Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Paris: Whoa, The Entire Blog Could Be About Paris

I...could spend a month, everyday, writing about our two visits to Paris.  What you need to know is that Paris is absolutely everything that it's hyped up to be.  I mean, every single over-the-top thing you know from movies or books or whatever, it's all true.

Except berets.  No one wears berets.  Come on.

And the other thing you should know is that before I went to Paris I was 145% sure that no city could ever be better than London.  But...guys...Paris is better than London.  I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry, but it is.  So much guilt admitting this opinion.

The first time we went to Paris was September 2013.  Frankly, it was a lame time of my life.  I have a pretty great life, now, but September 2013 in particular was, like, real, real bad for me.  And even going into the trip with all that "ughhhh why is the world exploding around me????" baggage, it still was breathtakingly beautiful.

The second time we went to Paris was June 2014, when I took my parents and sister around as their tour guide.  The thing I most remember about that time was that we lived in a beautiful apartment across from the Luxembourg Gardens.

I honestly don't know how to write about Paris here.  It  doesn't make sense to try and list everything we saw or did.  Maybe I'll just pick five memories and blitz you with a bunch of pictures.  Sounds good.

* Walking through the Marais and stumbling on the Jewish Quarter with all its bagels and delis and synagogues was a delightful surprise - I'm always interested in cultural enclaves and this one was the first vibrantly Jewish community I'd ever been to.

* The Saint-Chappelle windows were even more beautiful than I could have imagined, and I've imagined them for a very long time.  Ever since seeing them in my Humanities 101 class over 10 years ago.  Live living in a jewelbox.

* Taking a fat-tire bike tour at night was a super fun activity - not only did we get some exercise, but got to see how the different neighborhods of the city interconnected.  Plus the river cruise at the end was magical - watching from the deck as the Eiffel Tower sparkled and the Notre Dame glowed.  I loved it.

* Finding a little crepe shop our friends recommended to us (they used to live in Paris) off in a "real Parisian neighborhood", getting a couple eclairs with Paul from a kind old lady's bakery, and sitting in a park to eat them while we watched families coming home from school and day care playing.  

* Being surprised at how emotional I got seeing the Waterlilies at the Orangerie.  Maybe it was because my expectations were low, but those canvases are maybe the most beautiful works of art I've ever, personally, experienced.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Belém: Where People Really Go When They Go to Lisbon

In our short experience with Lisbon, we realized pretty quickly that the "big sights" were actually a bit outside of the main city in the historical port of Belém.  This was the place where all the ships during the height of the age of discovery set off down the coast of Africa.  So, Belém is the place with all the big memorials to exploration, the old port tower, and of course, the amazing Jerónimos Monastery.

This monastery, I mean, wow.  First, it's blindingly white and absolutely huge, covered in the most intricate carvings and elaborate columns and arches.  Which, you know, is fitting since it was pretty much funded by the huge influx of money Portugal got from importing spices in the 15th century.

I remember being particularly in love with how every column was completely unique, but the entire place as a whole still came together without looking absolutely insane.  It was hands down the most amazing place we saw in Portugal.

Right in front of the monastery, where the sailors would have their last mass before heading off into terra incognita, you can walk across a giant plaza covered in Lisbon's famous black and white mosaics and toward the giant Monument to the Explorers and the Tower of Belém.

For such a hugely important place, it's actually not super easy to get to - we ended up taking a taxi, actually, but it's totally worth it!  

And, after you see it all, get a little sunburned, and learn waaaaay more about the age of exploration than you ever could have imagined, you can go to the little, famous bakery next to the monastery and get yourself some Pasteis de Belém - the pastry of Portugal, a little custard filled tart that is kind of mind-blowing.  Sit out under the trees (because shoot, it's hot there), and take it all in.  

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