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    Paris…the New York City of France.  This place is HUGE.  I mean seriously, it goes on forever.  Moving from Italy to France was a little rough for me because other than vague recollections of Louis XIV and the French Revolution I know next to nothing about French history, art, or culture.  In Italy I didn’t speak Italian, but at least with my Spanish I was able to understand somewhat and initiate some broken communication to get directions in Pisa.  But here in France…well it was like a whole new world to me.     Paris is expensive, and even the street vendor crepes would cost at minimum €4.  We ate fairly cheaply here since we had a meal of baguettes and cheese from a local store and otherwise just ate cheap crepes.  No fancy restaurants here, my budget just couldn’t afford it.  I did like the metro system in Paris though, as there were like 14 metro lines plus a bunch of double-decker regional trains that all went through the city.  There is literally a metro station every few blocks and the system is pretty easy to use.  What did suck though were the tickets…when you buy a 10 ticket pass you actually get 10 tickets instead of a pass for ten rides.  And these things are freaking annoying…imagine carrying around ten in your wallet!

We spent an afternoon at Versailles and it was largely what I expected: absolutely uncomprehendingly ridiculous, when taken in context.  Many places in Europe are gaudy and ornate, but few can match the grandeur of the palace and the extravagance of the grounds.  Moreover, taken in light of the fact that Louis XIV spent enough money on the palace to provide everyone in France with food while common workers spent over half their income on bread..yeah, it seems ridiculous.  Elsewhere in Europe similar stories exist of extravagance in the face of poverty, but nowhere besides Versailles is it so well displayed.

Since the Louvre is free to the public on Friday nights we headed over after Versailles.  By this point we were of course tired from the extensive traveling and long day at Versailles, but we needed to keep to a schedule since we were only really in Paris for two days.  The Louvre…well it is overwhelmingly huge.  There is no way to see everything…you could spend days in there if you only study a few pieces and glide over the rest.  A full study..it would probably take years.  Sadly, the Mona Lisa is quite the disappointment.  after so much hype you would expect an astounding work, but its size, placement, protective glass, and usual crowd prevent it from being a good experience.  I doubt it would even be that interesting without these distractions, as it is definitely not one of the most intriguing works of art I have ever seen.

Still, it was nice to say I’ve seen it!  I would definitely like to return to the Louvre someday, although I would like to learn more about art and art history for doing so.  Additionally, where the Italians provide no brochures the French expect everyone to read their language.  Few works had descriptions in English, and I found myself wishing I could only understand more about some of my favorite pieces.

Saturday morning took us to Notre Dame, a truly beautiful cathedral in the heart of Paris.  The gothic architecture is among some of the best I’ve seen so far, and it was great to finally see a cathedral that served as one of the central locales in my Humanities architectural studies.  The towers immediately reminded me of that old Gargoyles cartoon I use to watch as a kid =P  I also wondered how Quasimodo could possibly have fit in the bell tower, as the entrance doors were tiny!  The inside is made entirely of wood as the marble could not have withstood the vibrations from the enormous bell…it would have cracked and eventually crumbled.  Quick fact: most if the original bells were melted down and made into cannons after the French Revolution.  However, the great bourbon bell Emmanuel, confiscated by the revolutionaries, was returned to the south tower will it still rings for important events.  The remaining four bells were given to Notre Dame by Napolean III.

For whatever reason we decided to climb the Eiffel Tower in the same day as Notre Dame…so many stairs!  The tower is honestly quite ugly, so I can see why the people of the originally intended location, Barcelona, rejected it.  I bet you didn’t know about that!  Anyways, it is ugly but the view from the top is gorgeous.  We reached the top after dark, and saw a stunning panorama of the metropolis.  Sadly the ascent was not as beautiful, as the French seem to think it works well to close all the ticket offices on the second level (where you must buy an additional lift ticket to reach the top).  They open and close the offices in a cyclical pattern, so when they’re all closed you feel pretty confused.  I bet they do it just to screw with us.

Sadly, I never asked for freedom fries.  All the French people we met were actually quite nice, and since their art was a much-needed break from the zillion religious images of Italy’s renaissance collections.  So I figured I wouldn’t be an American asshole.

Yeah, we crossed this traffic pretty much right before rush hour began.  Stupid?  Yes.