Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chartres

On my Thursday in Paris, I took the first of two day trips out of Paris. The nice thing about one's third visit to a major city is that you can do things outside of the city. Since I feel that I'd already seen most of Paris' must-sees, I definitely wanted to take some day trips out of the city this time around.

For day trip #1, I headed to the Gare du Montparnasse to catch a train to Chartres. Chartres is a town that's located 96 km southwest of Paris. It's a pleasant approximately 1.5 hour train ride through French countryside, and a great thing to do on a sunny day.

I love the train stations in Paris. The reason why I love them is because they feel like real train stations. They have so many tracks and trains running that they put Toronto's little Union Station to shame. What's more impressive is that there is more than one major train station in Paris. It just makes me feel that trains are respected in Europe, whereas sometimes in North America, train travel feels likes it's an outdated dusty old mode of transportation from the past. Not in Europe.

Once I found the proper place to buy my ticket to Chartres, I snapped a quick picture of the Departures board. See, lots of trains!


The ride was very pleasant. I loved looking at the small towns as I passed by. I wish I could have snapped some pictures of the rolling countryside, but I was just too content to sit and watch to bother myself by trying to get a good shot.

When I arrived in Chartres, I thought to myself "now where to find the Cathedral?" It was pretty easy to spot as soon as I exited the train station.


This cathedral, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, was mostly built between 1193 and 1250, and is apparently one of the finest examples of the French high Gothic style (thanks Wikipedia). It also houses a famous relic said to be the tunic that the Virgin Mary wore while giving birth to Jesus Christ. However, the tunic is not currently on display in order to preserve it.

No matter one's views on religion, I think cathedrals are such interesting displays of architecture and history, and that's why I enjoy visiting them. In addition, when I do visit one I do feel a sense of peace and thankfulness for life just because they are so beautiful.

At first, I walked around the grounds of the cathedral. At the back, you could look down upon the gardens, and there was this interesting pattern planted:

When I was hanging out with my friend Jane after the trip, she mentioned that she'd gone to Chartres when she visited Paris, and asked me if I saw the maze on the floors of the cathedral. I said, no, but I saw it outside. I guess next time I visit a cathedral, I will be sure to look down at the floor.

Here's another view from the gardens.


Then I went inside the cathedral. A lot of the stained glass survives from the 13th century, which is a bit insane, don't you think? No wonder I kept looking up instead of down at the floor!

After visiting inside, I spent some time admiring the crumbling facade of the cathedral. The number of statues and other details was amazing. Many of the statues had aged. There was one of Mary holding a headless baby Jesus. I should have taken a picture but I didn't, because I think it rather disturbed me.

I decided to spend some time wandering around the town a little bit, and getting myself lost along its narrow streets, and admiring some interesting looking houses.

Here's Chartres' Hôtel de Ville:


I decided to return to the cathedral, because at 2 pm, the North Tower re-opened from lunch break. For about €7.50, you could climb the North Tower of the cathedral. I figured it would be a nice view, so I sat on a bench in the square in front of the cathedral and relaxed until 2 pm.

I didn't ask how many stairs I would have to climb. At the end I found out it was a 300 stair climb. I worked up a bit of a sweat.

Totally worth it though. The view was magnificent.

Here's the view of the square where I hung out before my climb.

Goofy self-portrait to prove that I did it!


I love gargoyles.

When I returned back to the ground, I took a picture of the tower I climbed as a memento.

Then, I returned to the train station to catch the train back to Paris.

For a snack, I got a bottle of Orangina, and one of the most amazing granola bars that I discovered at Monoprix this trip. I don't know why I didn't stock up on them and bring them back home. So good. Macadamia nuts, coconut, and dark chocolate.

When I returned to Paris, I had some time to relax and read in the Jardin du Luxumbourg before meeting up with Becca T and accompanying her to a party. It was fun to meet some of her Paris colleagues and friends.

Next post - my day trip to Bruges. Yup, adding another country to my list!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Paris at Night by Bike

When I left you last post, I was chilling by the Eiffel Tower, and listening to Phoenix while waiting for my night time bike tour of Paris.

My blogging pal/traveler extraordinaire AlieMalie recommended that I do a bike tour of Paris using Fat Tire Bike Tours. Now, I have biked a bit in Paris on my own using the Velib' system, but biking any distance through Paris is a little bit intimidating for me because I'd have to spend a lot of time consulting a bike map, and the terrifying traffic (despite the excellent system of bike paths). So, I decided that a tour would be the perfect for me to feel safe biking through Paris, and to leave the planning up to someone else. I opted for the night tour, since it covered a longer distance, and included a cruise on the Seine complete with wine.

It worked out perfectly since Becca had work commitments on Wednesday night, and the bike tour would give me something fun to do.

All of the other people on that night's tour were American other than me. There was a family with three teenage boys from Florida, a trio of Texan teachers, two students from NYC, a Texan studying in Barcelona on a mini-trip to Paris, and a couple from Boston. As we started off, past the Eiffel Tour, one girl's chain fell off her bike, but that left time for an excellent photo op. Here is me and my bike. I bought my new coat especially for Paris. I should have taken off my reflective vest for the photo... you'll see I got better at that as the tour progressed.


We biked past this building at dusk. I think it's Les Invalides, which now houses the Army Museum and Napoleon's tomb, but I could be wrong. Either way it was beautiful.


We biked for a good distance through some traffic all the way to Notre Dame. I was so glad I was doing this as part of a group... It would take some real balls for me to do this on my own. I'm way too timid to even bike in Toronto traffic. During some left turns, all I could do was mutter "holy shit" under my breath. It was exhilarating.

When we got to Notre Dame we stopped on one of the bridges, and our guide explained to us the locks on the bridge. I'd never noticed them before during my other visits to Paris, but maybe I was just crossing the wrong bridges. Anyway, couples in love place the locks on the bridge, then throw the keys into the Seine as a sign of their commitment. There were a few combination locks on the bridge too. People, a combination lock is a deal-breaker, no?


The back of Notre Dame at night. Note the flying buttresses.


The Hôtel de Ville (city hall).


We then stopped for some ice cream at a really yummy place by Notre Dame. I had left my money in my bag at the office, but the nice couple from Boston were nice enough to lend me some. Yay for tour camaraderie.

We headed in the direction of the Louvre. We crossed the pedestrian bridge, the Pont des Arts, that links the Institut de France to the central square of the Louvre.

Here's the gorgeous Institut de France.


Here's a view of the Louvre from the Pont des Arts. It's such a massive building.


From there, we biked to the Pyramid at the entrance of the Louvre.


From there, we biked along streets by the Seine to the docks where we'd meet our boat for our cruise of the Seine. I snapped this picture of my fellow bikers ahead of me, just to capture the sense of what it was like to be following them along the night time streets of Paris.


As we waited for our boat to leave the harbour, I snapped this picture, which I think is my favourite of the entire trip.


The cruise along the Seine was cold, but lots of fun. The boat was fairly large and rather full that evening. There were lots of loud teenagers on the boat (spring break tours, perhaps?) but they just hooted and hollered as we passed underneath bridges. This just made me laugh, because we went under lots of bridges, and you'd think they'd get bored of it, but nope. In addition, I loved watching Parisians along the Seine. There were lots of groups of people sitting by the river drinking wine, which naturally gave me an idea for something to do on my last night in Paris.

I only took a few pictures during the cruise. I think it's because I was relaxing, drinking wine, and chatting with my fellow bikers. I was flattered because one of the Floridian teenagers in my group asked me if I was a student, and I had to admit that no, I was a teacher.

Here's the clock of the Musee de Orsay. The building used to be a train station, but now is a great Art Gallery with lots of Impressionist art work. I visited there my first time in Paris, and it's excellent.


Here's a fuzzy picture of Notre Dame taken from the boat.


After the cruise, we biked back to our starting point but took some time to take some last pictures of the Eiffel Tower at night.




And that was my night bike tour of Paris. It was a great time. I told Becca T that she must do it when her sister visits her. If you ever visit Paris, I suggest you do this tour if you enjoy biking. Thanks for the tip AlieMalie!

My next Paris post will be of my little train trip out of Paris to see the Gothic cathedral at Chartres.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Give me something to remember.

Press play on this video. Do it. Trust me. It's what I've been listening to on repeat as I write this post.



I'm trying my best to get back into the groove of real life post-Paris, and, well, post-other-things. Everyone said that I came back from Paris with a post-Paris glow and looking better but maybe it was the new silk scarves that I got from Monoprix for €15. They are pretty.

Right now, I realize that I'm not the tour-de-force that I usually consider myself to be.

I'm having a hard time getting back into my running regime. I had a crappy-ish first run since Paris yesterday... I just did 5K. It was too much time in my head to do any more. I'm going to run again tomorrow after school. Maybe even take myself to the nice new gym by the Eaton Centre as motivation for a good run. My 10K is in a month and a half. I felt ready for it a few weeks ago, but now... not so much.

I've been losing myself in books. I read through Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections in record time. It was rather depressing, but I overall I liked it (although I liked his more recent novel Freedom better). Now I'm immersed in a novel about Catherine the Great: The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak.

I was reading this book on my Kindle but then I woke up yesterday, and half of my Kindle screen was dead. I called Amazon, but it's out-of-warranty, so they'll replace it for $65, but I could get the newer model for $79 so what's the point? I actually think I'm going to make the move to the Kobo, because it's compatible with the Toronto Public Library's E-books.

Which reminds me of the fact that our librarians are on-strike so I can't even go to the library these days. :(

I was really into my novel, so I went to Indigo and bought it so I can continue reading it.

I haven't been listening to music as much as I usually do. I've been riding the subway in silence, reading. Note: I usually do listen to music while reading... I've just not been listening to music much.

But I have been... a bit. Enough to have put the new Joel Plaskett Emergency song Harbour Boys on repeat a few times. And listen to some Phoenix, which reminds me of Paris. And discover the Neko Case song that I hope you're listening to now like I told you to. ;)

Oh yes, and I have been listening to John K Samson's album Provincial and some old Weakerthans songs because I did go see my beloved Johnny K play on Thursday night at the beautiful Great Hall which made for an awesome show. The openers were good too. I'd seen Shotgun Jimmie (from Sackville NB) before, and he's a fun guy. I gotta figure out the songs I like by him and get them on my iPod. The other openers, Wake Owl, a young band from Vancouver, were great, and I have acquired their EP, which I'm enjoying immensely.

Of course, Johnny K was fabulous. I love his solo stuff, and I died a bit to hear old Weakerthans tunes, which are the soundtrack to my past, and I also loved when John K and the Provincial Band went loud for some songs. I needed loud. Also, my heart broke during the last song, Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure, because it is a song about a lost cat, and I was missing Rilo (she's back home now), and Johnny K sang it out into the crowd without a mic and it was a perfect moment.

I forgot to bring my new awesome camera to the show though. I bet I would have gotten some great pictures with it. Next time.

Okay, so I did not mean to purge all that up onto my blog, but I did, and it stays. The other things, besides reading and a bit of music, that have been getting me by are my memories of Paris, and my photos.

On my first day in Paris, I had some time to wander around while Becca T did some work stuff, and I came across my street namesake.


I also wandered along the Seine to Notre Dame, took some photos, and spent some time sitting beside the cathedral.


That night, Becca T and I went out for sushi, as per tradition, and then did some night time wandering. Here's a night shot of Notre Dame.


The next day, Becca T and I went out to the working class Paris suburb of Saint Denis to see the Basilica of Saint Denis. Why? It houses the royal necropolis where all but three of France's kings are buried, and holds the remains of Marie Antoinette. I've seen MA's chateau, her jail cell, the place where she was killed, and finally I've seen her grave.


The alter inside. Note: even though it was a sunny spring day, it was bone-chillingly cold in the cathedral.


Here is a memorial to MA's son, Louis XVII. He died as a little boy in captivity. His heart was cut out of his body, and now stored next to his parents' grave at the basilica.


Here is the memorial to Louis XVI and MA.


We probably would have spent more time at the necropolis but it was so cold inside, that we headed to Montmartre for coffee, and so that I could get a shot of the famous windmill at the Moulin Rouge, which I'd not seen before.


The next day, Becca T and I weren't at our best (too much wine the night before), so we had a lazy day sitting in the Tuileries, and going for coffee. As a treat, I booked us into a hotel in Saint Germain, and I went for a pre-dinner walk, where I took some photos. Here are the narrow streets:


And the church of St. Sulpice, which I remember best from reading The Da Vinci Code.


The next day, we met up with a friend to have brunch in the Marais, at a cute place we discovered last time: Le Loire dans la Théière. I ate what was on the chalkboard. Their Sunday brunch, which I had last time, is epic. The weekday brunch is good, but can't hold a candle to Sunday brunch.

The inside is decorated like Alice in Wonderland.


After brunch, and some shopping, Becca had work stuff to do, so I headed off to the catacombs, which was on my Paris to-do list. I wanted to see the ossuary, which contains the remains of about 6 million people who were buried there in the late 18th century until about 1874.

First, I had to walk through a long expanse of underground tunnels. I felt completely alone in these tunnels as the tourists who entered behind me didn't walk very fast and I lost them. It was spooky.


Then I got to the empire of the dead...

It was just hallways with stacks and stacks of bones. My inner goth was in heaven.


After that, I took the Metro to Bir Hakeim. I was doing a night bike tour of the city that started near the Eiffel Tower.
I had an hour to kill, so I ate my supper that I brought from home (fresh baguette with ham and cheese, yogurt, and a banana), and took lots of pictures of the Eiffel Tower while listening to Phoenix.



Why did I listen to Phoenix? Paris makes me think of their awesome Take-Away-Show series, that I'm pretty sure Rawbean, told me about a few years ago. Phoenix = Paris for me. If you have some time, watch the series. I have been. It makes me happy.



I'll close this post here. Next post will be about my night time bike tour, which was awesome and one of my favourite things ever. Back to Catherine the Great for me.

Hope you all have a great Monday.