For a bit of context: I lovelovelovelove art museums. Unsurprisingly, I waltzed off to the Louvre at my first available moment at the relatively bright and early time of 11 o’clock. The courtyard is absolutely stunning. Like all famous structures in France, the Louvre was once a palace for a number of French kings. The glass pyramid is a little incongruous to the rest of the classical decor, but it made the thirty minute wait all the more exciting.
The Louvre is ridiculously enormous, so I decided that I wanted to relive the first half of my 19th Century art history class that I took spring quarter and then hit up some Renaissance artists. My first stop was the Denon Wing where I navigated a small mob to catch a glimpse of the venerable Mona Lisa, passing by Winged Victory and interrupting many people trying to snap portraits of loved ones in front of famous sculptures. There are two main rooms for famous French art. One is full of history paintings – giant canvases of allegorical ancient Greek and Roman scenes meant to demonstrate some civic message to the genreral public. I was super excited to see some David paintings face to face. Seeing art in person is always so much better than seeing it on a slide. Everything has so much more impact. In the case of the history paintings, you’re engulfed by the scene, caught by the streamlined and tense figures frozen in motion. The other room held the best of the Romanticism movement, which was characterized by more contemporary topics, rich and vivid colors, and a greater appeal to emotion. This was my favorite by far. Seeing The Raft of Medusa was a transcendent experience. Gericault painted his rendition of a particularly nasty incident where the survivors of a shipwreck had to resort cannibalism while they were adrift. You can really see why it was popular in its heyday.
I managed to walk around all the wings and saw the interiors of Napoleon’s apartments, some creepy Dutch and Flemish works, and Venus de Milo. However, I could not for the life of me find the Italian Renaissance paintings. There’s an entire wing of the stuff, but every single entrance was blocked for renovations and installations. Literally every elevator, escalator, fire escape door, and hallway. Plus, the Louvre, despite its impressive collection, does not make sense organizationally. There are two second floors! You’re just asking for trouble with that. In any case, I’ll have to make a second trip to see Titian and Raphael. Plus, I didn’t see any of the historical artifacts either, so that alone will merit another excursion.
When the group of us reconvened at the lobby of the Louvre, we were drained. We wandered into a shopping mall that was connected to the museum (you can appreciate art and indulge in some retail therapy in one convenient location!) and sat at the food court to rest our legs. There was a McDonalds and on their menu was a McBaguette. I don’t eat McDonald’s in the U.S., but Iwas a little intrigued by its French adaptations.
An hour and a half later (our legs required lots of rest), we decided to walk to the Eiffel Tower where a member of our group was meeting a friend. On the way, we strolled through the Tuileries Gardens.
We also passed by the Egyptian Obelisk that stands guard at the Place de la Concorde before reaching Paris’s most famous landmark. Rumor has it, most of the French thought (and still think) that it’s hideous; it was turned into a radio tower (possibly) to prevent the city from tearing it down after the World’s Fair. Aesthetic value aside, it is still pretty impressive looking, especially when you’re standing under it.
I don’t believe in paying money to go up tall structures, but I imagine that the view would be beautiful, even in the rain. At night, the entire tower is lit up and from certain places, you can see it sparkle.
After picking up a couple of more members into the group, we decided to head to Montparnasse, where literary giants like Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald used to hang out. Montparnasse is also known for its crêperies. Originally, we wanted to go to a Crépe Josselin, which was one of the places frequented by the aforementioned personalities, but it was packed. The crepes we found across the street were still delicious though. I ordered a galette, a savory buckwheat crepe, filled with sausage, potatoes, and an egg. Following tradition, my meal was accompanied by a mug of cider. It was nice to have a warm, nourishing meal after walking for several blocks in the dreary weather.
After we were done, unsure of what to do with ourselves, we hopped on the Metro again to Monmarte, the site of the Lapin Agile and Moulin Rouge. It was raining harder at this point, and Monmarte is the hilliest part of the city. We carefully hiked the steep and narrow lanes, sometimes slipping over the wet cobblestones. Going downhill gave me a bit of an adrenaline rush, but I made it without injury. Besides, the climb was worth it because at the top was Sacre Couer, a gorgeous basilica with pristine white walls. We weren’t allowed to use our cameras inside, but there’s a stunning painting (or maybe mosaic?) of Christ. We also caught the beginning of mass and had the chance to listen to some impressive organ music. As if that weren’t enough, you have a giant panorama of Paris right outside on the church’s steps (who needs the Eiffel Tower?)! The city sprawled below us. It looked like we could just scoop it up with our palms and put it in our pockets.
It was nearly midnight at this point. We’d been out for more than twelve hours already, but my first Saturday in Paris also coincided with Nuit Blanche. The term literally means “white night,” but it is acutally the English equivalent of “all-nighter.” For that Saturday, art museums and galleries were open until the wee hours of the morning, 7 a.m. at some places. The Metro lines, restaurants, and bars stayed open later as well, and art installations appeared in public areas and spaces all throughout the city. You had the option to follow a guided tour of sorts to make your way through everything, but the Internet told me that the Châtalet area was a good bet, so we hopped on to the train yet again. Our plan was to find the Centre Pompidou, but Châtalet is unfortunately the busiest and most confusing stop since so many lines intersect at this point. It took us nearly 20 minutes to finally find it. When we arrived, we were greeted by a long line to enter the museum, known for modern and contemporary art. At the square outside, broken liquor bottles littered the ground and groups of excited Parisians huddled together talking excitedly. The streets were filled with people, and a stage was being set up. There were many signs that something exciting was about to happen, but we just stood with our umbrellas, too tired from all our walking to take it all in. After ten minutes of deliberation, we decided to call it a night, which was a little disappointing given that half the city seemed to be beginning it. But still, I was very excited to go back to my room, take a warm shower, and fall asleep, which was more or less what I wound up doing.
It was a slightly anti-climatic ending for a day that I called Super Sightseeing Saturday. But I did get to see that famous Mona Lisa smile.