• Bulgaria!

    Bulgaria: An old Turkish bridge. Go Now!

    Bulgaria
    The isolated mountains of Bulgaria hide cultural gems around every corner, including this old Turkish bridge in the Rhodopi Mountains. Explore Bulgaria!

  • Italy!

    Italy: Rome' historic buildings. Go Now!

    Italy
    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

  • Denmark!

    Denmark: Landscape. Go Now!

    Denmark
    From cities like Copenhagen to islands, beaches, and vast fields (pictured), Denmark offers incredible history, architecture, scenery, and more. Begin Your Journey!

  • Czech Republic!

    Czech Republic: Astronomical Clock in Prague. Go Now!

    Czech Republic
    The Astronomical Clock in Prague (pictured) makes every tourist list, but the towns, including Cesky Krumlov, and the mountains offer a change of pace. Go Now!

  • Belarus!

    Belarus: Birch tree forest. Go Now!

    Belarus
    Tucked away and often forgotten in Eastern Europe, Belarus is home to low lands and Birch Forests (pictured) as well as hidden castles and a culture unlike any other. Begin Your Journey!

  • Spain!

    Spain: Guell Park and Gaudi architecture. Go Now!

    Spain
    Fusion foods, lively music, historic ruins, and cultural events like the Running of the Bulls and La Tomatina make Spain and Barcelona (pictured) a favorite tourist destination. Explore Spain!

France

Notre Dame in Paris, France

Paris

October 20, 2009
A Layover

On my layover in Paris I had a few hours to watch the culture breathe while reclining on one of the most incredibly comfortable chairs at the airport, much like recliners which make falling asleep very easy.

Due to my long layover I got some food at an airport restaurant. The restaurant has numerous sandwiches on display, along with a wide variety of desserts and drinks. I got the tomato and mozzarella sandwich topped with olive oil, which was soaked into the bread. After ordering I thought of what I learned in my travel guide book (eating in public is rude) so ate at a nearby table instead of fifteen feet away with most of the people waiting for their planes. I sat at a table with a number of other people eating, none of whom seemed to be together, but all choosing to eat at the table with strangers rather than alone among others.

As I looked around at families and businesspeople coming and going I couldn't help but think about the short government-required work week and the incredible number of vacation days the French receive. There are many negative stereotypes about the French, but one thing they have right is there tendency to relax and enjoy life. Their priorities seem to favor family and hobbies rather than work and money. The French smoke and drink more than almost any other nationality, however have one of the world's longest life span. I think this is due to their relaxed attitude and priorities.

October 25, 2009
Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, & the Parisian Life

Since I've heard multiple people say "Paris would be my favorite city if it weren't for the Parisians" I decided to try to approach the city from the Parisians' perspective and to remain as optimistic as possible.

I've met a number of French people before and they tend to come across as very arrogant and self-absorbed, however I'm beginning to realize it's more a matter of pride than arrogance. Not that I believe national pride is a good thing, however it is arguably more acceptable than arrogance.

France is the number one tourist destination in the world each year, almost every year and living in a city that is constantly filled with tourists, very few of whom speak my language, and only slightly more of whom actually have the decency to ask me if I speak their language before asking me questions in their language would be enough to make me want to move. Wow, that was a long run-on sentence... anyway, that's what the French and in particular the Parisians experience every day of their lives. With this in mind, I approached everyone with a smile and in French; of course only asking if they speak English, since I'm one of those stupid tourists that don't speak French.

After making my way through the graffiti-filled bridges and underpasses of the train route, I arrived at Notre Dame. The approach up the stairs from the train station quickly escalated and in a matter of 30 steps I went from the crowded, rushed train station to an open, sprawling square filled with people from every walk of life. The best explanation of the atmosphere is "alive." The voices and shoes hitting the concrete echoed in my ears like a concert hall... each step a crescendo until the climax peaked at the square in front of the church itself.

This crowd was not overwhelmingly foreign as I had expected, but it didn't take long before I was approached by two girls asking if I could take their picture. After I returned their camera they responded gracias.

More than any other place I've been, the atmosphere felt like a fabricated scene in a movie; as if the director's "Action" order moved everyone seemingly sporadically, as they talked, sat, ate, drank, and simply lived, as in the foreground a couple discussed a pivotal change in their futures. Not everyone was simply staring at the church, but rather it seemed a cross roads in the city with people coming and going from every direction.

The church's interior is impressive and the outside extremely detailed, however the atmosphere reigned and I quickly found myself putting away my camera in order to simple watch.

After a quick stroll around the island and a stop at the closed Ste-Chapelle I made my way to a random point on the map that had no tourist sites of interest and hence, I hoped: true Paris.

I found a street that was lined with restaurants on both sides and each was garnished with people outside eating, drinking, and talking... in French. I found one of these places not far from the Opera house and entered for a bite to eat.

I received my panini, chocolate mousse, and water, then headed upstairs to one of the dining areas. I could hardly find a place to sit, so wedged myself into the corner where there were a couple available seats. The room was loud and as the volume escalated I noticed no one was eating, but rather only had the remains of their dinners in front of them. Many people were drinking coffee, a couple on their computers, but most simply living.

After eating and watching I debated whether I should go to the Louvre (even though it was closed) or if I should just go to the Champs Eylsees. I glances at my clock and got off the subway at Musee du Louvre.

I didn't exactly know where I was going so instead of taking out a map, I just followed those around me. This path led me to a gate, under which I passed as the Eiffel Tower appeared to my right in the far distance. In the foreground stood a victory arch of sorts and soon I regained my bearings and found the courtyard of the Louvre to my left.

Despite the museum being closed, the courtyard was active as people stared at the museum, the Eiffel Tower and the iconic glass pyramid. I had mistakenly thought I'd be entering a ghost town of sorts; however I was surprised that yet again, another part of the city was full of life and activity.

My next subway ride took me to the Champs Elysees and again I found the city filled; it's almost as if every person in the city was out tonight. Like New York's night life, I have yet to find a part of the city that has slowed its pace and as the night drew on there was no sign of this changing.

I made my way in and out of pedestrian traffic on the Champs Elysees' north sidewalk as a young girl approached me. I said I spoke no French, but offered her my map as she simply smiled, shook her head, and walked away.

The architecture was impressive under the night's lighting, traffic was busy and the Arc de Triomphe acted as a backdrop for all the couples wanting their pictures taken in front of it. From here, the Champs Eylsees' drop in grade was apparent and you could view the street in its entirety.

Next, I walked the city streets to the Eiffel Tower. I approached the tower from across the river in what felt almost like a rush to enter a busy sporting event just minutes before start time as hundreds of people tried to fit into a small gateway to arrive as soon as possible, as if not to miss a thing. Yet, what they were trying not to miss has stood for years, yet the excitement of that approach forces one to hurry.

I'm not sure what makes the Eiffel Tower impressive. In one way it's simply iron bolted together, in another the symbol of Paris and perhaps France as a whole, or the romantic epitome of Paris, simply a viewpoint, a structure with little purpose, or to me, the meeting place of everything.

Couples strolled hand in hand, families talked, tourists rushed to the towers' viewing platforms, vendors anxiously tried to sell souvenirs, friends were meeting for a drink, and I... well I stopped to watch the people in the long lines for ice cream talking and relaxed as if they had no where better to go and were in no rush to get there.

Once I crossed the river and looked up from the Tower's base I noticed the long lines and so joined. I choose to walk the first two flights of stairs, then take the elevator to the very top. The city of lights below was more impressive than the young couples in love beside me. As I waited for the elevator I felt surrounded by young honeymooning couples and 15 year-olds unleashed for the evening.

Later, escaping this scene resembled people pouring out of an amusement park at close; all rushing to the nearby subway station, bus stop, or my destination, the train station for my trip back to the airport for the remainder of my flight from Warsaw.

There are a number of French stereotypes and most can be viewed at the Eiffel Tower:
People who don't speak a word of English... most of them were Spanish though;
Berets... however those were worn by a few American students;
Obnoxious tourists... this group was the majority of people here... hopefully myself not included, but no promises.

Learn more about France Return to Justin's Travel Blog