EUROPEAN VACATION HIGHLIGHTS
We did another side trip which I'm leaving out but it made our trip to Paris sort of goofy. We went to Koblenz, then Koln, then to Brussels where we caught a high speed train to Paris. A total of 4 trains with nice tight connections. We learned how to figure out train platforms real quick. Nothing like running up and down stairs in a big, fat panic dragging your bags. The high speed train was the best -- luxurious, comfortable, they served food. We were like the total yokels, "ooooo! They're giving us lunch with free wine or beer!" And when the train hits high speed 300 kpm it's pretty fun. The high speed leg took about 2 hours.
In Paris we were the museum king and queen. If you go, we very highly recommend that you purchase a Musee Carte which is a pass that gets you into most major museums and attractions. We bought a 3 day pass and paid for it by the middle of the second day. The first day we were walking on our way to Notre Dame when it started raining so instead we ducked into Musee d'Orsay, bought our 3 day pass, and tried to wait out the rain there. When we were ready to leave, it was pouring so we had good incentive to learn to use the METRO right away. That same day we also walked all through the Marais and went to the Musee Picasso, and the Musee Carnivallet (Paris life through the years). I should probably also mention that we spent huge amounts of time lost. It takes awhile to get the hang of navigating those streets and about 10 times a day we'd be walking along, and suddenly say, "where the hell are we?"
This would also be a good time to mention travel books. I was always under the impression that it was the ultimate in geekdom to walk around a big city carrying your travel guide. Apparently this is not true. In Paris, Florence and Rome, EVERYBODY carried a travel book and stood on street corners consulting street maps. You'd see books in every language. The most popular books were these ones with a white cover that I can't remember the title of. We are big fans of the Rick Steves' books [standard disclaimer: we aren't connected to Rick Steves in any way] and would highly recommend any of his books. We found the Mona Winks especially helpful for museums and we had a German-French-Italian phrase book that also came in handy. And he's funny.
On the first day we also went to the Louvre for the first time. The Louve is also sort of like a mall so on our way our we found the Virgin Mega-store and decided we had to go in there. We finally stumbled back to the hotel close to 10pm and we still hadn't even eaten dinner. Another thing to know about Paris is that there is no equivalent to 7-11 in Paris and you can just run into a little place at 10 pm and buy a razor and a 6 pack to take back to your hotel. Bob's travel razor broke and he had quite scrunge growing before we managed to remember to buy a razor during the day.
This was the pace for the entire time we were in Paris.
SECRETS OF THE LOUVRE
If you plan to go to Paris and visit the Louvre, take these handy tips with you. First of all, you should buy the museum card mentioned above and second you should plan to go the the museum more than once. You aren't going to get as much out of it if you try to do the whole thing in one day. "Sure," you're thinking, "I mean, how big can it be." Really, really big.
When you arrive at the Louvre you will probably see a humongous snaking line curling around all those pyramids. Please note that this is just the line to get through the security check. There are still more lines inside to buy tickets which is why you should have the museum card. This next tip sounds sketchy, but trust me on it: don't get in the long snaking line. If you're standing at the pyramids and you look out towards the Jardin du Carrousel you will see a little Arc d'Triomphe du Carrousel -- walk over towards it. Once you get there you will see a white staircase going underground and it says something about "Carrousel" This is where you want to go. Don't get psyched out because no one else is doing this. The last day we were there the museum line was insanely long and we were the only people using the backstairs.
Just continue down the stairs and you end up in the underground mall complex of shops and restaurants. You will still need to pass through at least 1 or 2 security stops but there won't be 900 people in front of you. Keep going -- more or less you are like the fish swimming upstream. You will end up in the large central area where they sell the Louvre tickets and where you can enter into the museum through three entrances. If you have a backpack, be warned, they will want you to check it in. (Can you say, "another big, long line?") Try to make it not look like a backpack. Carry it over your arm. We lots of people with big bags not shaped like backpacks that were permitted to carry them in. We tried to enter at one wing and the guy told me I had to check in my bag. "But that guy has a big bag," I politely pointed out. You know how security people respond to this sort of logic. So we simply walked across to another security point and they let me through and then we went upstairs and crossed over to the wing of the museum that we wanted to see.
My final tips for the Louvre (and actually museums in Paris in general) is to try to do a little homework and figure out what you want to see. Rick Steves Mona Winks is very helpful for a quick sketch of art history and you can also look at the library for art history videos. Also if you have the museum card you can go in and out and take breaks, see outdoor sights and not completely fry yourself.
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