Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities -- My Week in London & Paris (Part III of III)

OK, after elaborating quite a bit on what I did and saw throughout four days in London (see Part I and Part II), I think I should keep my Paris recap rather brief. Especially as it's been about a month and a half since I was there.

I have been to Paris on two prior occasions and have seen many sights and museums I didn't get to this time (although admittedly, my choices this time were repeats). So although two days seems crazily brief for the City of Lights, I made the most of my time and enjoyed my condensed "greatest hits" itinerary.

I arrived on a Wednesday morning via a train from London and found my way to my hotel, Hotel du Nord et de l'Est, which was near the Place de la Republique, which was entirely under construction.

Via the Metro, I made my way to the Champs-Élysées, where I ate a jambon et fromage (ham & cheese) sandwich on a baguette and a strawberry macaroon from a quick-service restaurant called Paul, Parisien locations of which have existed since 1889. I felt this was apropos, given that I would see Sir Paul McCartney in concert that evening.

After walking to the Arc de Triomphe and taking hundreds of pictures, I did the same with the Eiffel Tower. There I took an elevator to the top, and enjoyed the vantage provided by the observation deck, but missed being able to include the tower in the photos I took from it.

Although I had seen McCartney twice at Wrigley Field last summer, which is a much cooler venue than the externally-unique, internally-dated Bercy arena, it was still pretty thrilling seeing Paul in Paris. He put on his typical three hour concert, which the crowd--including me--loved. He even played "Michelle" especially "for the people of France." Most of the setlist matched that in Chicago, but it was nice to hear "Come and Get It," a song which McCartney wrote but gave to Badfinger to record. Like his 2011 Chicago gigs, I would award his Paris concert @@@@@, the maximum rating on the Seth Saith scale.

I didn't get back to my hotel until about 1am, and although I think Paris is generally pretty safe, I did have some trepidations while walking down desolate side streets after exiting the Republique metro station.

Against my norm in a world-class city with about 50 sights I would happily explore and just one day left to see them, the next morning I wasn't quite up and out of my hotel room by 9am, given the late night before. But I managed to make it to the Île de la Cité by mid morning, where I took a good look outside and in of the famed Notre Dame Cathedral. Content not to walk many steps to the top of the towers, nor have a glass of wine with Quasimodo, I was pleasantly surprised to find that entrance to the cathedral itself is free.

Notre Dame is in pretty impressive shape for a cathedral that has pretty much stood as is since 1345 and on which construction began more than two centuries earlier.

Thursday afternoon was spent exploring the Louvre museum. I had been there in 1993 and 2000, but pretty much just to do the Venus-Mona-Wings dash before heading to the Musee d'Orsay to see all the great Impressionist works. But visits to Italy, Amsterdam, Spain and elsewhere have greatly expanded my appreciation for art over the years, so I've really wanted to get back to Louvre. I still could have spent another week there, but did explore it pretty thoroughly in the time I had.

The Mona Lisa used to be displayed on a gallery wall with all the other paintings; now it gets its own special place on a divider wall with a semi-circle bannister keeping anyone from getting within about six feet of it. Unlike in the past, when taking photographs of it was forbidden but everyone did so anyway, the Louvre now allows the taking of photos without a flash. The scene around Mona reminded me of a press conference, with hordes of tourists jostling to get to the bannister to snap their photos.

Although I was one of them, and also had previously been ignorant of many of the other masterworks displayed nearby, I found it funny that there was a mob scene in front of the Mona Lisa while an even better painting by Raphael went largely ignored just around the corner.

I wore myself out--but happily so--getting to see works by Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Arcimboldo, Velasquez, El Greco, Murillo and many more. Unfortunately, all the Louvre's works by da Vinci were in the London exhibition I couldn't get into (see Part I). I was also disappointed to find the gallery with Vermeer closed, but that prompted me to check out the Royal Apartments (from the age of Napoleon III), which was an interesting glimpse into French opulence of the 19th century.

Exhausted to the point of not really wanting to do anything on Thursday night except crash back at my hotel, I did manage to enjoy a nice lamb dinner--and a glass of wine, but without Quasimodo--at the Palais Royal, a cafe near the museum. If I wasn't so exhausted, I might have been more concerned with what I didn't do on my last night in Europe, but the Moulin Rouge was too expensive (more than $100 without dinner) and seeing a version of Cabaret done in French didn't seem all that important. So I contentedly went to bed, woke up the next morning and took a train to Charles de Gaulle airport.

So that's what I did in Paris; roughly in the order of my description above, here are some photos pour vous de profiter

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