Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Pictures are:

1. Helen and Julie on the top level of the Eiffel Tower.
2. Having fun waiting in line at level two.
3. Kyle smiles after making it to the top!
4. The sky behind Versailles was perfect for photographs.
5. Part of the group behind the Palace of Versailles.

As always, our tour of Paris began with an evening at the Eiffel Tower. Every year I have people in the group who are wary about going up to the top level, but I’ve always been able to convince them in the end. This year it was looking like that tradition might be broken as a couple people were happy to just stay on the second platform, but in the end everyone braved the ride in the glass elevator to the very top of Paris. We got the light show as we were making our way up, with lights blinking on and off like a giant metal Christmas tree. The city of lights did not disappoint – for someone who has been up here a few times, it still amazes me, and the experience is made even better seeing the kids excitedly making their way around the platform, pointing out some of the major buildings and taking tons of pictures of themselves with the city spread out before them.

Tuesday morning, we were up early and on our way to Versailles under blue skies. The excellent audioguides led us through the Sun King’s palace of palaces, and we were very glad to have been one of the first groups in because when we left the line ups filled the entire gigantic front courtyard – there must have been thousands of people in those lineups!

Rens navigated us through Paris traffic to the Arc du Triomphe, Napoleon’s reward to himself after his success against his Hapsburg enemies at the Battle of Austerlitz. The Arc has seen a couple centuries of Parisian history at its base – from Napoleon’s funeral, to the triumphant goose stepping entrance of the Nazis into Paris in WWII to Charles De Gaul and the free French forces return to their beloved city as the Nazis retreated. More stairs here – we walked to the top of course.

After lunch in the Monte Carlo (very fancy!) we were off to see the remains of 6 million Parisians up close and personal in the Catacombs. Unbeknownst to me, and all the other people that were trying the door, the Catacombs were closed for renovations that day – we missed out. The kids didn’t really complain – maybe they were scared anyway.

We were then up to Paris’ only hill, Montmartre, and into the Basilica Sacre Couer, with one of the most amazing representations of Christ I have ever seen. As soon as you walk in the door, your eyes are drawn up to the main dome where Christ, arms open wide seems to be looking directly at you. The work is a Byzantine style Mosaic, and this Cathedral is a combination of the Eastern Byzantine influence and Romanesque architecture – very different from the mainly Gothic cathedrals we have visited in Belgium and France. From this Mountain of the Martyrs (so named mainly because St. Denis, the patron saint of Paris, was beheaded here by the Romans for proselytizing in the streets of Paris in the 3rd century. Upon losing his head, he promptly picked it up and kept walking to a better resting spot) we got our third great view of Paris.

Rens dropped us off at THE Notre Dame Cathedral (the third one we’ve visited in France, and not the last one). This is the one Victor Hugo was referring to when he created the most famous hunchback in literature. With a 426 foot nave and room for 6000 parishioners, this is the big kid on the block in a neighbourhood filled with huge cathedrals. The kids attempted to have some fun chasing pigeons in front of the Charlemagne statue in the square out front, but a man who is obviously friends with the pigeons (they were landing on his shoulders) instead chased our kids away, yelling at them with so much anger, he didn’t even make sense. Oh, maybe he was just speaking French. My daughter Magdalena would have probably understood him; she’s used to being yelled at in French (sorry Mags, I had to say that).

Apres dinner at Rivoli (the second of three dinners we will be having there), I thought of asking the parents if they wanted coffee. Not being much of a coffee drinker, I forget to ask. They were really appreciative, so much so that one of the moms said that sitting there after dinner and having that coffee was the “best experience of my life”. I have always said that caffeine is a powerful drug, and that just confirms it for me.

Tuesday night, as I was contemplating our day without Rens in Paris on Wednesday, I was a little stressed about getting all 41 of us on a bus from the hotel to the metro station. So much so that at 10:30 PM, Mr. J. and I walked all the way through Stains to the Metro Station in Saint Denis. We found out that it wasn’t really that far (at least not for people on an LFMSS Europe trip), so we had everyone walk it next morning instead of trying to fit all of us on a regular city bus crowded with rush hour commuters.

The Paris Metro is unbelievably simple to use. We even had to change trains, and it was not a problem. The Louvre Metro stop actually lets you off in the central mall of the Louvre – amazing! We had some time to kill before our 11 AM guided tour, so James and I got little guide stickers and took our groups (we are split into two groups for the Louvre tour because of our large group size) exploring some of the parts of this gigantic museum not covered by the classics tour we get with the guide. James and co. headed for the Northern European painters section, while my group got to explore some Islamic, African, and South Pacific Art. After meeting up again at the highly efficient groups centre, we split with our two expert guides. We have always had really good guides here. Unfortunately, one of our groups had the worst guide I have ever heard of – a little rude to the kids, taking time to talk to coworkers during the tour, and the exact opposite of the other guide, the best one I have ever had. The tour I was on (I was in the lucky group) took us to many places the classics tour has never taken us before, including the Mesopotamian section (it’s amazing to think with the mess that they are in now, Iraq was the cradle of civilization), the French sculptures courtyard, and Napoleon III’s Finance Ministry rooms, that were as ornate as anything in Versailles. Of course, we saw the classics too, including the very rare French royal sword “Happy” (that’s it’s actual name, translated from French) and royal crowns (very few of which survived the revolution), winged victory, the Wedding Feast at Cana, the Venus De Milo, and of course, the Mona Lisa.

The rest of the afternoon in Paris was spent in smaller groups having lunch, shopping, and in some cases taking a little extra excursion (one group took a short cruise up the Seine) while Mr. J. and I spent much of the afternoon in the hot American Express office cashing travelers cheques, a task which seems to become more and more complex every year.

We were hit by a short hail storm on our way to rendezvous with all the groups for one last meal at Rivoli, but other than that, our Paris weather was awesome, and the dramatic skies made for excellent backgrounds for all our pictures. The brave parents who weren’t on spare survived 6 hours (well, probably more like 4 after lunch) shopping with teenagers in Paris. Kudos to them!

We all made it back to Stains together and unharmed, despite by trepidation about this day sans Rens. People were in bed early for our extra early leaving time of 7 AM the next morning as we fled Paris to the east and Verdun.

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