Paris…the best way to begin 2010

Me outside the Moulin Rouge in Paris, France. Dec. 28, 2009

Christmas Day is an excellent day to travel. And, not because it’s not crowded, because it’s not. It’s an excellent day to travel because, at least at the airport, stores and restaurants are all open. I got to Washington Reagan Airport early because the weather forecast was rain with ice and I didn’t want to get stuck in my apartment. I figured if the weather is going to get bad, I want to be at the airport when it happens. Turns out, it didn’t get bad.

The walk down Connecticut Avenue to the Woodley Park Metro station was peaceful and rather uncrowded. I did notice a number of cabs driving around and one of them even honked at me to get my attention. “Hay lady! I need to make a buck on Christmas Day,” one of them yelled from the car. But, by then, I was already at the Woodley Park metro elevator. The metro station itself was practically empty and it only took six minutes for the redline to Glenmont to arrive.

I debated bringing my laptop. Last night, I decided it was staying and then this morning, I decided it was going. The extra weight is a little uncomfortable but I’m glad I brought it with me. I like being able to write when I travel.

The last time I was in Paris was in 2006 when I took myself to Europe for my 50th birthday. I really decided to do this trip on the spur of the moment because after having my house on the market for what seemed like forever, more than six months, I finally closed on it in September and got it off my financial plate. Yay! I had to lower the price, but buying rent on my D.C. apartment and the mortgage on my Texas house, was pretty much emptying out my savings so the sale came just in time. And, once that expense was no longer a detriment, I decided to treat myself to Paris. When I mentioned it to Debra, a U.S. Department of Labor colleague, she was game for the journey.

For this trip to Paris, I left the planning and the work to Rick Steves and opted to take his company’s “Best of Paris in 7 Days Tour.”

Our first night’s stroll through down the Rue Cler in Paris, a pedestrian market street in the Seventh district of Paris. Dec. 26, 2009
Our first night’s stroll through down the Rue Cler in Paris, a pedestrian market street in the Seventh district of Paris. Dec. 26, 2009
Our Rick Steves tour group also took a panoramic tour aboard a private bus to take in the beauty of the Paris night life. Dec. 26, 2009
Our Rick Steves tour group also took a bus ride to take in the beauty of the Paris night life. Dec. 26, 2009
Our Rick Steves tour group also took a bus ride to take in the beauty of the Paris night life, including the view of the illuminated western facade of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Dec. 26, 2009
Debra and the Eiffel Tower during our private bus evening bus ride through Paris, France. Dec. 26, 2009
Our Rick Steves tour group also took a bus ride to take in the beauty of the Paris night life. Although this photograph is out of focus, it is of one of my favorite museums in the world, the Louvre. Dec. 26, 2009

I told Debra that we wouldn’t need to set an alarm because I don’t normally sleep well anyway and that I’ll be up in time for us to start our first full day of activities with our Rick Steves tour guide, Elizabeth van Hest, and tour group. But Debra and I overslept and were then in a race to catch-up with the group who had already taken the metro to head to the exquisite Sainte-Chapelle. Luckily, the metro station was close to the hotel where we were staying, the Duquesne Hotel. But somehow we made our way to the metro station, got off at the correct exit and met our guide and group. Next time, we’ll definitely use an alarm.

For today, the Rick Steve itinerary for the “Historic Heart of Paris”: We began where Paris did, on the Ile de la Cité. Elizabeth us through the city’s early history, including visits to a pair of the world’s most significant medieval Gothic churches: the legendary Notre-Dame Cathedral and the exquisite Sainte-Chapelle. Then we took a stroll through the bohemian Latin Quarter, where we enjoyed a group lunch. We also walked  through Paris’ diverse, history-layered Marais district. As we walked we learned about enlightened 17th-century urban planning at the beautiful Place des Vosges, the cultural roots of the Jewish Quarter, and how the French Revolution grew from this neighborhood.

The ornate Paris subway entrance gates was designed by Parisian architect Hector Guimard in the Art Nouveau style of the 1880s and 1890s that does inspiration from nature and natural forms. Dec. 27, 2009
Inside the exquisite Gothic church of Sainte-Chapelle and its magnificent stained glass. Dec. 27, 2009
Inside the exquisite Gothic church of Sainte-Chapelle and its magnificent stained glass. Dec. 27, 2009
Inside the exquisite Gothic church of Sainte-Chapelle and its magnificent stained glass. Dec. 27, 2009
Seeing the historic and legendary western facade of the Notre-Dame Cathedral during the day is just so very impressive. Dec. 27, 2009
Me, all bundled up in front of the historic and legendary western facade of the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Dec. 27, 2009
More of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. Dec. 27, 2009
The spire and east side of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. Dec. 27, 2009
Our Rick Steves tour guide, Elizabeth van Hest, sharing her extensive knowledge of Paris and its history as we stroll across the bridge from the Notre Dame Cathedral into the Latin quarter. Dec. 27, 2009
The River Seine in Paris, France, from our tour group walk from the Notre Dame Cathedral into Paris’ Latin Quarter. Dec. 27, 2009
The decorative shops of the Latin Quarter in Paris, France. Dec. 27, 2009
The decorative shops of the Latin Quarter in Paris, France. Dec. 27, 2009
Me in the midst of our tour group. We ate here for lunch and now we’re ready to get back to walking around Paris. Dec. 27, 2009
More street life in Paris’ Latin Quarter. Dec. 27, 2009
Street life in Paris’ Jewish Quarter. Dec. 27, 2009
Place des Vosges in Marais district, a fashionable and expensive area, is one of the oldest squares in Paris. Originally called Place Royale began its is fashionable reputation by the Parisian nobility who lived in the square during the 17th and 18th centuries. Dec. 27, 2009
Me at the Place des Vosges in Marais district, a fashionable and expensive area, is one of the oldest squares in Paris. Originally called Place Royale began its is fashionable reputation by the Parisian nobility who lived in the square during the 17th and 18th centuries. Dec. 27, 2009
Debra and I took an evening stroll toward the Arc de Triomphe, along Paris’ grandest boulevard, the Champs-Elysées enjoying the gorgeous Christmas decorations. Dec. 27, 2009
Debra and I took an evening stroll toward the Arc de Triomphe, along Paris’ grandest boulevard, the Champs-Elysées enjoying the gorgeous Christmas decorations. Dec. 27, 2009
Debra and I took an evening stroll toward the Arc de Triomphe, along Paris’ grandest boulevard, the Champs-Elysées enjoying the gorgeous Christmas decorations. Dec. 27, 2009
Shops along Paris’ grandest boulevard, the Champs-Elysées. Dec. 27, 2009

Dec 28, 2009 Montmartre and Seine Cruise:This morning we’ll hop on the Métro, then hike up Montmartre to tour the colorful neighborhood that was the haunt of artistic geniuses a century ago — including Van Gogh, Picasso, and Renoir — and generations of hopeful artists since. We’ll end our walk with spectacular views of Paris from the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. You’ll be free for lunch and have time to explore more of the city on your own this afternoon. We’ll regroup this evening to enjoy dinner together before embarking on a dreamy Seine River cruise.

We began the morning taking this funicular up to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Construction began on the Roman Catholic basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in 1875 and was finished in 1914. The basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Dec. 28, 2009
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Construction began on the Roman Catholic basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in 1875 and was finished in 1914. The basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Dec. 28, 2009
Close up of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Construction began on the Roman Catholic basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in 1875 and was finished in 1914. The basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Dec. 28, 2009
The steep stairs and streets on Montmartre in Paris, France. Dec. 28, 2009
The steep streets on Montmartre in Paris, France. Dec. 28, 2009
The Montmartre is primarily known for its artistic history, the white-domed Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur on its summit, and as a nightclub district. Near the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the twentieth, during the Belle Époque, many artists had studios or worked in or around Montmartre, including Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Suzanne Valadon, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, and Vincent van Gogh. Montmartre is also the setting for several hit films. Dec. 28, 2009
The Montmartre is primarily known for its artistic history, the white-domed Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur on its summit, and as a nightclub district. Near the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the twentieth, during the Belle Époque, many artists had studios or worked in or around Montmartre, including Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Suzanne Valadon, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, and Vincent van Gogh. Montmartre is also the setting for several hit films. Dec. 28, 2009
The Moulin Rouge is a cabaret in Paris, France. The original house was burned down in 1915. Close to Montmartre in the Paris district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy in the 18th arrondissement, it is marked by the red windmill on its roof. Dec. 28, 2009
A close up of the Moulin Rouge, a cabaret in Paris, France. Dec. 28, 2009
Me outside the Moulin Rouge in Paris, France. Dec. 28, 2009
More life on a Paris street. Dec. 28, 2009
More life on a Paris street. Dec. 28, 2009
Debra and I waiting at a Paris metro station. Dec. 28, 2009
A night view on a Paris street. Dec. 28, 2009
Another night view of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. Dec. 28, 2009
A night view of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. Dec. 28, 2009

Today we explored the elaborate palace that Louis XIV, XV, and XVI called home. We took the 30-minute train trip from Paris to Versailles, where we had a guided tour of the dazzling Hall of Mirrors and other sumptuous rooms of the palace. Although the weather was cold and wet, I still enjoyed seeing the interior of the palace and walking through the expansive gardens. I didn’t get to see Marie Antoinette’s hamlet, but I’ll just have to put this on my list for the next time.

Me standing on the Marble Court at the Palace of Versailles, a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. It is now open as a museum, and a very popular tourist attraction. Dec. 29, 2009
The Hall of Mirrors just a small part of the elaborate interior decorations of the Palace of Versailles in France. First built by Louis XIII in 1624, as a hunting lodge of brick and stone, and the architect was Jacques Lemercier, the edifice was enlarged into a royal palace by Louis XIV. Dec. 29, 2009
The elaborate Hall of Mirrors inside the Palace of Versailles in France. Dec. 29, 2009
The elaborate interior decoration of the Palace of Versailles in Paris. Dec. 29, 2009
Me the bronze statue of the Rhône River Dec. 29, 2009
A carriage ride through the gardens of the Versailles Palace in France. Dec. 29, 2009

We got up early this morning to take the metro to the Louvre. I like where we’re staying. The room Debra and I are sharing is definitely small. But, the location of the hotel is between two metro stations, Ecole Militaire and the St. Francois-Xavier. And, I’m down the street from the Splendid Hotel, which I stayed in my first time in Paris.

What I love about this Rick Steves tour is that I get to sit back and take it all in while someone else does all the work. By that I mean our guide, Elizabeth van Hest. I didn’t have a guide when I was in Paris and although I’ve done things this time that I didn’t do last time, I’ve enjoyed having a guide. Elizabeth keeps a pretty fast pace. So, I would say that having to move quickly thru things is a bit disturbing. Yesterday we were at Versailles. There were so many people there. I was under the false impression that the week between Christmas and New Year would be quiet. Who was I kidding? I’ve heard Versailles attracted a lot of tourists but I didn’t expect for the crowds to push you thru the rooms of the Chateau.

And, today at the Louvre, it was more crowded than I ever remember it being when I was here more than three years ago in April. The Louvre which opens at 9:00 a.m. already had a line of people waiting to get in. I’ve never seen so many people. Our guide for the Louvre was Janice, a woman from England who married a French man and has been living in Paris for more than 26 years. She was really a delight. We had the kind of system that allowed her to talk, while we had on an earpiece to listen. And, that meant we didn’t have to stay right under her, which was nice. This time I was able to get as up close and personal has one can to the Mona Lisa. And, boy was there a crowd.

But where else can you go in the world, where the building is a work of art and it contains some of Europe’s greatest museum — the Louvre — is open late, and we’ll take full advantage of that. You’ll come face to face with the works of Raphael, Delacroix, and Leonardo, and timeless treasures that include Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, and hundreds more.

The Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Dec. 30, 2009
Inside the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Dec. 30, 2009
One of my favorite paintings inside the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Dec. 30, 2009
Me standing outside of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Dec. 30, 2009

It’s the last full day of the tour along with it being the last day of the year. Another gray day, but it’s Paris! Today, it was all about the Invalides and Napoleon’s Tom and the d’Orsay Museum. We also enjoyed a wonderful group dinner together, a dreamy Seine River cruise and afterwards closed out 2009 on bridge overlooking the blinking Eiffel Tower with champagne in hand.

Me standing by the front steps of the golden-domed Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the tombs of some of France’s war heroes, most notably the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte. The dôme was designated to become Napoleon’s funeral place in a law dated 10 June 1840. The excavation and erection of the crypt, that heavily modified the interior of the domed church, took twenty years to complete and was finished in 1861. Dec. 31, 2009
According to an old tradition, war trophies decorate the vault of the Cathedral of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides in Paris, France.In 1676 Jules Hardouin-Mansart was commissioned with the construction of a place of worship on the site. He designed a building which combined a royal chapel (now Dôme des Invalides) with a veterans’ chapel (now Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides). In this way, the King and his soldiers could attend mass simultaneously, while entering the place of worship though different entrances, as prescribed by court etiquette. Dec. 31, 2009
The court of honor of the Invalides in Paris, France. This is one of the Invalides 15 courtyards, considered the largest, for military parades. Dec. 31, 2009
A close up of the Statue of Napoleon in the Invalides’ court of honor in Paris, France. Dec. 31, 2009
The Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the tombs of some of France’s war heroes, most notably the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte. On 5 May 1821, Napoleon I passed away on the island of St. Helena, where he had been in exile since 1815. He was buried near a spring, in the shade of a few weeping willows, in the “valley of Geraniums”. His remains stayed there until 1840. In 1840, King Louis-Philippe decided to transfer the Emperor’s body. French sailors, under the command of the Prince of Joinville, brought his coffin to France aboard the ship “Belle Poule”. A state funeral accompanied the return of Emperor Napoleon I’s ashes, which were transferred to Les Invalides on 15 December 1840 while the tomb was being built. The architect Visconti (1791-1853) was commissioned to make it in 1842 by King Louis-Philippe, who had extensive work carried out beneath the Dome, involving an immense excavation to create a space for the tomb. The body of Emperor Napoleon I was placed there on 2 April 1861. Dec. 31, 2009
The altar and gilded dome inside the Dome des Invalides where Napoleon’s tomb is located in Paris, France. Dec. 31, 2009
The main hall of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France. The museum is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. Many of these works were held at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume prior to the museum’s opening in 1986. It is one of the largest art museums in Europe. Dec. 31, 2009
It’s called the Bal du moulin de la Galette, an 1876 painting by French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, that depicts the Paris of old. It is housed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, it is one of Impressionism’s most celebrated masterpieces. Dec. 31, 2009
Gorgeous ebony and African statues inside the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France. Dec. 31, 2009
Dec. 31, 2009
Dec. 31, 2009

I can’t tell you what I did last year to bring in 2009, but I will be able to tell you next year what I did to bring in 2010….I did it in Paris, France. There are a few things I will remember about this trip. Paris is a good city to walk in and walk we did. Although I did see quite a few things when I came on my own in 2006, I like being a part of a group. It’s good to get to know other people and have them look out for you. The Duquesne Hotel is within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower and the Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb. But with the metro so close by getting to the Louvre Museum, the Sacred Coeur, Montmartre and the Marais. And, now, I’m very comfortable taking the Paris metro and as I mentioned, there are two of those in the area. My feet hurt, even though my shoes are comfortable so for my next outing, I will have the very best comfortable shoes and when appropriate, sandals. That’s a must.

Our small, but decently appointed and well located, room at the Duquesne Hotel in Paris, France. Dec. 30, 2009

This may have been my first Rick Steves tour, but I’m pretty sure, it won’t be my last Rick Steves tour. And, I’m also pretty sure, this won’t be my last trip to Paris, France.