Paris - A Romantic Illusion (part II)


I was excited about my second day in Paris. My plan was to visit the most famous museums and attractions. Almost all of the museums are open until 6pm, so I did not waste time in the hotel and headed towards the Louvre to see the original Mona Lisa painting. It was raining and I was glad most of my planned activities were indoors.

There was a little bakery at the corner next to my hotel and I decided to reward myself with a chocolate croissant - I walked for hours the previous day after all. A quick note, I can always think of a convincing reason or a good excuse to treat myself with chocolate. I went inside and confident in my French said "un croissant au chocolate". The woman looked at me resentfully, which really confused me, and let me know there was no such thing as "croissant au chocolate" (not true), it was either "croissant" or "pain au chocolate". Whatever, just shut up and give me my croissant. I paid and quickly went outside to try it (there were no tables and chairs inside). I was thrilled to taste the real thing, made in France, by a French person. It would be perfect. I closed my eyes, prepared myself to go to heaven and took a bite. I was in hell. This could not possibly be a chocolate croissant. The flour was darker than the croissant flour and the taste was awkward, not terrible but strange and not appealing. I was very, very disappointed. I forced myself to eat it.

I reached the Louvre, went inside, grabbed a map, found the location of the Mona Lisa painting (room 6), and headed straight there to take a picture before my camera battery died or they closed the museum for some reason, or whatever. I wanted to make sure I'd see the painting no matter what. I must have hold the map the wrong way or turned the wrong way because I ended up in the opposite wing. Bummer! I passed through dozens of galleries before I got to the correct wing. On the way, I spent some time in front of two of the Leonardo's paintings - The Virgin of the Rocks and the Virgin and Child with St. Anne. His style is really unique and captivating.

I finally made it to the Mona Lisa gallery. As expected, there was a crowd in front of it. The painting itself was behind a tick glass. I took at least a dozen pictures of the Gioconda but not a single one of them came out right, always blurry, or out of focus, probably because of the glass reflection. There were a couple of decent ones, so I left and started touring the rest of the galleries. There are thousands of paintings in the Louvre - different artists, different periods, different styles, different themes. I don't think it is possible a person to see everything within a day or even two. I ended up walking through the galleries, scanning the pictures, and only stopping in front of the ones which caught my eye. The description below the paintings was in French only. So, if you decide to learn more about a painting you need to remember or take a note of the artist and painting names and do your own research later. I quickly scanned the numerous sculptures, taking pictures of the most famous ones - Venus Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Nude Mary Magdalene. I spent around 3 hours in the Louvre and my legs were already tired. I left and walked towards my next item on the list - the Conciergerie.

The Conciergerie is located on the Ile de la Cite, a small island in the Seine, considered to be the birthplace of Paris. It was originally build as a palace, then turned into a prison, where prisoners were kept before being decapitated on the guillotine, and now was used for juridical purposes. Some of its famous prisoners were Marie Antoinette and Robespierre. During the French Revolution, more than 2700 people were imprisoned here and later executed. Around 40 people were guillotined per day. I tried to imagine this slaughter house, but it was just too gross, all the blood, heads, bodies. Yuk! The weather was still pretty nasty. The wind was so strong that there were moments I thought the rain was falling horizontally. Finally, I got there and went inside.

There was a modern art exhibition in the main hall with very strange items - a glass sculpture of something that looks like a table and at close inspection turns out to be a horse, but the head is on the top flat surfice, about 20-30 ghosts with grotesque faces, bodies that look like a scientific experiment (3 legs, no head). Weird, too weird for me, so I concentrated on the historical part of the building. It was interesting to learn prisoners were allowed to buy better conditions. In other words, the prisoner may chose to stay in a very small cell, no beds, only straw on the floor and share it with other people; or he may pay to stay into a cell with a bed and share with only one person; or pay for a single room with bed, table, and chair. Amazing. There was a replica of the Marie Antoinette's cell. It was bigger than the rest of the cells and had furniture as well. There was nothing else to see and it was time for the next item on my list - the Sainte-Chapelle.

The Sainte-Chapelle is located next to the Conciergerie. The chapel was build in the 13th century to house multiple relics of Christ (the crown of thorns, a piece of the cross). I was a little surprised to find out the chapel was not demolished during the French Revolution. I guessed, the French preserved the religious buildings during those crazy times. Later, I found out the chapel actually suffered extensive damage during the revolution and was later restored. The unique thing about this chapel are the stained-glass windows, which are very beautiful and colorful. A lovely chapel. My next stop - the Notre Dame cathedral.

The Notre Dame cathedral is on the Ile de la Cite as well, about 5 mins away from the Sainte-Chapelle. The building, which is in Gothic style is decorated with many statues and ornaments. All distances in France are measured from the cathedral. It was damaged during the French Revolution as well. Later, after Victor Hugo wrote his novel the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the interest in the cathedral was renewed and it was restored. Napoleon was crowned as an Emperor in this cathedral. There was an event or service going on and the square and cathedral were crowded. At least 20 priests, dressed in purple chasubles, entered the cathedral. I heard there was a way to go to the top of the cathedral from one of the sides and I went out to find it. There was a pretty big line and I had to wait for at least 40 mins. The rained has stopped, yet I preferred to see more sites. I changed my mind and continued with my sightseeings.

I crossed the bridge and arrived in the Latin Quarter. It turned to be a very nice and interesting area. The atmosphere was much different than the rest of Paris and the streets and buildings were closer to my original idea/vision of Paris. I was sorry I didn't have more time to spend in this area. I passed by the Sorbonne, the Paris University, and arrived to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon resembles a Greek temple. It was originally build as a church and was converted to a burial place after the Revolution. A lot of famous Frenchmen are buried there: Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emil Zola, Marie and Pierre Curie. Alexandre Dumas was moved to the Pantheon in 2002, as well. The interior was really impressive. The Foucault pendulum was installed in the middle of the building hanging from the dome. Foucault demonstrated for the first time the rotation of Earth without the usage of astronomical observations at this very spot. I was not sure if I was looking at the original pendulum or not but I didn't care. The pendulum kept swinging slowly and somehow importantly. I visited the crypt as well. As time was flying by, I headed towards the next museum on my list.

I was pretty tired already. My legs were killing me but I knew I didn't have any time to waste and walked on as fast as I could. I passed through the Jardin du Luxembourg, the largest public park in France. Everything was green with beautiful flower decorations. It must be really beautiful during the spring or summer when the sun is shining and the trees are green. I saw the Luxembourg Palace, located in the gardens, originally built for Marie de Medici and currently housing the French Senate. I visited the St-Germain-des-Pres church, the oldest one in Paris build in 542 and probably one of the few places spared during the French Revolution. The abbey around it, however, was leveled to the ground. It was almost 5 o'clock, time was running out, so I went inside, looked around, and hurried towards the museum. Finally, I made it to the Musee d'Orsay. It was 5 mins to 5pm and the museum was closing at 6pm. Perfect.

Musee d'Orsay is a museum for French art, where works of famous artists like Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Gauguin can be seen. There are also sculptures by Rodin, though he has his own museum. The interior of the museum was unusual and later I found out it used to be a train station. I walked through the galleries, looked at the paintings and at 5:30pm my legs gave up. I had to sit. I had been abusing my legs for 7 hours now and when I thought about it I hadn't stopped even for a second. The museum was closing in more than 30 minutes, I had already visited most of the galleries, so I decided to sit for 10 mins. I just got back on my feet when they announced the museum would be closing in 20 mins. Great, I thought, and continued browsing. One of the personnel came to me and told me the museum was closed and I had to leave. I looked around and indeed the museum personnel were showing the visitors to the exit. I guessed the museum had to be actually closed (everybody out) by 6pm, not just closed for visitors. So, keep this in mind and plan accordingly.

I was out in the streets again. It was 6pm, which meant that all the museums were closed. I did pretty good for one day. I saw numerous pieces of art, learned a lot about French history and culture. It was time to visit the French icon - the Eiffel Tower. A short walk took me there. It is really enormous and magnificent. There was a long, long line for tickets. Unfortunately, the entry for the Eiffel Tower was not included in the museum pass. If you plan to enter the tower, try to buy a ticket online, it will save you a lot of time and frustration. It was cold, windy, and my stomach kept reminding me I was hungry and had to eat. I got to the ticket counter after an hour and bought a ticket to the third level. Then, I had to wait for the lift to the second level in another line. The lift came and and I got inside. Somehow I ended up next to the windows and when the lift started climbing up along one of the tower legs, I faced the ground. I do not consider myself a person afraid of heights but this were pretty scary, having in mind the tower was built more than 100 years ago and looking at the safety nets all over the place. I started wondering if I really wanted to go to the third level. The lift finally stopped, 115m above the ground. The view of Paris was great. I tried to ignore the tiredness, hunger, and cold and went around the level looking at night Paris. At the end, I decided to go to the third level and took the lift. I may be exaggerating a little but it seemed to me I was in the elevator for at least 1 minute. It was going up and up and up and finally it stopped, 276m above the ground. The third level was enclosed by glass, which stopped the wind and promised some security. I spent some time there, then saw some stairs, which led me to the roof. No doubt this was the winds' meeting place. I took another look at Paris and hurried inside. I was really tired and hungry and decided to leave. I had to stand in line for the lift down for at least 10 more minutes. It was close to 8:30pm when I left the tower.

I crossed the bridge and passed by a booth selling crepes. I did not want to have a crepe for dinner but I had to eat something. It turned out I made the right decision buying this crepe because I did not find an open cafe or restaurant on my way back to the hotel. The crepe was nice and warm and gave me some extra energy. Feeling a little better, I decided to visit the Arch of Triumph, as well. It was open until 11pm and on my way. I got there and climbed the 284 steps to get to the roof. Later, I found out there was a lift, grrrr. Though only 50 meters high, the roof offered really nice views towards Champs-Elysees and the Eiffel Tower. Exhausted, I climbed down the countless steps and slowly dragged myself towards the hotel.

The streets were empty, the stores were closed (it was late and Sunday), and there were no people. I looked up at the buildings and saw that most of the windows were dark. Where was everybody? Paris looked like a ghost town except for the cars. Very, very strange. I found a little store, still open, near Place de Clichy and bought water. I was almost at my hotel when I remembered this was my last night in Paris and my only chance to see the red-light district, which was a block away. There were a few sex shops, couple of cinemas, and erotic underwear shops. I did not see any working women. I decided they didn't work on Sundays or in the evening, as any other Frenchmen, and went back to the hotel.

Click here to see a map of my trip.


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