Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The City of Light

I left Roma at 7am from the city's second airport, Ciampino, with my friends Maria and Lucy, and boarded the 2 hour flight to Paris-Beauvais. The "Paris" part of that name is a misnomer--Beauvais is a tiny airport in a tiny town about an hour away from Pairs, which we reached by bus. My first glimpse of the city was the tip top of the Eiffel Tower--over a landscape that could have been New Jersey. The bus didn't take the most scenic route. Railroad tracks and industrial odds-and-ends littered the landscape. Lucy was the unfortunate soul sitting next to me at the time and received an elbow to the arm accompanied by "Lucy! The Eiffel Tower!" Needless to say, we would be getting some much better views later on.

Our depot was a metro station, where we boarded and made our way to Hotel de'Hollande, our home for the next 3 days. A 10 minute walk from the opera and 15 from the Louvre, it was perfectly located. We took that 15 minute walk and ended up going through a grand arch towards the glass pyramids and the largest museum in the world.

The Louvre is overwhelming--you could spend a week there. Once in side the pyramid entrance, though, Lucy paid me back for the elbow by clenching my arm: "That man has STARBUCKS!" she nearly yelled. And sure enough, a tourist passing by was holding a full cup of the java goodness. Cue 3 girls running through the Louvre towards the Starbucks placed serendipitously inside. How nice it was to get a coffee bigger than your thumb! (Italians are big fans of their tiny shots of espresso.) After our first of many caffeine stops, we wandered to the info desk to buy our Paris Museum Pass (which, for one flat fee, got us into all of the Paris museum, bypassing any lines, and had a few extra perks) and decided to leave the Louvre for later and headed to Musee d'Orsay.

D'Orsay is a cherry-picked collection of French impressionists and sculptors, hounsed in the old train station that was the inspiration for Grand Central. The relationship is evident and the space is gorgeous--a beautiful building to hold the master's works. We saw the self portrait of Van Gogh, Degas' ballerinas, and Monet's waterlillies. We spent about 2 hours wandering the galleries and admiring the great work--it was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

From d'Orsay, we made our way to the Isle de la Cite to my personal highlight of the trip, Notre Dame. When I rounded a corner and set my sights on the Cathedral, my eyes got misty and every dream I'd ever had about this city came rushing back. It was the, "Oh my god, I'm in Paris" moment, which hit me about 4 hours late, but better late than never. Notre Dame is as gorgeous in its simplicity as the Vatican is amazing in its opulence. Two completely different buildings, two very powerful spaces. Notre Dame is long and feels tall--the flying buttresses do their job holding the walls up--and the rose windows create a feeling of infinite space. It doesn't need gold-leaf and paint on every surface; the splendor of the architecture is more than enough. The tourists shuffle around the outside reverently, barely stepping into the actual nave except for the errant picture-taker. The building truly is massive--and unlike the Vatican, it doesn't try to hide it. The ceilings soar and the windows tower over you. And I got to hear the bells ring. Quasimodo? Are you up there?? It took 200 years to build the Cathedral, and seeing it now was well worth the wait.

From Notre Dame we headed back to the Louvre, which we saved because it's open till 10 on Friday nights. We got a bit turned around at first and ended up in the Islamic art wing, which was clearly not where we were going to find the Mona Lisa. Going back to the entrance and down another wing, clearly labeled signs pointed us the way of every tourist in the joint. Why we hadn't just followed the crowd, I don't know. Seeing her in person is a bit of a letdown. I'm glad I did it, but do me a favor and Google image the Mona Lisa right now. Go ahead. I'll wait..................That first image is 100x better than what you see when pushing to the front among the 63,000 other people that came to see her. And, she's the size of a postage stamp. Of course, you have to go, and say you went, but everyone knows what she looks like. Good job Leonardo, give yourself a pat on the back. Mona Lisa. Check.

Dinner was a nice little French cafe near Hotel D'Ville, which is roughly across from Notre Dame on the Louvre side of the Seine. I was boring and ordered a French style club sandwich, which ended up having some delicious french sauce on it somewhat like mayo but decidedly different. Really good. Lucy and Maria had the very Parisian Croque Monsier, which I vowed to try the next night.

We were exhausted and made it back to the hotel to fall into bed and set our alarm for the next morning and Versailles. I went to bed dreaming of Marie Antoinette and cake!!


  1. And, you got to hear the bells at Notre Dame...a nice treat!

  2. Notre Dame is my favorite, too and it holds a special place in my heart. The first time I went to Paris our hotel was on the left bank and ND was a five-minute walk away. I got to feel like it was "my" cathedral.