Friday, November 25, 2011

Knowledge and Power

Meaning we went to Parliament and the Library.

First off:  Parliament!  It used to be a medieval castle for one o' them early kings, and the oldest part is the great hall which still has the original roof.  During WWII, the building was burning during the Blitz and Churchill told people to save the hall instead of the House of Commons because the hall was older.  From there we followed our guide through the central hall (there are mosaics of the 4 patron saints of the UK on the roof) to the place where the Queen comes in (all of the halls and rooms are really nicely furnished, shock as that may be, but I wasn't allowed to take pictures except in the hall, even of the reigning monarch's portraits which get moved down as they're each replaced) and followed the path she takes when she visits Parliament. We saw the House of Lords and where they stand when they vote (on something that's not a clear majority vote--basically, if they can't instantly tell by a raise of hands, they call a 7-minute recess or something, ring a bell, and at the end of that seven minutes you'd better be on the yea or nay side of the hall or you're locked out and don't get to vote; they then count everyone going back in on each side and who you are for records of who voted which side, and thus get a tally of votes) and where the woolsack is to remind everyone just where the wealth of the country started.  Yep, sheep.  We then went to the House of Commons.  Guess what--the queen is not allowed.  The one place the queen is forbidden by law to go.  It's a lot like the House of Lords, just a bit simpler and one is green and the other red.  I'm pretty sure the House of Commons was the green one.  Story time!

When the constitutional monarchy was installed, the people wanted to be sure the monarchs remembered the fact that they were in charge.  The common people, as in.  You know, the ones in the House of Commons.  So they banned the monarchs from the House of Commons chambers/whole side of Parliament.  When the current reigning monarch comes to parliament, she gets to the House of Lords and can't go further, but she needs the rest of the people there before she delivers her address, so there's a guy in black who goes to the House of Commons for her.  And as soon as the door guards see him coming, they slam the door.  In his face.  Very abruptly.  Yay, English customs!  So the guy picks up his stick and knocks on the door.  And by knocks I mean picks up his stick and heaves it into the door (he's got a grip on it halfway up and pounds the end into the door hard enough to leave a dent, and you can see the spots where he missed) saying "For God, for Queen, and for Country!"  (Italics equals pound on the door.)  So they open the door and mosey on down to the House of Lords--they do it slowly because, hey look, they're important and the queen has to wait for them.  Kind of an "eat it, monarchs!" gesture.

Story time's over, folks.

But that's okay, I found more stories.  And they're awesome.

See, the British Library, which is by the way awesome and I only saw a little bit of it, has this room called the "treasure room" which has awesome stuff in it.  There were at least 10 illuminated Gospels, including the Lindisfarne gospels, several copies of other religious texts from most religions across the world.  (No copies of the Book of Mormon, though...), Chinese manuscripts of ancient legends, sketchbooks of naturalists, a book with a handwritten score of The Messiah, and so on--a room full of this stuff.  Also voice recordings, like Seamus Heaney or Virginia Woolf or Tennessee Williams, and the Beatles case with some of the original songs, including the first draft of Yesterday, and a panel on the side with several of their songs and this .

That.  That was awesome.  I love that room so much right now.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A (mostly) pleasant skull. I meant stroll!

I had a new group today.  The one thing I wanted to do was to get to the Orangerie, after that I was good with whatever (because there were few enough groups going to the Orangerie (just the one, really) that being picky was impossible).  So.  The Orangerie.  Their main draw, and it's a great draw, is that they have two rooms of panorama view 360 ovular degrees of huge 10x60' or something like that canvases of Monet's water lilies.  They're amazing and wonderful and...just wow.  Basically.  When you get close, the lines dissolve into a swimming swirl of pastel paint.  Downstairs from this was a gallery of painters from around the same time--impressionists, Spanish painters, and many others.  And there were a few ladies in there set up with easels, painting the paintings.  I was somewhat jealous...painting Renoir with the original Renoir in front of you?  Awesome.

After that, we went up the Arc d'Triumphe again, which is the hazard of group-hopping.  We had a few girls craning over the side to see the traffic at the bottom--somewhere around 8 lanes and no directional signals, except that traffic could only progress in one direction.  Throw in buses, construction trucks, bikes, and a few pedestrians, and it gets hectic.  And yet no one got hit, that we saw anyway.

After that, Allison wanted to go down one of the streets which is famous for its shopping--I forgot its name--which was one of her goals of being in Paris, but no one else wanted to go, so she and I went down and told them we'd meet them at the catacombs.  Which led to us waiting for them for 45 minutes in front of the catacombs because they went to lunch in the meanwhile.  Anyway, the catacombs.  Yeah, that's where the title of this post comes from.  I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but there was a long long way of just wandering around some underground passages until we suddenly came across the "door of the dead" and all I could think of was LOTR and I wondered if there was a rock in there where we could call armies of the dead or something...But then we went through the door and, um, let's just say that I don't get freaked out often but rows and rows of bones, just piled in heaps with the outward part stacked into patterns of leg bones and skulls, skulls everywhere staring out with those dead eyes and arranged in crosses and hearts and there was no end to them and...*shudder*

After that we just wandered for a bit.  We sat by the Seine for a little while reading "Where's Charlie?" which is "Where's Wally?" in England.  Or Waldo in the states.  After that, we walked back to the hotel--Allison and I stopped for ice cream (and then the rest of the group left, again) and we boarded the train back to London.  I was in the same not-a-window-seat but I was awake for more of the trip home, so I got to see the chunnel--it was really dark.

Thus ends my Parisian adventure.

Sorry it's on its side.  But seriously.  CREEPY.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wait, there's *more* art? Who made this stuff?

Started the fourth day in Paris with a wander to the Pompadour.  I think that's how it's spelled.  It's Paris's museum of modern art, and I have to admit, it is pretty interesting.  (Still not my favorite, but such is life my taste in art.)  Although anywhere that has an enormous fabric structure that looks like a Dr. Seuss creation is pretty cool.  Another one of my favorites was A Bicycle built for 2,000.  Except they had the computer version, the whole song, and different tracks of the song.  You can't hear it except by listening to the individual tracks, but there are a few spots where people's imitations were burps, xylophones, and other fun sounds.  The one that I really liked was, I guess, the fan that was floating two cassette tape circles in the air.  There was a platform with shallow edges, the fan was above and blowing directly down, and the air pressure, I assume, was redirected upward by the box, while the tapes kept themselves relatively well centered by virtue of being circles--if one side pulled too far, the other side would be caught in a draft and pull back and so forth.

Interesting thing about the Pompadour--it was built to look unfinished; rather, to look like the skeleton of a building and yet be a completely functional building.  Hard to explain.  So check it out instead.  (The zig-zag is the escalator shaft.)

From there we wandered through Napoleon's tomb on our way to the Rodin museum.  For a dictator and a short dude, they went over the top for Napoleon.  Pretty much literally.  (Nicole says it's because they were trying to prevent him escaping.)

Well, on to Rodin.  Dude, the guy's a genius!  Well, yes, he does have a fondness for the nude model, but his sculptures are incredible.  They had (a copy of) the Thinker, the Gates of Hell for which said Thinker was Dante-ing, a lot of marble sculptures and smaller ones and on and on.  Jessica's note was that he put a lot of tension into his sculpture, no matter the subject matter.  If I could sculpt as well as Rodin, I'd be pretty pleased with myself, I think.  The Waltz is one I rather like--the motion is pretty awesome.  And the second one is because I'm in awe of the detail.

Our last stop of the day was the d'Orsay, which is also a great museum.  Tell you what, if you're in Paris and for some reason want to skip the Louvre, come here.  Since we got there late, I didn't have as much time as I would have liked, but I went up to the post-Impressionist room and looked at the Van Gogh stuff they've got there.  I find I much prefer those of his paintings that had absolute swaths of paint, where the texture creates half of the feeling.  I did a sketch in the time before the museum closed of the Reapers.  No pics, sorry, they weren't allowed.

Monday, November 7, 2011

We're following the Louis, the Louis, the Louis...

Backwards, I grant.

This morning, the first thing we did was hop on the train to Versailles. Yes, we did. It was pretty stunning. As in “this is enormous this is enormous this is enormous this is enormous” stunning. There were 4 of us this time—me, Carolyn, Jessica, and Nicole. We walked in and headed through the house first—it was a bit chilly out, but it wasn't supposed to rain during the day, so we were hoping it would burn off before long.

Versailles...what can I say? It's huge, it's magnificent, it's definitely over-extravagant for Paris's financial conditions at the time it was built, it used to be Louis XIV's hunting getaway when he was young but he turned it into what it is now by spending half of France's GDP, and I don't know if that's now or then.  Have I mentioned Rick before?  Nicole's been reading him like a book... oh, wait... and he knows his history.  But Versailles.  There's gold everywhere that it can reasonably be put, a few places that don't make sense, and paint or carvings or both over the rest. Or gold on the carvings. We saw pretty much everything—multi-stone statues, more statues, crystal chandeliers, the billiards-room that was basically the “man-cave” as Carolyn put it but seriously was the least manly man-cave I've ever seen or heard of, a bunch more statues, the Hercules room because Louis likes him, the queen's room and the king's room which are in two completely separate parts of the palace—apparently there were 19 princes born in the queen's room, and royal princes were all born publicly to prove their blue-bloodedness, which would, I think, severely irritate me. Oh, and more statues. We walked through the Hall of Mirrors and saw the place WWI ended—see also Eiffel Tower of a previous post. There was also a hall of large paintings of battles, where I learned one very important thing about war paintings—they all utilize what I call the DH. The Dramatic Horse. This horse should be the leader's horse, should be very pretty, and should be hamming it up as much as possible. It's also possible for the horses that are dying at the bottom to be Sub-Dramatic Horses, or for the DH to have Flanking DH's. Honestly, the only 2 pictures without the Dramatic Horse had no horses in the pictures whatsoever, and the most subdued DH was Joan d'Arc's, and the whole picture for her was quieter. Even he was big and dark and had armor on. Oh, the Hall of Mirrors, the scenes painted on the roof are all supposed to illustrate Louis XIV's life. Let me just say he apparently kept some pretty good company.
(This is Louis's version of real life.  See where the company he keeps does fun things like fly and throw lightning?  Oh, yeah, he does, too.)

(I saw this statue 3 times.  Walked through the Hall of Mirrors and liked it, went to the Louvre and saw it in bronze (Oh, look, the Versailles one was a copy!) and then saw it down in the classical statues made of marble.  It just got copied all over the place.)

When we'd wandered all over the palace, we found our way out to the gardens which were, indeed, somewhat warmer. But slightly disappointing because the fountains were all off and several of the places had closed. All the same, though—it was beautiful. Especially with the fall foliage. We joined Rachel at the top of the gardens and looked at a lovely fountain of Apollo and Athena's mom turning people into frogs, then walked down an alley and into a maze. Well, if you knew where you were going, it wasn't so much of a maze, but the trees were tall and the passages narrow, not to mention the multiple options of where to go and the part where we ended up where we started, so maze. This is also where we noticed the statues were being covered, and it was actually kind of creepy. We eventually found our way to Apollo's fountain in his chariot surrounded by fish and heralds, and walked down an aisle of tall trees dropping leaves (which Rachel and Jessica tried to catch) and tried to get to Marie Antoinette's peasant place, where she had a “regular peasant cottage” with a library and billiards room where she could shepherd her perfumed sheep. Yep, really in touch with the people, that one. Unfortunately, that way was closed and other members of the party were distracted by bikes. I stayed behind and watched two bags while Rachel, who was also sitting out on the bike ride (sorry, but I consider 6,50 euros a bit much for an hour of biking) watched a third, and I got a bit of sketching in (drew a corner of a house, basically) and then Rachel went on a boat ride in the canal and I walked over and sat and talked with people at the side of the canal until the group got back together and we made our way up the lane with much singing (okay, only a very little, and that kind of quietly because we didn't want to seem too touristy) and dancing (I lie on that one). Oh, and I negotiated a purchase while making the guy think I was French! Maybe. All I know is it's really easy when you say “Bonjour,” put the thing on the counter, he “bonjour”s back, gives you a price, you pay and say “merci” as you walk out the door. If the price he gives you is in French (and is fortunately the same as the tag says and also the register), you are allowed to think he thinks you're French. Or speak it well.

We hopped on another train and returned to mainland Paris, where we made our way to the palace Louis abandoned in favor of Versailles. Hardly surprising why, though.  You can see then ends of the grounds from the top of the building, and honestly, only 3 wings?  Ridiculous.  It now houses some glass pyramids out front. Hurrah for the Louvre!

Due to tiredness and a bit of lateness of the hour, we only stayed there for two hours. Which was nothing like enough time, but it was enough to get my feet tired out walking from the Code of Hammurabi to the Winged Victory of Samothrace to the Mona Lisa (briefly; I'm not fond of crowds) through the Italian painters and to the Dutch painters, the German painters, some medieval art, to Cupid and Psyche, and all over the place. Wish I could have taken more time with them, but the very fact that I saw them is incredible! So awesome! And I'm going back if I can; we're here 'til Friday and I should be able to plan some time in. Really, I don't know how to talk about museums; have I mentioned this before? (I will say that the layout isn't all that great because there are limited ways to get up and down and it's a U-shape, so getting from one end of the U to the other can involve lots of walking. But hey, more stuff to look at on the way!

As we were on our way out of the Louvre, we passed through one of the arches and there was a cellist sitting there playing. It was absolutely beautiful. He was good at playing, and he'd picked his location well for acoustics. I stayed and listened for a while because I really really didn't want to leave.   

They say it's more beautiful in the rain.

Today started out as a normal day. Okay, not. Went downstairs for a croissant-y, hot chocolate-y, pear and crepe breakfast (and that's just the half of it) before our group meeting where I gave night bike tours a 5-star review. After that, we hit the city and headed over to Notre Dame. Well, after walking by the Hotel de Ville (with the standard Libertie, Egalitie, Fraternitie on it, and I make no guarantees on my spelling skills) which was very nice. It has also been cleaned except for the steeple—and I so very very much hope that it was cleaned with lasers as well.   Incidentally, another warning about Paris--there are quite a few unscrupulous people out there.  Like the girls who were ostensibly collecting money for a deaf-mute school--but the details were sketchy and they were very bad actors as deaf-mutes, since they responded to things they shouldn't have heard and were talking when they thought people weren't looking.  Among other things that rather detracted from their reputability.  Watch out for scammers, basically.

 Come Notre Dame, the line for the bell towers was rather long, so we decided to not go in before going up to prevent the line growing longer while we waited. I stared up at the gargoyles and wished I could see them in all their rain-spouting glory. Shortly thereafter, I not only got my wish, but the line decreased dramatically (okay, only a little—there were enough souvenir shops that umbrellas were easy to obtain for those who desired them) and I found myself regretting having left my umbrella at the hotel, not for my sake but for my sketchbook's. Is it bad that I left my jacket in my backpack to protect a sketchbook when it was pouring outside and I was in short sleeves? I hope not or this will be another one of those times where I have to forbid “she doesn't have the sense to come in out of the rain” comments.

Anyway, we finally got to go up the steps of the bell tower. That thing is pretty. The steps are steep, sure, but you were expecting maybe an escalator? So we came out on a platform waay up above it where the arrow is in the following picture.
(Disclaimer:  Not my picture, just my drawings)
So that was a good view. There were a bunch of gargoyles all over up there, as well, and I have decided that gargoyles are awesome. Still kind of wet and rainy in waves. We went around up the bell tower to see the Edouard Therese bell (only it has at least one more name) in a wooden belfry, walked around another platform topside, and finally came back down and went into the nave. They were actually wrapping up a service and I admire the people for doing it so solemnly when a great majority of the tourists took the multiple “Silence” signs to mean “Don't stop talking. But I guess lower voices would probably be a good thing, if it works for you.”

Shall I describe the interior? It was really impressive, but there are pictures everywhere. The ceiling was immense, made you feel itty-bitty, and the stained-glass windows are my favorite because they're like glowing, living art work. Also, the two rose windows on either side of the transept are about as big as the one in the above picture and aren't half covered by an organ. I...kind of like them better. It's a bit dark, especially on the side aisles, and it's lit by the stained glass and by large chandeliers of electric torches. They may need to bring the lasers inside for a spot or two, actually. Beautiful carvings and art, though, and a bunch of candles on the side which you can take or light but they ask for a 2 or 5 euro donation (entirely up to you...we just put that in small print so you feel guilty...), and interestingly enough, their altar up front seems to have minimalist human figures on it. Not quite what I expected, to tell the truth. Oh, hey, they've also got the crown of thorns and a piece of the true cross in reliquaries there, but the two girls who went in told us you couldn't see the crown and basically, unless you were there on a pilgrimage or something and intended on touching the relics with a handkerchief to absorb some of the healing power or other power of said relics, it probably wasn't worth the visit. Okay, they didn't have the bit about the handkerchief; I just remembered that from Art History. (See, Professor Johnson? I was paying attention. I just am not good at names and dates, not even of people. So...nyaah.)

From there we headed down a small bit to Sant Chapelle, a “small gem” as Karen describes it, which is apt. Nowhere near as big as Notre Dame; the ceiling is much smaller and there's just the one nave, basically, but holy cow the stained glass windows! There aren't walls, there are just windows! The whole place glows! Exceptionally impressive. Not to mention the whole thing is painted—mostly blue, gold, and red, but with other colors and with pictures and with inlays and a pretty mosaic get the idea. Beautiful place.

Well, from there we hopped on a tube to the Catacombs. Which were closed because it was All Saints' Day. (I mean, really. Timing.) So we wandered a different cemetery for a while (if you've seen Phantom of the Opera, you know kind of what it looks like), then went to the Pantheon which was closed, then went to the Luxembourg Museum where they were having a Cezanne exhibit but turned out to not be on our museum pass so Sarah and Carolyn went in anyway while the rest of us went to the church of St. Michael's a few blocks away to sketch/write. It was much, much quieter (see also: lack of tourists); still quite a large church, somewhat Gothic in design, lots of gray stone instead of the yellowish stone elsewhere (made me feel like I was in a grotto area, especially because of the enormous seashell on a stone next to me and the green-blue lighting in the very far part of the church).  There was an evensong happening there, but I would have been okay if it wasn't because—the choir director was putting her heart into it, the wonderful woman, but...I'm sorry, she just didn't have a good singing voice and it was piercing and off-tempo and over a loudspeaker so I mostly felt sorry for her but also could not ignore her. It was interesting listening in French, though; I felt like it could have been Latin and I wouldn't have known the difference so gives me a flavor of the old-time services.

We met back up with Carolyn and Sarah and found our way to dinner and then home. On the way home, an accordion player made Sarah's day by jumping on the Metro behind her and playing for a few stops. Very fun. Incidentally, I have by now sampled croissants, crepes, and french bread, plus some fried duck. I feel I've gotten a good taste of French cuisine. And I'm honestly rather tired.  (No, I did not get sick.  Take that, winter rain.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

This. Is. PARIS!!!!!

Okay, I'm having a great time, but there are a few things I want to whine about first. Like not getting a window on the train, which is irritating, but hey, at least I slept through the whole trip which I also really didn't want to do and because I got up at 4 in the morning because after my downstairs roommate turned on the light I couldn't go back to sleep even though I was pretty much ready to just jump out of bed and go and I don't like getting up that early, I was one of the few people whose room wasn't actually ready when we arrived at the hotel and so there was bag shuffling and it didn't help my being already slightly irritated, and Paris is really rather dirty and the metro positively reeks sometimes and being told we have to stay in groups of 3 makes things difficult when you want to go places other people don't or you don't want to go where they do and finding groups who will put up with you for a while is harder than it has any right to be. But other than that, I like the city. On to happier things.

Also, disclaimer: I can't spell French much less pronounce it. Nor am I finding the symbol thingies here. So...bear that in mind when you come across place names.

So, as I said, we took the train to Paris early this morning and arrived at about 11 in the morning. We set our stuff down in the hotel and parted ways. My group was waiting for Sarah to get back from Sacre Couer but we figured we'd go out a bit beforehand. We went out and explored a bit, and even found our way back afterwords! Yay! We went to a big tall monument in the middle of a roundabout which we might have been able to figure out if we, you know, could read French. (Okay, I can read it to some extent, but understanding it is a completely different story.) (Later discovered it's the Bastille monument.) From there we walked down a park that had an art fair inside which we didn't go to because we knew we'd be seeing lots more art and also didn't want to spend the money. Walked across a bridge, turned back, found our way back to the hotel, and voila! We negotiated some of Paris all on our lonesome! And got a croissant at a bakery on the way back. Sorry, patisserie.

Sarah returned and we checked for tours on the computer because first day, we want to know where we are. More than a vague “Paris.” Because that's too easy. And too hard. Carolyn had a hotel she wanted to find, recommended to her by Rick Smiths. (He's a good friend. Oh, by the way, Rick Smiths wrote a guidebook and Carolyn brought it and good ol' Rick has been our guide and companion for a good deal of the trip. Carolyn and Nicole kept him in their respective bags at various times.) There were several boat tours, but the one that Sarah wanted to do was called “Fat Bike Tours” which ended with a boat tour but cost more. We eventually decided on that one, reluctantly in my case, but now I've decided it was very much worth it. More on that later.

We struck camp and lit out for Cafe March (okay, I don't remember the exact name, but it was something like that) which was a relatively cheap cafe according to Rick. But that's in a place where “moderate” is 25-30 euros a plate. Paris is bleeping expensive! By the way. And grocery stores are as easy to find as pebbles dropped in a ball-pit at a McDonald's playground. Except there isn't a bottom of Paris you can check. So at this cafe, which is on Rue Clare if you ever want to find it (which you will shortly), we had our first French food. Quiches, pasta, that kind of stuff. I got some fried duck. Hey, I figured if you're interested in something and in the country it came from, give it a try! Duck—it's like chicken, but a barely stronger flavor and mostly dark meat. Not too bad. I'm just glad it came sans head or feet, which the ducks in the shops on Queensway all still have.

From there, we headed towards the Eiffel tower where we were supposed to meet our Fat Bike tour guides. On the way, we passed another patisserie with some awesome-looking stuff, and we decided to give it a try. I got a stick of bread with tiny chocolate bits baked in which was just over a euro and it was great. Seriously delicious. And Karen got a raspberry mousse—I mention this because that's where the patisserie got its fame from as far as our group is concerned. Karen was in love with that thing. She looked like biting it was biting into pure ecstasy. (We've decided by now that it's the best in Paris, and if you want to find it when you go to Paris or when anyone you know goes to Paris, it's at the corner of Rue San Dominique and Rue Clare. The ladies there are also very patient with halting French or trying to explain things in English. It's also made me want to have a bakery a bit more if I can get some recipes like that or make some stuff like that. *considers experimentation, casts about for guinea pigs*)

We finally made it to the Eiffel, which was lit by this time and we'd seen it sparkle. Why did no one tell me that? The Eiffel tower sparkles! White lights twinkle on and off all the way up the tower for a good few minutes about every hour at night, and it's awesome! Anyway, we met at the Pilier Sud (or South Leg for all us good English speakers) and hiked our way over to the bike shop where they asked us to get into two groups, ours with Billy from Colorado and theirs with Joe from London. Yay, they speak English! It's weird being the one who doesn't understand the language when you're accustomed to your language being dominant even when traveling to another country—or at least to England and Scotland; I didn't speak the language well in Mexico, either, but I had fluent speakers (parents) with me so that wasn't so bad. They also asked us who wouldn't be drinking red wine—in Joe's group, it was the little girl, and in ours it was...all of us. Billy was slightly dismayed. Fortunately, he got over it and decided we weren't all that bad after all. Anyway, we got our California Beach Cruisers (which all had names; mine was Top Hat, Nicole's was anonymous, Sarah's was unpronounceable, I forgot Karen's, but Carolyn had the best named and fortunately not prophetic Flaming Heap of Twisted Metal) and helmets and bright yellow reflective vests, got the safety lecture, were told to herd like a family or like our own car (or just a stampede of wild buffalo that people better respect or else, but that was just me), were told 2nd gear was the best unless you wanted to put it in 3rd but that would give you a really good workout. (Lies. I was coasting at least as often as pedaling.)

Our tour took us past the Military School, through the Latin Quarter, past Notre Dame and Hotel de Ville (o with a ^ but not finding it, as I said), the Louvre, past Princess Diana's Flame and rose memorial garden, down to the docks, then on the boat tour up under several bridges, back past the Eiffel Tower, back to the dock, and then back to the bike shop. But now that I said what we did, let me tell you what we did.

We started the tour heading towards the Military College where Napoleon learned.  Billy told us that the French originally detested Napoleon, but eventually (years after he died) held him up as a national icon and rather admired him.  They even gave him this enormous tomb with a golden dome that you can see for quite a ways.  We went from there to the Latin Quarter.  No, it's not Latin America, it's the student sector.  See, the college that had been built there in 1254 was so old that all the students learned Latin, so that was the part of the city where everyone spoke Latin.  They called this the "Class 5 rapids" as we were going through a good deal of traffic, but the good news is there are bike/bus lanes and enough of us that people didn't bother the bikers.  

This stretch ended at Notre Dame where he told us about the Gothic architecture, you know, about how flying buttresses made it possible to build taller buildings and have, oh, say, ventilation or windows and suchlike.  Also how the gargoyles are for scaring evil spirits and they figured they may as well use them as rain spouts while they were up there.  And why the tower is darker than the rest of it--it's because up until the millennium or thereabouts, that's how dark the whole thing had been.  Basically solid BLACK.  And they wanted to clean it, so they cleaned everything but the tower to show how it had been.  And how did they clean it?  He asked us what we thought, and said no to steam-blasting, sand-blasting, water, soap, vinegar, bleach, and everything anyone mentioned, until we were all bitingly curious (I don't even know if that's a thing, but it is now) and he was ready for his big reveal.  Here it is...Lasers.  Yeah, really.  They got some high-tech lasers and heated the dirt to a temperature where it burned off but the wall wasn't hurt.  Lasers.  Cool stuff.

On the bridge over the river where we were standing, the chain-link or whatever the side fence was made of was invisible behind thousands of locks.  They're called love locks--you write your and your lover's name on the lock, put it on the bridge, and then throw the key into the river and your love will last forever.  Which is why the combination locks that are appearing are...amusing.  Oh, also, don't fall in the river--the police come and get you in their speedboats but if you've swallowed much river water you have your stomach pumped.  And the police are already busy with the drunk people.

Across the river from Notre Dame was Hotel de Ville, or rather the Paris Hotel de Ville because every town in France has one because it's the mayoral residence or at least used to be and also the court.  Paris is actually the only one where the mayor still lives there.  The current mayor has apparently, along with everything else he's been up to, has organized what's called "White Night" except in French but I forgot how to say it in French, which is a phrase meaning you stayed up until the night was white again...meaning you were either partying or studying a little harder than is good for you.  This "White Night," though, is the first Saturday of October (Or the second?  Something like that.) and all the buildings--museums, cathedrals, government buildings, etcetera, are open for 24 hours (probably sunrise to sunrise or so) for free.  He's also created a city-wide free cycle hire that's so amazingly successful that other towns like London or Denver or Washington are also creating them.  (Hear that, Salt Lake/Provo?  Nudge nudge.)

On this stop we also went across to another island to a little shop where they sell ice cream.  Amazingly delicious ice cream.  That up until recently was only available on the one island but now is sold in a few shops in mainland Paris where they are proud of the fact, and it is never packaged or shipped out of Paris for any occasion.  And it's made fresh every day.  This island is also the home of the most expensive real estate in one of the most expensive cities on the planet, because there's limited access (no metro or bus stops), and who was it, Johnny Depp, Meg Ryan (specifically mentioned) and some other famous and overly wealthy people own pretty much whole floors of apartment buildings there--one place has seven windows across that are all one room.  They're basically one-floor mansions or something like that. 

We got back on our bikes and went down the river to the French Academy of the Arts or something like that, I can't remember the name, but it's got a bridge connecting it to the Louvre.  The Academy/College/what-have-you is where the French language is regulated.  Stringently.  Some of their recent decisions:  "hot dog" and "weekend" can be used in proper French, "computer" and "email" cannot, and "iPod" is a masculine word.  The aforementioned bridge is a strictly pedestrian (and bike) bridge, enforced by the fact that there are bridges down the length that you might be able to get a smart car around, assuming you could get it up the steps on either side.  This, and its location, makes it a very popular hang-out spot and the location of almost nightly open-air concerts in the summer.  

Anyway, we crossed this bridge, got back on our bikes, and biked through the Louvre.  Yeah, you heard that right, we biked through the Louvre!  I mean, obviously not through the galleries, but it's got a courtyard in the back and that big open space in the front where the pyramids are, and we biked through the arches to get out to the front.  It was pretty awesome.  Oh, and by the way, very pretty decor on the outside.  Stopped for a "photo op" in which my group made ourselves the Louvre pyramid.  Fun times. 

We then biked down to the harbor--which took us past "Princess Diana's Flame" which was actually a gift from the States in return for the Statue of Liberty and the real memorial is a rose garden, but no one really cares about that, apparently-- and jumped on a boat, which took us down past many of the places we'd already been and we got some more fun tidbits on the way.  For example, the bridge that goes to the National Assembly is made of rocks from the Bastille.  Nicole pointed out the irony on that one.  (Nicole has a quick mind--she's the one who cracked us all up as we sailed under a bridge that had some carvings of goddess figures--Carolyn observed that they were very manly women, and Nicole said "Yeah, Herm-Aphrodites!"  (In case you missed it, she said it like the Greek goddess.  Hence why we laughed.)

We ended our boat ride by floating (sailing? no sail...) past the Eiffel Tower and Billy filled us in on its history, also known as why he has a man-crush on Mr. Eiffel.  (Emphasis on the second E and not the first.)  They had a contest for the design for the gates of the World Fair, and the Eiffel Tower just barely beat...guess enormous guillotine.  Yeah, really.  They wanted to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.  But Eiffel won, and then he had 20 years to plot how to make sure his tower lasted longer than 20 years.  He happened to also be a genius and was working on creating radio signals, and told the army they could, you know, put one of these receivers on top of his tower.  So they did and they liked it, so his tower stayed.  I'm sure he gave out a "Boo-yah!" at the news or something.  (Or the one we joke with here--Tusken Raider grunts.)  And then, a few years later, war broke out, and a few years after that, it ended.  Because they caught German radio transmissions that put the blame for the war on them.  Which was the receiver on the Eiffel Tower.  (Eiffel:  "Boo-yah!")

By the time this was over and we got back to the bike shop, it was past our curfew of 11, but we had called Peter before starting to warn him we'd be out late.  Great way to start our trip, breaking one of the few rules we had.