Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Honeymoon In Europe: Paris

Over Christmas this year Chrissy and I cajoled our bosses into letting us take a full month off work so we could take a honeymoon in Europe. First stop on our tour was Paris.

Arriving from the airport around mid morning we easily found our hotel (Millesime Hotel) in the Saint-Germain-des-Pres area and were fortunate enough to be able to check in early. The hotel, aside from being in a fantastic location, was quite nice and offered outstanding service. This included a special surprise for me arranged by Chrissy....a collection of French craft beers.


As Chrissy used her credit card to book the hotel you can see we were officially welcomed not as Kehrig's but as Okinczyc's. This became a bit of a running gag throughout the whole honeymoon,

With many beers to select and a soft bed, I decided to have a mid morning night cap and a nap as we had much sight seeing to do. Highlights and some quick thoughts below:

Notre Dame Cathedral


I first visited the cathedral about 20 years ago on my first and only time to Paris prior and my strongest memories of the building were of it's scale. Since that time I have been in many famous and or prominent world buildings but to me few can compare to Notre Dame. Besides it's size and beauty the sheer fact that a building this complex was completed between the years 1163-1272  and still stands today just boggles my mind. Coming from a Western Canadian province where infrastructure of settlements are barely over a 100 years old the history and the amount of human lives affected by the Cathedral can't help but give me pause. 





Arc de Triomphe


Once again the scale and age of the structure force a sense of awe in witnessing the monument in person.  


Upon ascending the 284 steps to the top we were greeted with a very cool view of the city and much to my surprise a relaxed security rail system.

The Champs-Elysee

Off with his head!

Montmarte


Home to a venerable who's who list of Bohemian and Impressionist artists through the 19th & 20th Century the Montmarte area is steeped in style and atmosphere.  Chrissy and I came into the area a little ignorant to it all and ended up mostly wandering along the streets in the general direction of the beautiful church on the hill (Sacre Coeur Basilica)


Eventually, we came across the Musee de Montmarte and decided to take a walk through. Chrissy decided that we should visit it as she thought it looked charming, and apparently she has good taste as Renoir used to live there.


The museum had some really cool prints including the famous lithograph for the Chat Noir. 


On a recommendation from my sister Monica, we decided to try out the restaurant Refuge des Fondue for a 'special' dining experience. We arrived to the small busy restaurant shortly after 7PM and were seated at the last table in the establishment. As the last spot we were seated by the door as opposed to every other seat in the house where you literally step on a bench and over the table to another seating bench along a wall. Chrissy was ok with not doing this though as she was quite stiff after a few days of walking through the city.

Once seated we were given some pickled munchies and asked if we wanted "Meat or Cheese" and "Red or White". We selected Meat and each selected a color. Before we fully realized what was happening we were presented with a fondue pot, a bowl of chopped steak and two baby bottles of red and white wine. Yes, baby bottles! 




In no time at all, due to the large drinking holes on the nipples, we had finished a few bottles each and were released out in to the Paris night. After a few misadventures we arrived back at the hotel safe and sound, but a little less for wear the next day.

The Louvre


By far the best art gallery in the world. Arrive early and plan to be there for most of the day.

Pro-tip: Arrive early and take a bee-line straight to the Mona Lisa like we did. When we came through a few hours later the mob around it was about 20 people deep.


The Venus de Milo really is beautiful. You can just tell the quality of the marble by how it catches the natural light. Pictures really don't do it justice.


I'm no art historian or even skilled in the arts but that won't stop me from picking a favorite artist. For the moment I am quite partial to Caravaggio and the masterpiece below: Psyche Revived by Cupids Kiss.


I like naked ladies. ART!

Gabrielle d'Estree and One of her Sisters

Versailles


A quick train ride from the center of the city took us right to the Palace of Versailles. We arrived early to spend a good portion of the day there and were greeted by some early morning sunshine on the gilded gates. 


Let the opulence begin!








I have to say that I liked Versailles, but the whole idea of an opulent palace left me a bit cold. Walking around seeing the magnificence of the building and the personal placement of the 'Sun King' with the Pantheons of Roman and Greek Gods pissed me off. That and the self adulation and hypocrisy of his predecessors who stated an abhorrence to court life and yet demanded all of the extravagance that it entailed (looking at you Antoinette) just makes me think the guillotine was maybe too good for them.

However, I have been accused of not appreciating finer things...and in that same manner I have to say I quite enjoyed the humbler "Queens Hamlet:" at Versailles. Consisting at one time of 11 houses to represent a quaint Norman village the buildings today are a quintessential  image of life in an idealized storybook fairy tale.





The Catacombs


Created as a backfil of sorts in the limestone quarries that were excavated to build the city the catacombs are a sobering analogy of the perpetuity of Paris and the fleeting life of those who built it. Once again the scale and humanity of the location is too much for my feeble brain to process.




No flash photography from this point on so some pictures will be a bit more grainy than usual.







Eiffel Tower


We saved our excursion up the Eiffel Tower till the end of our visit so we could survey and take measure of all that we had seen in our week in Paris. As we are both scared of heights we had a nervous elevator ride up and it took us awhile to go to the end of the railing but eventually we acclimatized...a bit.




Christmas markets after the rain at the Eiffel Tower


Just for the experience of doing so we took the steps down from the midway point of the tower. A cool thing that I noticed on the way down was the length of the stair cases. They always kept a similar angle but continually changed in length as you got nearer the wide base. It kind of threw off my rhythm.

Other Highlights:


Seine River Cruise


Lafayette shopping centre Christmas display
Christmas market and lights along the Champs Elysees


Trees that had color in December


Onion Soup


Musee d'Orsay

Notes: 

  • Did you know that Paris is often referred to as "The Saskatoon of France"?
  • Paris is bloody expensive and we ended up saving some bucks daily by stopping off at a grocery store and getting the fixings for ham and cheese sandwiches.
  • Definite advantages of travelling in December is getting away from the crowds and line-ups. We waited only 15 minutes to get into the catacombs while the usual wait time can be 1-2 hours.
  • The Versailles gardens are pretty much dormant through the winter. While a disappointment, the amount of people was much less than summer and  it was nice to have time to ourselves in some of the rooms of the Grand Trianon and Estates. 
  • The Christmas markets in Paris were nice as an introduction to them but they seemed to lack a certain authenticity.
  • After our first day we realized that our camera wasn't taking the greatest pictures anymore due to age and wear. C'est la vie...
  • Next Stop - Salzburg, Austria



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