After getting up quite late (after 8) I ate a quick breakfast of my by now routine banana and vitamins, a cup of tea, and a bowl of Kelloggs All-Bran Petales (flakes). The sweetness of the boxed milk eliminates any need for sugar and I've found this petite déjeuner (breakfast) to adequately satisfy my craving for food until early afternoon.
At any rate I started out for the Louvre, my point of departure for most days. I discovered that the giant Ferris wheel just west of Ramses' obelisk was free, courtesy of the Mairie de Paris (The Mayor's office). I took a few more shots while at the top. How often will I actually be able look down at the top of Ramses' obelisk, after all?
The day was rather dismal, constantly threatening rain and actually spitting a bit now and then, so I decided to forego a walk up the Champs and climbed aboard the metro heading wast to La Dèfense where I hoped to get a glimpse of the Arche, a modern building the description of which rather defies description. Suffice it to say that is a 35 story tall "square" with a great hole in its middle. Who else but the French...? I found that the last stop of the #1 metro line actually dumps you out right at the foot of the structure. Turning around and facing east, I found that I could see the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, and in a direct line beyond that (though I could not see it) the Louvre. I'm finding each day that navigating about this city, at least as far as seeing the "sights," becomes easier and easier. The tour of the building is half price if one has the museum pass, so I will put off taking it until I have another pass.
Of course, there's the ubiquitous MacDonald's just across the plaza, and so I go in and have a coffee. This is a bustling business and is about three times the size of any other MacDonald's I've ever seen. After sipping slowly and enjoying a nice people watch, I venture out the back door which leads into what turns out to be one of the largest indoor malls I have ever been in. Even Ford has an area where new cars on display.
I wander about in great wonder for a bit then zip up my jacket to once more brave the weather on the plaza. I find that to one side of the Arche there is a great dome housing an IMAX and in the same structure the Musée de l'Automobile. Now this museum really is classy. It's well laid out in a manner that you are directed throughout its entirety so that nothing is missed. Having purchased a combination ticket for both it and the IMAX, currently showing both The Mysteries of Egypt (and Everest if you opt for the 8 p.m. show--which I did), I wander about the museum for a couple of very interesting hours before heading home to kill a couple more hours with supper and a shower before going back for the IMAX presentation.
The Dôme IMAX is touted as the largest in the world, and so even though both films were in French, I thoroughly enjoyed the video effects. It is now near midnight and it is rainy and windy out.
Got a late start today as I was up late doing who knows what. A very blustery day for Eeore (or however Christopher Robin spelled it), spitting a little at times, broken sun in early afternoon, then chilly, cold and very windy toward late afternoon and evening.
Made another unsuccessful trip trying to catch the catacombs open [Denfert-Rochereau stop on Metro #4 direction Porte d'Orleans right in the middle of the square, not well marked but for a brass placard on the entry door].
I walked from Place (Square) Denfert-Rochereau to the Eiffel Tower taking my time and rather enjoying the backstreet scene of the Rive Gauche. By 2 p.m. I was ready to give up my walking for a river barge tour. There are several areas along the Seine from which to do this, but I selected a company adjacent to the Eiffel: the Bateaux Parisiens (Parisien Boats).
Consider this. The river tour costs 50 French francs (roughly $10 American) and it looks like the barges hold about 300 passengers or so. There are many barges going at any one time and most are loaded close to capacity, rain or shine, weekday or weekend. Tours are an hour in length, sunup to sundown (and beyond), with immediate turnarounds, making a conservative estimate of 10 trips each and every day that makes the daily take per barge at about 30,000 or more (they sell 30 franc booklets to the tourist at the end of the tour, among other items) and slightly over 11 million US dollars a year. Now THAT is a business to get into.
Now, during this tour one can listen to a narrative in any of 7 languages on hand-held listening devices. Of course, over the "ship's" system one hears the French version which carries on an almost continuous patter yet on the English channel of the device one hears but an occasional, "You are about to pass under a very interesting bridge" or, "Now isn't that a lovely building on the right?" I did pick up on a few facts, however, one of which is that Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge in Paris. Another is that the Louvre is 700 meters long along the Seine and is the largest museum in the world (700 meters figures to be about 2275 or just short of a half mile long), whereas the Eiffel tower is 320 meters high, nearly a quarter mile.
Another fact I picked up was that the "bouquinistes", the sellers of second-hand books and old prints whose stalls line the walls of the quai along the Seine's Rive Gauche (mostly) have been a tradition for over 300 years!
A short walk back across the Seine and up to Trocadéro where I went subterranean to my flat.
It rained 'til noon, but I struck out undaunted in my hooded rainjacket and took my longest walk yet. Being Monday, most museums in Paris are closed, so the Louvre gets extra crowded. It looked to be a 3-4 hour wait in line so I headed out with no particular destination in mind. After a stroll through the Tuileries, where soccer is played in any weather, I ended up at the Eiffel tower (also very crowded) after a long walk through the back streets of the 7th arrondisement on the Left Bank and from there on to La Défense. I wanted to get a few photos of the structure, and fortunately it ceased raining by the time I got there.
I returned home by 5 in order to do some computer work I have been putting off, and after a quick meal, busied myself with it until nearly 8 when William, my friend and landlord, showed up with a large, drop-leaf table for my computer. We chatted for a bit and before he departed he extended an invitation to his home for a dinner.
Musée de l'Assistance Publique - Hôpitaux de Paris
Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Musée de la Mode et du Textile
La Grande Arche de La Défense
Now, if you want an idea of how tough our ancestors had it, take a look at the medical help available to them. The Public Assistance Hospital Museum has a nice collection of doctors tools.
If one is interested in the types of tapestry, clothing, etc. that Paresiens have used to decorate their bodies, there's a fair collection of fabrics and textiles, costumes, fancy jewelry and other accessories to be seen at the Musée des Arts Décorative and Musée de la Mode et du Textile, which are two museums in the same buliding. I could have spent just minutes and minutes there but time passes just too quickly and I felt the call to press on.
On the way to the Grand Arch I discovered a very nice Italian Restaurant, the Pizza Pina, 92 Av Charles De Gaulle. Classy service and relatively inexpensive food. I had a great Spaghetti de la Primavera: a tomato based sauce, brocolli, eggplant, and artichoke.
As for the Grand Arch itself, it is a giant, 35-story tall, cube-shaped building with a hollow center actually large enough to easily slide the Notre Dame Cathedral into. If, as is reported, it weighs 300,000 metric tons, each of its 12 piers holding 3 times the weight of the Eiffel Tower, what does the Eiffel tower weigh? Go figure. More than you ever wanted to know about an ultra modern building (finished in 1989). It houses governmental offices in nearly a half million square feet of space in each of its 2 sides. Access to the roof for tourists is by way of 4 glass elevators. From the roof there is a superb view of Paris.
Following the French Revolution, a place was needed to keep the condemned prisoners until their execution, and the Concergerie filled the bill. The Revolutionary Tribunal held court there and sentenced somewhat over 2700 people to the guillotine in a 2 year span before it was disbanded. Marie Antoinette was held there for 2 months before she lost her head. The building dates to the 13th century and is a wonderful work in stone. The high vaulted arched ceiling of the ground floor is beautiful, in a stony sort of way. Must have produced an awful fuel bill to heat.
In the afternoon I spent a while padding about the Musée D'Orsay again as there were areas I missed the first time through. Having spent a couple of hours browsing and book shopping in the Latin Quarter on the way, the day was about shot so I enjoyed a pleasant walk back to the Louvre where I caught the Metro for home. To the left is but one of many professional musicians who make their living in the Metro access tunnels. There are always wandering troubadors in the Metro trains and I even ran across a 7 piece string ensemble playing Mozart. The music is always above par and worth a franc or two when the hat is passed. I thought of it as putting money into a living jukebox. This wonderful xylophone player beat out exotic tunes whose notes would fill the entire station with enchanting melodies (picture to left).
The Musée Carnavalent has a unique collection of art, sculpture, furniture, and items from the ancient times of Paris, right down to stone axes from its Neolithic period. It was thoroughly enjoyable and definately worth a second visit on another trip. One should be forewarned that many Paris museums close off various sections during their lunch period from 12 to 2:30, so visits should be planned accordingly. This museum could be lightly covered in 3 hours, so that would mean being cognizant of the closed sections and viewing their contents before noon if a morning visit were planned.
Just a couple of minutes walk away finds the Musée Picasso, which I am told is always crowded. The long ticket line extending into the street can be avoided if you have a museum pass. Just walk past the crowd and into the entrance on the opposite side of the courtyard. [It pays to buy the museum pass before hand which allows you to enter more than 70 museums "free." The price for a 1 day museum pass is 80 francs, a 3 day pass: 160 francs, a 5 day pass 240 francs.] Anyway, the Picasso museum was very interesting. His works range from the understandable to the bizarre....but interestingly bizarre.
The Cognacq-Jay Museum is housed in a private home necessitating yet another 2 minute walk. (That was convenient in that it has been raining all morning!) It contains a wonderful collection of furniture, paintings, and other objets d'art. Unless you read French or spend some time contemplating each and every object, an hour or so is plenty of time to allot to this small museum.
Tonight is New Year's Eve and there are many events planned throughout the city but I prefer not to get mixed up in drinking crowds.
Click here to move on to Part 3.