Category Archives: France

The Big Three

June 3, 2015
Paris, France

It’s no secret that I don’t like crowds. Really don’t like crowds. I mean, slighly agoraphobic, out of breath, my brain starts scream, I hate crowds. But I really wanted to see the Louvre and the “Big Three” – Mona Lisa, Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo. After visiting the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe earlier in the day I went back to the apartment and waited until evening to make my move because on Wednesday and Friday evenings the Louve is open until 945pm.

I also planned on using one of the “secret entrances” to the Louvre to skip the long security lines at I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid. If you go to 99 Rue Rivoli, head through the glass doors of the “Carrousel du Louvre” and take the escalator down you’ll find yourself in an underground shopping mall, but don’t panic. Follow the signs for the Louvre, breeze through the non-existent line at security and then all you have to do is buy a ticket and you’re in!

With a mission in mind I headed straight for Mona Lisa as I was expecting her to be the most difficult to see. It’s quite a hike through the Denon wing, but well marked with signs and you can always follow the crowd.

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And then there she was. A small crowd around her, but nothing panic inducing. A lot of people say they are disappointed when they finally see her in person, but I didn’t really get that. It’s a small painting, not very vibrant but she just has that indescribable something that have made people need to have her. She’s so calm, so composed and her eyes tell nothing.

On the opposite end of calm is the badass Winged Victory of Samothrace.WingedVictory

She’s 8ft tall, marble and missing a head but she’s absolutely breathtaking. Thought to have been created around 200–190 BC the statue was to not only honor the goddess, Nike, but to honor a victorious sea battle. Though her arms have never been recovered it’s thought her right arm was raised to her mouth to deliver the shout of “Victory” and I would love to be able to see the expression on her face.

Down a little way is the Venus de Milo, created sometime between 130 and 100 BC. 2015-06-03 13.38.15The statue is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty and as with the Winged Victory her arms have been lost to time though some believed she may have been holding an apple in one hand, similar to this statue that was just a little ways down.

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With a few hours left to spend wandering and the “big three” completed I headed to the Egyptian Wing, which is always my favourite part of any museum and the Louvre did not disappoint.2015-06-03 14.15.53 2015-06-03 14.20.03 2015-06-03 14.21.56 2015-06-03 14.22.43 2015-06-03 14.24.27 2015-06-03 14.33.11

Last, but not least, I wanted to share my favourite painting I saw while at the Louvre. It was tucked in a small dead end room, but made me do a double take when I first walked by.2015-06-03 13.47.51It is Magdalena Bay by Auguste François Biard, painted in 1840. Possibly inspired by his own experience in a scientific expedition to the Arctic, the painting depicts the aurora borealis from a bay on the Arctic island of Spitzbergen. In the foreground are five figures, presumably explorers, who are either dying or dead. I love it. And the Louvre.2015-06-03 14.41.12

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Famous Landmarks

June 3, 2015
Paris, France

With an overcast sky this morning I hoped Paris’ most famous landmark wouldn’t be too busy and though the sky was grey, it was still worth the trip.

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The Eiffel Tower (named after the engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel) was erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to the World’s Fair. Initially it was criticized and called, “elephant”, a “giraffe”, a “hulking metal beast crouched on all fours,” but eventually it was accepted and has become synonymous with Paris and one of the most recognizable structures in the world.

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For only €5 you can take the stairs all the way to the second floor, which is a bit of a hike but offers you the opportunity to really see the structure up close and appreciate what went into designing and building it. The line for the stairs is almost always shorter than the line for the elevator so if time is short that is something worth considering.

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The first floor has a cafe, washrooms, gift shop and a new glass floor section that only induces a mild case of vertigo.

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From the second floor the elevator ride to the top is another €6.50, but it’s not possible to climb all the way by yourself…and I’m not sure many people would be up for the challenge. Once at the top it’s cold and windy and crowded, but the view is lovely.

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Seeing the Arc de Triomphe from the Eiffel was like zeroing in on a target as that was where I was heading next.

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The Arc de Triomphe was designed in 1806 and honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. The names of all French victories and generals are inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces and beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

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Although the weather was a bit off today I think it helped to keep some of the crowds away. The Louvre is open late tonight (Wednesdays and Fridays) so I hope our luck holds out and it’s not too much of a zoo when we go later tonight.

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Chimeras and Catacombes

June 2, 2015
Paris, France

As a kid I loved Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and this morning it was my first stop…too bad everyone else in Paris had the same idea. As a very popular tourist attraction all the books say to arrive early and I did not so I faced a massive line to get inside. Luckily it moved pretty quickly (inside within 10 minutes) and it’s 100% free to marvel at the architecture, stained glass windows and statues.

2015-06-02 06.17.31 2015-06-02 06.22.40 2015-06-02 06.28.34 2015-06-02 06.33.25 2015-06-02 06.52.27-1The line to actually climb the stairs was even longer and took almost two hours of waiting, but once you climbed those 387 steps the view alone is worth it.

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Fun fact: I learnt that Notre Dame’s famous gargoyles are actually the stone creatures that help drain rainwater from the roof and chimeras are the half human-half beast decorations that gaze out over the city.

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Near the top you’re able to climb the south tower belfry and see the Cathedral’s largest bell (weighs more than 13 tonnes) that is only rung on major Catholic feast days.2015-06-02 07.58.00

After a 360 view at the very top of the tower it’s time to work your way back down again and once on the ground you can really appreciate the masterwork of thoughtfulness and architecture that is Notre Dame.

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To continue the slightly creepy theme for the day, the Catacombes were the next (and last stop). After waiting in line for close to two hours (again!) I bought my ticket and started going down and down and down. And then, you’re all alone in a dimly lit passageway. The people in front of me had moved quickly and the people behind had stopped on the stairs to catch their breath. It was quiet, except for the crunch of my feel on the stone and the dripping of water from the rock ceiling.
2015-06-02 10.37.56 Following little green arrows down alleys and around blind corners I kept expecting someone to jump out at me like an old school haunted house, but the trail just kept going until I finally heard hushed voices and the chambers opened up.2015-06-02 10.43.30

The first thing I noticed was the sheer number of femurs and tibias stacked with all the skulls. My research later estimated that there are roughly 6 millions sets of bones buried in the catacombes and it made me a bit sad to think that none of them are complete skeletons. 2015-06-02 10.53.14 2015-06-02 10.56.36A lot of the bones had been stacked in patterns, like hearts and crosses, and you could see where some were damaged or had been removed. Although the wait had been lengthly there was absolutely no rush once inside and there were times when you were completely alone with the bones, no crowds and no pushing, just the whispers coming from the next chamber.

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Bonjour Paris!

June 1, 2015
Paris, France

I’ve left Denmark (and some lovely Danes) behind to continue on to Paris, the City of Lights, the City of Romance…possibly the most photographed city in the world and with good reason. It’s beautiful here. I get it now. I didn’t really understand the appeal before, but standing in the middle of so much history and so much beauty I can say that I understand why millions flock here every year and why some keep coming back for more.

To help with our bearings and get a birds eye view we went to The Centre Pompidou and for €3 you can ascend to the 6th floor for a “view of Paris.” Access to the museum itself is €14 and the view is included with that.2015-06-01 13.18.23 2015-06-01 13.33.07 2015-06-01 13.34.14One thing to note with the Centre Pompidou is that the view is not 360 and a lot of it is in a covered plastic tube with little windows that are open. I was hoping it would be open air and I could get some nice panoramic shots, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case (for €3 though I can’t really complain). There is a restaurant on the 6th floor that looked very nice (ie. expensive) that seemed to have a large, uncovered view so that could always be an option if you’re feeling fancy.

From the Pompidou we wandered down to the Seine where we took a cruise of the river with Vedettes du Pont Neuf. The cruise was about an hour, narrated in French and English, and covered a lot of the major sites.

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Our cruise departed at 10pm, second last of the night, just after the sun had gone down and the city started to glow. I wanted to take the cruise at night because of how the city would be lit, but I failed to think about how pictures would turn out in the dark, on a quick moving boat.

Musée d’Orsay

Musée d’Orsay

Assemblée Nationale

Assemblée Nationale

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Place de la Concorde

Place de la Concorde

Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf

The highlight was the Eiffel Tower, which was lit up and sparkling as we went past.

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The reason we chose Vedettes du Pont Neuf was because they had pretty decent reviews and a good price (€10 pp if booked in advance). I thought the commentary was good, you could hear the guide despite the school group that chatted the whole time, and really it’s just a taste of what the city has to offer.

Try arriving a bit early and choose your seat carefully. We ended up on the inside aisle, not at the railing and I had a security camera in most of my shots. I loved seeing the city at night, but would have preferred a bit earlier so it wasn’t completely dark by the end, which compromised a lot of photos. I think 9pm would probably have been a better time to set out.

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