Paris Day 5: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité…Dignité?

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Today, we visited the hidden gem that is Sainte-Chapelle.  The ‘holy chapel’ is often overlooked by most tourists though it’s just a stone’s throw away from the Notre Dame Cathedral. One interesting fact about this chapel is that it used to store Christ’s Crown of Thorns brought by King Louis IX of France during the 13th century. But apparently, it’s not there anymore. The exterior of the chapel looks really boring but when I got inside, holy mother of God (you see what I did there?) I can’t believe my eyes. The stained glass windows are absolutely amazing. Definitely the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The question is, how the hell did people back then build that? Aliens. 
 
Morning bike parade

Must be boring inside...

If you're thinking that's wallpaper, you're wrong. That's hand painted centuries ago.

Half of the stained glass windows were being renovated

Where is Christ's crown of thorns?

No words

Next stop, Musee d’ Orsay! Not another museum...  Now, now, calm down arts aficionados.  Before you call your curator mother, I want you to know that I just visited the Louvre the other day so I still got a bit of “hangover”. Maybe I just needed some time off. 

Musee d’ Orsay used to be a train station but eventually turned into a museum. Inside I saw paintings that I never thought I would see in real life.  I saw works by Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne and of course, Van Gogh. It actually felt weird seeing those paintings in person. Exactly a year ago, my arts professor showed pictures of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings for us to study. While I was analyzing them, the thought of seeing the actual paintings in Paris never really crossed my mind. And now a year later, I’m staring in front of them while I chew Haribos. I know eating is not allowed in museums blah, blah, blah.  But if you haven’t realized yet, eating Haribos while inside a museum is a thing of ours. No one can take away our Haribos away from us. Not even Van Gogh. 

Be ready for long queues

While we were queuing, a horse parade passed by

I want this one

Personally, I find this better than the Louvre

We came out of the museum really hungry so we all decided to eat. We were craving for rice (Filipino staple food) so we looked for a Chinese restaurant. Luckily, we bumped in to a Filipina OFW and she offered to bring us to Lao Tseu Chinese Restaurant. Lao Tseu is packed inside when we got there so we ate al fresco. Besides why would you eat inside when the sun is gloriously shinning? It was very Parisian actually. We sat outside, went people watching and enjoyed our meal. Our table is right next to the chestnut tree lined Saint-Germain Boulevard. Everytime the spring wind blows through the tall chestnut trees, hundreds of tiny white flowers shower the busy road. It was like a movie scene.  We really enjoyed it. Until one by one, we started coughing. We all couldn’t breathe.  We were chocking on pollen. We couldn’t drink our water because it’s full of those goddamned flowers! That explains why everybody ate inside. 


I used to play Geo Challenge a lot. It’s a geography game on Facebook where in you have to guess the different countries’ flags, geographical shape and identify and place tourist attractions on a world map as quickly and accurately as possible. In case you didn’t know, I am a geography buff. When I was a kid, I always asked my mom to bring me to National Bookstore so I could browse through the latest World Atlas and World Almanac for Kids. My interest with geography is the reason why I love traveling. Back to my story, the Sacre Coeur Basilica is one of the tourist attractions I had a hard time placing on the map in Geo Challenge. I didn’t know about it until we visited it today. 

Coeur mean heart in English. So if you're wondering what Le Coeur de France mean, it means The Heart of France. You're welcome.

After lunch, we took the metro to Montmatre where Sacre Coeur is located. It started to drizzle as we exit the metro station of Anvers. The droplets were so cold that it freaked out my sister. She said, “parang yelo naman yung ulan dito” (why is the rain here cold as ice). I saw a white thing on her black coat and I touched it. It was indeed ice! Another bucket list item ticked off.

Sacre Coeur Basilica or Basilica of the Sacred Heart is on top of a hill in the trendy area of Montmartre. It’s a marvelous piece of architecture. Its white color contrasts the clear blue sky on the background. My mom told us to ask for a wish when visiting churches we’ve never been before so my sisters and I knelt on our knees, ask for wishes and prayed. My concentration was broken by a weird low buzzing sound. Apparently, the man beside us, a beggar, was snoring. With his hands clasped and all, he really looked like he was praying. But the snoring gave it away.

We used the funicular to get to the top



Sacre Coeur is made using travertine stones. When it rains, the stones react to water and secrete calcite, which acts as a bleacher.

Byzantine architecture

The view on top of the hill

One of the best views in Paris

Before we went back to our hotel, my sisters and I bought food for our planned sunset “picnic/party” by the river Seine later that night. The day before this, we witnessed how Parisians hang out and chill at the riverbanks and we thought it would be a good idea to experience it as well. Most of the people we saw yesterday brought wines, cheese, and chips so we also brought wines, cheese and chips. We were really excited on our way to the river.  You know that feeling when you were about to enter Disneyland? That’s how I felt as I walked with my two sisters while I carried the plastic bag full of our picnic stuff. I remember feeling cool ‘cause how many people can claim that they’ve partied along the river Seine? Exactly. 

The scene yesterday by the Seine

However, when we got there the place was deserted. The riverbanks are empty with people. No people partying. No people chilling. Nada. All we saw were few suspicious looking men doing transactions under the trees. Suddenly, everything becomes cold and scary. It’s like being invited to a party that never existed. You know in the movies where the loser was given the wrong address so he can’t join the cool kids’ party? Yeah, that’s us.  So we walked back at the hotel with our heads bowed down. Hey, what’s that on the floor? Our dignity.

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Paris Day 4: I'm Not Leaving

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Today we were supposed to join City Free Tour’s Montmartre walk at 10:30 am.
 Sadly, we woke up late again and missed the tour.  With nowhere else to go, we just went to the Cathedral of Notre Dame since it’s just a short stroll from our hotel.   According to our tour guide yesterday, Notre Dame was almost demolished during the olden times.  The Parisians have abandoned and forgotten about the cathedral.   Thanks to Victor Hugo’s novel, Notre Dame de Paris (Hunchback of Notre Dame), interest grew in restoring it again and saving it from destruction.  Thank God for that.

The famous Notre Dame 

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Paris Day 3: To The Louvre!

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Today we woke up late, around 10 o’clock in the morning because we’re so tired from last night’s trip to the Eiffel Tower.  We were worried that the line at the Louvre might already be unbearable so we did our best to get there as soon as possible.  We took the bus to the museum since a bus stop is just a few minutes from our hotel.  We got off at Louvre-Rivoli stop and walked our way to the main entrance.  We were surprised in what we saw, no queues!  Louvre is the most visited attraction in Paris so we expected lines like those of the Eiffel Tower.  I’ve read so many travel sites warning about its ridiculous lines that they even gave tips on which entrance has the shortest lines. Maybe we’re just lucky.

Surprisingly no queues
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Paris Day 2: How Cheesy Can It Get?

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Paris is rich in both culture and history making it one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Anywhere you go in Paris there’s always something to see like gardens, bridges, buildings, museums, streets and neighborhoods. We love to visit them all but one week isn’t enough.  That is why we joined the Sandeman’s New Paris Tour.  Solely based on tips, this walking tour gave us a good introduction of Paris by visiting major sights for just three and a half hours.  We met our quirky, hyper, and a little bit over-acting tour guide named Camille in front of St. Michael fountain.  Together with other thirty tourists, we visited few of Paris’ top attractions including Notre Dame, River Seine, Pont Neuf, Pont des Arts, Louvre, Tuileries Garden, Invalides, Cleopatra’s Needle, Concorde and Assemblee Nationale.  Using the events that took place on these landmarks, Camille was able to give us a basic overview of the history of Paris.  At the end of the tour she asked/begged for tips.  Almost everyone gave her 10 Euros.

Contrary to its direct English translation (new bridge), Pont Neuf is actually the oldest bridge in Paris

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Paris Day 1: Believe

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The only train that serves London to Paris route is Eurostar.  The trip was fast, smooth and comfortable.  Before you even finish your dream, you’re already in Paris.  Just after two hours, everybody is speaking a different language and using a different currency!  I know I shouldn’t compare two different places rather find their own uniqueness but I can’t help myself from comparing London’s St. Pancras to Paris’ Gare du Nord train station.  St. Pancras is modern, spacious, and clean while the latter is dirty and overcrowded.  I guess St. Pancras raised the bar really high.  I’ve read a lot of reviews saying that Gare du Nord is a haven of pickpockets so be very careful.

Gare du Nord
 
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London Day 7: Hurdle

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All good things must come to an end.  Unfortunately, it’s our last day in London.  One week is definitely not enough.  We missed a lot of sites like the Tate Modern, Portobello Market, Camden Market, Harrod’s, Hyde Park, the list could go on.  Actually, for me it’s a good thing that we failed to visit those places.  At least there’s a reason to come back.  

St. Pancras International Station is just a few bus stops from our hotel.  So going to the station was a breeze.  We arrived at the train station an hour early (our train to Paris leaves at eight in the morning). We decided to look around first and find something to buy to get rid of our coins since we will be dealing with another currency later, the Euro.  We didn’t check-in yet because after immigration, they might restrict us from getting out of the boarding area.  The station is huge.  They have managed to combine modern design and its original Victorian architecture.  It’s beautiful.  It looked five times better that our airport in the Philippines considering it’s a train station.  

It's time to go.

Our last bus ride in London

I'm gonna miss the architecture!

Gates of St. Pancras Station
My sisters and I went up the second level to search for British cool stuff.  I bought a big map of the London Underground from a bookstore there.  Expensive, but it’s worth it.  I planned to frame and put it on my  wall.  We saw this massive Olympic Rings near the train platform and took some photos of it. 

Olympic Rings welcoming visitors

My sister Nicole

Me
In the middle of our photo-shoot with the giant Olympic Rings, Nicole checked the time.  It was already 7:30!  We immediately ran to the boarding gates and were surprised to see so many people hurrying to get inside to catch their respective trains.  It was the complete opposite of what’s the situation fifteen minutes earlier.  The lines were sooo long.  I was so scared that we might miss the train especially when  it was my idea to buy last minute souvenirs.

Everything's gonna be okay... right?
Before we can ride the train, we need to get through ticket inspection, baggage inspection, and immigration!  We were all standing in the line panicking.  Luckily they opened a fast lane to those passengers bound for Paris.  We were almost finished with the baggage inspection when the inspector specifically asked for my sister’s rucksack to have it checked again.  He poured out all the contents of it and opened my sister’s cellphone and iPod. We were like, WHAT THE HELL?! Why now? He then swabbed the whole inside of the bag, god knows why.  He knows we were in a hurry since we were from the priority line but no, he swab the damn thing like swabbing was a form of art.  It’s like he was doing it on purpose.  I don’t have problem with random checks (hopefully that was a random one) but that guy is an ass.  

We got at the platform at 7:50 and fell in line at the nearest queue that we saw.  We were so relaxed by then. Hurray, we made it!  In your face, inspector! We were already reminiscing what just happened and laughing about it.  When it’s our turn to board the train, I noticed that it was the wrong coach number.  Ours is coach number 16 located at the other end of the train.  The fear kicked in again.  By this time, we were frantically running like morons.  I wish we got that on tape.  

Anyway, we made it.  But the whole thing was exhausting.  It felt like an Olympic marathon.  Paris better be good.

Paris week will be posted next week :) 

Please like my Facebook page to get updates!

Tips:
  1. Train from London to Paris: Eurostar 
  2. Provide ample time allowance for immigration, ticket, and baggage checks.
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London Day 6: Last Hurrah

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Today is our last free time in London.  Tomorrow we’ll be on a train to Paris!  I’m quite excited to be honest.  I can already smell the freshly baked croissants and baguettes from here.  Anyway, before we left this city and this country, we needed as much "souvenirs" to bring back home.  Where else can we get those "souvenirs" but in a mall?   It’s shopping time… again.  But before we embark on a retail journey, we first visited the Olympic Park in Stratford.   London was the host of the 2012 Olympic Games.  In just a few months, London will be packed with people.  All eyes will be on this great city.  
Almost finished
Olympic Stadium of the London Games 2012
Obligatory shot

Say cheese!
I should've bought one. Damn.
The place is still under construction.  A lot of buildings are not yet finished.  But the main stadium I believe is almost done.  The buzz of the town is all about that red tower.  The mayor of London wanted a structure like the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty built to symbolize the city.  The result is the ArcelorMittal Orbit.  I read in the local newspaper that the people are pretty upset with its design.  They said that it’s just a waste of money and that it looks like “rubbish”.  Well, it’s hard to argue with that.  They could’ve added a roller coaster on it to make it interesting.  That would be fun.

ArcelorMittal Orbit
After having some few pictures with the stadium, we took a bus to Westfield Stratford Mall, the biggest mall in the UK.  We spent the day inside that black hole and the rest of the night in Oxford Street.  We were so busy shopping that we forgot to eat dinner.  Believe it or not, we only felt hungry when we arrived at the hotel.  “Hunger is for the weak.  It’s all in the mind,” that’s what my sister always says.  Apparently, it's true. Take my word for it.

Want more? Read our train mishap in London Day 7!


Tips:
  1. UK's largest mall: Westfield Stratford Mall.
  2. Visit Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park: click here.
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