Venice

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We don’t have a lot of pics from Venice since I was in excruciating pain during our visit there. I have a herniated disc in my neck and sometimes it slips a little and my muscles go into protective mode, seizing up for a few days and then finally relaxing little by little (that’s how the doctor explained it to me). When this happens, I’m in so much pain that I really can’t think straight, and every movement is difficult. I can’t move my neck up or down, or to the right or left. Sitting and walking are hard. Thankfully this has only happened twice. And thankfully on this trip, my neck was doing great in general, but I most have slept on it wrong and the disc must have slipped a bit, because the day of our trip to Venice, I woke up in trouble. Getting from Tuscany to Venice by car (a 4-hour drive), leaving the car and then taking the train into the city, and then navigating the city to find our airbnb was a nightmare, especially for Waldir who had to carry our luggage in a no-car city. (We both packed light, but still! Not easy.) There was a mix-up finding the airbnb and we ended up going to the wrong address, which was on the other side of the city. I won’t bore you with the details but I’ll simply say: it was a mess.

When in this state of pain, I can’t function much. Waldir was very patient and helpful, bringing me medicine and food while I spent most of our time in Venice in bed. I needed anti-inflammatories, which we couldn’t get at first because the pharmacies were closed by the time we arrived–and then closed the next day because it was a Sunday. Waldir went to church and then spent hours searching the city, looking for anti-inflammatories for me. (Tip: make sure to bring tylenol/ibuprofen in case of emergency! I had a few but not enough. Lesson learned.) So yes, in Venice Waldir spent a lot of time helping me and I spent a lot of time lying down. (We watched the documentary “Inside Job,” which is great, by the way.) On Monday, Waldir was able to get the medicine and thankfully it helped my muscles calm down. Finally I could walk around and we took a vaporetto (waterbus) ride to enjoy the canals. The next day, we went to the rooftop of the famous Fondaco dei Tedeschi luxury department store, where you can get an unbeatable (and free) view of Venice. I recommend this!

Venice Tips: 

-Pack lightly (it’s a carless city!). The streets are hard to roll luggage on (due to uneven roads).

-If on a budget, take a vaporetto around the canals (local form of transportation) rather than pay for a private boat ride. Crowded, but you might meet some new friends (we did, and they had great tips!).

-Visit the Fondaco dei Tedeschi department store and take the escalators/elevators to the rooftop to get a free, fabulous view of the city.

-For food, we basically lived off Dal Moro’s fresh, inexpensive, take-away pasta. We also liked Frulala, where we bought fresh juice and smoothies a few times (not cheap, but we needed some vitamins!).

-I really wanted to do a free walking tour–didn’t get to go b/c of my neck, but you should go and tell me how it is 😉

Kayaking also looked fun!

 

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Milan

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We took a high-speed train from Venice to Milan for a quick day trip. We got there in the morning and flew to Paris in the evening. (I’m blogging about our trip backwards–hopefully it’s not confusing!)

When planning the trip, I hadn’t originally planned to stop in Milan, but Waldir wanted to go, so we worked it into the plan and I’m glad we did because we enjoyed it very much. (Thanks, Waldircito!)

First, we headed to the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. I wasn’t sure what to expect since many people are frustrated that most of original is gone and it’s so heavily restored. But we are glad we went! It’s beautiful–restoration and all–and for us it felt very special. (Heads up if you plan to go: you must reserve tickets a few months in advance. Sadly even with a reservation, you’ll only have a 15 minute time slot to see the painting. I could have looked at it for a long time!)

We stopped for lunch and then went to the famous duomo, a remarkable cathedral dedicated to Mary. The beautiful golden statue of Mary inside is a copy of the statue on top of the cathedral, and it captivated us. After visiting inside, we climbed up to the roof, where we enjoyed both staggering architecture and a great view of the city (if you visit the cathedral, I recommend going up on the roof!! Worth it!).

After visiting the duomo, we traveled out to the San Siro Stadium, home of AC Milan and Inter Milan. We had fun taking a tour of the stadium and visiting its little museum. Fun fact: As a teen living in Mexico, Waldir played semi pro soccer. He says he’s “old” now, but even though he’s not in his prime soccer shape, he’s still got some skills. 😉

Paris, days 2-4

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I’m currently listening to Backstreet Boys (thanks to the “90’s smash hits” playlist that popped up on Spotify a few weeks ago, I CAN’T STOP revisiting my music obsessions from the 90’s). Fun fact: When I was a kid, Mom would blast BBoys songs loud to get me out of bed in the morning. I love her.

Anyway, Paris! Here’s what we did our last few days:

day 2:

-the Louvre (blogged about here)

-crepes at Caramel Sarrasin (close to our airbnb)–I had one with pear and brown sugar on top. Yummy!

-twilight cruise on the Seine river 

Notes: The cruise was great! $14 a person, lasts an hour, perfect at night when you can see the Eiffel Tower sparkling (it lights up for 5 minutes at 10 pm, 11 pm, and midnight). Watch for pickpockets! They were on the stairs as we left the dock area, targeting a guy in front of us. They hang out in stairwells outside metros as well and walk up close behind people. They usually travel in pairs or groups of three.

day 3:

Picasso museum (go if you can fit it in! Waldir & I both really liked this museum. Picasso’s work is much more diverse than we realized.)

l’Orangerie museum (it houses Monet’s water lilies–8 murals in two rooms–and beautiful exhibits downstairs, too.)

-after a power nap, back to the Louvre for a second visit.

Arc de Triomphe

Notes: I recommend climbing the Arc de Triomphe to get a view of Paris (we did this rather than climb the expensive & incredibly crowded Eiffel Tower). It’s covered by the Paris Museum Pass. We climbed up around 9 p.m. and stayed for the sunset, which happened after 10 p.m. Perhaps my favorite memory from Paris (though it’s hard to pick just one!).

Since we visited three museums in one day, we paced ourselves, only giving ourselves a certain amount of time in each place. That was a good strategy (otherwise we would have spent too much time in the first and second ones and burned out).

day 4:

-Church!

-Walk to the Eiffel Tower to get a close-up, daytime view. We preferred the view of the tower from the river at night and from the Arc de Triomphe. 😉

-Food at a local restaurant near our airbnb. We found the best restaurants outside of central Paris and closer to our airbnb. I’ve found it’s a good idea to get out of the touristy parts for the best food.

-To the airport to fly home.

The Louvre

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You will yawn in the Louvre–not for boredom but because of exhaustion. 😉

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Oh, the Louvre! My grandma saw a picture of me by the Mona Lisa and all she had to say about the moment was: “Jenna, you look so tired.” I was. 😉

The first time we went to the Louvre, we were sleep-deprived and I felt seriously cranky about the size of this place. The map makes it seem like a small, easy-to-navigate museum. Don’t let the map fool you! You WILL have emotions about the size of the place, you WILL run out of time, you’ll probably get lost in there at least once (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but detours take more time). You can’t see the whole thing in a day. I mean, you’ll want to when you first go and think it’s possible, but after a few hours, all of that energy will be zapped. 😀

Since Waldir and I didn’t have the best first impression of the Louvre (due to our pre-existing exhaustion, which wasn’t the Louvre’s fault), we went back the next day and got a much better impression.

LOUVRE TIPS

-Paris Museum Pass is a must.

-BREAK IT UP INTO TWO VISITS, if you can. It might not be possible, but if it is that’s great because the Louvre is much more enjoyable the second time around. You likely won’t be freaking out about seeing certain things such as the Mona Lisa. After hitting your must-sees the first visit, you can go back and explore what you didn’t get to see before–and/or revisit your favorites.

-Speaking of must-sees: Do make a list and have a game plan of what you want to see. I knew I should have done this, and I didn’t, and when we got there we were–well, unprepared. Since you’ll have limited time and energy, it’s best to plan before you even get to Paris. Do some research on the Louvre website about the collections and make a list of must-sees, and have in mind galleries you’re willing to skip. That way you’ll go in the museum having a general sense of what’s in there, which is a good first step. Don’t be like me and STUMBLE upon the Code of Hammurabi. I mean, that was a happy surprise (I didn’t know it was in the Louvre), but what if I had missed it? :O If planning sounds over-the-top to you, just remember: You’ll be walking into the world’s largest museum. A little planning goes a long way.

-Know your limits. Maybe archaeologists, historians, art historians, etc. can handle the Louvre for eight hours straight, but the rest of us likely haven’t built up the stamina. For me, three hours in the Louvre on one day, and another three on the next, was just the right amount of time. Of course I wish I could have been in there longer, but five weeks of museums and churches really had taken its toll. Just be mindful of where you are and have realistic expectations.

-Eat (and eat well) before you go. The cafes inside the museum have long lines, and I don’t want to waste my time in the Louvre standing in line for food of all things. Note that if you need a break to eat while in the museum, you can leave and come back using the same ticket. You can pop right into the mall (connected to the Louvre) and get food there. Mall food might sound unappealing, especially when you’re in France (because why eat in a mall while in France of all places?!), but we got rained in and ended up eating in the mall and it was actually good food. Probably because we were in France, where standards, even for mall food, are high.

-Remember that galleries start closing down 30 minutes before the museum officially closes. Right when Waldir and I made it to the African galleries, the museum started shutting down room by room, with staff closing off sections and herding people out. We kept moving away from the staff to try to have more time in the galleries that were still open, which was hilarious. We power-walked away from the staff, into sections that hadn’t yet been blocked off. It felt like an exodus. Eventually a wave of us (humans still in the museum) met in the middle–between two closed galleries–and were forced to exit via a big staircase. 😀 The end.

Paris, day 1

NOTRE DAME

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DEPORTATION MEMORIAL

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SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY BOOKSTORE

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SAINTE-CHAPELLE

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THE ORSAY MUSEUM

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By the time we got to Paris, I’d been traveling nearly five weeks and Waldir nearly two, so we were exhausted. But Paris energized us, because it’s MAGICAL like that. Waldir and I packed as much as we could into 3.5 days. We drove ourselves into the ground, running around seeing as much as we could see, staying up until 1 or 2 a.m., and doing it all over again the next day.

I fell hard for Paris, which I hadn’t expected. I told Waldir I want to live there someday, and I keep dreaming about how to make it happen. Be warned: if you go, you might not ever want to leave.

Paris is huge but doesn’t feel like it; the metro system is great; the streets are clean; people are friendly; the food of course is unbeatable; and the museums?! HEAVEN ON EARTH. Except for the crowds. But seriously–I am in love with the museums. SO many museums. We didn’t even scratch the surface. This is a city you could spend years exploring and not get bored.

DAY 1 ITINERARY AND TIPS:

My general Paris tip is to purchase the Paris Museum Pass (it also covers Versailles). It saves you a little bit of money–if you visit enough museums and churches, that is–but most importantly, it saves you lots of time standing in line. 

Notre Dame 

Classic must-see. The line to go inside ebbs and flows, so if it’s long when you get there, you could go do something else and then come back. When we arrived, the line was long so we headed to the Deportation Memorial first (it’s close)–by the time we came back to Notre Dame, the line was short so we went in then.

Deportation Memorial

Holocaust memorial dedicated to 200,000 French victims of the Nazi concentration camps. It is a sobering, as it should be, which may feel jarring as you are going and coming from tourist attractions. It is definitely worth a visit. It’s quiet. Security line is short. No entrance fee.

Shakespeare and Company bookstore 

A small, and seriously magical, bookstore. You should go there. When you do, make sure you go upstairs and find the piano and the cat, along with the wall of notes. You can leave a note, too. 😉

The Conciergerie

Prison that served as the last stop for victims of the guillotine, including Marie-Antoinette. Not my favorite place, but worth a quick stop if you’re interested in history. If there’s a line, don’t wait in it–come back later.

Sainte-Chapelle

Gothic church built between 1241-1248, arguably the best stained-glass in the world, breathtakingly incredible. You might feel overwhelmed because there is so much to see in the glass, and it’s hard to read. I sat in there for an entire hour just looking (Waldir had to take a call for work, so I had lots of time in there before he even made it in)–and we both could have been in there longer, we enjoyed it so much. This is a busy, busy place. You will definitely want the Paris Museum Pass in order to skip the long line and get to the short pass-holder line.

Food

Between Sainte-Chapelle and the Orsay, we made a quick stop for fast, delicious, inexpensive food at a Lebanese place called Chez le Libanais. They have vegetarian and vegan options, too. SO GOOD. I’m dreaming of it as I write this.

The Orsay Museum

My favorite museum of those we visited in Paris (and that’s saying something, because the Louvre is hard to beat). It’s far less overwhelming than the Louvre and the collections are stunning. I recommend giving yourself a good chunk of time to enjoy the art–probably three hours (or more if you can stand it. Usually around the three hour mark, everything starts looking the same to me, but you might have more museum endurance).

The Orsay is open late on Thursdays (until 9:45 p.m.) but please be aware that galleries start closing at 9:15 and the staff tries to clear everyone out by 9:30. We missed out on an entire floor because the gallery closed at 9:15 and we erroneously assumed we still had 30 minutes–oops!

We loved the Orsay so much that we wanted to go back the next day, but the Louvre pulled us in instead. 🙂 Would love to go back someday!

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Our first Parisian sunset–hopefully the first of many more–on the Seine River.

 

Versailles

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The hall of mirrors–in my humble opinion, this is the reason to go inside the palace 😉

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There are cute (and clearly modern-boooo!) cottages on Marie Antoinette’s estate. Sometimes I get sad seeing modern buildings on historical grounds/sites because I want to see the real thing. I get nostalgic for a time and place I never lived in, which in this case is ridiculous because it would have been terrible to live then for 99% of the population. (You know, food shortages and oppressive royalty). Anyway, the modern effort at cuteness clearly succeeded here.
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Oh, the glory! 😀

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Our first day in Paris, we took a day trip to Versailles to visit the LDS Paris temple, which is quite close to the Palace of Versailles. After going to the temple, we walked to the Palace (about a 30 minute walk). When we got there, it was 3 p.m., which is probably why we loved Versailles so much–the big crowds had cleared out by the time we arrived. 🙂 We walked into the palace and looked at each other thinking, “This is too good to be true!” because there were no lines!  We speed-walked through the grand palace to get to the hall of mirrors, and then spent a few hours strolling the grounds and getting lost (we got lost so many times ahhhh it was bad). The place is massive. We got lost in Marie Antoinette’s gardens and farmland, which is gorgeous, but getting lost was not fun because we had hardly eaten all day and ran out of water and we probably walked ~12-13 miles that day. The problem is we could never find an exit close to the metro so we ended up walking all the way back to the palace and finally getting out of there through the main entrance. It was dramatic, but we got out hahaha.

VERSAILLES TIPS

-Prioritize your time: As I said, the place is huge. Unless you’re big on French history, I wouldn’t spend time waiting in line to go inside the palace. It was great–but we didn’t have to wait in line, which made all the difference. To each her own, right?! Maybe it’s YOUR THING and you would wait in line for a while, which is just fine if that’s your jam!

-To avoid lines, I recommend arriving either first thing in the morning before the palace opens, or perhaps even better, at 3 p.m after the crowds have died down. Keep in mind the palace closes at 5 p.m. but the grounds are open for a few more hours. So if you arrive at 3 p.m., go to the palace first! (Before you go, check the website in case there are early closures.)

-Whatever you do, pace yourself in the palace. Don’t stop to read everything or you will be in there forever. I’d speed-walk to the famous rooms, such as the war room, peace room, and hall of mirrors–and then get outta there to enjoy the grounds. Again, that’s just my preference. I’m an outdoors-lover so the grounds were important to me.

-The miles of grounds surrounding the palace really are a sort of playground, so fun to explore, especially Marie Antoinette’s estate. This would probably be too much for children to walk (if you are coming from the palace, where you already would have done a lot of walking). It’s a LOT of ground. If you have kids and aren’t on a tight budget (we were), you could make this work by 1) renting a golf cart ($30 for first hour; $12 every 15 minutes after that) or 2) paying to take the little shuttle train around the grounds (expensive but I can’t remember the exact price). Either would save you miles of walking. We did not want to fork over the $$, but if you have little kids, it’s probably the only way to go.

-After, we ate dinner at Creperie la Place, right outside the palace, and loved it! Great food and service.

Paris temple

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Waldir and I were in France just a few days after the dedication/opening of the Paris temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s the 156th LDS temple in the world and the first in France. Worshiping here was a highlight of our trip!

I love the presence of temples and always feel at peace when I’m visiting one. Once Waldir and I got to the Paris temple and started walking around, even before we went inside, I could feel the presence of the Spirit.

Visiting the Paris temple felt extra special because Parisians kept telling us how thankful they are to have a temple close to where they live. I could feel people’s gratitude and see it on their faces. Before having a temple close by, they traveled to Germany to attend the nearest temple.

For Mormons, temples are the holiest place on Earth. We believe that temples are necessary today as they were in ancient Israel. In our temples, we make covenants and perform ordinances, find space for peaceful reflection, find comfort and strength. The temple centers our mind and heart on Jesus Christ.

To respect the reverence of these worship spaces, we don’t take pictures inside temples after they’re dedicated, but here are some pictures of the Paris temple taken before dedication.