Before I get started, I want to let you know that I will be posting pics to go with the running European commentary. However I am waiting on a CD from Jeff b/c I cleaned out my camera memory and left all of the pictures on his computer while in Germany. He is editing them and making them beautiful and then sending them on. I’m afraid Ann will be the one who will be actually mailing the CD, so that could take a while (Ann describes herself as “post office-challenged”, but I just like to call her post office differently-abled). So just picture it all in your head for the time being.
We did not get up and go Saturday morning, but slept in and eventually got kicked back onto the streets by the Whites, who are much more of the up and at ’em type than the Kendricks. We started off in line to buy a museum pass at Sainte-Chapelle, a beautiful chapel built in 1248 for Louis IX to house the supposedly original Crown of Thorns, not far from Notre Dame. While Justin and I stood in line, a man came up and said, “Y’all from Alabama?” My immediate thought was, “Is it that obvious?” but then I realized the backpack Justin had on said Auburn on it. He had on a purple and gold LSU sweatshirt, and he said he used to sell something (cattle supplies? Elvis paintings? I can’t remember now) down in Lower Alabama. He and Justin traded small town names for a while and I tuned out, but I do remember him saying he had that same sweatshirt on while visiting Bath in England and got some funny looks. Why he would get funny looks in Bath but not in Paris is beyond me, but I didn’t press him. Someone else asked us if this was the line for Notre Dame, I felt knowledgeable enough to say no, and then Ann appeared and we got our passes and went into Sainte-Chapelle.
It is not as famous as some of the other landmarks in Paris, but Sainte-Chapelle is home to an amazing collection of stained glass panels chronicling every major event in Christian history. Once we climbed the ancient stone steps to the Haute Chapelle, we saw it for ourselves, and the beauty and sheer immensity of the stained glass is impossible to convey. Our guide book pointed out notable panels, but I enjoyed just taking it all in and watching the glass light up as the sun shone through. Ann, Justin and I looked around for a while, and then descended to the common ground to go join up with the rest of the group.
Eventually, we regrouped and made our way down to the tip of the Ile de la Cite where the boat tours pushed off. We hopped onto the boat and secured seats in the front. The Seine was the highest it’s been in 13 years, so they were not allowing people to sit on the upper deck of the boat. Our bike tour guide said that some of the tour boats had actually hit the bottom of the bridge because the water was so high. Ann and Jeff miraculously produced baguettes, cold cuts, cheese and crackers, and our group of 10 promptly demolished all of it. For dessert, we feasted on “squirrel hearts”, a little known delicacy from Germany. They are actually fruit-juice flavored, heart-shaped gummies, apparently christened by PC when he and his family were in Europe last summer. I guess the gummies are the size of squirrel hearts, but I have not yet had the opportunity to dissect a squirrel and find out. The highlight of the tour was seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time since arriving in Paris. Jack had been extremely excited about seeing it, and it really is enormous, very impressive on water or on land. We also saw the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay as well as Notre Dame again and the Conciergerie where Marie- Antoinette was imprisoned. While on the boat, we hatched a plan for Mom, Justin and I to go tour the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay while Ann and Jeff watched the kids back at the apartment.
As soon as we docked and with three hours to view two of the world’s most famous museums, Mom, Justin and I booked it to the Musee D’Orsay and took the Rick Steves tour of the third floor, where the Impressionist paintings are displayed. I was disappointed in Rick, for once – the tour was very minimal. We had gotten a general feeling from people who had been there before us that we would enjoy the Orsay more than the Louvre but for us, that was not the case. The gallery was crowded and we were tired. But we got to see Whistler’s mother, several Van Goghs, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne. Renior’s Dance at the Moulin de la Galette was beautiful with the sunlight falling on the frolicking Parisians, and I found an Impressionist painting of some turkeys that I really loved. (I’m serious! I made Justin take a picture.) We skimmed the other floors and quickly departed for the Louvre. On our way we got to walk through a bit of the Tuileries Garden (beautiful! quintessentially Parisian!) and soon found ourselves facing the famous glass pyramid in the courtyard of the old Louvre palace.
We descended into the art abyss (the security guard opened Mom to open up her backpack and when he saw coloring books and crayons, waved her through), got our bearings, and headed off to ancient Greece in the Denon wing. It is amazing to look at a statue or stone chest and realize that it was made way, way before Jesus walked the earth. The first recognizable statue we saw was the Venus de Milo. I read the description from Rick while Justin and Mom looked on. We took a Roman detour and wandered through countless Caesar busts (I was determined to find Augustus, but never knew it if I did), and then entered the Octagonal Room. There is a plaque there reminding us that the museum opened in 1793. The Louvre was originally a palace, and when the French Revolution took place and monarchs were very unpopular (and quickly nonexistent), the French people took over the king’s domicile and vast art collection and voila! you have Europe’s oldest public museum. From this room we entered the Apollo Gallery, where we saw the royal crowns and the 140-carat RegentDiamond. Pretty impressive! We breezed through the Medieval World and soon found the Italian Renaissance area, famous for that old lady with her mischievous smile. We got to see her, but really enjoyed the huge canvas directly opposite entitled The Marriage at Cana by Paolo Veronese. It was a feast for the eyes! But I loved Mona as well. The nice thing about touring the museums so late – it was almost closing time – was that there was almost no one there.
The other painting I personally enjoyed was The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David. Apparently Napoleon thought so highly of himself (remember he’s an emperor, not just a king) that he took the crown from the Pope and crowned himself! The guide book says Napoleon is the largest canvas at the Louvre, but it is hung in such a huge gallery that it’s hard to tell if it’s bigger than The Marriage at Cana. After Napoleon, we started making our way back to the entrance as it was just a few minutes before closing time. We did get to see Michelangelo’s Slaves briefly, but by that time the security folks were starting to shut down rooms and herd us all toward the exits. We found our way to the Metro (toyed with the idea of walking home, but that was one of our 10-mile days, so thought better of additional walking), got back to the apartment, and dropped Majo off to watch the kids while Justin and I went back out with Ann and Jeff to Chez Janou, one of Ann’s favorite little restaurants.
We enjoyed a fabulous meal – I had a spinach salad with chevre and tomatoes, then a little game hen with green beans and something else I can’t remember, and Justin and Ann both had duck. I can’t remember what Jeff had. We all ended up getting dessert – I got a tarte tatin (I don’t think I spelled that right), Jeff got chocolate mousse – they brought this huge bowl and let him scoop out as much as he wanted, and it seems like Ann and Justin had creme brulee. We enjoyed plenty of good wine and water, walked back to the apartment to check in with Majo, and the left again because I wanted to see the Arc de Triomphe.
We took the Metro over, and the Arc was really worth the trouble. It was beautiful and massive, with traffic circling about, a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and the Champs-Elysees straight ahead! We took lots of pictures, walked around a bit, and then started down the Champs-Elysees, the most expensive real estate in Paris. Lots of cool boutiques, and apparently someone famous was about to visit because the police were out en force with full riot gear on. We walked and walked (at this point supper and a very long day of power touring were catching up with me) and Jeff and I ran out to the middle of the street to take a picture of the Arc de Triomphe – a little nerve-wracking for me with cars zooming past on either side, quite close by! Then we got to the end, saw the US Embassy, got on the Metro and headed home. A Very Full first day in Paris which actually spilled over into the next day too – it was around 1 before we got home.