All Day Everywhere

March 12th, 2011

It’s difficult to describe the feeling in my legs right now – it’s a unique cocktail of ambient buzzing, peculiar numbness, and a dash of acute pain (can’t wait to see the hangover). Today is the day we that we walked for 10 hours, if not more. That said, it was a highly productive day, and both Dina and I are quite proud of what we got done today. 

Our day started at around 3am (over 20 hours ago for those keeping track), when we woke up to darkness outside and nothing to do. I got to catch up on the news about Japan, which just experienced a devastating magnitude 9.1 earthquake and was teetering on the verge of a nuclear meltdown when I went to sleep the night before. We were relieved to hear that our friends Mike and Danielle, currently visiting Japan for an earthquake engineering conference ironically (and tragically), were unharmed but are now stuck in Tokyo. We wish them a safe, speedy, and uneventful trip home to the States.

At 7 AM, hungry and ready to start the day, we left our hotel and headed to the corner boulangerie, which had just opened and served us a fresh, still warm baguette and croissants. Breakfast in hand, we walked across Paris toward the Louvre, determined to not wait in line for tickets one minute longer than we had to. We walked there through the sleepy Tuileries Garden, entirely empty at that hour of the morning. The minute we entered the Louvre, we headed straight to the Mona Lisa, avoiding the massive crowds that followed soon after us.  In all reality, and maybe I’m missing something, but didn’t understand what the obsession with the Mona Lisa was before I’d seen it, and afterwards I was even more confused. However, walking through the Louvre, massive in physical size, breadth, and stature, was a refresher course in Art History, and Ms. Tucker from Irvine High would have been proud of my recognition of the artwork we saw.

From the Louvre we headed toward the Notre Dame, completing Rick Steves’ Historical Walking tour backwards (and with a few fun detours of our own) in record time. We decided not to go into the Notre Dame or the Sainte Chapelle, enjoying their architecture from a distance. Surprisingly, I was still sick of church tours from my last few European vacations, and Dina wasn’t particularly interested either.  

With the Louvre and Historical Walk finished, we turned our sights to our next destination, the Eiffel Tower, at which we had a 4:30pm appointment. Unfortunately the one casualty of all of my careful packing was our Eiffel Tower tickets, which I printed out but forgot to take with us. We spent nearly an hour and a half wandering the streets of Paris frustratingly looking for an Internet cafe that seemingly did not exist (we were directed toward several different ones, but have yet to see one here in Paris).

It was right about then that I realized that I forgot about one more first in the list I wrote in my first entry here: this is my first international trip since I switched from a regular cell phone to a smartphone. Apparently I’ve taken it for granted the last four years, but that iPhone in my pocket has spoiled me entirely with its instantaneous and omnipresent ability to provide me with any bit of information I need: directions, dinner recommendations, reference material, various communication mediums, etc. It is only when I don’t have those things that I realize the true (limitless) value of my iPhone and it’s mobile broadband connection: the phone allows me to ground my decisions in extensive, reliable, and crowd-sourced information. Bumping around Paris (haystack) looking for an internet cafe (needle) brought all of this to light, and suffice it to say that I was humbled by the entire experience. 

Our helpful hotel concierge ended up printing our tickets for us (yes, I saved a pdf of all of our tickets and other useful information in a Dropbox folder that I share with Dina), and after an amazing 30 minute nap, we headed out to the Eiffel tower in the now-sprinkling rain. The view from the second floor of the tower was uninstructed by the rain, and we both enjoyed the birds eye view of this beautiful French city (only in Paris is the second floor 377 feet above the ground). 

From the tower we hopped on the metro (our legs were ready to fall off at this point) to the Pont Neuf bridge, where we enjoyed a delicious French dinner along a quiet little street in the Latin quarter of the city. We came all the way back to Pont Neuf because that was where our boat tour along the seine departed from, and at 8pm we boarded the large barge-like boat for a night tour of the Parisian sights. The views were understandably stunning, and even the rain and wind couldn’t keep us inside the covered boat (we stood at the stern, with an entirely unobstructed view). 

A short metro ride brought us back to the Eiffel Tower, which we watched glimmer as the clock striked 10pm during our short walk back to our hotel. I apologize for the length of this post, but the length is a good indicator for how much we did today, and how tired we are now as a result. Tomorrow, with some of the major sights already visited, we promised ourselves to do less.  Maybe this famous French work ethic is finally rubbing off on us.

Walk ’til We Drop

March 11th, 2011

Peculiar is writing two entries for two distinct days without ever feeling the switch. Since my last entry, I was not able to fall asleep for longer than 5 minutes. Therefore, March 10th and 11th have somehow fused together in my mind, but luckily I have yesterday’s entry as a good starting point.

I am pleased to say that the jolly green giantess sitting next to me on the plane responded well to my carefully crafted plea for her to turn down her cacophony, and while that didn’t help me sleep any longer, it did make the rest of the flight a bit more enjoyable.

We landed in Paris through a relatively thick layer of cloud cover that lasted for the remainder of the day. It might have just been the excitement of arrival, but the cloudy day seemed quite bright, almost requiring sunglasses. After going through passport check (filled with multiple groups of trash talking Russian people), we gathered our baggage and were met by a quiet Frenchman holding a sign that said “Gordin” on it. This was our relatively inexpensive hotel shuttle, which along with the sign and convenience of it all, made us feel like royalty.

Our hotel room is ideal, with ample room for all of our things, clean sheets and amenities, a view out onto a quiet but bustling Paris street, and free wifi. We wasted no time after our arrival, heading straight out to explore Paris (after purchasing my new iPad of course, which went on sale at 1am PST this morning).

Our hotel, Turisme Hotel, is located about 10 minutes from the Eiffel tower, which we walked to on our way to do Rick Steves’ Left Bank Walking Tour. The Left Bank Walk starts at the Pont des Arts bridge about an hour walk away from our hotel, so we decided to walk along the Seine until we reached the start of the tour. We stopped on our way in the nearest boulangerie for a baguette of the famous and fresh French bread. It was delicious, and we walked along the Seine as true Parisians, eating our baguette with pleasure.

The walking tour took us through some of the oldest landmarks in Paris, and we greatly enjoyed the little streets, architecture, shops, and cafés we saw along the way. The tour ended at the Luxembourg Garden, which featured beautiful landscapes and speed chess playing Parisians.

By the time we came back to the Rue Cler area for dinner, we had been walking for more than 5 hours. Combined with our lack of sleep, we are now officially exhausted (Dina is already sleeping). Tomorrow we’re planning on going to the Louvre, heading up the Eiffel Tower, and completing Rick Steve’s Historic Paris Walk, which includes the Notre Dame Cathedral. See you tomorrow!

Forward

March 10th, 2011

It is 10:33pm and we are currently flying over the southern tip of Greenland, just 35,000 feet below me. To my right is Dinochka, trying to get some sleep but fidgeting from her clear lack of success. To my left on the other hand is a girl who likely represents a nightmare of a neighbor for a transatlantic flight. Ironically, she is the only one of the three of us that’s able to sleep soundly. Maybe we all should dye our hair neon green, sport the raver’s equivalent of denim parachute pants, and blast the most screeching electronic “music” out of our headphones that nearby passengers long to replace it with the seemingly more soothing lullaby of nails against a chalkboard. But we are on vacation, flying to two amazing places and aren’t going to let anything drag us down.

It is difficult to nail down my expectations for this trip – I seem to have relinquished control from any worries I had about it to the comfort of knowing that well-organized preparation would serve us well.  This trip represents more than a handful of firsts for me: my first international trip without my parents (my short stint in Canada doesn’t come close), my first 1+ week trip with Dina (now as my amazing wife), my first time meeting Dina’s extended family (I’m particularly excited to meet Sasha’s brother Misha), and my first vacation as a (relatively) productive member of the working world. 

As I thought more about that list just now, I realized that it has less to do with the vacation itself than the clear fact that my life has changed pretty significantly in the last year or so. I guess that in that spirit, this trip provides a unique opportunity to reflect on these changes in my life, like a long interstate highway that curves to reveal a scenic viewpoint along the side of the road for the vast landscape in the rearview mirror.

And what better scenic viewpoint than the city of Paris? We are about four hours from landing and I fully admit that I can’t wait to start our adventure as temporary Parisians. Here’s to a fantastic and memorable journey.

travel journal

although it's rare, when I do go on trips, I will sometimes keep a little travel journal for myself, friends, and family. this is that.

I'm still in the process of (considering) migrating my old blog entries into this section, but in the mean time, below are my past trip journals that are available:

Paris & Israel (Spring 2011)
The Northeast (Fall 2009)