Tuesday, 29 January 2013
Paris (Years Ago)
I really didn't know what I was supposed to do once I got of the train. It wasn't yet 8 am, I had a big fat backpack, and I knew I wouldn't be able to check in for hours. I grabbed a coffee and a croissant and sat in the train station pondering my options. Ordering a coffee in Paris, for the record, will actually get you an espresso and I don't care if I ever have another demi-tasse of the stuff in my life. The croissant was good though.
After paying 50 Euro cents to use a bathroom, I decided I'd try to find my hotel and at least dump my bags. I got a three-day metro pass and switched to three different lines until I found Abbesses, which is in the heart of Montmartre, just around the corner from La Butte De Montmartre and Sacre Coeur Cathedral. It was a short walk from there to the hotel, and for once I didn't walk past it 4 times before going inside.
Had they let me, I would have checked in, taken a shower, and napped for a couple more hours, but I knew that wasn't going to happen. Check-In wasn't until 2pm, and at the moment it was about 8:30. They did let me leave my bag though, so I wandered out to kill six hours on the strangely familiar streets of Paris. It was an odd sensation, but there wasn't anything threatening about the whole city and I felt like I had been there before.
I figured I'd start at Sacre Coeur because it was the closest. I think it took me five minutes to walk there. With no directions, I just kept going up hill until I found it at the top. It's a gorgeous domed cathedral overlooking all of Paris, except most of the landmarks you're looking for are obstructed by trees. I was surprised to find that it was actually open to the public so early on a Thursday, but I wandered through checking out the pillars, the domes, and the stained glass. It's a beautiful building with an amazing view of the city, and about ten minutes later I decided to descend les escaliers de la butte.
At the bottom of les escaliers was a guy weaving little bracelets out of coloured strings. After politely declining several times, somehow I got roped in quite literally while he wrapped some strings around my fingers and made conversation about all the touristy things in Paris (in English) while he braided and wrapped strings into a yellow, red, and purple pattern. The whole time I was irritated with this guy because I didn't want the thing anyway, but was too nice to be rude. And of course, after I say I don't want it about five times, he ties it on my wrist anyway, and says it's a gift.... but could I please give him something for it.
I fished into my pockets and gave him a bit of change, but was so mad for the rest of the day because I didn't want the damn thing in the first place. How rude do you have to be before these people leave you alone? Now I had a stupid bracelet I didn't want, and I somehow ended up paying for it. Talk about being rubbed the wrong way.
All that behind me, I decided the best way to kill a few more hours was to visit the most notorious time-consumer in Paris: The Louvre. Everybody always says you can't see it in less than a few days, so I figured a few hours wouldn't be too hard to pass. Using the metro again, I found my way to the right stop and to the bottom of the underground upside-down glass pyramid (which has been featured heavily in all the Da Vinci Code commotion, for obvious reasons if you've read the book).
For some reason, I had it in my head that the museums were supposed to be free, but apparently that only applies to certain people on certain days. Either way, it cost me 8 or 9 Euro to get inside and before long I was walking along the base of the original castle's walls, which were preserved underground. Moments later, I found myself looking at the Venus de Milo along with a hundred other people. Listening in on a tour group, I learned that her left toe had been stolen at some point.
Around the corner from Venus, there were more Greek and Roman statues which I found to be far more impressive, including a famous one of Diana the Goddess of the Hunt and her little deer. The detail in this one and others like it, the texture, and the fact that they still have their limbs made me enjoy them more than Venus, and made me wonder why it was such a big deal when there were nicer things in the same room.
Next I toured the great hall with the Italian paintings, including the Mona Lisa. Hundreds of people were huddled around it. I guess you could say that I was pretty underwhelmed. I think once you've seen a picture of something a thousand times and had copies of the image pop up in every conceivable place, seeing the original image doesn't blow you away as much as you might imagine. I was far more impressed with The Wedding at Cana by Paulo Veronese, which takes up the whole wall opposite La Joconde. It's far more colourful, has way more going on, and stands about 20 feet high and 30 feet wide.
Around that, there are countless other works by French, Italian, English, and Spanish artists. I recognized some of them, but was generally not too blown away. For some reason, classical paintings just don't excite me much. I much prefer impressionism, surrealism, and modern art. So in the grand scheme of things, I understand the historical significance and the value of these pieces, but the vast majority of them were pretty dull, with a few exceptions like The Raft of Medusa (Gericault) or Liberty Leading the People (Delacroix).
I spent quite a while looking at art, then moved on to the historical wings to look at ancient Egyptian stuff, African stuff, and after a couple hours my feet started to hurt. I decided I'd had enough ancient art and walked out into the square where the upright glass pyramid stands. I took a few pictures, walked over to the Seine for a minute, then got back on the Metro at Louvre-Rivoli which actually looks like an extension of the museum that the subway happens to run through.