Friday, August 12, 2011

August 12 - Paris (written by Jenny)

Our first full day in Paris and we had a lot of things to see, more than we could accomplish in two days. But, our first task was to make a brief stop at Hard Rock Café. Normally, we would never set foot in a Hard Rock but we had to this morning to pick up our Paris Pass. This is a pass that we purchased before we left, and turned out to be well worth its exorbitant cost. We got free metro rides and free entrance into several museums for two days. It also allows for some free tours and other benefits, but we were really only interested in those two things. The only hassle? A required trip to Hard Rock first thing in the morning.

Coincidentally, when we got there, we found something that Andy had been looking forward to seeing: the Passage des Panoramas. He’d read about it as being one of the original arcade passages in Paris. For folks without Andy’s nerdy passions, I’m literally talking about a passage, an alleyway between buildings that has an arched glass roof and shops along each side. These arcades were built long before malls as ways for people to shop in inclement weather. You still feel like you’re outside but protected. It was really quite lovely and old-fashioned. Since we had a few extra minutes before Hard Rock opened, Andy took the opportunity to snap some pictures of one an original nineteenth century arcade.

With our Paris Passes in hand, it was time for our next adventure, the Louvre. We had both been looking forward to this part of our visit but were not prepared for the greatness of it, both in the art it held and in its size. It’s so easy to get lost in the Louvre, and so luckily we grabbed a map on our way in. We had been warned to get there early in the morning and to go straight to the Mona Lisa before the huge crowds descended. It was a good warning. Our new Paris Passes not only got us in for free but placed us ahead of many of the crowds (like a fast pass at Disney). What a deal!

So when we got to the Mona Lisa, the crowds were manageable and we could take our time after that. I am sure that I have actually seen the Mona Lisa before, a long time ago. It must have been on loan to some museum that I visited in school. So I wasn’t surprised by the size like most people are. It’s actually fairly small, contrary to what you would think. Of course, Andy (ever the contrarian) thought it was a little larger than he expected. Oh well. It was beautiful, no matter the size.

From there we wandered a lot. Andy loves the paintings and I love the sculptures, so we got a well-rounded self-guided tour. I especially loved the Winged Victory statue, the one without a head. I’ve seen this one in history and art books my whole life. I also enjoyed seeing the Venus de Milo and Canova's Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss. What they could do with marble is amazing. Andy was excited to see Oath of the Horatii by David and Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix.

Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun is an artist I’d never heard of before, but I was struck by her portraits; they are so bright, with most of the subjects looking right at you with smiles. Her pieces just made me happy. It’s cool how we appreciate these things more as we get older. What I didn’t appreciate, though, was how difficult it is to go through a museum. We walked for hours on end around cities in Europe, but for the slow pace and constant stopping at this place was harder on me. By the time we were done, walking through the city proved to be a welcome change.

We got outside and saw the lovely Champs-Élysées, a long corridor of garden that leads toward the Arc de Triomphe. Yeah, it was a bit farther than we expected (probably at least a mile or so) but that was no problem. We enjoyed the lovely garden area that turned into city street and were excited to be able to see the famed monument. This is another one of those things I learned about as a kid. Andy and I both had Ms. Prince for French in middle school, and the other major French icon we learned about besides La Tour Eiffel was L'Arc de Triomphe. It’s been a major symbol of Paris and France for me ever since, so it was fabulous to see it! It’s actually in the middle island of a traffic circle, which really makes it stand out. And you can’t just cross the street to see it; you have to take underground tunnels. After about 10 minutes of looking for the tunnel, we finally got over to the arch and were standing right under it. Viewing all the reliefs and writing that covered it, I was inspired by the size.

Our Paris Pass came in handy again here. It got us in for free and past the long line of people waiting to climb to the top. In fact, we didn’t know what to expect, but after flashing our pass, we found ourselves headed up the spiral staircase – up and up! It was a strenuous climb, but well worth it. We got a stunning 360 degree view of Paris: the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and lots of things I didn’t even know. But what was more awesome to me was just the fact that we were up on top of the L'Arc de Triomphe! How cool is that!

After the Arch, we had to decide what to do next. Andy suggested the Musee d’Orsay, another famous art museum. This one featured more impressionistic art. So we saw different styles and artists, like Manet and Renoir. The most popular artist there, though was Toulouse-Lautrec. His paintings actually caused a line outside his room. But that’s not surprising, given that his work is known for immortalizing the Moulin Rouge. Andy loved the D’Orsay because he had studied a lot of these works and artists in a class he took a year or so ago at the local community college. I tended to prefer the Louvre, though I did see some pieces I really liked here, too. Still, all that walking through another museum just wore me out, and I found myself longing for benches.

By now it was late in the afternoon. The day really flew by and we hadn’t even recreated Andy’s favorite Paris painting, Paris Street; Rainy Day! If you have known Andy any length of time, you might know that he loves to recreate things that he loves (including scenes from movies like Close Encounters. This time, he wanted to find the exact spot in Paris where this painting was set and recreate it. The web is a great thing, because he was able to find websites dedicated to this painting and its location before we left for our trip, so he had it all mapped out. Sure enough, when we got there, I could tell that this really was the spot, even though there are many in the city that look similar. It was really quite cool to see it. Andy had a printout of the painting and we worked for about an hour to set ourselves up in the right pose and ensure that we had enough ennui on our faces. I’ve got to say, it came out pretty good. We made sure to bring an umbrella!

Once our own work of art was complete, it was time to find a nice quiet but fun area to get some dinner and wander the Paris streets. Andy had heard that the Latin Quarter was just such a place, so we hopped back on the metro. I think we did this area wrong, though. I studied the map of where it was, but when we got there, the streets were dead. Nothing was open and there weren’t a lot of people. We remembered that this was a college area and that it is August; maybe that had something to do with it. Either way, we wandered a bit until we found some life: a few streets of restaurants and shops, and even another passage like the one from the morning to explore. It still wasn’t a stunning area but we found a reasonable place to eat. The restaurants love to offer outdoor dining, which is great, but unfortunately they end up cramming a bunch of tables together. We had fun anyway. After dinner we thought we’d go and see the Seine, which was just a few blocks away. It was lovely at night, and we crossed a couple of bridges and took some great pictures of the full moon. It was a beautiful, romantic night.

Day 20 | Day 22

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