We decided to visit the Musče du Louvre that evening. Having been to Paris several years ago, for a quick 2-day stop, I knew that there really was much more to experience in Paris than could be accomplished in even 3 or 4 days. We had to be choosy about the sights we would tackle. Alors
(French for "so"), we found on the official Louvre website a self-guided tour that we could follow to see the “must-see” masterpieces.
This whirlwind tour includes several works such as the “Aphrodite” (the “Venus de Milo”), the “Winged Victory of Samothrace”, Paolo Caliari’s painting “The Wedding Feast at Cana” and, of course, Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Gioconda” (the “Mona Lisa”). The musee
closed at 10:00pm and it was already 6:00pm, so we would have to hurry to get there as some exhibition rooms closed early. For those who are interested in attempting to see Paris on a budget, the Louvre entrance fee is only 6.00 Euros on Wednesday and Friday nights, instead of the usual 12.00 Euros. But even at full price the Louvre is a bargain and a wonderful experience.
We entered the museum at the Pyramide du Louvre
(Louvre Pyramid), the famed (infamous?) glass and metal pyramid designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei (Pei also designed several buildings across the globe including the John F. Kennedy Library, the Miho Museum in Japan, the Hancock Tower in Boston, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland). When it was first constructed, Parisians were unwelcoming of the structure because its modern design seemed out of place juxtaposed to the classical design of the Palais du Louvre
. It actually works well – the pyramid sits over one of the entrances to the museum, illuminating a grand lobby with sunlight. The Louvre Museum was established around 1793, but the structure’s roots dive deep into the late 12th century. L’edifice
(that’s French for “ The edifice”) was constructed as a fortress to protect Paris, the largest city in Europe at the time. The remnants of the moat can be seen in place within the bowels of the museum. Over the centuries the Louvre has served as a palace for French royalty and has undergone several reconstructions and additions.
Having traveled most of the day, Lesly and I were a little tired and we were looking forward to a quick little tour of the Louvre, getting some dinner, and then going back to the hotel to rest for the next day’s touring. The tour directions usher you along an often convoluted path through salons, stairways and elevators, bypassing the crowds to move you to each of the must-see masterpieces, in the most expedient way possible. While the directions were fairly clear, we (okay, I) soon got distracted by the other exhibits that were situated along the way. Although we checked off many items on our list, we got off our planned path and wandered through the various salons, getting lost among the thousands of paintings, statues, carvings and archeological artifacts. What we thought would be a quick one and a half hour tour turned into a three hour excursion; even then, we saw only a small fraction of the exhibits. The Louvre stands not only as a tribute to centuries of French history, but more importantly, it holds a collection of treasures that catalog the history, and the artistic, architectural and natural wonders of the of the world’s civilizations. Attempting to assimilate all that the Louvre offers (as our dear friend Stan likes to say) is “like trying to drink from a fire hose!” and is liable to give you a "Charlie-horse between the ears" (another Stan-ism). Overall, the Louvre is a fantastic place to spend a few hours. There are several types of guided and self-guided tours, workshops for artists, and children's programs. What impressed us was that unlike many other museums, the Louvre is very visitor friendly and though you cannot touch the works of art, one has good access to appreciate the exhibits. Moreover, the taking of photos is allowed (without a flash) - so bring a camera!
After Lesly dragged me out of the Louvre kicking and screaming (by this time she was really hungry), we walked along Rue de Rivoli toward Champs-Elysees to find a place to have dinner. There are several nice restaurants, stores and souvenir
(French for "souvenir") shops here. We found a small place and went in. Several tourists from around the globe were there – hearing English spoken has become a rarity for us living in Siena, so we gravitate toward it when we’re traveling. As in most restaurants in Europe, seating is very tight and you usually end up sitting very close to strangers, who often become dinner companions, if not friends. A couple seated next to us from Australia was enjoying a long-awaited honeymoon. They had been traveling throughout Europe for 8 weeks and just arrived in Paris for a 5-day stop. We talked about some of the sights in Rome and Milano we had visited in common; it turned out that we had been visiting Milano on the same day. In all, it was great first day in Paris. Tomorrow we’ll be busy…
As part of her Fulbright Fellowship, Lesly was invited to give a lecture at L'Institut Pasteur in Paris. We arranged to arrive in Paris a couple of days early, so that we could do a little sightseeing. We left Siena on Friday morning on a bus to Firenze where we would take a direct flight to Paris. We arrived in Paris Charles de Gaulle airport around 3:00pm and took the Paris Metro to the corner of Boulevard de Pasteur and Rue de Vaugirard and checked in to the Hotel Le Meditel.