Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Paris Day 2: Montmartre, Champs-Elysées, La Tour Eiffel

Coucou ! C'est encore Aurélie et je vous présente des photos de mon deuxième jour à Paris.

So, how did my parents and I start our day?
Well, to get to our first destination, we had to take the métro. Here's some history: the métro was inspired by many other cities' train networks in the 19th century. The Parisian métro opened to the public in 1900 for the Pairs World's Fair. There used to be first and second class cars; now, that doesn't exist.

Here is an image of one of the famous art nouveau entrances (this one is for Abbesses on ligne 12) designed by Hector Guilmard. At first, they shocked the Parisians, but now, they are well-known and well-preserved. 86 of the original entrances still exist today.  

Montmartre is a huge hill located in the 18th arrondissement. The name comes from a combination of the words "mountain" and "martyr" (St. Denis, to be exact on the martyr). It served as the setting for several movies ranging from An American in Paris to La Môme (La vie en rose) to Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulin to Moulin Rouge. It is also an area known for its artists; Renoir and Picasso are just two of the famous artists who once lived there. 

What is a "mountain" without tons of stairs to climb?

Some of the local artists have set up shop. 

This is the restaurant where Amélie from Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulin worked. I've never been there, but Axelle told me that the food and the service are terrible. 

My dad pointed out these ballerina figures to me. I'd love to have them perched on my dresser. 

Every time I climb the stairs, I can't help but think of Sabine who would have requested a few breathing breaks. My family invited her to come, but she was busy. I love my parents, but sometimes, it's nice to travel with a friend. To quote her quoting the Hannah Montana movie, "life's a climb, but the view is great!" That it is. 

Here's the Sacré-Cœur basilica. It's situated on the highest point in the city.

Montmartre is one of Paris's ultimate tourist locations, and that poses a problem. Where there are tourists, there are plenty of pickpockets. There are several young girls who shove a paper in your face and want you, thinking that you're signing a petition for a good cause, to sign it. They want you to sign it so that as you're writing, somebody can get into your purse. I do feel bad because these young girls are set up to scam people, but you should never succumb to them. I kept my wallet tucked under my coat. Don't be afraid to push them away, either. I know it sounds bad, and my friends will be the first to tell you that I'm a "doormat". My sweet, reserved, and quiet side disappears around pickpockets, though. It's that "fight-or-flight" reaction, I guess. 

There are also tons of creepy men in touristy locations who sell Eiffel Tower keychains for dirt cheap. Apparently, their business is illegal. Sabine told me that they place all of their goods on a blanket and if they see a police officer, they grab the blanket with their goods and run away. Interesting. 

We walked down Montmartre and found ourselves in the Quartier Pigalle, home of the Moulin Rouge AND Paris's Red Light district. Fun fact, though: Edith Piaf got her start by singing around Pigalle. Maybe I can convince Sabine, who wants to be a famous singer, to do the same...?

After Montmartre, my dad left my mom and I to do some shopping on the famed avenue des Champs-Élysées. Before the avenue became the street that it as known as today, it hosted several gardens. As you head towards the Arc de Triomphe, you will see...

...le Grand Palais:

 ...la Place de la Concorde (where the guillotine was found during the Revolution):

...shops galore!

...and Ladurée! I had to stop for a macaron

At the end of the avenue, I posed by the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile. This wasn't the first or only arc, but it is certainly the most popular. Napoléon commissioned it, but it wasn't completed until after his death. Underneath, you can find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier who died in World War I; there is a ceremony for him under the arch every November 11th. 

Even though I have several photos like this, I had to take some for my wonderful blog readers. I wonder where I am?

That's right: la Tour Eiffel, constructed in 1889 by Gustave Eiffel (who also helped construct the Statue of Liberty, by the way) for the 1889 World's Fair. At first, the Parisians thought this metal tower was hideous and petitioned to tear it down. This "eyesore", however, become one of the best-known Paris landmarks.

I've been to Paris several times and normally like to do things that aren't too touristy, but I thought it would be fun to capture the big landmarks for my dear readers. Plus, I haven't done touristy things in Paris for years, so it was actually a fun change. (Oh, I also did some mandatory shopping!) Which famous Paris monument is your favorite?


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Paris Day 1: Notre Dame, Pont des Arts

Coucou ! C'est Aurélie et mes parents et moi, nous avons passé trois jours à Paris. J'ai plusieurs photos à vous montrer. Je vais commencer avec les photos de mon premier jour...

For those of you who don't speak French, my parents and I spent three days in Paris. Although I have been there numerous times, going is still a wonderful treat. We covered a lot of ground, and I'd love to share my highlights with you. 

My family and I stayed in an apartment-hotel close to the Opéra Bastille. This opera house is very modern, and in my opinion, doesn't "fit in" with this part of Paris; it would look better closer to La Défense. It was inaugurated by president François Mitterand as apart of his Grands Travaux- his plan to build more modern buildings in Paris. The Bastille was completed in 1990 near the location of the infamous Bastille prison and became the main building for the Opéra National de Paris. Operas are mainly showed there, but so are ballets and symphonies. My parents and I went to an opera there, but it wasn't my thing. I much prefer the ballets and symphonies...especially the ballets. I'll be back in March to see Le lac des cygnes! I can't wait!

(I accidentally deleted my photo of the building...)

So, my parents and I decided to walk to Notre Dame de Paris. We passed through the 5th and 6th arrondissements (which contain parts of the Quartier Latin where my acquaintance Christelle and her sister Marie-Christine live). We passed thPanthéon, which used to be a church dedicated to Sainte Geneviève. It later evolved into a mausoleum for some of the greatest in French history. Sabine's favorites (Voltaire, Zola, and Rousseau) have been laid to rest there, alongside one of my favorites. I like Zola, too, but I'm specifically thinking of another person. I wonder who that is?

Any guesses?

That would be Victor Hugo, author of Notre Dame de Paris and Les Misérables, He wrote several more, but I think these are the two the majority of my readers would know best. You might know Notre Dame de Paris by its other title, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. No, Hugo's work is not happy like Disney's movie. Quasimodo, Frollo, and Esmerelda are also characters in Hugo's novel, but Hugo's work is more focused on the cathedral itself. He was upset that the church's Gothic architecture was overlooked in favor of more modern buildings. He was also angry that some of the stained-glass windows were replaced with white glass. As Hugo states in Notre Dame de Paris, "Paris est nécomme on sait, dans cette vieille île de la Cité qui a la forme d'un berceau." Although the cathedral most likely wasn't the first building in Paris, the île de la Cité on which it was built is probably the oldest area, probably because it was surrounded by water which meant better protection in the Middle Ages. The city of Paris just grew around that île!

Let's take a look inside:

You could really say that Paris was born near Notre Dame; after all, that's where you can find the point zéro marker (the point that basically indicates that all roads lead to Paris).

The sun was setting, so I thought it would be a nice time to take a photo with the Seine in the background. 

Can you spot another famous Parisian monument in this photo? (Hint: it's kind-of blurry.)

I also had to get a photo in front of the famous locks on the Pont des Arts. In the daytime, artists line this bridge and the areas around it. Couples and friends write their names on the lock, lock it on the bridge, and throw the key in the Seine. The locks are slowly filling up the Pont Neuf because their weight is weighing down the Pont des Arts.

This is just Day 1; more Paris posts are on their way. 


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I'll be in Albi!

Bonsoir, tout le monde ! C'est encore Sabine et j'aimerais vous montrer mes photos d'Albi. 

So, I guess I should post about my adventures in another medieval southern town, Albi. Albi isn't too far from Toulouse or Carcassonne, actually. It is located in the Tarn department of the région Midi-Pyrénées. So, where should I begin?

I'll state the obvious: lots of steps. Lots and lots and lots of steps. Lots of steps means lots of tripping, and lots of tripping means several almost-face-plants. Even though I basically put myself in danger with all these stairs, I prefer to walk. Yeah, we could have easily taken the bus from the train station to centre-ville, but you miss so much by being a bus. Walking really allows you to take everything in.

So after the first "hike", my first sight was the Basilique Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d'Albi.

Here's a better photo. It was being renovated, so we didn't get the chance to go inside. This church is the center of the town, as are most churches in towns in France. It was constructed when heresy filled the town of Albi. The style is Gothic, but it is more of a Southern Gothic due to the construction with bricks. 

The hike to the town was pretty tiring, and I thought it would be a good idea to rest our legs and grab a bite to eat so we had more energy for sightseeing. Aurélie took some great photos of me along one of the narrow, stone streets.

Isn't this restaurant just the cutest? We didn't eat there, though.

Although Albi is best known for its cathedral, it is also known for its impressive bridges. Here I am by one of them:

The view was breathtaking! 

You can see the cathedral in the background when looking at the other bridge. The sun was in the way, so it's not the best photo:

In good old adventurous Sabine Bouchard fashion, I just HAD to walk along the river Tarn. 

That walk included one heck of a descend first, though! But look at these sights! It was so worth it! I'm completely fascinated by all things "old", and these ancient ramparts were no exception. I really wished that the blocked off portion was open to the public. I'll have to come back once the safety improvements are finished. 

After we walked along the river, we began the climb to the courtyard gardens. Pretty, right? 

There were no benches on the way up, and did I discover how out-of-shape I am or what?! My type of physical activity involves riding my bike though the city (city as in Lille, my hometown). Aurélie was a real trooper with all of this walking. Hey, she's a dancer; she's used to being on her feet! I guess that doesn't make it any better since she wanted to sit down, too. One of her blisters was irritating her. 

Oh, but all of that walking was totally worth it because the gardens were amazing!

How can you not fall in love with the gardens or the view? What's not to love? I mean, this is absolutely breathtaking. It's incredible to think how something this old has really withstood the test of time. I couldn't believe it. Again, I really felt like I went back in time. 

 Aurélie totally claims that this entire town (especially the ramparts and the garden) reminds her of Sleeping Beauty- the animated Disney version. Of course she'd be in love; it's her favorite ballet, favorite Disney movie, and Aurora is her favorite princess. I beg to differ since that movie scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. It still kind-of does. It's pretty dark for a Disney movie.

We had to take the TER bus back to Bénédicte's house in Toulouse. I was completely wiped out; I fell asleep as soon as the bus started rolling. From what I heard, I missed a pretty bumpy ride. Hey, I'm accustomed to uncomfortable car trips. I have been squished in the backseat in between my brother and sister in Renault Megane while our parents were in the front seats hoping we wouldn't kill each other. Sibling arguments almost caused a few accidents along the A25 autoroute, but that's what you get for stuffing your three, almost-adult children in the backseat of a small car. (Aurélie is an only child, so she obviously doesn't understand the suffering that happens on family car trips; she just laughs. My American friend Lilly laughs, too, since she's an only child as well. She says that she usually lies down in the backseats and naps. Lucky.)

So, I hope you enjoyed the photos of my trip to Albi! My country has so much to offer, and that's what I love. I love touring these almost-unknown small towns. They really are hidden gems. The cities are nice, but every once in awhile, I like to step off the beaten path and explore the little places. 

What do you think? What are some of your favorite "hidden gem" towns?