Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Netherlands Adventures!: Returning to France

I meant to have this post ready last week so that something could go up while I was away, but that didn't happen, unfortunately.  So now, I'm catching up.  

Towards the end of November, my family came to visit me (more on this later) and one of the big things we did while they were here was go to France to visit our French family!  My family left very, very early in the morning on Thursday so that they could catch a train to Rotterdam to catch a train to Gare du Nord in Paris.  I, unfortunately, had to stay behind and come the next night due to a field trip that I couldn't miss on Friday (I'll post about that field trip later too).  So after my field trip to the Hague finished up in the early evening/late afternoon on Friday, I took the train to Rotterdam and caught a Thalys train to Paris.  The journey itself wasn't bad.  Someone took my assigned seat, so I took another person's assigned seat, but no one complained and no one got in trouble, so it was fine.  The three-hour train ride was pretty uneventful (no news is good news, I guess).  When I arrived in the train station, they had blocked off the entrance and no one seemed to know why.  I found another door, caught a taxi amidst police cars and parked, empty taxis.  When I asked the driver what was going on and why military personnel were in the train station blocking an entrance, I was told that someone left a bag unattended and they had to call in the bomb squad.  But I also saw a bullet hole in the glass window, so I can't help but wonder if that was related.  People weren't making a big deal about that though, so maybe not.

Any way, this ruckus caused me to be late to meet my family at the apartment where we were staying (two nights for them, one night for me).  They were waiting outside when I arrived.  Also when I arrived, my French sister Marie was there!  You know, the sister who came to visit me in the very beginning of this semester!  It was really nice to see her again.

Saturday was my first full day back in the first European country I fell in love with.  Even though I have been to Paris before, I was happy to see and do new things as well as see things that I absolutely loved the first time I visited.

Our apartment was near the "I Love You" wall.  I hadn't seen it before, so I was really happy to see it now!  I believe that "I Love You" is written on this wall in 206 different languages.  It's pretty amazing.

Then we began our whirlwind day tour of Paris with Marie.  She had a plan for us, so we followed her.  We went on the metro quite a few times.  I forgot that sometimes people came into the cars and played music in the hopes of earning money.  I think my family was pretty annoyed by this aspect of the metro, but I quite liked it.  It's part of the Paris charm, I think.  I mean, of all the metros and trams I've been on this semester, I haven't seen anything like what happens on the metro in Paris.

I panicked when I saw that this guy was going to bring a trumpet on the train to play, but he didn't end up blasting our eardrums out, which was pleasant.
Our first stop on the metro was the Arc de Triomphe.  I saw this in spring 2012 when I visited, but I never approached it.  This time, we did more than approach it.  We climbed to the top.  It was a lot cooler than I thought it would be.  I thought that after going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, I'd just be dissatisfied to go to the top of anything else in Paris.  But that's not true.

The view from the top.
Sneak peek!
We stayed at the top for quite a while.  Part of that time was spent looking out at the vast expanse of Paris and the rest of the time was spent looking straight down at the traffic below.  At the bottom of the Arc de Triomphe is a gigantic round-about.  There are no lines on this round-about telling which cars to go where.  The street is just too wide for that.  So it's a free-for-all.  Everyone drives where they want and the defensive driving game is strong.  You cannot and should not stop, but in a panic, some people shut down and just sit there.  I'm sure that driving on that round-about is a terrifying experience, but from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, it was hilarious!

The next thing we did was visit La Cathedrale de Notre Dame.  I saw this in 2012, but because it was close to Easter, this was about as close as I got the first time.  I didn't get to go in due to the terribly long line.  This time, Christmas was a ways away, so the line was minuscule by comparison.  We only had to wait a few minutes in line.

I loved that they put colored lights at the base of the pillars.  The church looks even more spectacular.

Joan of Arc
Notre Dame was incredible and just as beautiful as I had hoped it would be.  Next time, I'll wait in line to go to the top.  Maybe I can see the bells.  Maybe I'll have read Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame by then.  Otherwise I'll just rewatch the Disney movie a bunch of times.  That's my favorite Disney movie.

The next new thing we did was visit the Catacombs.  This was another thing that I didn't get to do in 2012.  The wait was between an hour and an hour and a half, but according to Marie, this is a short wait.

I didn't really know what the Catacombs were other than a collection of bones underground.  That's not far from the truth, but to add a little more information, the catacombs is a combination of remains from (I believe) three cemeteries.  The trouble with cemeteries is that sometimes too many people are buried at once and you run out of space.  Now in some cemeteries, after you're buried for a certain amount of time (depends on how long you rent the space... I don't think it's unusual for a spot to be rented for 100 years), the remains are dug up so that that spot can be used by another recently deceased body.  That's just how it works.  If cemeteries didn't do that, I bet some towns would be completely engulfed by the dead.  So that's partially what the Catacombs are.  The other part is a little more tragic.  There is a giant tunnel system you walk through to get to the Catacombs.  People died making that tunnel system.  When the tunnel system was rediscovered, thousands upon thousands of skeletons were discovered.

It was really weird to walk through the Catacombs and see these bones and then not even have a name to go with the skeleton.  That's part of why I like walking through cemeteries.  I can't see their bones or rotting corpses or anything, but I can see their names and I can wonder about their lives.  With the bones in the Catacombs though, there's no grave marker to give me an idea of their socioeconomic status when they were alive, I don't have a name which could give me a clue as to their heritage, and just by looking, you can't tell how old the bones are.  Were they people who died in the tunnels or were they from the graveyards that were emptied?  This place is completely anonymous.

Stop!  Here is the Empire of the Dead.

A room that's in the shape of a bell due to collapse (not a recent collapse).
We were in a little bit of a hurry towards the end of our visit to the Catacombs.  We raced out of the Catacombs, ran to the metro, changed trains, lost the place where our things were locked up for the day, found the lockers, grabbed our stuff, ran to the next platform we needed to go to, and caught the RER train that would take us to Marie's mother's shop before we headed to Ballancourt.  This resulted in us being incredibly relieved that we caught this train and everyone being more than a little tired.

We met all but one of the Dhermands in Cecile's shop (Marie's mother) in Dordan.  She has a fabric and gift store and it's absolutely adorable.

I've been in the Dhermand's home before and it hadn't changed.  It was like coming home again.  It was very nice!  We had dinner of raclette and it was delicious.  You melt your cheese on potatoes and you can even cook a little bit of meat on the raclette oven/pan that we were using.  The day after we had this amazing dinner and a good night of English and French conversation, we went to Versailles!  The Dhermands wanted to make sure that my family saw a castle in France.  We were going to go to a castle closer to their house, but it was closed on Sunday for some reason.  So we went to the palace of Versailles!  It was really nice to come back and visit Versailles again.  I liked returning to the Queen's Hamlet and realizing how little about this place has changed.  Yeah, there was quite a bit of construction going on-- I've been finding that it's not uncommon for palaces and castle to undergo a little bit of a face-lift in the fall and winter-- but the hamlet was still there and it looked the same.  Even the really hungry fish in the pond were still there, sucking at the air.


Fed the adorable goat :)

Versailles is so large between the palace itself and the grounds that you definitely need an entire day to visit.  It was a full day and a busy day.  By the time we got back in the car to go back to the Dhermand's house, pretty much everyone but myself and the drivers of the two cars had fallen asleep.  We had one more dinner with the Dhermands and that was a really nice night too.  Good food, good French and English conversation... a very nice night.

But we had one more full day in France.  After being dropped off at the train station to head back into Paris and after locking our things up in a locker at the train station, we headed off to Pere-Lachaise Cemetery because we can't bring my dad to Paris and not see Jim Morrison's grave.  You just can't.

I found out where the coffins go after being put in the mausoleum... under the mausoleum.  In holes like this one I found.  How creepy is that?

A round-about near Jim Morrison's grave.  Seriously, we probably had like, five people ask where Jim Morrison's grave was in this spot.

After Pere-Lachaise, we went and moved into our hostel for the night and then went out again to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night.  I've been to the top of the Eiffel Tower before, but never at night, so this was still kind of a new thing for me.  I've also never taken an elevator all the way up.  That was kind of nice.

Sparkles on the hour :)
Paris from high-up.

It was a really good last night in Paris.  I miss France already.  I'm definitely going back many more times in my life as I can afford to.

The next morning, we stocked up on yummy delicious pastries and then walked around a little bit more before going to Gare du Nord to catch our train to Rotterdam.

France, I hope to see you and your delicious little tarts again soon.  I need to keep up my French.

Thanks for Reading!


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