Tuesday, 29 January 2008

One Night in Paris '08

As I joked to my colleagues, my real cross-cultural immersion experience on this three-week globetrot happened on when I navigated the streets of Paris by myself at night. Madagascar had its highlights and I do have to say that I'm glad that I can tuck that in my curriculum vitae, but it also went awfully long and I was glad to be heading home... with this brief layover.

My ambition for a single afternoon and evening in Paris was threefold: a brief visit to Disneyland Paris, followed by worship at Notre Dame de Paris and a walk to the Eiffel Tower. Not without some delays and disconcerting ignorance as to my whereabouts, I accomplished what I set out to.

The first was Disneyland Paris, which entered onto the itinerary at all because of the features that make it so unique relative to its American counterparts. Any visit to a Disney park must be started by a visit to the castle. In the fantastical Parisian version of the Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, an animatronic dragon lurks in underground caverns while above, an upper gallery renders the story of Sleeping Beauty in stained glass, tapestry, statuary and recreated props to the stirring excerpts of Tchaikovsky's ballet.

Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant.

The main attractions, however, were Les Mystères du Nautilus and Space Mountain: Mission 2 in their Vernian, da Vinci-inspired Discoveryland. The full-sized walk-through of the Nautilus - though in no way properly echoing the layout of the ship in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - was phenomenal. The highlight, above and beyond being a highlight unto itself, was the grand salon with the iris window, which opens periodically to expose a giant squid attacking the submersible.

Les Mystères du Nautilus.

Following this came Space Mountain: Mission 2. Unfortunately, I had missed the previous "From the Earth to the Moon" theme by some years and had to make due with the less-inspired "Mission 2". Relative to the American Space Mountains, this was better realized as a manic fly through the spheres, but I would naturally have preferred the more Méliès-influenced original. A short trip through the Phantom Manor and run through Adventure Isle saw me off from the most expensive-by-minute amusement I've ever enjoyed.

Space Mountain: Mission 2.

Notre Dame Cathedral was magnificent... So much so that it actually mocks my verbosity. Notre Dame is a spiritual experience, an incredible, soaring, vaulted edifice through which echoed the hymns and prayers of the faithful. It stops only short of the cathedral of the Heavens I stood beneath in Africa.

Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, outside and in.

Though it seemed only a short walk and I was fueled by adrenaline and ambition, the walk to the Eiffel Tower from Notre Dame was lengthy. Lengthy and worth every step, as there is no better way to experience the life of the city except at street level. After some blocks the cheap souvenir shoppes gave way to legions of pubs and restaurants (including "The Great Canadian Pub", which I was very tempted to patronize), which themselves gave way to institution after institution with grand Renaissance, Revolutionary and Victorian architecture. Though more urbanized and claustrophobic than I'd prefer in a city I'd want to live in, Paris still has unparalleled beauty.

I finally made it to the Eiffel Tower, which was astonishing. One simply does not get an appreciation for the size of it until they are actually there. No photo I've seen does it justice. Some antique photos of the old Paris Expositions from ground level show in an intellectual sort of way how huge it is, but one cannot really comprehend it until they are in its presence. It was incredible.

Going up it was somewhat anticlimactic, however. It is fascinating, of course, but my interests lied in looking at the Tower itself, which is the one thing you can't do when you're actually in the Tower. There are restaurants and clubs, exhibits, souvenir shops, and every other amenity. You still can't really see the Tower though... Or at least, you can't see the Tower for the girders. Back outside, on ground level, I just sat for minutes on end in slack-jawed wonder at it.

My time in Paris was much too short and far too much was missed. I could have done with a day in Disneyland alone, let alone having missed entirely on the Louvre, Moulin Rouge, French cuisine, and sites of interest to appreciators of Verne, Robida and Méliès. (as well as Dorè, Rodin...) Nevertheless, the visit was a quite satisfying adieu to this whole excursion.

The City of Lights.


Biblioadonis aka George said...

Great trip report!

I can't imagine being in Paris for just one day. I think it is pretty cool that DLP, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower were you choices?

I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the day!

Stephanie Ganger said...

That is so awesome that you got to do all 3! Extraordinary!

The pictures are fantastic as always Cory!

Cory The Raven said...

Thanks for the compliments!

So you want more of my thoughts, eh George? ^_^

I initially had wanted to try to DLP but then decided that, like the Louvre, I would need more time than I would have to actually enjoy it. However, I just couldn't let the opportunity to see the big four things I had to see slip by: Sleeping Beauty's Castle, Mysteries of the Nautilus, Space Mountain and Phantom Manor. I basically look at it like these were unique works of art that couldn't be found anywhere else in the world and which I specifically wanted to see.

The standout one was actually Sleeping Beauty's Castle, which the subject of this blog didn't really warrant me covering in any depth (at least until after I do my fairy tale theme month next year some time ^_^). I've basically fallen in love with Sleeping Beauty, whether the Disney film, Tchaikovsky music, Dore engravings or Perrault tale, and the rendition/realization of it in the castle is phenomenal. Stained glass, tapestry (some with fibre optics), sleeping suits of armour, spinning wheels, the Sword of Truth and Shield of Virtue hanging on the wall, and on and on... It is marvellous!

It also carried emotional weight and cool by being a castle you can actually be in. I've never been to WDW or Tokyo, so to do more than look at it and pass through was fantastic. Moreso with a cavern and an animatronic dragon, warrens of tunnels and spiralling staircases.

Discoveryland in general just about made me pop, for obvious reasons. I was pretty thurough with the castle, which forced me to step up the pace in Discoveryland, unfortunately. If there was any real unfinished business, it was my not being able to spend more time in the Nautilus or go back to it for a second round, let alone the rest of the land.

The Nautilus was fantastic, but I'll reserve talking about that for an actual post ^_^

Space Mountain: Mission 2 was actually fairly disappointing... Once you get inside the ride, it's basically just a tricked out regular Space Mountain. The Vernian/Meliesian theme no longer carries into the ride. For me now, it is nicer to look at from the outside.

Phantom Manor was mostly awesome. The comparison is inevitable, so I'll just out and say that the exterior themeing and landscaping and the entire house portion of the Phantom Manor is superior to Anaheim. It looks inside and out far more like an actual haunted old house... There aren't these vast, empty black soundstages. I'd be happy to see the grand staircase and seance circle imported directly.

However, the Phantom Manor's story doesn't translate very well, even when you already pretty thuroughly know it thanks to soundtrack CDs, Surrel books and Extinct Attraction Club DVDs. The hanging in the stretching room is practically invisible, the boudoir scene replacing the attic isn't really intelligible and the whole ride is a little heavy on the crude, obvious animatronics. The underground production number just isn't as grand a finale as the graveyard scene, though there is a fantastic effect of invisible ghosts playing poker and drinking whiskey. (which is ridiculously my favorite effect in the whole ride)

I was already running late when I got out of the Manor - I only gave myself an hour and a half, stretched to two hours - but I had to quickly swing through Adventure Isle. It was nice to scale a Swiss Family Treehouse, since I missed that in Anaheim. The basic gist of Adventure Isle is an Adventureland version of Tom Sawyer's Island, and a Pirate's Lair fits much better on that. It's also so extensive that I actually did get turned around and a little lost!

All good things had to come to an end, and I had to finally boot it out of there to get to Notre Dame. But I stopped long enough to get my silver 15th anniversary ears to compliment my golden 50th anniversary pair, and an old school black-and-white Mickey mug.

So, didja' want me to go on with Paris proper? ^_^

Dave Nicholson said...

Very cool shots - It must have been very fun :)