Monday, February 22, 2016

Paris, France

January 18-22, 2016

The second stop on our Euro trip was the one and only, Le Paris! Even when we booked our flights from Barcelona to Paris months in advance, I couldn’t believe I was going to Paris. I mean, it’s Paris. The city glamorized in brochures and posters, books and movies. Given that this whole Fulbright experience still feels like a dream, why not detour to Paris, right? Snooze on, Mariya!

We took a 20:50 Vueling flight from Barcelona and arrived to Paris at 22:35. I had been warned that French people tend to be rude if you don’t speak their language, and I encountered this stereotype when I asked about potential bus routes to our hostel. A guy sitting at a rental car service—an American company, might I add—asked me in English if I spoke French, and when I shook my head and said “no,” he bluntly replied: “then I cannot help you.” I don’t believe in stereotypes but I do believe in courtesy. Oh well. Alex and I took a taxi to our new hostel, which cost about 30 Euros. The nice taxi driver, who was from Philippines and had been living in France for quite some time, spoke enough English for us to communicate. We circled around the neighborhood a few times because we could not figure how to get to the exact street; turned out our hostel was located on a one-way roundabout street. We managed to walk in the middle of the night—it was about 2am at this point—and found our destination. We quickly slipped into our pajamas and hopped into a queen bed together.

Here are the highlights from Paris, which we spent with our two Fulbright friends, Casey Mangan and George Boyan. This city has so much history, so much class!

Palace of Versailles – This is where the kings wined and dined. Incredibly huge and lavish. Royal, opulent, and luxurious are all adjectives I would use to describe this mansion. It is also apparently a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy, starting with Louis XIV. The golden lining on the gates, windows, and doors were a nice contrast to the sky blue roofs. When we walked through the palace, which is now a museum, the sociologist in me couldn’t understand the need for so much wealth. Nonetheless, monarchy is part of France’s political history so I tried not to pass too much judgment on the royal family, whose portraits stared down at us in every room. My favorite part of the palace was the Gardens, which extend some 800 hectares (1 hectare = 10,000 m2) of land. (Imagine how many poor people can build housing on this much land!) The meticulously manicured lawns, parterres of flowers, sculptures and fountains made the walk through the gardens both enjoyable and scenic. At one point, the rectangular long and narrow walk in the gardens reminded me of the walk by the reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial back home in DC. We enjoyed authentic chicken tikka sandwiches for lunch afterward, and indulged in crepes and cappuccinos in the evening.

Le Louvre – The next day, we went to the Louvre Museum, which is one of the world's largest museums and a historic monument in Paris. The Louvre is also the world's most visited museum and is housed in Louvre Palace, which was originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century under Philip II (according to Wikipedia). Casey, George, Alex, and I spent three hours at this renowned museum, although seeing the entire place would require at least a week. After waiting behind a large crowd, we finally saw the famous “The Mona Lisa” painting by Leonardo da Vinci. I thought “The Mona Lisa” would be a big painting, but it turned out to be quite tiny, which was a little disappointing. Still a great piece of art though. Anyhow, some other famous artwork we saw included the Winged Victory of Samothrace (Winged Goddess of Nike presides over the Louvre’s Daru stairs), Venus de Milo (Amphitrite missing arms), the “Liberty Leading the People” painting, Great Sphinx of Tanis (lion’s body, human head), among many others including Napoleon's room. Outside of the museum are the famous glass pyramids, a popular site for photos. We had lunch at a Japanese place nearby the Louvre, but the chicken curry made my stomach ill afterward.

Eiffel Tower (“Eiffel Tour”) – The Eiffel Tower is one of the most well-known landmarks of the world, and believe me, it lives up to its hype in every sense of the word. Built by Gustave Eiffel and made of iron in a lattice pattern with a square base, the Eiffel Tower is as magnificent as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul or the Taj Mahal in India. It stands at 324 meters (1,063 feet) and is as high as an 81-story building. There are three sections of the Eiffel Tower, all of which are accessible to the public. When we were there, however, the top section was closed of due to the terrorist attacks that happened back in December. This didn’t deter us from seeing to the first two sections though. Instead of taking the elevator, all four of us challenged ourselves and decided to climb the stairs. I very quickly realized this was a mistake, as I found myself panting and out of breath just after a few flights of stairs. Nonetheless, I climbed all the stairs because I never give up on a challenge. The views from both levels of the Eiffel Tower were amazing. We got to see the sunset over Paris on the second level, which was a beautiful moment. Orange and red light cast over the blue roofs in easily identifiable layers, as if a 6-year-old had carefully colored them with a crayon or colored pencil.

Notre DameNotre means “our” and dame means “lady.” Notre Dame de Paris is a historic Catholic cathedral. It’s as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. Admission was free. We walked around the church and admired the sculptures, paintings, and other set-ups. The center was reserved for those who wished to worship, and everything around it was open to visitors. According to Wikipedia, the “cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world.” Notre Dame is also apparently one of the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress, which is a form of architecture that resists the lateral forces pushing a wall outwards by redirecting them to the ground.
Triumphal Arch – Formerly known as the “Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile,” this is another famous monument in Paris. I know, Paris has lots of rich history and everything appears to be “famous,” but it’s true! One thing I did not know is that the Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. George’s two North Carolina friends joined on this tour and it was nice to meet them. We bought tickets and climbed the stairs to the top of the Arch, and saw yet another breathtaking view of the city. The Eiffel Tower could be seen from the distance, as if someone sketched it with an unsharpened pencil. I even tried to hold the Eiffel Tower in my hand! 
Montmartre – Montmartre was perhaps my favorite monument in Paris. A white-domed Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur sits on the hill’s summit, making it the highest point in Paris with an incredible view of the city. When I say incredible, I am not using that word lightly. With a 360-degree turn, you can see all of Paris…every building, monument, tree, street, house, road, tower, river. It was as if someone placed a magnifying glass on a satellite city map of Paris and let you peek into it. We rushed up the stairs so that we could enjoy the sunset, and we made it in time! I want you to imagine an empty canvass. Take your paintbrush, dip it in some orange paint, and make a horizontal stroke across the board, letting the color naturally bleed. Now mix in some yellow; then red, blue, then purple. You’re not creating a rainbow; you’re creating a color scheme, one that is supposed to cast a shadow over Paris.
Moulin Rouge – “Moulin Rouge is the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance,” says Wikipedia. People from around the world buy expensive tickets to enjoy musical shows and dance performances at this “red mill.” The closest equivalent of Moulin Rouge I can think of is Broadway in Times Square in New York. While we couldn’t afford a show at Moulin Rouge, we could afford to take pictures in front of this landmark. Afterward, Casey’s Turkish student from last year met up with us and we all had Vietnamese pho for dinner. Turkish hospitality continued to Paris; we were surprised when the friend paid for our dinner despite our multiple efforts to stop him. This reaffirms the warm nature of Turkish people; they carry that part of them everywhere they go.
Other Random Things – As we roamed Le Paris, we enjoyed lots of crêpes and cappuccinos – when in Paris, do as Parisians do, right? One of my favorite crêpe places was a little café shop decorated with currency, notes, and photos of customers from around the world. I saw US dollars, Japanese yen, Turkish lira, Pakistani and Indian rupees, British pound, Euros, Saudi riyal, plus others I could not recognize. Another thing I found interesting was a metro station named “Franklin D. Roosevelt.” I smiled because the first thing I thought to myself was: “I suppose FDR has been to Paris a few times in his lifetime. A lot was happening in the 1930s and 1940s in Europe, and quite a number of treaties were signed here.” I felt closer to America seeing FDR’s name on the metro map. Last but not least, we stopped by the famous Lafayette mall on our last day and I purchased a warm, fuzzy scarf which would become, as I later found out, a great investment for Brussels and Amsterdam.
With that said, I now conclude the Paris blog post. Needless to say, there was a lot to see in Paris and we managed to do our best. Hope you learned something new, because I surely did while visiting the city and while doing research to write this post. My friends often ask why I waste time writing so much; I don’t consider blogging a waste of time. When someone has a hobby, they do it with passion and desire. It brings them happiness. Journalism is one of my hobbies, and writing brings me joy. Chronicling, documenting, and sharing my experiences with my family and friends, and others around the world, has always been something I’ve done since I was a child. Writing allows me to collect my thoughts, reflect about my experiences, and gain deeper meanings into the visual world we live in.

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