In front of the Pantheon (and it’s Christmas trees)
I didn’t have a specific plan in mind when I left the hotel this morning. I figured I’d go for a walk and see where it took me. Which is a great way to start an adventure.
I walked all over central Paris until I found myself in front of a great big building with a lot of Christmas trees. Turns out it was the Pantheon, so I figured I might as well go in. And then they were selling the Paris Museum Pass, so I picked up one that is good for a couple of days so that I could just go into any of the cool places I came across as I adventured. I wandered through the Pantheon for a bit, mostly down in the crypts where I found the burial places of Marie Curie and Victor Hugo. I also found the vault for Voltair which had extra fancy sculptures. I didn’t stay very long, but I’m glad I went in.
As I walked I found a park where someone had “vandalized” a bunch of the statues by adding clown noses to them. It was one of my favourite things I saw today! Sadly what I didn’t do as I walked was stop somewhere to get a croissant. I will remedy that tomorrow.
Next I found myself at Notre Dame Cathedral.I plan to go back for mass on Christmas Eve, but I was delighted to have time to walk through the building as a tourist as well. The stained glass windows are stunning and they had one of the most elaborate nativity scenes I have ever seen before. As I was browsing the gift shop I saw a sign that said, “How do I get up the tours? Get outside and around the corner.” This piqued my interest so I made my way outside and joined the line. The line was long but it moved quickly and soon I found myself climbing the nearly 400 steps to the top of the bell tower. There were a handful of stops on the way up, and I think if there hadn’t been I might have had an asthma attack. That is a lot of steps to climb! But I’m so glad I did it. I didn’t get to see the bells because they are doing some repairs and the bells can’t be seen again until March, but I did see gargoyles and the entire city of Paris stretched out in every direction, and the spire on the lower level of the Cathedral.
Gargoyles watching over Paris
I did get some people to take photos of me, but with the screen on my camera not working none of them turned out. This means there aren’t many that I’m actually in, but I did take some decent ones of what I could see. The climb down the tower was easier than the climb up. I counted 389 steps on the way down (200 more than GrossMunster in Zurich), but the brochure says there are 400. I may have to go back there tomorrow in order to buy one of the Christmas ornaments from the giftshop in the main part of the Cathedral. I didn’t buy one today and I’m kicking myself about it now.
At the Louvre
I continued my adventure past more fountains and statues than I could count and realized just how pathetic our North American cities must seem to folks from Europe. These cities are built around art with fountains and statues and parks and beautiful buildings and the glass of Vancouver’s skyscrapers seem somehow less. They’re still pretty, but they’re not…rich in the same way that these cities are. There is more history in one brick of the sidewalk here than in blocks of Vancouver.
I found myself next at the Louvre. Now there’s a beautiful building that is overwhelming by sheer scale. I’d say that it is larger than all the buildings at my university put together.
Obligatory Mona Lisa photo.
I walked through a lot of the building at an alarming pace. It is hard to take in that much art in a short period of time. I made my way to the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo and took my obligatory photos with them. It was interesting to me because those two rooms – room 6 of the Italian paintings and the second room of the roman sculpture collection were by far the busiest rooms in the museum. I think that many people, like myself, feel a sense of obligation in a building with such masterpieces. When there is so much and you don’t know much about it, it is easy to gravitate to the masterpieces that you know of – the pieces that have arrows directing you through the building to find them. But at the same time it makes me sad that people (myself included) don’t spend the time to find the pieces instead that speak to them. I think my two favourite parts of the Louvre were the medieval ruins in the basement from the original Louvre and the courtyard of French sculpture. The courtyard almost had me in tears as I looked around, overwhelmed by the fact that this is my life and this was how I was spending my afternoon.
When my brain could no longer handle being in halls with hundreds of paintings, I left the Louvre and decided to venture in the direction of the Eiffel Tower. After all, this is Paris and that is what you’re supposed to do here, right? But I came across an interesting looking building and discovered that it was included on my museum pass so I decided to go in. I had no idea what I was going in to see. The building was the Musee de l’Orangerie and I walked into the Les Nymphéas room with no idea what I was about to see. I had to sit down. At the Tate Modern I saw one of Monet’s Water Lillies paintings and thought it was beautiful. There was another at the Hermitage Amsterdam. But seeing both of those did not prepare me for the rooms. The eight paintings from Monet’s Water Lillies series that are on display at the Musee de l’Orangerie are approximately 6 feet high by 40 feet long. They completely took my breath away. They are displayed on curved walls, one per wall, surrounding the viewer. Absolutely amazing. After spending time in those two rooms, I made my way downstairs to see the works of Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin, Rousseu, Derain, and Matisse. I got more out of the four or five rooms in the Musee de l’Orangerie than I did in the grand halls of the Louvre. These paintings spoke.
I found it! One of the most recognizable landmarks in the world.
From there I really did make my way to the Eiffel Tower, stopping only long enough to buy a passionfruit macaron as big as my hand. As I stood at the Eiffel Tower eating my macaron I had another one of those moments of awe at how amazing my life is and how it is nothing like I imagined it would be and that I can’t wait to see what will come next.
My final destination before returning to the hotel was back on the other side of town – closer to Notre Dame than the Eiffel Tower and by this point – having walked more than 10km – my legs were starting to feel like jelly. With all of those factors, I decided it was time to figure out the Paris Metro system. I made my way to a station, purchased a book of 10 tickets, and found my way by train across town. Not so difficult! My destination was the Opera National de Paris’ Bastille location for an evening performance of Don Quixote by their resident ballet company. I had supper at a little cafe across the intersection from the theatre and then headed inside. I didn’t take any photos of the building because its not that interesting. It has fantastic acoustics (based on how well I could hear the dancers breathing) but it is a modern opera hall without much decoration. The ballet itself was quite good, though unfortunately I fell asleep for part of the first act. All of my walking had caught up to me and I was in a comfortable seat in a dark room with beautiful music. I just couldn’t stop myself! But I was awake for all of acts two and three and enjoyed them very much.
With a Parisian Christmas tree, all decorated with brightly colored bows.
After the show I took the Metro again back to my hotel. The Metro system is easy to figure out with a map, but I need to figure out which exit I should use at the nearby station because I ended up not at all close to my hotel, where there is one exit that comes out within a block!
And now it is two in the morning and my jelly legs need to sleep before the adventure continues!