Wednesday, March 31, 2010

We'll always have Paris...

Wednesday was our last day in Paris (sigh). Nathan and I got up early to see the Arc de Triomphe and the Eternal Flame before heading to the Louvre with Tim and Kate. They didn't join us because Kate had a real bummer of a time sleeping in Paris (as in no sleep at all) and needed a few extra hours this particular morning:(

I thought Clark/Nathan and I were going to have the Griswald curse AGAIN on this day. When we got to the train station (it really does all start with the train doesn't it) we had no map of the city (we actually never had one the whole time) and the station we were at had no map of the metro lines (very strange) so we asked a metro employee at the information desk how to get to the Arc de Triomphe. Now I know I don't sound French, but my southern accent isn't so bad that this woman couldn't understand ARC - I mean HELLO - it's really famous! Not sure if she was just being French, but after repeating myself 3 times and then Nathan saying it she was like "Oh de Arc" - take the RER A to La Defense. Okay - that wasn't so hard. Thanks Lady!

Ummmm - except for the fact that when we got out of the metro at La Defense we weren't at the Arc de Triomphe we were at the Grande Arche - Good Times. So just in case you were wondering what the Grande Arche looks like - here it is:
Isn't it Grande?

We did think we were on the train for a really long time, but we were enjoying our french pastries and just thought to trust the train employee that was sitting at the INFORMATION DESK:) Once we got back in the metro we found our own map and realized we should have gotten off at Charles de Gaulle Etoile. And what do you know - the Arc de Triomphe!
Here we are at the Arc de Triomphe - I took this picture so you could see how far away the Grande Arche is from here. Can you see it in the waaaaaaay back of the photo?
Nathan wanted to play frogger across this intersection but I persuaded him to use the underground path - thank goodness!
The Arc de Triomphe!
The Eternal Flame located near the Tomb of the Unknow Soldier at the Arc
From here we strolled down the Champs-Elysées - you know hitting Louis Vuitton and such. Nathan REALLY wanted to buy me some stuff but I said "No Honey, I am just grateful to be here". I am such a great wife:)

Next the Louvre! Alison gave us a HUGE tip and I want to pass it on to all of you. First, buy your ticket in advance. We were really fortunate that Alison got ours for us (thank you Alison!), but she said you could buy them at the Paris Tourism Office (near the Opera Garnier). It isn't cheaper, but you get to go through a special security line. We took the metro to the Palais Royal Musee du Louvre stop. Once you get out of the Metro cross the street and you should be at the Passage Richelieu Entrance. There wasn't a SINGLE PERSON in line! It took us .5 seconds to get in! I thought this was just the security line, but no - once we had our bags checked we were inside the Louvre!!! I overheard someone inside complaining about standing in the line out front for over an hour. Priceless information! Thank you Alison!

We spent several hours in the Louvre - where there are signs EVERYWHERE saying no cameras - but nobody seemed to obey this AND no one seemed to enforce this, so OF COURSE we had to take a picture of the Mona Lisa - right? The Mona Lisa painting is actually quite comical. It is amazing that the Louvre is so huge (and I mean HUGE) but the only place that there was a ridiculous number of people congregating was the room where Mona resides. The painting is actually quite small compared to a lot of the other work in the Louvre, but it takes up an entire wall and it is behind bullet proof glass and a rope. Ha - loved it! One little tidbit - so on our Sandeman tour the first day - our tour guide told us that the Canadians had done a smile recognition study and figured out that the Mona Lisa was 83% happy. Well thank you to the Canadians for that! I'm not sure I would have enjoyed the experience as much without being armed with this information!:)

We ended our day with a little more shopping before heading back to the airport for Part 2 of the Whitney's European Vacation - Switzerland!! I wish it could have been longer, but I am so grateful for the time we had there with Kate and Tim... we'll always have Paris! (yes cheesy - but I've always wanted to work that quote into something - so there it is!)

p.p.s. - The one thing I wish we could have done, but didn't have time, was a boat ride on the Seine! So please if you go to Paris, do this and send me some pics! I guess we'll just have to do it next time!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Griswalds do Versailles - Paris Day 2

We woke up on Tuesday Morning to ANOTHER beautiful spring day in Paris! Wow - our luck was turning out to be amazing - especially since the forecast was for rain the whole time!

Well... maybe we shouldn't have been giving each other high-fives so quickly. We should have known the day was going to be a bit strange when a BUM TURNED DOWN MONEY from Tim! Seriously?! Granted Tim was going to give him just the copper coins in his pocket, but one would think the equivalent of 75 cents (even if it was in "pennies") would be good enough for a bum! Hell - I would take 75 cents right now! Awfully hoity bums in Paris!

This "Bum Incident" took place in the metro station on the way to catch our train to Versailles. We were all joking about this when the train came (headed in the right direction) and we got on. About 10 minutes later the train stopped and these very sweet girls came over and asked us if we were going to Versailles. Why do we look like tourists? I mean YES.

When we said yes they told us that we needed to change trains because we had all gotten on the wrong one. Okay - even though we were sure we were headed in the right direction. Then the girls asked one of the metro employees (they spoke French) which train to get on - he said "That one". A train headed in the OTHER direction (as in the direction we just came from). But the screen appeared to say it was headed for Versailles so we got on. Finally just as we were pulling back into the station where we began our morning, the same girls came and found us on the train and said we had gotten on the wrong train - AGAIN- and that we could catch the correct train from here. Okay.

Then a guy with REALLY bad teeth (as in "I have been smoking crack for 10 years" bad teeth) asked where we were going, so he could "help". He told us that we should just stay on this train (even though we were just told it was going in the wrong direction) and that we would get to Versailles in about 30 minutes - not to the train station we wanted, but another one "close by". He also informed us that there was a strike going on and that we were "lucky to have a train". As he was leaving the woman sitting across from us (in business clothes and with nice teeth), looked at us and said "you need to get off". All very strange and we weren't sure who to believe, but the nice girls were franticaly waving for us to get off - so we did.

Now what do we do? Well the cute girls (that Kate has now named the Fab Force 5) ask another guy and he tells us to get back on the very first train we started with. Are we on candid camera? No WORSE - I think we are the GRISWALDS on Vacation! We all laugh about this and joke that "Walley World" will be closed when we get there - ha ha!

During our 30 minute wait for the correct train, we see "Teeth" and decide he must be a pick pocket or something. It then occurs to us that if he is a pick pocket and he rides the trains ALL day EVERY day - then he probably was giving us accurate information on staying on the train! And if we had listened to him we would already BE there by now! MORAL OF THE STORY: Never judge a person by their teeth.

Are we in some kind of Vortex? Waiting for the train to Versailles for the 3rd time...

Either way - we ended up in Versailles around 11 am (we started at 9 am - but deatils - right?) Upon arriving in Versailles we met up with the Fab Force 5 again and they told us that there actually was a strike going on in Paris and that Versailles was CLOSED! Um - excuse me? Walley World - I mean Versailles - can't be closed - it took us 2 hours to get here! We really ARE the Griswalds (although I already knew that:))!

However, LOTS of people had gotten off the train and were headed in the direction on the Palace so we thought we minus well go - hopefully the closed information was bad information. After waiting in line for 45 minutes and thinking how wrong those girls were (why would there by a line if it was closed - right?), we finally get up to pay for our tickets. How much for the "full package" Nathan asks. "Only middle section is open - the two wings are closed due to a strike." Nathan - "No we want the full package - we want to see everything." Strange look from attendant - then she draws two "x"s over the parts that are closed and says 15 Euros. Well I guess that is settled then - no "full package" for us!:)

We made it - Chateau de Versailles!

The part of Chateau de Versailles that we saw (including the Hall of Mirrors) was very beautiful. The gardens were magnificient as well and they seemed to go on for miles (maybe they did - we didn't try to find out). Although I will be honest - if you've seen one Palace you've seen them all - sorry again French people but I really did feel like I was having a flashback to Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. Granted Versailles is BIGGER but same concept - totally over the top rooms, over the top decorating, and over the top gardens. Not that I'm saying anything is wrong with that - I would live in either one - I'm just sayin'.

The Hall of Mirrors

Just so you know - I want this bed! The sign near the bed said "The King's Bedroom - In this room the royal rising and going to sleep ceremonies took place." - I'll take those too!

The Gardens - I'm sure they were even more beautiful in Spring when everything is in bloom!
(Pictured L to R - Rusty, Audrey, Ellen, and Clark!)

Just because I thought it was a perfect ending to our trip to Versailles - I thought I would share that we had to wait for 45 minutes for a train to take us back into Paris because the train people were on strike too - gotta love the French!:) Not sure what everyone was striking about but it only lasted one day (of course the day we tried to go to Versailles but that would happen to the Griswalds:))!

On our way back we stopped off at the Eiffel Tower -you can't go to Paris without getting a picture in front of it - right? At least I wasn't going to!:) It was very awe inspiring to stand underneath it and see it up close and personal!

I heart Parks!
(So everyone is walking around in "I heart Paris" shirts - of course it's Paris - right? Well, Tim - out of no where - is like I love all the "I heart Parks" shirts - very cool. Okay - seriously? Well I do love Parks too but we are in PARIS - hello!?! Sorry Tim - never gonna live that one down!:))

Cheesy Paris Photo made even better by my mad photoshop skills!

We finished the rest of our day shopping near the Opera before heading to dinner to see Alison (one of Nathan's childhood friends) who has been living in Paris for 10 plus years! (Note to self - do not try to ride public transport at 5 pm on a day that the train people are striking -you will NOT get to your destination in a timely manner. Oh - and you will definitely be touched inappropriately as 20 rows of shoulder to shoulder people try to cram onto the train.)

We met Alison and her family at their flat before heading out to dinner. I am so mad that I didn't get a photo of her adorable family! I am completely smitten by her two year old son Benjamin! I want a little two year old who understands english but speaks french - does anyone know where I can get one of those? Benjamin had me at "Merci"! Soooooo cute!

We then headed to a restaurant near Alison's home and had another fabulous French dinner! Thank goodness we all decided to share our desserts because they were all so good - especially Alison's cheesecake - seriously the best I have EVER had! How about we just eat the rest of the time we are in Paris? Sounds good to me!

Nathan and I with Alison!

We ended the night with a Taxi ride home (I was done with the train for the day) and just thought I would mention that if you call a Taxi in Paris the meter starts running from where ever the taxi is when you call them, all the way to you, and then continues to your destination. Just a little FYI to close the day!

Bonne nuit!

The Whitneys Arrive and we head to Paris!

Our friends Kate and Tim Whitney arrived in Zurich last Sunday March 21st, so we could hang out in Paris and Switzerland for the week! Since we weren't quite sure where we wanted to go when they booked their tickets last summer - they had a REALLY crappy flight - with Paris being the 4th country they "visited" in less than 24 hours - stopping in Germany and Switzerland first - but I'm sure it was all worth it to hang with the Beckers for a week - right?:)
Sunday Night:
We arrived in Paris around 6 pm on Sunday and headed to our hotel, The Five Hotel, in the Latin Quarter. (FYI - It was really easy to get to from the airport on the RER line B. You get off at Port Royal and then walk about 10 minutes to the hotel.) Although the rooms were small (maybe an understatement) - what they lacked in space they made up in ambiance.:) I loved how modern it was and the lights behind the bed and in the shower were the "piece de resistance":) The Five was about a 10 minute walk to the Port Royal RER line or a 10 minute walk to the Line 7 les Gobelins line. Although it would have been nice to be a little closer to the "action", it wasn't too bad a walk and the hotel was on a nice quite street.

The Five Hotel Lobby - very modern

The bed had roses on it - very romantic:)
The lights in the shower and behind the head board were a nice touch!

So enough about the Hotel! That night we asked the conceirge where we should go for dinner and he printed out nice walking directions to somewhere close - about 20 - 30 minutes walking. As we headed out - I saw that it said Tour Montparnasse. Could this be? I was SOOOOO excited! Although a lot of people don't go to the Tour Montparnasse, and it isn't on the Top 10 things to do in Paris list - I had read about the view and one of Nathan's colleagues had just been and said it was amazing! Yippee - I love it when a plan comes together!:)

The view does NOT dissappoint either! I personally think it was the best view of the "City of Lights" we had - including from the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre (which is the one everybody talks about). Try to go at night and be there "on the hour" so you can see the light show of the Eiffel Tower - it looked really cool from the top observation deck!

I love this picture! The little Irish guy who took it waited for the "perfect" shot with the light beacon from the Eiffel Tower. I thought the boys were going to lose it as "We have to wait for another 50 cents in the meter" he said!

The City of Lights

However, I don't recommend trying to eat up there. The food was just "snack" food, so we headed down to the main street again and just found a cute little restaurant. We didn't have any recommendations, so we were praying that we picked a good one.... and we DID!

Kate's french onion soup - a.k.a. "the crock pot of yummmmmm":)

Paris Night 1 gets a 10 out of 10!!!

We finally got back to the hotel after Midnight on Sunday, and the Whitneys were dead tired (righfully so after the travel day they had), so we made a plan to get a "late" start at around 10:30 am. This "late" standard is from the Nathan Becker book of traveling, just so you know - he get's this from his Mother - he can't help it (love you Bonnie!):) But since we didn't have a time difference (best part about living in Europe:)) we got up on Monday morning and did a little sightseeing close to the hotel before the rendezvous time.

Of course we had to start our day with some French pastry (as we did every day we were there - mmmmm) and then we headed over to the Jardin Du Luxembourg which were close by. The weather was SO beautiful and it was a great start to the day. We also saw the Pantheon since it was close to the gardens, but really not that much to see (did I say that? - sorry French people).

Palais Du Luxembourg

I had to include this picture because the ugly monstrosity in the background to the left is the Tour Montparnasse. It doesn't look great from the ground, very out of place looking, but the view from the top was magnificent!

Then we headed to the Notre Dame with Kate and Tim - what a beautiful, massive church! Nathan and I were taking a self portrait when we turned around and saw Tim getting "gypsed":) They sure know how to pick the sucker in the group as Tim was a few Euros lighter when we left:) We wanted to climb up to the top, but the line was forever long and we didn't think we would make it before our tour started at 1pm.

This shot was taken right before the "gypsy incident":)

The back side of Notre Dame. Great self portrait of Kate and I - don't ya think? I can't believe I actually got us and the top of the church:)!

We took the Sandeman's New Paris Tour at 1 pm. We all had a great time on this free 3.5 hour walking tour and highty recommend it! Our guide, Gabi, was very entertaining and knew great facts and tidbits about French History and Paris that we never would have gotten by ourselves.

Don't hate - you know I look tres French in this beret:)

Nathan and I on the Seine right before the tour started.

Although you don't really get to go inside the sites, the tour is a great way to get the "lay of the land" and figure out which places you want to go back to. And it was such a beautiful day in Paris - it was great to be walking around! Seriously LOVED IT!
Gabi - our fearless leader

Me... at the Louvre:)

90% of the French hate this pyramid outside the Louvre - but I loved it! No French blood here!
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
An Obelisk Napoleon was "gifted" from the Egyptians - riiiiiiiiiiight!

The Grand Palais

End of the walking tour - not exactly sure where we are, but I love this group shot AND I want that door for my next house - okay?!

We had such a great time on the Paris Walking Tour that we also took the Sandeman's Montmartre Tour that night. Now I know this sounds like a lot of touring, but we weren't on a bus with another 100 tourists or anything - I guess you just have to go on one of these walking tours to experience it. It really was great. I think we all fell in love with Montmartre. It was definitely my favorite part of Paris. If (I mean WHEN) we go back to Paris, I would love to spend more time up there! It had such a cool vibe to it! Besides all the cabarets (this is where Moulin Rouge is located), this area has a great history of starving artists. This is actually where a lot of painters - including Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali, and Monet - lived back in the day before they were famous. It was great to just walk around, soak in the feeling, and look around at all the street vendors and shops.

After we got a beer the boys were ready for the Sexodrome, but was the Sexodrome ready for them?

"Hey Sista, go sista, soul sista"
Moulin Rouge baby!
(Did you know Moulin Rouge means Red Windmill? I was totally going for something else....)

I was trying to capture the essence of Montmartre, but apparently I'm not that good of a photographer (shocker). You'll just have to take my word for it or better yet - get your butt over there!

Montmartre (mountain of the martyr) owes its name to the martyrdom of Saint Denis who was decapitated on this hill around 250 AD. You can always pick out Saint Denis because he is the one holding his head in his hands- like in this statue.

The Basilique Du Sacre-Coeur (Church of the Sacred Heart) from the backside. So beautiful!

Entrance to the Sacre-Coeur

We ate dinner in Montmartre at Chez la Mere Catherine - they claim to be the very first Bistro ever - so we had to go there - right? We got stuck in the back of the restaurant with the other riff-raff since we weren't dressed up (the people in the front were in suits) , but you can stick me in the corner ANY TIME if I can have the escargot and profiteleros again! We also loved the piano and singer (great French ambiance for dinner:))!

After dinner we found "Tim's" Hotel - maybe this is where we should stay next time?!:)

AMAZING first day in Paris! Now I know why people love this city so much!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Skiing Flumserberg and the Zurich Zoo!

Last weekend our friend Miriam flew in on Thursday night from Hamburg to hang out for the weekend!

Friday morning we headed to Flumserberg for a girl's ski day -Nathan had to work to pay for my trip - thanks honey:). We checked the weather forecast in the morning and it looked to be a beautiful day on the slopes! Sunshine and almost 30 degree F weather - my ideal skiing conditions! And Flumserberg is only about an hour from Zurich on the train so it is a really good day trip.
Well.... the weather forecasters in Switzerland are as good as the ones in Raleigh. And by that I mean they suck.:) It was snowing, -15 degrees Celsius, 30 kmph winds, and our visibility on the slopes was about 20 feet. Good times:) Especially since Miriam hadn't skiied since 2002! However, with that being said - we had an amazing day! Miriam did great and only took out one family:)!
Because it was snowing so hard (as you can see in this picture) we decided to eat lunch...

This was our view at lunch - nice sunny skies! So we decided to head back up the gondola...
This is what it looked like once we got up the gondola (less than 15 minutes later)! Where did the blue skies go? Totally my luck!
I had to post this (but I don't feel bad b/c Miriam made it her FB profile pic:)) She almost took out a dad and his daughter but at least she warned them by screaming to get out of the way!
Beautiful view of the Wallensee from the slopes!

Friday night we checked the weather forecast for Saturday and it was bad news. We had wanted to go to Andermatt but the weather forecast said -20 degrees C and up to 45 kmph winds! Yikes! I wanted to ski and all but that didn't sound like fun so we decided to skip it. And yes we checked other slopes but all of Switzerland had this freakish winter storm:( When we woke up on Saturday everything was white and the snow kept falling and falling and falling. By 1 pm we were stir crazy so we decided to go out and do something close to home - hike the Uetliberg. I wrote about that in my post here.

Sunday was freezing, but no more snow (thank goodness). Unfortunately we couldn't ski ,because Miriam's flight home was around 6 pm so we decided to go to the Zurich Zoo! It was SO awesome! I can't believe we waited this long to go! I mean HELLO - of course Zurich's Zoo would be awesome - everything here is PERFECT! I saw my first ant eater - not what I expected it to look like (not that I'm sure what I expected it to look like), the rainforest exhibit was amazing, the Penguin Parade through the zoo was soooo cute, and the animals living in natural like conditions made my happy. We liked it so much we kept delaying our departure and had to rush home so Miriam wouldn't miss her flight! If you plan to go - give yourself at least 4 hours - we wish we would have had more time!
Penguin Parade! The furry brown ones in the back of the line are the babies!
Great weekend with Miriam! Now when are we heading to Hamburg? hmmmmm
Picture albums for Flumserberg and the Zoo!
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