Monday, September 19, 2011

Activating Visas

[Cultural note: We have yet to find tortilla chips.]

As mentioned, our visas did not go into effect until the end of August.

We had been instructed to "just leave the country and come back in on or after the 26th." It's funny how unreasonable things seem reasonable when a) you're used to saying them or b) the context itself is somewhat extraordinary.

We made plans to visit our friend Emily in Paris. She was visiting some of her friends in France and would be in Paris for a few nights. I wasn't as excited about the trip as McKenzie was. Nothing to do with Emily - just that I was kind of planning on doing the cheapest thing possible. I was prepared to hop over the border, eat a sandwich, then come back over. I wasn't really looking forward to some extravagant trip to Paris, spending the night, eating out, yadda, yadda, yadda. Humbug. (I can see now that I was being an asshole, fyi.) Kenz did some research on train tickets about 10 days before the trip and, despite being more expensive than we originally assumed, they were still manageable.

Two days before the trip, Kenz gasps as she looks at the ticket prices for trains. The price had gone up.

Kenz thought we hadn't made the decision and was waiting until she had the clear go 'head before purchasing the tickets. I thought we had made the decision and that the tickets had been purchased. Miscommunication = money down the toilet. It was reminiscent of the plane ticket fiasco coming over here. I was surprised that Kenz didn't think the prices would go up, but she was adamant that we hadn't made a clear decision as to whether or not we were going to go. It's funny in hindsight (which is to say it was the opposite of funny at the time).

So, the day comes and we board our train. This was the first time either of us got to ride a fast train. We were impressed for about seventeen minutes, then Kenz fell asleep and I read my book. We rode through the chunnel, but neither of us really noticed. It was more exciting on paper, I suppose.

Arrival in Paris was pretty uneventful by our standards. We were purchasing Metro tickets (with Euros Kenz and I both had saved from our trip to Spain back in 2002!) while getting hassled by local kids trying to act like tour guides for tips. We got lost after getting off the Metro, trying to find our hotel. One French man came up to us and started trying to give us directions. We were taken aback at the kindness of this man when another man came up to help out as well. Then the two of them got in an argument over who was right. In French. They wound up agreeing that the hotel was at least "that way," pointing down one of the roads. Turns out they were right.

We had been walking past some really nice places when we turned down the road to arrive at our hotel. It wasn't the same. We had to be buzzed in the front door. In the middle of the day. Kenz and I nervously giggled at our knack for unintentionally finding seedy places to stay. Emily met us at the hotel and took us out to the streets of Paris:

This was our hotel's stop. I dug the fact that the Metro went both over and underground. 

Kenz and Emily!

We had to wake up at 5am to get here, so by 3pm I'm already baggy eyed and ready for a nap
Pictures always help
The Arc was much larger and more impressive then Kenz and I expected
David: I'm just trying to figure out what we're doing next. I'm trying to plan...
Kenz: I understand, David. Just relax - we'll get to see everything. It'll be ok.
Champs Elysees

We thought it would be a good idea to walk from the Arc de Triomphe to the Notre Dame, which turned out to be about 3.5 miles. We saw some really cool stuff along the way, but I got worn out.

I don't care who you are, these cars are cool.

Gold stuff on a city street. I wasn't paying attention to the bridge we were on, and can't tell you what building that is. I'm sorry. 
Just hanging out on a bridge. No big deal.

All along this bridge (and others) are locks with people's names on them.
I'm conflicted about this practice.
Emily: Isn't it crazy to be able to touch some statue that is, like, really, really old?
This kid. 
Kenz could kinda read the sign, Emily could read it without problem, and I took the pictures.
This was as close as I got to the Notre Dame. I immediately left to shower and change. They stayed and walked around a bit more.
This guy looked how I felt.

We ate dinner at a fondue restaurant that was piping hot and quite cozy. There were two long tables inside the place - everyone that ate there sat at one of the two tables. Kenz and Emily had to climb over the top of the table to get to the other side where they would sit for dinner. The servers helped them step up over the chair and table to the other side. It was nerve wracking, considering how accident prone McKenzie is. After dinner, Emily took us to the Sacre-Coeur and Eiffel Tower:

Us in front of the Sacre-Coeur. This is halfway up the stairs.
This is the view from 3/4 the way up.


Around the corner from the Sacre-Coeur is what Emily called the Artists' Circle. This is a square of store fronts (mostly all restaurants) that surround an outdoor restaurant. A cobblestone walkway makes the perimeter of the doughnut hole, and artists line it. Most do portraits or caricatures of tourists, but some simply try and sell their work there. It was cool to walk around the square in the evening with nice weather, everyone sitting outside eating, drinking, smoking, drawing, posing, etc.  

Bob Marley and Mick Jagger
The Obamas 
The backdrop to the Artists' Circle is the Sacre-Coeur.

We had seen great street art while we were in town, but catching an Invader piece was a real treat (above).

The Cathedral on our way out.
The above picture was taken as we were headed out of the area, on our way to an entirely different part of Paris. It was 9:15ish when we started to head back to the Metro. The stairs that we climbed up must have been part of a public park, because when we got to them to head back down, the fence had been chained closed. Someone told us we could walk around this street, then that street and eventually get to where we wanted to go. But I saw a woman hop the fence to get out of the park to where we were - and this was an older woman. I  assumed it wasn't that big of a deal, and convinced Kenz and Emily to hop in the park and we could just walk down the stairs to where we want to go.

As we get about halfway down the steps, (with ripped pants from the fence - sharp tops) a cop shines his flashlight at us from the bottom. He is audibly cursing in French, and we get a bit nervous. Kenz is freaking out, "This is why I never do stuff like this! I always get caught!" We can see that there are about 7 or 8 cops down there, all about to lock up the final gate. Apparently we had just missed them herding everyone out like cattle. I tell Emily that she's going to have to be our translator.

Emily: Screw that, I'm going to act like I can't speak French at all! I'm just going to keep saying the same thing over and over again and hope he thinks we're stupid Americans that didn't know better.

We met the cop near the bottom of the stairs - he had come up a little bit to be sure we weren't going to run away. He told us to get to the bench and pull out our passports. But it was all in French, so all I understood was "passports." That's when I started wondering how we'd get out of this, and whether or not we'd be spending the night in a Paris jail cell.

The cop was yelling at us in French so fervently that spittle was coming out of his mouth. We just stared at him, dumbfounded. The irony was that, in our fear, we confirmed the stereotype that Emily was hoping would get us out of trouble. He kept yelling at us in French, we kept responding with broken sentences like, "Go" and "hotel" and "back to Metro," all while using our hands to point to the last gate that was being closed. We each three had put on our puppy dog eyes and were hoping just to get out of the situation.

The cop eventually relented, cursing us. We walked out of the last gate, nervously laughing to ourselves. One night in Paris and we've almost been arrested.

Then it was on to the piece de resistance:

Out in front of the Eiffel Tower is a lawn. Each night, people gather there for the Eiffel Tower light show. The first five minutes of each hour have the Tower shimmer and sparkle with special lights. The effect cannot be captured on camera, so I didn't include any pics of the actual light show.

Keep of the tree? Maybe? I dunno.

The lawn. It stretches out about as long as the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in DC. 

Out of focus!

No, that's not how you take the flash off. Here, I'll show...

I didn't think I'd be as impressed by the Eiffel Tower as I was. It's awesome. 

Fantastic way to end the night. 

Many thanks to Emily for being our tour guide! Who knew activating visas could be this fun? I returned to London happy to have been wrong about whether or not the trip was a good idea. Paris was super impressive, awesome, and fun.


How many times will I have to apologize about the infrequency of posts before I just stop apologizing? I'll try to get the next post up soon! Miss y'all!