This morning's weather conditions played a major role in how enjoyable my stay in Paris was. Unlike the rain in Venice, this weather phenomenon was man-made: it was a thick blanket of smog.
We had a quick breakfast and I met up with Dia. He told me he was leaving today to go back to Japan. I told him I had to go prepare for my day around Paris but I would say goodbye later in the day. I didn't understand that he, and many of the other Japanese tour members, were leaving to the airport this morning. I never got to say goodbye to them. As I write this, they are probably home by now.
Our day began with an optional stop at the Fragonard perfumery in Paris. We were given a tour of the perfumery, taught the history of perfume, were shown the different equipment to make it and got to go to the store and shop around. We were given samples of their promotional perfume -- Orange Blossom. I didn't really want any perfume, because I'm a guy, so later that day I just threw it out. (My mom and girlfriend wanted to kill me when they found out I did that.)
Our tour had the option of either being dropped off at the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to start with the most iconic thing in Paris, so I chose the Eiffel Tower. Everybody else chose the Louvre. It was 8:30 in the morning when I got there, and the queue for the elevator was huge -- probably over a two hour wait -- but the one for the stairs was almost non-existent. I decided to use the stairs to get to the top, even if it meant climbing all 1,000 stairs. While I was walking to get in line, I heard somebody call my name. That doesn't happen very often 7,000 kilometers away from home so I immediately stopped walking to see who it was. It was two other people from my tour group -- Jake and Jonathan, who were also Canadians and had declined the perfumery tour. Instead, they mastered the cursive Metro and arrived here right about when I did. We three decided to climb the tower together.
To enter the tower we had to go through a metal-detector. I got through fine, as did Jake, but Jonathan had been pulled over and we had to wait for him. We waited and waited and finally Jake went and asked the (thankfully bilingual) security guard what had happened. Jonathan had had a customized Swiss-army knife on him -- which wasn't all that strange because many people got customized Swiss-army knives when we were in Lucerne -- and had the option of either throwing the 300 CHF weapon away, or burying it in the nearby park. Yes, they actually told him he could just go over and bury it. That would never be an option in Canada! Jonathan buried it and got back to the tower right when Jake was talking to the guard.
We began to the climb of the Eiffel Tower. From the ground to the first floor is about 400 steps. On the first-floor was a restaurant, a toilette, viewing spots and a small museum about the construction of the tower. There was also an elevator going down, for those who decided to give up the climb or people who didn't want to climb the stairs all the way back down. We took a break here to get a drink and then decided to carry on up the final 600 stairs to the second floor (I I had lost count on how many stairs we climbed at that point, but the Internet says it's around 400). Going up those final stairs was incredibly difficult because of the sheer number of them, and the bad air quality caused by the smog. I had difficulty breathing and stopping to rest didn't help much either. Not to mention it was about 35 degrees out that day!
When we reached the second floor, we discovered that the smog was even skewing the view around us. The whole Champ de Mars was visible, but the École Militaire at the end of the Park was just a grey, shadowy blob.
Although there are 600 more stairs from the second floor to the third floor, the general public can't go on them. Instead, we were forced to take the elevator. The elevator ride was a bit queasy because the tower was beginning to narrow very rapidly by then and it almost seemed like the walls of the tower would crush the elevator. But, like millions before us, we reached the top safely. The first room we were in was a large, round room with flags on top of the windows in the direction of cities around the world. I saw the names of Rome, Munich, London, Hong Kong and eventually Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal -- names I had missed more than I expected, and distances farther away than I could imagine.
After that, we headed up the small set of stairs to the roof-top of the building. We climbed these very slowly, feeling our legs complain as we did. On top was a view of the whole city -- the Louvre, the Seine, the Notre Dame, Palis de Justice, everything. It was all distant and distorted because of the smog, but the view was impressive nevertheless. After taking a few pictures, we decided to go back down, but this time the easy way: elevator-style.
Once at the bottom, we went into the Champ de Mars and located Jonathan's knife. We carried on down the park and I found a water-fountain which we all used happily after the difficult climb. The French aren't as creative with their water-fountains as the Italians, in which you just have to put your finger over a hole and the water sprays out. Instead, we had to go on our hands and knees to drink out of it. I haven't wrote a traveler's tip since London, but here's one: always bring a water-bottle with out, especially if you're planning to climb the Eiffel Tower. Or, if you forget, find a street vendor that will sell you a bottle of water for €1, which is what I ended up doing bit later.
We arrived at École Militaire and found a glass building called the Mur pour la Paix, or the Wall For Peace. It has the word "Peace" written on the walls in all the different languages of the world -- English, French, Italian, Dutch, German, Chinese, Japanese, Islamic and thousands of others. We hadn't be told about this, so I found it to be a nice surprise -- especially since it's right across the street from a military school.
We walked around the school and down the street a ways and arrived at Les Invalides and the Musée de l'Armée, a war museum. We only wanted to go see Napoleon’s Tomb, but to see it we had to buy tickets for the museum. The museum was mostly about World War I and World War II, but there were also bits and pieces about the revolution and the reformation. As well, there was a grisly section about the Holocaust that I only recommend for people with a strong stomach.
Once we were done there, we finally go to go see Église du Dôme, which is the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. After passing the massive oak doors, we arrived into a chilly, behemothic room with an incredibly massive golden dome above us. On the inside of the dome were paintings of angels taking care of Napoleon in heaven. Directly below the dome is a circular hole in ground that reveals an underground chamber, which holds the mini-van sized coffin of Napoleon. Looking around the casket are a dozen, 10-feet high stone angels, and behind them are detailed paintings of Napoleon’s life. Surrounding the hole in the floor are other sections of the tomb that are dedicated to other important people in his life, such as generals, his wife and his son, Napoleon II.
We walked to the end of the tomb and down a flight of stairs behind a massive golden and black shrine to the gate-ways of the tomb. To enter, you have to pass by two huge, black angels with massive swords drawn. We went in-between them and arrived in the underground chamber that could be seen from above. It was incredibly beautiful. Although Caesar was a "god" to the Romans, Napoleon’s Tomb is a thousand times more impressive than Caesar's.
We left the tomb and headed north-west, past the Assemblée Nationale (the National Assembly). While across the Seine from the Louvre we stopped at a pub-restaurant (that also sold cigarettes) to have lunch. Jake had some kind of soup that he said tasted like a "salt injection", while Jonathan had an omelet. I decided to be a little more adventurous and had a rabbit sandwich. I thought it would be gross, but I really didn't mind it. I thought it tasted kind of like ham that was a few days old. It was good, but I wouldn't want to pay €12.50 for that an a regular coke again!
We passed the gates of Musee d'Orsay and saw street vendors on the side of the Seine. They sold their wares out of large, green boxes and sold everything from books, movies, posters, knickknacks and paraphernalia. After a block or so of walking we then discovered a bridge on it with hundreds of locks covering it. Each lock was placed by a couple that was in love. They locked the lock onto the bridge together and then throw the key into the waters below. The lock stays there until the two people fall in love, or the city cuts it off.
We crossed the bridge, walked a block, and then crossed back to the other side. After stopping at a store for Jonathan to buy his batteries and for myself to buy postcards (€1.50 each!). Here we finally found Notre Dame Cathedral.
We didn't go inside the massive cathedral, but instead heard the bells ring, signalling 2 o'clock. Every bell has a name, with the smallest bell being named Sophia and the largest being Bumblebee -- which is a bell that rings a low F-sharp and only on special occasions. After a quick photo of my jacket over my head like Quasimodo, we began the walk back to the Louvre.
After a while of walking, we decided that instead of walking from Notre Dame, back to the Louvre, up the Jardin des Tuileries, past the symmetrically perfect obelisk, up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and to the Arc de Triomphe -- about a 40 to 50 minute walk, while enjoying the sights along the way -- we took the Metro. It was so much easier to go with somebody who actually knew the Metro and could speak French!
We got off in about 10 minutes right near the Arc. We had to go through an underground tunnel to get to the Arc because there are nine-lanes of fast flowing traffic going around it. By itself, the Arc was stunning, but with the Eternal Flame burning in the middle of it, it was a very impressive monument. However, with 12 lanes of traffic feeding into the intersection, it was also very loud. It was here that Jonathan, Jake and I parted. I wanted to go to the Louvre but they wanted to go to the hotel and prepare for the Moulin Rouge (the link takes a while to load) later this evening.
I walked down the right side of the Champs-Élysées (apparently there is a "right" and "wrong" way to walk down it, and if you walk down it the wrong way you curse your time in Paris -- such as the Nazis had done) and passed many shops and restaurants as I did. I crossed at an intersection and stood on the boulevard (something I had seen many other people do) and took a picture down the road of the Arc. It was a fantastic picture but the smog ruined it slightly.
I took a quick side-trip down the street to find a bridge that leads directly to Napoleon’s Tomb -- a bridge that was covered with massive golden angels, of course.
I then got to the obelisk and took pictures of both sides of it, with the Église de la Madeleine on one side, and the Assemblée Nationale on the other. Both of these buildings have columns that are perfectly align with each other, even though they are across a plaza, two roads, a river and a bridge from each other. Also, looking back the way I came, I could see La Grande Arche through the Arc de Triomphe, and looking the final way I could see the Louvre. It was a fantastic testament to the symmetry of the most beautiful city in the world!
I traveled towards the Louvre and went through the park, reading the stone statues and seeing the street vendors. I got to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrouse and walked under the massive arch. To both sides of me then were two statues of women, and in front of me, past a round-about, was La Pyramid of the Louvre. There was a massive queue in front of the Pyramid to enter the museum. I walked towards the statue on my left and looked behind it. There I found a door to enter the Louvre’s cafeteria -- with no queue at all. I checked my watch and saw that the museum would be closing soon, so I didn't go inside. I walked around a bit and then decided to go take the Metro to my hotel by crossing through the park, but the guards were in the process of closing it off for the night.
I didn't want to walk around the massive park, so instead I walked up Avenye de L'Opera to the Paris Opera Theatre -- the very same place where the famous "Phantom of the Opera" takes place. I decided to catch the Metro here, which was a direct line to my hotel.
While I was trying to get a ticket from the machine (which was all in French), a homeless man approached me and offered to help. I wasn't having any real trouble -- I was more just happy to stop walking and fiddle around with a machine for fun -- but he insisted and helped me turn my screen to English and then get my ticket. I got my ticket and the machine gave me €0.30 cents as change. The man then asked for my change because he helped me. Because I didn't want, ask or really require his help, I said no and walked away. He then began yelling "You Stupid American Asshole!" at me, but I just shrugged it off. He was the first rude Frenchman I had met while in Paris.
I caught the Opera metro and took it to Sain Lazore and took that train to Port de Grichy. I was just a few blocks away from my hotel then, so I decided to hoof it. I headed inside, got into the elevator, and stepped inside. Something seemed wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I got to my floor, walked to my room and then stopped. This room was in the corner, while the room I had earlier was in the middle of a hallway. I then realized my mistake: I had gone to the wrong hotel! I quickly took the elevator back down and left the hotel and followed the street back to the Metro station. I paused and looked around. There, in the other direction I had gone, were the lights to my hotel. I hurried to it, got into the familiar elevator, found my room, unlocked it, got inside, locked the door, took out my contacts and collapsed on my bed. I had originally shared the room with Dia, but while I was out in Paris, he had come back, made his bed, took his stuff and was gone.
I had planned to sleep for an hour and then go see the Moulin Rouge at night, and possibly go climb the Cimetière de Montmartre while I waited to meet up with the tour group at 10:45 and then go to O'Sullivans for our last drink together.
Instead, I fell asleep until 2 the next morning.
I am writing this on the bus to London. This is the first time I wrote an entry on a day it didn't actually happen. Half the bus is empty now. They -- like Dia -- have left from Paris to either go home or go on a trip elsewhere in Europe. Dia, Megu and Kie went back to Japan to face the mess the earthquake left behind, Mark and Don (and her baby) took a flight to Barcelona, and Jonathan and Jake flew back home to Canada. Many others went home too, like the Brazilian people (who we nicknamed "Team Brazil"). Oh, and Leslie stayed in Paris for a while longer.
I'll write more tonight when I get back to London. Flip said we were about to go through the Valley of the Somme, where the famous Battle of the Somme (the link opens to a video I made for school on the subject) took place.
I'll write later when we get to London. Goodbye for now.
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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A few months ago I entered a contest for a trip for two to visit Philadelphia on Two Bad Tourists. Normally contests like this are limited to United States residents so when I saw this one was open to Canadians I jumped at the chance. I've never won something like this before, so I actually forgot about it until I got the emailing saying I had won. Two Bad Tourists then worked alongside Visit Philly to organise the trip for me and my mother to explore Philadelphia for three days. Visit Philly paid for our flights, hotels and gave us a VIP Pass to experience the city to our heart's content. It is thanks to them that this trip is possible.
Several movies and television shows have tried to capture the essence of Philadelphia over the years – from the boxing Blockbuster Rocky, to the paranormal thriller The Sixth Sense, to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and even Boy Meets World – but each described the city differently. There is no easy way to approach a city as dynamic as The City of Brotherly Love. With countless layers of art, history, religion and the paranormal, Philadelphia is a city unlike any other throughout the United States.
One thing that surprised me the most about Philadelphia was the history. The city was founded and designed by William Penn, who is also the state of Pennsylvania's namesake. Born in London, England in 1644 he lived through The Great Fire of 1666 and The Great Plague of London from 1665-1666. Both events shaped Penn's life so he designed the city to be strictly stone buildings (to stop fires from spreading) and to have plenty of space between the buildings (as to prevent illness from spreading). This led to the older areas of the city to have winding corridors between old stone walls.
Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".
Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.
Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada. Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade. The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.
About a year and a half ago I visited Kyiv, Ukraine. As I walked down the millennium old streets and gawked at the towering cathedrals, I saw the beginnings of a new country, one that was slowly rebuilding from a much darker time. The process of what I was seeing had a name. It was called decommunization.
Decommunization includes renaming architecture, changing laws and protocols, and even tearing down monuments. People's Friendship Arch in Kyiv, for example, which symbolised the friendship between the Communist East and the Capitalist West, was torn down. Some statues, like war memorials, are exempt, but there is still talk of making modifications to them. Anywhere you go throughout the former Soviet Union, the hammer and sickle are being removed – not from history, but from modern society.