Posts Tagged ‘Louvre’

The key to getting in to the Louvre in a reasonable manner is to simply get up early and arrive as soon as possible. Also, having the museum pass can help you avoid some lines (not true for all museums, but still a good idea).

Metro on the way to the Louvre

Metro on the way to the Louvre

And then you can be very fortunate and sneak up on major works like Winged Victory without any of the usual crowds

And then you can be very fortunate and sneak up on major works like Winged Victory without any of the usual crowds

Or the Morley Courtyard sculptures

Or the Cour Marly sculptures

(note distinct lack of tourists)

(note distinct lack of tourists)

A very, very good representation of my old cat, Spooky

A very, very good representation of my old cat, Spooky

As we were poking around the Mesopotamian area, I stumbled on the Code of Hammurabi. As in THE Code of Hammurabi. Just hanging out there in the Louvre.

As we were poking around the Mesopotamian area, I stumbled on the Code of Hammurabi. As in THE Code of Hammurabi. Just hanging out there in the Louvre.

The Reubens Room gallery

The Reubens Room gallery

Apprentices to the great masters

Apprentices to the great masters

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I stayed at a Louvre cafe to do some more writing while Bear went on to other museums, but I do at least have his photos to prove it.

Not sure exactly which museum Bear went to, but it had a lot of guns and military memorabilia

Not sure exactly which museum Bear went to, but it had a lot of guns and military memorabilia

One of Napoleon's actual outfits (they did like gold lame)

One of Napoleon’s actual outfits (they did like gold lame)

Napoleon's tomb

Napoleon’s tomb

Napoleon's Tomb

Napoleon’s Tomb

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Bear came back from his side excursion to rescue me and we went around the corner from the Louvre to grab sushi with miso soup.

Bear came back from his side excursion to rescue me and we went around the corner from the Louvre to grab sushi with miso soup.

There’s a mall area of very nice shops leading up to one Louvre entrance and we decided to prowl through those for a while.

Pizza cutters, French style

Pizza cutters, French style

The upside down pyramid that mirrors some of the above ground pyramid structure in the Louvre courtyard

The upside down pyramid that mirrors some of the above ground pyramid structure in the Louvre courtyard.

Guerilla vendors set up roast chestnut stations and you can buy a paper cup full for two euros

Guerilla vendors set up roast chestnut stations and you can buy a paper cup full for two euros

Bear wanted to hit one more major museum, the Centre Georges Pompidou, which wasn’t exactly on my all time bucket list. It’s basically a very well-regarded modern art museum and even the building itself is sort of part of the artwork.

Line at the Pompideau

Line at the Pompideau–one place that the museum pass won’t get ahead very much.

I spent quite a while cooling my heels at the cafe, writing a little, and catching up on some reading. Bear, while always gracious, said that I didn’t miss too much based on my general interests so I felt like it was the right decision all around.

Pompidou at night

Pompidou at night

We found a nice little bar cafe just one street over and indulged in way too much pizza and split some ice cream afterwards. (My pizza had egg and honey on it, which is a little odd but it tasted really good so I need to figure out if it was a fluke or some regular kind of pizza that I can get elsewhere.)

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On Saturday, we rolled out despite protesting feet and went to an honest to God French bakery to pick up a fresh pain au chocolat (hereafter known as PAC). The gentleman was from Morocco, which explained why it was the world’s only French bakery co-located with a halal butchery, and he seemed delighted that I made a horribly mangled attempt to speak French. Why, of all the languages, I’ve studied, did I never take anything practical? Russian, sure, Old English, hells yeah! 4th Century Classical Armenian? Bring. It. On. French? No thanks.

While on the metro, I sat across from a man who either had Katherine Hepburn syndrome or severely disapproved of my decision to eat breakfast on the train. We snacked on our way to the Catacombs, which Bear had promised to take me to since it turns out I’m much more interested in death and underground caves than Paris in the springtime. I blame this on my Munk heritage and having spent the last half of my 20s living in a basement. While in line we met Barb and Mary, two friends from America who had come to Paris after winning some amazing trip through Expedia and Facebook. I should’ve asked more details, but they were basically having the time of their lives and had brought friends with them and Mary’s mom. They were a lot of fun to chat with and we wound up going in the same group into the catacombs (which were not in fact the same as the parking garage at the hotel).

This is why you get there an hour before they open.

Brief history–the Catacombs were created when the cemeteries of Paris overflowed back in the late 1700s and the city was on the verge of an epidemic because of decay and health conditions. They started moving the bones and corpses down to the underground stone quarries and turning them into a storehouse for the dead, but respectfully so with inscriptions on mortality and life and a crypt-like atmosphere. The remains of over six million Parisians are contained in the catacombs.

Stop -- this is the Kingdom of the Dead

Yet again, being raised by taxidermists has allowed me to keep my cool aplomb in dicey travel situations.

The front retaining walls were made of femurs mostly with tibias and some skulls also which seemed to be, for lack of a better word, there for decoration. Those wacky French. The piles behind them were the remainder of the bones.

I need one of these in my house.

I thought a little about how I’d read that the stone quarries were created to mine out the limestone which was used for Notre Dame itself and the kind of limestone is called Lutetian, for the geological period its from. Also, the area itself was called Lutetia before being re-named Paris after some different tribes. It occurred to me that it was a little ironic that the stone had been removed for the cathedral and now the bones of the people themselves were going to replace it in a weird kind of precipitation cycle and I was seeing all of it on Holy Saturday when at Notre Dame they would be holding a service to commemorate Christ’s time in the tomb.

A guide we met showed us how to tell the difference between male and female skulls based on the eyebrow ridges and also showed us a bullet hole in one skull. Around this time I had a genius idea for an episode of Bones. The plot would be that Angela, who had lived and studied art in Paris previously, is invited to Paris for an exhibit of her work, so the whole crew comes to celebrate and Brennan is also invited to give a paper at the Paris Academy of Science at the same time. They go on a tour of the catacombs and while there, Brennan realizes that some of the bones are recent and not from the same time period as the original burials. She and Booth team up with the local police and discover that it’s not just one skeleton, there are a number of recent remains, which leads them to realize there’s a serial killer operating in Paris that no one even knew about. As the investigation continues, in the Angela sub-plot, Hodges arranges (with all his money) to have the Louvre opened for her at night so she can see everything without crowds and they take the baby along with them of course. Cue sappy dialogue about how of all the things in the museum, Hodges says the most beautiful at his wife and child (long shot of him looking at them with a Madonna and child portrait in the background). Haven’t worked out the killer or motive, but I did this on the fly while walking through the Catacombs so give me a break.

We surfaced finally and by then were really hitting it off with Barb and Mary who were also headed to the Louvre, so we took them over and told them how to get in through the side entrance off of Rue di Rivoli that would cut out the huge lines. Along the way we chatted and Mary told us all about the stained glass in the cathedrals since she makes and sells some, so we told her about Bear’s friend Chris who also does. Very educational! Bear even helped save Mary on the metro when it lurched badly, so we did our good deed for the day. I had prayed that morning that we would be able to see and do what God wanted and to help others if possible, so I guess saving people from doing a face plant on the Metro was our destiny for the day. While there, we met up with Mary’s Mom and figured they were all in good hands so we parted ways and wished them the best with the rest of their fun adventure.

Barb, Mary and Mary's Mom -- the nicest pickpockets in Paris (just kidding!)

Bear had a hit list for the Louvre and the Mona Lisa was at the top, so we went to that gallery first and saw a lot of other Italian Renaissance works at the same time. We eventually took a break for lunch back outside the Louvre at a sidewalk cafe where pigeons just walked right up into the cafe and stood there daring you not to give them your crusts.

Bear: Why do I know that?
Munk: St. Sebastian, it's really famous.
Bear: No, that's not it.
Munk: REM video, "Losing My Religion"
Bear: That's it!

Only the French would think this was a good idea. (A store in the mall leading to the Louvre.)

Woman in full head covering was taking a video of the entire gallery on her iPad while an Angry Birds handbag was hanging from one arm. We're really not all that different underneath it all.

We went back to the Louvre and Bear suggested that we go through the medieval section where you can see what the Louvre used to look like back when it was really a fortress and French people started slapping gold leaf on it.

The Louvre was originally a regular old fortress. I think it would've been pretty like that, but then I'm just weird.

Then he steered me over to the Egyptian collection because he knows I’ve never met an Egyptian exhibit that I didn’t want to spend two days at.

I waited, but she never asked me a riddle.

We even saw some mummified kitties which of course makes me think fondly of Juliet, who is still quite alive and back at the cattery, but also of Mr. Spooky who passed away two years ago and would have loved to come to Paris (or in Spooky’s case, to gay Paris).

Should have pre-ordered one of these for Spooky. He would've gotten a kick out of it.

We also spotted the Venus de Milo on the way out which brought me back to a favorite moment from Absolutely Fabulous which had to be re-enacted there, even at the risk of disrespect.

"I've got arms! I've got arms, sweetie!" (that's for Laura Stiles)

By then Bear’s feet were really starting to hurt so we figured it was time to hop on the city bus tour we’d booked in advance and it drove us all over the city with good commentary on the provided earphones. It was great to just sit quietly, watch the city go by and be chauffeured to the best sightseeing spots.

Arc d'Triumph -- something about it just smacks of Napoleon

We initially sat on top behind a mom and child, then realized that the dad was sitting behind us. Bear offered to trade seats so the father could sit with his family, but he looked at us and said in a long considering French drawl, “Non…” We couldn’t stop laughing as we realized this was his chance for a vacation from the women of the house. But a few blocks later he tapped us on the shoulder and said, “I repent. Is possible?” and we gladly swapped.

I'm not even going to pretend like you don't know what this is.

After a full circuit around, we hopped off by Notre Dame and got a snack of crepes at a cafe before getting back on to ride over to the restaurant district and finding an Italian place. I know, laugh if you will, we went to Paris and had Italian food, but it was wonderful. I had a mushroom risotto and Bear had salmon over pasta with a gorgonzola bruschetta. We managed to roll back to the metro and get a train heading to our hotel.

Mushroom risotto -- not sure what the cherry tomato is doing there

Salmon tagliatelle for Bear

At this point, we encountered an accordion player who wasn’t content with just playing in the station. He followed us onto the metro car and proceeded to entertain the entire gaggle of commuters. This would have been fine except for one thing: he was really bad. A drunk, blindfolded octopus would have had a better chance of hitting the right key. And to think just two nights ago I watched Loreena McKennitt actually make an accordion sound cool. Why couldn’t I get cornered by the next Loreena McKennitt?

The only remaining item of note is that I took the best shower I’ve had since leaving America. In our home in St. Neots, I never know if I’ll have hot water or not or how long it will last. I’m forever having a shower turn cold on me or never getting warm at all. It was absolute bliss and worth the whole trip.

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Like the Rolling Stones (whom I prefer to The Beatles), we gathered no moss following the Loreena McKennitt concert and drove straight to the Dover ferry to cross the Channel to France for the full birthday weekend in Paris.

Bear goes to Paris

We arrived at the ferry just in time and spent the crossing in the lounge upstairs listening to a pack of wild French school children rampage through the upper decks. They had way too much energy for one in the morning, but I still managed to catch a cat nap on the crossing. Then magically you all get back in your cars and drive off in a very orderly fashion.

Then came the adventure of driving on the right hand side of the road again (at 3 a.m.) after getting used to the left side for so long. Our hotel was right on the water in Dunkirk and by that I mean it was on a shipping quay in the marina next to a construction site. That’s what you get when you let me book the hotel. Cheap first, safety second. Actually, it was a really nice little place but in a very odd location. They had been extremely nice when we wrote to say we’d be coming in around 4 am and they set up a lockbox for us so we could get our key and check in on our own,

But finding the hotel was the first issue and we went all over the town looking for it. Eventually we actually stopped to ask the police which lets you know how desperate Bear was because he wouldn’t ask a Google maps car driving past if he saw one. Eventually I saved the day (she says modestly) by realizing that there was a museum on the map very near the hotel and the GPS actually knew where the museum was. (Uma the GPS was refusing to acknowledge the hotel or any street name within a 5 mile radius.)

The next morning, we got to meet Sophie at the desk who had helped us by email, and she was very nice. We did however have a cultural exchange moment in which we thought she was saying everything was good to go and in fact she was saying that the credit card I put the reservation on wasn’t going through so we still owed her money. Big difference.

Good morning, France!

We drove around the Dunkirk town center and finally spotted a genuine French bakery and descended like the pack of starving wolves we were. Two cute girls were working there and they seemed very charmed and patient with us. They thought we were English and by the time we convinced they blurted out, “Why did you come here for?!” as if to say, “You had America, why Dunkirk?” Considering the effort that had gone into evacuating most English speakers from Dunkirk during the war, they had a point.

Brunch for Bear

We got the usual pain au chocolat, of course, and something else that I suspect was a brioche with raisins and gulped them down in the car before hitting the road to Paris. Bear had been listening to the same Vangelis album since we left St. Neots and we finally agreed maybe it was time to switch and he picked the Revenge soundtrack. Again, one of my least favorite movies but the music is fine so now I associate the French countryside with blood, death and revenge in the Mexican high country.

Somewhere along the way Bear decided that the area we were driving through looked just like South Dakota. I don’t remember this many trees in Dakotas at all. Beer says that there area, but in the areas around towns. I don’t remember any towns either.

We arrived without incident and even managed to find the hotel without running up on a curb which is something of a miracle for us. The Etap hotel is designed like something out of Space: 1999 and it’s all very compartmentalized for budget travelers. Hello, Munk! You can park underneath in something that I initially thought was the Catacombs and then pay quite a bit when you finally leave, but compared to not finding parking at all you’ll find it very reasonable.

Once checked in, we headed downtown on the Metro and got the two day visitor pass which lets you ride the metro as much as you want. Again, very worthwhile for about 15 euros apiece. We surfaced on the island in the middle of the Seine by Notre Dame and stopped for a quick lunch in a sidewalk cafe. I had a cheese omelet and Bear had a salmon sandwich that he said was one of the best he’d ever had.

Slammin' Salmon Sandwich

As soft drinks were 6.5 euros apiece, I stuck with water and thought it was very good water actually. You really can’t take these things for granted. We walked over to Notre Dame and were initially worried about the size of the line to get in, but it moved extremely quickly.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Detail of one of the three portals to the cathedral.


Once inside, we realized that they were just about to start the Good Friday mass, so Bear could tell I really wanted to stay and he suggested it. I got a little Magnificat guidebook from the attendants and we snagged decent seats fairly close to the front. The irony of this is that I’m actually on the Magnificat mailing list back in America, quite possibly one of the few Protestants who is. (I did it for book research as my last novel had a Catholic character whose foster father was a priest and I needed to understand some of the terminology and daily routine.)

I’m not really sure how to describe the mass (a tenebrae service that extinguished the candles in sequence to leave the congregation in darkness) or how I felt except that it was really remarkable to be thousands of miles from home and in another language, but still joined together with other believers in the same place at the same time around the world. Except for my Orthodox friends who persist in holding onto that darned Gregorian calendar. (Love you, Laura, Kristina, Frederica, et al!)

The mass was mostly a recitation of the passages from the Gospels of the events leading up to and including the crucifixion and they had different singers for the passages which included dialogue, including women for the servants at the fire who spoke to Peter. I even managed to translate some of the Antiphon that the congregation sang, based on the fact that the pastry shop in Tallahassee is called Au Peche Mignon (the little sin). I always had a feeling that would come in handy.

We got up to the part where they were about to start communion and made a decision to exit as I’m not confirmed in the Catholic church (out of respect for their general preference that you not take communion then) and there were about 872 other people in the building with us so Jesus might come back before we got through it all. This reminded me of an incident from about ten years ago when my best friend Laura became a believer but had a philosophical/aesthetic objection to our church’s use of grocery store wonderbread for communion (you could still see the sandwich crust shape, like someone had just taken a cleaver to half a loaf and chopped up some pieces). Half joking, half serious, I had bought her a pack of communion wafers from a Catholic supply store so she could take her own and palm a wafer during communion. The issue though was that these only came in packs of 1,000 so she kept the rest of them in her freezer since you need at most 12 a year. At some point she asked me why I had gotten such a big pack (it was all they had) and something was blurted along the lines of “Isn’t Jesus coming back any sooner than this?!?” I have no idea what happened to the remaining wafers as she happily sailed down the road to Orthodoxy and has a perfectly respectable communion now.

After leaving the cathedral, we spent a while walking quietly along the Seine, talking about the service and how amazing it was to have literally walked into the service, and looking at the bridges and the architecture. Note: I am not a huge fan of ornate, baroque style architecture with flourishes and gold leaf. I can completely understand why people love it. I am, however, not one of them. Give me a stone wall, a moat and something decaying please. Bear had an amazing time though, ambling along and staring. I just stared at him instead and was just as happy.

The Seine (no sign of any nets -- people outside of North Florida might not find that as funny as it really is)

We made it over to the grounds of the Louvre on foot and got some tips for when we would return the next day and the lines would be huge, then walked the grounds which  are huge themselves.

Courtyard plaza at the Louvre

We made it out to the Champ Elysses and picked up a metro to the Eiffel Tower area to find a restaurant in the district there.

Not the actual Arc d'Triumphe. It's more like a mini-Napoleon sized version.

The staff at Le Crocs d’Ogre were incredibly accommodating nad worked us in without a reservation. The French restaurant culture, at least in Paris, seems to rely very heavily on meat–boeuf, boeuf and more boeuf! I had determined to just order as best I could and hope God would forgive me for any slips in my vegetarianism. (Note: I don’t think it’s a sin to eat meat. I still eat bivalve mollusks myself. But I do think that there are better choices, for health, for stewardship of the earth, and for compassion. That said, bon apetit!)

Goat cheese appetizer

Grilled razor clams

We made it home by 12:45 a.m. and collapsed into the space bed, and even though I was happy that it had a good mattress something tells me that I wouldn’t have noticed.

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