Europe Day 9- Paris

Day 9 is Sunday and since our Museum Pass was still valid, we had to knock out more museums today. I think I forgot to mention, but I would highly recommend this to other travellers- we bought a 4-day museum pass for around $50-60 each. It covers your admission to practically all museums and for many museums, you can go through a special line to avoid the crowds and wasting time waiting in line.

We went to the Orangerie Museum-- it was very small and just okay. It contains HUGE works of Monet's art.

Next we went to the Orsay Museum, which I was really looking forward to; however, they had re-arranged stuff, so we couldn't follow Rick's audiotour or book notes. We toured the entire museum, but I hadn't found like 80% of the famous pieces that were supposed to be there....so I stopped to ask a worker where these paintings are and every single one is currently out on loan for an exhibit in tokyo or somewhere. So, in my opinion, we saw a bunch of junk instead of seeing Whistler's Mother, some famous Van Gogh's, famous Degas, etc.

We grabbed lunch from across the street and the food was just okay and our waiter rude. He said they didn't have any tap water, only some bottled water for 6 euro...but then brings the table next to us a glass of tap water to put their ice cream spoon in!

Next was Rodin's museum. This was decent cause was outdoors and the day was beautiful and we just browsed his sculptures. Most famous is the thinker.

Next was Napoleon's Tomb and the Army Museum, thank goodness we didn't have much time left so Dustin had to move fast. I did a lot of sitting during this portion!

We came back to the hotel to change clothes and head to this area called Marais which I really wanted to check out-- it was described as SoHo...more trendy boutiques and restaurants. We went in St. Paul church since we walked right past it, then went to St. Catherine Square and ate at Le Marche, which was EXCELLENT (and recommended by Rick)! I ordered some vegetable soup and came out looking disgusting, but was FANTASTIC!

Europe Day 8- Paris

Today was one of the days I was most excited for-- it was our trip to Versailles! You can read about the history of the palace here, which will be faster than me trying to recap it! There are 3 main parts to tour- the Chateau (main palace), the Gardens, and Marie Anoinette's estate.

The palace was packed when we arrived, so we walked through the gardens and thought we'd start with Marie's place. It took us over 30 minutes to walk the gardens because it was soooooooooooooo huge! They were beautiful though and the fountains were all running (only run on Saturdays during certain months, so we were lucky to get to see this) and had classical music playing. It really felt royal and I could envision people hundreds of years ago just parading around back here. The best part is that certain areas of this garden are open to the public as a free park, so you'll see people just having a picnic and hanging out by the basins. Notice the rainbow in the one from the fountain spurt!

When we arrived at Marie's place, we had about 15 more minutes until they opened it, so we grabbed lunch at a little cafe they had there. There were multiple buildings and mini-palaces as part of her estate, along with tons of garden space. First up here was an enormous area much like a farm. This is where the servants would stay and they raised the animals and crops for eating. It's crazy how you really felt you were in the middle of the country out here! Supposedly she never really liked all the royalty stuff and attention and was more of a plain-jane and liked this country atmosphere she created here.

I'm not really sure why they called this whole area Marie Antoinette's estate, because some of these houses were used to house the King's mistress or for him and his buddies to come stay as a summer house. This first building here is where I believe he would have his mistress stay....nice little shack!

And this place was more where the King and his buddies would come to get away from things. Notice the flower beds here in front of the building-- these were changed DAILY to give the king a new view and aroma!

Here is the view looking out from that last building-- just perfectly landscaped gardens EVERYWHERE!

The interiors were okay, but not going to get too in-depth to show those! We were so pooped after all this walking that Dustin even agreed to pay for the tram to take us back to the Chateau and avoid the 30+ minute walk uphill! We toured the Chateau, but I must say overall was disappointing compared to the Gardens and Marie's place. Both of those had more of a WOW factor than the palace....partly because they only let you see such a small portion of this huge palace. That just drives me nuts when I see this huge palace with probably hundreds or even thousands of rooms and you get to see 15 rooms. Really?!? Anyways, here is a pic of the front of it (still can't fit the whole thing into the camera view) to try and give you a sense of the size...just mammoth!

And a view of us in back of a small section of the palace...

Here are a few shots of the interior. The art is just incredible that they have painted on the ceilings in some of these places!

This is the hall of mirrors which is where I think the treaty of Versailles was signed and many famous people have been in here.

We then caught the train back to Paris to the Eiffel Tower area and assembled food for a picnic. Went to a cheese store and bought 2 cheeses they recommended- didn't think either of them were that great! Went to a produce store and got THE BEST GRAPES I've ever tasted...would give anything to find grapes like this here! Went to a bakery to get some breads. Then to a wine store to get wine. We are getting to the Eiffel Tower and we see signs everywhere the alcohol is prohibitted and no one else is drinking....so we start getting scared that we will get in trouble, so we stop at a bench that is pretty un-scenic before you technically enter the park and decide to eat there.

After eating, we move closer to sit on the ground and just watch the Eiffel Tower- it lights up once it gets dark and then does special lighting effects starting at 9pm. Of course, just as we round the corner we see everyone sitting on the lawn with wine/beer hanging out...so we were nervous for no reason- just needed to get closer!

After watching for a bit, we then went to Arc de Triomphe again so we could see the views at night. It was really pretty up there, but we were too dumb to know how to take pics with our camera to get the night landscape to turn out. We met a really nice young man named John from Germany who had studied abroad in the US and stayed with a family in Oklahoma. He was so nice and took our email addresses and emailed us his pics that he took up there since he was a little better with the photography!

Then as descending the 50 million stairs to leave, I wiped out and fell down the stairs :( Embarrassing!!!! My hand was scraped up and bleeding, but not badly. My butt had a huge bruise on it the next day then and I couldn't sleep well cause hurt whenever I'd move. Oh well, overall it was a GREAT day of our trip!


Europe Day 7- Paris

Friday was a busy day-- We started out the morning at the Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon had this monument built to commemorate his victory at the battle of Austerlitz. This is where all the streets end and we got stuck in the crazy round-about with our rental car! We looked around the monument and climbed the stairs (sprial again!) to the top where you had a really nice view of the city in all directions.

Here you can see the Eiffel Tower and how it is sooooooo much taller than everything else in the city. They have a law regarding height restriction of buildings now, so it's really cool how much it makes the Eiffel Tower stand out.

After this we walked down the Champs-Elysees, which is Paris' famous boulevard with lots of expensive shops and stretches 2 miles long. The first part of this street opened in 1667 and soon became THE place to be seen cruising in your carriage! Now it just looked similar to the Mag Mile or something you would see in most big cities. The only thing that was a little odd was that they had car dealerships on this street and apparently you have no hope of selling cars unless you have a showroom on the Champs-Elysees. We walked inside a few and they would just have about 5 cars on display, but they were super fancy or weird cars- not like what you would see here!

Once all the shops ended, we arrived at Place de la Concorde, marked by a tall obelisk (monument). This was the spot where the guillotine was that beheaded many of the 2780 people during the Revolution. Louis XVI and Mari-Antoinette were the people I recognized that were killed here.

We then walked through the Tuileries Garden, which is basically just a huge beautiful park outside of the Louvre. We grabbed lunch from a little stand here.

We then entered the Louvre, which was ENORMOUS. Everyone says how big it is, but you really can't understand until you are there and see it.

We actually explored A LOT of it-- I would guess we saw 75-80% of the rooms. My legs were really tired and Dustin would spend 5 times longer than me in each room, so luckily they had plenty of benches for me to sit on and rest and wait for him! The Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo were really the 2 famous things there that I knew...since I'm not really into Art. Then there was just a lot of really interesting things from history from a long time ago...this was more interesting to me than looking at the paintings. I really did get a better understanding of how our society has progressed-- I really was amazed at the items found from so long ago and that they had the ability to create stuff like that! So just imagine hundreds of rooms similar to below-- they usually contained paintings, sculptures, or what I would call artifacts.

I think Dustin finally realized just how tired I was, so we left and grabbed some dinner at Germain and it was good, but small portions. I had a Truffle Pasta that was fantastic! It was funny cause we liked the look of the restaurant, kinda modern and trendy, but since we had been out touring all day we weren't sure if we were dressed appropriately to eat dinner there. So I was like- well let's just ask and if they tell us no, then we'll just go somewhere else. So the girl at the door says we are find and to come in for dinner....so then she leads us to this back room where no one else is sitting and says I can offer you this table or this table...both of which are like hidden behind this wall! I was trying not to die laughing as we sat down cause I'm like obviously we weren't dressed well and they did not want people on the outside to be able to look into the restaurant and see us...so we got hid in the back. Two other couples later got seated back there...both looked as touristy as us! oh well!


Europe Day 6- Paris

Ok, my goal is going to not be so detailed in the rest of my posts to hopefully get through these a little faster! Each post is taking me hours by the time I edit the pics and recap the day...so unfortunately they will be a bit more abbreviated now and the pics less edited!

Thursday morning we were on the road by 10am to head back to the center of Paris to return our car...which I had been dreading cause I had no clue how we were going to find this garage we were supposed to return the car to. Hertz gave us a map, but it was so faded and looked like a photocopy made in 1983 that it was un-readable. So during most of the drive I'm trying to use our Garmin to locate the street marked on our map to return the car, but can't find the street anywhere. So we just have the Garmin lead us to the Louvre and then figure we'll be able to locate the garage....BIG MISTAKE. I seriously was fighting back tears once in Paris cause we were circling the Louvre area for a solid 45 minutes unable to find the garage...there is no place to pull over....all of the streets are 1-way and jammed packed, so you can't just easily circle the block. So we finally find the street and need to make a left, but when we go to turn left all of the cars on the street we are turning onto are facing us. So I scream out cause it's obviously a 1-way street. So Dustin starts to just make a U-turn and then somehow Dustin realized that for this 1 street only, you drive on the LEFT side of the street...so he quickly whips into the left lane. This leads us to a garage, but the garage has several options of where to go, so Dustin picks the down ramp. We go waaaaaaay down and then you are to take a ticket and the gate will rise up, but I look around and notice our Mini Cooper is out of place amongst 100% BUSES down here...we managed to find the Louvre Bus Parking!!!! So dustin decides to floor it and drive in reverse up the ramp to back out of here...but a humongo bus comes around the corner, nearly hits us, and now we are pinned into this ramp. So we have to take a ticket and enter this parking area. I tell Dustin to just park in a spot, stay with the car, and I will walk and find Hertz and make the worker come with me and take the car to the garage or I need specific directions. Luckily the guy at Hertz was nice and spoke decent english, so we just had to take a different ramp and go upstairs to return the car. So had to sit in line for 30 minutes to get out of the garage in this line of buses. By now, we are over an hours past the time the car was due and sucked up a ton of gas from our "full" tank. But we eventually got the car back and then were on our way via metro to our hotel.

We saved A TON of money on our hotel by picking one that wasn't right in the heart of everything and we really liked it. It was called Hotel Home Moderne. It was a good 10-15 walk to the metro, but most days we really enjoyed this and would stop at stores along the way.

After dropping off our stuff we did the Rick Steves Left Bank Walk. Although on our walk to the Metro it starts POURING rain, so we had to duck inside a bar and grab a drink and wait. The left bank is just the name of the area south of the Seine River. We started with Luxembourg Garden, which was just beautiful...seriously was like the best park I had ever seen! It is 60 acres and has special rules about where you can play cards, jog, have your pets, etc.

We then went to St. Sulpice, if you read the Da Vinci code you may remember this from there. It had 3 large Delacroix murals- the most famous is Jacob Wrestling the Angel. The thing I thought was cool was an egyptian-style obelisk that works like part of a sundial. At xmas mass, the sun shines though this tiny hole and strikes a mark on the obelisk that indicates winter solstice. Then week after week, the sunbeam moves down the obelisk and across this bronze rod on the floor until the sun lights the altar during midsummer. Just seemed pretty ingenious, especially when all this stuff was built so long ago! Unfortunately I wasn't smart enough to take a pic of the obelisk.

We walked around to just view some stores and restuarants. We saw Cafe Procope where Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson had ate at. Napoleon also supposedly ate there frequently, but would never pay his bill. We stopped for a drink and eats at Les Deux Magots where Ernest Hemingway frequented. It was expensive and food was just so-so. Notice how you sit next to people, not across...so everyone faces out to the street to peoplewatch...this is how all european places are!

Next was St. Germain-des-Pres, the oldest church in Paris dating back to 11th century! The inside was still painted in medievil style.

We ended our offical walk just south of the Seine of the Louvre...so we decided to just keep walking along the Seine towards the Eiffel tower. It didn't look that far, but it was quite the walk! About a block away, rain starts, so we walk a little faster. Starts raining harder, so now we go under a tree to try and stay dry. Um, not working and getting soaked. So we decide at this point we may as well just get wet and run the rest of the way to the Eiffel Tower and hopefully it is somewhat covered underneath there. Well, it wasn't 100% dry, but it was our best option! So we just stand there forever waiting for it to stop, which it finally does...but wasn't like we were going to go sit on a bench or the grass now and lounge about like we planned! So we took a couple pics and then headed home!


Europe Day 5- Brussels

We had a few things we wanted to finish up in Antwerp Wednesday morning before heading to Brussels. Unfortunately it was raining and dreary outside, so we just immediately headed to Cathedral of Our Lady and waited a few minutes for it to open. It was a beautiful church, but by this point we had seen quite a few, so they were getting less and less exciting. We tried to go to another church- St. Andrews- but there was a funeral there, so we couldn't go inside. So, we decided to leave this city and weather behind! Have I mentioned that all of my church pictures seem to really suck?! So unfortunately the pics just aren't good enough and worth my time to edit and upload here. I think cause they were so enornmous and ornate, it was hard to capture the feeling on film.

We arrived in Brussels and checked into our hotel (Hotel Ibis Ste Catherine) with no problems around noon. We grabbed a quick lunch at Panos, which was recommended by Rick Steves and I saw people eating and looked good....however it was not very good at all. I believe it is a chain restaurant and looked similar to a St. Louis Bread Co. Dustin had ordered ham and he couldn't even eat it cause was so fatty and fishy tasting he said.

We then did Rick Steves' Grand Place Walk-- it was about a 2 hour walk around the lower town. It started at the Grand Place, which is what I would consider like the town square or center. Farmers and merchants used to come here to sell their goods. Today it contains City Hall, restaurants, shops, and lots of chocolate places! It was at a bar on this square that Marx and Engels met in 1848 to write their Communist Manifesto.

We then walked through Europe's oldest still operating shopping mall. It was built in 1847 and covered in glass and served as a model for others. There wasn't anything exciting here, so this was a 3 minute stop!

We then walked down Rue des Bouchers which is known as restaurant row. Tiny little streets just packed with tables and restaurants...luckily we had heard from our Antwerp hotel clerk NOT to eat here cause lots of people get food poisoning.

Next we went to a church- St. Nicholas. This was the first what I would consider very modern looking church-- up until now they had all had the really tall steeples and a more gothic look to them.

And we followed that up with seeing the outside of The Bourse, which is the stock exchange. For some reason we were blind and had trouble finding this- but on the side of The Bourse was a glass covered area where you could see in the ground and see ruins of a 13th century convent. So that was very interesting to be able to see what existed so long ago underneath us.

We then did Rick Steves' Upper Town walk. This section has big boulevards, enormous marble buildings, palaces, museums, and a different feel than the lower town. At the beginning of the walk we stopped to take some pics looking down on the lower town. I think that tall spire in the background was from the market square which you can see in the first pic. In the next, notice closely Dustin being a smart allec. And lastly, in the U.S. we have the ice cream truck that drives around...Belgium has the waffle van!

Our first stop was called Place Royale, but it was under a ton of construction. It didn't even appear anything was open, but we walked up to a door and were able to go inside what appeared a main entrance, but it just led to a church setting and we were the only people there. So we just left after a bit, but I feel like there normally was more to explore here! We then walked over to Royal Palace- King Leopold I(r. 1831-1865) had a great influence on the country. His son rebuilt this palace and today his great-great-great-grandnephew uses it as an office. If the Belgian flag is flying from the palace, the king is somewhere in Belgium. Here is a pic of the palace, but doesn't even begin to capture the magnitude of this thing!

Across the street we walked through the Parc de Bruxelles-- it was only ok as far as parks that we've seen. Marie-Antoinette's mom this park laid out in 1776 when she ruled but never visited the city. We went in Notre-Dame du Sablon Church, which was built 14th century. The important thing here was a small wooden statue of Mary dressed in white with a lace veil. This is a copy since the original was destroyed, but it was though to have miraculous powers, saving the town from plagues. For some reason I have no pics of the inside of the church, but can look here at someone else's! Here was the outside:

We saw some other gardens, parks, and statues, but nothing of particular interest. We walked to the Palace of Justice, but it was all under construction. It would have been impressive to see without all the scaffolding cause is more than 6 acres and the dome is taller than St. Peter's in Rome- 340 feet. Today major court cases are tried here. See- not very impressive:

We walked through Place du Grand Sablon- which is a neighborhood featuring cafes, art galleries, etc....we later returned to this area for dinner cause was right up our alley! We walked by Tour d'Angle which is a rare surviving section of Brussels' 13th century city wall that was 2.5 miles long.

Next up was what I had been waiting for-- to see the Mannekin Pis statue! It was very small, even after Rick warning to have low expectations for this. The statue was made in 1619 as a neighborhood drinking fountain. He now has over 700 costumes that travelling VIPs bring for him, but he had no clothes on while we were there. He even has an Elvis Pissley outfit...haha! We decided to stop here across the street and grab a beer and just people watch since it was a busy intersection. I also got a chocolate waffle there too.....VERY delicioius!

We then went inside St. Catherine's- which was very old and dirty.

We went back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner and went off of Rick's recommendation to go to L'estrille du Vieux Bruxelles. It was FANTASTIC atmosphere and food-- one of our BEST meals of the entire trip!! While sitting there it started to rain, but we were perfectly covered and just stayed for an extra drink after dinner until it cleared up.

Our table was the one on the right there with some glasses- we just loved sitting in this little courtyards for dinner:

And here was Dustin's sampler platter that he said was awesome. He kept trying to get me to try the foie gras saying that it was some sort of desert! Luckily I knew it had something to do with an animal and passed...we later looked it up and learned it was duck liver or something disgusting.

We left and walked in search of somewhere else to go for a drink....and it starts raining....real hard! So we just ran into one of the nearest bars which happened to be the Mannekin Pis Pub! The bad thing about most places was how smokey they were if they weren't non-smoking...but the smoke was better than standing out in the rain. So we had to wait again until it lightened up enough to walk and then went to Delirium. They had over 2000 beers available and Dustin was in heaven! Finally it was off to bed as I'm sure it was another night close to midnight!