Our First Trip to Paris - Part Three of Four

The Louvre

The glass pyramid was added to the museum in 1989 as part of a more efficient system for handling entering visitors.

Where's Waldo?
We don't really need a snapshot of the Mona Lisa. Great reproductions of this painting are easy to find. But take a look at the lower portion of this photo, which shows some of her eager fans, reflected in the protective glass barrier.

Hey! Somebody touched me!
Everybody wants to get as close as possible to the famous picture. What you can't see, until you are within a few layers of the front, is the railing that keeps people at a distance, enforced by security guards who stand facing the crowd.

Pants on the ground
Another famous work that everyone wants to see is Venus de Milo. However, the crowd here was not nearly as dense. We were able to walk around and snap a few clear pictures.

Tourists make the trek toward Winged Victory.

All those hallways and staircases are exhausting!

Ancient Roman sculpture of a centaur.

Portrait of Alessandro Filipepe by Botticelli.

In 2000, a small, somewhat isolated section of the Louvre was dedicated to non-European art.

Just another guy with a cellphone and a machete
A statue from the Republic of Benin

A big head from Easter Island

Ancestor of the Pillsbury Doughboy
A Chupicuaro statuette from Mexico

An ancient Nigerian sculpture

The Rodin Museum

The Rodin Museum includes lovely gardens where some of the sculptor's most famous works are displayed.

One of Rodin's early works

Two views of "The Thinker"

"The Gates of Hell" was inspired by Dante's "Inferno". It includes characters from the poem as well as small versions of some of Rodin's other sculptures. Unfortunately, it was never completed.

"The Burghers of Calais"

Rodin working on "The Gates of Hell", sculpted by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle

The Pompidou Center

A painting by Henri Matisse

Kinda gives you that warm fuzzy feeling />
The modern art collection at the Pompidou Center includes a few works by Piet Mondrian, but none was on display the day we were there. Instead we found this fake-fur parody by Silvie Fleury.

Robert Dulaney's portrait of the Eiffel Tower

Around the Town

A couple of small details from the stained glass panels at Sainte-Chapelle

The tomb of the Unknown Soldier (from WWI) at the Arc de Triomphe

"Immortality Outstripping Time", a huge, dramatic sculpture atop the Grand Palais

"Boat and Bathers" by Paul Cezanne, at the Orangerie


Our First Trip to Paris - Part Two of Four

[Note: This was in the spring of 2010.]

French Cuisine

These little take-away crepe stands are popular.

Looking forward to a good meal

We did not select it.
Le Select was once the hangout of characters like Hemingway, Picasso and Trotsky. Today it is typical of the dozens of cafes that line boulevard du Montparnasse, where customers like to sit facing the sidewalk to observe the passing scene. We thought it was too expensive, so we ate somewhere else.

Around and About

A golden statue atop one of the pillars on Pont Alexandre III

On the Ile des Cygnes, a small artificial island in the Seine, this one-fifth scale statue of Liberty faces west, toward its sister in New York.

And how do you spell "Louisiana"?
Seriously, what is a Mississippi riverboat doing on the Seine?

The Eiffel Tower, glimpsed beyond the columns of Pont Alexandre III

Along the Champs-Elysees, even the lamp posts are fancy.

Just waiting for the train.
Art is everywhere. We saw this reproduction of one of Rodin's sculptures of Balzac on the platform in a Metro station. Nearby was a copy of The Thinker.

This statue is on Avenue Winston Churchill, just off the Champs-Elysees.

The fountain at Place Saint-Michel is a huge monument whose central sculpture portrays Saint Michael
fighting the devil.

He could use a dip in the fountain.
A close-up reveals that the devil is really angry. It's hard to tell which annoys him more:
Michael's foot on his back or the pigeon poop in his hair.

The rain didn't stop these bicyclists from racing around and around and around the boulevard.

The archaeological crypt underneath the street in front of Notre Dame reveals ancient Gallo-Roman ruins.

Nearly everywhere we went, we could see the golden dome of Les Invalides church,
in bright contrast against the vast backdrop of beige-and-gray Paris.

The interior of the dome was painted by Charles de La Fosse in 1705.

In the crypt is Napoleon's 15-foot-high tomb, surrounded by elaborate decorations, including marble relief panels celebrating his accomplishments.

Oh no - Mr Ed!
In the nearby military museum is Napoleon's faithful horse, stuffed and exhibited in a dim corridor that leads to the restrooms. His dog was also stuffed, but it was not on display at this time.

At the Army Museum, a greatcoat and cape from World War I, still soaked with the mud of the trench

On the left, a section of medieval armor designed to let a knight move his shoulder. On the right, sections of modern body armor designed to let a policeman move his shoulder. Not much has changed in the past thousand years or so.


Our First Trip to Paris - Part One of Four

Rosemary's Travel Diary

[Note: This was in the Spring of 2010.]

Saturday. From Charles de Gaulle airport, we had a long, hot train ride to the Notre Dame station. We weren’t expecting to have to lug our suitcases up several flights of stairs to street level. A kind-hearted Frenchman saw me struggling and carried my bag up for me. “Merci, merci!” I gasped.

We took a taxi to Hotel Le Littre. [Steve: After the hotel fiasco in London, our travel agent had suggested a move from the hotel originally booked to more spacious accommodations.] After checking we in decided to relax with a snack at a nearby sidewalk café. We expected to sit there for an hour or so, but to our surprise the staff began removing the furniture from the patio before we had even finished our drinks. The waiter told us that they had to close in ten minutes because there was an approaching demonstration by Palestinian protestors and it might be dangerous. We could see the police in the process of closing the street to traffic. Nearby shopkeepers were closing the metal shutters on their storefronts. So we paid the bill and went back to our hotel for a nap.

For dinner, we chose one of the many cafes along Blvd. Montparnasse.

That enigmatic Leonardo smile
Sunday. Many Paris museums have free admission on the first Sunday of the month. Naturally, the Louvre was crowded, but it actually wasn’t as bad as we had expected. It’s not possible to cover this vast collection in one visit. We focused mostly on European paintings, as well as some Greek and Roman sculpture. Of course, we had to see the big celebrity, Mona Lisa. This relatively small painting by Leonardo da Vinci is constantly surrounded by a mob of crazed fans all desperately trying to get a glimpse and a photo. Interestingly enough, right outside the room where the most famous painting in the world hangs, are three other da Vinci paintings. There is no crowd blocking the view, and at least two of them are just as good as Mona Lisa. One, John the Baptist, has the same famous smile, a smile that Leonardo apparently liked, since he used it in several of his paintings.

We crossed the Seine and found a nice restaurant that served big lunch salads. We had planned to go to the Orsay Museum, but the line was so long we decided to try the Orangerie instead. It also had a long line, so we took turns standing. The main attraction is Monet’s “Water Lilies”, eight huge paintings that were created to fit two oval rooms. Here, you can sit on a bench in the center of the room and feel as if you are inside the painting. Downstairs is a gallery containing Impressionist and Modernist works from the collection of Paul Guillaume.

Monday. Today we decided to climb to the top of Notre-Dame cathedral, a journey of 400 stone steps. Part way up there is a balcony along the front facade where you can join the gargoyles in contemplating the city view. This is considered the center of France, and it is the point from which all distances are measured. Some people choose to rest here and go no higher, especially if they are feeling a bit of vertigo. The final part of the climb is a tightly wound, very claustrophobic, circular stairway. Emerging at the top of the bell tower, you can walk all the way around the narrow balcony, windblown but protected by a wire cage.

We had another big-salad lunch nearby and then walked to Sainte-Chapelle. This church is known for its 6500 square feet of stained glass, much of it dating to the 13th century. Because it shares a courtyard with France’s Supreme Court, security is very tight, and it takes a long time to get through the line. What we didn’t know until we had already paid for our tickets and entered was that the entire front of the church was covered for restoration work, so only the side panels were visible. Elaborately detailed, these windows are high above the floor and most of the details are difficult to see without binoculars.

After a nap at the hotel, we had another good dinner at a Blvd. Montparnasse restaurant

Tuesday. We started our day with a trip to the Eiffel Tower. We took the Metro to the Trocadero stop. From this area, you have a perfect view of the tower, and a chance to look at the golden statues outside the Palais de Chaillot. It was a short walk to the tower, where we were impressed by the security: riot-equipped vehicles, police in full body armor, soldiers with automatic rifles at the ready. Even on a windy, rainy day like this, the crowds were big and the lines long. The area around the tower is plagued by aggressive souvenir salesmen and gangs of gipsy beggarwomen. But the tower is fantastic. We rode up and up, starting at the top. A thousand feet high, it was the tallest structure in the world when it was built in 1889. The view is still magnificent. The top (third) level is so high that it is difficult to discern some of the city’s landmarks that are obvious from the second level. There’s a pricey bar up there, for those who need a little more vertigo. After enjoying levels three and two, we stopped on level on for a quick snack. Looking down, we saw a group of demonstrators arriving from the street, dressed in blue hospital garb and carrying signs. They were nurses and anaesthesiologists protesting working conditions in local hospitals.

We traveled to the Arc de Triomphe and then began a leisurely walk down the Champs-Elysees. Along the way we stopped at a sidewalk café for wine and antipasto. then we continued walking, all the way to Place de la Concorde, where we took the Metro back to our hotel. We had dinner at another nice restaurant in the neighborhood.

Wednesday. We went to the Pompidou Center, a modern art museum. They had two special exhibits, one a group of paintings by Lucian Freud, the other a fascinating collection called “Dreamlands”, exploring the concepts of fantasy worlds and utopias as expressed by theme parks and fairs. Next we walked through the modern collection, which covers the period from 1905 to the 1960s. Many significant artists are represented here. Finally, we entered the contemporary collection, which we decided was not worth additional time and energy.

We struggled for blocks through the rain to find a second-rate restaurant some misguided person had recommended. Then we made our way to the Archaeological Crypt which lies under the street in front of Notre-Dame. After returning to the hotel, we had dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Thursday. Steve decided to get some more sleep this morning, so I took the umbrella and went by myself to Les Invalides, a huge complex that includes Napoleon’s tomb and the Army Museum. The tomb is under the golden dome of a well-maintained church which is also the burial place of several war heroes. The museum houses a vast collection of arms and armor from the 13th-17th centuries. I have now seen more than a lifetime’s worth of swords and suits of armor. The WWI and WWII sections tell the story of these wars with many exhibits of weapons, uniforms, vehicles, souvenirs, photos and paintings.

In the evening, we got all dressed up and traveled by Metro to the pier where we boarded the boat for our dinner cruise on the Seine. A chilled bottle of champagne was waiting at our table, which had the best view on board. We enjoyed a delicious meal as the boat made its circuit, circling Ile Saint Louis at one end and Allee des Cygnes at the other. The rain finally stopped, so we were able to stand on the top deck and enjoy the scenery between courses. After the cruise we stood on the river bank for a while enjoying a view of the lights on the Eiffel Tower.

Friday. The former boarding house where Auguste Rodin once lived and worked is now a museum. His largest and most famous sculptures occupy the beautiful gardens which surround the mansion. It was interesting to see how he often made more than one version of a work, trying different sizes and details. Many of his large pieces, such as the Thinker, are characters who were also incorporated into his unfinished project, The Gates of Hell (based on Dante’s “Inferno”). We spent the morning here and then had a slow lunch at the overcrowded and understaffed café a few blocks away.

For dinner we went to a local restaurant specializing in duck. Duck appetizers, duck salad, duck side dishes. We didn’t ask if they also had a duck-based dessert.

Saturday. Getting home often seems like the hardest part of a trip. We got up early and took a taxi (only a little more expensive than the train, and so much easier) to the airport. Many hours later we arrived in Chicago to go through customs and change planes. Every flight had been delayed because of weather, and the terminal was full of weary, frustrated travelers. Eventually planes began to move again and we headed toward home. From LAX we caught the bus to the Flyaway terminal where we retrieved the car and drove home, where we fell into bed just 24 hours after waking up in Paris.

Vacation Videos

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Water Lilies

Pompidou Center

Random Moments in Paris

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