L’Art (The Sites) –
Myth busting: All of Paris is not old brick, marble, cobblestone streets and fancy ironwork. Granted all of that beautifully exists and there are several sections which strive to maintain, as much of that old world look feel as possible. The Les Halles section where I stayed on the East Bank and the Latin Quarter on the West Bank of the Seine River are excellent examples of such. After all, that is part and parcel of the Paris charm, no? However, I promise you, smooth paved asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks are nicely intermixed, especially along the main traffic drags and shopping areas, thank you. North of the city, but very much a part of Paris proper, is where things become very modern. Take a cruise along the Seine and you will see this easily enough. Classic or nouveau in style, the architecture of the museums/monument/sites is as fantastic and varied the art housed within.
I should warn you, I am not critiquing specific works in this entry. In fact, I won’t discuss much art at all. This is just a written snap shot of a few of the places I chose to visit this go around.
L’Musées and Monuments and Sites
Let’s get it out the way – Musée Du Louvre. I do not care how many times you are told the museum is huge, if you have not seen it with your own eyes, you are not prepared for the expanse of it. Those who have been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City will understand what I am about to say here. Take every square foot of the MMA, triple it and you will FEEL like you still only have perhaps one-third of the Louvre. (Edited to say FEEL as a commenter below and a couple of other friends were nice enough to point out that the MMA in fact id 3x larger than the publicly accessible parts of the Musée Du Louvre.)
And yes, that harlot Mona Lisa gets the bulk of the initial attention. Do yourself a favor, get in, follow the signs to go see her, attempt to get your obligatory photo with it and get out of the area as soon as possible. You can say you’ve seen her, were surprised by the size of the painting like the rest of us and move on to the other attention seekers of the place. Speaking of attention whores – next, do a run by the other famous strumpet of the museum, the gorgeous Venus De Milo. When you see the beauty of it up close and personal, you can understand why so many replicas exist in the homes of many wannabe art collectors and most half-naked woman enthusiasts.
A word of advice to first-timers: do yourself a favor, get a schedule for the “Highlights” tours and let a guide take you around to all the presumed good stuff first in the Louvre. Then return on your own and explore the sections that captured your fancy at your leisure. Let’s face it, unless you work there, you may never see everything in the Louvre; not to mention the exhibits that change on a regular basis. Believe me, even if you had a month to do nothing but walk the Louvre every day, you would likely still miss something. Seriously, the place is that freaking HUGE!
Other favorite places of my trip:
Musée d’Orsay– more into the modern than the classic arts? This is your museum. Housed in what was once a train station building, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, Degas and so much more find a home here. I also discovered a couple of new artists whose work captured my attention enough to write the information down, so I can look up their names and see what else they may have done.
Musée Rodin – The art is housed in Rodin’s former home and gardens. If the only thing you know of Rodin is The Thinker you are so in for a surprise as to the extent of his works. Let’s just say, Mr. Alighiere–Rodin did ya proud with The Gates of Hell, dude.
The Château de Versailles. This is a day trip on its own to make the most of it. The grandeur of the King and Queens Apartments, the majesty of the Gardens and splendor The Hall of Mirrors had me in awe for the sheer beauty of it. What was once a simple hunting lodge gradually transformed into a palace where king and queens displayed their power in ostentatious fashion until the French Revolution. And truth be told, I can understand why the impoverished populace wanted off with the heads of their monarchy after seeing it. Don’t forget to include a visit to Marie Antoinette’s little farm near Versailles, when she wanted to get away from burdens of wearing the crown.
Notre Dame – Flying buttresses and the rose window – enough said. The lines can be long, but they move quickly. Go for the bell tower tour. It’s the only way to really see the beauty of the flying buttresses the church is famous for.
Sainte-Chapelle – If the lines of Notre Dame, however fast-moving still galls you, across the courtyard is Sainte-Chapelle’s Church. A beauty in its own right with its famed glass windows this church is worth a visit.
Note: Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle and several other churches worth visiting still function as houses of worship. You will not likely to be able to tour most of them during services, especially Sunday services.
Honorable mention of course to the most recognized and famed tourist attraction of all of Paris – L’Tour Eiffel (that’s the Eiffel Tower for you English speakers). Visit there in the day time to see wonderful views of the city from up high. Visit it at night to enjoy the loveliness of the Tower itself all lit up. Especially after sundown, where every hour on the hour it sparkles like sunlight on ocean waves reminding you of why Paris is called the City of Lights.
There is so much more I saw that I loved, but I have to draw a line somewhere so I stop here.
Next up – Is That All?