Monday, May 30, 2011

Paris: The Land of Changed Expectations

I can honestly say I loved Paris. I heard mixed reviews from people who had been there before, but overall I had a great experience and loved the city.

After a long day of travel from Amsterdam, we finally arrived in Paris late in the evening. We had not eaten dinner so our first task was to find a place to eat. The problem is…everything closes early in Paris due to the labor laws. We did find food eventually, but the start of my Paris experience was a little frustrating. This was also the first time that I was scared of the language barrier. This first night made for an interesting first impression of Paris. Luckily, that impression changed the next day.

Our first full day in Paris was a Sunday, so we attended the Paris ward. They often have visitors, so the missionaries provide an English translation through headsets. Before getting to my row they ran out of headsets though, so a few of the other girls and I listened to the whole first hour of church (Combined Priesthood and Relief Society) in French. It was a great experience despite the language barrier because I had to listen by the Spirit. We were tired though from our travels and listening in a language you do not understand can only keep you interested for so long, so the second and third hours we went into a separate room where the English translation was playing over the surround sound. It was beautiful though to recognize how the gospel and the church are multi-lingual and multi-cultural; they are essential for everyone in the world.

After church we went to Notre Dame, toured the cathedral, and climbed the tower. It was absolutely beautiful! It felt completely surreal to be there. Multiple times on this trip I have tried to make where I am seem real by repeating things like, “I’m standing at the base of Notre Dame.” It helps a little, but this whole experience is so surreal. I feel so lucky to be here!

Sunday afternoon we also toured Sainte Chapelle and saw the incredible stained glass windows, ate sorbet on the shores of the Sienne, and walked through the Luxemburg gardens. I especially loved the fountain with the sailboats at the Luxemburg gardens. I could have sat there for hours watching the adorable children run around the fountain and push the sailboats. Plus, the weather was perfect! For dinner we had our first crepes. I had a egg-cheese crepe and a Nutella-banana crepe. Yum! We finished off the night with a walk along the bridge by Notre Dame at sunset. A wonderful first day in Paris!

Day two in Paris was also wonderful, but slightly overwhelming. We started out our morning at the Pantheon and then headed to Louvre. I absolutely loved architectural wonder of the Pantheon, but the Louvre overwhelmed me. It was so big with so much to see. On a positive note, I saw the Mona Lisa. From the Louvre we walked down the famous Avenue Des Champs Elysees. Thanks to some really good advice, I had to stop at the famous La Duree bakery and buy some expensive, but delicious macaroons. At the end of the Avenue Des Champs Elysees we finally reached the Arc de Triomphe. It was incredible to be there and the view from the top was spectacular. To finish off the night we went to the Eiffel Tower, watched the sunset, and watched it light up and sparkle. Once again, it was so surreal and beautiful that someone almost needed to pinch me. By the way, sorry to disappoint some of you dreamers, but there was no kissing done at the Eiffel tower – at least by me. I witnessed plenty of it though!

Day three in Paris we had a business visit with Mercer in the morning. It was very interesting to learn about the French business culture and the mandatory vacation weeks. It made me wonder how any company could survive there. The rest of our day and evening was spent in Versailles. I loved Versailles! The chateau was so extravagant and the Marie Antoinette village was an extreme contrast; both very beautiful, but completely different lifestyles. My favorite part of Versailles though was the gardens. They were so expansive and incredible that I could hardly believe it.

Our last day in Paris began with a much needed visit to the Laundromat. This process was a lot more difficult than expected, but I laughed through the whole thing. We got directions from the front desk at our hotel and started on our way. The directions led us to a clothing store. I laughed thinking that through the language barrier they may have misunderstood that we wanted to wash our clothes, not buy clothes. After wandering up and down that street we found a dry cleaner and once again had thoughts about the problems involved with a language barrier. After a quick prayer I turned the next corner and found the Laundromat. Then the laughter continued again as we tried to follow the directions in French. Anyway, it all worked out in the end.

That afternoon we had a business visit with Brinks. It was really interesting and I loved learning about their different business development models. We quickly changed from our business clothes to our street clothes and headed back to the Eiffel Tower. This time, we were going to climb it! After a few hundred steps and a cramped elevator ride, we finally made it to the top. Again, my surreal feeling returned and I was overcome with gratitude. Following the Eiffel Tower we took a boat tour of the Sienne with our entire group. To finish off our last night in Paris we bought a ridiculously overpriced crepe by the Eiffel Tower. It was by far the best crepe I had in Paris though – Nutella, strawberries, and whipped creme. We ate our crepes and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle at 10. Then we hurried and caught the underground towards Sacre Coure (the dome on the hill). After passing through a really sketchy part of town and realizing how grateful I was to have overprotective guys with me, we made it just in time to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle again at 11. It was a wonderful end to a great adventure in Paris!

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