Monday, September 04, 2006

Day 9: Monday, August 14 (Paris)

We were up early Monday morning with only slight hangovers and made our way to the Louvre before the masses descended. The Louvre is huge. It's the largest museum in the western world and fills three huge wings of this former palace. It is amazing, enthralling, and so, so, so, so, SO crowded in August.

Once under the pyramid we stuck to the Denon Wing and the Grand Gallery:

The two most famous statues in the whole place are:

The Venus de Milo (from the Greek island of Melos and a summation of the beauty of ancient times):

and Victoire de Samothrace (Winged Victory of Samothrace) is a huge woman with wings, poised on the prow of a ship.

Then there was the Italian Renaissance and the Mona Lisa, which was very small and behind bullet proof glass. It was so crowded we could only look for a few seconds. French neoclassicism had some amazing stuff, including 'The Coronation of Napoleon' which shows Napoleon grabbing the crown out of the Pope's hands and pronouncing himself emperor. We loved the French Romanticism section (which you couldn't photograph), which was the flip side of cool and balanced neoclassicism and instead showed scenes of grit, emotion and despair.

The Roman Wing:

We ended our Louvre tour with the Italian Renaissance:

Exhausted and starving, we left the Louvre, bought sandwiches from a street vendor, and had lunch in Tuileries Garden.

The Tuileries Garden is one of Paris' grandest parks and was once the private property of royalty. It is full of fountains, flowers and art.

Leaving the gardens, we transversed the Pont des Arts, which is the pedestrian only bridge crossing the Seine. In the background you can see the Institut de France (where linguists meet each year to decide what to name new things).

This grand statue of Voltaire starts a series of streets lined with art galleries and upscale shops in the heart of the Left Bank.

Lots of famous people lived and died on the Left Bank, and there homes or places of death are memorialized with markers. Like, George Sand's house:

Or Richard Wagner's:

Everyone in France seems to drive an enviromentally friendly clown-car...

There were a ton of quaint and sophsticated shops like this one...

The painter Eugene Delacroix lived and worked on a tiny square on the Left Bank and his home has been turned into a small museum showcasing his work:

The intersection of rue de Seine and rue de Buci is considered to be the 'heart' of the Left Bank and is full of fun shops, cafes, and ice cream shops.

We had a lot of ice cream:

One gelato shop shapes your scoop into a flower.

In the neighborhood is St. Germain-des-Pres, Paris' oldest church.

Since we had missed seeing it the previous day, we took a detour back to historic Paris to find Saint-Chapelle. Saint-Chapelle is an example of Gothic architecture and was completed back in 1248 in only 5 years. The exterior is rather bland....

But, the interior more than makes up for it with the most spectacular stained glass I have ever seen. There are 15 separate panels of stained glass with more than 1,100 different scenes (mostly from the bible).

The Rose Window in particular shows Judgment Day:

And the altar was built to display the Crown of Thorns (yes that crown that Jesus wore while being tortured and crucified). King Louis IX actually paid 135,000 pounds for the crown, 100,000 for the shrine to hold it, and a mere 40,000 pounds to erect the building (Saint-Chapelle) to house it all. Today the crown (obviously never authenticated as the real thing) is in the Notre-Dame treasury.

Next to Saint-Chapelle is the Palais de Justice, France's Supreme Court:

Next to the courthouse is the Conciergerie, the gloomy prison famous as the last stop for 2,780 victims of the guillotine, including Marie-Antoinette. It has a non-descript exterior, but the inside if full of gruesome history.

A re-creation of Marie-Antoinette's actual cell:

Stairway leading up to a block of cells:


An orginal guillotine blade:

The gardens:

and the Queen's chapel:

After leaving the prison, we took the oldest Metro stop in Paris...

To discover a tremendous fountain in front of St. Sulpice.

St. Sulpice church is modeled on St. Paul's in London and has two round half-finished towers. It has a gigantic organ and apparently opens for Sunday morning concerts.

'The DiVinci Code' claimed that St. Sulpice was where the secret society, the Priory of Sion, met and held secret rituals; and where the albino monk sought the keystone. There is literature in multiple languages all over the church denying the connection.

The 'gnomon' or sundial:

The altar:

After leaving the church we wandered through this gigantic and modern bookstore, which had lots of books in French I wish I could read.

We finally made it to Luxembourg Gardens, which I am convinced is the lovliest of all places in Paris. It is a 60 acre private garden (so there are lots of restrictions on what you can and can't do). It is full of fountains, orange trees and statues. Apparently, it is the prperty of the French Senate. You can park yourself on the comfy reclining chairs and take it all in--watching the chess players or the little kids race their toy sailboats in the fountain.

After we left the gardens, BVZ sat in another park while I checked out the Bon Marche (which was spectacular), and the Bon Marche market. Words cannot express how amazing this market was. It had everything. Literally everything, from prepared foods to a full gourmet grocery store, to high end liquors, coffees, teas and chocolates. It is easily in my top 5 favorite places on Earth now. I could have stayed there for days, but instead I settled on getting some stuff for our breakfasts for the next several days. (Oh, and I tried to take a picture of these awesome half plucked chickens, but I got scolded and told there were no pictures allowed).

Dinner was at the quaint and lovely Chez Janou in the Marais. This is the plate of deliciousness you get when you order a drink at the bar:

BVZ's main course was steak steak:

And mine was tuna steak:

We sat outside and the tables were very, very close together. We had 4 people on either side of us, 3 of whom smoked throughout the entire meal. This is BVZ telling me to stop choking and enjoy the 'Parisian experience'. Ha.

We ordered chocolate mousse for dessert and it came in this gigantic ceramic bowl with a ladle. You were to scoop out as much as you want. I think in my fascination over the chocolate mousse process, I forget to take a picture.

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