blake and i met about 12:45 am at the bus station for our 1:00 am bus. it was delayed. we got nervous. it ended up leaving half an hour later and we made it to bilbao with plenty of time to spare. the bus ride was horrible. cramped, hardly any sleep was gotten. bad way to start such a big weekend. we grabbed a taxi from the God-forsaken bus station in bilbao to the airport, got checked in and hung out for an hour or so. slept on the plane. now the day starts.
we really started to hear different languages now. what a comfort to be able to say “parlez-vous l’anglais?” (do you speak english?) and have everybody in the airport say “oui.” it was also nice to actually see and hear people obviously from the states. i don´t know, i just felt some weird camaraderie with the americans we saw. didn´t even talk to any of them. anyway, we found our way down to the train, pretty happy with how everything had worked out basically perfectly so far. this is where we hit a bit of a snag. we got down to the train station, right below the airport, and all of a sudden where did all the english speakers go? they were all nowhere to be found. so we had to buy train tickets from this electronic machine which did not explain the transit system well at all. we ended up buying metro/bus tickets instead of train tickets, so when we tried to go through the train turnstiles with our tickets, they weren´t accepted. great. incredibly luckily, nobody was on guard or around, and there was a way around the turnstiles that was wide open. so we went around. boarded the train and then deboarded at a stop pretty close to where we thought our hostel was. we were way off. we wandered around a bit until blake stopped and asked these two super nice french guys how to get to where we needed to go. they helped us out, gave us their map that had all the routes for each of the three public transit systems(train, metro, and bus), and we headed back to the train station. our tickets did not work again. incredibly luckily for the second time, there was this sweet dude who opened up a door thing right next to the turnstiles for us because he saw we were having problems. thanks frenchie. we boarded the train again and deboarded at the big train station close to our hostel. now by this time it´s like 11:00ish am. we thought we would´ve been able to make it to the hostel by now. we are tired. we are starving. but we both really want to find the hostel. unfortunately, like spain, france does not label its streets well at all, so we wandered around for awhile trying to find our hostel.
quick note here. as we drove into the city on our train and then as we walked around looking for our hostel, my immediate first impression of paris was bad. on the train, all we saw were run down neighborhoods and crappy houses. and then even when we were actually in the city part of the city looking for our hostel, we were in a pretty rough neighborhood and saw lots of things but nothing like the paris i was expecting. we saw a lot of pretty arquitecture on the buildings, but unfortunately it all looked the same. like building after building was full of shops and all the buildings just looked so similar. and the neighborhood we were in, i don’t know what the deal was but there were so many shoe and suit shops. like every two or three stores was a shoe shop or a suit shop, and i mean like tuxedo suits. not really nice or high quality. weird. so my initial impressions were negative. i tried as hard as i could not to stereotype the entire city based on my own naive ideas about it from growing up in america. but come on, americans have such an idealized version of paris in their heads from cinema, tv, media, whatever. we just grow up thinking it’s the most romantic city in the world; clean, beautiful, luxurious. false, said my brain as soon as we got into the city. and that was not a great way to start the day.
approximate check in time at hostel: 12:30 pm. about an hour or so of just walking around with backpacks looking for this place. it sucked. but once we were in we rested for a bit, ate some bocadillos, then decided to test the bus system and find our way to the louvre. luckily for us, and a credit to paris, their transit systems are actually super great. every bus has a very well marked route at the bus stops and also inside the buses, so you can always see what the next stop is and where you´re headed. so we got dropped off around the royal palace/louvre area; there was this big courtyard with a lot of grand arquitecture on the buildings around so we walked around there. through a big stone hallway:
we saw the glass pyramid. yes, the glass pyramid from the da vinci code. holler. we headed through the stone hallway(actually it was just part of the louvre museum) and found ourselves in the gigantic courtyard entrance of the louvre.
ok at this point i´m crazy impressed. first, the pyramid wasn´t as big as i thought it was going to be, but it was still super cool looking. there were some fountains around and two smaller glass pyramids on either side of the big one, very slick design. but the thing i was most impressed with was the actual building itself. i had no idea what to expect with the louvre but this blew me away. the building had the most intricate arquitecture ever. i can´t even describe how grand this place is.
so beautiful. a fun atmosphere too, tons of people around, tons of languages being spoken, pictures being taken(mainly by asians)(kidding), and so much to look at. we headed down inside the pyramid(you actually do go inside of it and then down) and we were in the main hall of the louvre. ok here´s where my first misconception occurred. thanks to that crappy da vinci code movie, i thought the big pyramid was more like a diamond and the bottom half of the diamond touched points with a much much smaller pyramid right beneath it, just like they show in the last scene of the movie. false. the glass pyramid is just a pyramid. so strike 1 for the movie. we bought tickets and an audioguide(total 15 euros for each of us, not bad in my book) and just started in.
one bad thing about this place. it´s so monumentally huge, there is no good way to organize everything. they´ve got it set up alright, but if it´s your first time, hoo boy it is so confusing. so we tried to figure out where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see but soon decided to just wander and happen onto the big stuff as we went. there is a lot of gorgeous stuff in that museum. sculptures, busts, paintings, arquitecture, drawings, so much more. i took quite a few pictures of things, but after awhile i just stopped cause there is too much. far too much.
again, i think the thing that stuck out more than the actual exhibits is the building itself. such a massive place. and every room is itself this gorgeous work of art, either with murals or incredibly detailed arquitecture or paintings on the ceiling. absolutely gorgeous, every room you walk into.
we walked, and walked, and walked, and eventually us trying to find the venus de milo led us to find the mona lisa. not to burst any bubbles, but i was a bit disappointed. not because it´s not a gorgeous painting, but since it´s by far the most famous thing in the museum, it´s also the most popular. when we walked into the room that holds her, there was a throng of people around it, taking pictures and whathaveyou. the other problem is that you can´t get close to it. they have this wall that keeps everyone like 30 ft. away from her. so you have to fight the crowd and then you´re still that far away. major bummer. and let´s be honest. who hasn´t seen a picture of the mona lisa sometime in their life? i don´t want to be a total art buzzkill, but the pictures are exactly the same as the actual painting. if i could’ve seen her up close, that definitely would’ve been a different story. but as it was, she was a bit of a bummer for me, if only because i couldn´t really see her well.
by this time, we had spent like two and a half or three hours walking around and taking everything in, and the last thing i wanted to see before we left was the venus de milo. we finally found her hidden in this basement area. she´s gorgeous. such a beautiful sculpture, even though she´s missing her arms. there weren´t a lot of people around right when we found her and you can get much closer to her than you can the mona lisa so that was wonderful to see.
so here is where i run into a problem with the lourve. actually not with the louvre, just with this type of art, in general. so many of these works are beautiful pieces, thousands of hours went into their creation, and for what? so i can walk by, take a nice 30 second look at it, mumur “wow…” and then move on to the next. art of the physical kind (paintings, sculpture, etc.) is such a conundrum to me (unlike music or movies or whatever else). i think it’s because i never know how to respond. i feel like i’m doing the artist an injustice if i walk by the venus de milo, stand in awe for a few minutes, snap a few photos and then walk on. there is no real mode of response for the viewer. i like the interpretation aspect of it but it’s so difficult to really feel part of the art, whereas music, movies, whatever, you can sing along/dance along, they aren’t just single moments in time; they involve the viewer so much more in my opinion. so as much as it was incredible to see as much as we did, at times i didn’t know what to do with it all. i’m not gonna change my major to art history anytime soon. i’m sticking with my itunes Top 10 Most Played.
we found our way out and walked down into the tuileries gardens, the big park area that leads away from the louvre. it was filled with a lot of gorgeous sculptures, a few vendors, and lots of people. really really pretty. we were getting hungry though, and it was windy and cold out, so we headed back to a mcdonalds close to the louvre. yes mcdonalds. and it was awesome. i realized something weird there though. since i only know a total of three french phrases, i can’t really say “i would like a small order of friends and a large coke.” and if i get a “no” response to “do you speak english?”, there is literally no way i can communicate with these people. ok here’s the weird thing. i knew i was in france, with a bunch of french-speaking french people, but when i couldn’t think of a word or needed to communicate, my brain always reverted to spanish. i said “vale” (ok) and “si si” (yes yes) to so many french people. kind of cool my brain automatically went back to spanish, but at the same time kind of stupid of it too. if the person can’t speak english, the chances are slim that they’ll be able to speak spanish. but oh well. it is just such a weird feeling, having no means of communication at all. makes me feel really stranded. i hated it. so if i ever go back to paris, i’m learning french for at least 1 year leading up to a trip.
after filling up at the golden arches(TM), we grabbed a bus back to our hostel and ended up falling asleep in our room for about two hours or so. we woke up about nine and didn´t want to waste our time in paris, so we decided to take a walk around. it was quite iffy in our section of town. our hostel was actually in a pretty shifty part of town, so we walked away from there as quick as we could to see what we could see. at one point we ended up deciding to try to find moulin rouge. we found a bus stop, glanced at a map and thought we could find it pretty easily. luckily for us(this will be better explained on Saturday) we could not find it and just ducked into this little side bar with a band playing and had a quick drink. the band was actually pretty sweet; just this little trio and they played some great funk. after that we headed back to our hostel around 11:45 to try and get some good rest before our huge day on saturday.
ok let me talk about hostels for a bit. what a terrible…i don’t even know what to call it. just what a terrible thing i guess. a bunch of strange international people lodge together in small rooms, regardless of gender or nationality or language barrier or anything else. just a dangerous thing! the first night we met our two roommates, a nice girl from croatia, late twenties, who was visiting france for the art. the guy was a dude from italy, couldn’t speak tons of english, but was able to at least say, “george bush. ha ha. sh*t. ha ha.” so he communicated that thought well enough. but for real, in our room there were four beds and a sink and a chair, and that was about all. and the poor girl; if i was her i would’ve spent the extra money to stay by myself in a hotel, for real! what a dangerous situation for a female to be in. obviously blake and i are legitimately nice guys but come on, who knows who this other creep is? i just don’t understand how any girl could do that. anyway. the next night in the hostel was better and worse in it’s own ways, but i’ll save that for the saturday post.
so my initial impression of paris: disappointed. the louvre was a great experience, but everything else was just a bummer overall. being helpless with the language barrier, spending SO much time walking and looking for things we couldn’t find, just a frustrating experience minus the museum. also, i stepped in dog poop.