Day three in Paris: Firstly we visited the Musée Rodin, a museum dedicated to the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, probably most famous for his sculpture “The Thinker”. Here we enjoyed a great display of his works. I think I surprised myself that sculpture could be as interesting and engaging as paintings or music. If you ever get the chance, I can recommend spending a good bit of time with “The Burghers of Calais”, “The Gates of Hell”, and “Balzac”.
Next we decided to have a crack at the Eiffel Tower. You can access the tower by one of four entries housed in each of the tower’s four feet. When we arrived, two of the feet were closed and half the population of Paris had formed a queue outside the third foot – I was to discover that this was the entry for those wishing to climb the tower by elevator. Not wishing to stand in line for the rest of our holiday, we joined the much shorter queue of people willing to climb to the first and second levels (115 metres above ground level) using the stairs. Three years of living in a second floor apartment obviously placed us in good form for the first 28 steps, some of the remaining 682 were a bit of a struggle though. Eventually, thanks also to the compulsory elevator between the second and third levels, we found ourselves 276 metres above the ground looking out at a fairly decent view of Paris.
Finally we headed off to the Louvre Museum for an evening visit. This was a fascinating experience. The Louvre is jammed full of all sorts of paintings, sculptures and artifacts.
The Mona Lisa – It was interesting to actually see this work in the flesh, so to speak. Can I make a startling confession? I wasn’t really that impressed with it. Firstly, it is quite hard to appreciate properly; the whole painting is quite small, only the size of a small movie poster, and there’s a barrier of about 10 metres in front of it, stopping people getting too close. Then there’s a thick pane of glass in front of it, which manages to reflect all the lights in the well-lit room across the picture. I finally muscled through the crowd, weaved around until I found an angle where I could see the picture properly, and had a good look at the picture. But try as I might, I could not see why this painting warranted such fuss. Now clearly I don’t know much about art, but usually with a good deal of explanation and research I can come to appreciate great works that I didn’t initially understand. Not the case with the ML. I can see how it’s interesting, technically perfect and perhaps innovative for a portrait of its time, but take all the hype away and I’m not sure I would rate it as the most moving or interesting artwork I saw today.
The Raft of the Medusa – This was my favourite painting in the Louvre. I sat in front of this painting for a good while. The composition is just plain interesting with its pyramid shapes and various diagonals. The picture tells a story of tragedy, turmoil and hope. Plus it’s huge.
All in all, not a bad evening although after tramping around the Rodin museum, up the Eiffel Tower and all over the Louvre, my feet were killing me and I was glad to head home.
The next day we caught the train out to Versailles to check out the palace there. The palace was around for a fair while, but the monarch who did the most work on it was Louis XIV. The rooms were incredibly decorated with colourful walls, painted ceilings and no shortage of artworks. We were able to see almost all parts of the palace including the king’s apartment and bed chamber, the queen’s apartment, the princes’ wing, the hall of mirrors, the chapel and the remarkable gardens. Not a bad day, but a lot of walking and after the work out our feet got yesterday we were quite worn out by the time we were back on the train.
The following day, on the recommendation of Dan, we went to see the Sacré-Cœur area, a region on a hill in Paris based around the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur (“Basilica of the Sacred Heart”).
On the walk up to the church we passed plenty of interesting tourist shops and cafes. We hadn’t had breakfast at that point so we grabbed a couple of chocolate and banana crepes to go – keeping things healthy as always. We polished these off as we walked up the fairly steep climb to the church, passing buskers, beggars and people selling Eiffel Tower key chains (who were presumably lost).
The church was an impressive building built on the very top of the hill so that from the front doors of the church you got an amazing view of the city. Inside a pipe organ was playing something very fast and spooky in a minor key that made you feel like the phantom of the opera was about to jump out at you at any moment. Like the Notre-Dame cathedral, the Basilica was jammed full of tourists and I did feel a little embarrassed to be one of them, for the sake of the few clergy and worshippers, still using the building as it has been used for hundreds of years.
Next we moved around to the Palace Tertre, a square full of artists with their artworks. The lower half of the square was full of artists who would paint or sketch portraits or caricatures of customers. The upper half of the square was full of artists who were selling their own artworks of landscapes, cityscapes and so forth. I saw a fantastic pair of portraits of jazz musicians, painted with cool smooth colours and textures that made the paintings “look” like the music would sound. They were 1500 Euro each, so we decided to pass (plus they would have been a nuisance to get home on the plane).
We walked around some more, checking out the other galleries and gift shops and stopped for lunch at a nice pizza restaurant/piano bar. Next we wondered down and saw the Moulin Rougue. Finally we walked back up to the artists’ square and after much deliberation, we bought a nice small painting of some flowers in a field.
On our way back to the station, on the steps of the Basilica, a busker with a guitar and microphone had managed to attract a fair crowd. He was playing great pop songs in English, Spanish and Italian and had the crowd clapping and singing along. We watched him for a while and then wound our way back to the station.
For dinner we had hoped to go back to the supermarket and grab some bread and cheese, but inexplicably the supermarket was closed (it being about 9pm on a Sunday evening). Much to Anna’s chagrin, we decided to grab dinner instead somewhere that was still open and where we knew something of the menu – McDonalds. This was actually an interesting experience. One of the main problems was that the menu was still in English, but pronouncing it in English was useless, you had to try and pronounce the English words (e.g. “fruit & yoghurt”) with French pronunciation. Apart from the ordering experience, it was almost exactly like eating at a McDonalds at home – a very mixed blessing.
Hurry back, plenty to tell you about our last day in France and our first day in Spain.