07 April 2007

Three Americans in Paris

(This is a post I've had lingering in my "edit" box for weeks!)

I am kicking myself. I am kicking myself because I've been living in Belgium for six months and have only just recently gotten around to visiting Paris. Had I known it was so easy and inexpensive I would have done it long ago! The Thalys runs trains every half-hour from the South Station in Brussels to the North Station in Paris. So for only about 30 euros and 2 hours each way, you can have an easy, scenic trip to one of the greatest cities on earth!

At first glance Paris appears to be everything a city should be: clean, cosmopolitan, and welcoming. The Louvre sparkles, even when the skies are gray as they were when we first arrived. The Eiffel Tower glitters at night with bright lights that are spectacular and tasteful at the same time. The subway is cheap and easy to use, the food is divine, and the people are friendly. Yes, that's right: friendly.

But I should remind you that everything stated above was "at first glance." We barely had time for a second glance, having only spent about 36 hours breezing through the top sights. So it was more of a teaser than an actual visit. Here's a quick run-down of a whirlwind visit that I think would even make Rick Steves proud!
  • March 7, 9:30 AM. Depart Leuven for Brussel-Zuid Station. Mom and dad get an "Americano" coffee to go.
  • 10:10 AM. Brussel-Zuid. Scramble to get one more coffee before boarding the Thalys.
  • 10:30 AM. Thalys pulls out of Station. Soon dad wanders to the cafe car for more coffee.
  • 11:45 AM. Arrive in Paris Nord. Dodge the gypsies on our walk to the hotel near station.
  • 12:00 PM. I attempt (in what is possibly my worst French ever) to check us in. The hotel clerk actually smiles warmly (!!!!) at my efforts and helps me through the conversation. Things are looking good!
  • 12:30 PM. After dropping the bags we head for the nearest subway station and try to figure out how to get to the Louvre.
  • 1:00 PM. Arrive at the Louvre with no problems. Our first view is absolutely jaw-dropping.
  • 2:00 PM. After a light lunch we begin a suggested walking tour that takes us along the Seine to the beautiful Ile de la Cite. Along the way we stop at Square du Vent Galant, Ste-Chapelle, and Notre Dame.
  • 5:00 PM. After a quick snack of crepes we take the metro over to the Arc de Triomphe. Mom and I walk the 500 steps up to catch a wide-sweeping view of the Champs-Elysees.
  • 6:30 PM. Begin walking towards the Eiffel Tower along beautiful (and ritzy) Avenue George V.
  • 8:00 PM. Take elevator up to the first floor of the Eiffel Tower to see the Paris skyline at night. Ahhhhh...
  • 9:00 PM. Late dinner and return to the hotel.
  • March 8, 9:00 AM. After a quick coffee it's back to the Musee du Louvre for a look at the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, along with a glancing look at literally thousands of other wonderful pieces of art.
  • 12:00 PM. Grab sandwiches (mine was a delicious blue cheese ciabatta) and eat lunch "European-style" in the sun in the Louvre courtyard. We linger and enjoy.
  • 1:30 PM. Wander past the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel towards the gorgeous Jardin du Carrousel. Mom begins to discuss with dad the possibility of a more extended trip to Paris next year.
  • 3:30 PM. Head to the train station to catch a 4:30 train.
  • 7:00 PM. Back in Leuven for dinner.

Phew! If you are still with me then you definitely have the stamina for the kind of trip we took! And what did we do on March 9? Recovered with Belgian waffles, fries, and beer.

Mom and me in front of Notre Dame

Our first view of the Louvre!

The windows at Ste-Chapelle are oldest in Paris, dating from the 13th century.

Notre Dame (this picture actually makes it look smaller than it really is because the people at the bottom are much closer to me than the building!)

The view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

Taking a break at the Arc du Triomphe.

One last look--the Jardin du Carrousel.

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