Paris, the city for lovers! It is quite a beautiful place with the old structures jutting up next to new ones. Before I met up with the walking tour I walked all the “TV” areas (and more) of Paris so I could get some pictures without being rushed and I must admit that when I came upon the Louvre, I got chills. Maybe it was the idea of what it represents as given to us by “The DaVinci Code”; the final resting place of Mary Magdalene. I just don’t know, but it was a bit emotional for me, seeing it for the first time. I made it to the Louvre, the Obelisque and onward to the Charles de Gaulle-Etoile roundabout (which has 14 streets that merge into it and not surprisingly has the highest rate of accidents than any other part of the city) to see the Arc de Triomphe (which I believe there is an Arc in New York City that was modeled after the Arc in Paris) before heading to Place St. Michel for the guided walking tour.
Unlike free walking tours I’ve taken elsewhere, this one was sadly not very memorable. The guide I believe was new, or rather for her sake I hope she’s new. She seemed to make more of an effort in acting dramatically and putting on some sort of theatrical show than telling interesting stories. There were little facts from each place that were interesting of course, but nothing that really stuck in the memory bank as being “really cool” or “oh wow!”. It is really a shame given the rich history Paris has. Bummer! But at least I did get some more exercise during the tour, was shown a few places I probably would not have found on my own and most importantly, learned about the Versailles tour which I signed up for once the walking tour was over.
Pictures taken on the way to the walking tour meeting spot:
Fashion week was in town while I was in Paris and there were many temporary constructions going up to accommodate the event. I never did notice any models or supermodels and what not however, but it was cool knowing it was going on.
Fashion Week Preps
Fashion Week Preps_2
The Louvre: home of the Mona Lisa (which apparently is disappointingly small and more famous for it having been stolen for 2 years than for any other reason); there are over 35,000 pieces of art in this museum!! If one spent 8 hours a day looking at each painting for one minute after 2 months they still wouldn’t get through all the artwork! Lesson for visitors: have a plan before you go of what you want to see!
The Louvre Museum
The Louvre Museum_2
The Louvre Museum_3
The Louvre Museum_4
The Louvre Museum_5
The Louvre Museum_6
The Louvre Museum_7
The Louvre Museum_8
The Louvre Museum_9
The Louvre Museum_10
The Louvre Museum_11
Jardin des Tuileries & the Obelisque: the obelisque is an egyptian obelisk that was originally located at the entrance of the Luxor Temple in Egypt! It is over 3,000 years old and has a twin that is still at the Luxor Temple in Egypt. This particular one was moved to Paris in 1833. Cool stuff! Thanks Wikipedia!
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
Jardin des Tuileries
Looking back on the Louvre and Arc
Jardin des Tuileries_2
Jardin des Tuileries_3
Jardin des Tuileries_4
Jardin des Tuileries_5
Zooming to Obelisque and Arc de Triomphe
Obelisque to Eiffel Tower
For 80 Euro you can drive one of these babies for a whopping 8 kilometers!!!
Testa Rossa For Rent
Lamborghini For Rent
Arc de Triomphe: It does have a sister Arc in New York City! I looked it up:)
Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe_2
Eiffel Tower: Not surprisingly when this was first erected the Parisians despised the very sight of it and thought it a scar on the face of Paris. They didn’t see the use for it so the artist, thinking on his feet, said “of course it’s useful! It can be used as a radio antenna!”. It did function as such and apparently did work, as it warned Parisians of Hitler’s approach. I went back to the tower the following day in the evening to snap the other picts as it got dark:)
Eiffel Tower on Train
Eiffel Tower by Afternoon
Eiffel Tower by Evening
Eiffel Tower by Night
Walking tour bits: Place St. Michel– a fountain depicting Saint Michael battling demons and keeping Paris safe; Pont des Arts– stop with the freaking love locks already!!! There are apparently so many locks on this bridge that it is making the bridge unstable. There is a movement in Paris to get people to stop adding locks, lol!! So much for true love! Though the bridge is getting unstable, it certainly didn’t stop anyone from walking over it; Notre Dame– Famous church actually located on a teeny island in the River Seine! The gargoyles are there to scare away evil spirits and also function as drains to funnel rain off the roof. Love the double function!
Place St. Michel
Notre Dame & River Seine
Gargoyles on Notre Dame
Stop the Love Locks!
Bridge Over Loved Pont des Arts
Bridge Over Loved_2 Pont des Arts
Looking back at Pont Neuf
Square d’Estienne d’Orves
Square d’Estienne d’Orves_2
I know I haven’t provided as much information at this location about all the spectacular places in the city, but again, I write from what I’ve learned while there. I could cheat and look things up, but then I wouldn’t be giving you an accurate account of my experiences. Granted I do look up little things here and there such as I did for the Obelisk above (I was personally interested in what it was all about) but I don’t make a habit of it for sure.
Montmartre is a vibrant city with so much movement and character it’s sometimes hard to know where to look. Fresh open street markets, stores spilling out contents for sale onto the street for people to rifle through and street performers entertaining crowds on the lawn of the Sacre-Coeur are very common sights. Yes, Montmartre is alive! You can feel the culture and inspiration that grew Montmartre into a popular destination to visit. The home of the Moulin Rouge as well as countless artists (Van Gogh, Renoir and Picasso to name a few) Montmartre became home to the Bohemian Revolution long ago, yet today you can still feel its individuality and funkiness in the air. It does have an odd nature to it that wouldn’t appeal to everyone and some “squirrley” characters, but for all except one minor episode, I enjoyed my time there.
I stayed in the Le Regent Montmartre hostel just down the road from the World Famous Moulin Rouge. I must admit I love that movie (Ewan McGregor & Nicole Kidman) and ever since seeing it for the first time, I’ve wanted to get to Montmartre! Well because of that and a favorite black and white poster I had back in College that I just adored of a couple kissing on the steps of Sacre-Coeur with Paris in the background.
The hostel was actually quite nice. The location was ideal, the staff (while not overly friendly in person) were very helpful over email in getting me exact information on which trains to take to get there from downtown Paris and the rooms were cozy too. The hostel used to be a hotel and they have converted each room into a hostel room. The room I booked was only a 3-person room and each room had its own bathroom (a HUGE plus in my book)!! The only negative was the breakfast. It was lackluster and the brioche were a disappointment. Other than that it was a pleasant stay.
Another thing I enjoyed about the hostel (though it has nothing to do with the hostel, really) was my roommates. I stayed there 3 nights and it overlapped with each of my other two roommates’ stay as well. So for the nights I was there I got to get to know my roommates a bit instead of getting new batches of roommates each night of a stay. Both were young guys who were there for different reasons. The first was there because he was about to start film school at the University. He was from Egypt and very kindly gave me a coin from Egypt that I carry around with me. Unfortunately when I was getting ready to leave he wasn’t around so I wasn’t able to get his info to keep in contact, but I’m sure I will be seeing his name on some films not too far into the future:) The other young man was in Europe because he had won a photography competition and his work was being featured in a show in Brussels!!! How exciting is that?? So he was in Paris, well because, why not?? He is incredibly talented and for anyone who loves photography, I would recommend to check out his website at ameasureofmadness.wordpress.com 🙂
My time in Montmartre consisted first of getting to the Moulin Rouge to check out prices and show information, etc. Unfortunately the tickets were WAY out of my budget, but again it gives me something to go back there for! I walked all over town checking out the various nooks and crannies, getting lost every now and again or simply stopping for a seat and to watch life go on around me. I explored Sacre-Coeur and watched the sun set from the hilltop. And of course I took a walking tour of Paris:)
View from Sacre-Coeur
View from Sacre-Coeur_2
View from Sacre-Coeur_3
Church beside Sacre-Coeur
The only adverse experience I had there was my first morning in Montmartre. Before walking into Paris to the meeting point location for the walking tour (Place St. Michel) I wanted to get some pictures first thing of the Moulin Rouge. So I headed in that direction first, finding a little place to stop and get a yummy breakfast along the way. I sat on a park bench between the streets sipping on my coffee when along came a guy (creep) holding a beer in his hand. Mind you it’s 8am… He spotted me and came right over and sat next to me. So I got up and started walking away. Apparently he thought I was trying to be cutsy/coy because he proceeded to follow me. When I looked behind me and noticed this I immediately turned left to see if he was actually following me or not. And when he mimicked my motions, it was time to set him straight.
I stopped to face him and quite forcefully warned him to stop following me. I was speaking all in English but he got the point as his smile suddenly turned to a frown and he crossed the street away from me:) I went back to my original bench keeping a keen eye on the guy and once I finished my breakfast I spotted a very tall man who was going in the direction I wanted to go. So I walked up to him and asked first if he spoke English (thankfully YES!) and then asked if he would mind walking with me for a bit. He was really nice to agree and we chatted for the next several blocks until it was time for him to turn off.
The area around the Moulin Rouge is somewhat like a Red Light District, but very “in your face” and not at all classy (I hate to say) as the District in Amsterdam. Every shop turned into one type of sex shop or another the closer you got to the Moulin Rouge. It literally was like crossing an invisible line which on one side was very obviously the Red Light District and the other very obviously regular life. I found that interesting…
Moulin Rouge by Day
Moulin Rouge by Day_2
Moulin Rouge by Day_3
My favorite random experience while in Montmartre once again happened at the Moulin Rouge. I had pictures of it in the daylight, but now needed pictures of it at night all lit up! So after my day in Versailles, I stayed in Paris until it got dark to get pictures of the tower lit up, then headed back to Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge to get night pictures.
Moulin Rouge by Night
Moulin Rouge by Night_2
So there I was snapping away a ton of pictures. I was just about to leave when all of a sudden a horse trailer rounded the corner and parked in front of the Moulin Rouge… Two large men in black (bodyguards) then put up a little barricade behind the horse trailer. On the side of the trailer was painted “Les Petits Chevaux du Moulin Rouge”… Now I don’t speak French or know many words in French, but this phrase I understood! “Little horses of the Moulin Rouge”!! Oh this I had to see up close! I crossed the street and sure enough out came 6 little miniature horses who were promptly escorted from the trailer to a side entrance of the Moulin Rouge by the trainers and over the watchful eye of the bodyguards, LOL!!! The first thought that went though my mind was “What in the world goes on in there?????” 🙂
Ok, now I know I’ve said this before about places I’ve been to… But I ABSOLUTELY LOVED AMSTERDAM!!!!! Honestly if I can find a place with such charm, spirit, acceptance and SANITY as exists in the people and politics of Amsterdam, yet somewhere warm all year round, well let’s just say I will have found home:) Alas, it does get cold there in the winter so sadly I won’t be able to call it my new home… The search continues, grrr!!!
Moving on… Why do I LOVE Amsterdam so much, you may ask?? The reasons are so numerous I’m getting excited just thinking about the prospect of writing about them! Their views on sex and drugs, their tolerance for people of different religious backgrounds, races, sexes and lifestyles. Then tack on the natural and pure beauty of the city itself with the crazy architecture and lovely Venice-like canals running throughout. So many extremes live peacefully together within a stone’s throw of each other. Everyone is accepting of one another and though they may not always agree, they don’t bother or use any sort of violence toward another. They just coexist and go along with their lives and leave what they don’t agree with in peace. Ah, just wonderful!! So many places and people could learn a lot from this kind of mentality.
Seriously??? I’m NOT High!!!
Am I High? Or are the Buildings Crooked??
Buildings and Bridges
The only warning I will give people about Amsterdam is BEWARE THE BICYCLISTS!!!! Seriously, they will run your rear over and not even look back if you dare to get in their way!! Not kidding either… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stepped into the bike lane or even in the street and had a near heart attack because I was almost run over by a passing cyclist. As one of guides during a tour I took said (and I’m paraphrasing here): the people of Amsterdam are wonderful and friendly people. However something happens to them when they get on a bicycle. They suddenly morph into crazy homicidal maniacs who will take you out if you get in their way. LOL!!!
I stayed at the StayOkay Stadsdoelen Hostel a short distance from the train station and just a few blocks from the Red Light District. The hostel itself was nice and located directly on one of the canals, and even though I was sharing the room with 19 other people, being on the canal gave it a nice view and some charm.
When I first arrived via train into town I have to be honest that I wasn’t impressed at all. The area around the train station isn’t anything to write home about as it’s kinda dumpy and industrial. However just a few minutes of walking took me into one of the hearts of the city (the Red Light District) and the cute homes, canals and vibe started to thrill me. Funnily enough, I had no idea that I had been walking through the Red Light district while trying to find my hostel and only learned later while looking at a map where I’d been. That just goes to show you how classy the area is. It’s not “in your face” or intrusive in any way, though it’s there.
Oh wait… I did say I had only one warning about Amsterdam for tourists. Well… I just thought of one more… Do NOT take pictures of the women in the windows of the Red Light district!!! This was a warning given to us during the “free” walking tour and the “Red Light District” tour I took later that night. As it was told to us by our tour guides the women of the district are entrepreneurs. They are not things to be gawked at or disrespected. And if they catch you taking pictures and you don’t pay them anything for them, they may come out from their window, chase you down, take your camera from you, stomp it to a mechanical pulp with their 6-inch heels and walk away. Yes, apparently this does happen quite often… In fact it happened during my tour of the District to an unfortunate gentlemen. Personally I was so freaked by the prospect of my camera getting stomped to death that I didn’t even take my camera out while walking through the district, lol!
The walking tour I went on started in front of the National Monument just across from the Royal Palace. It covered the Red Light District, Rembrandt’s house, the Nieuwmarkt, coffeeshops, a little known community of charitable women, the homomonument and we were left just about a block away from the house of Anne Frank. At this point I had been on several of the “free” walking tours in various cities and what I really appreciate about them is that each is so unique. Not just because they are obviously about different cities, but because each guide tells the stories that they find most interesting. So each tour guide will give a different experience to each participant. Love it! I paid for a tour of the Red Light District which included stories on the history of the district, a peek on a live sex show, how Amsterdam has come to embrace the district and ended with drinks at a club.
Now I will admit that while I was perfectly fine during the walking tour, I was a teeny bit (fairly plastered) drunk during the Red Light District tour… I do regret that I was so intoxicated during the tour because I don’t recall as many of the stories as I would like to have. But I guess you could say it’s just another reason to go back:)
In my “defense” the reason I was so intoxicated is because I was thinking about getting a tattoo or new piercing so I would always be reminded of the good times in Amsterdam. I even went so far as to check out various options. Turned out to be too expensive and I wasn’t terribly inspired on what to get so I ended up settling on a pair of flip-flops to remember my time by, lol!!! But after deciding against a tattoo or piercing I had several hours of time to kill before my night tour, so I wandered into a bar…
Turned out it was a gay bar, which didn’t bother me because it had fabulous music, was low key and not terribly crowded at the time. However as the hours went on, the crowds grew and I had befriended several of the other bar patrons hanging out and the next thing you knew shots were being bought for me, I was buying shots for others, and well, I’m just happy I made it out of there and to the tour at all!! The shots were a typical (and yummy I may add) shot of Amsterdam called “Heuge Meug” made of cognac, Tia Maria’s and a splash of Bailey’s… YUMMMY!!! But lethal too, lol!!
As for the walking tour, here are my favorite bits. The next post on ‘Sex & Drugs in Amsterdam’ are also highlights from the tour, but I just had so much to say on them that I thought it best to put them in a new post:)
Stock exchange: The World’s first stock exchange started in Amsterdam with the establishment of the Dutch East India Trading Company, the most powerful and successful trading company to trade goods out of Asia. How did they become so good at their trade (pun intended)?? Traders in the Netherlands devised a deal with one another. Instead of sending separate ships to Asia, one for tea, one for spices, one for pepper, etc. they would send out 20 ships and load 5% of each product on every ship. That way, if one ship sank during adverse weather only 5% of each supply was lost instead of losing 100% of a supply. So everyone was able to get their particular product back for trading. Clever, clever!! The trading company reigned for more than 100 years but eventually did decline.
Coffeeshops & the Red Light District: I write about these bits in great detail in the next post but for the picture below, this coffeeshop is actually where they filmed a scene from Ocean’s 12. The scene didn’t make any sense and in the next post you will learn why:) Notice the unexpected critter in the shop too… LOL!
Hi Kitty!! High Kitty???
Community of Charitable Women: This community started back in the 1600’s and is alive and well today. The way it originally began was with a group of women who wanted to take on the charitable responsibilities of nuns without actually having to take all the vows or chastities of nuns. Hence began the community of charitable women:) Now this title I’ve assigned is my own title- it’s not what the group is actually called (since I can’t recall specifically) and I’m not even sure where the community is in Amsterdam since I neglected to take a picture of what street we were on when coming to it. But I guess it’s meant to be that way since it was sort of a secret of the city. Behind the door in the picture below lay the community of women who simply want to live life giving to others. That is how the community began and today it is a peaceful and very sought out area of town to live. This community only allows people who meet the following criteria to live there: 1) they must be female; 2) they must be over 30; and 3) they must be single. To live in this community is so sought after that women are put on a waiting list. One story told to us was of a woman whose name was finally called after 10 years of waiting. When the call came she had been dating a steady boyfriend for several years but she promptly broke up with him so she could move into the community, LOL!! The picture of the grave below is of one of the original members of the community who died in 1654. She wanted to be buried in the street so she could feel the rain wash over her. When she did die however she was buried in a regular cemetary, even though it was against her wishes (If memory serves it was her family who buried her in the cemetary). One night the women of the community knowing her final wish for her resting place went to the cemetary, dug her up and took her back to the community where they burried her in the street. Now those are true friends!
Gateway to Serenity
Gardens of Community
Gardens of Community_2
Feel the Rain 1652
XXX: No, this doesn’t refer at all to the Red Light District or anything at all to do with anything X-rated, it is merely at the core of the 500 year old coat of arms of Amsterdam. It can be seen just about everywhere throughout the city however from the flags to street signs and of course on the coat of arms itself.
The Nieuwmarkt: this building is was the old gate to medieval Amsterdam and was built in 1488. It stood in the canal until 1614 and in 1617 it became a weighing station. Interesting story told by our guide about this place is that it was also the location of several “human experiements” shall we say… Doctors and surgeons way back when used this location to perform a variety of disections on human bodies to figure out how they work. If memory serves it was also the site of many executions that then led to their bodies being taken apart piece by piece to see how they ticked… Today it is a restaurant:) Steak anyone?? 😉
Homomonument: This monumnet is made up of 3 triangles, that if viewed above form a larger single triangle where each of the three smaller forms a point of the larger one. The Homomonument serves as a memorial to all gay men and lesbians who have had to face persecution at any point in their lives because of their sexuality. To me it once again shows how wonderfully accepting and celebratory Amsterdam is of the people who make their lives there.
Ah, Berlin!! So many things to say about Berlin!! What an awesome energy!! Hip, cool, a strange mix of modern and older history. This city is just busting at the seams with a young vibe. Of course, while it does have a history that extends hundreds of years, in a way (due to being completely destroyed during WWII) it is a new city. Graffiti can be found on just about every surface throughout the city and there’s a wildness in the air that speaks to a freedom of “come as you are and you will be accepted”. Such a paradox given the very recent history of the city basically being imprisoned- either during the War or the Wall. Maybe it is only due to all the turbulence in its recent history, but Berlin also seems confused as to which direction it wants to go. There has been so much upheaval there relatively recently and I’m curious how it will continue to grow.
I stayed in a super sketchy looking section of town in a hostel called Jetpak Alternative. To their credit, they advertised that they are in a sketchy area complete with dog sh*t and lots and lots of graffiti. Across the street is a park that anyone who isn’t looking for trouble or drugs should just stay out of. The hostel itself was wonderful! It was a little nerve-wracking walking around the neighborhood after dark at times since people would often come up to you asking if you wanted drugs. But I felt safe enough and would stay in that hostel again. The people were nice and informative and it once again had that fun and inviting vibe that I had recalled of hostels while traveling in Central America yet didn’t encounter at all at the hostel in England. I really wanted to stay another night but wasn’t able to since they were fully booked. So I took that as a sign to keep on moving!
In the time I did spend there I joined in for a “free” walking tour:) The morning before the tour walked from the hostel to the meeting point (Parizer Platz) just taking in the sights and stopping along the way for pictures. I took a quick tour of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (quick because I didn’t realize I was running out of time before the tour!) which was very impressive and quite moving! The ways in which people came up with to escape Berlin while the Wall was up was amazing!
Under the Arches of Brandenburg Gates
Checkpoint Charlie Museum
We started (as mentioned above) at Parizer Platz, then headed to the Holocaust museum, the Berlin Wall, the now parking lot where Hitler’s underground bunker was located, the real Checkpoint Charlie location, to some churches, a theater and ended in the square where Hitler ordered all books be burned (across from the University). As I’ve done before I will share my favorite stories of the tour but not all the information below:)
At the end of the tour I took the train back with a guy that was also staying in my hostel (he was also in the tour) since I had been walking about 7 hours at this point! This does remind me though of the train situation in Germany… It really is on the honor system as to whether or not you buy tickets!! They don’t have any gates stopping you from getting onto the train without a ticket, so while technically one could gamble by hopping on a train for free to get to their destination, I wouldn’t recommend it simply because plain-clothed cops are apparently always present and randomly checking for people aboard without tickets. And there is a hefty fine for those who do try to ride for free… Just sayin’ 🙂
Highlights of the tour:
Hotel Adlon: this hotel is THE MOST expensive hotel to stay in Berlin. It is famous for 2 reasons… the first and most recent event, it is the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony railing. The second (and more historical) is that it is only one of two buildings that was not bombed and was still standing after the war!! Everything else was destroyed!! However, years later a group of Russians (as part of an army if memory serves) stayed in the hotel and proceeded to engage in a pastime that is quite popular among many: drink!! They drank and drank and drank and at some point someone, somehow started a fire that caught and burned down part of the hotel!! So there is a joke now where the hotel was able to survive a war, but NOT a Russian party, lol!!!! 😉
Holocaust Memorial: it was just so moving. There is a museum that is part of the memorial that I unfortunately was not able to make it to but certainly plan to when I make it back there! The artist who designed the memorial did a fabulous job with it for sure! It was thought-provoking, moving, inspiring and emotional!! A must see for anyone who visits! And I may add that it was probably one of the few areas that did not have any graffiti on it at all:)
Hitler’s Underground Bunker: Interesting information here that I’d never heard before about Hitler. First that he had Parkinson’s Disease and was taking numerous drugs (LSD, liquid cocaine eye drops, etc) to try to keep even keel, so to speak. It really shouldn’t have surprised me that he was on drugs given how absolutely loony tunes he was, but it did. The second thing was that he got married! Eva, his bride married him and agreed to a suicide pact with him. She ended up killing herself before he did himself in. Good riddance! Oh and the underground bunker isn’t marked in any way because the government doesn’t want the crazies out there setting up some sort of memorial in his honor on the site. Good idea!!
Berlin Wall: this whole idea just fascinated me… Why would a government build a wall then FORCE people to stay on one side or the other in order to build a “stronger” government???? I just don’t get it!! Anyway, my favorite bit about this part was the clever escape one family succeeded in fleeing East Berlin. The father worked in a building nearby and managed to smuggle his family in the building before it closed. They hid in the building until everyone left for the night then changed in all black clothing and went to the roof. They flung a line from the roof over the wall to the other side where a friend of theirs was waiting and basically zip-lined from the roof to the other side of the wall!! What’s even funnier is that a guard of the wall saw this activity taking place but didn’t sound any alarm because he thought for sure it was an undercover op going on, lol!!!
Escape Over the Wall
Prophecy from 1820: the below plaque basically translates to “wherever they burn books they burn only people at the end”. That isn’t an exact translation but I did find it interesting that it was a statement made in 1820 by Heinrich Heine, a German poet, and it was justly posted at the site where Hitler had ordered all books to be burned, just before he really started to come into his power. And as we all know his reign sadly and very unfortunately did end with the burning of people.