Paris

Romance Shmomance at the Love Locks Bridge | Paris Photography by Rachel Abrahams

When we visited Paris and saw the "Love Locks Bridge", we had no idea it would be the last time we'd get the chance to do so. Since our visit, it's been all over the news how the locks are damaging the bridges (parts of a bridge collapsed from the weight), making things unsafe, and creating more headaches for the locals than they'd bargained for. So, Paris has taken the locks down and decided to replace them (temporarily) with art exhibits until the final glass panels are in place. 

The Love Locks are a phenomenon that have swept all over the world where many countries (Germany, South Korea, Russia, China, Serbia, Czech Republic, and Italy - to name a few) now have love locks covering various bridges, fences, and anywhere locks can easily be snapped on and then the lovers throw away the key. 

Why did the locks become so popular? 

There's a romantic appeal for the public declaration of your love and dedication to each other. I have to admit it isn't something I understand since my most public declaration of love was at my own wedding and otherwise my husband and I tend to keep our lovey-doveyness to ourselves. For many though, the idea of writing their names on locks, attaching that love lock to a scenic location like the Ponts des Arts Bridge in Paris and then symbolically throwing away the key into the Seine river was an act of public declaration which would ensure their love would last forever.

Who says romance is dead? 

Supposedly the tradition began almost 100 years ago in Serbia where a woman fell in love with an officer. They declared their love for each other but when he went off to war he fell in love with another. She died of a broken heart and women have since flocked to the bridge where the couple used to meet and placed their love locks on the bridge to protect their own relationships.  

It was very sweet to walk along the bridge and see the names of couples on the locks, imagining them excitedly picking out "their" lock (whether ahead of time or at one of the multiple vendors selling locks nearby), adding their name and message for each other, and then taking the time to pick the forever location where the lock would spend the rest of its days.

As we walked the bridge, there were a few couples adding their locks to the few remaining spaces. It was a bright and hot day with the locks glittering in the sunlight and adding a surreal effect while moving from one end of the bridge to the other. My husband and I did not purchase a lock (remember - we aren't much for the public lovey doveyness) but I did enjoy getting to walk around and take as many photos as I could.

I've read they have now removed the bridge walls by sections, with the locks still intact, to then recycle the locks and replace the walls with all new glass panels. 

So, the City of Love's most recently trending tourist location has undergone a facelift but it's unlikely those who want to shout their love from the rooftops (or write it in a sharpie on a metal padlock) will be held down for long. I have no doubt that soon enough, a new location in Paris will be selected with a new tradition for couples to share their love with the world. Will it be writing names on heart-shaped rocks and then piling them in front of the Eiffel Tower like a big game of rock landslide jenga? Climbing to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and then throwing paper airplanes from the top with the message of love written inside, to watch them fly around the traffic circle and dodging cars? Or maybe purchasing tiny little gargoyles to paint in whatever colors you want and then give them a home around Notre Dame Cathedral? Yup, all terrible ideas by me which is how you know I am NOT the most creatively romantic person (but if in the unlikely event any of these do become a thing - you read it here first).

The good news is, those who are creative romantics will find a way to express their love again. Look out Paris.  

Napoleon Was Weirder Than I Realized | Paris, France by Rachel Abrahams

When I travel, I like to make lists of things I'd like to see where I prioritize my "CAN'T MISS" items near the top and work my way to the less important "We can go if we have time", but still interested items, at the bottom. Visiting Napoleon's Tomb in Paris was absolutely at the top of my list. As a historical figure, he stands out as having a lot of quirky personality traits alongside a huge ego and I figured his tomb would not disappoint.

I wasn't wrong.

It was gregarious, over the top, and also absolutely gorgeous. It exceeded my expectations, that's for sure. We wandered around, soaking it all in, and I was amazed at the beauty in the room. The loveliness of it all really surprised me but I was happy when we saw his actual tomb where he is buried is GINORMOUSLY MASSIVE, to help compensate for his short stature, or so I thought. He was actually 5'6" - which I was surprised to find out. He was not nearly as tiny as my limited history knowledge remembered him to be (I suck at history though).

Since I was surprised about his real height, I decided to read up on him afterwards and was thrilled to come across some awesomely random "facts" about him. DISCLAIMER: I say "facts" because, as you know, anything on the internet has to be true, right? So, without fact checking or verifying these through Wikipedia (the front runner of truth and knowledge), I give you my favorites:

1. Credited with originating the phrase “a picture is worth 1,000 words,” what Napoleon actually said, as quoted in L’Arche de Noé, was: “A good sketch is better than a long speech.”

2. Napoleon had “Ailurophobia”, meaning he was afraid of cats (although debated as being true). He also was terrified of open doors; anybody entering the room had to squeeze through a barely adequate opening and then close the door immediately.

3. All of his meals were eaten quickly and in silence. He also did not allow people to clap at shows. Once, a singer sang an aria so well, that the Minister of the Italian kingdom broke the silence and shouted "bravo" several times. Then he came to his senses, got up from his chair and crawled on all fours out of the lounge to avoid being found by Napoleon.

And the piece de resistance.........

(stop reading now if you are of virgin mind/spirit and easily offended....everyone else I know that made you even more interested)

4.  The doctor who performed Napoleon's autopsy was feeling vengeful for not being included in the will and cut off Napoleon's penis (yes, you read that correctly) to give to a priest in Corsica (along with removing other organs and body parts for people to take). Legends were whispered amongst the people that he was buried missing his *ahem* member. The family of the Corsican priest released it for auction in 1916 where it was discovered it had never been properly preserved but still was successfully sold. It has been purchased multiple times and now resides in........New Jersey (again, you read that correctly). French officials remain skeptical it really is his and won't exhume his body to know for sure.

So, there you have it. Knowledge is power, my friends. 

Eiffel Tower To Your Hearts Content | Paris Photography by Rachel Abrahams

Eiffel Tower To Your Heart's Content | Paris Photography by Aspiring Images by Rachel

What's the first icon everyone thinks of when imagining Paris? That's easy - the Eiffel Tower.

It's also the number one request I've gotten for photos since I traveled to Paris and I thought it would be fun to just go all out - go big or go home - and post only Eiffel Tower photos. These are all completely different in their styles and I feel like one of these photos will make someone happy.

This was our first time seeing the Eiffel Tower while walking around Paris, delirious from jet lag and our bodies thinking it was still 3AM back on the East Coast of the US. Turned the corner, while searching for some food to nosh on, and - BLAM - there she was. Awesome right? Now, imagine living in one of those apartments where you can see it all the time?? I'm assuming that takes some lotto powerball kind of money, so I guess I'll just keep on dreaming.

After finding our nosh (aka breakfast at pink chairs), we then wandered over to see the Eiffel Tower. It was really close to our hotel and we knew this would be the moment we knew we had officially ARRIVED in Paris. It was fairly early and we had several hours to kill until our hotel would be ready. The grass was soft, the sun was shining, and there were minimal crowds. We sat and just relaxed, taking it all in. Well, the other two people sat down and I kind of stood, laid on my stomach, and rolled around like a turtle on its shell trying to get up because of myrecently broken tailbone. I just couldn't travel to Paris without making it more of an adventure, I guess.

The hardest part about photographing an iconic structure like the Eiffel Tower? Figuring out how in the blue hell to do it differently than everyone else who has ever taken a photo of it. I kept looking at it just trying to find something different and inspiring. I also kept in mind I had two people traveling with me, who weren't photographers, so I had to keep my obsessiveness to a somewhat minimum so they wouldn't be throwing me and my camera into the Seine River.

Did you know you can actually eat INSIDE the Eiffel Tower? There's a restaurant up there that lets you see Paris from an aerial view. It was gorgeous and when the flashing nighttime sparkle lights lit up the Eiffel Tower, the interior of the restaurant was like a crazy disco of lights since we were right there inside the action. I highly recommend eating at Le 58 Tour Eiffel if you get the chance, especially if you don't know if you'll ever get to go back to Paris. Yes, it's touristy. Yes, it's pricey. Yes, the locals will probably say you are wasting your time and can find better food elsewhere but then you get to go home and say you ate INSIDE THE EIFFEL TOWER. Sounds awesome, right?

I will say, it was an adventure explaining to the server I am a vegetarian. He kept offering me the chicken and I declined politely. It was very confusing for him to fathom why I would not be eating the meat in any of the dishes. Eventually, he brought my dinner out with chicken on the side, which I shared with my hubby. He didn't mind getting my extras. It's how we roll.

On our last day we shopped for souvenirs and then we walked along the side of the Eiffel Tower where there were beautiful shaded areas under the trees, benches to relax, and some peace away from the bedlam of tourists. It was really a nice spot to see the icon without the hassle and I would say several locals were taking full advantage.

So, there are some of my many photos of the Eiffel Tower.

Which photo is your favorite? If you won the powerball lotto, where would you buy a home? Are you like I am and will eat/do the touristy thing so you can brag later you did it? Have you read about the 10 Things I Learned While In Paris?

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Ten Things I Learned While In Paris Pt. 1 | Paris Photography Paris Travel Tips by Rachel Abrahams

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While I can't, in any way, claim to be an expert on Paris I can say on my recent trip I learned a few things while there that really made my time memorable. I've put together my list of "10 Things I Learned While In Paris". I've broken it down into 2 parts to make it more manageable (and keep you coming back for more! Just kidding). I hope you learn something from it! Here are my lessons learned 1-5 and I will post the rest of my lessons learned later this week.

1. Take the time to learn some key phrases in French

No one expects you to become fluent in French before you go but taking the time to learn some key phrases will really help you go far. It's polite, it opens the door, and many people appreciate you trying. Most everyone I met knew English but you could always tell they appreciated my *attempt* at French. I even had someone correct my pronunciation of a word in French but they did it in the nicest way. The French are very proud and particular about their language, so this can be commonplace but DO NOT let it undermine your confidence. Go for it! I learned my greetings (hello, goodbye, good morning/evening, goodnight, see you later/tomorrow), numbers, asking for a table for 3, the words for fish and shellfish, how to tell people I am allergic to fish and shellfish (Yeah, I am THAT person. I've been told Asia might kill me. Thoughts?), and telling a cab where to take us. I did this using the free podcast Coffee Break French and making note cards.

2. Download travel apps that work offline

I've never traveled before with a smartphone and when I discovered there were apps I could download which allow me to travel around Paris and not need my 3G or LTE signal, I was stoked! My go to apps while wandering around the city were the Trip Advisor City Guides - Paris app and theTime Out Paris app. Both allowed you to use them offline and included excellent features like top 10 lists of each type of activity, descriptions, contact info, addresses, and more. My favorite feature of all was theTrip Advisor City Guides - Paris' GPS that allowed you to find out what was near you and would use an arrow to point you in the correct direction. It wasn't always perfectly accurate but it was a huge help anyways. I also downloaded the Google Translate app but this can only be used with WiFi, which I typically couldn't access WiFi until I was in my hotel room. It did come in handy in the hotel when we needed a floor fan and the front desk clerk, after not understanding my request, pulled up Google translate and let me type in fan in English and she translated it to "ventilateur".

I also had my SpeakEasy French app with me and this was EXCELLENT to look up phrases in French. It's broken down into categories (Communication, Emergency, Getting Around, etc) and also allows you to hear the pronunciation of the phrase. I had to save the phrases into my Favorites while on WiFi and then could access those favorites while offline.

3. They aren't kidding - there are cafes everywhere

We only ate at 1 location twice (it was close to the hotel and we were tired) and we ate out at practically every meal. Like New York City, it is entirely possible to never eat at the same place twice while in Paris. When we were hungry we would just wander down the street and knew we would come upon a cafe. It was beautiful (and hot) while we were there, so we got to enjoy the outdoors. The cafe's post their menu outside for everyone to look at and, as I learned, they usually have an English menu available as well. If you ask, they will get it for you. We usually would just ask for a table (in my attempt at French) at whatever cafe we found and almost every spot figured out we were American (or English speakers) and would automatically bring an English menu out. If you're nervous about the food being different and not knowing what you are eating - don't be. Yes, it will be different (that's part of the fantastikness of traveling) but most places will have the English menu to help you out. It's an excellent experience and be ready to R-E-L-A-X and take your time. None of this American nonsense of rushing to sit, rushing to eat, and rushing to turn the table over. The staff will let you sit there as long as you want. They are getting paid the same either way (not like American servers with the miniscule wages plus tips as their salary).

4. Bonjour is the best way to start every conversation 

Walking into a store or restaurant, getting into a cab, approaching a help desk - anywhere - that you walk up to a stranger and need assistance it is customary to begin the conversation with "Bonjour". Just saying "Bonjour" (Hello) and then making your request is perfectly fine. No need for all the additional semantics like "How are you?" and "Nice weather today". "Hello" and "Can you help me with...." are sufficient. It is considered especially rude to walk into a store and not say "Bonjour" to the shopkeeper, even if that's the only thing you ever say to them.

On a side note - while shopping it's also rude to touch everything, especially clothing. As Americans, we like to paw everything so just keep your mitts to yourself and remember "Look with your eyes, not with your hands" (right mom?). If you are in a nice boutique and you like something, ask the shopkeeper to assist you.

5. There are tons of "sales people" on the Eiffel Tower green

Every night, Eiffel Tower lights up with a beautiful sparkle of lights for everyone to ooh and ahh at while sitting on the grass. I wasn't aware until we returned, but until recently the greens in front of the Eiffel Tower were off limits but while we were there everyone hung out on the greens waiting for evening to come and the light show to begin. Most made a night of it with their own picnics, drinks, and blankets. It was wonderful and was only marred by the roaming "sales people" with bags of booze/cigarettes/wine asking everyone if they wanted "Beer? Wine? Champagne? Cigarette?". At first, we would politely decline but if you're there long enough they would inevitably swing back around and ask again and we began acting like they weren't there. I think in the 2 hours we were there they swung by at least 30 times. In addition, there were other people walking around with hoops of miniature Eiffel Tower statues and glow toys for the kids. The police are cracking down on these entrepreneurs, which we saw a couple times when they would show up and the sales people would scatter like the wind. It was quite entertaining.

So those are my first 5 lessons learned. Let’s continue the “Ten Things I Learned While In Paris” with Part 2 – Lessons 6-10. Click here to read lessons 6-10.