Paris

The next day we headed for Paris. We took a ferry across the English Channel, which was interesting. It was a great big boat that was almost like a shopping mall on water. It only took 45 minutes or so to cross, and then we were in France, where we hopped a bus to take us the rest of the way.

I was so excited when we stopped at a gas station and I had an entire conversation completely in French. I bought a sandwich and demonstrated my impressive linguistic skills by saying "hello", "thank you", and "goodbye" all in French!

Paris and I however, got off on the wrong foot. The hotel wasn't as centrally located, and the walk to the subway was farther. I got lost in the first five minutes just trying to take a walk around the block to get my bearings. It's harder to make note of where you are when the signs are in another language!

I came to like Paris more over time, but it was dirtier, slightly harder to get around, and more hectic than London. Though I could make sense of most signs, I really couldn't speak to anyone. I was alone and was trying to not look American, so most people would try to talk to me in French first. I would only understand one or two words, get nervous as they stared at me, and automatically respond in English.

And as you might expect, the waiters in Paris were a little bit rude. After a meal on my own one night a waiter scolded me for almost walking off without my jacket. Not a "Ha ha, you silly boy" type of thing, but a "Hey, be careful you dummy!" sort of thing.

Though the waiters could be rude, I found we Americans to be much worse. The night of my best meal in France was also the night I was utterly embarrassed by members of my tour group.

Generally speaking I wandered around alone, but one night I bumped into a few of them who were headed to dinner and they invited me along. We picked a place that had no English translation for the menu, and we couldn't make heads or tails of it. Our waiter got a little annoyed with us when we asked him to explain almost everything on the menu, but overall he was very patient. I inadventently ordered steak tartare and had another "When In Rome" moment when the waiter asked if that was really what I wanted. It was VERY good. It looked like an uncooked hamburger with onions and spices folded into it, but it was very tasty. It sort of tasted like the inside of a deviled egg.

As I finished my very tasty meal, the waiter brought us our check. One check, rather than the separate checks we asked for, with a 20% tip already added on. I had read up on this, and it's standard in France (and many other places in Europe) and the money typically goes to the restaurant and not the staff.

Well my group went apeshit and started loudly complaining and saying how the waiter should be given some lessons in customer service (this was when the waiter was two feet behind us serving another table). They also were disgusted by automatically adding the tip. I would have tried to explain that this was standard, but they were already "knowingly" discussing how this was a hidden charge the restaurant was trying to sneak by us silly Americans.

The waiter did go back and put the bill into two checks (we really wanted three) and my group continued to loudly complain all the way out. The waiter was stilly pretty courteous, and even thanked us on the way out the door. I was mortified and felt sorry for the guy.

The included tour in Paris took us to the second level of the Eiffel Tower (there are three levels) and down the Champs Elysees by bus and around the Arc De Triomphe. Oddly enough my most exciting moment of that day was being approached by a con artist. I was sitting under the Eiffel Tower waiting to get back on the bus and a middle eastern girl came up to me and asked if I spoke English. When I said yes, she put a sad look on her face and showed me a piece of paper. As I mentioned before, I had read up on these things. The paper said something about someone being sick and how they need money for blah, blah, blah...I just quickly turned my head and said "No." I think I ran into the same con artists at Notre Dame later that day. From that point on when someone with a paper in their hand asked me if I spoke English, I just shook my head and kept walking.

Speaking of Notre Dame, churches were a lot of what I went to see on my own in Paris. Notre Dame, Sacre Couer, Madeleine (a church devoted to Mary Magdalene and probably my favorite since it was so different from the others). I lit candles at all three churches (can't hurt, right?).

The next day I took one of the "optional tours" to Versailles, which is where Louis XIV (two rulers before the one who was beheaded) moved the royal residence. It was originally at the Louvre.

Versailles is huge and a tribute to excess. Hundreds of rooms, each one lavishly decorated and usually featuring one or more works of art of the people inhabiting the residence. At Versailles I got to see the famous Hall of Mirrors and Marie Antoinette's public bedroom. Apparently she had a special bedroom where she went to bed in front of her servants, then got up and retired to her private apartment. In the morning she'd get up early and come back out to the public bedroom, to be publicly "woken up" by her servants again. Unfortunately the private rooms are apparently still private, as we didn't get to see those.

The last two days in Paris were museum days, and I checked out the Louvre and Musee D'orsay. Just like you've heard, the Louvre is huge and you could spend a day or more in it. That being said however, the most famous pieces you might want to see (Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus De Milo) are all in the same wing and fairly close together. I mostly focused on the paintings and sculpture and took pictures of anything I recognized. I was there about six hours, and felt like I saw most of what I would want to see.

Musee D'Orsay was a train station that has been converted into a museum. It had much more modern art. The ones I recognized were some of the Monets, and the portrait of Whistler's Mother.

At the Musee D'Orsay I had lunch. The museum had a very fancy restaurant and I had another fine French meal there, though I had it with Coke rather than wine, which is probably quite the faux-pas.

Finally, we headed to Rome.

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