Friday, July 27, 2012

Europe - Pit Stop 4 - Paris, Day 1

“A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.” 

I was extremely excited to get to Paris. So on day four we bid farewell to Belgium, hopped on the Thalys and sped to the gorgeous city of Paris. The 30 minute cab ride from the Paris station to our hotel was exhilarating. I was hanging on to the cab window with starry eyes oohing and aahing at each building we passed by. Such beautiful architechture..sigh!!   

We had picked a hotel which was a block from the Eiffer Tower, so I had plenty of day/night views of the tower. In french they call it the Tour Eiffel. I could hardly resist my excitement and as soon as we checked into our rooms I was ready to check out and walk the streets of this beautiful city.

We decided to first visit the Louvre and bought the 2 day all inclusive subway pass. Here is a glimpse of one of the subway station, so charming and old school. The trains are small and very basic. The doors are not automatic so you actually have to flip the handle to open the door. Since the train is not air conditioned the windows are cracked open and you can feel a rush of air on your face as the train speeds by.

On our first trip on the subway I was having fun listening to the french pronounce each station. The pronunciation was so different that I decided to keep my mouth shut and just keep my ears open :)

A 20 minute train ride and we were at the Louvre.  The Musée du Louvre is one of the world's largest and most visited museums. The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, built in the 12th century and is a must visit for all art lovers. Unfortunately for us, the Louvrewas closed on Tuesdays. I was disappointed but Siddharth was beaming with joy. For a guy what could be better, he (the guy) came with me (the wife) to see the museum - (the wife is happy because you accompanied her) but unluckily since the museum was closed he (the guy) did not have to go through the torture. Perfect scenario!! So we just walked up and out and took some pictures of the magnificent museum. I decided to come back for Mona Lisa the next day. Here is the 1st glimpse of the Louvre.

You can enter or exit the museum from here. 
We just walked around absorbing every bit of this beautiful architecture. Did some posing sessions. Marveled at the enormity of it and just stood staring it in amazement.

Sine the museum was closed we were done with the Louvre trip in 30 minutes, next on our list - The Notre Dame Cathedral. You can either take the subway or just walk to the cathedral. We decided to walk which was an excellent idea. After a 25 minute stroll, across the bridge stood the beautiful cathedral in all its glory. I was just awe struck by its beauty. I just stood there staring at this exquisite structure wondering how on earth is it humanly possible to make something so intricate and beautiful?

Notre Dame Cathedral
You can see, the line to enter the cathedral was serpentine. Of course Siddharth refused to stand in line and I had to beg and plead!! Luckily for him the line moved pretty quickly and we were in the cathedral in less than 15 minutes.I must admit this by far has been one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have seen in my life. Here are some pictures:
Appearances of the risen Christ
Siddharth lights a candle for us
Beautiful Stain glass windows
Inside the cathedral
The beautiful arches inside the cathedral
The best part about Paris is you don't have to go to specific spots to enjoy the city, just walk around and it's magical. There is romance in the air, streets are lined with cafes, people are hustling and bustling and everything looks so charming. After visiting the cathedral we strolled back and hung out a bit on this bridge (over the Seine river) just admiring the beautiful views all around.
Bridge over the River Seine
River Seine Cruise
A man creating big bubbles on the bridge

In the evening we had tickets for the Moulin Rouge show. I had bought online tickets to show the day we decided we were going to Paris. I am glad I did because I LOVED the show!! The Moulin Rouge is a cabaret in Paris and is best known as the birthplace of modern can-can dance. Now I love dancing and music and despite all the bad reviews I had read, I was adamant that I wanted to see this one. Yes there is some nudity but it's all presented in a very creative and beautiful way. Moreover we are all adults and it's nothing that one cannot handle.  The costumes are GORGEOUS, bright and so full of life.  The performances were spectacular. There was light, music, dance, singing, costumes, bling and super high energy. 

The performers filling-in between the shows were extremely talented and it was a delight to watch them perform. There were jugglers, skaters, dancers, it was truly an entertaining evening. The only disappointing thing about the show was that the hall was packed like a can of sardines. They seat you on tables which you share with other people. You can choose tickets with dinner/champagne or none of the above. They really do cram you up and each table is packed. Luckily for us, we were seated last and had only one other couple on our table. That was the only thing that I did not like about the show. The show is a big THUMBS UP from my side. If you enjoy music, dance, singing, costumes and performers this is a must see.

I walked out of the show buzzed, happy and mesmerized :) People were waiting in a long queue for the next show at 10pm. Everyone was out on the streets, the mood was festive. We decided to walk around and ended up at this crepe stand. Within minutes we discovered the guy making crepes was from Bangladesh and spoke Hindi. What do you know next..we are eating the yummiest crepes everrrrrr!!! They were cheap, delicious and made with love. Thank you!!

Nutella and Banana 

You can see his enthusiasm for making a crepe for us...the amount of cheese was insane.

Chicken, cheese and mushroom crepe
The best part about walking in Paris is when you get tired you just hop into a taxi and worry no more. There are taxi stands all over the city and if you want to hail a cab just go to one of these stands and they will be waiting for you.

It was 11:45pm when we got back to our room. I had still not visited the Eiffel tower. It stood there like a golden statue inviting me over. So I picked up my camera, all my lenses and walked over. Ain't it just gorgeous?? The next 45 minutes just flew by. I clicked and clicked some more...wanted to capture every angle, every nook, every corner.

After sunset, the Eiffel tower sparkles and bathes in golden light to welcome its night time visitors and offers a breathtaking view of the Paris lights. It was magical and after witnessing this, I just fell in love. What an amazing moment! I came to my room and slept with a smile on my face dreaming about day 2!!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Europe - Pit Stop 3 - Brussels, Belgium

After the beautiful cities of Ghent and Bruges our next pit stop was Brussels. The capital of Belgium is also the headquarters of NATO and is generally low on great sights but high on ambience. A day and night would be enough here but if you decide to stay longer there are plenty of things to do. The main reason people visit Brussels - the Grand Place.

We bid our goodbyes to Ghent and around noon hopped on to a van to catch the next train to Brussels. The cab ride was so comfortable that five minutes into the journey we wondered if the driver would be willing to drive us all the way to Brussels. A few minutes of negotiation and finally he agreed to do the job :) I love spontaneous plans!!

After checking into our hotel - Novotel Brussels (read my review here) we headed directly for the Grand Place. While walking through the market we made a quick stop at this waffles place selling delicious waffles for 3 Euros. Take a look at these, who can ignore these scrumptious monsters. Hot and fresh waffles, I gorged on a banana and Nutella waffle. It was amazing, had the perfect crunch, texture and flavor. It was better than the best. I quickly decided to go for a second one!!

Yummy Waffles
The waffle stand
After a 10 minutes walk we found ourselves standing in Brussel's main square called the Grand Place. It is the heart of the town and the greatest sight. Historically this was where farmers and merchants sold their goods in open-air stalls. Today the square is surrounded by shops and cafes selling chocolates, gaufres (waffles), beer, mussels, fries, lace and flowers. My first impression was WOW!!!

The main building dominating the square is the Town Hall (below). It has a 300 foot tall tower with a golden statue of St. Michael slaying a devil. We decided not to go inside.
Town Hall 
Town Hall
Town Hall 

These smaller buildings are the former guild halls (now mostly shops and restaurants). They were once the home offices for town's different professionals.
Guild Halls 
Guild Halls 
Right opposite the town Hall is the Kings's House (Maison di Roi). It was used by the kings not as a house but an administrative centre. There is a City museum inside the house, we skipped it.
King's House
Town Hall 
After spending a few minutes at the Grand Place we decided to walk around the city. Unfortunately it was a Monday and all the museums were closed. While walking around we came across this beautiful church.

In the evening we had fabulous dinner at this small, quant restaurant called Sainte-Catherine. It was the BEST meal in Belgium so far. I'm just going to leave you with some pictures of the scrumptious meal.
Delicious french fries
Steamed and herbed veggies 
Chocolate Mousse 
After a truly amazing meal, my friend and I decided to take a stroll and go back to the Grand Place. The sun had just set in (it was probably 10 pm) and the lighting was perfect, I wanted to capture those beautiful monuments all lit up. I am so glad we went back. The square was buzzing with hundreds of people. The air was festive and everyone was just having a good time. They were preparing the place for an event the next day so there was much excitement all around. For the one last time, I present to you yet again, the Grand Place. 
Town Hall 
The square