Europe in Winter IV

I was not really looking forward to the trip from Lucerne to Paris, because the bus journey would take almost 10 hours. My jaws dropped when I heard from our tour guide that we would be travelling for an entire day just to get to Paris. To PARIS?! So torturous! Anyhow, I managed to survive this arduous journey, because we managed to catch a movie Thor on the bus, and there were numerous bus stops for us to get down and relieve ourselves, and of course to familiarise ourselves with an entirely new place. Suddenly, everyone around us spoke French, the people looked different, and even the food they served were rather different. Guess what was my first meal in France? Yep you got it. French fries. -.-

Back to the trip. We reached Paris in the evening, and were so glad we could see the Eiffel Tower glimming in the distance. Welcome to Paris, the City of Lights, and the most visited city in the world, and the most romantic and the best-designed city with the best urban planning in the world. I saw these on the websites, and I agree whole-heartedly with what they said.

We started the day by exploring the city. The first stop was Arc de Triomphe, an arch-shaped structure that is so famous alongside the Eiffel Tower, that every time Paris is mentioned, the arch will appear on screen, anywhere, everywhere. During Christmas, when the tv programme starts introducing different cities, Paris will be shown with the tree-lined boulevards and the Arc de Triomphe right in the middle, with the trees all decked in shimmering christmas lights. Thats how famous this building is, in the eyes of a foreigner. This arch was erected by Napoleon in 1806 as a memorial to his victorious battles. SInce 1919, it has become a National Monument to the unknown soldiers of France. Situated on a small hill with 12 avenues radiating like rays of lights from a star, the area was aptly named Place de I’Etoile.

We visited the Luxor Obelisk. It is a 23 metres high Egyptian obelisk standing at the center of the Place de la Concorde in Paris, France. It was originally located at the entrance to Luxor Temple, in Egypt and was actually a gift to France from Egypt.

The entire square was large, and there was a ferris wheel which was not open when we were there. Was it because it was too cold and the wind was too strong? Paris was really cold when we arrived. It did not reach below freezing, but the wind was unbearably chilly. Anyhow, we managed to capture the unraveled beauty of Paris. The buildings were so architecturally and artistically appealing, it really made me feel so inspired.

After touring the square, we went to Les Invalides, which consists of a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose. It is also the burial site for some of France’s war heroes.

After that, we went to the most visited attraction in the world, the Eiffel Tower! It looked so majestic from the bottom of the tower. I just couldn’t describe my feelings when I stepped foot on the tarmac of the base of the tower. I just could not believe that I have finally visited an attraction so well-known, that it is almost everyone’s wish to visit this place before they die. I know I am exaggerating but it really is one of the most famous man-made structures in the world. I can’t say its beautiful, because it is just a dull metallic structure in the day, but more visually appealing at night. But it is so representative of the city of Paris, and it holds so much value and pride to the Parisans, and that to me is a very beautiful and precious structure which represents the spirit and vibe of the city.

We ascended to Level 2 of the tower, with a towering view over Paris. It was a clear day, and I could easily see the entire Paris. I realised most of the buildings in Paris are short, except for the business district where the tall commercial buildings are clustered together. I was kind of wondering how do Parisans live in a city full of short buildings but with a population of almost 10 million? Maybe the city is a huge urbam sprawl, but still there must be something about these European cities that Asian cities should learn from. Another thing that we must really learn from them, do not tear down old historical buildings. Singapore tore down so many historical buildings especially at Raffles Place in the mid 1970s to make way for tall gleaming skyscrapers, at the expense of losing our very own colonial heritage and architecture. It was one of the gravest mistake we had ever made. The Europeans really know how to protect their buildings and infrastructure, and this is something I really appreciate a lot.

Anyway, after descending the tower, we set off for the Louvre Museum, which reminds me fondly of Da Vinci Code, one of my favourite movies of all time. The Louvre Museum is one of the largest museums in the world, with nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 19th century exhibited over an area of 60,600 square metres. We managed to look at Mona Lisa’s smile, where more than an estimated 1000 people crowding around the bullet-proofed painting just to snap a shot or have a loser look at the most celebrated painting in the world. Her eyes follow you wherever you go. She seems to be smiling at you, yet there is something she is thinking about and doesn’t seem like she wants you to know. She is mysterious, and yet so innocent at the same time. She wants you to look at her, and admire her beauty, yet at the same time, she does not seem happy with all these attention. How confusing and mysterious she is.

 The famous glass pyramid. I heard it was designed by a chinese architect, who was assigned with the task of designing something to bring the underground levels to the ground level, so that people in the underground will not feel claustrophobic. Well he really did a good job, letting in natural light to the underground levels and allowing visitors to have a view of the outside of the museum from underground.

 I managed to explore about 1/4 of the museum? It would likely take an entire day to see everything there. But I tried to find those sculptures and artefacts that are more famous.

The Venus de Milo was added to the Louvre’s collection during the reign of Louis XVIII.

The Nike of Samothrace(winged Victory), circa 190 BC

Our last stop for our tour in Paris was Champs- Elysees, a famous shopping street in Paris full of home-grown names and other famous brands from all over the world. As Christmas was only a few days away, the entire street was filled with shoppers hoping to get last-minute presents for their friends and family members. We managed to shop around for the items we wanted to buy, and stopped at a fast food asian restaurant for some Singapore-inspired noodles. I could tell you how much I missed Asian food when I was in Europe, because every day we were eating bread, pasta, french fries, burgers, chicken chop, pork chop, and other western food you can think of. Chilli crab and Fried Hokkien Mee was constantly on my mind.

Well, it was already our last two days in Europe, and it was really my first time travelling overseas that I really do not wish to go back to Singapore. My 2 weeks trip to Europe was a fulfilling and exciting experience for me, and I really did not expect it to make me fall in love with all the cities I visited. But yes, after this trip to Europe, I swore to myself that when I have the money again, I will definitely come back to visit Europe, which to me is a continent stepped back in time, yet modern and civilised at the same time, with so much things to see, from cities to scenery. I could tell the Europeans are not very confident about their economy now, judging from conversations I had with them, especially the Italians. But I am very sure they can do something about it to save their crippling economy. And as us tourists, I guess we can help by spending in their countries right?

One of the greatest pleasure while in Europe was being able to see all those stunning and mesmerising architecture on the streets. Some were really ancient, almost 2000 years old, and yet still standing majestically. Some were newer, but still old enough for me to call them great x 100 grandparents. To me Paris  is the most beautiful city I have ever seen in my life, so beautiful that every street and every corner is like a piece taken off from a beautifully painted art piece. I just wonder how great those urban planners were in creating such an amazing city. I always had this wrong impression that European cities did not have many modern buildings, and was really convinced that they looked old and needed some new buildings. But this trip has irrevocably changed my perception about the beauty of a city. Asians tend to focus on the future and are too blinded by the greed to make their cities to look more modern than others by building taller, glassy structures to show off. But aesthetically speaking, these European cities know how to blend in modern with the old, and allow us to capture the best of both the ancient and modern world, and that to me is just perfect. What a wonderful world. 

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