Paris is one of my mother’s favorite cities, if not the top contender. For me, it was always nice but I never saw what all the fuss was about. Yes it’s one of those main big European cities that you hear about but I always tended to prefer the smaller villages. My time there over spring break decidedly changed this view: I really do like Paris quite a bit.
This excursion was done as part of my Art in Europe class so it was as much a learning experience as it was a vacation. Our group visited as many attractions as was physically possible during our stay. I will attempt to touch upon most of them but that will surely be impossible as our teacher had something to say about EVERY little enclave and corner that we passed. The main stop on the first day was the Louvre (#maneuverthelouvre) where we went around looking at old apartments of Napoleon along with countless examples of Renaissance art. It is an obscenely large museum with much art to offer and, of course, it houses the Mona Lisa. She is beautiful, she is masterful, she is small. The crowd in front of her was easily 2-3 hundred strong, all craning to get a photo of that famed smile. We spent most of the morning and afternoon navigating the sea of art before moving on to a Moroccan dinner. This was mediocre by most counts, namely the service and the food, but as starving students who had woken up early in a different country we didn’t complain too much.
The next day we were supposed to go to Versailles but the visit got postponed to the last day of the trip. Incidentally this worked out for the better because the weather that day was gorgeous while on Sunday it left us feeling lackluster. We went instead to the Hôtel des Invalides which is not, in fact, a hotel for sick people. It a hospital founded by Louis XIV to take care of wounded soldiers. Today it functions as a war museum, which holds large collections of uniforms, maps and weapons. Also on the grounds of the museum is the Dôme, where the first Napoleon lays at rest, along with other important military figures. Napoleon’s tomb is the large and lavish centerpiece of the building, the other guys never stood a chance. The architecture of the church itself is very nice, lots of gold and adorned ceilings, my kind of stuff. That evening was spent in front of the Eiffel Tower, an attraction that our teacher failed to see as significant enough for a class visit. No matter, it was undoubtedly more fun to drink champagne with my friends for hours and watch the great structure sparkle than it would’ve been to hear about it for 15 minutes during the day. The tower is illuminated all night but it also glitters for about 5 minutes every hour. I believe we saw this happen at least 3 times so it’s safe to say we got plenty of quality time in her shadow.
On Monday we went to Montmartre which is one of the oldest parts of Paris. It is a great place to eat, buy some local art, and maybe get a portrait of yourself drawn. Being up on a hill, it also gives way to a very pretty view of the city below. We went into the Church of Sacré Coeur (sacred heart) but there was a service going on so we couldn’t stay too long. I did not realize that many people came to church on a Monday at 11 in the morning. Does no one work? Our next stop was the Palais de Justice where many a man (and a few women) lost their head to the guillotine. The main indoor area used to serve as a jail but can now be rented out for special occasion at the right price! The greatest part of this visit was the Sainte Chapelle. The chapel’s walls are floor to ceiling stained-glass windows. My eyes were popping out of their heads from the detail and color. I have a thing for stained-glass windows and other obscure and dated forms of art (see glass-blowing and wood-etching) so for me it was breath-taking. We then walked by the Notre Dame on our way to the Luxembourg Gardens (another great monument that felt overlooked) where we looked at statues and rested our feet. We did not go to the AMAZING playground I know exists there (a fond memory from my youth) which left me rather disappointed. I am not ashamed to say that, as a 20-year-old, I still enjoy playgrounds.
I really wish we had more time at the Musée d’Orsay the following day, a museum that holds art from the times between 1848 and 1914. Specific? Yes, but all that means is that it has a great collection of art that is starting to move away from the classical without moving too far into the future. Think Impressionism, Expressionism, Realism and many others. I got to see Manet, I got to see Monet (yes they both exist), I got to see Van Gogh and Gauguin, it was basically all my favorite kinds of art together in one place. If you recall, the modern art museum in Amsterdam didn’t tickle my fancy but the movements that came before that really speak to me. Fun fact: the building actually used to be a train station, and later a theater. Whoever made it into a museum clearly had the right idea, the whole place is just very interesting. As much as I enjoy hearing about certain paintings from my teacher, it left us with very little time to explore the museum on our own. I’ll have to come back again.
A place that I will have to both revisit and actually take control of is Versailles. I’ll be like Louis XIV except instead of inviting all nobility to live with me so I can keep on eye on them, I will invite all my favorite actors, artists and musicians so that they can entertain me. Half-joking. Like most of the mentioned places, I have seen it before, once with my parents, once on a school trip. That in no way took away from its grandeur, if anything I was more impressed than before. I always enjoy looking at old apartments where dignitaries used to live and imagine what life could’ve been like. Imagine my delight when, instead of staying in the main palace, we went to look at the other “smaller” structures on the grounds. There are a couple of Trianon’s and a small hamlet tucked away in the back of Versailles where Marie Antoinette would spend a lot of time. That lady knew what she was doing, I am definitely moving in and rotating my living situation every few months so I can enjoy EACH location for a decided period of time. The other residences are still grand but petite, perfect for a Queen looking for some time alone, maybe with a couple of close friends as guests. I’ll be keeping my eye of this bit of real estate.
The rest of the group left that day, back to Brussels or off to other countries, but Clags and I stayed an extra day before going to Croatia. That night we ate dinner at Montmartre with our other friend Edgar, sneaking our own baguette into the restaurant after realizing they weren’t bringing us any bread. It felt very French and it was nice to finally be on a restful vacation. The next day we had a lazy long breakfast, after which we rented bikes and made our way once again to the Eiffel Tower. It is quiteexhilarating riding a bike through a foreign city, something about it made it really hard to wipe the smile off my face. In conclusion, I actually love Paris and can safely say to it: au revoir!