Paris: Chapitre Deux

I’m writing this riding the TGV south to the town of Avignon.

The French countryside is streaming past the train windows. The land here is softly rolling farmland. Beautiful, pastoral, and peaceful.

Our last day in Paris was beautiful. We had a chance to sleep in a bit and prepare for a long morning at the Louvre Museum.

To say the Louvre is a big place is like saying the ocean contains a lot of water. It is difficult to describe the experience. Was it crowded? Mais, oui. But the museum is so immense, it never felt crowded or cramped. One can move through the exhibits slowly as there is no point in trying to see “everything.” That would require multiple trips to the Louvre.

The most iconic aspects of the building’s design to most visitors are the stunning glass pyramids and entrance built by I.M. Pei. I remember learning about the pyramids from my middle school French teacher, Mr. Walden. In fact everything I know about the French language and landmarks were learned from his class. I wish he knew how much I relied on that very basic (but useful) knowledge on this trip!

We moved slowly through the exhibits: the remnants of the fortress the Louvre once was, the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, the impressive gallery of massive Delacroix paintings, the furnished apartment of Napoleon III. I probably saw about 5% of the museum’s collection in the three hours we spent wandering the halls. 5% may be an overstatement. It was a bit overwhelming, and it is a place I would love to revisit.

After the Louvre and a quick lunch, ten students, myself, and our wonderful French teacher and group leader, Alex, took a group to see Saint-Chappelle, said to be the most beautiful cathedral in Paris. Well, we attempted to see it, but were rebuffed by a rude admissions agent. Even after a respectful and patient argument from Alex, we resorted to a plan B.

We wandered through a flower shop, took some time for coffee at a cafe near the fountain of St. Michel, visited a bookshop, and then boarded the Metro during rush hour. Our ten students were wonderful despite the crush of Parisians crowding the trains. We even made a transfer at a busy station and it went smoothly and successfully.

We met back with our group at the Opera, walked a short way to our dinner, which was at a “very French” restaurant. It was warm, cozy, and served a delicious duck confit.

After dinner we walked up, up, up to the neighborhood of Montmartre, a hip and artistic enclave, once home to Pablo Picasso. If I could live in Paris, I’d want to live in Montmartre. Sure there are tourists everywhere, but the streets are narrow, the pace is slower, and everywhere you look there are boulangeries, patisseries, fish shops, cafes, restaurants, musicians, artists. The streets are cobblestone.

At the top of this neighborhood is the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, at the highest point in the city, and its commanding views of the city did not disappoint. Neither did the oysters from Normandy and the wine.

We made our way back down the hill, boarded the bus, and headed back to our hotel. We had to pack and be ready for the morning’s departure.

Paris, until next time!

A bientot!

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