Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Falling in Louvre with Paris

Victor Hugo's Mansion
My final full day in Paris. Quite sad really. I have immensely enjoyed my time and could easily spend much longer here because there is so much to see and do. Today is no exception. My plans start with a few of the free things Paris has to offer in the Marais neighborhood including a visit to the Victor Hugo mansion, the Mémorial de la Shoah, shopping in Marais, and finally - the thing I have been most anticipating - a trip to the Louvre this evening. 

Hugo's Interior Decorating
I got up early-ish despite my once again late night after having dinner with Dan and got ready to head to the trendy Marais neighborhood. Apparently if you want to know where it's at in Paris, it's here. I was lucky this morning in that there was a bike in good condition available at the Vélib' across from my hostel; however, I was not so lucky in terms of figuring out my directions. I thought I was heading the right way until I found myself near a metro that I vaguely recall being in the Montmarte neighborhood - the total wrong direction from Marais. I decided to continue biking a ways since I couldn't find my place on the very busy and torn up map I had with me. Soon, I found myself on a street filled with at least 4 sex shops per block. I knew then that I was definitely not in the right neighborhood and as my 30 free minutes on the Vélib' were about up and it would take me more than 30 minutes on a new bike to get to Marais from there, I made a decision to buy a metro ticket and metro my way to Marais. Nearly an hour after leaving the hostel, I finally found myself in the Marais neighborhood headed towards Victor Hugo's mansion. The museum itself was free, but I decided to fork over the 5 euros to pay for an audio tour and learn a little more about the famous French author. The mansion had a beautiful view overlooking a square that was set up in honor of one of the King Louis-ies (XIII or XIV I think). I learned a lot about Hugo including that he was very anti-Napoléon and went into exile during his reign. During that time, his mistress maintained his home in Paris for him. Also, he had an interest and hobby with interior decorating and did a lot of the designing of his home in Paris. His designs included an "Oriental" themed room in which he hid his initials amongst the decorations. I went on a sort of "Where's Waldo?" hunt for his initials and found them cleverly displayed in the artwork of the room.

Hugo's Writing Desk
It was another gorgeous day in Paris and after leaving Hugo's home, I made my way towards the Mémorial de la Shoah - the Holocaust museum of Paris/France which was also free. It is not nearly as large as the one in Washington, DC but it did have a hauntingly beautiful and powerful Wall of Names - the names of every Jewish person in France that was killed in the concentration camps. France did not nearly lose as much of it's population of Jewish people as other places, but the Wall of about 76,000 names was overwhelming. There was also a memorial in the lower floors of the building with eternal flames lit around a Star of David beneath which lies the ashes of victims from all of the Concentration camps. It was a beautiful memorial and although I left feeling somewhat heavy, I was glad I made a trip to learn more about the Holocaust and WWII in Europe. We are so distant from it in the fact that other than Pearl Harbor, the war did not take place in our country. The devastation and destruction in Europe is ever present and it was a good reminder of that part of our world's history.

Me at the Louvre
My heavy feeling did not spare me from hunger and I decided to make a stop for lunch. I had planned to go to a falafel shop - apparently the best in Paris according to my guidebook - but I was hungrier than a search would allow me to wait so I stopped at a nearby café and had a sandwich and eclair to go. I found a nearby park and sat enjoying the beautiful weather while eating my lunch. 

Egyptian Collection
After finishing, I decided to wander around the neighborhood and window shop in the many stores of Marais. The Louvre was open until 10 pm and was apparently cheaper if you entered after 6 pm (which I found to be incorrect...unfortunately I didn't know this ahead of  time otherwise I probably would have gone a bit earlier in the day to maximize my 10 euro ticket. Oh well - now I know for next time!) so I had plenty of time to do some wandering. There were a ton of interesting shops although many of them were more expensive then I really wanted to spend money at, but I nevertheless enjoyed having another Paris shopping experience. 

I returned to my hostel briefly and checked my email then hit the metro to the Louvre. One thing I learned from the bike tour is that it is better to enter through one of the side entrances than through the Pyramid because the lines are shorter and to get the Pyramid experience upon leaving the Louvre. I didn't have to wait long to get a ticket (it may have been worth the wait until later in the day just to avoid the large crowds) and had a chance to observe that the lower level of the main lobby of the Louvre is a shopping mall - not quite what I was expecting in such an impressive art museum although I guess it probably is pretty smart for business. I grabbed a map and purchased a guidebook (for later reading) and headed towards the Egyptian collection which is one of (if not the) largest in the world. I had heard it was impressive, and I was not mislead. The Egyptian art was beautiful and impressive and so old. I wandered through the entire collection snapping photos about every 10 seconds or less. While wandering through the collection, I also took the chance to take in the Louvre as a whole. The building itself is an art masterpiece and often it took a second glance to figure out what was in a collection vs. what was the building. This was especially true when I made my way through the Greek and French sculpture collections. 

After making my way through the Egyptian collection, I decided to pay homage to the famous Leonardo da Vinci painting housed in the Louvre - the Mona Lisa. I was happy that I didn't have to fight too much of a crowd to see the infamous painting and it was incredible to be standing in front of it. The Louvre houses so many famous and old pieces of art that you stand within a foot of to marvel at, but the Mona Lisa is roped off and has glass surrounding it. Despite that, I still was in awe to be in the presence of such a historical piece of art history and once again found myself teary eyed. 

After visiting the Mona Lisa, I did not have much of a plan for the rest of my time at the Louvre. You really can't go wrong wherever you decide to wander, so I wandered without a purpose and just took it all in. It's hard to describe in words what it felt like to be in that museum. It fully surpassed every expectation that I had for it and in addition to being teary eyed and walking around with wide eyes and mouth partly open, I tripped more than once because I was not watching where I was walking. I could have stayed there for days. When you make it to Paris, the Louvre is a must. I plan on visiting again and on my return trips, I will without a doubt be spending time with my greatest love in Paris - the Louvre.

Egyptian Collection

Egyptian Collection

Wandering around the Louvre




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