days 6 and 7

You may remember hearing that the Seine River flooded a few months ago. Because of this, the Musée de Louvre was closed during our first few days in Paris, which meant we couldn’t visit it until our last full day in the city. 

Before hitting the museum, Marie and Taylor and I started the day with pastries again because Paris. (White bread is basically protein there.) We took the metro to the Louvre and met up with our friend James at an adjacent Starbucks. (This would be our real fuel for the day.) James was one of our good friends from Asbury and just happened to be in Paris briefly after touring Turkey and Iraq and Italy and I can’t even remember where else. (Let’s just say he got questioned at U.S. Customs when he returned.) It was perfect timing to meet up with him.

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We see London, we see France: Paris (er, Europe) Day 5

Remember that time I said I was going to blog about each day of my trip to Paris with my friends Marie and Taylor? And then I did four days and dropped off the face of the planet? Adulthood demands a lot of me, you guys. I’m back with my long overdue recap of our final two days in Europe.

Not six hours after we’d crawled into bed following a day in Versailles, we rose again to continue exploring Europe. My sadness over our abbreviated night of sleep was lessened by the fact that we were GOING TO LONDON, the city I’d always most wanted to see. We got ready groggily and walked through mental and literal fog to the metro, which we took to the train station. For some reason I’d been worried, yet again, that we would be stopped attempting to move from country to country (because we look so menacing and everything). But after getting our passports stamped without a hitch, we arrived at our Chunnel train with seven minutes to spare. 

Mar in the Chunnel train. (Don't mind us, just barreling through European waterways at mind-blowing speeds.)

Mar in the Chunnel train. (Don't mind us, just barreling through European waterways at mind-blowing speeds.)

The Chunnel is an underwater railway that connects England and France. Its trains barrel across the European countryside — and through its waters — at up to 186 miles per hour, which means you can get from one country to the next in a little over two hours. I recently learned that the Chunnel is one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, and it certainly deserves this status. It was one of many experiences that left me marveling at human ingenuity and history during our week in Europe. 

We did our best to sleep on the Chunnel train and, when that failed, drank their horrible coffee. You would think it would be harder to build an international underwater tunnel than it would be to make coffee, but Europe somehow succeeded at the former and still struggles with the latter. 

St Pancras railway station

St Pancras railway station

All aboard the Hogwarts Express

Our train arrived in London at the St Pancras railway station (apparently Brits don’t put a period after “St” the way Americans do) full of hopes about how many British sights we could squeeze into a single day. London is, as you know, the site of many important historic events and the home to many important historic figures. And because we are Americans with limited time and healthy priorities, we started with the most historically important place of them all: Platform 9 3/4 of King’s Cross railway station, where the famous wizard Harry Potter once pushed his trolley through a brick wall. 

Actually we started there because King’s Cross was just across the road from St Pancras, BUT STILL. It was my top priority of the day. 

After a running start, Marie and Taylor and I each successfully pushed our trolleys through the wall as well and boarded the Hogwarts Express. Just kidding, but we did pose for pictures at the wall King’s Cross has designated with the Platform 9 3/4 title. I would like to shake the hand of the marketing genius who decided to build a Harry Potter store there. There are employees who lend you props, help you pose and take your picture. They even toss your scarf to give you that mid-jump look. This is undoubtedly because they are trying to sell you a $15 photo like they do at an amusement park, but they are also quite willing to let you take your own photo and even aid you in that pursuit. (You can expand any of my tiny pics below by clicking on them, btw.) We briefly browsed the Harry Potter shop before venturing outside and underground to buy day passes for the Tube, which we took to Piccadilly Circus.

Piccadilly Circus looked just like the London I’d imagined — the double decker buses, the British flags, the historic buildings. It felt so surreal. It should’ve felt new, but it felt familiar, like somewhere I’d been in a dream or perhaps like somewhere I’d come from but never visited (or, more likely, like somewhere I'd seen in the movies a million times). These are my people, I kept thinking. Maybe it was because I was finally back in a country where I spoke the language. Maybe it was because I have a lot of British blood in me. Either way, we had a fast-paced day overall, but every once in a while, I’d stop and think, “You’re in London.” Pinch me.

Time travel of sorts

Being in Europe also had a weird effect on my perspective of time. Somehow, the world seems older and newer there simultaneously. Do you, like me, have a fuzzy timeline in your head against which you make sense of all parts of human history? I have one. On the far right is a line marked “Present.” There’s a line 300ish years to the left marked “America as we know it.” And then there’s a line 1,700 years to the left of that marked “Jesus wuz here.” 

(I have some faint lines in between, too, like “Serfdom, I think,” and B.C. lines on the far, far left — like “Moses” and “Dinosaurs” — but they are super fuzzy. To the left of Jesus, my timeline basically fades into oblivion like those vanishing points we had to draw in seventh grade art class.)

All that to say, pretty much everything I see in my day-to-day life in the U.S. falls to the right of the “America” line. It’s all less than 300 years old, so mentally, I stay zoomed in on that little portion of human history almost all the time. In Paris and London, I think people must stay zoomed further out on their mental timelines. How could they not, when you can turn this way and that and see structures that are 600, 700, sometimes 1,000 years old? 

In Europe, I felt newly aware of the fact that humans have been around for so long, doing their human things — so much longer than we usually think about in America. Here is all the evidence, entire cities worth of evidence. I felt small and finite there. But, simultaneously, I felt as though a thousand years didn’t sound quite so long anymore. I’d been made to zoom out on my mental timeline, and suddenly the whole of human history seemed shorter. Once you’ve stood in a building that’s 1,000 years old, 2,000 years become conceivable, and from that perspective, the “Jesus” line is a lot closer to the “Present” line than you ever realized before. (In related news, I really want to visit Israel now.)

My cute breakfast dates

My cute breakfast dates

That was quite an aside, so now I’m gonna need you to zoom back in with me to June 2016. From Piccadilly Circus we started looking for a place to breakfast and ended up walking to Trafalgar Square and stopping at a pub called The Admiralty. (We didn’t actually realize at that point that we were in Trafalgar Square and spent quite a bit of time later in the day trying to find the square only to realize we’d been there earlier. Whoops.) The Admiralty is themed after the HMS Victory, a Royal Navy ship from the late 1700s, so it basically feels like you’re eating breakfast on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, we did not see Orlando Bloom. Maybe next time.

I see where Big Ben gets its name

Westminster

We then walked toward Westminster, stopping to marvel over Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster (a.k.a. the Parliament building). It was rebuilt in the mid-1800s following a fire, so the building itself isn’t mind-bogglingly old, but its site was home to the kings of England from the 1000s to the 1500s, so it has quite a storied history.

Across the street was Westminster Abbey, which puts the Parliament building to shame, its construction having started in the 1200s. (For those my age, Westminster Abbey is likely most memorable as the site of William and Kate’s famed wedding a few years ago.) The detail on both the Parliament building and Westminster Abbey is unreal. That such structures could’ve been planned and built before computers and electronic calculators and CRANES for heaven’s sakes — wait, this just in … I just looked up cranes, and apparently they’ve been around since the 400s. I retract my statement. BUT STILL. These buildings were amazing. 

After Westminster we took the Tube to London Bridge. At this point we’d been up for eight hours and on our feet for five days, so we stopped in a Pret a Manger for some caffeine and pain killer. It felt so good to sit, you guys. I’m not sure it’s ever felt so good to sit. BUT WE WERE IN LONDON, so after this brief respite, we powered through — toward the Tower of London. (It started to drizzle on the way, which would normally seem like a bummer but actually seemed fitting. What’s a day in London without a little drizzle?)

All Hallows by the Tower

All Hallows by the Tower

Tower of London

When we were almost to the Tower, we passed a church building with a sign that caught my eye: “All Hallows by the Tower,” it read. It listed its historic connections — among them, William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. 

Those who know me well know Penn is my middle name. William Penn is a distant relative on my mother’s father’s side. (As far as we can tell from family trees, we are not William Penn's descendants but, rather, descendants of his brother. I wasn’t named for these Penns, but I was named for some women on their side of the family.) Obviously we had to go in. 

Just standing in front of the oldest church building in London, taking credit for my distant relative's heroic acts

Inside I learned that not only is All Hallows the oldest church building in London (Anglican, obviously), having been built in 675, but that it owes the very fact that it is standing to William's father, my great-great-great-great-I-have-no-idea-how-many-greats grandfather — Sir William Penn, Admiral of the Royal Navy — who saved it from the Great Fire of London in 1666 by having surrounding buildings destroyed to create fire breaks that blocked the flames. My little raised-Anglican heart swelled with pride.

(I mainly hang out with Baptists these days, who love to be like, "Anglican? Is that kind of like Catholic?" No, lol, it is not. C.S. Lewis and John Stott and J.I. Freaking Packer were all Anglican, thank you very much. Anglicans were Calvinists before it was cool again. I think Paul would get mad at me if he read this paragraph.) 

We continued toward the Tower of London — where the younger William Penn, the famous one, was actually imprisoned for heresy at one point (whoops). The Anglican church’s early days are not something to be particularly proud of, so I’m not sure whether he was actually being heretical or whether he was just being persecuted for telling the TROWTH (as my roommate pronounces it), but seeing as he was a Quaker and all, I'm gonna guess that he was in fact being heretical. Regardless, Penn was known as an advocate for religious freedom, which was not a thing back in England in those days and seems increasingly threatened even in America these days, so I definitely admire that about him.

We weren't supposed to take pictures of the Crown Jewels, but what can I say, I am a rebel.

We bought tickets to tour the Tower grounds and spent a couple of hours there, choosing first to see the Crown Jewels. The curators have actually created a pretty cool tour leading up to the jewels that tells the story of their being passed down, destroyed, recreated, etc. What I found most interesting, though, was the video being played (on repeat) of the current Queen Elizabeth at her coronation when she was just 25 years old. What a strange life — she looked rather unhappy. Monarchy is so un-American that there’s something very foreign to me about the idea of being born to rule, whether you like it or not.

We also walked through the armoury in the White Tower (which was built in the late 1000s, no big deal) and saw, as you’d expect, an incredible amount of armor, for both humans and horses. My favorite thing in the White Tower was actually the old-school toilet, which I took a picture of for your viewing pleasure. I was amused that their bathrooms didn’t look quite as different from ours as I would've expected. Fortunately for us, we have plumbing, whereas they had just a hole in the floor and, presumably, a massive pile of poop on the ground below. (Ah, living like royalty.)

Before we left, we also saw this super weird monument that had been created to commemorate all the people who’d been beheaded at the Tower of London, including names you’d recognize like Anne Boleyn. There’s something very strange about standing in such a location, where a human was executed. Names become people there, and history becomes sickening. So much of human history seems to be a mix of magnificence and wickedness — I felt that profoundly while in London and at the Tower. Whether it’s the history of the Anglican Church or the British government or William Penn or the United States, there are things to be proud of and things that should bring us to our knees.

The Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge

Final stops

The day was winding down, but there were two more spots we really wanted to see before heading back to Paris: Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square (the latter we’d unknowingly been to earlier that day). We took the Tube to the palace first. For some reason I’ve always thought of Buckingham Palace as the queen’s house, but apparently she actually lives at Windsor Castle, which is about an hour away.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

I was also surprised to find that Buckingham Palace does not have a massive green lawn in front of it à la the White House. To the contrary, its front yard is more like a giant roundabout with a huge fountain in the middle. Lots of tourists like us were standing around, peering through the gold-capped gates and taking selfies. I half-expected “Pomp and Circumstance” to start playing and Wills and Kate to step out. Wills and Kate did not step out, and apparently they don’t live there either. (They live at Kensington Palace, if you’re curious.)  

At this point I started getting super sad that our day in London had gone so quickly. We trekked back to Trafalgar Square, only to realize we’d been there at breakfast. Now, though, the square was bustling with people, and the sun was lower. It felt surreal to be there and strange to be leaving. I tried to soak it in and willed myself to return.

All throughout our day in England, I’d kept thinking to myself, “Why in the world would we ever have broken off from this wonderful country?” Why would anyone want to revolt against such a quaint and storied people!? Taxation without representation doesn’t sound so bad. (Just kidding.) Seriously, though, being in London made me think that, were I around during the American Revolution, I might’ve been a Loyalist. (This would be supremely unsurprising to anyone who knows that my enneagram type is literally called the Loyalist.)

England wore us out

England wore us out

Next time I go to Europe, I want to spend several days exploring England. Something about it just feels like home to me. We had a Chunnel train to catch, so we grabbed dinner at a place called Garfunkel’s right off the square. (We surmised that it was like the Applebee’s of England, catering mainly to tourists looking for fish and chips.) As we made our way back to the train station, I felt a strong sense of sadness about leaving London, but when we finally made it back to Paris, back to the metro, back to our apartment, I was quite happy indeed to be crawling back into bed. 

All that to say, who wants to plan a trip to London? 2018? 

A Versaillian in Versailles: Paris Days 3 and 4

Is it possible for jet lag to hit a week late? I felt totally fine during my first week back in the States, but during the second week I was more tired than I can remember being in recent history. I put these recap posts on the back burner to get some rest, and I’m still struggling to find the time to write them, but I’m committed to documenting this trip before the memories slip away!

I also attended my five-year college reunion last weekend, and I couldn’t believe how many of you told me you’d been reading these posts. Making my heart happy, people! I’m going to squeeze Monday and Tuesday of the trip into one post because they fit together well, and then I’ll still break the rest of the trip into individual posts, so there are two more to come after this.

Monday

Parisian neighborhoods

Our first stop Monday morning was Rue Crémieux, which is a whole road lined with pastel houses. We went just to marvel at its cuteness. It looks like Instagram and Anthropologie had a street together. I imagine its homes are inhabited by life-size Polly Pockets who keep My Little Ponies as pets.

After admiring (and maybe envying) the colorful homes, we made our way to Place des Vosges, which is cute but in a different way. It is the oldest planned square in Europe and was also once the home of Victor Hugo. (Going to France really made me want to re-watch — maybe even read!?!? — Les Mis.) Place des Vosges, as far as I can tell, is like the 17th-century version of a subdivision. Not only were the houses perfectly symmetrical, but the trees were trimmed into rectangles. There was something very Alice-in-Wonderland about it. 

Because we couldn’t visit two places in Paris without stopping to eat again, we then stopped for some sandwiches at a boulangerie and for some gourmet (another French word!) eclairs from L’éclair de Génie over in the the Jewish quarter.

I like my eclairs like I like my palaces: dusted in gold.

While en route to pick up our eclairs, a man said something to me in French. When I looked at him bewildered, he accurately pegged me as a tourist and said, “English?”

Want to know what I answered? 

“SÍ.” 

I SAID SÍ. TO A FRENCH MAN. WHO’D JUST ASKED ME IF I SPOKE ENGLISH. IN ENGLISH. 

There is something about being spoken to in a foreign language that always makes me revert to Spanish. One day I need to visit Spain. I will be in good shape. 

Sainte-Chapelle

A mere 800 years old

After we ate our lunches, we headed to Sainte-Chapelle. If you have one day to spend in Paris, make sure this is on the itinerary. It is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. Louis IX had it built in the 1240s (!!!) to house the purported crown of thorns and other relics. The chapel’s upper level is walled in stained glass, each section depicting a Bible story. Twelve statues punctuate the room, one for each apostle. The crazy part is that the relics cost more than three times what the chapel itself cost, and though I’m no expert on the rates of 13th-century building materials, I’d estimate that the chapel was pretty expensive. Yet again, while in Sainte-Chapelle, I found myself wishing I knew more about French history and church history. Was the glory of the stained glass supposed to reflect the glory of Jesus or the glory of the Catholic Church? I would love to know more.

Musée de l’Orangerie

Get on my wall

After Sainte-Chapelle we headed over to Musée de l’Orangerie in the Tuileries Gardens. The highlight of the museum was eight of Monet’s massive Water Lilies paintings. Apparently Monet had given them as a gift to the French government but, in doing so, had provided stipulations about how they must be displayed: in oval rooms with natural, filtered light. Maybe Monet was a little high-maintenance. (I imagine he stipulated this like a pop star stipulates which amenities should be backstage, but I could be wrong.) That said, everyone in the gallery looked amazing. So from here on out, you guys are only allowed to view me in natural, filtered light.

After a French lady shuffled us out of the musée (it was closing, unbeknownst to us), we made our way back over toward Notre Dame to try what’s been called the BEST ICE CREAM IN THE WORLD from a little shop called Berthillon.

Baby ice creams.

You know how in the U.S., “one scoop” is more like three scoops? In France, one scoop is more like a rounded tablespoon, which was somewhat disappointing. The ice cream was good, but I’m pretty indiscriminate when it comes to ice cream. Whatever ice cream I’m eating at the moment is the best in the world. We ate ours in the garden behind Notre Dame and then started the trip back to our apartment, stopping by a boulangerie on the way to pick up more baguettes for another French dinner of bread and cheese in our apartment. It never gets old.

Tuesday

Riding in cars in Paris

The metro: our main mode of transportation

Tuesday morning we met up with Marie’s parents to drive to Giverny to see Monet’s home and gardens. They had a rental car, and other than the cars that took us to and from our apartment on our first and last days, this was the only time we rode in a car in France. We used the underground metro system almost exclusively to get around the city. (Culture shock #6: Transportation.)

French cars are tiny, and they’re not all tricked out like American cars. At one point on the way to Giverny, Marie asked her dad if the car had air conditioning, and I thought about what a funny question that would be in the U.S. It would almost certainly be a passive-aggressive jab to get someone to turn on the air. Not so in France. For the most part, the cars we saw were not even brands I recognized, although there were some familiar European brands like Audi and BMW. We rode to Giverny in a Peugeot. Who’s ever heard of a Peugeot??? Not me. 

How do you know where one invisible lane ends and the next one starts?

Riding in a car in downtown Paris was an experience in its own right. Intersections often had little squares in the middle of them through which you could go underground to access the metro. Everyone was zooming around these squares to turn down different streets. Sometimes it felt as though, rather than merging strategically, the cars were just mushing together toward their destination. (It was as though the city of Paris had developed long before cars or something.)

Once we got into the French countryside, however, the ride felt much more like America (and the landscape looked much more like America). A notable exception was the cute villages we passed. You know how when you take a road trip in the U.S., you end up driving through a bunch of sad little podunk towns whose only notable structures are rundown gas stations and sketchy motels — and it kinda makes you sad about being alive? Well, this is not the case in France. In France, you also pass little towns in the middle of nowhere, but they are the most PRECIOUS, delectable little villages. They look as though they were built by a gingerbread architect who had only stone at his disposal. We passed a few such villages on the way to Giverny, and I wish I had taken pictures of them for you guys! (Just Google image search “French village,” and you will get a pretty good idea.) 

Monet’s house

The pinkest house I have ever seen

Claude, I'm gonna need you to hold each of these paintings in your hand and tell me if they spark joy.

We made it to Monet’s house, and I was surprised to find that it was PINK AND GREEN and covered in artwork. I’ve never been much of an art buff, but I’ve always liked Monet because I think his stuff is genuinely pretty. His paintings make my eyes feel relaxed. That said, the interior of his house did not make my eyes feel relaxed, what with its wall-to-wall artwork. I couldn’t figure out how much of the artwork he’d always had displayed like that, and how much of it was on display for the visitors. He particularly liked Japanese artwork and had multiple rooms full of it, but I got the feeling that Marie Kondo would not approve.

Though I didn’t love the interior of his house, I found his garden magnificent. From the number of gardeners present, I think it must be several people’s full-time jobs just to maintain it. Most people have plain old grass behind their houses, but behind Monet’s house are rows upon rows of different types of flowers and, here and there, archways covered in vines. Beyond the backyard garden is the pond with its famous water lilies and Japanese bridges. You can walk the perimeter of the pond in total shade because the tree branches create a canopy. I kept bending down to marvel at the enormity of some of the leaves.

One random and amazing thing about France is that there are very few bugs compared to the U.S. (Culture shock #7: No bugs! We slept with our screen-less windows open every night.) In the U.S., there would’ve been bugs crawling all over a garden that size, but as it was, I saw only a few bees and one mosquito. I didn’t even get any bites. I would be polka-dotted in the U.S. I don’t know why they don’t have as many bugs there — something about the climate — but it makes me jealous.

We stopped in the gift stop at Monet’s house before leaving, then lunched with Marie’s parents in Vernon before they dropped us off Versailles. 

Château de Versailles

So many peasants at the palace

There’s something so surreal about driving into what appears to be a quaint little town (not too unlike Versailles, Kentucky, where I am from) and then seeing on the horizon, BAM, the Palace of Versailles. It looks ornate even from a distance, its golden gates glistening. We walked around the town of Versailles just a bit before making our way up to the palace/château. We had to pop into a Starbucks to fuel up before braving the line, and we also went to nearby tourist shop to purchase a laughably ugly backpack for 12 euros just to get our rain jackets out of our arms. We’d prepared for drizzle but instead received a hot, sunny day. (The backpack ended up becoming a running joke throughout the rest of our time in Paris. The laughs it provided were well worth 12 euros.)

Selfie at the chateau 

After we got through the line to enter the palace, we toured its rooms at our own pace. If we’d had more time, it would’ve been fun to do the audio tour, but we had a lot to squeeze in that day. The Palace of Versailles is just as ostentatious as everyone makes it sound. Gold accents, billowing fabric, huge paintings, canopy beds. This makes Donald Trump look modest, I thought while walking through. Actually, a lot about Versailles reminded me of Trump. Apparently King Louis XIV — or the Sun King (LOL) — had a daily ceremony during which his courtiers would crowd into his bedchamber there at Versailles and watch him wake up. That sounds like egotism of Trumpian proportions.

This was, in fact, probably my primary takeaway from the tour of Versailles and its grounds: that ridiculous rulers (and even ridiculous wannabe rulers) are no new thing. The Palace of Versailles puts Hillary's $12,000 jacket to shame. (And the Grand Trianon palace, which is also on the Versailles grounds and was built specifically for the king’s mistress, puts Hillary’s tolerance of Bill to shame. Just saying.) 

Touring Versailles really made me want to get my hands on some books about the time period. If you’ve read any good ones, let me know. I’m so curious about the drama that undoubtedly went down within those walls 400 years ago. 

Marie enjoying Marie Antoinette's hamlet

After making our way through the chateau, we took the mini-train (i.e., a glorified golf cart) to see Petit Trianon, which had been Marie Antoinette’s private palace for a while, as well as her hameau (or hamlet), which has a much more quaint and cottagey feel to it. I love that these rulers needed palaces to get away from their palaces and cottages to get away from their secondary palaces.

We also saw, as I mentioned before, the Grand Trianon, which was my favorite palace because it was just the right amount of over-the-top. It’s made out of light pink marble, so it’s ostentatious but in a subdued way, if that makes sense. It’s hard to believe that humans actually lived in these structures. They seem other-worldly, like a Disney movie come to life.

Let it be known that even on the grounds of Versailles, food abounds. When we were about halfway back to the palace, we stopped for a breather — a.k.a., chocolate crepes. 

With Tay in the Temple of Lurve

I’m happy to report that my knees never started to hurt until the day of Versailles. Many of my readers know that I dealt with chronic leg pain for years, so this trip would’ve been an impossibility for me in high school and college. My legs never could’ve handled it. During this trip my legs were total troupers — despite the fact that, according to my FitBit, we walked more than 60 miles over the course of the week. My old leg pain didn’t flare up at all, and though my knees gave me some trouble this day and the next (London!), they were amazing overall. I wore these Tevas every day and would HIGHLY recommend them if you want something comfortable, cool, and easy to clean.

After our crepes, we passed the grand canal and the Le Bassin d'Apollo before reaching the palace again, taking a few more selfies at the gates (all the other tourists had finally left), and then hitting up a French McDonald’s in downtown Versailles before catching our train back to Paris. I’d heard that McDonald’s is way better in Europe than America, but it would be hard for me to compare them because, in America, I’m gonna pick Wendy’s over McDonald’s 100 percent of the time. That said, French McDonald’s is not better than American Wendy’s, so let it be known that France may blow us out of the water when it comes to architecture and gardening and art and history, but we’re holding our own when it comes to hamburgers. (It’s the little things.)

We got back to our apartment pretty late and had just a few hours to sleep before we were to get up and head to ENGLAND the next day. No big deal. I’ll detail our Anglo-adventures in my next post.