Europe’s Rivers & Castles on the AmaWaterways Amalegro
8/20/11 to 9/4/11
Due to the length of the review, it is in four parts to help with the download time. The links to the other parts are at the top and bottom of the page.
Page 1 - Pre-cruise in Paris, France
Page 2 - Luxembourg; The Ship; Trier, Germany; Bernkastel, Germany
Page 3 - Cochem, Germany; Koblenz, Germany; Rudesheim, Germany; Mainz, Germany; Heidelberg, Germany; Miltenberg, Germany; Wertheim, Germany;
Page 4 - Wurzburg, Germany; Rothenburg, Germany; Bamberg, Germany; Nuremberg, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic
In 2009, we thoroughly enjoyed our Danube River cruise on AmaWaterways brand new ship the Amalyra; and we looked forward to doing another river cruise. For 2011, we found a Rhine, Mosel and Main River cruise on AMA’s Amalegro that would, in addition to visiting new ports, allow us to visit Paris before the cruise and return to one of our favorite cities, Prague, at the end.
Pre-Cruise in Paris, France – Day 1
One of the major attractions of this itinerary was that we would get to revisit Paris. Our first visit was in 2004, while on a British Isles/Norwegian Fjords cruise that docked in Le Havre, France for the day. Since the drive had taken 2.5 hours each way, we only got to spend a very rushed seven hours in Paris. This time the AMA pre-cruise package included 3 days in Paris; but since that started on a Tuesday, we decided to add two days to it by arriving on Sunday. Since over a third of our vacation time was spent in Paris, this section of the review is quite long.
The Air Canada flight through Toronto was scheduled to arrive at 8:30 AM, which would allow us to have some touring time in the afternoon. Since we arrived before the official AMA pre-cruise schedule, we had to make our own transfer arrangements from the airport to the hotel. I had decided to use the Air France Coach shuttle service (http://transfer.airport-paris.com/air-france-coach-service.htm). The service only cost 15€ each and was supposed to stop close to our hotel. Our flight arrived in Terminal 2A. I wanted to purchase Paris Museum Passes, which aren’t available at all terminals, so we walked to the next terminal 2C to purchase them. It was a shorter walk than expected and really worked out great because the stand that sold the passes also sold tickets to the Air France Coach shuttle, as well as metro tickets. I could get everything I needed at one place on one credit card charge. It was really convenient.
The shuttle service was a great way to get to our hotel because there was plenty of luggage storage under the bus, the busses left every fifteen minutes, and the price was right. When we arrived at our hotel, the bus stopped right across the street from the Le Méridien Etoile (http://www.lemeridienetoile.com/), our home away from home.
We had been concerned about the hotel since it wasn’t as close to the main tourism area as I had wanted, plus there had been mixed reviews about it online; but we booked it since we didn’t want to spend two nights in a different hotel before the AMA package began. I had previously contacted the hotel to request that we have the same room as we would have with AMA. The only issues we had with the room were that the bed was firmer than we are used to and it was challenging to step out of the bathtub/shower. Both of us have long legs, but the tub had very high sides and required one to hold onto something to prevent slipping while getting out. It was quite a step, and I don’t know how someone with short legs would be able to do it.
But we were quite pleased with the service we received from the hotel staff. They were very friendly and helpful. The breakfast was also quite good. Since the breakfast wasn’t included in the first two days of our stay, we were quite pleased that there was a mall, Galeries Gourmandes, right across the street in Le Palais de Congres convention center, where we found a nice little coffee shop for breakfast. The mall also had a great little grocery store with lots of wonderful food and drink items. Many people in our group took advantage of the low prices for water and sodas that they could bring back to their rooms.
After we checked into the room, Carol was still exhausted from the all night flight with little sleep, so she stayed at the hotel while I headed into town to begin exploring. That was when I realized how nice it was to have a hotel right next to a Metro stop. It made the hotel’s location much more desirable. The easy and inexpensive 15 minute ride into town was a breeze. I had downloaded a wonderful iPhone app called Metro, which provides directions on what stations to transfer from and to. The best part of the app was that it worked off-line, so internet access was not required. Over the next five days, I really appreciated that app and the Metro. It was very easy to navigate and trains came every 3-5 minutes; which was very convenient.
Since we had planned on visiting many of the sites included in the Paris Museum Pass (http://en.parismuseumpass.com/), it was cheaper to purchase the four-day pass for 50€ each, than to pay each time we went to one of the places. It also turned out to be a very big time saver, since we were able to avoid many long ticket lines. Be careful where you buy the pass, since some websites and stores sell them for 10€ more than the face value. This is one of the reasons I purchased it at the airport. The other reason was that I didn’t want to have to wait in a ticket line at one of the museums that sold the passes.
My first stop was to see Napoleon’s Tomb at Hotel National des Invalides. I had remembered how impressed I was with its beautiful dome on our first visit to Paris. When I came up from the Metro station, I saw that I was quite close to the Eiffel Tower, so I took a short walk to get my first photo of the Paris landmark.
I walked a couple blocks to Invalides and was once again impressed with the beautiful building, as well as the lovely gardens around it. It was a gorgeous sunny day, but where the weather in Paris for the week prior to our arrival was in the low 70’s, this day was forecasted to be 89 with the next several days to be light rain. I wanted to take advantage of the weather and see as much as possible before the rainy days began. Although it was a hot day, it was milder than our normal South Florida summer weather.
Upon entering the building, I was stunned at how beautiful it was. For some reason, I was expecting it to be more like a mausoleum than a church commemorating Napoleon’s greatness.
The centerpiece of the building was the actual tomb made out of red porphyry, which is a stone. It was quite impressive and there were many statues and tributes to Napoleon.
I wanted to go to the Pantheon next, but since it wasn’t close and there wasn’t a convenient metro stop for it, I decided to take a cab. I had asked one of the guards how she recommended I get to the Pantheon and she told me to take a cab. I waited at the official cab stop; but no cabs were coming by. I was starting to get frustrated and overheated when finally I was able to get a taxi to stop for me. After I told him where I was going, he asked if I was an American. He then proceeded to tell me that he was from Haiti and how much he appreciated what America had done for his family and how much we had helped his country after the earthquake. It was very touching and quite unexpected. It is nice to know that the good our country does is appreciated.
I was glad I took a cab, because it was much further from Invalides than I had assumed looking at the map. The 12€ fare was well worth the cost. Once again I was standing in front of another beautiful building. It was modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, without the hole in the top. The stone work carvings are gorgeous.
Inside are numerous statues, murals and lovely mosaics. I had seen some photos of Paris’s Pantheon; but it was much nicer than anticipated.
I had not expected to see the Foucault Pendulum hanging from the very high ceiling. This type pendulum was used to prove the rotation of the earth.
As I was leaving I noticed a sign pointing down to the crypts. I hadn’t planned on spending too much time at the Pantheon, but I was curious and wanted to see what was down there. It was a very large area with numerous hallways where Paris’s elite and famous were buried. Among them were Victor Hugo and Voltaire.
Upon leaving, I saw a small church behind the Pantheon, Saint-Etienne-du-Mont. I love visiting churches and could not pass it up. It was a small church and I wasn’t expecting to see much on the inside.
I was wrong. It was quite beautiful and different from other churches I had visited. It also contained relics of St. Geneviève. Pope John Paul had even visited the little church.
I was taking too much time enjoying the sightseeing and needed to head back to the hotel. We had made plans to meet Penny and Dave, a couple that we met on our Cruise Critic (www.cruisecritic.com) roll call. Looking at the Metro Map, I would have to go through the Luxembourg Gardens to get to the nearest Metro station. That was OK, since the gardens were on my “to visit” list. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t get to spend much time there, but at least I would get to see it. Luxembourg is a very large park and it would be a long walk to get to the other side. It was a beautiful area with lots of flowers and many people enjoying the large pool.
The Luxembourg Palace was quite a large beautiful building; but it was not open for touring. I guess it was just as well, since I didn’t have time to look at it anyway.
Once I finally got across the park, I needed to find the Metro station. I had decent maps, but I felt like I was walking further than the map showed. I asked some people that were at a stoplight where to find the Metro. They were very helpful and showed me exactly where to go. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at how friendly and helpful the Parisians were to us. Having heard many negative comments about Parisians, I found them to be some of the friendliest people we have come across, particularly for a large city.
After finally finding the Metro station and only having to make one transfer, I got back to the hotel close to the time I was supposed to be there. We went to dinner at Chez Clement, a restaurant close to the hotel, since we had all planned to have an early evening after a long day. The meal was good and we were ready to finally get some sleep
Paris – Day 2
This was a day we had both been looking forward to for a long time. We were going to visit the best known art museum in the world, the Louvre. We were pleasantly surprised that rather than rain, we had a nice day which was cooler than the day before, thank goodness.
I would have loved to spend a day or two at the Louvre; but we didn’t have that much time to devote to just one place. We would only have time to see the highlights and get a taste of what is in the awesome museum. Because we got off the Metro at the Louvre station, we entered the Louvre through the underground medieval section of the museum, where the original buildings foundations were built in the 12th century. It was an area I had wanted to visit, so I was glad we didn’t have to go looking for it.
Continuing on we came to the main entrance under the pyramid. Since we entered the Louvre underground, we hadn't seen the outside of the buildings; but we could see them looking up through the pyramid.
The maps for the Louvre are very good at showing you where you need to go to find things; but it was very difficult to figure out exactly where you were on the map. There are room number references on the map; but very few of the room numbers could be found on the rooms. There were not many museum guides around to ask for directions, but the ones that were there were very helpful. The first area we came to was the Egyptian section. It had some very nice pieces; but we had been spoiled because we have visited the Cairo Museum in Egypt as well as the British Museum in London, both of which have fabulous Egyptian artifacts.
Our next area to visit was the Greek section. Now that was an impressive area! It was just absolutely stunning with so many gorgeous marble statues. When we visited Greece, the guides told us that their best statues had been taken by other countries. We had seen many of them in the British Museum, but the Louvre had just an incredible collection.
The highlight of their Greek collection is the Venus de Milo. It was quite humbling to be in the presence of such a famous statue. There was a large crowd observing her beauty.
Walking through the Louvre reminded me of walking through the Vatican Museum. The ceilings were just gorgeous. Each room had another beautiful scene above. It’s easy to get a stiff neck from looking up!
The next major piece we came to was the Winged Victory of Samothrace. The 2,200 year old statue is prominently displayed high above the floor at the top of a stair well. It is easy to understand why it is one of the most celebrated sculptures in the world.
We then headed over to the Louvre’s most famous possession, the Mona Lisa. It was pretty easy to find with signs directing people to it. What a crowd! Everyone wanted to see her and it was a challenge to get close. It is a relatively small picture and has protective glass, so there was a lot of reflection on it. It can probably be appreciated more in a high quality book than in person; but it is nice to be able to say that we have actually been in her presence.
We went through some other parts of the museum before leaving. One thing that really surprised us was that the museum for the most part was hot and humid, rather than heavily air conditioned to protect the artwork. The air conditioning they had was very ineffective in most of the rooms. We were, however, pleased to find chairs and benches in most of the rooms where Carol could rest while I ran around to other exhibits. Needless to say, the museum had many other gorgeous paintings and exhibits.
When we walked outside, we got to see the controversial pyramids. We had seen it from the bottom, but it looked a lot bigger from ground level. It does look out of place; but is a nice contrast to the very ornate buildings of the Louvre that were originally palaces.
Across from the pyramid was the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. It is about half the size of the more famous Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile, which was close to our hotel. This Arc commemorates Napoleon’s military victories.
Our next place to visit was one that I had been looking forward to for a long time. In doing research seven years ago for our first visit to Paris, I really wanted to visit Sainte-Chappell; but there just wasn’t time. Since 2004, I have told many people to be sure to visit Sainte-Chappell. They always thank me for the recommendation, since they had never heard of it. I was now finally going to be able to see in person what I had been recommending to others for years.
The chapel was built in 1248 and consists mostly of 15 large majestic stained glass windows. The outside just looks like a nice small church surrounded by the Palace of Justice.
The long line to go into the chapel was overly impressive in a bad sort of way, since we thought that we could avoid the line because we had the Museum Pass. Then we found out that the line was not the entrance, but it was a security line that everyone had to go through before getting to the ticket line. It did move pretty quickly and when we got through it, we were able to avoid the other long line to get tickets. The chapel itself is in the upper level; but the first level was rather nice also.
We had to walk up a narrow circular staircase to get to the chapel. Once there, we could see the beauty that we had looked forward to for seven years. It was spectacular!
It was such a beautiful sight. It was hard to stop staring at all the solid walls of lovely stained glass.
When we left the chapel, we found a unique public water fountain that we used to fill up our almost empty water bottle.
Before heading back to the hotel to drop off Carol, I wanted to do a little more sightseeing. Paris has so many beautiful places to see. Every step brought another beautiful sight.
I walked over to the Pont Neuf Bridge, the oldest bridge in Paris. Besides being a lovely bridge, it is also a place where lovers put padlocks on the bridge as a sign of their love for one another. Apparently the city cuts them off regularly and has outlawed putting the locks on; but the practice continues.
After taking Carol back to the hotel, I walked over to the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile, the more famous Arc. As I approached it, I was amazed by the amount of detail on it. Normally in photos of the Arc, one just sees the large structure. Up close it is quite beautiful.
The ticket line to go to the top of the Arc was extremely long. Most people have to climb the 284 steps, but there was supposed to be an elevator available also. I smugly walked up to the Museum Pass entrance, where there was no line and casually walked into the Arc. It was so nice to not have to wait in line. I looked around for the elevator, but only saw some stairs. I assumed the elevator must be up the stairs, so I climbed the narrow circular stair case. I soon realized that I was going to have to climb all the way to the top. In my cockiness of not having to wait in line, I must have totally missed the elevator. It was quite a haul to the top; but I made it. It was a lot of steps.
The view from the Arc was incredible. I could see all the famous tourist attractions. The view of the Eiffel Tower was really good.
I could also see Sacre Cour on top of the hill in Montmartre. We would be going there in a couple days.
I could also see out to the Grand Arche at La Defense. I had hoped to visit it later in the week, but ran out of time. It was also easy to spot where our hotel was, since it was right across from Hotel Concorde Lafayette, which is one of the tallest buildings in Paris at 450 feet high.
When I decided to get down to ground level, I looked around for an elevator. I found it and was very happy not to go back down the 284 steps. When I came out of the elevator, I realized that it was on the right side of the line, whereas I had gone into the door on the left side. I hope readers of this review will learn from my mistake and find the elevator to get to the top. The security people would not let just anybody use the elevator. They needed to have a physical issue or look like they couldn’t make it to the top. Since I qualified to take the elevator down, I guess gray hair qualifies one to use the elevator.
When I returned to the hotel we decided to go out to a local restaurant, Le Galvacher, that was recommended by the concierge. It was about four blocks away. We both had a wonderful meal of French onion soup and a lovely dish called Sauté de boeuf, which was simmered beef with olives in a rosemary sauce with fresh pasta. Absolutely delicious. It was a really good restaurant and reasonably priced. Well worth the short walk.
It had been a busy day seeing some amazing sights. We were exhausted and made it an early night.
Paris – Day 3
Our third day in Paris was going to be another great day. We were going to Versailles with our friends Dave and Penny; and we had a bright sunny day. The weather forecasters were wrong again and we were quite pleased. For the rest of our visit to Paris the highs would be in the 70’s, just perfect, and no rain.
We were able to take the RER train at the station down the block from our hotel. We would only have to make one transfer. Unfortunately when we arrived at the transfer station there had been a problem on the line and our train was delayed. By the time it arrived, the train was very full and there was standing room only. Most of the people on the train were going to Versailles. After a few stops, Carol was able to get a seat. The train got uncomfortably crowded when a bike tour squeezed onto our train car with five full sized bikes. It was really crowded.
When we finally arrived and the train cars unloaded, the loading platform was packed with people heading to the palace. It was a pretty good walk from the station to the palace; but was quite easy to find with the large crowd leading us to the gilded gates.
The buildings were quite ornate. We couldn’t wait to get inside to see what beauty the interior contained.
Then we encountered an unexpected problem because there was a huge line snaking through the open courtyard outside the main gates. We assumed that it was the ticket line; but soon found out that it was the security line that everyone had to go through to get into the palace. This was not a good thing. Carol went up near the front of the line and sat down on a bench to wait for Dave, Penny and me to get nearer the entrance. It was a wise move, since it took an hour and 40 minutes to just get up to the security scanners.
Once we were able to enter the palace, we realized that the wait was worth it. The building was gorgeous. We entered into the Royal Chapel and then moved into the various rooms.
Each room seemed to be more ornate than the previous one.
I was pleased to be able to look down on the lush gardens every once in a while as we passed an open window. We were anxious to tour the gardens, which we planned to do after we finished touring the main palace.
The ceilings were amazing. It was quite a place.
I could easily understand why so many people had raved about Versailles and had told us that we had to visit it. The best known room is the Hall of Mirrors. It is quite a classy place for a party.
After leaving the palace, we headed for the gardens. We were thinking about going to one of the smaller palaces on the back side of the grounds, but would have to walk through the gardens to get there. Unfortunately, the Museum Pass did not include the gardens; which was disappointing. We could see a good part of the gardens from the courtyard where we had exited the palace, so we weren’t sure there was much else to see that would be worth the entrance fee. We decided to just skip the gardens and the other palace because we were tired and ready to get back to Paris. We were also anxious to meet the tour director for the rest of our cruise and land package, since this was the official start day for the AMA portion of our vacation.
When we returned to the hotel, we went to a local restaurant that was recommended by one of the AMA workers at the reception desk, Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecôte Restaurant. With its opening at 7:00 PM, we thought it would be safe to arrive fifteen minutes early, since most people in Paris seem to eat later than we normally do. However, when we arrived there was already a line of people waiting to enter the restaurant to be seated when it opened. As we waited, the line grew longer. We knew that the restaurant was supposed to be rather unique, but we didn’t realize it was so popular with the locals.
It is a very unique restaurant in that it only serves one main course and it is the same every night. When you sit down, they ask “How would you like your steak cooked”. That is the only choice there is other than your drink and/or dessert. They brought out a small dinner salad with a great dressing first. Then they brought out the main course, a sliced sirloin steak with a delicious sauce and French fries. It wasn’t a large portion; but it was absolutely delicious. When we were almost finished eating, the waitress came around with seconds, so there was plenty after all. After the meal we got dessert because they looked irresistible, and they were.
It was an excellent meal, although at 26€ each for the main course, I thought it was a bit overpriced. When we left the restaurant, there was still a very long line of people waiting to get in, so I guess for Parisians the meal is priced properly.
Paris – Day 4
The AMA city tour was scheduled for the morning. Our tour guide would be Audrey. This was a challenging tour for a guide, since we would have to transfer from the bus to the Metro to get to and from Notre Dame. Audrey did a great job of keeping everyone together for the transfers and in providing us with valuable information
We had already seen a lot of Paris, but the tour would cover a few different places. In addition to seeing some of the places we had already toured, we also passed by many places that I would return to later in the week. The scenery driving around Paris is just so pretty.
The main destination for the tour was to visit Notre Dame. We had been there before; but I was looking forward to revisiting it to take photos. To me the outside of Notre Dame is the most beautiful part. I am normally not a big fan of the interior of gothic style churches. The front of the church also has some beautiful statues.
Upon entering Notre Dame, one realizes how large this cathedral is. On the north side was the very famous and beautiful Rose Window. It is one of the few stained glass windows in Paris that contains most of its original glass. The stained glass in Notre Dame alone makes it worth fighting the large crowds that continuously arrive.
Upon exiting the church, I walked around the exterior to the north side to see the other view of the Rose Window. I could also see some of the smaller flying buttresses; which are a distinctive feature of the massive church.
The back of the church is even more impressive with the huge flying buttresses. It is the view that one gets when on a Seine River cruise.
After the city tour ended, we asked to be dropped off at the Orsay Museum. This is the museum that is focused on impressionist art, which is my favorite period. The building is a former train station. The exterior is not that impressive; but the statuary is very nice, especially the large animals.
The interior is a huge room. The lovely paintings are nicely displayed. It is a marvelous museum that we really enjoyed. My only disappointment was that I could not take photos in the museum. I complied with the rule as far as the paintings go, but I had to take a couple of photos of the beautiful hall, especially the magnificent clock.
After leaving the Orsay, I took Carol back to the hotel on the Metro. I quickly got back on the Metro, since I was anxious to visit the Opera Garnier. There was a Metro stop right in front of it. It is the famous opera house that was supposed to be the location of the Phantom of the Opera.
The exterior is quite impressive. It even had busts of famous composers in between the pillars. Since we had already had a pretty full day and my feet were getting sore, I was not excited when I found out that I would have to walk around to the back of the massive structure to get inside.
When I purchased my entrance tickets they told me that there were no more tours in English, but I could do an unguided tour. I was quite pleased, since I had been worried that I wouldn’t even be able to see the interior if there had been a matinee in progress.
The Opera Garnier is a very opulent building. I climbed the stairs to the foyer and then more climbing up the grand staircase.
It was difficult climbing while looking up at the gorgeous ceiling and statues all around the hall.
Since I wasn’t on a guided tour, there was only a small area at the back of the theater that the visitors were able stand and view inside. It was disappointing not to be able to see more of the theater; but what I did see was quite beautiful.
Although the style of the Marc Chagall painting on the ceiling, that was added in 1964, does not really go with the rest of the building; it wasn’t as distracting as it could be. I think it kind of grows on you.
Since there wasn’t a production in progress, the air conditioning wasn’t on and the building was uncomfortably warm, so I didn’t stay too long. I got back on the Metro to go back to the hotel and plan our evening activities. Since we only had one more full day in Paris, Carol had already started packing. We decided to go to dinner at an Italian restaurant very close to the hotel called Bellagio. The AMA people and the concierge had recommended it. They made a very good recommendation. It was excellent.
Paris – Day 5
Our last day in Paris, was going to be very active. In the morning we were going on a Seine River cruise and then up the Eiffel Tower. Then that night would be the illumination tour. The bus picked us up at 9:00 in the morning and we headed for the Seine. We had a very good tour guide named Edith for the day’s tours.
The boats were located at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Fortunately the boat was not too crowded, so we could move around to view the sights.
As we cruised past the famous buildings, I admired the beautiful bridges, especially Pont Alexandre III; which is considered to be the most beautiful bridge in Paris.
As we passed under the Pont Neuf Bridge, we could see where hundreds of locks had been attached to it to proclaim lovers’ commitments.
There were so many gorgeous buildings and monuments along the Seine.
It was nice to see the Orsay Museum we had visited a couple days earlier.
The view of the back of Notre Dame from the Seine was really nice.
We really enjoyed the cruise and were ready to visit the Eiffel Tower. We had been seeing it from many different angles all week and were looking forward to finally being on the tower. Being under the tower, I could really appreciate the size of the enormous metal structure.
The line to get into the tower was very long. We were glad that we had taken the tour which had an assigned time to take us up the elevator. It is a unique elevator, since it goes up the tower on an angle.
We went up to the second level, which was very crowded. Our guide told us that we could wait in the very long line to get to the third level; but that it was not a good experience because there were so many people in the small viewing area. I didn’t even consider going up, since the view from the second level was so nice.
We could see the Trocadero, where we would be ending the night watching the Eiffel Tower illumination.
The view from the second level of the tower was even better than the one from Arc de Triumphe.
I would have enjoyed spending more time on the tower; but not with the mass of people I had to share it with. I bet it is really nice to be on the tower when it isn’t tourist season.
After we returned to the hotel, I wanted to go back into town and see a few places I had missed earlier in our visit. My first stop was to the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris. I had been seeing the Egyptian obelisk from a distance all during our stay in Paris. I was anxious to see it close up. It was the twin to one we had seen in Luxor, Egypt three years earlier. The two obelisks originally stood at the entrance to Luxor; but one of them was given to Paris in 1829. This one was different, since it had a gold cap on it. The original cap was believed stolen 2,600 years ago.
On either side of the obelisk are two gorgeous fountains. Like so many things in Paris they were quite ornate.
To get to my next destination, I entered the Tuileries Gardens. There were some nice statues in the park, but for the most part it appeared to be just a barren pathway between Concorde and the Louvre. It was kind of disappointing. I did see a few nice flowers, but they were few and far between.
The main attraction there for me was the Orangerie museum. It is the museum that was chosen and arranged by Claude Monet himself. It is a relatively small museum, with the main display being eight large Monet water lily paintings displayed in two rooms.
It is a beautiful way to display these lovely works of art. In addition to the Monet’s, there were also many other pieces from Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso and others.
It was a nicer museum than I had expected. I am surprised it isn’t more popular. I guess there are just too many big name tourist attractions in Paris. I can certainly attest to that. I was anxious to get back to the hotel to get Carol and head for our evening activities.
Once again we boarded a bus; this time for an evening illumination tour. Once again, we had Edith as our tour guide, which was great. Our first stop would be to Montmartre on the highest hill in Paris. Due to vehicle restrictions in the area, we exited the bus at the base of the hill to board a little train that would drive us up to the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur at the top.
When we were there seven years ago, we had to walk up a good part of the hill. The little bus was a lot better way to get to the top. The Basilica dominates Montmartre.
The beautiful white marble Byzantine style building is a popular meeting place for Parisians and tourists alike. Even though the view from Sacré Cœur is very nice, it isn’t as interesting as those we had seen from the Eiffel Tower, since it is far from the main sights.
Like so many of the other beautiful buildings we saw in Paris, Sacré Cœur has many gorgeous statues, gargoyles and decorations on it.
After looking around the exterior, Edith took us inside the basilica. The main focal point inside is the massive mosaic entitled, Christ in Majesty. It is one of the largest mosaics in the world. Photography is not allowed inside the basilica. I found this out the first time I was here when I was told by a guard just as I was going to take a photo. I regretted not taking the photo all these years, since I had not been able to find any photos to remember what it looked like. I normally don’t break rules regarding photography, although I already had done so at the Orsay. Most tourist attractions only have restrictions against using a flash. Since Sacré Cœur didn’t allow any photography, I planned on breaking the rules, so I could remember what the beautiful mosaic looked like.
I quickly took several photos in the dimly lit building without a flash. I was worried that they wouldn’t be any good, since the shutter speed was pretty slow. They were good enough.
A guard came over to our group telling me that there was no photography allowed and that I would have to leave. I would have happily left, since I had my photo; but Edith convinced him that I wouldn’t take any more. We only stayed a few minutes more and left to explore Montmartre.
Edith walked us through the narrow streets of Montmartre, telling us about the history. There were lots of people enjoying the numerous shops and restaurants.
Carol and I decided to not spend the limited time we had eating a large dinner. Instead we found a place to get a wonderful nutella and banana crepe. Very French and very delicious.
For dessert, we got and ice cream cone. Some might consider that our crepe was a dessert; but not when in Paris. We found a place to sit down on the side of the church. It turned out to be a great place, since the sun was setting and throwing a lovely glow on the white marble. It kept changing color as the sun set.
We still had about twenty minutes before we were going to take the funicular down the mountain. So we sat on the front steps of the basilica with a large crowd of people watching the sun set and looking down on Paris. Many people were sitting on the steps; some with their wine, cheese and French bread having a little picnic. It looked like a great idea.
The illuminated basilica looked really nice. The darker it got, the prettier it looked.
There was a short line to get into the funicular and the ride down was pretty quick.
Edith had told us to be careful at the bottom of the funicular because there are groups of thugs and pickpockets that hang around there. We had been warned earlier in the week not to get caught up in the many ways they will try to get money from tourists. We had also been told not to do anything to the thugs, because the police will arrest tourists and charge them with assault, even though it is self defense in our eyes. One of the women in our group was by herself coming out of a porta pottie and a thug started to hassle her. Carol yelled “No” at the thug using her most commanding teacher's voice. This distracted him from his intended target and she got away; but then he yelled insults at Carol trying to get even with her. We didn’t say anything more to him, since it would only incite him to attack even more.
Once the entire group had gotten off the funicular, we walked over to our bus for the illumination tour. The first sight was the Moulin Rouge night club.
We then passed by the Opera House I had visited earlier in the day. The problem with a bus illumination tour is that it is very difficult to get decent photos, especially through the bus windows. I was lucky that I was able to get a photo of the Opera House.
We went by several other places including Notre Dame and the Louvre. Unfortunately photos of these and other sights didn’t come out very well due to the low light levels while moving. The highlight of the tour was to see the Eiffel Tower illumination at 11:00 PM. I had been worried that we might be late, since the bus was hitting a lot of lights and the traffic was quite bad. Miraculously we passed by the tower and made it to the Trocadero with a few minutes to spare. The place was packed with people. Edith had also warned us about pickpockets there. This was such a great place to see the tower all lit up.
At 11:00 PM, the tower began its five minute show. Little white lights all over the tower began to blink. It was pretty, but I was expecting a bigger show and different colors. The still photos don’t do it justice, since it only shows a few of the lights blinking at a time.
It had been a long and very enjoyable day. We were ready to get back to the hotel. Tomorrow would also be a busy day and we were ready to start our river cruise.
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