the louvre (and a boat cruise)

I think it’s about time I finish posting about Paris. I’ve been home for almost a month and I have only blogged about the first week of the trip. It’s just that each day was so packed with stuff that it felt like three. Which is awesome when you’re vacationing, but a little more overwhelming when you’re trying to blog it. Anyway, let’s just put this entry in context… After we went to the opera and then relaxed in the Tuileries, we visited the Louvre. And barely scratched the surface of what it contains. In fact, I learned during the boat tour that if you were going to spend 1 minute in front of each work of art it would take you something like 6 months or 3 years or some fact that I thought I would remember but I don’t. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you even enter the Louvre, there’s the exterior of it. And the walk to it on what Cristen renamed the Rue de Ravioli.

It was nice to see a familiar face in the sculpture of Joan of Arc. There is a replica of this sculpture in the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Then we walked under the passage into the courtyard of the Louvre.

One thing I learned while hanging out near the pyramid at the Louvre is that a lot of people want their photo taken as though they were pinching the top of the pyramid. There were lines of people waiting to do it.

We did it all wrong and just took a picture near the pyramid.

Now I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t follow suit and get my own pinching photo. Next time, I guess. I do love the Louvre. It’s just such a beautiful museum.

Not to mention, full of beautiful art.

I absolutely adore the delicate embrace in Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Canova and the way their eyes are gazing at each other.

Nymph 2 by Bartolini

I have always loved the Nike of Samothrace. I’m amazed at power and energy carved from stone. But I remember when I saw the Nike during my first trip to Paris and I was stunned at the approach. She stands at the top of stairs, almost perched as though she was about to take flight. Even though I was expecting it, I was still stunned again.

I am also still amazed at the size of paintings. When I studied these in Art History, they were just small images in books. Seeing them in scale changed the way I thought of them.

We spent a lot of time in those Art History classes talking about Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii.

I could speak at length about its composition and lines and the Neoclassical theme, but looking at it this time, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the mother and children hidden in the shadows.

I love the tender way the mother has her hand on her son’s cheek and how he, in return, touches hers. It’s as though she isn’t only recognizing the possible loss by sending grown men into battle, but the potential for this son to also grow up and become a soldier.

And it’s hard not to be impressed by David’s Les Sabines (I can never think of the Sabine women without getting that song from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in my head), but seeing it in person allows you to focus on those details.

Once again, I noticed the women and children. Here, the older woman is rending her garment in sorrow and despair.

And the children mimic the fighting they see, implying that war is passed on through generations.

Here’s just a pretty one – Helen and Paris (again by Jacques-Louis David).

I love the simplicity of this portrait of Madame de Verninac. The gold sash is so pretty against the grey background.

And I really want this sofa/daybed.

Madame Recamier by Jacques-Louis David

I didn’t just admire works by Jacques-Louis David, though. I also really love portraits of the Riviere family by Ingres.

Did you know that Ingres didn’t want to be a portrait painter? He really just painted portraits to earn money, but he wanted to be an academic, history painter. I find it so sad, in a way, because his portraits are absolutely amazing.

But yeah, his other work isn’t too bad either.

Here’s Napoleon crossing the Alps. Doesn’t he look so sad? And if Napoleon looks sad, his horse looks downright depressed. It’s a good thing they’re in the Alps, not the Swamp of Despair.

Of course, no visit to the Louvre is complete without seeing the Mona Lisa.

Actually, I accidentally stumbled upon the Mona Lisa. Or more accurately, noticed the huge crowd around the painting and realized where I was. Like I said, I barely scratched the surface at the Louvre. Wouldn’t it be lovely to return to the Louvre as many times as you would like? Then you wouldn’t feel so much pressure to try and see everything all at once. I kept running across delightful little nooks that I wanted to explore more. And luckily I avoided pickpockets and knew not to ride the escalator inappropriately because of some helpful signs.

Later that evening, we returned to the Eiffel Tower to pick up one of the River Seine cruises. I had the information for one of the cruise lines written down, but we just ended up getting on one that was about to disembark.

It was really quite lovely, even if it was kind of freezing. But it was hard to get good photos of the beautiful sights because a) the light was pretty tricky and b) this guy was standing in everyone’s way the entire time. Even when the rules clearly stated that you weren’t supposed to stand during the cruise.

Thanks a lot, guy. Oh well… at least it let me just relax and enjoy the experience rather than worry too much about trying to get good photos.

The Tuileries Garden

The last time I went to Paris, it was the first week in March. I was actually surprised to see some blossoms and flowers, but in general, it was not quite spring and the trees were anything but leafy. I remember wishing at the time that I could see it in its full glory. Well, I definitely got my wish.

We loved it so much that we returned after visiting the Louvre. It was just such a perfect place to relax and enjoy the evening.

Plus, Cristen’s socks matched the hot pink flowers.

Speaking of hot pink flowers — does anyone know what kind of flowers those are? I tried to find it via Google Images but didn’t have any luck. I love them!

We stayed until the sun was setting (and really only left after a man invited himself to sit down with us and we found it incredibly awkward).

I love it when things are even better than you hope.

The Paris Opera House

Let’s start this post with a sad story. On our final day in Paris, Cristen wanted to visit Pere Lachaise Cemetery. As much as I adore cemeteries (and Pere Lachaise is a prime example of a beautiful cemetery), I really wanted to visit the Musee d’Orsay, so we decided to split up for the morning. I only had a few hours, but it would be enough to visit some of my favorite paintings. So I took our metro up to the Saint Michel stop to catch the C train to the museum. Somehow I ended up on the wrong train. I still don’t know how this happened because I could have sworn the direction was correct and I’m usually pretty good with public transportation (I had the NYC subway mastered after a weekend). No problem, though, right? I’ll just get off at the next stop and turn around. The thing is, the C train is a little different than a regular metro train because it’s an RER train. So I got off and went up and over to the other side and got back on the next train, but it became apparent after a very long train ride that it was not taking me in the right direction. It was actually taking me further the wrong direction and out of the zone on our metro pass. I ended up way out in Choisy-le-Roi. Let’s look at a map:

I was trying to get to the star (which, I might point out, was just one stop away) and because it was an express train, I ended up at the arrow. Yeah, pretty far away. Plus, it was actually out of my metro pass zone, so I was anxious the whole time that I would be stopped and forced to pay a fine. I was able to make it back to Saint Michel without a problem, but the whole mistake took up way too much time and I didn’t make it to the Musee d’Orsay.

But I did make it to our meeting spot, the Opera de Paris Garnier, with some time to spare so I joined several other people already on the steps and settled in for some people watching.

At some point, this whole group of chefs gathered. I wondered if they were going on strike, but there weren’t any picket signs or anything. Maybe it was a field trip?

I’ll never know… they all walked away somewhere else. I also had some time to walk around the building and admire the details.

I met up with Cristen and we went inside for a tour. We had hoped to attend a performance, but when I looked into tickets they were quite expensive. The 9 euros for a self-guided tour seemed like a great deal in comparison.

I expected Versailles to be gaudy and over-the-top with ornamentation and glitz. I loved it, but it didn’t quite meet my expectation. The Paris Opera House, on the other hand… I mean…. wow. It was incredible!

Of course, it would have been amazing to get all posh and fancy and see a performance there. As long as the chandelier doesn’t come crashing down that is.

the sun king’s house

We planned to visit Versailles on our second day in Paris, but we had a few stops to make before we went. First, we wanted to pick up some macarons from Laduree (we were in Paris afterall).

It was so fun (and difficult) to pick out the flavors for my box of 6. I picked up a few classics and then selected a rose-flavored one because it was so pretty and sounded so decadent. We also picked up some picnic items from a nearby Monoprix.

We split up for our next stop. Cristen wanted to climb the tower at Notre Dame, and I wanted to visit one of my favorite spots in Paris – Saint Chapelle. I got in line and waited and waited and waited. And it didn’t move an inch. For a long time. I worried that I would keep Cristen waiting, so eventually I gave up and walked back to Notre Dame. I watched the pigeons for a while and looked through photos on my camera. Then I decided to see if, perhaps, Cristen was still in line and she was. So we gave up and got on the train to Versailles. A few stops later, and these guys got on the train too.

Sadly, they didn’t play La Vie en Rose, which I kept hoping to hear somwhere (we were in Paris afterall), but I enjoyed it enough to dump some of my spare change in their cup. The train ride to Versailles is pretty short and it’s a quick walk up to the chateau from the train station. But, you know, a lot of people take a tour bus. Of course.

So many tour buses.

I was dismayed to see yet another long line when we got inside the gates, but it actually moved really fast.

I was really looking forward to seeing the gardens at Versailles, but for some reason, I hadn’t given much thought to seeing the actual chateau. I assumed it would be gaudy and over-the-top, which isn’t exactly my taste, but I ended up loving it. Sure, there was definitely a lot of embellishments in some areas, but there was also a lot of elegant hallways and doors. And I became a little obsessed with views of the gardens from the windows.

And now for the more decorative rooms… and tourists capturing all the details.

You know, I wish that I had thought ahead to wear a more appropriate ensemble, like this girl.

I ran into the most tourists in the Hall of Mirrors.

Luckily the Hall of Mirrors is really big, so it’s not a problem to have so many other tourists around. However, the crowds in Marie Antoinette’s bedroom were so thick, it wasn’t even worth fighting my way up front.

But by sneaking by them all, I got the next few rooms to myself (or very nearly to myself).

We finished up inside and picked up our food from the bag check and headed outside for a picnic.

We walked down to the Petit Trianon. I had been saving my macarons for just such a time as this, so I could pretend to live a decadent life like Marie Antoinette (without the beheading).

I could live in the Petit Trianon, if I were to live in a chateau that is. Of course it’s still elegant and amazing, but it has a much smaller scale than Versailles and seemed more comfortable.

(Okay, so that staircase is still pretty grand, but I’m talking in comparison to other chateaux.)

I really wanted to see Marie Antoinette’s hamlet. In fact, it was what I wanted to see the very most. We looked on the map and from the Petit Trianon, it looked so. very. far. away. And we had already walked so much that day. Plus, it was getting later and we were getting ready to go home, so I sacrificed it. It’s always good to keep a few things left for a next visit.

Since we were tired, we decided to take the train back to the main chateau. Let me tell you how ridiculous this train is. First, the cost to ride the train is in addition to visiting Versailles. This isn’t really a big deal, except that it’s so inefficient. It takes so much time for the conductor to gather everyone’s money, which is an awkward amount (something like 3.80). It would be so much better if they just added a few extra euro to the cost of the ticket and the train ran for free. Second, this train had no power. It was the slowest train I have ever been on. And every time it came to a slight dip in the road, it had to stop completely to get around it. Meanwhile, the audio recording would randomly say “Neuf, nine, nueve, neun, nove…” and then for no apparent reason “Huit, eight, ocho, acht, otto…” in between some classical music and other strange announcements.

But my feet were totally grateful that it even existed.

We walked through one last garden before leaving.

We stopped by the gift shop (of course! gift shops are our kryptonite) and heard a very sad tale. A lady walked in and went up directly to the clerk, and said, “Do you guys have a car that you can drive through the gardens? My husband is lost out there. We’ve already missed our tour bus. He doesn’t have a cell phone or a map or anything. He’s just wandering around.”

We had heard this same lady out in the gardens earlier yelling “Dominic! Dominic!” I often wonder whatever happened to Dominic. Hopefully she found him eventually. But if you’re gonna get lost, Versailles would be the place to do it because it’s pretty amazing.

Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower

From the Arc de Triomphe, we went to the Saint Michel metro stop in search of a vegetarian restaurant Cristen had read about. We didn’t actually find it, but there were plenty of other cafes to choose from. Then we walked across the bridge to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame in Paris

After my disappointing experience at Westminster, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Notre Dame. It was crowded outside, of course. Lots of people milling about and even lots of pigeons.

And of course, there was a line to get inside. So I spent some time outside for a while, soaking in all the details.

Kings of Judah, Notre Dame de Paris

Jambs, Portal of the Virgin, Notre Dame de Paris

Adam and Eve, Portal of the Virgin, Notre Dame de Paris

I love how expressive the last judgement scene carved into the tympanum is — the serene look of the angels, the sorrow of those judged unworthy, and the snarl of the devils.

Here’s a closer look at those hairy devils. On the side, you can see one poor soul going headfirst into a pot of boiling water. I can’t get over how much detail you can find. You can even see the spine of the blindfolded man. Just think, these have been around for hundreds of years. It’s just amazing to me.

Did you know that after the French Revolution, the cathedral became the Cult of Reason and then the Cult of the Supreme Being and that the heads of the Kings of Judah (that strip of statues on the facade) were cut off? A peasant gathered the chopped heads and buried them in his yard, and they weren’t found until 1977? I just read about that while writing this blog post (thanks Rick Steves).

There was a line to get inside, of course, but it wasn’t too long. And even though it was a little crowded inside, it didn’t feel as claustrophobic as Westminster Abbey. In fact, it was pretty incredible.

Interior, Notre Dame de Paris

I love the thin columns in the upper level. It really helps to create that light and airy feel.

And then the stained glass is beautiful.

Cristen tried to climb the tower, but they closed the line early, so we decided to try and find one of the vintage shops recommended in my Herb Lester map. The walk was beautiful, even if the shop was randomly closed when we got there.

We headed back to Notre Dame and paused in the little park behind it to use the wifi and relax for a bit. I think I might like the east and south sides of the cathedral best.

And since we were hitting up all the major Paris landmarks, why not stop by the Eiffel Tower?

I was a little disappointed that there are some renovations taking place (thus, the thick lines underneath it). I wish they’d think about my photos before they begin major work like that. (winky emoticon) We didn’t go to the top. We’d already had one view from the top that day. But we did try really hard to get a good self-portrait of the two of us at the Eiffel Tower. You’d be amazed at how often the Eiffel Tower ends up looking like a hat on your head.

We were there long enough that we saw the light falling over the buildings…

and eventually the Eiffel Tower began sparkling. We decided to look again for the vegetarian restaurant Cristen had read about, so we headed back to Saint Michel. This time we found it – just a tiny little place with possibly 6 tables. I had the best pistachio chocolate milk ever. Well, and some delicious pasta, but that pistachio chocolate milk was the standout item of the meal. And then we did some more wandering. Paris is perfect for wandering.

Triumph.

After visiting Mont Saint-Michel, we arrived back in Paris quite late and dropped off the rental car. Since it was so late, we decided to take a cab to our hotel. Our driver seemed a little unsure about where we were going, but since our bags were in the trunk already, we trusted he’d get us there. Now, I’ve only been to Paris once and it was four years ago, but I’ve looked at a map of Paris a lot. And I knew exactly where our hotel was in relation to Gare du Nord. I may not have known exactly how to drive there, but I also didn’t expect it to take over half an hour in light traffic. So I finally asked our driver if he knew where he was going. While on the freeway, he turns on the light, pulls out a street atlas and begins flipping through the pages. While driving. On the freeway. We eventually found it and he gave us a discount on the metered price, but it explained a lot about Parisian drivers.

We started off our first day in Paris at the Arc de Triomphe. When I went to Paris with Kristy, we walked up the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe, but sadly, we couldn’t figure out how to actually get over to it without crossing a huge and very busy roundabout. So we just admired it from afar. I was determined to actually see it up close on this visit, and we wanted to see the view from the top. Now, I’m not really one for climbing lots of stairs to get to the top of things (see Saint-Michel, Mont), but I had read there was an elevator.

We took the metro up to the Charles de Gaulle d’Etoile stop and paused for a minute to admire the arch.

Then I noticed a sign that said the entrance was on the Champs Elysee on the other side of the roundabout, so we started walking around and got a good view of the arch from the side, too.

And finally found the entrance to the underground passage that takes you to the arch (tip for the future: there was an entrance on the Charles de Gaulle side, too). Once on the island, we spotted the guard taking tickets to go to the top so we showed him our Paris Museum Pass and walked inside only to find a set of spiral stairs. We started up and they just kept going and going and going. I had to take a breather half way up. Some other tourists climbing the stairs nodded in sympathy and said, “We thought there was an elevator.” I did, too. And here’s the trick about those stairs, once you get to what you think is the top, there are still more stairs. But there’s also some stuff you can look at while you catch your breath.

Finally you get to the top, and the view is totally worth it. And it’s magical because it’s Paris. And when you look down one end, it’s the wide, tree-lined Champs Elysee.

And you have to take a picture of yourself with it just to prove you are really there.

Over another edge, you see the white domes of Sacre Coeur.

Or down the Avenue de la Grande Armee that leads to a modern arch.

Or how about the Eiffel Tower?

Yep, that too. Pretty. Lovely. Paris.

Turns out there is an elevator. I think it’s for those with limited mobility, though, and by special request. We did get to take it down, much to my relief because those stairs were really smooth and my shoes were kinda slippery. At the bottom, we spent some time checking out the sculptures and other details.

It’s definitely better up close.

Gardens at Giverny

We planned to visit Giverny on our way up to Normandy, but first we had to get out of Paris. This is the part of driving in France that I was most nervous about. We didn’t have a paper map and had neglected to print off directions, so we were relying completely on Sir Percy the GPS to guide us to the freeway. However, Sir Percy had been in deep hibernation, and it took a long time for him to have enough energy to tell us where we needed to go.

Meanwhile, I was driving the streets of Paris. I would have parked, but I couldn’t find a parking space. Of course, that didn’t stop many people from just parking in the street and turning on their hazards. The prevailing attitude seemed to be, “I’ll do what I need to do, and you can deal with it.” At first, it’s kind of frustrating because I didn’t know what to expect from people, and I didn’t trust the drivers around me. But then I put my aggressive Paris driver face on and realized that I was out for myself, too. It didn’t matter so much when I was just going straight, but when it came to intersections and especially to merging onto the freeway, it was every man for himself. Here’s a basic picture of what it was like.

Oh, except, I forgot to add the motorbikes and scooters that are also weaving in and out of traffic at 50 mph. After the second or third car came within 1 inch of hitting me, I had to just trust that the other drivers knew what they were doing and do my own thing, too. And it worked. We made it out of Paris alive and with nary a dent on the car.

Once we got away from traffic and the city, driving on the freeway felt pretty normal. And then we got off at the exit for Giverny and started driving on these little roads and through some villages and I suddenly realized that I was driving in France. That doesn’t look very significant when I write it down, but it felt awesome. And everything was so incredibly charming.

When we arrived in Giverny, we circled the parking lot three or four times before a family walking back to their car took pity on us and allowed us to follow them and take their parking space. I was a little worried that crowds would once again dampen the experience, but then we walked inside Monet’s gardens and toured his house.

Photography isn’t allowed inside the house, but you can find a few photos online. For example, here’s the yellow dining room:

And here’s the kitchen:

Photo from AtticMag

Are you loving it? I totally fell in love with his house. It’s probably not even the decor, but the atmosphere there. It just buzzed with life somehow. I just wanted to live there and read and write and paint and maybe even garden, although I’d probably prefer to have gardeners. Plus, you could sit out on the balcony and look at this view.

And I could spend hours wandering these gardens.

Perfect backdrop for a selfie…

Perfect backdrop for a selfie…

And yeah, it was pretty crowded (and almost impossible to get a photo without another tourist in it), but it didn’t take away at all from how beautiful and peaceful the setting was. I could have stayed there forever. But eventually we had to move on. We still had a few hours to drive to get to Bayeux.

We arrived around 8 and checked into our hotel (probably the sketchiest of the ones we booked, but it was still pretty clean and nice). We were starving, though, so we ventured into town. Cristen had read about this pizza place, so we tried it first but were greeted with, “Non, non, termine, termine!” so we assumed they were closing for the night. There were a few other places nearby but they each had something against them (too pricey, no veggie options), so we headed back to the car. It wasn’t too much of a loss, though, because Bayeux is such a charming place (I may overuse the word charming, but is there a better alternative? France was just charming).

On our way out of the center of town, we passed an area with an open restaurant that looked pretty decent, so we stepped inside. Even though it was late, we were seated and handed menus. When our waiter came to take our order, Cristen and I could barely keep ourselves from giggling. He was the quintessential snobby French waiter. He sneered at everything we ordered (especially the water) and barely even let us finish ordering before he walked away. We ate in a lot of restaurants in France and never had another waiter like him, so I don’t mean to stereotype. I just thought it was hilarious that our very first waiter should live up to the caricature so perfectly.