Europe 2008 (Paris) Day 18 – June 11

11 06 2008

Today was the Louvre day.  We headed out after our usual breakfast and got to the museum around 1000.  We were overwhelmed by the size of the place.  It was huge.  There were so many people milling about lobby area. 

Overall impressions:

  • Huge
  • Need 2 days to see it properly
  • Incredible collection of antiquities and works by masters.
  • If you’re smart you can tag in behind a tour group and hear what the guide is telling them about particular masters or their paintings.
  • Don’t forget the Renoirs, Venus de Milo.
  • Cool Egyptian relics from 3000BC!

We saw the Mona Lisa.  It’s a bit anticlimactic.  You have built this painting up in your mind for all these years and you get to the room where it is.  There is a throng of people pushing to see it and take photos.  Flash bulbs are popping right left and centre.  We worked our way in the crowd to the front of the mass.  It certainly wasn’t a time to quietly reflect on the asymmetry in her arms or to see if the eyes followed you.  You couldn’t move anywhere.  We took our pictures and spend a good 10 seconds admiring her before letting someone else push their way up to where we were standing.  We stood off to the side and enjoyed watching the crowds, probably more than we did the Mona Lisa.

Now… why does the Louvre not worry about camera flash and its UV destroying the delicate masterpiece that is the Mona Lisa?  Is it because by being behind glass most of the UV is cut out?  Why?  This pictures/no pictures thing gets kind of annoying.

The Louvre is housed in what was previously a royal palace.  They have reconstructed many of the rooms to be as they were back then.  The dining room which seated about 30 of your closest friends was amazing.  The chandeliers extravagant.  After this and the visit to Versailles, it wasn’t hard to see why the peasants killed them all.  They lived so excessively over the top, all from the money they extracted in taxes.  If I was living in dirt and barely eating any bread, I might be inclined to pull the rope on the guillotine myself.

Our only other task for the day was to head back to Louis Vitton to get Eddie’s wallet.  We took the metro a couple of stops and popped up right at correct intersection.  One small problem.  We hadn’t eaten since breakfast and we’d been on our feet for the whole day!  Another 15 euro meal?  This was going to cost us an arm and a leg.  Nope. We hit McDonalds.  Yes, McD’s  in Paris.  For those of you out there that are Pulp Fiction Fans the quarter pounder is really called Le Royal.  LOL!  At 6 euros for a combo, it made for a pretty pricy McChicken but it was good.  Honestly we were pretty hungry and sawdust probably would have tasted good. 

Having brought our energy levels back up from zero we headed over to LV.  We went over to the men’s section and asked for Eddie’s wallet.  This was going to be quick and easy.  Then the dreaded words came from behind me, "Do you have a similar wallet but for women?"  WHAT????  Could that really have been my wife’s voice?  I turned like in one of those action films where the hero sees his love interest being shot.  A second seemed like an eternity.  My mind reeled, "Noooooo!!!!!!"  but it was too late.   The snooty salesman was more than happy to help.  We spent another 30 minutes looking at overpriced means of holding that which you wouldn’t have if you bought one of them.  Sigh.  Women.

Having done our shopping for others, it was now time for us to do something for ourselves that we could afford.  Laundry.  We had one more load of laundry to do and we’d have enough clean laundry to last us until the end of the trip.  From looking at $1000 wallets to washing your undies in a laundromat.   Heh.  Life’s funny how it reminds you of reality.  Tonight we went over to the "Fran Prix" supermarket and picked up some Camembert, ham, salami, wine, water and grapefruit juice.  We had the meat and cheese and wine for dinner along with a baguette from the neighbouring bakery.  Cheap.  Good.  Oh so French. 🙂

Up to the lobby again later to try and find a place for post-Normandy.  I found a Holiday Inn express in Amiens.  Booked.  The post Paris landscape had been reshaped.  We were going to hit the beaches of Normandy on the day between the two nights in Caen.  We would hit Dieppe from Caens to Amiens and then Vimy from Amiens to Calais/Heathrow.  Much better breakdown of driving all ’round.  Some things are just fall into place to make it all work better I guess.

Tomorrow we will be leaving Paris.  What a wonderful city.  Full of so many incredible sights.  I could see living here.  As long as I had an income to match the spending levels that are required.



Europe 2008 (Paris) Day 17 – June 10

11 06 2008

Today we got up a little less bright and early – 0800.  The small room at the hotel was fine, although people came and went outside until fairly late.  We were finished our breakfast at 0850 and on our way by 0900.

Funny thing about living in the hostel environment.  Around breakfast we had mentioned to someone that we were planning to visit the Louvre today.  They turned, in surprise, and explained: "The Louvre is closed.  All Museums except d’Orsay are closed Tuesdays."  Whoops.  Plan B.  All I had to do was actually come up with plan "B" 😉

OK, so plan "B" consisted of Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, and if time provided we’d hit Sacre Coeur.  The hostel environment certainly paid off.  We would have ended up at the Louvre wondering why they were closed.    We started down to Notre Dame on the metro and arrived about 4 blocks from the church.  The day was nice and sunny, it was starting to get pretty warm. On our way to Notre Dame we passed by Sainte Chapelle – CLOSED due to strike.  Strike?  It’s a CHURCH?  Urgh! Today and the next day.  Basically closed for the rest of our stay in Paris :(  Plan "C"?  We wing it.

When we arrived at Notre Dame we got to the front area and found a small SEA of tourists.  Up until Paris we really hadn’t hit many crowds.  I had taken us to locations that were a bit off the beaten path.  No way to avoid that in Paris it seemed.  Summer was coming and the tourists (French and otherwise) were flowing in.  Entry to the cathedral was free.  Free? Yes – Free.  Gratis.  Sans tariffe.  Go figure.  We walked throughout the cathedral and enjoyed the history and feel of the great old gothic church.  The interior was very tall and this meant that it was really, really hard to shoot the windows.  1) They were so far away, and 2) the keystoning was nasty.  I’m not terribly happy with the results.   We shelled out 3 euros to get into the sacristie and see the treasures of the church.  There were many beautifully adorned items and interesting relics.  The catholic church certainly knew how to get donations. :)  As we toured about, a choir began to sing, accompanied by the organ.  It was heavenly, the sounds of the all female chorus floated beautifully throughout.  Between the choir and the organ it let you float away on the sounds.

Having been around the church, we decided we’d walk around to the back of the church on the outside to see if we could get some good shots of the cathedral from another angle.  It looks so different from the outside.  We walked around and took some good pictures.  As we were going around we came across a French scout troop that was definitely putting the "out" in Scouting.  They were meeting on the lawn behind the church.  You could see that one part of the group was working on some basic knot skills while another section of the troop was doing something else.  We continued away from Notre Dame to try and get further away in order not to be shooting up at 70 degree angles.  It was REALLY hot.  We tried to stay in the shade of trees whenever we could.  

Next on the "agenda" I figured we could take a walk along the canal/river.  As we headed toward the water we ran into a location shoot for a Hollywood flick "Julie/Julia".  We stayed and watched for a bit.  There were no stars that I recognized.  Sorry Blair.  We walked over one of the bridges and down to the Seine.  It was a pleasant walk, keeping in the shade of the embankment as we walked.  There were many artists sketching the cathedral or street life.  Very much as you would imagine Paris by the river.  We walked a while further and then realized we were right at an RER station.  I looked at our metro map… The musee d’Orsay was on the RER line AND it was open.  Sweet… musee d’Orsay it was!  We hopped on the RER and went to musee d’Orsay which, if you recall from above,  is the only major museum not closed on Tuesdays.  We got out of the train station right at the museum.  A few steps outside and we realised it was HOT, HOT, HOT!  Good thing we were heading inside.  We went to the ticket lineup and proceeded through the standard security check and then walked right in.  Yup.  No fee.  Another free attraction.  We couldn’t figure out why it was free.  Our best guess in retrospect was because all the other museums were closed.  We weren’t about to complain.

We wandered the galleries for about 4 hours and saw works by Monet, van Gogh, Gaugin and Degas among others.  Wow, to see the paintings in person really gives you an appreciation for their works.  You can see the brush strokes and the detail.  The 6th floor was where all the real heavyweight great works were.  Just one masterpiece after another.  If you go visit the museum don’t think "I’ll skip the 6th floor, it’s probably more of the same."  Get ye to the 6th floor!

After d’Orsay we were tired.  We’d been doing some serious "on foot time" today, but we figured we could squeeze in Sacre Coeur still and leave the Louvre for tomorrow.  We took the metro from d’Orsay to the the  Montmartre funniculaire, it would be short hop up the funicular to get up to the church.  We walked from the metro to the funicular to find a sign that said "Funicular closed for repairs"  D’Oh!  More stairs!  About 60ft of elevation to climb to get to the church.  Huff, puff, water, walk, water, rest, water, walk.  The heat and the walking were really taking their toll on us.  We made it up the stairs to see the prominently placed Eglise du Sacre Coeur.  It rose above the area around it, even the hill on which it was placed.  It was definitely a good "church place’. Entry:  free.  Things weren’t all bad. As we entered the church some big guy told us "Cameras away in your bags."  No photos in the church.  It is supposed to be a place of 24 hour prayer and silence.  I suppose the clicking and the flashes from those that can’t turn off their flash.  Bummer.  The guy at the door was quite fanatical about the photo thing too.  We saw someone take a photo and he called the erstwhile photographer over and made him delete the picture in front of him.  This guy took his (probably volunteer) job seriously.  I’d hate to think what would have happened if the dude had used flash!  The stained glass windows in the church were lovely and the sun shone through them strongly, throwing coloured squares all around the floor.  It was very nice. The church is new (as far as old churches are concerned).  It was built in 1919.  The newness meant that, unlike all the other churches we’d visited to date, they hadn’t used candles and torches to light the church in the past.  All the walls were a beautiful clean white granite and it almost glistened.  Quite a difference from all the older churches that had a dark black sooty look to much of their interior stone.

After the inside, we did the requisite walk around the outside to see the church from different views.   We saw that you could climb up to the top of the tower for 5 euros.  As much as we wanted to, our feet weren’t going to agree with that idea.  An option that seemingly nobody else was taking was to head down into the crypt.  That was free.  The crypt was cool.  (both temperature and in effect).  There was nobody else in there.  It was so quiet that you could hear feet walking even in running shoes.    It was quiet eerie.   The crypt, of course, is where they keep their relics.  Unfortunately the light was so poor in the area of the relic cases, all I could discern was a piece of fabric and some fragments of bone.  Interesting.

We decided to walk back from Sacre Coeur back to the hotel.  Of course we didn’t let the small problem of having no idea which way that was get in the way.   We walked for a while and then decided to pull out Tom Tom.   Tom Tom hadn’t let us down yet, but he was going to have a challenge in the narrow, building lined streets of the area.  After a lot of thinking Tom Tom figured out where we were but it kept getting the way we were walking wrong, so it kept telling us to reverse direction, turn right and then change its mind and tell us to turn left.  Some gentleman, seeing that we were obviously not 100% sure of our directions offered to help.  He pointed us in the direction that Tom Tom had picked as well.  Tom Tom had picked the physically best walking route, but had no knowledge of altitude changes so it was happy to take us up the mountain and down again to keep the path short.  The gentleman had given us a more "round the mountain" route.  We went with his directions 🙂

On the way back we grabbed a couple cans of Heineken and a bottle of red wine.  When we got back to the hotel we drained those cans like they had plain water.  We were so thirsty.

We decided to try the French restaurant at the bottom of the steps for dinner.  Let me tell you about the steps. Caulaincourt Square is located on the side of the hill (massive mountain if you’re walking) and to go up or down one block on the hill meant about a 80 step climb.  The metro was about 150 steps from the street down to the track level.  The steps down to the restaurant were about 80 steps (probably 3 floors elevation change)  We arrived around 1900 for dinner.  The place was nearly empty except for one other table.  The day outside was finally beginning to be less sweltering.  We had a pretty authentic french meal.  I had a duck and Irene lamb.  They were well prepared and the sauces complimented them well.  The dinner was 14 euros each but it felt worth it.  Good food, good service and cute waitress  😉

We went back to the hotel and I took the laptop up to the lobby where I could get WiFi working.  We had to try to book a room in Normandy and Ypres.  Time was ticking and we didn’t want to end up in a predicament like we did in Troyes. I searched and searched.  I must have tried 10 different hotel search engines.  Most of the small places only had email or a phone number, and I wouldn’t hear back from them until at least the next day.  I sent the emails but didn’t give them much hope.  I really needed to book a room today.  We finally ended up booking a place in Caen.  The price was reasonable.  With our relocated Normandy accommodations it meant I had some more flexibility in the night after the two nights in Normandy.  Good thing too, as Ypres appeared to be booked solid and all the hotel search engines were offering Brugges which is even FARTHER than Ypres from where I was.  We might settle on Amiens.  No last post in Ypres for me if we do.

At 0030 I headed back to the room with still only Caen booked but a better idea for our Normandy adventure coming up… Tomorrow is going to be a long day of museuming at the Louvre.

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