We are in our apartment taking a short breather before plunging back into the Paris streets.
It’s been a busy couple of days.
We activated our museum passes yesterday and headed west a couple of blocks to the entrance of the Louvre. It was pouring rain and we sloshed through puddles to get to the queue near the entrance, only to find a sign with a message saying the museum staff was on strike and that the museum would be opening an hour and a half later than usual.
We walked off to find a coffee, arm in arm as we tried to squeeze under the small umbrella I’d (luckily) packed in my bag.
We ended up at a funny little café, sort of a dive-bar feel with red pleather booths and the name scrawled in neon lettering above the metallic bar. Construction workers leaned against the counter and I left Dario to order for us while I went to huddle behind a table and people watch.
Two coffees later, the bartender wished us “bon courage avec la pluie” and we ventured out onto the street again.
By the time we made it back to the museum a long line of umbrella-wielding tourists had formed in front of the iconic glass pyramids. We joined the throngs and jostled for enough space to accommodate both us and our umbrella.
About 45 minutes later, we finally made it inside. I pulled up my soggy socks, we grabbed an English map and we headed into the galleries.
I went to the Louvre on my first trip to Paris, almost 10 years ago, but I’d forgotten just how enormous and daunting the building is.
Overwhelmed by the number of rooms and styles and forms of art, we decided to start with a hunt for the Mona Lisa, so that we could be sure we didn’t miss it in the maze of other distractions.
We walked through a long hall of Italian art, full of expressive characters with faces frozen at the height of drama in the middle of some Biblical epic or another, then veered into the crowded room where the Mona Lisa stood, dwarfed by the protective stone around her and the bullet proof glass across her face.
Once we’d successfully seen the Mona Lisa, we felt free to wander with a little less direction. We surveyed the map and picked a number of destinations, but invariably became lost in the in-between rooms, taking side trips to admire sculptures while en route to rooms full of paintings or artifacts.
My favourite part of the whole scattered tour was a statue of three women, leaning on each other and posing with such unabashed confidence that they earned the hashtag #girlpower when I shared the photo on Instagram.
Dario’s favourite part was seeing Delacroix’s revolutionary painting of liberty leading the people.
After a few hours of battling crowds we decided to call it a morning and made our way out of the building and back into the open air. We picked up a few supplies at a grocery store on the way back to the apartment, then came here to cook pesto pasta with fresh, ripe cherry tomatoes and, of course, a side of cheese.
We napped off our meal and set out again in the late afternoon to the Ile de la Cité, where we stopped into the Conciergerie and Notre Dame.
There was a powerful photography exhibit on display in the main hall of the Conciergerie, and we spent some time wandering among the gigantic black and white portraits stationed around Europe’s oldest surviving medieval hall.
Once home to early French royalty, the Conciergerie took on a darker role later in the city’s history, when it served as a prison. The peak of prosecution came during the revolution, when Dario read that thousands of prisoners were housed there before being sentenced to the guillotine.
Marie Antoinette spent two months imprisoned there and Robespierre spent some of his final hours in the stone building, before being swiftly condemned to death. As one of the informational signs on the wall said, the only evidence necessary to sentence him was his identity.
After the Conciegerie we walked the short distance to Notre Dame and wandered through the cathedral’s echoing interior. After admiring the stained glass and arched roofs and observing the whispered prayer around us, we both agreed: it’s hard not to be moved by a place like that.
From there we walked to the left bank and for a short, rainy stroll before heading back to the apartment for dinner: baguette sandwiches with fresh tomato, salami, Camembert and pickled artichoke hearts. And wine, of course.
We were both feeling tired after such a busy day, but we downed a couple glasses of pinot noir and rallied the energy to head back into the night and onto the metro.
We took line 11 north, out of the tourist-filled 1er arrondissement where we are staying and up a little further north to a student-filled bar called La Cantine Fabien, where we met up with my friend Madi, who is currently living and studying here, and a group of other international students.
We grabbed five-euro pints of Stella, watching as, just beyond the crowded bar, a group of horn players danced on tables above an enthusiastic crowd. In the centre of it all, a female saxophone player doubled over, throwing her entire body into the music.
Upstairs, we gathered at a table with Madi and her friends and shouted over the music, trading stories of school and travel and life back home in Canada.
We walked to the station in time to catch the last metro train out, and Dario was properly scandalized when a girl from California boldly called the eight-degree Celsius weather “too cold.”
Then it was back to the apartment to fall into bed and sleep a few hours.
We started our day walking along the Seine to the D’Orsay, where we put on our headphones and let the Rick Steves take us on a free audio tour around the incredible gallery (cheesy lines and corny clichés included!).
The tour opened in the neoclassical section, with pastel-coloured paintings of Venus reclined seductively on a bed of sea foam, her curves soft under the rosy light.
From there we walked to a room housing Manet’s Olympia, a much bolder depiction of a reclining naked woman, and an important break with what the Paris art community was used to at the time.
We walked upstairs to the impressionist section, pausing a moment to survey the full length of the gallery, which was once a grand train station. Then it was through a set of doors and, suddenly, we were surrounded by blurred brush strokes and a wealth of beautiful outdoor scenes.
We keep talking about how amazing it is that all this priceless (and famous) art can exist in one space. At home, just one piece by Degas or Monet would be enough for the museum to begin boasting, but here there are dozens lined up beside works by Renoir and Cezanne and Pissaro. Dario says his favourite part was wandering the dreamy impressionist halls.
We wandered through the impressionist section and then into the post-impressionist works, which were much more vivid and less hazy.
This section featured a room full of van Gogh paintings, including Starry Night and his famous self portrait, and a small painting of a church and a woman out front, which may have been my favourite piece in the gallery.
There was also a room devoted to van Gogh’s one-time room mate, Gauguin, who shared a flat with van Gogh in the South of France before tensions between the artists became too much to handle and van Gogh threatened Gauguin with a knife. Gauguin packed up and left and van Gogh descended into madness, lopping off a piece of his own ear and entering an asylum before, eventually, shooting himself in the chest.
Meanwhile, Gauguin ended up seeking refuge in the sunny Pacific islands, where he painted bold, flat, exotic paintings of lush fruit and trees and local girls with their dark breasts dangling. We saw a number of those at the D’Orsay too, though I can’t say I care for them too much.
After that we briefly wandered the Art Nouveau section of the museum, which was mostly furniture, and then we were on our way.
We planned to walk back to the apartment for lunch but the sun made an appearance and, after such a rainy day yesterday, we couldn’t help but be lured onto a little patio in the 5th arrondissement, where we went ahead and ordered all the clichés: escargots and French onion soup for our appetizers, mussels and salmon pasta for the mains, and a crepe and crème brûlée for dessert. And a little jug of white wine.
From there, we planned to go home for a rest, but the sun on the Seine was far too beautiful, so we walked to the Ile de la Cité and down to the path along the water, then up to the Notre Dame where we waited in line for about an hour before ascending the 421 steps to the top of the towers.
Up top, even the gargoyles grinned at the spring weather and we snapped a bunch of photos of the view and the crowds milling below. We climbed into the bellfry to look at the gigantic bells that we can hear chiming each hour from our apartment, and I managed to spin myself into quite the dizzy spell as we walked the winding steps back down to ground level.
On our way back to the apartment we took a quick glance in the church’s crypts, where the remains of a Roman-era wall still remain, then we came back here for a bit of rest.
Tonight: we are on the hunt for Vietnamese pho! I know, it seems a funny dish for us to seek out in France, but Vietnam was once a French colony and the fragrant beef soup seems just the thing to warm us after the chilly, damp weather we’ve been having.
Wish us luck,