Sunday, October 15, 2006

Friday, 13th October – Paris

Our first day in Paris – wow! Paris is so – well – Parisian! We started as we intend to continue, with a late breakfast/brunch at a sidewalk café. We had downloaded a Paris walk from National Geographic and that seemed like a good place to start. It sent us to the St-Germaine-des-Pres area on the left bank, the heart of the Latin Quarter. It’s still a buzzing neighbourhood, home of the Sorbonne, with lots of cafés, bookshops and designer boutiques, and it still has a youthful and edgy feel. We lingered at the café, people-watching and strolled for a while, till we found ourselves in the Luxembourg Gardens, a gorgeous park filled with trees, superb flower beds, statues, fountains, walkways – and lots of chairs. And people – strolling (the tourists) and sitting on the chairs in groups talking (the Parisians). So of course we had to act like locals and found ourselves a scenic spot to sit and enjoy the atmosphere.

Close to the Gardens is the Pantheon, a huge neo-classical monument. It started out life as a church, but since the revolution it has been used to house the tombs of French VIPs (such as Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, and Pierre & Marie Curie. It is also the home of Foucault’s Pendulum, and the site of his famous demonstration, in 1851 of the rotation of the earth. The building is quite impressive – at least we think so, on our visit it was home to a huge art installation, with enormous hanging sacks (they looked like socks) filled with polystyrene balls and sand. If that sounds weird – it was. Apparently we were being “invited to contemplate a confrontation between nature and culture”. Hmmm.

The Cluny Museum, aka the National Museum of the Middle Ages, was our next stop. As we seem to have spent a lot of this holiday in the middle ages, it seemed logical to go there, but we would have anyway, as it’s a magnificent collection, and home to the famous Lady & the Unicorn series of tapestries, as well as sculptures, jewellery, religious objects, gold, and stained glass. The museum itself is housed in old Roman baths and a 15th century abbey.

After another café stop to recharge the batteries, we headed for the Louvre. It is open till 9.45pm on Fridays, so we thought we could avoid the crowds by going late – but someone had told others about the late opening, so there were a few people there! Knowing it is impossible to see everything in one visit, we thought we’d make sure we saw the highlights. We took our own guided tour, courtesy of Rick Steves (he has several Paris walking audio tours on his website). It was a struggle to walk straight past great works of art, but we did manage to get through the tour and saw some incredible sculptures and paintings. And we were so expecting to be disappointed by the Mona Lisa, that we weren’t! Having Rick with us helped a lot, as he pointed out aspects of the works that we would not have noticed, and filled in some art history we were ignorant of.

(By the way we are not the only Ricknics around – we often have overheard people saying “Rick says …” and fellow Ricknics wave their books at us with a knowing look).

We ended the day with a short stroll to the Pont Des Arts for another sit watching the boats on the Seine, the sparkling Eiffel Tower, and the people.