Love it or Louvre it, or where to find a moment of silence in Paris

I’ve been to Paris twice now. The first time, back in 2001, I was there for a week and a half just hanging out, drinking pastis in basement jazz bars, running through the cobbled streets in the rain, practicing my french on bored Parisian check out girls. I was a proper backpacker, staying in a hostel and making friends with fellow indie travellers until I felt it time to leave. One guy I met, a Canadian, had another friend who was house sitting in the Marais in a flat as beautiful as the one in Taken. Another, an English dude, was in Paris to spend time with his daughter. Me, I was there to wander the streets and see the sights.

And because I wanted to see everything in Europe in three months (bless) I had to be judicious about which sights to pay for. So I picked one of the big ones and said, “next time” to the rest. Versailles won.

So next time came well over ten years later, and this time the Louvre was our must-see. So, what did I learn about the Louvre that I can pass on to you?

I think this calls for a list!

  1. Don’t stand in the queue. Buy your tickets in advance!
  2. Arrive at your alloted time and sail by the line people in your very special lane.
  3. Get one of their brochure mappy things. You’ll need it because there are over half a million things to look at from art to objects to cities. Literally.
  4. No matter what anyone says: see the Mona Lisa. It IS that impressive. It IS mobbed with people. And who cares? It’s the most famous work of art in the world. Ignoring it is just lame. It’s like going to New York and not going to Times Square. Has to be done at least once.
  5. Pick a part of the museum far from the great ML and head there for some solitude.

After fulfilling #1 on the list above by purchasing our tickets at the billetterie spectacles at FNAC in Forum des Halles…

… we had just enough time to grab some lunch before our timed visit to the House of the Mona Lisa. The walk back to the Musée revealed more of Paris’ rich history.

The Fountaine des Innocents is the oldest monumental fountain in Paris. It’s kind of a big deal, having Pierre Lescot’s name attached to it. Did you know he was the architect in charge of a little museum called the Louvre?

What a coincidence!

And speaking of, we’re heading there right now. Follow me!

Item #2 on the love it or Louvre it list, the special advance ticket line was VIP only. There may as well have been a red carpet. We strolled in the pyramid and down the escalator, snapping pics along the way.

As you can see, I prefer to look up. Less people up there. How may of us take photographs of the underside of escalators?

I’m not going to lie. It’s busy in the atrium under the Pyramid, known as Hall Napoléon. And somehow I managed to get a fun shot, even caught one girl’s attention. Check out the red-haired lass looking directly at me.

Spooky.

That photograph was taken whilst fulfilling #3 on the list, grabbing a mappy thing. You’re gonna need it to find the ML and the VdM (Venus de Milo to those not on a first name basis). Besides the sheer volume of artifacts contained in this horseshoe shaped museum, there are four floors. Without some sort of map… good luck!

We set off on a wander, letting the crowds go their own way. I’m not even going to pretend we knew where we were going, so just enjoy these photos and note how the crowds thin as we go (#5).

We found ourselves in the Coptic Egypt Art Gallery and the Bawit Room beyond enjoying the rebuilt Byzantine Monastery Church with one of Egypt’s greatest icons…

In complete solitude. (see above, #5)

How about a painting on wood from the Bawit Monastery, circa 8th century?

We sat alone across the room Christ and Abbot Mena from for almost ten minutes, knowing it couldn’t last forever but hoping it would.

Our secret was out. As the tourists started walking in our cozy monastery hide-out, it was time for us to leave and find the big guns. Lots and lots of  photos to come.

Melpomene, artist unknown
Apollo
Winged Victory of Samothrace, front
Winged Victory of Samothrace, back
Aphrodite (Venus de Milo)
Aphrodite, Ramses, and another dude
Left
Right
Centre
Outside Galerie d’Apollon
Slightly distorted Galerie d’Apollon

That’s only just a few of the ridiculously famous artworks you’ll stumble across in the Louvre. Even the building is art. Ceiling panels, anyone?

 

I keep my cupid above the door, too.

Ornate angel cornice? Yes, please.

Okay, no more messing around. It’s time to find the famous lady herself. If we don’t get lost (#3 again).

Maybe past these sitting Egyptian dudes?

Or perhaps through the hallway of many sphinxes?

Past this sphinx?

Okay, maybe this one…

The Great Sphinx of Tanis

Is it around this moat?

Don’t be distracted by the modern art selfies…

Oh hai!

Maybe it’s this way. After all, where there are crowds…

You’ll find Mona. (Finally, #4)

Here’s a little advice on getting your photograph of the most famous painting in the world. Treat it like a mosh pit. Everyone is jostling for their place in front of the velvet rope so you can’t be shy, though try and be nice. If the museum were smart, they could charge even more money to queue up and get your pic of this piece. Instead it’s every man, woman and child for his, her or little oneself.

  • So just walk in, say excuse me, scusami, pardone mi, pardóname, entschuldigung, sorry, whatever gets you to the front of the crush.
  • Then don’t mess around.
  • Take your photo on the highest possible setting, not JPG, but RAW, so that later you can zoom in and crop to your heart’s content.
  • Have this setting programmed before you walk up.
  • With an iphone, just take the wide shot because the zoom function blows. I relied on Instagram to make her sweet smile come to life.
  • Be polite and get yourself out of everyone else’s way as soon as possible. Believe me, they are happier to watch you leave. But don’t hang about. Want to stare at her to figure out DaVinci’s hidden messages? That’s what the internet is for.
  • Oh, and turn around:
The Wedding Feast of Cana

You’ll barely have anyone in your way to view the massive and classic Wedding Feast of Cana. You’ll probably recognize this beauty from such classes as Art 101 and Art History.

So there you go, your beginner’s guide to the Louvre. Don’t worry about trying to fit everything in. Just wander, sit every once in a while, and enjoy the view!

Oh, I forgot to add something to the list.

6.  Wear comfortable shoes. There’s no way you’re going to see it all in one day, so save something for next time!

Au revoir!

 

And so Paris…

When good Americans die, they go to Paris -Oscar Wilde

If you’ve missed me, it’s because I’m preparing some of my more recent travels for the blog. But I seem to be caught in indecision city. Australia? Seattle? Maybe that weekend in Waikiki? The confusion of what to write here has echoed in the planning for my next trip, a certain birthday coming up in a few months. Brisbane? Indonesia? A bucket list trip to Kathmandu? I want it all.

The very act of going through photographs from past trips feels almost like caffeine coursing through my veins, a heightened sense of smell, of sight allowing me anticipate the next. It’s equal parts torture and nostalgia. Perhaps that’s all travel is for me, going out into the world to execute my plan, looking back fondly later.

Who am I kidding, I love the travel part, too.

So whilst I agonize over Tijuana, Prague or Zeeland, here is the first of a few posts, snaps and snippets from two nights in Paris, which is what I shall call my book of short travel stories some day. (All rights reserved, natch.)

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Not everyone in England is lucky to live near an international airport, though most airports in England are. It’s on an island, after all, the North Sea separating it from the continent. And as an American expat, I was always so amazed at how easy and inexpensive it was to fly internationally, the travel time on a flight to Belgium taking less than rush hour traffic through Downtown LA on a Tuesday to Pasadena.

For real.

So being in Leicestershire, we have the delightful East Midlands Airport just thirty some odd minutes from our front door. It’s a small facility that used to be an RAF base, Castle Donington to be exact. It does the requisite European short-haul flights and recently even added some long haul to the mix, though I don’t think that will ever stretch to direct flights to LAX. Long of the short of it is if you’re happy for a quick hop to Spain or Paris, you’re in luck.

We chose to do a mid-week trip, thinking the crowds in the French capital may be a little more forgiving in the height of August’s peak season and knowing the locals have mostly skipped town for their summer holidays. We were partially correct, the locals had definitely split town, but the tourists were abundant.

And the nostalgia… The last time I was in Paris I stayed on the right bank in a youth hostel by the Anvers Metro, just in the foothills of romantic Montmartre and the stunning Sacré-Coeur. It was September 2001, just a three days after the 11th. It was an interesting time, with a quiet city going about its business under the watchful eye of soldiers with automatic weapons on high alert. Since then, not much has changed on that respect, though the city was far more vibrant on this visit.

Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never really be elegant. -Honoré de Balzac

So true, Honoré, and that’s why we stayed at the delightful Hotel le Bellechasse just across the Seine on the left bank. Le Bellechasse is a boutique hotel using its Christian Lacroix designer pedigree to make it stand out in a city full of beautiful design hotels. What made this hotel stand out for us was its location only a few short steps from the Musée D’Orsay, du Louvre and the outdoor cafés of Saint-Germain des Prés. For a two-day trip we didn’t want to travel far to our tourist destinations.

We arrived late on the first night, checking in after ten PM and realizing our desire for dinner was going to go unanswered. That meant early morning hunt for un café et deux croissants. We wandered south toward Rue de Bac Metro in search of caffeine and popped into a little brasserie that served the purpose.

I’d heard somewhere that most of these little cafés and bistros, like pubs in the UK, are chains. That didn’t ruin the charm of standing at the bar with our breakfast cafe au lait. Saying à bientôt, we marched into the nearby Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger to stock up on our continental breakfast. We had a big day ahead of us.

But first… one of my favorite things to do in a city is strolling to find a place to picnic, wandering to a local lunch spot, picking up provisions and dining al fresco. With our fresh croissants in hand, we were on a mission.

The walk from our hotel was gorgeous, bright sun and blue skies with nary a tourist in sight. The Seine shimmered its hello.

Our plan was to check out the queue at the Louvre, so what better place to plan a picnic than at Jardin des Tuileries, Louvre-side?

Flaky pastries consumed, we found where all the tourists were hiding.

Why yes, that is a queue of people snaking around the side of the pyramid, the entrance to the Louvre. Without tickets.

What are they thinking?

I’m not one to judge. The boy and I have a habit of heading to a destination without pre-booking tickets. Maybe it’s the lure of our younger years as seat of the pants travellers. It’s definitely how we’ve managed to miss out on some of the world’s greatest attractions. Like that time we went to New York just after the Statue of Liberty opened and we couldn’t get tickets to the top. Too bad. And the time we went to Paris and didn’t get our Tour Eiffel tix either.

Oh, you mean this trip?

So we weren’t going to miss out on the Louvre. Our hotel concierge gave us a tip of purchasing tickets from the counter in FNAC, a shop that sells electronics slash cultural products (yep, that’s the description, and kind of what it looks like on the inside). We did a little research and discovered the Forum des Halles was the place to go. We designed a further wander through the streets of Paris to the mostly underground des Halles, determined to find something new.

Like a different view of the Louvre.

Or a look down one of the covered arcades of le Palais-Royal, a grand palace that used to be Cardinal Richelieu’s house and was later absorbed by the crown after his death. Now it’s the home of the Ministry of Culture,  the National Library and the Constitutional Council. We chose to wander through the arcade adjacent rue de Richelieu alongside the Comedie-Française, one of France’s state-run theatres.

I feel like its worth mentioning at this point that we’d only walked a mere 3 minutes from the entrance to the Louvre. It’s impossible to visit Paris without marvelling at the history literally everywhere.

A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life. -Thomas Jefferson

C’est incroyable.

We kept walking up rue de Richelieu to rue des Petits-Champs, a street originally opened in 1634. That’s where we stumbled upon Galerie Vivienne (Metro: Bourse).

As you can see, Galerie Vivienne is one of Paris’ many covered passages with a purpose. Built in 1823, it’s now filled with boutiques and cafés fit for luxury city centre living. One might say this could be the inspiration for modern-day malls.

If only our malls looked like this.

Upon leaving Galerie Vivienne, we soon stumbled across another Notre-Dame:

Basilica Notre-Dame des Victoires, to be exact.

This little church began its life as part of a convent in 1619. King Louis XIII himself laid the cornerstone. How’s that for pedigree?

Leaving le petit Notre-Dame we made our way toward Forum des Halles via the picturesque back streets…

… past cafés that would not have looked out of place in Amsterdam or Brussels…

… to the under construction entrance to the Forum des Halles.

I took absolutely no photographs in this mainly underground expanse of shopping, cinemas and passageways to the Metro and nearby residences. It’s something out of a science fiction film, so futuristic in its retro design that I knew my sad camera phone would not do it justice, my micro 4/3rds Olympus Pen even worse.

Besides, we had a FNAC to visit and my high school french to exercise.

Bonjour, je voudrais deux billet s’il vous plait, le Louvre. -this girl

And so we walked back.

Did you know that you don’t have to wander through Paris streets to buy tickets and avoid the queue? Just head to the Carrousel du Louvre, another underground shopping mall, literally across the pavement right next door.  It even connects to the Louvre by another clever underground passage. Just head downstairs and there are museum passes ready for purchase.

Secrets travel fast in Paris. -Napoleon Bonaparte

Yes, Napoleon, but fast is not the way to see Paris. Stroll, take in, taste. That’s how you experience this city.

Next time I’ll show you there are places in the Louvre where you may actually find yourself blissfully alone.

à bientôt!