Paris Day 1 (Part 3)

Coming out from our apartment, it is just a 3-minute stroll to the Étienne Marcel Métro station. You can find plenty of eateries within this area and I would gladly suggest that this would be the place to stay if you were to require accommodation in the city. For your information, Étienne Marcel is probably the first ‘mayor’ of Paris and you can find his statue near to the Hôtel de Ville in Paris.

A quick glance at my watch showed the time to be 11 in the morning, we were 2 hours behind schedule. Our first stop of the day — the famous Musée du Louvre. It is one of the world’s largest museum and was once a fortress in the late 12th century. In 1682, when Louis XIV ‘moved house’ to Versailles, it left the Louvre as the place to display the royal collections. The Louvre covers ancient world to around the late 18th century.

It was nothing surprising to run into a big crowd at such an hour, this is probably the time when all the tour groups arrive for a quick tour of the Louvre. The queues are long for the security checks, which you can’t avoid, even if you have the Paris Museum Pass. But once through the security checks, you are free to enter with the Paris Museum Pass.

Louvre and the pyramid. (click to enlarge)

Obviously, the ‘grand’ entrance would be through the famous glass pyramid by I.M. Pei. But it is also one of the entrance with the longest queue, my suggestion would be that you enter through the underground entrance from the Métro and exit from the pyramid. Oh, and forget about trying to see everything on your first visit to the Louvre. Concentrate on the ‘must-sees’ first, because you will surely make another trip back again.

My Louvre Suggestion

Here is how I did mine:

Pick up the free maps at the information desk, try not to be behind any of the tour groups. Admire the glass pyramid from below, this is your starting point. Try to find the entrance to the Denon wing. Please remember, the Louvre is constantly changing, rooms that are open during my time, might be closed for renovations during yours, so be sure to ask the guides if you can’t find your way.

The Louvre is constantly changing, rooms that are open during my time, might be closed during yours.

We made our way up to the Denon wing via the escalators, you could stop to rent the audioguide if you require, or you could just splurge on one of the books about the Louvre and try to find as many of the displays as you can, based on the book.

“Where should we go?”, the wife asks impatiently. “Left!”, came the reply and we were plunged into the era of the Ancient Greeks and their statues. If you are in a rush like we were, just glance through the statues on display. To me, they are a showcase of improving artistic skills, from the rough edged to the almost perfect statue of the Golden Age of Greece — Venus de Milo. She lies one floor above the Ancient Greeks and located in the Sully Wing.

Now, here comes the hard part, trying to squeeze among the tourists to get a glimpse and a good picture of her. Surprisingly, she looks human when she is supposed to be Aphrodite (Venus), the Goddess of Love. It just goes to say, that we, humans are actually godlike. Or that the Greeks had really good models during their era. Don’t just stand there in front of her, go around her for god sakes! She is Venus, you are supposed to orbit her. As for her arms? Your guess is as good as mine, as to what they were doing. My guess? She was posturing to say no to people taking photos of her in the nude.

Venus de Milo. (click to enlarge)

As for her arms? Your guess is as good as mine.

The crowd was getting larger as a few tour groups decide to converge here. It is amazing nowadays, the tour guide no longer have to shout, he/she would just have to speak into her Bluetooth mic and the whole group can hear him/her perfectly. The only problem? We can’t eavesdrop any more.

“Where is Salle 22? We are supposed to go there according to the map.” A bit of looking around and we soon found ourselves doing a Roman Detour. From Salle 22 to 30, you can see the various members of clan Caesar.

“Can you really call them that? A clan?”, ask the wife, eyeballs rolling up as she finished her sentence. So much for the dramatization. Within these few rooms, you can find the busts of the various emperors, from Augustus to Caligula to Marcus Aurelius.

Exit Salle 30 and we found ourselves at the base of the stairs looking up at another masterpiece, the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It is said that she used to have a right arm that was waving a “we’re number one” finger. Now why does this sound so familiar?

Try to find a window looking out towards the courtyard with the pyramid.

As we were moving towards the Apollo Gallery, I found myself looking out the window and was greeted with the view of the courtyard with the glass pyramid. A couple of minutes gone, trying to get a tilt-shift video of the people lounging around the pyramid. Apollo Gallery beckons with the jewel-studded crowns of Louis XV and also Napoleon. Make you way back to the Winged Victory and find Salle 1 to enter the Medieval World.

Here lies the wonderful paintings of the Italian Renaissance. Painters like Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. Mostly religious-themed paintings of Mary and Jesus, plus various saints. Located in Salle 6, is the highlight of the museum — the Mona Lisa. It used to be a line going in and out, one direction when I was last here almost 10 years ago, now, it is just behind a piece of glass, which I guess is resistant to almost everything except camera flashes. If you think that squeezing for a photo of the Venus de Milo is hard, wait till you see the nudges and angry stares here. Once you managed to squeeze in front like we did, go crazy and snap photos of it. But don’t be surprised to find it a little bit smaller than you expected. Do not worry, you can get one (or as many as you like) at the souvenir shops located in the museum.

The one and only Mona Lisa. (click to enlarge)

I think Mona Lisa is smiling at us for being akin to paparazzi snapping away at her. But in case you are having a bout of agoraphobia, turn around and look behind you. This is a party gone wild! Albeit in the Renaissance era. This huge painting (I lost count of the number of people after 20) is Pablo Veronese’s The Marriage at Cana. If you are bad at counting, maybe you are good at finding where the married couple actually are. A hint, it is not in the center of the picture, because that is Jesus. I am not saying he is married, Dan Brown did.

If you are bad at counting, maybe you are good at finding where the married couple actually are.

“Enough about tiny Mona Lisa, let me show you the biggest picture.” I beckoned to my wife as we left Salle des Etats behind and enter Salle Denon. Enter the one on your right, which is for the French Neoclassicism. Boom! In front of us is The Coronation of Napoleon. Check out kick-ass Napoleon crowning himself.

Double back and go towards French Romanticism. There are two prominent pictures worth a look before we end our tour of the museum. One is The Raft of the Medusa and the other, Liberty Leading the People. It took us around 2-hour plus to complete this short visit of the museum, completely missing out on the Richelieu Wing. There is a café and wash-room at the exit. So rest up, as this is just 15% of our first day itinerary.

Louvre Verdict

We could have completed the whole museum if we weren’t in a rush for time. It would have been probably better to visit after lunch when the tour groups have left or maybe on the days (Wednesdays & Fridays) when it is opened till night. Not many seats or wash-rooms available, so if you manage to find one of these, utilize it!

The crowd was not as bad as imagined except in front of the Mona Lisa and also the Venus de Milo. The rest of the museum was pretty much accessible without any squeezing.

As for the Paris Museum Pass, it is not that useful to skip the queues here, but it is good for multiple visits. Yes, with the Pass, you can go in and out of the Louvre as long as it is within the time limit (2, 4 or 6 days) as stated on the Pass.

It would have been probably better to visit after lunch when the tour groups have left.

From the Louvre it is a short hop across the Seine onto the Left Bank via the Pont du Carrousel. Our next stop is the Musée d’Orsay (mew-zay dor-say), where we continue from where we left off at the Louvre. Remembered that I said the Louvre only houses artworks until the 1850s? The Orsay have it from 1800s to 1900s, the time of the Impressionism and bright coloured paintings of Van Gogh, Monet and Gauguin.

Pont des Arts is in the foreground. (click to enlarge)

Along the Pont du Carrousel, you can make out the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian-only bridge famous for being the haunt of lovebirds all over the world. “Why?” the wife asked. “Well, they use it to profess their undying love by placing a lock on the bridge railings and throwing the key into the river.” If you noticed the dark clouds in the picture above, that was the main theme of the trip in Paris — rain. Our 15-minute walk to Musée d’Orsay took only 5 minutes due to the rain. Talk about efficient, we are making up for lost time.

Musee d’Orsay

Item number 2 on our itinerary. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the museum. But, being the honorary Malaysians that we are, we took some. A bit about the museum, it was once a railway station, but due to some cock up, they made the platforms too short. To cut a long story short, after some wrangling and planning, the museum was finally open for business in 1986.

Orsay from the outside after the rain. (click to enlarge)

For Paris Museum Pass holders such as us, or any other Museum Pass, we can cut the long queue by going to the right side of the building shown above. Here the queue is very much shorter but they have the dreaded security check again. You have to empty your pockets, and your jackets need to be scanned. Once inside, take the free map (again). Bags of certain sizes (large ones) need to be placed at the luggage counter.

For Museum Pass holders, cut the long queue by going to the right side of the entrance.

The museum is pretty much arranged in an open layout, so you can walk from one exhibit to another. Try to find the 36 caricature busts by Honoré Daumier entitled Celebrities of the Happy Medium. Although this was done in the 1800s, maybe you can spot a Thatcher or a Reagan among them? This was the era of the Realists, a time when all they painted were real scenery of daily life.

The start of the Impressionist revolution probably began with Edouard Manet and his Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), maybe some art historian reading this could provide a better answer. I am no art historian. But this is no ordinary luncheon, the gentlemen are all clothed but the ladies, ooh la la, they are nude!

Try to find the Opéra Exhibit located right at the back of the museum, near to the stairs. “This is a scale-model version of the real 19th century Opéra Garnier.” exclaimed the wife as she was reading the fine print. She even managed to miss the glass floor beneath her feet showing a scale model of Paris.

We climbed up to the top from the escalators provided nearby. Go to the top floor where you get a commanding view of the Orsay. And also a view of the city through the giant clock. Here the cameras finally came out and did their duty.

The ‘insides’ of Orsay. (click to enlarge)

Find the Impressionism rooms, featuring Manet, Monet and Renoir. Among the few famous paintings that are ‘must-see’:

  1. Edgar Degas’s Le Classe de Danse
  2. Edgar Degas’s Au Café, dit L’Absinthe
  3. Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette
  4. Claude Monet’s La Cathédrale de Rouen

We were hungry so we had to skip a lot of the paintings and exhibits, and we were still 2 hours behind schedule, time was not on our side. D’Orsay would have to wait for another day and probably a visit in the future.

Orsay Verdict

Would have been better if we had the time, they have a good café upstairs, which is good for a lunch break. Or for tea. Too bad about the no photography rule, but art is meant to be enjoyed with the eyes, not with the camera lens.

Paris Museum Pass made it a breeze to get in. The views from the clock can be summed up as something ‘different’. If only the Malaysian curriculum paid more attention to the arts. I found my usually extensive knowledge quite lacking when it comes to the arts.

(to be continued)

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