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The Louvre - Paris, France
After we left Notre Dame and Maria had her Pain de Chocolat we walked back through the neighborhoods and up Place Monge towards our hotel, the Saint Christophe. Just before arriving Maria spied an opening in a wall between shops - hidden away and easily missed we walked through its dark passageway into an ancient amphitheater with a several acre flat area surrounded by gray and ancient seating. From the small placard we learned that we stumbled upon the Arenes de Lutece whose ramparts were purported to hold close to 17,000 spectators during the time when Rome ruled this part of France. It was built by the Romans in the first century to hold sporting and theatrical events. During an invasion of Paris in the later part of the third century the arena was partially dismantled to supply material to shore up the defenses of the Ile de la Cite. It was later used as a cemetery and then completely covered over a thousand years ago. This area had been known as 'Les Arenes' into modern times but no-one knew exactly where the ancient arena was. This changed with the construction of the rue Monge in the 1860's and a subsequent tram line which uncovered part of the arena.
This particular morning Maria and I sat on one of the stone benches, next to an ancient stone doorway that was built as an entry for wild beasts to pounce upon muscular Roman gladiators, to watch schoolchildren play a game of soccer.
Maria finished her pastry and we checked into the hotel and went to our room. Maria proceeded to face plant onto the bed and fall fast asleep. She would sleep for the next five hours. I opened the large French doors and peered out upon the curved rooftops of Paris from our 4th floor room - this was the site I was waiting to see with it being etched upon my mind from childhood viewing such cinema as the Aristocats up and through a Midnight in Paris.
I kissed Maria on the forehead and proceeded out to the street to do some local exploring. My first stop was the Metro at Place Monge to buy a carnet of tickets (10 tickets for 12.5 Euros) this is one of the cheapest ways to get around the city. I walked by the Victorian Metro sign and down the wide stairs to a large red vending machine flanked by a token booth. Not really sure what to do I asked the ticket agent, after reading from my French/English dictionary, "Parlez-vous Anglais". To my surprise he smiled and said in English, "You speak very good French!", he proceeded to walk me through the steps on the ticket machine with its strange dials and codes.
I explored a bit more and went back to the room for a short snooze myself. Maria and I woke in the late afternoon and ventured out to explore the local area. We strolled up the Rue Clovis to Paris' Pantheon, modeled upon the Pantheon in Rome, and finished in 1791 after 34 years of construction, it houses the remains of Victor Hugo, Voltaire and Marie Curie.
We were on a tight budget for this trip and luckily Maria's tastes and Paris' profusion of fabulous cheese, bread, and (for me) wine shops made a great package of delicious food to bring back to the room. We ate and stayed in whilst watching Charlie Rose on the only English speaking TV channel available. The next morning we were planning to get up early to beat the crowds at the Louvre.
We awoke bright and early and went down to the ground floor for the complimentary breakfast. The sour faced attendant asked me, in French, my room number to which I said quatre cinq (45). Unlike the attendant the breakfast was delicious and very continental - consisting of yogurts, meats, cheeses and croissants.
The Louvre opens at 9 every day except Tuesday with Maria and I entering the Metro across the street promptly at 8. Having grown up using the subways in Manhattan -the Paris Metro is a breeze. Well laid out with subterranean signs - each train is marked as to its final destination. Just look at where you are and follow the map as to what direction train you need to catch.
The history of the Louvre Palace is fascinating. It was originally built in the 12th century, on the far edge of Paris at the time, as a fortress to guard against invaders from the north and England. In the 16th century it was redesigned as a palace for Louis XIV. Over the centuries the palace began showcasing the artwork collected by French kings and by the 18th century had been rededicated as the Louvre Museum with the French Monarchy moving west to Versailles.
Maria and I decided to enter the museum through the I.M. Pei pyramid, built with much criticism at the time, but to my eye has complimented the original palace buildings perfectly. The pyramid allows a large amount of people to be processed and gain entrance through the many queues below the surface.
There are an incredible 35,000 pieces of artwork housed in the Louvre but Maria and I chose to concentrate on the collections near the Mona Lisa. We were a bit shocked at finally finding our way up stairs, down corridors and through side rooms to finally reaching the Mona Lisa which is a smallish portrait behind a thick Plexiglas covering. OK we can say we saw it - we then proceeded to see the more accessible pieces in the connecting gallery. These galleries included Italian works from the 13th to 15th centuries - including works from my favorite - Caravaggio; as well as Spanish masterpieces including The Young Beggar (1655) by Bartolome Murillo who, by the way, was influenced by Caravaggio.
We had spent a few hours at the museum and by this point it was becoming more crowded. Maria was tired and hungry and wanted to leave. I convinced her to make one more push the see the Venus de Milo as we would regret not making the effort. Although emotionally spent she agreed and afterward was rewarded with yet another Pain de Chocolat from a pastry cart upon exit.
That night we communicated with my wife and son, who were in Norway, via text messages.
The Best Useful Tips
- For the Metro purchase a carnet of 10 tickets to save on cost and aggravation
- Use Euros to make vending machine purchases since an American issue credit card will not work (European issue cards have an embedded chip)
- Check out the small alleyways and side streets - they most often open up a fantastic visual treat
- Get up and arrive early to any well attended destinations as the lines can be daunting later in the day
- The fee to enter the Louvre without admittance to 'special exhibitions' is 10 Euros
- Know what you want to see before your trip to the Louvre
- The Louvre is closed on Tuesday
- The first Sunday of each month the Louvre has free admittance - avoid this day if you hate jam packed crowds!
- If the pyramid entrance is jammed there is another, less known entrance, on Rue de Rivoli
- Text message within Europe as it is much cheaper than voice - let your carrier know you will be in Europe before you depart