Paris: The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Champs de Elysees

Ah Paris, the city of romance! Jim and I had to visit the Eiffel Tower while in Paris. We walked around the park, and even after 29 years of marriage, we couldn’t resist having our picture taken kissing in front of front of the famous tower. As all things French tend to be, the tower is elegant even though it was designed for use as a radio tower. We chose not to go to the top of the tower or have a meal in one of the restaurants simply because of expense. We don’t mind spending money, just not at places that are too touristy, and the Eiffel Tower is touristy and expensive. Still, it is one of the landmarks that is a must when in Paris.

Jim and I kissing at the Eiffel Tower

When in Paris, you may want to also visit the Arc de Triumphe, the arch built by Napoleon to celebrate his wartime successes. Again, the Arc is touristy, but highly amusing. It’s in the middle of a traffic circle that is a total free for all. Cars zoom in from several entrances and join the fray with no marked lines to delineate the lanes. They then have to zip back out of the tangle of cars in time for the exit or get stuck going round and round the circle. Jim was endlessly amused as he watched. Jim and I grew up in a rural area with open roads and few cops, so we both know how to make a car fly, but neither of us would have the guts to try the circle around the Arc de Triomphe.

the Arc de Triomphe

After watching the antics around the Arc, we continued down the Champs de Elysees. We joined a city tour, and our tour guide gave us the run down on the history of the Champs, as it is affectionately called. The Champs was built as a royal promenade flanked by gardens, but became an area for shopping and entertaining. It was a place to see and be seen. As we passed the stores along the Champs, there are still many beautiful designer stores, including the Louis Vuitton flagship store, but our tour guide lamented the two story Five Guys burger joint among them, saying, “The Champs was a place to see and be seen. It was always elegant. Now we have Five Guys”. A two story Five Guys was not what we expected on the Champs, and I wondered about our American influence.

Still, we went back to the Arc and the Champs after our city tour so we could stroll along and look at some of the stores and have lunch. If you love Louis Vuitton, here is your sweet spot. I love clothes and jewelry, but, I also don’t like to pay just for a name. The fit and the quality of clothing means more to me than the label. We found a couple Zara stores that had great items for very reasonable prices, so I bought myself a pretty shirt, not a touristy tee in one of the Zara shops.

Beyond the touristy aspects of Paris is the Louvre, the most famous museum in the world. The Louvre was once a palace for the kings, but now houses incredible collections. It is impossible to see the entire Louvre all in one day. The Louvre is well worth visiting, but, if you choose to explore the Louvre, here are some helpful hints. First, buy your tickets well ahead of time, especially if you want to go first thing in the morning. The Louvre only allows so many people in at a time, so if you wait, you may be assigned a later time than you wanted. When you go, be ready for long lines. We took the Metro right to the Louvre so getting there was easy. When you arrive at the Louvre, you walk through a small mall of shops and then wait in a waiting area under the upside down small pyramid. We waited an hour in line, so be prepared to get there early. Once you go through the line and security, you find yourself in what is called, the carousel. The carousel is under the large glass pyramid and is the hub of the Louvre. The entrances to the wings all lead from the carousel. There is also a gust services desk, an upscale restaurant, and a cafe. Up a flight of stairs is one more cafe and a Starbucks, all with limited seating. Trust me when I say this. Wear comfortable shoes. I mean it ladies. I wished I hadn’t worn those cute sandals. Sneakers, trainers, tennis shoes, whatever you want to call them, are your best choice of shoes because you will be on your feet.

The Venus di Milo at the Louvre
Neptune at the Louvre

You have to go to the the entrances for the wings and another security check to get into the collections. No water bottles or food are allowed for obvious reasons. Don’t try to get them past security. You will be told to throw them away. We waited another forty-five minutes in line to get into the Richelieu Wing which is where the the most famous painting of all is housed, Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”. The “Mona Lisa” was painted in the early 1500s and is considered one of the most valuable paintings in the world. Jim, like many others, was surprised that it wasn’t large. It is a fairly small painting. The “Mona Lisa” is behind a rope barrier. Guards are present to make sure nothing happens to the painting. After you see the “Mona Lisa”, there are rooms and rooms of paintings, mostly of the French masters in the Richelieu wing. Then there is statuary from the Greek and Roman eras including the famous Venus di Milo, the Greek statue of a woman beautifully preserved except for her missing arms. Within the statuary is a statue attributed to Michelangelo. There are at least four floors of room after room of art within the Richelieu Wing alone.

To go to the next wing, or to take a break and get some coffee or something to eat, you have to come back to the carousel, which is extremely inconvenient when you are on the top floor of the Richelieu Wing and have to come down through 4 escalators and then wait in line to go through a checkpoint and back up all the escalators again when you want to go back in. We took one such coffee break, and after having to come back out of the Richelieu Wing and and wait in line yet again to get back in, Jim was frustrated. He told me that he wasn’t doing that again, so we needed to see everything we wanted to in that wing before going back out. Once we left for lunch, we were done with that wing. It was enough of an effort that I had to agree with him.

We went on to see another wing that housed the Italian artists and saw sketches of Leonardo and Michelangelo. We also went through a wing where the rooms were kept as they had been when the Louvre was a palace. The furniture from the 1600s and 1700s had been preserved incredibly well. The furniture of those rooms was rich, elegant, and looked so new, it could be sold as such even though it is centuries old, a testament to how well built furniture was in those days and the care of the Louvre workers. The ceilings were recessed and adorned with breathtaking murals of rich and vibrant colors. It is hard to imagine living in such splendor on a daily basis, but this was the palace of the French monarch.

Jim and I spent one day at the Louvre. I wish we could spend even more time there because I know we only saw in our one day a fraction of the collections. I do have to admit that out of all the museums we have done, Jim and I both agreed that the Louvre is the most extensive, but also the most difficult. So far, we have been to the Smithsonian, the Vatican, the British Museum, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Asian Museum in San Francisco. The Louvre is the one that takes the most patience and has the strictest rules. Make sure you are patient and can wait in long lines, wear sneakers, and prepare to go for long periods within each wing, especially the Richelieu Wing without a water bottle or food. Know that there are limited cafes within the Louvre and that they have limited seating. The one restaurant within the carousel was around 30 euros for lunch. The cafe upstairs near Starbucks was 15 Euros for a hamburger and fries. We had sanwiches from the cafe downstairs which were good, but still cost around 10 Euros each and ended up sitting on the floor with many other people. My other suggestion is to go during low season, when children are in school, and there aren’t as many tour groups. You might save yourself the trouble of waiting in long lines.

Even though Jim and I both thought that the Louvre was the most difficult, it is well worth visiting. Go and see the remarkable, the incredible, the things that are a testament to how wonderful and great humanity can be.

Paris, City of Dreams and Cathedrals

Paris is the city of cream and dreams, topped with a little chocolate. Jim and I took the Eurostar from London to Paris. I have to admit, I wondered if Paris would live up to its reputation for beauty and cuisine. Why yes. Yes it does. It truly is a city of dreams. The buildings in much of Paris are made from local stone which is cream color, topped with dark gray slate rooftops giving them the appearance of cream and sugar topped with chocolate. I fell in love with Paris just looking out of our hotel window in the Gare de Leon district. The city becomes even more breathtaking if you take a boat ride down the Seine, the river that flows through the Paris. The Seine is a well kept river with clean, neat river banks, and the cream and sugar buildings which rise above it.

At the heart of Paris, in the middle of the Seine, the Cathedral of Notre Dame stands majestic. She stands with flying buttresses and arching rib vault stonework regal and timeless as the guardian of Paris. She dominates the Seine and the city. Here in the States, we simply have nothing comparable. To think that such a majestic building was begun in 1160 is hard for me to understand. How builders were able to build such magnificence so long ago without modern tools and technology is almost incomprehensible. Notre Dame stands through the ages as a testament to human engineering and ingenuity. She stands as a testament to humanity’s belief in God, and a higher purpose. She burned in April 15, 2019 for 15 hours, but her medieval stonework stood. Without Notre Dame, an indelible part of the French spirit would have been lost. I admit I shed some tears as we watched her from the river, and later walked around her.

Notre Dame Cathedral stands proud over the Seine even as she is covered with scaffolding following the fire of April 2019. This view of her is from a boat on the Seine.
Notre Dame Cathedral at sunset. Jim and I had dinner on the other side of the street so we could watch the cathedral as her colors changed and sparkled in the setting sun.

In addition to Notre Dame, Jim and I were able to visit Sainte Chapelle and the Concierge, which are in close walking distance to Notre Dame. Sainte Chapelle was completed in 1248 for the king, who at the time, lived in what is now the Concierge. It is much lesser known than Notre Dame, however, it is a jewel of Gothic architecture. It was severely damaged during the French Revolution, but later restored. The intricate painting of the bottom floor is beautiful, but the real magic of the place is when when you go up a spiral staircase to see the upstairs. Jim went first holding my hand up the staircase. When we got to the top, he suddenly put his hand over my eyes and whispered, “Now look”. When he took his hand from my eyes, I was dazzled. Colors burst into a kaleidoscope and I felt as if I was floating in air for a moment. No less than fifteen long slender stained glass windows in all shades of blue let in the shinning sun, and the ceiling is painted in blue and white to match. The sight of the blues bursting from the stained glass took my breath away.

The sparkling stained glass of Sainte Chapelle, Paris
Saint Chapelle with it’s dazzling gold and blue kaleidoscope of stained glass and statuary.

We stopped next at the Concierge which was next door. I love history, but I admit to not knowing as much about French history as I do about English history. The concierge was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about French history. It was originally built as a palace known as the Palais de la Cite’ for the Merovingian Kings with Sainte Chapelle as the king’s own chapel. When the kings moved from the Concierge to the palace which now houses the Louvre, the Concierge was given to the people to use as a court. No, you really wouldn’t want to be locked up there! During the French Revolution, it was used extensively as a prison. Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI’s queen, and her children were housed there before they were executed by guillotine. There is a memorial to her in the rooms where she is believed to have stayed during her imprisonment. Even today, the concierge is still used as a court.

In addition to Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle, we took the Metro to the Monmartre district to see Sacre Cour and Saint Phillipe and the local artists. Sacre’ Cour sits at the top of the highest point in Paris in the Monmartre district. Sacre’ Cour is far newer than either Notre Dame or Sainte Chapelle. It was finished in 1914. Although, it is of new construction, it is built much in the old traditions and uses Romano-Byzantine architecture. If you don’t know the basilica’s history, it could fool you. It feels old. It feels as old as Sainte Chapelle. In reality, after the French Revolution, France went through nearly 100 years of upheaval. Napoleon didn’t exactly work out as the people expected. He was supposed to be a liberator, but later crowned himself emperor. According to legend, the composer Beethoven originally dedicated his Eroica symphony to Napoleon, but later angrily scratched out dedication after Napoleon’s infamous coronation. There was a brief restoration of the monarchy, but that didn’t work out either as the new kings and the people never agreed upon the how the new monarchy should be run. After one hundred years of turmoil, Sacre Cour was built as a penance because the bishop at the time thought that France had turned away from her Catholic values and morals. Today, she stands at the pinnacle of Monmartre, watching over the city.

Behind Sacre Cour, and before the much smaller Sainte Phillipe, there is an area where the local artists show their wares, and there are many tempting cafes to try. I recommend going to Sacre Cour and Sainte Phillipe, then taking some time to browse through the art, and have a croissant or something equally delicious in a cafe.

the outside of Sacre Cour in the Monmartre district.
The altar inside Sacre Cour

The cathedrals of Paris are well worth visiting. We simply don’t have buildings that old and timeless here in the United States. Even though I am no architect, I appreciate the sheer beauty of the cathedrals. As a Catholic, I appreciate the faith that it must have taken to build them.