Monday, September 14, 2015

An American family Europe: Day 3, Paris

(Previously: Getting to Paris)

After a good night's sleep we awoke to find ... we're really in Paris!

Our rental apartment was barely big enough for the four of us and not loaded with any amenities, or even toilet paper. But it was in an outstanding location in the Marais District, with plenty of restaurants, stores and sights within easy walking distance.

Our first stop on the sightseeing parade was the Notre Dame Cathedral (no Touchdown Jesus here, football fans). Getting there about 9:45, there was no line, so we went straight in.

Wow, it's big inside.  The ceiling, supported by huge columns, soared impressively up to the heavens. There were various religious and historical displays to look at as we wandered through with hundreds of out tourist friends. The most interesting to me were some displays and a model showing how the cathedral was built.

We considered doing the stair climb to the roof of the cathedral -- it had opened just a little before we exited the cathedral -- but when we found that line extending far down the side of the building and decided to skip it. (I'm not bothered by missing this, despite its reputation for having fine views. We would get good views later at the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.)

We wandered a bit -- wandering is especially good in Paris because there seems to be something interesting around every corner.  We saw a memorial to French Jews who died in the Holocaust, and stopped at a bridge where the railing is overloaded with locks (some sort of act of commitment between lovers). We stopped at the cozy Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

Crossing back over the Seine, we visited the Conciergerie, a castle from the 13th and 14th centuries that was later turn into a prison. It was particularly notorious during the Reign of Terror of 1794-95 for holding prisoners on their way to their execution, most notably Marie Antoinette. There's not a whole lot to see here, but you do get to see the cell where Marie Antoinette spent her final days.

We ate at a sidewalk cafe across the street -- again, the food came fast --, and got to watch the tourist parade. Prior to our trip, I had got involved in an online discussion about the "right" way to dress when visiting Paris. Now I realized how silly it was. There were tons of tourists dressed in all sorts of ways. The notion that you had to dress some particular way or you would stand out was ridiculous.

We headed back to our apartment for a little jet-lag recovery before heading out, in late afternoon, for the most famous art museum in the world: The Pepe Le Pew Memorial Gallery.

Kidding. We were heading to the Lourve, of course, To get there, we took the Metro subway for the first time, a system I would grow to love. We took numerous trains during our three days in Paris, and never had to wait for more than a minute or two for one to come along. And they can take you quickly almost anywhere in the city.

The subway dropped us into an underground mall that lies below the plaza next to the Louvre. That seems pretty convenient, but it was also a little bewildering.  This was no small mall -- it had hallways going out in various directions, leaving us wondering: Where is the Louvre? It wasn't obvious.

Eventually we found the entrance -- actually, there are three entrances underground, one for each wing. Our Museum Passes helped us avoid a short line, we rented some audio guides and we entered.

The audio guides proved at first a little frustrating to use. Perhaps I was expecting too much -- I thought the device could tell me about every piece of art, but in fact they only provide details on a few select pieces in each room.

The Louvre is HUGE, so we knew we had to be selective. Rather than actually think, we joined the pack and headed to the Lourve's "big three" -- Mona Lisa, Winged Victory and Venus de Milo..

This was, I confess, "check-the-box" tourism at its lowest form. Hundreds of  tourists surrounded the Mona Lisa for their requisite photos that would prove to generations to come that they were there. Winged Victory and Venus de Milo attracted crowds, too, though slightly smaller.

Those boxes checked, we wandered into other rooms and found various items that appealed to each of us. I was fascinated by the giant paintings that filled entire walls, such as the "Coronation of Napoleon" by Jacques-Louis David.  Still, the crowds started to wear our patience.

My favorite part of the Louvre -- in part because it was uncrowded -- were the massive medieval walls that filled rooms in the basement. These walls, part of the original castle on this site, were discovered during an excavation in the 1980s.

When we exited the Louvre, we were ready for dinner. At this point, we found an unusual problem: We couldn't get out of the underground mall. Two central exits were closed ("Hello, fire marshal?"). A worker directed us down a hallway, which turned out to be a dead end, but we did find a place to eat: the renowned French restaurant, Le McDonalds (don't judge us; we were starving).

After finally finding a way to the ground level we strolled up through the expansive Tuliere Gardens. My son and I rode the giant ferris wheel in the small amusement park area.

We saw the Arc de Triomphe ahead of us and at first thought we could just walk to it. Soon, we realized it would be quite a long walk, so we paid a bicycle cab 20 Euros to take us there.  Twenty euros to haul a family of four uphill on the Champs Elysses. This hard-working pedi-cab driver earned our respect -- and a tip.

The Museum Pass allowed us to skip the line at Arc de Triomphe and soon we were climbing the many, many stairs to the top. Don't attempt if you're not in good shape!

The view from the top was gorgeous. Like a clockface, 12 streets extending out from the Arc in all directions. We could see the Eiffel Tower in one direction, the Champs Elysses in another. It was nearly 10 p.m., and yet the sun had not set.

What a day. We took the subway home for a well-deserved rest.

Next: Versailles

The full trip, by day: 

Days 1 and 2, Los Angeles to Paris

Day 3, Paris

Day 4, the Palace of Versailles

Day 5, the Eiffel Tower

Day 6, Goodbye France, hello England

Day 7, Windsor Castle & Stonehenge

Day 8, Bath

Day 9, Doctor Who and Swansea's LC

Day 10, the waterfalls of Wales

Day 11, Blists Hill and Ironbridge

Day 12, Warwick Castle

Day 13, Oxford and Harry Potter Studio Tour

Day 14, this is London

Day 15, British Museum and British Library

Day 16, the Tube goes on strike

Day 17, Greenwich, the Thames and Westminster Abbey

Day 18, the Tower of London

Day 19, heading home


(Please support this blog by clicking on an ad.)

No comments:

Post a Comment