GETTING READY FOR PARIS
Where do I start about Paris? According to 90% of the world it is the most beautiful city ever. Poets ,authors ,painters ,artists , movie stars and even your everyday, average Joe would undeniably agree on one thing –if you had to choose one place on earth you would like visit before you die –that would be Paris!!
My logic also coincidentally followed the same pattern. You never know when it is going to be your last day on earth …so see those tried and tested places which everybody brags about!!
So this time ,instead of venturing out on the off beaten track we ‘tried and tested’. Samit who generally dislikes cities ,especially crowded, overhyped, touristy ones gave into my logic after a lot of convincing. Obviously due to the very same dislike, he hardly participated in the planning part. The only thing he helped with was lodging and logistics.
For me the reason behind visiting any city is to soak up its cultural vibe. Every European city has its own distinctive aura. It has its own churches, palaces, parks ,squares , museums and even ‘Arc de Triomphs’-all different from each other. And if any city has a vibe which solely belongs to itself and cannot be contested ,it has to be Paris!
After the most obnoxious experience at Jeddah Airport, Charles de Gaulle Airport- the largest international airport in France , the second largest in Europe and 10th in the world, seemed like heaven. Still maneuvering through it with 20 kilos of baggage at this age and severe back pain was pretty challenging to me. Bought the Paris Museum Pass, bought the 4 day Metro tickets ,picked up some food and ran to catch the RER, their local train,(the RER station is inside the airport -TVG 2) to our BnB which was located very close to Notre Dame. This was the first time we actually used public transport throughout our trip and didn’t do our usual long ,relaxing drives . Driving inside cities then finding parking and paying for it is the worst possible nightmare to have.
SHORTLISTING OUR ITINERARY
Paris has a huge list of things to see. I had to short list my 1000 something list to 10-quite a daunting and heart-breaking task! So into my list came Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Versailles Palace and Montmatre. Then, since we all are avid art lovers ,included quite a few museums like the popular D’orsay museum, a little less popular Pompidou Centre and not so popular Dali Museum and boy! It was such a fantastic decision! Wanted to see other famous landmarks like Arc de Triomph, Place de la Concorde, Sacre Coeur, Pantheon, Moulin Rouge and Opera Garnier. Also wanted to see less famous places like the Rodin museum , Paris Catacombs and Victor Hugo House.
Unfortunately due to lack of time and energy levels had to leave out quite a few things from this list too. Opera Garnier, Pantheon , Rodin museum , Paris Catacombs and Victor Hugo House all had to be omitted. Well, maybe if there is a next time !!
After getting down from the train, getting confused by the intricate underground metro network ,trying to find our exit ,the St.Chapel-Notre Dame ,we found one not sure whether it was the right one .Hauling our luggage up a flight of stairs dreading how much more we have to walk with it ,the first sight that beheld my eyes was THE Notre Dame Cathedral. Didn’t expect it to be so close and sooo beautiful, placed comfortably on a tiny island on the Seine. Forgot all about my condition and simply stared amazed at its beauty and proximity. It was a lovely ,sunny mid -morning with people bustling all around the neighbourhood and I was instantly touched by the feel- good vibe of the city. It was such a splendid welcome note from the city of lights
Here is the list of places and the attractions we have been to in Paris- 4 Days in the City of Art!
- NOTRE DAME
- POMPIDOU CENTRE
- THE LOUVRE
- THE D’ORSAY MUSEUM
- VERSAILLES PALACE
- EIFFEL TOWER
- SACRE COEUR
- DALI MUSEUM
- ARC DE TRIOMPH
- CHAMPS ELYSEES
- PLACE DE LA CONCORDE
Soon we found our Apartment which was very close to the cathedral .Though being extremely tired from an all-night flight we freshened up and went out to explore the neighbourhood. First we had a delicious Parisian lunch of Shrimp cocktails, Crepes and Creme Brule then went straight to Notre Dame.
NOTRE DAME – PARIS
Notre Dame translated into English means “Our Lady of Paris”so obviously it’s a Catholic cathedral , consecrated to the Virgin Mary. It’s a beautiful example of Gothic architecture and its construction began around 1163 A.D.
Its most famous features are the six-part rib vaults , the flying buttresses, the great bells, the statue of the Virgin Mary and that of Joan of Arc, the Chimera and the Stryx-the monstrous figures that overlook Paris from the top of the cathedral, the three stained -glass rose windows and of course the gargoyles which serve as rain spouts on the top of the cathedral.
The cathedral is one of the most widely recognized icons of Paris as well as of France. But it would have gone into obscurity had it not been for the renowned French author Victor Hugo’s famous book ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ which in turn inspired Disney to create the animated movie by the same name. Who can forget the tragic love story of the beautiful Esmerelda and the deformed hunchback Quasimodo? In fact Hugo wrote the book in 1831 to save Notre-Dame from Paris officials who had decided to demolish it because it was in such a dilapidated condition. The book was an enormous success, raising awareness of the cathedral’s decaying state .All the credit goes to him for popularizing and immortalizing The Notre Dame.
Of course another lesser known name Philippe Petit has immortalized Notre Dame for me. In 1971 he had walked across a tight-rope strung up between Notre-Dame’s two bell towers and entertained spectators. But it is because of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s portrayal of Petit in the movie ‘The Walk’ that both the cathedral and the character who gave her immortality holds a special place in my heart.
The cathedral has not only gone through the ravages of time but also been witness to both coronations and funerals. Far back as 1431, Henry VI of England was crowned King of France in Notre-Dame when he was just ten years old. It also saw the coronation of Napoleon I in 1804. Funeral masses for the French presidents Charles de Gaule and Francois Mitterand had been held here.
It also holds many priceless relics like the Passion of Christ, which includes the crown of thorns, a nail from the cross and a sliver of the cross. Unfortunately we couldn’t see any of these because they had been removed for restoration work on the cathedral. And thank god they were because a few days after we returned from our trip we heard the terrible news of Notre Dame’s spiral tower and roof being destroyed in a fire.
We strolled around the Seine while there was still sunlight. With the evening approaching we decided not to waste our time in the apartment so instead visited the Pompidou Centre (which is next to the Notre Dame) –a haven of modern, contemporary art.
Amidst all the medieval, gothic and renaissance architecture of Paris , amidst all its old world charm, Centre Pompidou stands out like an abomination. The first impression I got of the building was that it was incomplete , naked ,stripped of its cover-brick, cement , mortar, plaster ,paint!
I guess it served its purpose of what it wanted to convey because later I read about its style. It was designed in the style of ‘High-tech architecture’.
According to Wiki, High-tech architecture, also known as Structural Expressionism, is a type of late modern architectural style that emerged in the 1970s, incorporating elements of high-tech industry and technology into building design. It was the first major example of an ‘inside-out’ building in architectural history, with its structural system, mechanical systems, and circulation exposed on the exterior of the building. All of the functional structural elements of the building were colour-coded: green pipes are plumbing, blue ducts are for climate control, electrical wires are encased in yellow, and circulation elements and devices for safety (e.g., fire extinguishers) are red. The whole idea in itself is pretty cool!
Pompidou Centre is named after Georges Pompidou, the President of France from 1969 to 1974 and opened in 1977 which is quite new compared to the other famous historical landmarks of Paris. It is basically not only an art museum but also a multicultural complex, having a huge library and a centre for music and acoustic research too.
THE ART COLLECTION IN POMPIDOU
But the art collection itself is so vast that it would take almost half a day for art aficionados to go through each piece minutely. In spite of weary bones we tried to cover most of the paintings of 20th and 21st century artists. The works of iconic artists are displayed chronologically over two sections: the modern period, from 1905 to 1960 and the contemporary period, from 1960 to the present day . My favourite was the modern period since I’m not a big fan of contemporary art. Stood amazed in front of the works of Pablo Picasso ,Jackson Pollock, Henri Matisse , Marc Chagall, and got acquainted with works of Andre Derain, Fernand Leger, Antoine Pevsner, Jules Pascin, Georges Rouault but became an ardent admirer of Vassily Kandinsky. Another thing which I found out is that some of its famous collections had been sent to Louvre Abu Dhabi and we had the privilege of seeing them there before going on our trip to Paris. What an experience –entered knowing so less and came out knowing so much more!
After a tour of the museum, we went to the outside open deck to view a spectacular sunset behind the Eiffel Tower on the left and the Sacre Coeur on the right ,both of which were visible from there. What a magnificent view it was with a regal , purple sky tinted in multiple shades of mauve by the dying sun! Below like tiny ants we could see street performers entertaining spectators with a variety of performances- miming, juggling, hip-hopping, singing with guitars, singing with organs, singing with their bands and street vendors selling Crepes-the famous national street food of Paris.
We went down to enjoy some more of the performances and landed in front of the nearby Stravinsky Fountain , another landmark not to miss. Sixteen unusual looking, moving and water-spraying sculptures by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint-Phalle are its highlight. This fountain is a tribute to composer Igor Stravinsky and represent themes and works by him.
While returning from Pompidou we tried to take a different route and in the process lost our way into a typical Parisian alley lined with trees and wrought iron streetlamps and tiny cafeterias dotting the pavements. It was such a nostalgic sight reminding me of the n number of movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read all introducing me to the magic of this city.
On the way we entered into Notre Dame which was by the then illuminated with incandescent night lights. The long queue we had found during the day was gone though it was still crowded inside. The inside was also dimly lit and the crowd marred the otherwise other worldly feeling created by the evening service and evensong going on.
We went back to our cute little apartment .Apart from being tiny-a common thing about rooms in Paris-everything was perfect there, specially its position .Everything you would need was available at a hand’s throw. And you could enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city from the quiet of your windowsill.
The next few days were a whirlwind .Two huge museums –The Louvre and D’orsay-in one day, thus not doing justice to either; then visiting Versailles Palace and seeing the Eiffel tower on the third day and keeping the rest for the last day.
What is there to say about The Louvre? It’s the world’s largest art museum and the most important historical monument in France. Approximately 38,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 782,910 square feet. Before turning into an art museum long back in 1793 it was a palace for all the French kings from the 12th century on wards . So it was obvious that we couldn’t do justice to it –forget about a day-in even a whole week. In fact I had dreaded that thought for quite some time.
THE MONA LISA @ THE LOUVRE
Before going to Paris ,as I had said before, I had the opportunity to visit Louvre Abu Dhabi which though extremely splendid with a vast collection of items, is nothing compared to its Paris counterpart. But to see the whole of Abu Dhabi Louvre had taken me more than half a day . Hadn’t spent too much time in front of most of the exhibits , still it had taken hours to see everything. So my main concern was how would I even complete even half of the Paris Louvre in one day? Including in it the physical strain and museum fatigue? The only solution to that was to make a list of all the things I wanted to see first after which I would attempt the rest. Of course first in the list was Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Everybody in the world goes to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa if nothing else!
So that’s how we started. But before that we had to go through an amazing collection of sculptures that we couldn’t ignore since it was on the way. Then we went through rooms full of remarkable paintings huge in size from roof to floor. After all these magnificent displays we reached the Mona Lisa which being so small couldn’t have been found had it not been for the huge crowd surrounding it. It was behind a glass display cordoned far off from the crowd so examining it minutely was out of the question. Obviously it was an interesting painting ,considered one of da Vinci’s finest but there were better works of his close by and I found it slightly over-hyped. So after the mandatory photos and selfies with Mona darling we started checking out the other ‘million’ displays in the museum.
THE SCULPTURES IN THE LOUVRE -PARIS
Among the French painters the most popular works are Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon ;( had seen ‘Napoleon crossing the Alps’by the same artist Jaque Louis David at Abu Dhabi); Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa ; and Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.
We skipped the Scandinavian section because we had already seen them at a temporary display at Louvre Abu Dhabi. Johannes Vermeer’s The Lacemakerand The Astronomer; Caspar David Friedrich’s The Tree of Crows; Rembrandt’s The Supper at Emmaus, and Bathsheba at Her Bath are the best.
Apart from Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci‘s has an impressive body of work – Virgin and Child with St. Anne, St. John the Baptist, and Madonna of the Rocks. Caravaggio is represented by The Fortune Teller and Death of the Virgin. From 16th century Venice, the Louvre displays Titian’s Le Concert Champetre, The Entombment and The Crowning with Thorns. I also found the Spanish paintings very impressive. Particularly liked The Clubfoot by Jusepe de Ribera and paintings by Goya and El Greco.
Our next on the list were the sculptures and there were again innumerous ,most of which I can’t even remember. The displays can roughly be divided into eight departments: Egyptian antiquities , Near Eastern antiquities, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman which are mostly sculptures, Islamic art , Decorative arts and Paintings. Of course among these our first priority were the paintings. The painting collection has more than 7,500 works from the 13th century to 1848.
The Greek, Etruscan, and Roman department displays pieces from the Mediterranean Basin dating from the Neolithic period to the decline of the Roman Empire. This department is one of the museum’s oldest and all the displays are symbolic of classical art .
Among the most popular are the Greek Apollo of Piombino(5th century BCE); The Winged Victory of Samothrace (190 BC) ; the Venus de Milo (130 BC ), Lady of Auxerre (640 BC) ,the Borghese Gladiator ( 100 BCE) ,Dying Seneca (2nd century AD)and many more.
Then there are the statues which were influenced by all these old classical statues ,the most popular ones being the twin statues Michelangelo’s Dying Slave (1516) and Rebellious Slave (1513) and Antonio Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (1787).
After achieving the unimaginable task of covering almost what seemed to us a major part of paintings and sculptures we needed a break. We sat in the Louvre’s huge and contrastingly modern lobby ,replenished ourselves with food and water and checked what was left. Samit and Titir had already called it a day but to my dismay it seemed we had covered only one third of what was left. So with renewed vigour I ticked out a few ‘must see’s’ and went off all alone to conquer them! And did so with super-lightning speed because I completed the rest and was back to where they were waiting within an hour.
The list mainly covered the Egyptian antiquities , Near Eastern antiquities and chambers of Napolean III. I had to omit decorative arts but there was this magnificent ,wooden statue of Mary Magdalene by Gregor Erhart ,a German sculpture of the 15th century which I had to see but couldn’t make sense why it was kept in an altogether different department far from the rest for which I had to walk miles and miles just to find this particular lady. Samit and Titir definitely missed this along with the Lamassu – an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted as having a human head, the body of a bull and bird wings – as well as the chambers of Napolean.
Being done with the Louvre we went out into the courtyard ,took photos in front of the arch and the Tuileries Garden and then saw that D’orsay museum was just on the opposite side of the Seine.
D’Orsay was a formidable task after visiting the whole of the Louvre. But we had to since both are literally next to each other on the opposite banks of the Seine and there was almost zero chance of coming to the same place a second day. We still had to cover Versailles on one side of the city and Monmatre on another side.
Previously it used to be the Gare d’Orsay ,a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. It was the terminus for the railways of southwestern France until 1939. By 1939 the station’s short platforms had become unsuitable for the longer trains that had come to be used for mainline services . So instead of shutting down and demolishing the building for good, the Directorate of the Museum of France suggested to turn the station into a museum . The idea was to build a museum that would bridge the gap between the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre. The plan was accepted by Georges Pompidou who commissioned it in 1974 and the museum was ready for the public by 1986.
THE ARTISTS OF D’ORSAY
The museum holds mainly European art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. It houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley,
Pissaro, Rousseau, Gauguin and Van Gogh. Major sculptors represented in the collection include Alfred Barye, François Rude, Jules Cavelier, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Émile-Coriolan Guillemin, Auguste Rodin, Paul Gauguin, Camille Claudel, Sarah Bernhardt and Honoré Daumier.
Of course apart from Rodin I hardly knew any of the sculptors but seeing Rodin’s work among them was enough for me.
The queue to enter d’Orsay museum was relatively short ,maybe because it was already late afternoon and the crowd had seen whatever they had to see in the first half of the day.
Since the building was a long stretch of platform which could be taken in at one glance it seemed easy to navigate . First we bee -lined for Van Gogh and Gauguin’s work. And what a collection! We all three being huge Van Gogh fans went gaga over his vast collection posing in front of his self portrait, the Church at Auvers , Bedroom at Arles – all of them reminding me and Titir of the famous Doctor Who episode on Van Gogh and specially for me Irving Stone’s famous novel Lust For Life.…what a feeling of deja vu we had…still can feel the goosebumps!! More than the Mona Lisa. Though Michelangelo seriously reminded me of another novel by Irving Stone–The Agony and the Ecstasy.
Then there was Gauguin’s work…all those simple Tahitian beauties-another deja vu moment from Lust for Life as well as Woody Allen’s famous movie Midnight in Paris.In fact the whole of Paris brought memories of so many movies-Midnight in Paris, Amelie and The Da Vinci Code-thank you Dan Brown –it was you who inspired my Paris – Barcelona – Rome Trip!!!
The room containing their works was crowded enough. Everybody was busy taking photos of the paintings . I was spellbound , not wanting to move from there. Had forgotten that half the day was already spent in the world’s largest museum and could have easily spent the rest of the day there too. But time was precious and we had to make use of most of it.
Easy to navigate we spent the next half hour in the huge hall and went through all the sculptures. We had originally included the Rodin museum in our trip but had to exclude it due to lack of time but seeing so many works of Rodin at d’Orsay compensated for that loss.
A major part of our interests done , I actually stood in front of the sculptures to read about them. The first one you see after leaving the room of paintings by Gauguin and Van Gogh is Hercules the Archer made by Rodin’s assistant , Emile-Antoine Bourdelle. Such a magnificent statue it was with its dark bronze colour with brown streaks ! Next to it was The Walking Man by Rodin. You can actually see all the sculptures below from the balcony above. ‘Imperial France protecting agriculture and sciences’ and ‘ the four parts of the world holding the celestial sphere’ by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux ; a miniature version Statue of Liberty by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi .
My favourites were of course Rodin’s works.The famous Gates of Hell which had a miniature version of the Thinker and the Three Shades on it .. There was the bust of Victor Hugo along with other busts of Gustave Geffroy, Jean Paul Laurens and Henri Rochefort. Then there were his other famous works the Age of Bronze, Fugit Amor ,the Muse, Conte Ugolino and many more most of whose names I don’t even know.
THE IMPRESSIONIST GALLERY
After the statues we went upstairs to see the impressionist paintings and that gallery turned out to be huge . Located on the fifth floor adjacent to the roof we had to pass the famous clock window. The view from there is spectacular .You can take in quite a little bit of everything from that round bluish tinged window-a corner of the Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries with its trees and Ferris Wheel ,the row of Haussmann buildings, the shops and apartments on the Rue de Rivoli, the Sacre Coeur from the corner of your eye, and even the Seine from the bottom.
The gallery of Impressionist paintings turned out be staggeringly large and never-ending. I could actually touch the flowers and get a whiff of the fragrances from Monet’s Garden at Giverny and Blue Water Lilies, It was as if I had joined Manet’s figures in his Luncheon on the Grass, Renoir’s beautiful,elite crowds were an epitome of the serene beauty of its time , Seurat’s powerful Pointillism was evident in the Circus, and Dega’s Ballerinas were powerful enough to make you dance with them. Even after them there were so many more works of famous artists -all of which transported you to another place and time!!
Satisfied with the day, we roamed around the banks of the Seine and the Tuileries Garden for a while watching skateboarders having a fun time, then caught a metro back to our place. There is still so much to see …