On day 3 we had a 6:30 wake up call and we met our tour director and driver. Francesco and Jelle. Francesco was from Naples, Italy and is quite possibly the best driver in the world. Try parallel parking an enormous motorcoach between two cars with just inches to spare without hitting them… I guarantee you it’s impossible. But not for Francesco. Jelle then proceeded to ask who was from where, and someone called out “Aussie Aussie Aussie!!!” and all the Australians repeated this chant and my first thought was GREAT… this will feel just like work hearing Aussie accents all around me (I work with a bunch of Aussies and Kiwis) but it ended up being amazing. Aussies are the greatest and have some of the best slang terms EVER. Later I’ll review all the awesome Aussie words Ally and I learned. We also had some Americans on the tour with us, and a few peeps from Brazil, Canada, UK, Dubai, Singapore and New Zealand… all were incredible. We were blessed with an amazing group of people.

We drove to Dover from London on our first day together which was an altogether uninteresting drive until we got to the white cliffs, which were breathtaking… but it was SO cold outside! Wow! Bring a WARM jacket to England even in the summer, because you’ll need it… especially near the coast. The “ferry” (which was more like a cruise ship) across the English Channel could not have been cooler. We drove the tour bus right onto the boat after about a 1/2 hour wait…during the half hour wait we ate at our first foreign fast food restaurant, Burger King. And they’re food was way, WAY better than in America. For the hour cruise across the channel there are multiple decks of the ship with casinos, stores, an arcade and outdoor decks and lounges. Ally and I tried on some perfume and then took a little nap for the journey. I can’t believe that many people have actually swam across the English Channel… absolutely insane.

Goodbye, England!

Calais, France

We arrived in Calais, got back on the bus and drove off the ship into France. Thanks to the Schengen agreement, there is no passport checking between many European countries… sorta sad you don’t get a stamp though. Calais was a bit of a disappointment… pretty hum drum and industrial, but nice coastline. After we had been driving through France about an hour the countryside started to get prettier… it actually reminded me of Tennessee a bit. We stopped later on at a beautiful war monument dedicated to the Canadian troops who lost their lives at Vimy. Apparently the land is actually Canadian territory. There were still active land mines in the region and therefore much of it was roped off by fences that said “Danger!” all over them.

Vimy War Memorial

Paris, France

We arrived into the city of lights later in the evening, around 5, but we discovered the Louvre was open until 10pm that day.. so we headed there immediately. Upon arrival by subway after a very kind homeless man helped us read the underground map, we were right in the underbelly of the museum… the biggest art museum in the world mind you. I had been waiting for the day I could walk the Louvre the better part of my life, and that day had FINALLY come!

Rainy Day

We were off to see the Mona Lisa first of course, to get it out of the way because of the awful crowding. She had her own enormous wall even though the painting is rather small compared to the average size in the museum… where a lot of the paintings take up the entire wall… and we are talking HUGE walls. The museum is so ornate it’s overwhelming… it used to be the palace the royalty of France lived in up until King Louis XIV built Versailles.

Mona Lisa

We saw all the best stuff at the Louvre including a painting we weren’t expecting which we both love (the painting Coldplay used for the Viva La Vida album packaging and tour promotion) Eugène Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading The People’. Words cannot accurately describe being in the presence of the REAL art that I’ve admired only from cheap imitations or photographs in the past. It’s simply magical.

Viva La Vida!

After walking around most of the Louvre we needed to pass out so we decided to take a nap on a marble bench around a tree in an indoor courtyard somewhere in the museum. It was spectacularly lavish and relaxing. I almost felt like royalty taking a nap in there… the place is so big and there’s so little security I feel like I could probably have slept there for hours without being disturbed at all.


After the Louvre we got some chocolate crepes across the square and I must admit I still don’t even like crepes when they are authentic French crepes… supposedly the best. Ally enjoyed it though.

We somehow found our way back to the subway afterward, and without any help from the homeless we found our way back to our hotel, the Mercure Paris Porte de Versailles Vaugirard. Thankfully the subway station was right outside our hotel.

Our next day in Paris we went to La Tour Eiffel first thing in the morning. Brilliant timing because there was hardly any line at all, and our tour company had already purchased our tickets… one of the many perks of tour travel.  We only waited about 15 minutes to go up… which I hear is unheard of. It was almost empty on the 2nd level up until right before we left 45 minutes later, when all the crowds showed up… the view was phenomenal and the tower is even bigger than I imagined it would be. From the 2nd level alone you get spectacular views of the city, and you’re only about 1/2 way to the top.

An interesting thing we all noticed atop the tower was that if you looked up at the spire, the clouds would appear to move extremely fast across it. When we exited the tower Ally and and I bolted down the Champs de Mars to grab the typical Eiffel Tower shot before we had to board the bus again.

The Eiffel Tower

Next we took a quick included sightseeing tour of the city with the whole crew, all the photo nerds switching from side to side in the bus to get the best pictures out the bus windows, which was quite difficult with the glare. We passed Place de la Concorde, (I think they called it the “Bloody Square”) the largest square in the city and site of the bloody French revolution. The Obelisk of Luxor in the center stands where the guillotine that beheaded Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette once stood. Next we passed Les Invalides, the military museum and also burial place of  Napoleon Bonaparte. We then drove past the Grand Palais and the Champs Elysees, then Notre Dame Cathedral. It was sort-of depressing not getting out for a closer look at Notre Dame, but then again we were going to see even bigger, more impressive Cathedrals in Rome… so an outside look was perfectly adequate. We also drove by the Pantheon of Paris… not quite as impressive as the one in Rome but still magnificent. After our sightseeing tour Francesco dropped off all the people not coming to Versailles back at Place de la Concorde, and the rest of us were off to the palace!

Notre Dame

When we arrived in Versailles there were about 20 other tour buses parked in the lot in front of the palace, and when you get out you’re bombarded with people trying to sell you cheap souvenirs. The original cobblestone road is quite fun to walk down. When you finally get up to the front of the palace with it’s gold leaf covered gates and dome and marble tiled courtyard… it is truly something to behold. Every moment you just feel special, the air you breath seems rich and powerful in these places. I kept wondering to myself “how is it I’m allowed to be here? That I’m actually inside one of the grandest palaces ever built?” having grown up with Disney world in my backyard it was so easy to imagine it was all smoke and mirrors – just a copy of the original that cost them a fraction of the original’s price to produce.. the gold was just paint and the crystal and marble just good imitations. But no. This was the REAL deal. Every crystal, all the marble, the paintings, the gold, everything – real. Not to mention that Kings and Queens had actually lived here.

Hall of Mirrors II

After you take the tour of the palace and it’s Hall of Mirrors and bedrooms and sitting rooms… you exit to the back of the palace which is even more splendid than the front. I could see in my mind fine carriages pulling up from the miles long tree lined boulevard, past the grand pools and fountains and perfectly manicured topiaries. The huge rectangular man-made ponds lining the pathway towards the palace were now full of paddle boats. It’s strange how out of place they seemed. And how out of place I felt, like me and everyone else around me  was dressed so inappropriately and didn’t really belong there.



We ate lunch in the palace with our American friends, Steve and Lynn, who we had a wonderful conversation with about photography, California (where they’re from) and the tour up to that point. The food at Versailles left something to be desired, but I might have just had my expectations set too high… it being a palace and all. Lynn bought me a brownie that was quite delicious however. On our way back to the bus, apparently Val or Pam got approached by one of the crazy street vendors trying to sell her a parrot that could record your voice. She said to him “piss off” which the parrot recorded and played back repeatedly as the man was walking away. The back of the bus was exploding in laughter at Val and Pam retelling this story… and Lynn kept repeating “piss off” in the parrot voice over and over throughout the trip. Not a day went by without us all laughing about that story at least one time… another thing I loved about the tour 🙂

After Versailles Francesco dropped us all back off at Place de la Concorde, and we had an hour free time before we had to go back to the hotels to freshen up for the Moulin Rouge. Ally and I decided to tackle the Champs Elysees and figured we would have plenty of time to make it to the Arc de Triumph and back. It would only be about a 3 mile walk… haha. Even though we power-walked it most the way, we got held up a few times, most notably when we passed an entertainment store of some kind that I forget the name of. It had a huge line going out the door and across the massive sidewalk (the sidewalks down the Champs Elysees were amazingly wide and even had lanes) where there was long que.

My curiosity got the best of me and I asked a policeman guarding the line what it was for. He didn’t really understand what I was asking so he grabbed is friend who acted as our translator for a very cute conversation we had with him. They told us the line was for some Japanese pop star who was doing an autograph signing… then they asked us if we were American and how long we were in Paris for… and we told them it was our last day and we were headed to Geneva next. Then they tried to explain to us how Geneva has strict littering laws and it’s very clean and environmentally friendly. They were so sweet to us and totally shattered my pre-conceived stereotype of French people being cold and rude (especially to Americans) because they became even friendlier when we told them where we were from, which everyone advises you to lie about if your an American in Paris.

Arc de Triomphe

After our adorable conversation with the cute French policemen, we walked until we were just a couple blocks from the Arc before realizing we were past the 1/2 way point with time and as it was we were going to have to haul ass back to the bus, so we sadly turned around before we could make it all the way. But we still got really close and got a good look at it. On our way back down the other side of the street we stopped for a breather in a Toyota showroom were we saw two amazing concept cars and got to sit in the brand new Prius, which was cool to me since I own the 2007 model. I was happy to find it didn’t change all that much and certainly wasn’t any more comfortable or stylish.

Ally and I about passed out back on the bus, and thankfully we had about an hour to refresh ourselves for dinner at the Moulin Rouge. In no time at all we were back on the bus however, and on our way someone asked what Moulin Rouge actually meant, and I felt pretty stupid for never figuring it out myself… it simply means “Red Windmill.” On our drive we passed an unexpected landmark that Ally and I totally geeked out about– the Opera house. While we aren’t Opera fans by any means, the building was the set of the musical Phantom of the Opera, one of Ally and I’s favorites. The building is still in beautiful condition and looked simply radiant in the late afternoon sunlight.

Upon arriving at the Moulin Rouge you’re instantly hit with the realization of what you’re about to see due to many large photographs from the show plastered on the outer walls. If you can’t afford to see the show and you wanna know what it’s about, just go check out those pics and you’ll have a pretty good idea. I sorta knew what I was getting into, but didn’t know the majority of the show was just women struggling to dance and lip-sync in crazy outfits that didn’t cover much up top. A pleasant relief was that among them were also many very attractive male dancers. Don’t worry though, they were almost fully clothed, to my astonishment. There was also this crazy part where one of the topless female dancers swam in a tank full of four 8 foot long snakes, which I argued with Ally about because she said they were Anacondas. I think she was a little drunk. In between set changes they would have little ten minute acts come on stage to entertain you, and those were my favorite part of the show. The first was a juggler who could juggle 8 pins at one time, the second act was a couple who were sort-of mimes, but the dude could move and control his partner like she was his ventriloquism dummy… very difficult to explain but the way they could bend and manipulate their bodies was impossible. The last short act was a ventriloquist who used puppets, then a real dog, then four people from the audience to speak through. He was extremely talented and funny… for the bit with four people he chose people of all different nationalities including an Asian guy and an American girl, and he had him hitting on her in their respective accents. Totally politically incorrect, which I loved about it.

Overall I really enjoyed the show, but it was not quite what I expected, which again I must thank Hollywood and the entertainment industry for. Having seen and loved the movie “Moulin Rouge” I was expecting a show a little more similar to that. It’s not ANYTHING like it besides the costumes and Can Can dance at the very end. The stage and sets where quite impressive however.

Ally & I at the Moulin Rouge

After the show we headed back to the hotel, only to hop right out again and grab a taxi to the Eiffel Tower. Although I wanted to do a night photoshoot in every city, the one I absolutely couldn’t miss was Paris, because no other city is lit up quite as nice. Although Ally and I got lucky and caught the end of the 5 minute light show pulling up to the tower, I just missed snapping a picture of it because I was setting up my tripod for the shot I was getting ready to take… one I had pre-meditated quite a bit. I’ll let the photo I took explain itself…

La Tour Eiffel

Still pretty nice even though I missed capturing it with the awesome flashy blue lights they use during the light show. Someday I’ll do the same shot during the light show and it will be even better 🙂

Can you believe all that was in less than 2 days? I can’t.