Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Paris: Day Five - Eiffel Tower Revisited; Musee D'Orsay

After a long and wonderful day at the Louvre yesterday, we retired briefly to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes and then made our way to have dinner with a Parisian family courtesy of a program called 'Meeting the French'. Our hosts were the Cornu family, and the dinner was very, very good.

During dinner, we chatted with our hosts about our adventures in Paris and discovered that Msr. Cornu is a curator at the Musee D'Orsay, where many of the most famous impressionist masterpieces in the world reside. I have always been curious about the connection between the legendary libation absinthe and the impressionist masters, and Msr. Cornu happened to be an expert on that very subject!

Before I could wink, there were two bottles of absinthe sitting before us, and I got my first taste of La Fee Verte under the tutelage of a master! The drink was quite strong, and had an herbal taste underlying the overt licorice flavor. It really was something special, and we spent the time discussing the impressionists at length, as well as french wine and cheese, the history of Paris, Msr. Cornu's adventures in China (where he met his wife), and many, many other views of the world.

Msr. Cornu asked politely if we would be visiting the Orsay during this trip and I mentioned that we hadn't planned on going due to the 3 hour (plus!) line to get in. He then offered to meet us the next morning at a side entrance, if we were at leisure, so that we could enjoy the Orsay with him on a private tour. SWEET!

Nightengale and I woke up early to get something out of the way before our mid-morning appointment with Msr. Cornu: our ascension of the Eiffel Tower. When we arrived at the tower, we were delighted to see no line at all and we went directly to the lifts for a short ride to the first level. Once there, we decided to get something warm to eat since it was quite chilly - two lemon crepes and a crocque monsieur, which were delicious.

The final lift to the top was pretty exciting. It's fast (straight up!) and you can see the ground disappear while your ears pop. The view from the top is incomparable, and we spent a good while taking it all in.

Once the cold had set us to shivering, we decided to move on to the next part of our day: Musee D'Orsay. A quick cab ride had us there right on time, and we met our new friend at the side entrance. The balance of our morning was spent in Msr. Cornu's place of work, admiring works of art that, like the Louvre, I had only ever seen in textbooks. It was a wonderful visit, and I look forward to returning the favor to Msr. Cornu and his family one day soon.

The Eiffel Tower revisited. I'm glad that we came back to check it out, since the view (and the structure itself) are a 'can't miss'.

Brrrr! It was about 20 degrees colder on top, and the wind was blowing at a good clip.

This pic is for Marty: the radio antenna on the very top of the Eiffel Tower. I got dizzy for a moment taking this picture - the tower is a lot higher than you think!

We enjoyed a crepe and crocque monsieur in the tower. Man, they were good!

L'Arc de Triomphe in all it's splendor.

The Seine as seen from the top.

Is that how far we are from home?

The Musee D'Orsay - the royal palace for the Impressionists. Hard to believe it was a train station in it's previous life.

The coutryard of Musee D'Orsay, which is worth the visit on it's own.

Who is she longing for, I wonder?

The display seemed a bit odd, but Vincent might approve.

The clock at Musee D'Orsay - Rufnredy mentioned being in this spot, as I'm sure many of you have.

Even the smallest nooks and crannies were beautiful!

Coming face to face with with this dancer was amazing!

A young both looks back at us across time.

Another of Nightengale's favorites.

Joan of Arc in all of her glory...

Monday, January 02, 2006

Days Three and Four: The Louvre

Our third day in Paris was spent exploring at our leisure, and we took in a great many of the local sights on foot. The camera stayed in the bag most of the day, though, since it was raining pretty steadily. As you might expect, the food was spectacular everywhere that we went and we learned something about Parisians that helped to shape our approach to Paris, namely, they are completely shell-shocked when it comes to tourists!

Since we live near Washington, DC, we could relate to the people of Paris on this level - and we decided to take a different tangent when dealing with 'rude' waiters, shopkeepers, vendors, and the like. By taking a few extra minutes to ask them about themselves (where they came from, how long they had lived in Paris, where their families resided, and so on) we were able to get past the natural defenses of most and had a much easier time of things. I'm not saying that this paid off every single time, but most of the folks we encountered reacted very positively to our genuine interest in their lives.

We did blunder in to discovering a faux pas in Paris, though. Here at home, it is quite natural to touch someone's arm when speaking to them, but in Paris this is a definite no-no. There is no touching, it was explained to me, unless you have known the person for some time. This took some getting used to, since I don't normally think about it in the course of normal conversation.

Our 4th day in paris was spent in the Louvre with a personal guide - a lovely French woman who was as passionate about art as anyone I've ever met. I'll let the photos do the talking here, but I would like to pass along this gem of advice: if you are going to the Louvre, book a tour of some sort. The tours get in without delay (the line is normally 3 to 5 hours!) and having a guide is definitely a bonus in this huge museum.

The sun finally broke through at the end of the day.

Napolean III's dining hall. I'll bet the food was every bit as good as the hall itself! If only I could be a fly on the wall back then...

This is part of Napolean III's residence at the Louvre, which was so lavish that it defies one's ability to comprehend.

The Egyptian collection at the Louvre is the largest outside of the Cairo museum, in fact, only 5% is on display at any given time.

Nightengale takes in the sights.

Yes, peek-a-boo, I see you too!

Flying buttresses and breathtaking staircases adorn the various buildings of the Louvre, which was for many years the royal palace.

Here he is again, this time in a stone doorway.

We kept seeing the Green Man all over Paris, and never in greater numbers than at the Louvre.

Nightengale really loved this sculpture.

The details in these works is stunning.

One of our favorite sculptures.

Because I was numb all over, I didn't realize that photography was forbidden in this part of the Apollo room and I snapped this photo of a medieval crown, only to be very firmly rebuked by a Louvre guard. The stones are REAL, and they are HUGE. The crown is solid gold.

This is one of the ceiling vaults in the Apollo room.

There were wonders around every corner. In fact, I refused to believe that this was the real Venus de Milo until our guide became visibly irritated with me! But this is it, and I was at a loss for words.

This is one of the most recognized sculptures in the Louvre! I won't spoil it's identity...

If only I could have shone a ray of sunlight on this scene! I love the IM Pei pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre.

Le Musee du Louvre from our favorite entrance.

This is how you know you're near a government facility in Paris...

The Jardins Tuilieres, where we spent a fair amount of time during our stay.

Here I am in the Louvre... Wait! Isn't this the place where The DaVinci Code guy... errrr... I mean, what a fantastic spot!