Thursday, October 8th.
What an incredible view we had of the Arc de Triomph when we surfaced from the train at the Charles de Gaulle Etoile station. The stairs and tunnel under the rotary led us to the foot of the Arc.
Napoleon had this magnificent arch commissioned to commemorate his victory at the battle of Austerlitz. There is no triumphal arch larger (165’ high X 130‘wide) and with 12 converging boulevards no traffic circle more thrilling to experience. (Just watching-thank you very much or travelling in a tour bus)
The foot of the arch is on a stage on which the last two centuries of Parisian history have played out-from Napoleon’s funeral to the goose stepping arrival of the Nazis, to the arrival of the Allied troops followed by De Gaulle’s triumphant return to Paris.
On Armistice Day, 1921, the body of the Unknown Soldier was placed beneath the arch to commemorate the dead of WWI. The flame of remembrance which burns above the tomb is rekindled by various veterans’ organizations each evening.
The Arc is encrusted with reliefs, shields and sculptures depicting military scenes and etched into the inside walls are the names of those soldiers who died in the war. Up close it is truly a memorable sight.
WOW, we were walking down the Champs-Elysees – pinch me!
In 1667, Louis XIV opened the first section of the street as a short extension of the Tuileries Garden. This same year is considered to be the birth place of Paris as a grand city. The Champs-Elysees soon became the place to be seen and to see, whether you were on horseback in a carriage or strolling.
Things changed in the 60’s the government brought in the computer train.
In 1994 new benches and lamps, broader sidewalks, and underground parking revitalized the neighborhood. I think anyone who could drive anything was in Paris on the Champs Elysees that day.
We passed the Peugeot and Mercedes-Benz show rooms and car dealerships, the famous Lido, Paris’ largest cabaret (and a multiplex cinema), Louis Vuitton flagship store, Fouquet’s café-restaurant and much, much, more. It was a very vibrant exciting street to stroll down and people watch, but be careful you don’t run into a street side café.
The beautiful buildings of the Grand and Petit Palais, built for the 1900 Exposition are now used as museums. They face each other beside the Seine on Ave. W. Churchill which runs of the Champs Elysees. An interesting statue of De Gaulle stands on the corner.
After exploring the area we hopped on the metro in the direction of the Louvre just down the street. We de-boarded at the Louvre stop and found ourselves in an underground mall. Thankfully there were adequate directions leading us to the Louvre, when we rounded a corner there was the inverted pyramid in front of us and thousands of tourists. Fortunately we had purchased our Museum Pass so no need to stand in line to purchase tickets.
The vast Palais du Louvre was constructed by Philippe-Auguste in the early 13th century as a fortress and rebuilt in the mid-16th century as a royal residence. The revolutionary Convention turned it into a national museum in 1793.
The paintings, sculptures and artefacts on display in the Louvre Museum have been amassed by subsequent French governments. When the museum opened in the late 18th century it contained 2500 paintings and objects d’art; today some 35,000 are on display.
The richness and sheer size of the place (the south side facing the Seine is 700m long, and it’s estimated it would take nine months just to glance at every work.
As instructed by those in the know, first timers should concentrate on the first floor otherwise it is too confusing and overwhelming to see it all.
We followed the suggested route and went to the Denon Wing where after great confusion we found “Venus de Milo”. WOW. This goddess of love (c BC from the Greek Island of Melos) created a sensation when she was discovered in 1820. Most “Greek” statues are actually later Roman copies, but Venus is a rare Greek original. We wandered through the ancient Greek and Roman works and saw a Parthenon frieze, stone fragments that once decorated the Athenian temple (which we saw in Athens) mosaics from Pompeii, sarcophagi and many Roman portrait busts.
Later Greek art added motion and drama as we saw in the exciting “Winged Victory of Samothrace”. This statue of a woman with wings, poised on the prow of a ship, once stood on a hilltop to commemorate a naval victory.
In painting the renaissance meant realism and for the Italians that meant 3-D. They were inspired by the realism and balanced beauty of Greek sculptures. Artists were rusty after a millennium of darkness and it was amazing to see the progress through time. Because they lived in a very religious age there was no lack of subject to paint.
We were able to view the “Mona Lisa” although she looked very isolated and lonely hanging all by herself on the wall behind glass after several years and a E 5 million renovation.
Interesting story, Leonardo was already an old (Whatever that means) when Francois I invited him to France. He packed light only taking a few paintings with him. One was a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo the wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant. Francois fell in love with the small painting, making it the centerpiece of the small collection of Italian masterpieces that would, in three centuries, become the Louvre museum.
And even more trivia; He called it La Gioconda (La Joconde in French)- both her last name and a play on the Italian word for “happy women”. We know it as a contraction of the Italian for “my lady Lisa” – Mona Lisa.
The huge wall size canvas on the opposite wall is The Marriage at Cana, showing the Renaissance love of beautiful things gone hog-wild.
The Louvre has the greatest collection of Leonardos in the world – we saw all five of them.
I loved Raphael’s faces and enjoyed viewing his La Belle Jardiniere, showing the Madonna, Child and John the Baptist.
Our Louvre finale was spent viewing Michelangelo’s Slaves carved from 1513- 1515. He learned well from the Greeks. They are marvelous with their rippling, contorted muscles.
I don’t know if I mentioned it before but Michelangelo would sometimes spend years looking for the piece of stone where hid the figure he wanted to disclose. He didn’t feel he was creating a sculpture, only stripping away the excess stone to reveal what was hidden within.
We next wandered down the Jardin des Tuileries (Gardens) and enjoyed the fountains, trees and people who were just sitting around the fountains enjoying the sun and the air and ended up at the Place de la Concorde.
It is quite a stunning square covering over 20 acres. Originally a swamp good old Louis XV wanted a square designed suitable setting for an equestrian statue of himself. The architect designed this open octagon. The statue only lasted 20 years then was replaced with Madame Guillotine or the Black Widow. Over 1300 people were its victims including of course Louise XVI in January of 1793 followed by Marie Antoinette, Danton and Robespierre.
A few decades after the end of the revolution the 3,200 year old Luxor was presented to King Louis-Philippe as a gift from the viceroy of Egypt. (as a thank you for helping to decipherer hieroglyphics found in Egypt)
It is truly magnificent and with its gold top it can be seen from miles away.
Also at this time to add to the majesty of the square two fountains and eight statues personifying French cities were installed.
We then checked our map and went on the hunt for the L’Orangerie where among other artists, Monet’s Water Lily’s was hanging. Also it closed at 5 PM.
We had a most eventful trip home. It was a trying day using our all-day inclusive passes for all Paris transportation. You must insert your tickets to access the train and to exit it, than the same for the train. Somehow Bill got his tickets mixed up and couldn’t get out of the turnstile from the metro. He had seen others jump the turnstile so decided to do the same. First he threw his backpack over the little door then he leaped (I am being generous here) over the turnstile and tried to push the door open to no avail, so he tried to slither through the opening also to no avail. Two Parisians came forward with their passes, Bill took one of them and scanned it, voila the doors flew upon. We merci beaucomp and fled before the police arrived. Bill said that he was probably carrying a little more weight than the young men who he had seen do this. No comment from me!!
About half way home we both started giggling, remembering in different ways his graceful exit from the metro.