Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The end of an era (and a honeymoon!)

(Warning: long post ahead. I tried to fit 2 1/2 days of Europe in one post. You've been warned.:D )

When I'm in the US, and I need to blog but have a time crunch; I simply skip everything else until the blog is done. No video games, no TV, whatever. But when you're on a honeymoon, and the time crunch happens, the blog is what gets skipped. So sorry if this is a couple days late in coming but being in Paris I thought it was worth it to spend the time having fun and filling everyone in later.

The good news about this post being late, is that what I'm about to say about Le Tour won't be a spoiler. On the day of the 8th stage, there were some pretty serious climbs, and likely to be some pretty serious fireworks. Unfortunately for Lance Armstrong his most interesting moments came not on the climbs, but on the crashes. Yep, the guy who never crashes or flats has had more than his fair share of bad luck this tour, and it didn't get any better on Sunday. Lance was involved in 3 crashes, including one that saw him skidding across the pavement at about 65 Km/h. Thankfully, no serious damage other than to his hopes at winning an 8th Tour, as he wound up almost 11 minutes back on the day. I was saddened to see his chances go by the boards on our last night of the trip, but it's been a terrific run, and I'm sure he's got one or two more surprises for us before the end of this, his final Tour.

So now back to Paris, and where I left you on Saturday morning; right before the hardest day of walking I think I've ever done. By the time we got to Paris, my feet were hurting pretty good. We'd walked about 40 miles in London over the 3 days there, and another 10+ on Friday in Paris. So what did we have planned for Saturday? The Louvre, Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle (another church), and more shopping. Doesn't sound like much, until you consider the Louvre is 10k of walking just by itself, and that's if you only walk it all once. We didn't walk it all, but we did enough backtracking to cover the full 10k to be sure.

Glass Pyramid? Oh, that. We just call it the entrance.

I have to admit, I was somewhat underwhelmed by much of the Louvre. The building itself is stunning, and perhaps the best part of the museum. While I enjoyed the Venus De Milo and some of the other masterworks in the museum, the Mona Lisa is a giant, or should I say miniature dud. Not to ruin the trip for anyone, but if you're going to France to see the Mona Lisa; don't. There are hundreds of better pieces of art that you can actually see well in the museum.

Her real secret is that she isn't all that.
Notre Dame was absolutely worth the trip, the wait (almost none), and the cost (free, because we got there during choir practice). I can't say enough about this beautiful church. Many, many places lived up to or exceeded their billing on our trip, but Notre Dame was probably the single most beautiful and powerful places we visited. I'm sure it didn't hurt that choir practice was ringing in my ears as I made my way around the church. I lit a votive and stood in awe of the stained glass windows before we moved on.

You don't realize you're staring at it until your neck starts hurting.
Saint Chapelle is undergoing significant renovations, and was also the first line we waited in since we got to Paris. So of course it was a huge disappointment. Beautiful windows, but after you've seen Notre Dame, not much else compares. At least it was small enough for a quick exit and then dinner where Rach finally got the crepes she's been dying for. Then it was time to shop!

Shopping in Paris is everything people say it is. Every boutique brand you've ever heard of or seen and hundreds I never have are available here. On top of the big flagship stores along the Champs, they have large shopping malls that are full of the same brands, but with a difference; these larger malls have sale prices. The items from the prior season that haven't sold get marked down, and for tourists on a somewhat realistic budget, it can mean a chance to get something you normally couldn't. In our case it was an expensive purse from Coach that we got about 50% off. 

That is one blingy bag
I finally made a breakthrough on my souvenir hunt as well on Saturday. I found a Team Radio Shack jersey in close to my size, so I jumped on it. Still need to lose some weight before I wear it. Sadly, I got suckered on the TdF yellow leaders jersey I bought.The tag said 2XL as did the jersey, but someone at the shop had actually put 2X stickers over the tags of an XL jersey; a very small XL jersey at that. It is so small, I significantly doubt I will ever wear it. More than likely it will be framed as a keepsake.

I started with Sunday, and that's where I am going to end. Rach and I visited the Musee d'Orsay on Sunday Morning. It's everything the Louvre is not: small, easy to cover in a couple hours, and most importantly to me; full of works by Monet and Van Gogh. The Louvre is more well known, but the d'Orsay has the more select collection. It was my favorite art destination of the trip.

After a trip to the base of the Eiffel Tower and a boat tour down the Seine River, we retired to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Our reservations for dinner on the Eiffel Tower never materialized, so we relied on our hotel concierge to find us a suitable place for dinner with a nice view of something Parisian. 

Our view from the dinner table
As you might imagine, I tipped the concierge handsomely. This is pretty good on a couple hours notice, oui? Not only did we get the Tour in it's beauty, we got 10,000 vuvuzela blowing soccer fans at the FIFA Fan Fest for the beginning of the World Cup Final. Dinner was magnificent, and the atmosphere was the perfect blend of classy french culture and classless soccer hooliganism that suited Rach and I to a T. 

After dinner we hopped a cab to the Arc d' Triomphe where we made use of our 2 day museum pass (a terrific bargain) for the final time of the trip. A few months ago, I climbed the Bunker Hill monument and had to stopped a couple of times along the way. Climbing a similar number of steps up the Arc, I only stopped once more than halfway up, and for just a minute before continuing on. Yes, I sweated through my shirt, but the effort was so worth it.

300 steps into the sky
Climbing was it's own reward, but climbing the Arc at dusk brought us a special view as well.
Imagine the electric bill
I know I said I'd finish with Sunday, but I have one thing from Monday morning I'd like to share: I climbed all 650+ steps to reach the second floor of the Eiffel tower. One break between each floor, and a couple minutes rest on each floor. It was a lot of work, but was SO worth it. Our last bit of exploration before the plane ride home. 

Why thank you. It is an awesome hat, isn't it?


- The trip home was mostly uneventful once we managed to pack all the souviners in our suitcases without going over the weight limit. 

- Speaking of weight limit, I managed to stay under mine for the whole trip. I'll see where I am thursday after my body gets itself sorted out, but even now I'm certain I didn't gain any weight during the trip.

- I found a little yellow jersey cyclist metal figuring to go with my soldiers from England. They now have a place of honor on my desk at work.

- Tomorrow I'll talk about whats right and wrong with Paris bike share, and start looking ahead to the Massachusetts State Triathlon which is coming up this weekend.

- Not a single workout this weekend, unless you count walking about 90 miles in 7 days. Which I do. Tomorrow we'll ride, Thursday we'll run, and Friday we'll swim, and that'll have to do it for getting prepared for this race.

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