Our last days in France

Now I realize I haven’t posted in a longggggg time, and that I’m back in America. But this blog is as much for anyone reading it as it is for me. Since I don’t really journal, this is the only thing I have to remember all that we did! So I’m hoping to finish off all the other trips so I don’t forget everything! But my memory isn’t exactly great, so we’ll see what I can remember. And since it is the super bowl today, Go Hawks!

At this point, it was Friday in our reading week, and our trip was coming to a close. That morning we woke up and headed straight to the Louvre. Now if you’re a fan of Robert Langdon you’ll remember the Louvre from the Da Vinci Code, if not you’ll probably not is as one of the most impressive (if not the most impressive) art museum in the world. It houses everything from the Mona Lisa, to the Winged Victory of Samothrace (which is the Greek goddess of Victory called  Nike, and it is no coincidence this is the same name that Nike footwear has, as they took this name directly from the Greeks because she was the goddess of Victory!), to the famous Liberty Leading the People representing the French Revolution. It is literally huge. You could spend a month in there and not see everything.

So we decided to really just do the hits and a few other collections. We obviously wanted to see the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. But, the Winged Victory was under restoration when we were there so we couldn’t see it! And even worse, when we got to Liberty Leading the People, there was a sign saying it was currently in another gallery until 2014!  I realize this isn’t a huge deal, since we were fortunate enough to get to Paris and go to the Louvre, something most people don’t get to do, so I count myself quite blessed! We did however get to see the Mona Lisa, and my oh my what a show that was. So much of a show in fact it’s hilarious. It’s behind incredibly thick glass, with an arch around it keeping people at least 15 feet away at all times, with two guards there protecting it. And then there were all the tourists, and boy what a mess that was. When we were there I thought it was pretty crowded, you looked into a sea of at least 60 people all trying to get a view of Mona. In this crowd you could see a plethora of iphones lifted in the air and ipads, and even a number of people taking the incredibly “appropriate” (sarcasm intended) selfie. However, if you were to ask them why the Mona Lisa is such an important artwork, I doubt many could answer. It was as if most were there just because they knew it was important and that they should see it. For the record, it’s important, according to the ever trusty Wikipedia, because of, “The ambiguity of the subject’s expression, which is frequently described as enigmatic, the monumentality of the composition, the subtle modeling of forms and the atmospheric illusionism”. and  Even worse, was Greta told us that in the summer, it’s even worse, because there are wayyyyy more people. So I guess we were fortunate enough not to be in a larger crowd! Here is a photo of the mob around Mona, and some other photos of the Louvre, including a few others of people photographing art. Full disclosure, I too took a selfie with Mona. I mean why not? Haha, can’t be too serious about these things. Though I believe Da Vinci is writhing in his grave right now based on what is happening to his Mona on a daily basis.

Below, a lady who thought she successfully got a selfie with Mona without anyone noticing. She was wrong.

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My selfie with Mona, I mean why not?

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This guy who just wanted to photograph some art.

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Here is our group outside with the Louvre Pyramid!

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After spending several hours at the Louvre, and I mean several, I think we were there four or five hours? Not totally sure, but I do remember we all wanted to sit down after all the walking! We grabbed a quick lunch somewhere before catching the Paris metro out to see the Catacombs of Paris. The Catacombs were renovated in the 1780′s, so that the cemeteries of Paris could be emptied, and the bones moved here. It wasn’t until 1810, that someone organized all the bones into what you see today. Now the Catacombs hold approximately the remains of 6 million people, and the skulls and femurs are all organized into various designs. All in all it’s about a 2 kilometer walk through this chilling place. Definitely an interesting experience, though with how small the tunnels were, I don’t think I really need to go back.

The entrance to the Catacombs “Stop! Here lies the Empire of Death”

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After this we headed towards the Eiffel Tower. We wanted to climb it! It’s only 3 euros to climb, and you can get all the way to the second level. It was over 500 hundred steps, probably more, but again I do not remember at this point.

Here is a photo of me on the second level overlooking Paris!

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We went out to Dinner that night and had another amazing three course Paris meal, which we finished off with some Nutella Crepes! Which were amazing! We headed back to go to bed  so we could get read for the next day! We woke up and headed to the Paris Pantheon, because we wanted to see Napoleon’s tomb! Unfortunately when we got there we discovered Napoleon was not buried there. But there were plenty of other big-wigs there! Voltaire (a philosopher, writer), Victor Hugo (the man who wrote Les Miserables), Jean Jacques Rousseau (a philosopher), Marie Curie (a scientist) and many more are all buried in the Pantheon. Below is the main statue in the Pantheon, located on the ground floor. Most people are buried below.

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After this, we headed over to Notre Dame Cathedral, which even in the cold drizzle that started, was still a zoo. Right next to it was one of the man lock bridges in Paris. Like I mentioned earlier I believe, couples go to a lock bridge, put a lock on it, and throw the key in the river, so the lock cannot be undone. It’s supposed to represent their love being unbreakable. The funny thing though is that this is a tradition that started in Florence! Though now it has spread to several other locations, including Paris.

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Here is a photo of the inside, taken from the back looking forward. Pictured is Mary holding Jesus after the crucifixion and the cross in the background.

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Now, the one thing we had to do still since we messed up the first time was to find Napoleon’s tomb. Which happened to be located in the Army Museum, the one thing in Paris that Emory wanted to see, so everyone one! Napoleon’s tomb was pretty incredible. This photo is from the top looking down, but you can also walk down into it and walk in a circle around it, as you can see some people doing. It’s pretty unreal.

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We then headed back to our hotel to get changed, because we were meeting up with a friend of Greta’s from high school. We met her in what I believe was the old Jewish Quarter of Paris? I can’t exactly remember. We ended up getting Falafel, which was by far and away the best I’ve ever had. We proceeded to walk around and even see the apartment where Victor Hugo lived, as well as many other cool little shops. Paris is a huge city, and all the little neighborhoods are pretty cool. It would be a cool city to live in. After all this we head to get dessert, so logically we went for more Crepes! Which we got from a roadside vendor, and he even gave us a free one, because he made it for some guy who took off before he finished it. It was only after all these crepes, that we headed back to our hostel in order to get ready for the next day, because we had to wake up early to catch a train to Normandy! It was just Greta and her friend and I that went to Normandy, which was pretty cool. We took the train up to Bayeux, where we were meeting our tour guide for the day. We ended up being in Normandy on November 10th, or a day before Armistice day, the day that ended hostilites on the western front for WWI. Before our tour though we had some time to explore Bayeux, not only did we get to the Bayeux Tapestry, an incredibly important medieval tapestry that depicted the invasion of England by the Normans in 1066. So I really enjoyed that. After the Tapestry we went to the Cathedral in town, which was honestly my favorite cathedral the entire trip. It was incredibly beautiful, and it definitely helped that it was a perfectly blue skied day.

Below is a photo of the cathedral.

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After exploring Bayeux for about 2 hours, we met up with our tour guide, and drove out to Pont Du Hoc, the point where the Rangers were deployed before the initial D-Day assault. Funnily enough though, due to the constant shelling of Pont Du Hoc, at this time, the Germans were working on these bunkers. So when the Rangers landed, instead of the expected artillery in the bunkers, they only found trees and netting used to give the appearance of artillery guns. The actual artillery guns were located a ways back. The rangers did find these and neutralize them, though I can imagine they were confused to see the trees in the bunkers instead of real guns. Below is a photo of one of those bunkers.

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Here is a picture of Pont Du Hoc, you can notice all the implosions in the ground from all the shelling of the Point that occurred before the invasion.

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Next on our tour we went to Omaha beach, which is now quite different. The barriers that were in the water are all gone, and a row of houses are along the beach. It’s as if it was always a normal beach. One of the houses there was were the german high command was located during the occupation, and we got to see that. Next, we headed to the American Cemetery. Luckily for us, when we were there, the Cemetery was open. The reasonfor this is the land there is granted to the American government by France, so the cemetery is in fact American Land. More specifically it is an American Park. So when the government shutdown, even this park was closed. So numerous tourists visiting France could not get into the cemetery. Grounds workers still cleaned the cemetery while it was closed, so as to preserve the respect for the fallen men who gave their lives during D-day. One condition of this being American land, is that the Americans can not use it to make a profit, so the park is free, the visitors center there is free, and nothing can be sold there. If the Americans tried to change this and sell things, the French are entitled to reclaim this land. The cemetery itself is beautiful. Initially it only held wooden grave markers, yet these have been replaced by Marble ones for every soldier. There is also a statue on the grounds to commemorate the American Youth. The reason for this? Most of those who died at D-Day were quite young. I believe our tour guide told us the youngest soldier buried in the American Cemetery is 15, forhe lied on his enlistment in order to fight. Also, while the Jewish Americans now have a star of David for their headstone, during the invasion, nothing would have denoted them as Jewish. For if they were captured, it could have been incredibly dangerous for them to be identified as Jewish. One last tidbit, is that families had the choice of where they wanted their relatives buried. They could leave the body in Normandy, or the body could be returned to the U.S. Right now, there are 9,387 American dead buried there. It was a sombering experience to walk through the cemetery, though at the same time was a beautiful memorial, a fitting tribute to the men who gave their lives in WWII.
Here are some photos of the cemetery.

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After all this we headed back to Bayeux to catch our train back into Paris. We headed back to our hostel to get one last night of sleep in the city of lights. The next morning we woke up and got one last Chocolate croissant, before doing some last minute souvenir shopping. We also even made it up to the Basilica Sacre Coeur.

Here is a photo of the Basilica.

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Here is a photo of the view from the Basilica, one great last look of Paris. We then headed out to catch our bus to the Airport before flying back to Dublin. It was a long 10 days, but they were all amazing. I would go back in a heartbeat.

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