Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Europe 2012 part I - Paris

Sorry, I'm really slowly getting back into the routine... I really thought it'd be faster than that, but with the Olympics... LOL. Yesterday was my first day back to work :( But I got a reprieve because my boss was absent - not feeling well. As a result, I had time to catch up with everyone :) Today as well, I'm going to have a reprieve because I had to bring my car to the garage for an estimation... therefore, I get to leave early :)

Sooo, as promised, here are some pictures :)

 Eiffel tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral and la Bastille

First, how did we end up going to Europe this year? Well it's all thanks to my sister :) My sis had always had two dream travel destinations: Australia and London. She was already determined to go to Australia this summer when she got news that one of her friends was accepted as a volunteer for the London Olympics Game... and my sister being my sister, she told her friend she'd tag along LOL. Between Australia and London, there was going to be about 3 weeks and I told her not to come back home. It seemed counter-productive LOL, so I told her to go to Europe and have fun :P And then, my sister asked my parents if they were interested to go to Europe to visit relatives... You gotta know that my mom's sister and her family lives in Germany and also, that my dad went to university in Germany, so he still has college buddies and foster mother there :) My sister's proposition was interesting, so we started looking for airplane tickets and made plans. In the end, my sister's trip to London was nixed, but by that time, she had the ball rolling and still got to go to Europe LOL.

My aunt lives very close to Saarbrücken which is close to the France/Germany border. To get there, we had two options: plane to Paris or plane to Frankfurt. LOL, the choice was pretty easy :) Especially since my mom has very close friends in Paris. These friends actually used to be my mother's neighbors when she was still in Vietnam for 15 years, from when my mom was 10 to 25 years old :P My mom's family and their family were extremely close and we got to hear some pretty funny stories :) In any case, they welcomed us with open arms and that's what made our trip in Paris so memorable :) Their youngest son, R, is actually close to my age - only 2 years older. LOL, it's funny in that family because Tata C and Tonton B have 5 sons, the oldest born in 1957, their youngest in 1981 :P Yep, there's a big age gap and that means R has nephews and nieces very close to his age, actually the oldest of the third generation, D, is older than R LOL. Anyway, we were lucky that R was actually starting his vacation when we arrived and so, he took up the job of tour guide :) Actually, him and his nephew D :) And so, my sister and I did not have to worry about how to get to one place to another, we just had to follow and as such, I did not need my guide books at all LOL.

Okay, okay, I'll shut up. Here are the pics :)

Le Grand Palais, Place de la Concorde and rue Rivioli (1er arrondissement)

View of the Eiffel Tower from Pont Alexandre III

This was Day 1 in Paris :) As you can, the weather wasn't great... Our whole stay in Paris was actually very cloudy and it was hard to decide what to wear each day. Because when the sun shines, it's really warm but when you're under those clouds? Not so much. Luckily for us, the first day is the only one we got actual rain.

Our first stop that day was Arc de Triomphe which you can see the picture here. We came out of the metro and there it is, the Arc de Triomphe... but R thought it didn't make for a great pic, so he told us where to stand. And yes, we are literally in the middle of the street in that pic! There's a tiny lane for pedestrians to pause while crossing the street... and it's only wide enough for two persons! LOL. But I gotta agree, it made for a great pic. Then, we walked around... What is soooo great about Paris is that wherever you walk, there is something great to see! Whether it's a monument, a garden, the shop or the architecture... It was just great. So from Arc de Triomphe, we walked down the Champs Elysée and wounded up at the Jardin des Tuileries where we sat down and relaxed a little :) This is not my first time in Paris, I've actually been there in 1992 - twenty years ago!! - and in 2005. In 2005, I was on a tour, so I only spent 1.5 days in Paris... but on those two previous occasions, I've never been to one of the jardins! And I think it's something you gotta experience a little. It's hard to believe that in a city like Paris with all the monuments, all the cars, that those jardins still exist! Anyway, that's where we left R to relax and recharge, because just after the Jardin des Tuileries is the Louvres...

Arc du Carrousel and on the other side, the Louvres! One of its glass pyramids...

 Église de Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, Institut de France and goofing around near the Pyramids

We spent close to an hour at the Pyramids of the Louvre. We didn't go in because my sister and I are just not a fan of museums... and the Louvre takes forever to visit :) So we just walked around :P We went to Place Vendôme next, unfortunately, it started raining pretty hard....

So we took refuge at the shopping center Les Halles. Hey, did you know that McDonald's sells macarons?!? I kid you not LOL. While we were in Les Halles, I went shopping for my mangas :P I had this huge backpack and as I predicted, it came in handy as I bought about 15 mangas LOL. Pretty good haul right? By the way, check it out, Paris is not just about old architecture :P

McDonald's sells macarons! I don't know what is that monument, but it's pretty and Place Georges Pompidou

And that was the end of our first day because we had to head back for a family supper :) But seriously, that was a lot of walking we did just there!

We started Day 2 at Sacré-Coeur :) This was the first time I actually went and it's really nice. The view that you get is pretty amazing as well, because there are no tall buildings in Paris. Actually, yes, there is one skyscraper, but that's it and it's a conscious decision from the city so as not to mar the view. Therefore, you don't need to climb the Eiffel tower to get an amazing view - although it is quite unique, you can get it from Sacré-Coeur, the top of the Arc of Triomphe, Gallerie Lafayette, etc. :P

Sacré-Coeur: my sister and R, my sister and me and the view

 Montmartre and the funéculaire

We visited Sacré-Coeur and then, walked in Montmartre which is the neighborhood just off Sacré-Coeur. It's really a nice neighborhood, filled with souvenir shops :) I should have gone into them LOL. And as you can see, Sacré-Coeur and Montmartre are on a hill and so, there's the funéculaire to go up and down... but we walked it :)

Afterwards, we headed to Pont de l'Alma so we could get to the Bateaux Mouches and do a boat tour on the Seine.

La Flamme de la Liberté, sur le pont de l'Alma with D

On the Bateau Mouche: D, R, my sister and me

Seriously, I definitively think the Bateau Mouche is worth it and it's really not that expensive. However, if you have the opportunity, you might want to do it at night, when everything is lighted up! I saw my parents' pictures and it is sooooo pretty!

After the Bateau Mouche, we finally headed to the Eiffel Tower! However, the line-up to go up was too long and well I'm not that patient. It's okay though because I've been up there... as for my sister, well it gives her an excuse to go back right? :P From the Eiffle Tower, we headed to Trocadéro which is right across the Seine from the tower :) It doesn't look that impressive from the picture and I don't know if it was because of the day we were there or what... but what's great is you get a great view of the Eiffel Tower :)

 Eiffel Tower from different angles

Trocadéro, a backside view and finally, a bit of sun!

We then took the bus to St-Michel to go see the Notre-Dame cathedral. And we actually stayed in that neighborhood till the end of the evening, waiting for our family to join.

Waiting for the bus, Notre-Dame Cathedral

Paris at night

On Day 3, we started the day easy with a great breakfast. Then headed to Paris and returned to the Arc of Triomphe... and decided to get on a red tour bus :)

Breakfast, us on the red bus, in some Paris street

Eiffel Tower from Trocadéro, someone's tired - we've only been walking for 3 days!

Église St-Louis-des-Invalides and Église de la Madeleine

The red sightseeing bus is another good way to explore Paris :) It goes to every popular touristic spots of Paris: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame Cathedral, Trocadéro, Opéra, etc. What's great as well is you can get down at one spot and hop back up to go to the next. IIRC, it was 27 euros and I think it was worth it :) As for us, we got down at Opéra where D joined us. We've actually been to Opéra on Day 1, but was rainy, so we went back to get a better picture... and we decided to go back to Place Vendôme too.

Opéra and Place Vendôme

The last place we visited that day was Jardin du Luxembourg at my request... and that's because of Blame it on Paris by Laura Florand  :) It's been years since I've read that book, but for some reasons, it stuck in my mind... and with Ms Florand couple of releases in the last few months, well it's one place I really wanted to visit! And I am soooo glad I did!

At the entrance of the jardin. Hey look, there's a palm tree!

And a palace! Look at the view! 

 Relaxing... and someone left those rocks behind. So cute!

From the beginning, we knew that our last day in Paris, we would go to Versailles :) And guess what? We did! Except, we really had a late start to the day because the night before, we decided to sleep over at R's brother's place... because it was closer to Versailles. And well, on the way, there's an outlet mall... and yes, we stopped by LOL. I really tried to make a quick shopping trip out of it, but R's SIL is a shopper... and she has a cute little girl, so who can blame her?

By the time we got to Versailles, there was a huge line-up to get into the palace. Seriously, that line-up just discouraged me... And it was already 2pm in the afternoon. So we simply visited the gardens... but those gardens are worth it!

 Look at the sky! This is at the gate of Versailles. My parents. Hand-trimming!

 The palace from the garden. The main fountain - wish the water has worked. 

Yep, we rowed :) There was a lot of traffic off the dock.

 The gardens are amazing. But you really need a map to find yourself!

My dad jumping! The orangerie. Statue at the gate.

And that was our stay in Paris :) After that, we headed for Germany :P More pictures to come! And if you wonder why there isn't that many pics of me, well I'm the photographer :P