After being back from Central America for a good six and a half weeks my feet were beginning to get itchy again. This could only mean one thing – city break time! I was travelling with my mum and ever since our big New York trip back in April she has been concocting a bucket list of places and so we decided to give Paris a big tick. Since I only had one day of annual leave left this meant a disgustingly early flight, resulting in an even earlier wake-up time of 4.30a.m. We were flying Air France’s Hop service though which was at least a silver lining and so the pain au chocolat and coffee woke us up a bit, although not enough to stop me leaving my passport on the plane in one of the biggest airports in the world!! The Air France help desk staff were more than friendly and they arranged for someone to bring it to me as we waited in the nice warm lounge. Half an hour later we were across the border and on the RER to Central Paris.
After a quick, albeit confusing change in Gard du Nord we emerged from the underground at the bustling Republique section of the city where our hotel was a 1 minute walk from – Hotel Paris Bruxelles. There was some confusion as to our room booking, where we firstly couldn’t get into our room as no-ne had activated the key, then the room we had been given was a double rather than a twin; however, we eventually made it into a twin room with a questionable bathroom and no flushing toilet. At this point we decided to cut our losses and briefly explained the issues at reception before heading out to our first stop of the day – The Lourvre. Hopefully the issues could be ironed out while we were out exploring the city.
Having read a lot of literature about the very long queues at the Louvre Triangle entrance we had pre-purchased tickets for the museum and decided to arrive via the Musee de louvre metro stop through the shopping centre to attempt to dodge the crowds. This was perfect and there was no-one at all in the queue which meant we could head straight to Paul’s Bakery for lunch before our museum expedition. I opted for the quiche lorriane followed by an extremely tasty lemon tart – you really forget the wonders of pastry in Paris. After picking up an English map and audio guide, in the form of a Nintendo DS 3D we heading in to the miles of corridors which make up the body of the museum – heading straight for the Italian Paintings on the second floor.
A lot of people I had spoken to while trying to decide on which museum to visit in Paris had given very negative feedback in relation to the Louvre. It is the largest museum in the world and so you would be foolish to try and see everything in one day. Therefore we picked a few sections of interest to us starting with the floor of paintings. I was immediately struck by how well ‘put together’ each of the exhibitions were as a whole in terms of the layout/decoration of the rooms themselves as well as the actual work contained within. Walking through the museum becomes a sensory experience with your eyes darting from artwork, to amazing ceiling paintings, to intricately detailed cornicing to huge marble pillars. On the way to the Paintings we passed some particularly interesting greek sculptures in a stark white, clean finished room which was a perfect setting to allow the details of the sculpture to really become showcased.
I was completely stunned by the majesty of the décor in the painting section. The collection of the Louvre began with works from Italian painters and so it is still a huge focus of the museum today. We wandered along in awe not knowing where to look amongst the crowds all heading in the same direction – to the Mona Lisa Smile by Leonardo Davinci. The room she is in is quite plain in comparison to the other sections. The small painting is kept behind a glass partition and the mass of tourists kept back by a black security banner and 2 corresponding guards. It was quite a spectacle, particularly when there was a beautiful painting facing her – The Wedding Feat at Cana which takes up the entire wall and is generally completely ignored by all of the visitors to this section of the museum. It really is a travesty. Once you pass by the Mona Lisa section you also leave the masses behind and the rest of the paintings floor was much more enjoyable as a result. I saw the Four Seasons set by Arcimboldo which were really interesting having studied these at school and also a beautiful set of paintings by Panini depicting of paintings of the main sights of Ancient Rome. We also made sure to check out the very small, albeit still in existence British collection including Lady Alton by Gainsborough and Weymouth Bay by John Constable.
After a whole floor of paintings it was time to change it up a bit and so we entered the Napoleon Hall which houses some of the famous works of Napoleon including some exquisite furniture, ceiling paintings and a gorgeous crown and jewels. It was very grand and in complete contrast to the stark nothingness where the Etruscan antiquities and Egyptian petroglyphs and statues were housed. Some of the pieces here were so well preserved and the detail in the carvings was fantastic considering the time period. After descending back to ground level we exited past the decorative arts section and so had the opportunity to take in the furnishings of Marie Antoinette’s room and some very pretty household decorations. It was a nice light way to end our visit feeling perfectly satisfied but not overwhelmed.
After collecting our jackets and bags from the free lockers – these are a fantastic idea and really help make your experience much more enjoyable – we exited up into the grounds of the old palace turned museum and wandered in the drizzly rain for long enough to get the standard pyramid pictures. With the dreary weather our garden ground wanderings were cut short and we headed via some shops to a small café called La Taverne de L’Arbre Sec for some afternoon wine and coffee. Another thing that strikes me about Paris is how nice the cheap wines are in cafes, the café culture is fantastic here and it really is acceptable to drink alcohol at any time of the day. Most of the cafes offer outdoor seating too and so most have overhead heaters installed to keep away the chill of the autumn days. After an afternoon pick-me-up it was time to round off our day of being tourists by visiting the Eiffel Tower!
Again, you can buy tickets for the Eiffel Tower ahead of time to skip the queues on the day but we had previously thought we might climb to the second floor and so had decided to just wait and buy the climbing tickets on the day. As the weather was so cold and rainy we opted to change to the lift when we arrived and so joined the snaking queue at the East Tower. We probably waited about 35-40 minutes to get into the first lift which took us up to the second floor around dusk. The light was beautiful at this time of night and although it was cloudy the views out over Paris were gorgeous. After a few photos we joined the queue for the next lift up to the top and while we waited the sun went down meaning the views from the top were of Paris and its many lights. This was a lovely contrast to the dusky scene from the second floor and made it feel like we were getting 2 views for the price of one. It was fairly cold from the top and so after taking some photos we headed back down. Thankfully the queues to descend were much quicker than the ascent. It was 17 Euros for the ticket and I thought the experience was great and definitely worth doing if you are in Paris.
you are in Paris.
After all the queuing time had run on and we were both really hungry by the time we got down. I had been given a few restaurant recommendations from people at work of good places to eat but ended up at a Bistro a blocks away from the tower called La Terrasse du 7 eme. As expected the food was just ok, I had Moules Marinere and a Crème Brulee with Kir Royales and wine to drink. It was really filling after a very busy day and although not the best French food I have eaten, a perfectly edible option close to the tower. Afterwards, we were able to nip across the road and take the metro back to our hotel in about 15 minutes for an early night. Our first day had been action packed but really enjoyable. Tomorrow – Disney!