Monday, September 23, 2013

Paris, the busiest 2 and half days of our trip

Our flight to Paris on Ryan Air arrived about an hour late, so we got to our hostel after midnight (remember that airline.  They'll come up again in a future post).  We were exhausted and starving.  Fortunately we found some food still open and got some decent, if not great, sleep.  The next day we woke up and moved to a new place to stay (one with a private room instead of a dorm.  this really makes a difference in the quality of sleep you get and was worth the hassle of changing places).

Then began our extremely busy, and surprisingly cold, days.  We bought a Paris Museum Pass that, while expensive, let us into basically any museum or monument in the city for two days.  We first put this to use by heading out to Versailles to see the most magnificent palace in Europe.

After walking all around that huge chateau, we came back to get dinner and climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe.  Unfortunately, it was raining and so getting pictures was difficult to impossible depending on the direction.

The next day, we were at it again.  We went inside Notre Dame to enjoy one of the oldest, most impressive churches in Europe.  Then we popped over through more cold rain to Saint Chappelle and the best stained glass windows I've seen.  Some of them were under restoration but it was still really cool.

After this, we walked over to the Louvre and used the Rick Steves walking tour to see the highlights.  I really enjoyed his tour, it hit all my favorites.  Of course by the end of this, our feet were killing us and our bodies felt like the weighed 5 tons each.

So naturally, after we walked to dinner, we did a ton more walking to go see the Eiffel Tower at night.  On the way we saw the moon over Notre Dame.  It was gorgeous.

The tower itself looked great also.  The moon was next to it and made for some really exotic, cool views.

And lest you think we were lazy (or completely exhausted), the next day we went to the Luxembourg gardens in the late morning for a relaxing walk.  They had some lovely flowers that I tried to capture here.

And to finish our Paris trip, we visited the Sacre Coeur before getting our stuff to catch our flight to Barcelona.  The Sacre Coeur was "interesting" for the reasons detailed below.

At this point, we were completely exhausted. In fact, Vicky was sick. We were really hoping Barcelona would be relaxing so we could both recover. And it was. Getting there, however, was another matter.

Scam attempt of the week.
We've been all over Europe and had a lot of people try to sell us stuff but this was the first time someone tried to outright scam us. We were walking up the steps to the Sacre Coeur when we turned a corner to find a group of six men holding strings and aggressively approaching anyone who passed. 

In case you're unfamiliar with this con, let me explain. The conman approaches the victim with a smile and ties a colorful string around their wrist or finger before the victim has time to object. They tell the victim it's a friendship bracelet. After the string is tied tight, the scammer asks for money for the "gift". If the victim refuses, the scammer's friends come over to support him/intimidate the victim into paying. 

Being experienced travellers, Vicky and I knew about this con beforehand (and even if we hadn't, we would have spotted it instantly). We tried to ignore them and go around but one aggressively blocked me. I moved to go around him when he shoved me. It had no effect on me beyond being offensive but it made Vicky mad. She instantly started yelling at him as we walked away (I was proud of her). I wasn't happy about it but I wasn't going to do anything when surrounded by a group of his friends. 

The sad part was, this group of scam artists were all African immigrants. And because groups of black men were doing this, it makes tourists and locals alike suspicious of all the black men in Paris even though it was only a few perpetrating this scam. It unfortunately reminds me of how the thug culture in the US has made many white Americans see all young black men as a threat. 

I don't have any great solution to these problems. I just try not to treat people like the worst representatives of their groups (as in don't treat all black people like they are criminals or all teenagers like they are irresponsible idiots) unless I have a good reason to think they are. It's an imperfect world we live in. But at least they didn't get my money!

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