As someone who enjoys literature and art, I’ve read quite a bit about Paris to learn more about the history of such things (quick recommendation: The Judgement of Paris by Ross King and When Paris Sizzled by Mary McAuliffe). However something the books never explained was why it was always Paris, and while there were certainly factors regarding politics and economics of the various European capitals, I think at least partly it was that the City of Light is one to capture the imagination. I’ve been utterly charmed by Paris this weekend, and it was such an amazing trip, even if I walked a lot more than I planned.
When I arrived at Gare de Lyon on Friday, my first stop was on Rue Rivoli in the governmental and more-or-less geographical center of the city to pick up the metro card I pre-ordered. Had I been smart about things I probably would have got on the metro then and gone straight to the Eiffel Tower, but I wanted to walk a bit and it didn’t look that far on the map. Spoiler alert: It was about 2 miles and very cold. I did walk by Notre Dame though, which was unbelievable and got me really excited thinking about how Victor Hugo had been in the same spot. Across the Seine though, things got even better as I arrived at Shakespeare and Company, am English-language bookstore originally founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919. This was of course part of the Lost Generation, and the little bookshop had such visitors as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and so many others from the period. I even saw the spot where I remembered Richard Wright standing in a photo from the time. Obviously I bought a book there and got the first page stamped with the Shakespeare & Co. seal. Then it was off to the Eiffel Tower, though on the way there I passed by the Rue des Grands-Augustins. At the time I couldn’t remember why the name was familiar and realized later that this was the very street where Picasso had lived and worked during WWII.
By the time I reached the Eiffel Tower, I was very cold and had a quick picnic before going to my hotel in Montparnasse (this time I took the metro). I did, however, splurge on some macaroons at Laduree on Rue Cler. I’d planned to eat them by the Eiffel Tower, but I enjoyed hem a bit more after I checked into my hotel and warmed up a bit. I headed out again around sunset (5:30 pm) and took the metro to the Louvre. Since I expected crowds I did a bit of research before going and learned that the Louvre is open late on Wednesday and Friday evenings, which meant that I was able to wander through the masterpieces for a couple hours with next to no crowds. It was frankly unreal to walk down the hall of Italian painters and gasp every five feet as I moved from Cimabue to da Vinci to Raphael and then to enter the French wing and see all the enormous paintings by David, Ingres, and Delacroix. Even as someone who doesn’t love Ingres, seeing The Apotheosis of Homer staring down at me was incredible. If I hadn’t walked almost 12 miles at that point, I probably would have stayed until they closed, but as it was, I decided to head back and go to bed.
Saturday I started bright and early with Notre Dame. I entered the cathedral almost as soon as it opened to avoid a line, and the interior was just incredible, a masterpiece in its own right. After a pastry for breakfast, I was off again to the Musée Rodin. It’s one of the smaller museums in Paris, but I love Rodin, so there was no question about going. Also there’s free entry for students, so why not? Rodin is most famous for The Thinker, but he was a prolific sculptor and also collected the works of other artists. The house containing the museum is actually one that Rodin bought not just to live in but also to show off his work and his collection, which includes Renoir and Van Gogh. Since it’s a small place and the off-season, I was one of only a few visitors exploring the grounds, and it was just wonderful.
At noon, I met up with a friend at the Orsay where we almost immediately ran into some other students from our school. We got lunch together at the Orsay’s expensive but delicious café before working our way through the art. The Orsay was easily my favorite museum, and I stayed even after the others had to leave. In fact, it was after five when I left, and then it was a lot of hopping on and off the metro to see a few places I didn’t want to walk to, especially after dark. So I stopped by the Palais Garnier Opera House – the setting for Phantom of the Opera – and the Moulin Rouge – the setting for Moulin Rouge – then back to Notre Dame to buy dinner from one of the little shops by Place Saint Michel and then on to the Eiffel Tower for another picnic and some nighttime pictures. All in all an amazing couple of days. My legs may be tired, but I loved every mile.
Until next time ~