Thursday, November 25, 2010


      Upon arrival at Paris, I honestly wasn’t all that impressed with the city.  It is supposed to be a city of beauty and romance, but I just wasn’t feeling any of that.  We arrived at our hostel at midnight and had trouble getting a room because the hostel’s computer system was down and they didn’t know who was in which rooms.  When I say we had trouble, I mean that the person in charge of checking us in was dual functioning as a bartender.  He was an American engineering washout trying to figure out the mess of room assignments while doing shots with some guys at the bar.  The computer system consisted of a laptop.  This obviously wasn’t the best of places.  So we finally picked not the greatest hostel, by accident.  We should have known we were going to have trouble when we read the name, "Peace and Love Hostel" written on the building.  It just goes to show that sometimes all of the best reviews in the world don’t necessarily mean anything.  However, we did finally all get beds to sleep in and the room assignment situation was figured out the next morning with a more professional (and sober) day manager.
                However, my impressions of Paris changed a bit when we took a tour of the city.  We walked around the city for 4 ½ hours (for free!) with a funny, more than likely gay tour guide from the United States who had spent the last two years working on his graduate degree in Paris.  He showed us as much of the city as he could in four hours and then invited us to go to a mom and pop Parisian cafĂ©.  We had a lot of tasty food, for relatively (compared to the other restaurants, where most meals are 25 euro) little money.  I had a delicious cheese sandwich thing, shared a meat and cheese platter, and had a glass of wine for 11 euro.  I was stuffed for the day and that was a late lunch doubling as dinner, too!  The restaurant owners were very nice, but spoke little English so our tour guide had to order for us.  He then led us to the correct metro line to get to our next destination, where all of the shopping was.  Needless to say, we tipped him as generously as three broke college students on a trip to Paris could afford. 
                The main reason we went to the shopping center was to buy a pair of pajama bottoms for myself (I forgot to pack mine) and a pair of socks for Ginger because her socks were soaking wet from the constant drizzle we enjoyed all day.  Canvas shoes + rain=very cold, wet socks.  We also went to the Lafayette mall, which has pretty much every high dollar designer brand imaginable.  It was weird seeing them all in the same mall.  However, we just mostly window shopped because designer clothes only come in designer prices.  The mall was all decked out for Christmas, inside and out.  Then we walked to Moulin Rouge before retiring to bed. 
                Day two in Paris was spent going inside some of the museums and churches.  We started at Notre Dame.  It cost 5 euro to climb to the top of Notre Dame, but I got in for free posing as an Irish student (a citizen of the European Union) under the age of 26.  I saw the sign saying EU citizens can go in for free and gave them the card I had to get in order to register with immigration in Ireland.  All they saw was my birth date and Ireland and they waived me through free of charge.  However, once I got to the top of Notre Dame (after 400+ steps), I decided that it would have been worth the five euro if my guise had not worked.  There were dozens of quite interesting gargoyles lining the catwalk.  I loved them.  Then we went to see the bell of Notre Dame, which Quasimodo would have rung.  It was pretty sweet! 
                After Notre Dame we went to San Chapel, which is supposed to be beautiful with an alter surrounded in gorgeous stained glass.  Unfortunately, they had covered most of it while they were restoring the building.  I felt cheated out of both my time and money.
                Next we went to the Louvre, which was about to close.  We only had 30 minutes to find the Mona Lisa (the only reason most people go to the Louvre) and to look around.  Thankfully, my European Union citizen trick worked again and we got in for free.  Another 7 euro saved!  We found the Mona Lisa and then through the windows of the building we saw a beautiful Parisian sunset.  It was wonderful. 
                We then walked along the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower and the Arc du Triumph.  We were running a little low on our budgeted cash in Paris so we thought it would be funny to have McDonald’s under the Eiffel Tower.  It really hit the spot, and it’s ok because we were having French fries in France (even though French fries came from Belgium as we found out on a previous trip).  Paris at night is wonderful with all of the lights.  I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a November evening than by the Eiffel Tower eating McDonald’s and watching all of the people. 
                Then, we left for the Arc De Triomphe.  I stopped at the coolest automated bathroom ever where it sterilized the place after every use and had a super neat automated sink.  And the toilet was free!  You can’t ask for anything better than that. 
                Arc de Triomphe was cool because it is surrounded by a huge roundabout.  12 major roads intersect at this roundabout and neither your car insurance nor your health insurance covers you or your car in this area.  There are not any marked lanes or traffic lights, so dodging traffic is out of the question.  Thankfully there is an underground tunnel that takes you underneath the arc.  We tried the European Union citizen trick again, but failed this time and decided going directly underneath the arc wasn’t worth 5 euro, so we walked through the tunnel to the other side.  We spent the rest of the evening window shopping at all of the closed shops along the road leading up to the arc before going to bed for our early flight the next morning.  Overall, we had a brilliant time, but there were many things that we missed in Paris, which turned out to be a quite lovely city at night.  I hope someday to return to spend the amount of time in this city that it deserves.


The Seine
This bridge is lined by faces of different people
The faces. 
You put you and your lover's initials on a lock and lock it to the fence.  Then you throw the key into the river, forever sealing your love.
Allegedly the world's first greenhouse.  It has oranges in it.
I don't think this one needs a caption
This is where hundreds of people lost their heads to the guillotene

Notre Dame
Cheese with my wine!
The Galleries Lafayette shopping mall
Inside the Galleries Lafayette
Inside the  mall again
All these "presents" were hanging from the ceiling

Moulin Rouge (obviously).  Crazy street!
I guess this is what French people think we wear in Indiana.
The large organ in Notre Dame (I wanted a better picture, but mass was going on and we weren't allowed to use flash)
A model of Notre Dame
Walking up the 400+ steps to the top!

I think this gargoyle is dreaming about a Parisian romance

A view of Paris from the top of Notre Dame
The Parisian skyline
There's my boyfriend!
ok, so I really liked the gargoyles
About to take flight (wait, he doesn't have any wings!)
I'm getting ready to walk up the belltower
Ginger climbing up the belltower
I found the bell, but no Quasimodo
An elephant, and I don't know what that other one was
Heading back down
San Chapel
The floor of San Chapel
San Chapel stained glass windows.  They tell the story of the Bible.

San Chapel
This keeps people out of some sort of government building.
Inside the pyramid entrance to the Louvre
In the Louvre
Mona Lisa
Ok, so I found the building more interesting than most of the art.  I saw very similar artwork in Rome, so I was pretty sick of this style.

This picture does not do this sunset any justice at all
I liked this room, but most of it was roped off.
Underneath the Eiffel Tower (Megan has a lot of the other Eiffel Tower pictures, so I will put them up when she uploads them to facebook)
Arc de Triomphe

This means "walk under the street to the Arc de Triomphe", lol.

Aaaaaahhhh, Harry Potter!  They had to wait longer than we did in Dublin to see it.  Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to see it still.  Too much travelling!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

London Fog

Last weekend was spent in London, the capital of the UK.  Just to make this clear, the UK includes Northern Ireland, Scotland, Whales, and England.  The Republic of Ireland (Southern Ireland) is not a part of the UK. Therefore, I had to change currency into sterling and use pounds.  I think they're called pounds because they weigh pounds in your purse.  The coins are so big and heavy!  I'll be sure to bring some examples back.

Anyway, I absolutely loved London.  It was a gorgeous city, especially in the fall with all of the coloured leaves.  It made me lament the fact that I chose to study in Dublin, but I'm sure that I would have felt the same way had I decided to study in London.  I really enjoy being in both cities.

The food was really class, and we actually ended up eating at the same pub twice by accident.  They had different names and locations, but they both had the same menu.  However, we didn't mind because we really enjoyed the first meal we had at one of the pubs and just ordered something different from the next one.  I found out that I really like lamb, especially in shepherd's pie.  This was followed by some cranberry ruhbarb crumble.  It was delicious!  I also enjoyed the fish and chips.  I really only ordered it because I was told that if I went to London, I would have to eat the fish and chips.  I really don't like fish all that much.  However, I shared a large order with Megan, and actually enjoyed it quite a bit.  Maybe I don't dislike fish as much as I thought I did.  But then again, when you deep fry anything it always tastes better!  I also enjoyed a full English Breakfast which was welcome because I had eaten at 3:30 am last so I could get to the airport on time to catch my flight.

The tube was quite an experience.  The whole network of tunnels and tracks was so massive!  I'm glad that I had friends with me who weren't directionally challenged to help me out.  It was a very quick and fairly inexpensive way of getting around the city if you bought a day pass.  I was especially impressed by the large escalators that took you underground to get trains.

We took a free tour that took us to most of the main sights around London.  It was actually very good and fairly thorough.  I liked it because we could see all of the major sights in 3 hours without having to wonder around with our nose stuck inside a map.  However, it didn't cover the bridges and the River Thames that runs through London.  During our tour we learned about Guy Fawkes and the failed attempt to blow up the Parliament building in the gunpowder plot.  We were actually there on the weekend of Guy Fawkes day (the fifth of November) so they were celebrating all weekend with bonfires and fireworks.

We went to the riverside on Sunday, though, and it was one of my favorite views of the city.  It was just so pretty, peaceful, and nice.  Plus there were loads of bridges that were all quite different from one another.  It was just so nice, especially since we had just finished our venture into the bustling Camden Market.  While we were there, we decided to go into a free art museum to look around and warm up before seeking someplace to eat.

Much of Camden Market was like a large outdoor flea market/shopping centre.  There were so many things to look at and I could have spent the whole day there.  It was entertainment in itself just bargaining with the vendors.  I scored a dress and coat there.  We also found fairly authentic, spicy Mexican food, which we had all been craving since we stepped foot into Europe.  Before coming to Ireland, I wondered which food we have in the U.S. that I would miss the most.  I never would have dreamed that it would be Mexican food!    

We also printed off a Harry Potter self-guided walking tour before leaving for London, which we followed for a bit.  That's how I got a picture of myself at Gringott's Bank (which is formally known as the Australia House).  We also found platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station on Sunday night!

We went into St. Paul's Cathedral, but they asked that we not take pictures, so I only have pictures of the outside.  We actually were there during a service, but we were invited to come in and sit.  We stayed for a little while and listened to a wonderful choir while we looked around.  It was very beautiful inside and reminded me of the basilicas of Rome.  I was told that all of the royalty gets married there.   

A full English breakfast!  mmmm...

I just thought this was so pretty, especially with the leaves changing color.
A royal park.  I can't remember it's official name
Standing guard outside of Prince William and Harry's (+the rest of the royal family) place.
Buckingham Palace (Queen Elizabeth II's place)
London Calling?

Trafalgar Square
Ninja Bunnies!
I thought this was neat, and huge!
Westminster Abbey
The Parliament Building (Thank goodness it wasn't blown up by Guy Fawkes)
Big Ben
Shepherd's Pie, with veggies!
The Tube (officially called The Underground)

The Royal Courts of Justice

The Australia House/Gringott's Bank in Harry Potter

I spent too much money in Europe, so I had to withdraw some more money at Gringotts!  lol
huge escalator down to the tube
St. Paul's Cathedral where all the royalty get married
A rosier picture of St. Paul's

This was at Camden Market.  This was the seating to eat food you may have picked up at one of the many food stands.
This store had unicycles inside!

I liked the name of this pub,  "The Walrus & The Carpenter"
Nancy (left), me (middle), and Megan (right) posing in front of tower bridge

I don't remember ever seeing a skyscraper actually being built before this.
Interesting shape for a skyscraper, I think.  The river was lined with neat shaped buildings like this.

London Bridge.  Still Standing, haha

Southwark Bridge
A view from across the river
Millenium Bridge (I really liked this one!)
Millenium Bridge again.  It's only for foot traffic.
A replica of Shakespear's Globe Theatre
The gates in front of the Globe had all kinds of animals on it, like this cricket.

A church that I thought was really nice. 
Fish and Chips!
King's Cross Station (conveniently just a 10 minute walk from our hostel)

Off to Hogwarts via platform 9 3/4!