September 1. Thursday.
Today would start with the “Access To Eiffel Tower Summit, Skip the Line” tour. Since I was traveling solo I had to call and reconfirm the tours twenty four hours in advance. It was a little inconvenient, but I did it for most of the tours. The meeting point today was the carousel near the Eiffel Tower. Eleven a.m. It should be easy to find that. I walked through the Champ de Mars again. There were joggers and people beginning their daily routine. I returned to the tourist area around the Tower. It was early. The crowds of tourists hadn’t arrived yet.
The carousel was across the street, closer to the Seine. There was an old couple already waiting. Other tour members were usually easy to spot. They were looking for the tour guides while holding a copy of the same voucher that I had. It was always reassuring to find someone else looking for a tour. The couple was from Tasmania. They were friendly in that Down Under way. We were joined by another couple from Australia.
Our tour guide was Emid. She was an open, friendly woman. She told us that today was the first day of school for Paris kids. There would be more traffic on the streets of Paris, but there would be less people going up into the tower.
We waited by the carousel for some late comers. A song playing on the merry go round caught my attention. It sounded familiar. I didn’t recognize it at first because it was a wild, circus organ version. What is that song? It took me a minute to realize it was “Scotland the Brave!”
While we waited Emid told us that during peak season it could take two to three hours of waiting in line to get to the top. We would be “Skipping the Line,” but it would still take two lift rides to get to the top. She pointed out the second level where we would stop and then take another lift up to the top. It was early, but it could still take forty-five minutes to get to the top.
Every major landmark had security, but it was more intense here. That was understandable. The Eiffel Tower is quite a target. There were more military walking around. We went through the airport style security.
We waited for the lift. It seemed to take a long time. About fifty of us crammed into a large car. We could see the old mechanism grinding as we rose. You can take the stairs if you want. There were 1700 steps to the top. I certainly wasn’t looking for that kind of challenge today.
We stopped at the second level. It’s 376 feet high,115 meters. It was a sneak preview of the view that we’d see from the top. You could still make out individual buildings. The third and top level is 899 ft. (274 meters) high.
We enjoyed the view. Another lift would take us all the way up. While we waited Emid warned us about pickpockets. Many of them were gypsies. She told us of an incident she witnessed. A Japanese woman had realized that her purse had been taken. She was quick enough to confront the young gypsy girls she suspected. Male gypsies surrounded her and accused her of robbing the girls. In the confusion the girls slipped away. It cost the woman five hundred Euro!
A sign on the tower warned against graffiti. “The Eiffel Tower is an international treasure.” The punishment would be severe for anyone tempted to leave initials or some other memento of their visit.
The Eiffel Tower is now a beloved landmark, but there was a time that it was considered a burden by the city government. It was costing too much money to maintain. Some thought it should be scrapped for the metal. “It was radio that saved the tower.” It was perfect for the new sensation, broadcast radio.
Another lift took us to the top. It was a long ride. At the top was the great view of Paris. It was a clear day and we could see for miles. The loveliness of Paris! It was another experience of a lifetime.
I took a cab to the Convention Bureau. No screwing around today. The cab dropped me off at the proper address. I had been very close when I had looked for it. I was getting a little more into the European pace, but I was still a bit hyper. It was offseason and there were only a couple of people in line in front of me. It was a short wait, but I had to wonder. Why didn’t they just mail me this stuff with the other vouchers? Why did I have to check in? Was it some kind of security measure? I was getting excited. My next stop would be The Louvre.
From the convention bureau it was a short walk back to the Louvre through some of the Opera Quarter. The Louvre was an obvious big “must” on the trip. I couldn’t leave without seeing, “The greatest museum in the world.”
I entered through the “pyramid” entrance. It was odd to go through such a modern edifice to enter such a historic museum. Security was tight. There was a large modern entryway and I used the Paris City Card for the first time. A stairway lead to a large main gallery. When I entered the main gallery I was hit by a wave of emotion. I could see the sculpture, the Victoire de Samothrace at the end of the hall. I was finally here. No more reading about it. No more seeing it on film. I was really here. This would be one of the highlights of the trip. It was one of the reasons for taking the trip.
The documentary film “The Rape of Europa” tells about the people of France scrambling to protect art treasures from the expected Nazi bombing. Still pictures showed volunteers and employees removing paintings and ancient statues. When they moved the Victoire de Samothrace, the head curator of The Louvre was terrified that something would happen and that the statue would be damaged. The sculpture has a prominent spot in the gallery. People surrounded it, taking pictures.
I was a little surprised at how modern that first big gallery looked. The Louvre is massive and it’s impossible to see everything. I passed the Egyptian and Roman antiquities for now and went upstairs to see paintings. I wanted to see massive canvases.
I entered a large gallery of French paintings (1780-1850.) There was masterpiece after masterpiece. There were few that looked familiar. Most were done by painters I knew little or nothing about. I tried to take my time and enjoy each painting, especially the large ones.
Some great pieces of art are very hyped up. The excitement around them seems to take on a life of its own. They are “must see” pieces. Maybe the greatest of these is The Mona Lisa. There are claims that its the greatest painting ever. Like everyone else, I had to at least get a look at it. “Yeah. I saw the Mona Lisa.”
The painting is displayed in its own area that is cordoned off by stanchions and velvet ropes. It’s under a protective glass covering. At least fifty people jockeyed for position to take pictures. I overheard a guard telling someone that we were lucky. Most of the time there was a wait to see it.
I thought about how stupid this was. Like many “must see” sights, everyone wants a picture. We’re trying to capture the image. Make it our own. There’s photographic proof that you saw it. Yeah, I took a picture too, but I didn’t linger for long. There was too much else to see here.
There were too many masterpieces to be described. The Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Gericault was massive. It looks like the stranded victims would be saved. There were pieces of art that had a history of their own. The Dying Slave by Michelangelo.
A painting that really caught my eye and imagination was Les Mysteries de la Passion du Christ by Antonio Campi. It’s a view of the Crucifixion on Golgotha. Suspended in the air on the right is an odd figure. It looks like something out of the TV show Ancient Aliens. Some Passion legends say that when Christ died it caused a rift between heaven and earth. A split in reality. The odd circular figure looks like a UFO. It could be the entry to another dimension.
Now I walked through the Antiquities section. Most of the pieces were sculptures. Many were likenesses of Roman Emperors. Some of them were modeled from life. It was a look into the faces of the past.
The exit is through an underground floor. A long hallway leads to the exit. Along the hallway are the remnants of the original fortress that stood here. We see the bases of large, circular towers. It’s quite a contrast with the more modern looking galleries. Three hours in the Louvre was sensory overload, but I still didn’t want to leave.
The Hop On Hop Off bus ticket was supposed to be good for twenty four hours. They had a funny idea of what twenty-four hours was. I just bought another ticket. I had learned to take advantage of these buses. Most of this route was a repeat of the route I had already taken. We went through the busy streets of Paris again.
The church of St. Mary Magdeline was near a large intersection. It’s a rarity because it has no windows. It’s home to great artwork. There were so many sights like this that I wouldn’t have time to check out.
I walked by the Glass Palace. It was tempting to go in, but I was starting to drag a bit. A black security guard stopped me on the driveway. “Just a minute, monsieur.” He was friendly, but firm. He seemed to expect me to protest. He let some limos with a VIP escort go by. I wondered what would have happened if I didn’t cooperate.
Tonight it’s Cafe Cambronne, the other cafe near the Metro stop. I sit outside on one of the tables facing the street. Four young French women are next to me. They must be in their early twenties. I couldn’t help but watch them a bit. They all had that Parisian fashion presence. It sounded like they were gossiping. They spoke fast and smoked a lot.
Maybe it was the jet lag, but I thought my time in Paris was coming to an end. It had been a couple of active days. My time in Paris was too short. Then I realized I wasn’t flying to Montenegro until Saturday. I had “discovered” another day in Paris. Yeah, I was getting pretty spaced out, but the “extra” day did seem like a bonus.
It’s six o’clock, and I really hit the wall. It’s a combination of jet lag and a couple of busy days of tourism. I take a nap and assume that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night. I’m very surprised to wake up after a couple of hours. I’m raring to go.
I go down to the cafe near the Metro. In Paris there aren’t “bars” like I think of them. People stand at the bar In Paris. This is great, but after a day of touring I have to admit I was looking for somewhere to sit. There aren’t many bar stools. This cafe has seats at the bar! I have a Stella Artois. There was a big football match on TV. There’s a big football match on TV every night in Europe.
An elderly woman came in and sat at a small table. I’ll guess she was eighty. It takes her a while to get settled. She orders an espresso. She counts her money very carefully. Is she a regular? How long has she lived in Paris? What has she seen here?
Friday. September 2. It’s an open day. No tours. I walk through the Champs de Mars. It’s early in the city. There are more joggers than commuters. I’ll go on a boat cruise, but the real objective today will be the D’Orsay Museum.
My Paris City Pass, “Pass Lib’” includes a ticket for a boat cruise on the Seine aboard the “Bateaux Parisiens.” I get there too early. There has to be a minimum of ten for the boat to go out. There would be another attempt in a half hour. Eventually there are eight of us waiting. The ferry operator calls it. Then a couple arrives, but it’s too late. Once it’s canceled, it’s canceled.
My sister Joan had warned me. “Don’t expect the French to be too friendly.” Most of the French I came in contact with were tourism professionals. Waiters. Tour guides. Shop keepers. Staff at the landmarks and museums. Most of them were very friendly. It may have been the power of the tourist dollar.
There would be a half hour wait before the next cruise. It was a bit aggravating, but I would just hang out by the Seine. I was starting to relax a bit after getting two tours under my belt. I went to one of the coffee wagons near the Eiffel Tower. Most of the French drink their coffee as a shot of espresso. It is strong, but I have to confess that I found myself craving a full cup of coffee. Yeah, like a Starbuck’s.
The guy at the wagon was surly. It was early, and my attempt to spend money was distracting him from his morning routine. I got a coffee and croissant. The French are arrogant. After a couple of days in Paris I was starting to see why. The pastry was great.
I went back down to the dock. The stone walls on each side of the river looked ancient to me. The areas where people walked were still cobblestones. The road along the river was more practical. It had been paved over for practical reasons. They still moved freight on it, but it looked old to me.
The “boat” was a long, thin ferry style vessel, built to give the best views on both banks. The cruise is a great look at the biggest landmarks of the city. It was great to see the area around the Place de Concorde from the river. We came up to the Ile de la Cite. Notre Dame Cathedral loomed on the bank. I recognized the shape, but I had a hard time realizing it was really Notre Dame and not some other historic church. It’s really the original!
An obnoxious Chinese guy in a yellow shirt took about four million pictures. Couldn’t blame him in a way, but I’m glad there weren’t many other people on the boat. He stood on the seats for better shots. A crew member came up and chastised him, giving the rest of us a break. A young couple lost a cell phone that fell behind a seat. The beleaguered crew member returned to fish it out.
People hiked or biked along the river. It was a school day, but there were groups of teenage and college age students hanging out on little wooden docks. We looped around the Ile St-Louis. At the end of the isle there were sun bathers. It looks like an idyllic but urban lifestyle. Basking in the sun and watching the river flow.
I hadn’t been as excited about taking the cruise as I was about the other tours. It turned out to be one of my highlights in Paris, and a relaxing start of a long day.
It’s back on the Hop On Hop Off bus. It’s funny. In San Francisco I look at these buses as a bit of an aggravation. I certainly have nothing against tourism. It is San Francisco’s number one industry, but it gets old being solicited to take a tour of the city where I live in every time I go through Union Square. Before this trip, I wouldn’t recommend a tourist taking the bus tours in San Francisco. Now I was realizing how essential these tours were to someone new to a big city.
The goal today was the Musee D’Orsay. I would use the Hop On Hop Off bus to get there. Then I would do another lap on the bus to see more of Paris.
I got off at the Musee D’Orsay stop. Before going into the museum, I had a big lunch at Cafe Los Desperadoes. Filet of Beef. I wanted to be well fueled before entering the museum.
The Musee D’Orsay is a former train station. The building itself is a work of art. The railroad tracks are gone, but it still has the shape of a train station. It was recently renovated, and many paintings had been lent to San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum for a great exhibit in 2010. The main hall has two huge clocks. One of them has a view of the Seine through its clear face.
The D’Orsay is not as massive as The Louvre. It’s still a treasure trove of great art. The D’Orsay has more “modern” paintings. Here modern means 1848 to 1914. The huge skylight gives the main gallery great light. There is a ring of sculptures in the main gallery. Galleries on the side show classic paintings.
One of the first galleries holds works by Eugene Delacroix. I was always drawn to his Romantic paintings. Delacroix gave us exotic themes with a lot of action. Arabs hunting lions and tigers. It was art I could understand. He was one of the first painters I remember appreciating.
There were some paintings that I had seen at the DeYoung exhibit. Le Dejeuner sur l’ Herbe by Manet. Olympia by Manet. Among other classics: Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette by Renoir. Breton Peasant Women by Paul Gaugin. Summer Night by Winslow Homer. It was amusing to see Portraits at the Stock Exchange by Degas. There were many works by Rodin including The Gates of Hell.
A special exhibit honored Charles Gleyre. He’s a painter I never heard of. The paintings are large canvases with mythological themes. They’re very Romantic. He was an adventurous traveler. When he traveled in the Mideast it was much more dangerous for Europeans. He took great risks to explore the Mideast of the Victorian era.
I spent three hours in the Musee D’Orsay. I didn’t want to leave, but I was glossing over. Jet lag might still be a factor. I got back on the Hop On Hop Off bus.
There was a stop at Notre Dame Cathedral. It was tempting to get off and walk around here, but the square in front of the Cathedral was swarming with people. I got a good look at the Cathedral, but stayed on the bus.
The bus went up the Champs Elysses. There’s a taped running commentary on the bus that we listen to through ear buds. It is cool to hear the descriptions as we ride by.
The area of the Champs Elysess had been a bad part of the city, a “no go zone.” It was a dangerous neighborhood before the boulevard was put in. Now, it’s the site of huge celebrations like the end of World Wars or France’s victory in The World Cup of 1998.
When the Nazis fled approaching Allied forces, Hitler ordered his generals to blow Paris up. Burn it to the ground. The story is told in “Is Paris Burning?” Riding along the boulevard I thought about what madness it would have been.
I’ll take it easy a bit and stay near the hotel tonight. I’m getting tired of getting lost. I walk around the Cambronne area a bit. Teenagers are hanging out at the little Garibaldi Park. It reminds me of my old neighborhood. Young people wasting time at a local park seems to be an international past time. Do American kids even do that anymore?
Another night at Cafe Cambronne. The friendly waiter isn’t there tonight. The waiter tonight isn’t as good. I had a big lunch, so I thought I would order something light. On the menu is “Mixe Planke. Charcuterie and fromage.” I assume it’s an appetizer. When it arrives it’s a large platter of meats, bread and cheeses. It’s quite a feast. I have a Pouilly wine. I estimate what the meats and cheeses would cost at a grocery store in San Francisco. It’s twelve Euro here. Some restaurant prices seem to be at least half price to me, especially considering San Francisco standards.
There’s a Friday night scene going on at Cafe Moderne and I stop in. Young people are out having a good time. Every table is taken. It’s an early night for me. I’m flying to Podgorica tomorrow!
Saturday. September 3. I’m flying later in the afternoon, so I do have some time to explore the area around the hotel. On all my other walks I had walked on Rue de la Nivert towards the Seine. Today I walk the other way. I want to check out the neighborhood. There may not be any big tourist sites that way, but I was curious to see some of the “normal” Paris.
I stop at a local patisserie for coffee. It’s certainly a local spot. It’s early, but there’s already some betting action on some kind of Keno game. Numbers are displayed on a grid on an electronic board. A couple of guys are standing at the bar having morning beers. I went into the local post office and waited in line to mail some post cards. Even going to the post office was interesting in Paris.
Going up Rue de la Nivert I came to a park. There were government buildings around a square. It was a local city hall. Well dressed newlyweds wandered around the small park getting their pictures taken.
There was another park that was smaller. There was a well dressed tour group of around twenty people standing around a small fountain. The men were in suits and ties and the women wore dresses and hats. I assumed they were French. It was interesting to see natives taking a tour of the Cambronne.
More coffee! I went into another cafe. A replay of Game Three of last year’s NBA Finals is playing. Two guys are watching it like it’s a live broadcast. They’re hanging on every play. The Warriors seem to be in control. I had a croissant. It was one of the best I ever had. I’d miss the French pastry. I kept thinking about the old song: “How you going to keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Par-ee!” It was time to get back to the hotel and get ready for the next stop on the tour: Montenegro.