Day 5: La Ville Lumière

 

Paris

May 29, 2019

Today was a huge day in Paris!  And it was fantastic. We started off by eating at our hotel’s contintntal breakfast. It’s starting to become a pattern seeing these automatic espresso/latte machines that I talked about our full day in London. This hotel has one, and the ferry had one as well, so that makes it so that everywhere I’ve been to breakfast, they have one of those machines.  No problem here, because they are great! Hopefully the trend continues! With my Cappuccino I had some french style scrambled eggs (which are different than both American and British, I believe), a chocolate croissant, and some bacon (which just like in London was different than American bacon…it was almost like ham).

Our first stop of the day was at the Eiffel tower!  We took the metro to the closest stop. We walked essentially around the whole thing, getting some pictures along the way. I wanted to be sure we got some pictures from the lawn below it, in addition to the high wall of the plaza above it which we got last night.  It’s truly amazing how big it is. I couldn’t help but think how hard it would be to paint the thing. There’s so much metal to it, and so many small, narrow pieces going every which-way. It would take forever!

The Eiffel Tower
At The Eiffel Tower!

From the tower we decided to head to the famous Champs-Élysées toward the Louvre. I initially thought this street would be lined with famous shops, but the portion that we walked did not have too many. It was almost like a park along the busy street.  We enjoyed the nice stroll. It eventually ran through Place de la Concorde, which features an Egyptian obelisk as the notable symmetric feature. After this, our walk brought us into the Jardin des Tuileries. It was a nice park-like area with a few restaurants nestled in the trees, with benches lining the main path to the Louvre. We took a stop at one of these restaurants called La Terrasse De Pomone, where I got a savory quiche with Feta cheese, spinach, tomato and mint in it (feta de brebis, epinards, tomate, menthe). The mint was of the subtlest flavor in the quiche but you could tell it was there–it was a great compliment!  I also got a homemade dark chocolate crêpe (ganache chocolat noir maison), which put me in heaven. One of the best crêpes I’ve had! Our waiter spoke English which surprised me, and the menu also had English translations for all the items, which was nice. Still a bit surprising, but I’m sure there are lots of American and UK tourists who come to France.

From the restaurant we headed to the Louvre. Of course, we had to get the shots of the famous pyramid in the courtyard. It’s an amazing work of art in itself!  After this, we probably spent about 15 minutes trying to find the entrance! We were told it would be a bad idea to enter via the main entrance near the pyramid since the queue was packed with people wanting to get in. We tried to find the other entrance, via the Galerie du Carrousel (99 rue de Rivoli), and finally found it after hunting for a bit.  There was no obvious signage that told us this, which I suppose is because that would throw off the aesthetics of the whole scene. Entering the Louvre reminded me of entering a shopping mall…tons of people, restaurants, and shops (they even had a Tommy Hilfiger). So bizarre. It turns out that when you first go in, it’s a public area–you even have to pay for the bathrooms.  It isn’t until the actual gallery that you have to show your ticket. Fortunately, we bought ours online the day before (which is the way to go) so we didn’t have to wait in any ticket lines.

Outside the Louvre
At the Louvre with the Louvre Pyramid in the background

We first went into the “Exhibition” area, as we figured this was where the paintings lived. Alas, this was just a small section about the Hittites and old tablets and stone artifacts from their civilization.  Interesting, but not worth staying too long. We ended up asking a staff member for directions. “Pardon, where are the paintings?” we asked. “What paintings are you looking for specifically? The Mona Lisa, perhaps?” he replied. “Yes,” we replied, realizing we were officially labeled as “those” tourists, ha! Using his directions, we headed to the paintings. Lots of people headed that way…we probably could have just watched where the people were going to find out. Signs with the Mona Lisa and an arrow guided the pack to the most famous painting.  Along the way to see the Mona Lisa were absolutely huge paintings, some from floor to ceiling. I can’t even imagine transporting much less painting such a masterpiece. We recognized a few of the paintings, but couldn’t really remember their names. We finally arrived at the Mona Lisa along with probably about 200-300 other people trying to get as close as they could to the painting. There was essentially a big mob behind stanchions, and the staff was intermittently opening them to dismiss 10-20 people at a time to exit. Taking pictures of the painting was totally OK, but apparently it was a no-no to take a picture while exiting. The staff hounded anyone when they attempted this (quotes such as “Excuse me sir, are you deaf???” were quite common). I’m guessing because it blocked peoples’ view? I’m still not sure. I waited it out in the mob and eventually arrived at the front where I could get a good picture.  It was smaller than I expected, seems like it was about 20”x30” or so? Definitely tiny compared some of the floor-to-ceiling paintings in the gallery outside.

The mona lisa
The Mona Lisa (plus the massive crowd to see it)

We walked and browsed a few more galleries, but then turned and headed out as we saw how long you could really go. Our tour guide mentioned that even if you looked for each painting for 1 millisecond, it would still take you 4 hours to see them all!!!

Heading out of the Louvre, we headed toward Notre Dame cathedral, about a 25 minute walk from the museum.  Notre Dame is actually on a little island surrounded by the Seine, called Île de la Cité, but the island itself is quite large. You wouldn’t really realize you were on an island while walking through it.  We finally arrived at the cathedral, but we had to stay a considerable distance back from it. I’m guessing this was the case before the fire when they were renovating it, but I bet after the fire, the perimeter got pushed back even further. They take their perimeter line seriously, as just on the other side was a policeman with a machine gun.  I didn’t notice off hand too much damage from the fire itself aside from a slight bit of charred stone and some charred/bent scaffolding. There was a lot of renovation nets and tarps and what not as well, so we couldn’t tell what it looked like before the fire.  So glad they are restoring it, though. The flying buttresses and gothic architecture were amazing. Such an important piece of history and an icon of gothic architecture.

Notre Dame
Notre-Dame cathedral

It was just outside the cathedral that we ran into people from our tour group. Just by sheer chance!  They had just finished the Paris Plus tour, which was offered by Expat and guided by Jean and Emma. We didn’t elect to take the tour since it was so pricey and also because they didn’t make a stop at the Louvre!

After taking in the view of the Cathedral and chatting with the folks from our tour, we headed to the Metro so we could hit our last stop: the Arc de Triomphe. Dinner turned out to be our first priority though, so first we stopped at a restaurant very close to it.  We both got French Onion Soup (again) but this time it was au gratin (with cheese). It really blew last night’s out of the water. It was fantastic!!! It was also a bit sweeter than I expected.  They also brought us some mini-baguettes which were heavenly when ripped apart and soaked a bit in the soup. We also had another great glass of wine–a sweeter red that went great with the soup. We were glad that we could sit inside, as just across the glass from us were the outside tables filled with 6 people smoking. It was very common in Paris to see smokers and see ashtrays on every table. Definitely not like America anymore!

After getting an energy boost from dinner, we headed toward the Arc. Apparently Napoleon’s intention was to have it built so he could get married under it. However, they didn’t get it finished in time, so he commanded that a wooden one be built instead so that he could get married under that. Sadly, Napoleon was not alive by the time that the stone arc was completed.  We saw a French military ceremony when we arrived, which was interesting, complete with a snare drum. Not sure the nature of the ceremony, however. It gave me anxiety to see the traffic driving around the Arc–basically every man for himself. No lanes, cars everywhere. Oh and there are 12 separate street that feed into the roundabout! An amazing sight to see on a map and from the top of the Arc (we wanted to climb up it, but didn’t want to pay), but total chaos.

The Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe

I wanted one last crêpe before we left Paris, so we headed to a crêperie that was pretty close to the Arc. Walking so much meant my appetite craved lots of delicious food! I got a Normande crêpe, which was filled with apples cooked in butter with whipped cream and flambeed in a liqueur (I think it was an apple brandy). When he brought it, he lit the liqueur on fire, then poured it over the apples and over the crêpe itself. It was really good, and the liqueur gave the taste an interesting twist at the end.  I think I liked the chocolate one from earlier better, but then I realized I prefer anything chocolate over anything non-chocolate for the most part, so that makes sense, ha!

Paris Food
Today’s food! Clockwise-French Onion Soup, Qiche, Dark Chocolate Crepe, Crepe Normande

At that point we were walked out and wanted to head back to our hotel via the Metro. It dawned on me that really, subways are quite the universal concept that spans past language and cultural barriers, much like cars and buses and trains.  Once we made it back, the step count for the day totaled 27,965, which equaled 12.36 miles and 1,232 calories. That’s a lot of walking…

All in all, we absolutely loved Paris.  I think it gets a bad wrap from people, but I think it’s a beautiful city with so much culture and aesthetics woven into its framework.  The French we ran into were very nice, even though they get a bad wrap for being rude sometimes. We had to find some bathrooms along our way, and all the places we went into allowed us to use it free of charge. They also did not hesitate to speak in English when they knew that’s what we spoke.  Absolutely loved it and will have to come back again!

Step Metrics: 27,965 steps; 12 Miles, 1,232 cal, 4h 44m time

 

Self Q&A

Q: What’s the difference between these signs and what do they mean?

No parking, no stopping

A: ‘No parking’ sign (1 slash) means you can make a temporary stop to load or discharge merchandise or passengers. A ‘No stopping’ sign (2 slashes) means you can stop only to obey a traffic sign, signal or officer or to prevent conflicts with other vehicles.

 

Q: Was the Louvre formerly a palace for someone?

A: The Louvre Palace was begun as a fortress by Philip II in the 12th century to protect the city from English soldiers which were in Normandy. In the 14th century, Charles V converted the building into a residence and in 1546 Francis I renovated the site in French Renaissance style.  Francis acquired what would become the nucleus of the Louvre’s holdings, his acquisitions including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. After Louis XIV chose Versailles as his residence in 1682, constructions slowed; however, the move permitted the Louvre to be used as a residence for artists, under Royal patronage. By the mid-18th century there were an increasing number of proposals to create a public gallery, with the art critic La Font de Saint-Yenne publishing, in 1747, a call for a display of the royal collection. During the French Revolution the Louvre was transformed into a public museum. In May 1791, the Assembly declared that the Louvre would be “a place for bringing together monuments of all the sciences and arts”. The museum opened on 10 August 1793, the first anniversary of the monarchy’s demise.

 

Q: What was the Arc de Triumphe’s purpose?

A: The triumphal arch is in honor of those who fought for France, in particular, those who fought during the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon wanted to honor the Grande Armee, the name of the French army at that time. The Grande Armee had conquered most of Europe and was then considered invincible. After his Austerlitz victory in 1805, Napoleon said to his soldiers : “You will return home through archs of triumph”. Engraved on the inside and at the top of the arch are all of the names of the generals and wars fought. There are inscriptions in the ground underneath the vault of the arch which include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I where  the Memorial Flame burns and have made the Arc de Triomphe Paris a revered patriotic site.

 

Q: What is significant about the names and cities on the Arc?

A: The inside walls of the monument lists the names of 558 French generals with the names of those who died in battle being underlined. A list of French victories is engraved under the great arches on the inside façades of the monument. Also inscribed on the shorter sides of the four supporting columns, you can see the names of the major battles of the Napoleonic wars.   Yet the battles that took place in the period between the departure of Napoleon from Elba and his final defeat at Waterloo were not included.

 

Q: What is the RER that I see on metro maps? 

A: The Paris RER (Réseau Express Régional) is 5 express train lines connecting Paris city centre to surrounding suburbs. In Paris the RER acts as an express underground or subway train. Beyond Paris city centre, the Paris RER is a ground level commuter train connecting outlying suburbs and popular destinations such as CDG Airport (RER B), Disneyland Paris (RER A) and Versailles (RER C) to the heart of Paris.  Inside the city center, the RER functions much like the Métro, but is faster as it has fewer stops. The network consists of five lines: A, B, C, D and E. The network has 257 stations and has several connections with the Paris Métro within the city of Paris. The lines are identified by letters to avoid confusion with the Métro lines, which are identified by numbers.

 

Fun Facts

  • The Mona Lisa was stolen for 2 years by Vincenzo Peruggia, who returned the painting to what he regarded as its “homeland”.
  • The french call appetizers Entrée, with Entréemeaning “entrance”. But Entrée is what Americans normally refer to as our main course. 
  • We discovered that the French use a comma instead of a decimal point. As it turns out, the UK and the US are two of the few places in the world that use a period to indicate the decimal place. Many other countries use a comma instead. Likewise, while the UK and US use a comma to separate groups of thousands, many other countries use a period instead, and some countries separate thousands groups with a thin space.

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