15 August 2011

Musee de Louvre

July 8
Our first day in Paris dawned bright and early. I think I woke up about 8:30/9:00 due to my friggin' internal clock (both convenient and incredibly annoying). Teagan had set the alarm on her phone but it didn't go off. We both sort of stumbled out of bed and got ready to go. I just threw on some clothes and then went down to breakfast, where I discovered that my choices were slim. I ended up eating a small bowl of applesauce and drinking a much bigger mug of hot chocolate.


Everyone gathered out on the front steps of the hotel (Hotel Magendie, if you were wondering), and after a few speech-sounding minutes we divided up into groups and went out on walking tours of the neighborhood. A few of us stopped to get some Euros at an indoor ATM, and then we went on.


As we got to the end of the next street from ours, we passed a couple of young guys standing next to motorcycles—I don't know why I really noticed them, they just looked like ordinary young teens to me, but I did. So we crossed one section of the street and were waiting in the middle for the light to change to cross the second lane, and suddenly there was a lot of shouting behind us. We turned around, and there was an older man shouting on the street corner across from us, and then the same kids we had just passed were running down the street, hotly pursued by some guys in their twenties or thirties. There was a little old lady standing at the ATM next to the yelling man, looking scared and traumatized—the boys had taken her money right out of the machine.


Some of us were kinda nervous for a while after that, though our tour leader, Excelle (a friend of Dr. Mackaman's) explained that Paris has a lot of gypsies and we had to be careful. She attended the Sorbonne, so it was kind of cool to have a Frenchwoman and part time Parisian guiding us (although she lives in New Zealand now, go figure).


After this auspicious start to the journey (I was wishing myself back in London at this point), we did a longish, meandering tour of the area, eventually ending up at Notre Dame (I so totally just typed in Notre Damn) and met all the other groups. We received our tickets for the Louvre, and then were left to make our own way there. I walked with Kaite, Jamie, Laurel, Emily and Matt, and we got there in one piece. We entered through the front, and while I know that the Louvre was a palace it still doesn't look like all that much on the outside to me.

On the inside it is much more decorative, lots of statues and carvings on the walls, and hundereds of windows looking down on the inner courtyard. It has a really good view down toward the Arc de Triomphe, too. The glass pyramids are ugly, but for better or worse they're there to stay. 

 A detail of the Louvre

A little background: the Louvre was built in 1190 as a fortress by Phillipe Auguste, but hardly any of this original building remains. In 1364 Charles V's architect began to turn it into a royal residence, becoming very grand and opulent, but when Charles V died, the palace was left alone until 1527 with Francoise I. The construction continued until Louis XIV, and then it was decided to connect it to the Tuleries palace. Louis XV was the last royal to any major work on it until the Tuleries was made into a museum in 1793. Then in 1882 the Louvre began to become mainly a museum, which it remains to this day. The glass pyramid entrance was opened in 1989.


After wandering around the inner courtyard and taking some pictures, we all went over to the entrance and got to bypass the long line, going down through the pyramid and into the big open entrance area. I decided against the long bathroom line, and we all went over to the small café, where there were no seats and I purchased a disgusting peach iced tea. This seems to be the only flavor of iced tea in many places in Europe, and not only is it gross but it's not even gluten-free. Ugh.


After our mini-lunch we split up, and Katie, Jamie and I decided we would see some of the more famous items listed on the map. It turned out to be quite a long walk, involving many flights of stairs, increasingly frequent rests on convenient benches, and a desperate attempt to get up to the top floor to see a Vermeer painting (Katie's pick) that turned out to be maybe six inches square. We saw a lot of good things, though, including Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, Cupid and Psyche (that one was my pick) and obviously the Mona Lisa. The Louvre is beautiful but like most museums it takes more than a few hours to see even just a little bit of what it contains.


The sad part about the Mona Lisa is that unless you somehow find a time when there is no one else around, it's not possible to just stand and look at the painting, and really take it in. It is a small area for viewing and every tourist wants a picture, so there is quite a lot of shoving and elbowing to get close to it. I don't think it's even the real painting hanging there anymore, because the last time I saw it involved a long line and lots of signs saying no pictures whatsoever.


Once we finally found the top floor and the Vermeer, we also finally got to use an elevator to go down. After we got down to the bottom we went back outside, to finish our lunches—Katie and Jamie both had some sandwich left over and I had brought my own sandwiches and things from London. We fed the pigeons and some smaller birds, and rested.


Katie's Vermeer 
Then we tried to get over to the Arc de Triomphe, but we made a wrong turn and decided to go straight to the Eiffel Tower, which was a real adventure.


Eventually we made it back to the hotel and I refused to go to the free dinner arranged for us, opting instead to take a very long shower, do some homework and just try to relax.

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