Paris Day 3: Basilica de Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame

I think we got up and moving slightly earlier this day. We grabbed some quiche for breakfast and headed back to Montmartre to see Sacre Coeur. After climbing countless number of stairs to get up to the top where the church was, we rewarded ourselves with an overpriced ice cream bar :) Next, we sat on the steps of Montmartre to enjoy the incredible view. This was another crowded tourist place, but it wasn’t so bad as there was lots of room to move around outside. Inside wasn’t too bad either. It wasn’t as interesting as Westminster Abby, nor as old, but pretty nonetheless.

We also went down into the crypts, which sounds spooky but wasn’t. Although they did have some real bones in a glass case – it didn’t say who, though. It also smelled really musty down there! They had some really neat artifacts on display too, like original priest robes and old notes and tons of gold heart trinkets with “SC” on them.

Next, we paid the 4 euro/ticket or whatever to climb 244 stairs to the top of the church (what? we paid to put our legs in pain?!?) It was a narrow, spiral staircase and you got very dizzy. The burn in the legs was crazy! However, it was all worth it as the view was spectacular!!!!!! We had a full 360 view of Paris. And it wasn’t crowded up there either, which was nice. I mean, there were people and it was a narrow space, but we could definitely pause and enjoy ourselves. Then we did the 244 stairs back down (gotta keep the muscle tone even….) on jello legs. We sat on a curb and enjoyed an accordian/violin duo playing in the street and rested our legs. Then we headed down the hill. Funny thing is there’s a trolley thing that takes you up and down the hill. We didn’t even consider it on the way up b/c we didn’t want to pay when we could climb ourselves. However, now that our legs were so rubbery, we looked at it and found out, ironically enough, that it was part of the metro system and our day passes covered it!! So, we could have taken it up. Oh well. But we did take it down (and were the only ones, too, because who would pay to go downhill??)

Next stop: Notre Dame. We worked our way over via metro and foot, and passed some other popular places along the way like Palais du Justice, Saint Sulpice, and the Concierge but didn’t stop in those . (Although, after rewatching “The Davinci Code” we wish we would have gone in Saint Sulpice hehe). We arrived at Notre Dame and were met by a zoo of tourists. Sigh. Still, it was a spectacular sight from the ouside. We joined the queue for getting in (no fee – yay!) and pretty much had to stay packed into a tight group moving through the church. It was beautiful inside!! However, there was no room to stand and enjoy anything inside. If you paused, then everyone bumped into you. Sigh again. So we pretty much just had to move with the flow instead of being able to go at our own pace, which was disappointing. But still, it was beautiful inside and we got to see it and the admire the rose windows and architecture.

We emerged back into the sunlight and walk around back to a park called Square Jean XXIII. We had read that this had the best views of the church and that was correct. Plus it was a beautiful, shady park to sit and rest. A little jazz trio started up and that was a very pleasant experience – sitting in a park, in the shade, listening to jazz. All we needed was a glass of wine! Funny story – I guess since Jazz is American, no one knew to clap after a jazz solo? Or maybe it’s just a musician thing? So we were the only ones who clapped after solos and then others caught on and later would clap with us :P

We were close to the Latin Quarter, so we walked around there.  It was very Americanized. It had a Starbucks and a Body Shop and other American stores mixed in with French ones.  It was fun to explore.

It was dinner time so we headed back to our hotel.  We asked the person at the front desk about a good place to go eat and he recommended a little restaurant right down the street.  So we went there and got a table outside on the sidewalk and tried to decipher the menu.  We couldn’t, but with a little help from our waitress who knew a little English we ordered a salad for our entrée (appetizer).  It was a very different salad.  It was lettuce under some type of ham (it looked like prosciutto to me) under toast under something that I think was a pâté.  Weird ingredients to us, but the whole thing put together was quite tasty.

For our plat (main dish) Phil ordered Linguine with sun-dried tomatoes and basil.  What I ordered I was quite sure except that it had chicken and fromage (cheese).  Omg, it was amazing!  It was a boneless chicken breast, but with the skin still on, so it was cooked all yummy.  That was on top of a pile of sautéed onions and mushrooms which tasted amazing by themselves.  All of it was covered in a cheese sauce that had a hint of chili in it.  It was soooooo good!

We finished the meal with dessert, which was crème brûlée, of course!!  SO GOOD!

We’re home! (And behind on our blog posts…)

We had a GREAT last few days in Paris…saw and enjoyed some incredible sites, took tons of great photos.  We’ll get them uploaded asap and I’ll finish up the last few days in Paris.  In short, we saw Notre Dame, the July Column (formerly the Bastille), the Catacombs, went to the top of the Eiffel Tower,  Sacre Coeur,  more of Montmartre, the Latin Quarter, and….maybe more?  It was a busy few days!

L’Opera Garnier and le Louvre

That is what we saw today.  After eating some yummy breakfast/lunch of quiche lorraine and cafe au lait, we headed out to see the sights.  Our feet were rested and we were rested, having slept in until late :)  The opera house was amazing.  It was really really fun to see, and best of all we were yet to find out, it was not that crowded. Hmm, I guess it’s not on every tourists’ must-see list.

On to the Louvre.  OMG. It was disgustingly crowded.  Seriously, we walked in and almost walked right back out.  It was the equivalent of walking into Disneyland in the middle of summer.  Ugh. However, we braced ourselves and pushed on.  We made it this far, might as well go all the way, right?  Well, unfortunately with that many people in one space it just impossible for you to enjoy yourself.  Now, I can imagine the Louvre on a winter day, non-tourist season and having a whole space almost to yourself to get lost in….oh man, that would be lovely.  This was not.  However, I will try to be positive…The architecture of the place was gorgeous!!  That was about the only thing I enjoyed. The building itself is amazing piece of artwork.   We went and saw the Mona Lisa….woohoo! It was this small picture, encased by heavy, heavy glass, with a HUGE crowd around it all taking pictures WITH flash.  Oh yeah, that’s another thing we simply could not believe – they let you take pictures in there. FLASH pictures!!!  We couldn’t believe that.  Needless to say, we did not spend a whole lot of time in there.

I just figured out what bugged me about the whole thing.  Phil and I aren’t really that interested in art history.  We were not all the excited about seeing the Louvre b/c visual art just isn’t our thing.  However, there was this unspoken pressure that since we are in Paris, we just have to go to the Louvre.  What is it about it that has made it a must-see?  So that is why we went and that is why there were so many other people there. Doing the same thing as us.  So I watched all these people filing past and not even enjoying the art, or just pretending to.  There is no way you can even take in the whole place in one day. It’s huge.  It would take months and months of recurring visits, in my opinion, to really soak up the whole thing.  So the Louvre, which really is this amazing place of rich beauty and art history, has been turned into this Disneyland art museum and that really disappoints and almost disgusts me.  The Louvre is not being appreciated for the beautiful place it is, but instead is being used for tourism and money.  Sad. Ok, off of my soap box and on to other things….

After we emerged into sunlight and fresh air we were starving.  So we plopped ourselves down at the nearest cafe and enjoyed a pretty american meal at a french cafe (well, what do you expect? we were in a high tourist area)  But it was tasty.  But note to self: don’t eat by the tourist areas mostly b/c you’ll get americanized french food.

We headed back to our hotel exhausted after only 5 1/2 hours of sightseeing and took a long nap.  We stayed in for the rest of the night, except for when I ran out to get us a baguette and wine for dinner :)

A self-guided tour of Paris by metro and foot…

Ow ow ow, is what I have to say. My feet are so sore from all the walking we did yesterday.  You can see everything in Paris by foot, but ouch. It’s a lot of walking.  Why did we walk so much? Weeellllll, we couldn’t find metro stations. We seemed to stop, look at a map, see where the next one was, but then somehow walk right by it.  Each time it was “oh, we’ll just make it to the next one…”  I’m sure we ended up walking a couple of extra miles.  Let’s see, if you’re looking at a map of Paris, we walked from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc d’Triomphe, down Champs Elysees and George V boulevard, down  along the Seine next to le Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, les Invalides, and a little past and finally found a metro.  Maybe it doesn’t look far on the map, but my aching feet will tell you otherwise (and I was in tennis!)

Despite the aching feet, we did enjoy ourselves.  It was like we gave ourselves an overview of Paris so we could decide what we really wanted to spend our time on.  For example, we saw that the line to go up the Eiffel tower was equivalent to the line for Indiana Jones at Disneyland.  Hmm…come back later is what we thought.  Also, the Louvre is quite stunning from the outside so who can imagine what it’ll look like from the inside!  This one bridge, which I havne’t figured out the name to yet,  was goregeous and tempting to walk across, so we’ll have to do that when our feet can handle it.  Notre Dame was stunning, of course.  Musee d’Orsay is right there and beautiful.

Our intent was to get up early and head straight to the Eiffel Tower to see if we could beat the lines, but oops….it’s 11:00 and we’re just showering.  We were out late seeing Montmartre.  We ate in the Cafe de 2 Moulins (2 Windmills Cafe), which is the cafe from the movie, Amelie, of which we are great fans.  Then it was on to the redlight district.  Hmmmm….won’t go into detail.  Let’s just say, you thought Las Vegas was bad……Anway, walked to find such famous places as Le Chat Noir and Moulin Rouge.   Took some pics and headed back.  Oh yeah, riding the subway at 11:30 pm like pros (and there were still TONS of people out everywhere)

We did find out that the Eiffel Tower stays open until midnight, so maybe we’ll go for a ride tonight instead.  We are going to L’Opera Garnier today and then the Louvre.

We haven’t uploaded pics yet, but we have some.  We didn’t go crazy yesterday b/c we knew we’d be coming back to all the places we saw….so hang tight, be patient.  We are having a great time!

Phil’s glasses

So they tell you to take a back up pair of glasses with you for good reason!  I mean, you never think you’re glasses are going to really and truly break when you’re on vacation, do you?  I mean, you’re on vacation! Well, Phil’s did.  And nothing caused it that we know.  Just good ol’ wear and tear.  The side piece just up and snapped in two as he was putting them on.  We tried scotch taping them just for a temporary solution and it looked sooo bad!  We had to actually tape part of the lens in order to hold the side piece on hahahaha. So that didn’t work.

Our hostess’ name that day was Mary, and she was a lovely Irish women who we talked with over breakfast.  She was great fun to talk to. So colorful and animated and funny! Well, she was so nice with the whole situation.  She called her optician’s office to see if they could help us and they had a repair person on sight! So she sent us off and we had to go into Limerick but it was worth it.  The repair guy was soooooo nice!

He took a look and sadly, it was a no go on repairing it.  The side piece was made out of titanium, so no chance of saudering it.  He couldn’t unscrew it from the lens and just put on a whole new side b/c the lens was actually cracked and that is why they broke.  If he took the screw out a chunk of lens would just fall off. Phil has rimless glasses, which are a) expensive and b) more fragile and fickle but c) very nice looking for someone who has to wear glasses all the time!

Well, we said oh well, he did bring his sunglasses as a back up pair (but Phil didnt like them and so wasn’t going to really wear them, and plus, who wants to wear sunglasses inside?) And, again, who really thinks their glasses are going to break while you are oversees on holiday?  They tell you to take a copy of your prescription too.  Phil didn’t b/c he thought he’d just call if anything happened.  That’s a fine idea until you realize that it’s 2 am back home!!  And plus, new glasses over there would have cost us an arm and a leg.

Sooooo, how does the story resolve you are probably wondering.  A happy ending!  He found out we had the sunglasses and said he could lighten the lenses for us.  So we gave him the sunglasses and he set to work.  He wasn’t able to lighten the lenses…at least not quickly.  So, he all of a sudden comes out of his little office and has the sunglasses frames and in them are clear lenses.  He cut new lenses right there for the frames and somehow got the prescription from the tinted lenses!!! Yay!!!  And he wouldn’t let us give him one single penny for it.  Not one. Not even let us buy his lunch. Sweet, sweet man.

Yay! Phil has glasses again.  The lenses aren’t perfect….I’m guessing it’s probably b/c of his astigmatism in one eye and the lens isn’t fitted for that so it’s a little blurry for him in the right eye.  But, he can see and enjoy Paris, and I think he looks hot in his box-frame trendy glasses :)

Moral of the story: Yes, your glasses could just randomly break while you are overseas and with as much irony of situation as possible!

Paris, Day 1:

Hello from Paris, France!!! We arrived at 5:30 pm (8:30 am your time) and had to take a bus into Paris (1 hour ride).  Next, we walked a few minutes to the nearest metro station and took that for about 1/2 hour to our stop. Then, we walked about 5 minutes or so down the street and found our hotel.  Piece of cake! :P

Our hotel is very nice.  We are staying here for 5 nights which will be a nice change from changing places every night like we did in Ireland.  We are staying in the right bank of Paris (which means North of the Seine River).  It is close to attractions such as the Bastille and L’Opera Garnier, and is not terribly far from the Louvre or Arc de Triomphe via la metro.

Once we checked into our hotel, we unpacked a bit. Again, it felt nice to be able to spread our our stuff in anticipation of a longer stay, rather than trying to keep it ready to move on the next night.  We are in desperate need of doing some laundry, although we did resort to some sink washing of necessities in Ireland to get us by.  It’s a nice room, although pretty tiny….but hey, who needs a big room? Just a comfortable bed and bathroom.

I was personally starving so we set out in search of some food in the local area.  I had the inspiration of just getting some bread, cheese and wine for dinner.  Each item had to be acquired from a different shop (which I was aware of and, I thought, part of the fun!).  We first went to une boulangerie/patisserie (bakery/pastry shop) just across the street for some fresh baked baguettes.  Next, around the corner we found a little shop selling assorted beverages. I’m not sure what you call that.  But we bought a bottle of beaujolais (a light burgundy) and a bottle of water for extremely cheap and the wine is VERY tasty.  No wonder they drink so much of it here!  Finally, we found a supermarche (supermarket) where I bought some fromage (cheese), salami and macaroons (also very cheap).  We came back to hotel, asked the front deks to open our wine and tucked in.  Tear off a hunk of baguette, slap on a slice of salami, and tear off a piece of cheese to put on it and voila! an instant sandwich!  Add a sip of wine from our hotel-room-cup (ghetto!!) and yum!!!!!! An authentic French meal, in our eyes, anyway!  Here is a pic of our first meal in Paris:

Tomorrow we start the sight-seeing. We haven’t decided yet what we are going to do first.  We have 4 full days to cram as much in as possible, so we shall see! Some things from our “must see” list include the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, L’Opera Garnier, and a trip up/down the Seine River.  Well, it’s 10:12 here and I’ve got 1/4 bottle of wine left to finish before I pass out…errr, I mean fall asleep :P

A Scary Drive to Skerries!

(Don’t forget to check out the Ireland Flickr set)

*We are sorry for the delay in blogging, but wifi is not available in all the places we are staying.

Sunday:  We woke up after the shortest night of the year (summer solstice!) to a very windy, very rainy, very cold day.  Unfortunately, this was only the start of a pattern for the rest of our trip.  We had breakfast and then it was time to check out.  I was not looking forward to what I had to do next….drive a car!! We took a taxi to the rental car place since it was miserable outside.  We did all the paper work, etc, and then were handed the keys and off we went – no practice, no time for orientation as they were anxious to move us out of the space.  Aaagggghhh!!! Driving on the wrong side of the road, sitting in the wrong side of the car, driving in a city with loads of traffic and very different traffic signals.  First lesson:  the streets signs are very hard to see on the side of buildings or nonexistent. Second lesson: the names of streets change every few blocks.  Third lesson:  a street rarely goes straight.

Add in remembering to stay in the left lane at all times, yielding on a right hand turn, and figuring out the traffic lights (you could have a green arrow for going straight but still a red light at the same time if you are turning right).  Also, add in tons of pedestrians wandering and crossing (which we were doing when we were pedestrians) and very aggressive drivers that are not patient with the foreign drivers.  I understand why they recommend tourists to NOT drive in Dublin!!

Despite the aforementioned obstacles, we figured out a route to our next destination in the city – the Guinness Storehouse!  This was a very fun place where we got to learn how they brew the world famous Guinness.  It was a self guided tour inside the storehouse (no visitors are allowed in the actual brewery) finished with a free pint of the beer itself at the end.  Very tasty! We also ate lunch there and had some roast pork with mash and gravy that was also very tasty.  We ended the trip by shopping in the gift shop, of course!

Next, we got back in the car, left our parking spot and ended up coming right back to it as it was the best place to park for our next destination!  It was our last day in Dublin and so we were trying to squeeze in as much as possible.  We went next to the historic part of Dublin next to see Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral, St. Audoen’s Church and park, Dvblinia, and City Hall.  We did not do any inside tours as we were on a tight schedule, and quite honestly, a little “toured” out.  However, we enjoyed seeing everything and snapped many pictures.

Finally, it was time to head out of the city.  This was harder than it sounds b/c of navigation obstacles.  But we made it out and onto the M1 (“M” for motorway, which is like an interstate for us).  We were heading north to a little town on the coast called Skerries.  It was still in County Dublin, but out of the city.  We definitely took some wrong turns and got a little lost.  We had to stop at this little pub off the road and get directions from some old, very Irish men drinking Guinness :P  We made it Skerries and our B & B was a farmhouse out in the beautiful countryside.  It was also very close to Ardgillan Castle.  So, before checking in, we went and wander the grounds of the castle.  It was soooooo beautiful and right off the coast!  We weren’t unable to do a tour of the inside, unfortunately, b/c it was past closing time (everything here closes at 5!!).  Still, just the outside was amazing.

Finally, we checked into our room in a very tiny little farmhouse, rested a bit and then drove into town for some dinner.  We ate at a very odd pizza place. We were Americans in Ireland, eating an Italian pizza with an American Indian theme (the place was called “The Apache” and the name of the pizza was “the Tomahawk”) and it was made by Asians.

Finally finally….we went to bed! Whew! What a long day.

Monday:

To Dublin and Beyond!

After eating a full Irish breakfast, we checked out and headed back to Dublin for just a brief period.  We went straight to the Library, which was had unfortunately missed during our stay in Dublin.  Phil really wanted to do some genealogy research. We spent a few hours there and came away with a few leads.  I’ll let Phil blog about all that if he wants.  We then had to find our way out of the city again, but south this time.  We were heading in the general direction of *Waterford.  We stopped at a pub along somewhere along the way and picked out where we were going to stay that night.  It was a lovely-looking place in County Waterford, by the city of Ardmore, which is a historic seaside village.  The place was beautiful! It was nestled into green hills facing the atlantic ocean.  We explored the ruins of St. Declan’s  church and very old, yet still active, graveyard.

Tuesday:

On to New Sights

We were tempted to stay a second night at the Newtown B & B b/c it was such a lovely place.  However, we had to push on if we wanted to see as much of Ireland as we could with our remaining time.  It was another rainy day, which has worked out ok since it was another driving day.  We went to the city of Cork and explored for a few hours until the weather drove us back to our car.  We picked out our place for tonight, which is called River Meadows.  I think the places we stay automatically get better and better!  This place is incredible as well. The view from out our window gives us mountains, trees and a very green meadow complete with cows! The drive from Cork to here was really pretty, as we took a smaller, more direct road to get here instead of the major road.  It is right off the famous Ring of Kerry driving route, which we will do tomorrow.  I hope the weather is better!  We head for Limerick tomorrow.  Sadly, we are not going to have time to explore Galway, which I personally really wanted to see.  It is just too far out of the way :( So sad.  But we will get to see the Cliffs of Mohar and the Aran Islands, I think!