Europe Trip 2010: Day 10, In Paris at the Louvre & Montmartre

This was our first full day in Paris, and what a full day it was! We spent about six hours in the Louvre and, after seeing less than half of it (!), we escaped to Montmartre, a famous historic center for artists, cafes, and strip clubs (Moulin Rouge!). As always, you can see all the pictures in the gallery for Day 10 here, or you can read on for many, many details of all the amazing things we saw today.

We started off our first full day in Paris by exploring the Rue Cler (which we had explored a little at the end of Day 9, though most of it was shut down by that time). The Rue Cler is only a few blocks long but has all sorts of food stalls, food shops (selling fruit, wine, and/or amazing baked goods), and cafes open early and late. We mostly went there for the crepes at the little creperie “Ulysse en Gaul,” possibly our favorite little eating place in Paris that we discovered. It’s amazing how the Rue Cler is not really that big, and not that crowded, but full of amazing food on this little cobblestoned street (with cars driving down it occasionally, causing pedestrians to slowly slink out of the way).

After a quick breakfast on-the-go at the Rue Cler, we headed down to the Metro, which always has a stop within a 10 minute walk of anywhere you are in Paris! Again, like most European public transportation, the Paris Metro is amazing and so much better than almost every public transportation system in the U.S. Well-organized maps are all over and you pay for the ticket before entering the subway area (though sometimes this was a hassle because most ticket dispensers don’t take Euro bills (only coins) and often credit cards don’t work). But even if you have some trouble getting down there, trains come every couple minutes, so you never wait long, and a sign is up for when the next one arrives. Usually we had a 2 minute wait before our train arrived, and the longest time we ever had to wait was 6 minutes. There are also convenient drink and snack machines at almost every stop. Overall, it was comparable with the amazing subway system in Tokyo, but Paris’ is a bit dirtier and maybe a little less organized (hard to compete with the Tokyo subway).

I (Teisha) have never been to Paris before and so much of our journeys in Paris were Andrew sweetly showing me around (he’s been there twice before for extended visits). I decided I was most excited about seeing the Louvre, and so we decided to do that with our first full day in Paris to get the excitement and anticipation out of the way. Getting up early, we got to the Louvre at 8:30AM. Although it didn’t open until 9AM, there was already a line forming! We stood waiting as the Louvre employees actually created a line around us (with posts and tape). It wasn’t so boring – we got to look at some neat prismatic rainbows created in the little inverted pyramid right by the museum entrance (from the subway – the underground entrance). There are also a ton of shops underground by the museum – it’s basically a little mall – though they were mostly closed.

However, when it did open, because we got there so early we didn’t have to wade through many lines. We walked in, had my bag security checked, and got our ticket from a machine (later we’d get the Paris Museum Pass to let us skip very long lines at the museums, but hadn’t gotten it yet unfortunately), and we were in the Louvre!

It was amazing being in the world’s most visited museum, and many would say the world’s best art museum.
The Louvre building itself has a lot of history – it was originally a fortress from the 1100s AD, and over time many kings and queens of France lived in the Louvre and changed it a lot. King Louis XIV was really the first royalty to leave the Louvre, moving the capital to Versailles in 1682 (more on that in a few days). Consequently, not only are the collections in the Louvre amazing, but the building itself is a work of art, decorated by marble floors, beautifully painted ceilings, and much more.

The Louvre basically has three sections. We headed into the main “classics” wing first, the Richelieu (the one with probably the most famous pieces). It’s mainly Greek and Roman sculptures and European paintings from about the 1400s to 1700s.

First we went through several large rooms of Greek and Roman sculptures. The two things that probably stood out most to us were (1) how well-preserved and in-tact so many of the sculptures were after being kicked around for over 2,000 years and (2) how beautifully they had gotten so many things right! It can be easy to forget that over 2,000 years ago people had figured many things out, such as making beautiful, lasting statuary such as this, and it makes me want to learn more about how things went so wrong for nearly a thousand years during the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire… It’s hard to imagine how far “ahead” we might be today if we hadn’t gone through the Dark Ages.

It’s amazing how many things have survived. This really struck us in seeing a Roman glass bowl from about 200 B.C and many other very elaborately decorated bowls, etc, from this and earlier Roman times.

One myth we saw depicted over and over again – Hercules with his club and the Nemean lion pelt (this lion was said to have had a pelt that could not be pierced, so Hercules killed it by stunning it with his club, then strangling it):

In a room near the middle of the Greek and Roman sculpture section was the Venus de Milo. Even though we were there early, right after the museum opened, it already had a crowd around it so it was hard to see it up-close or even get a clear picture. Part of this approx. 100 BC Greek statue’s appeal is how it is “balanced,” if cut down the middle, but also asymmetrical. It’s interesting that it was only found around 1820 AD by a Greek peasant, and this discovery helped stimulate the “neo-classical” movement with renewed interest in creating art that was beautiful by early Greek and Roman standards. It may be blasphemous, but I am surprised that since it was discovered over a century ago nobody has dared to “restore” it with complete arms and legs, since this has been done to so many other discovered Greek and Roman sculptures.

After seeing the Venus de Milo, we wandered through the remaining, surrounding Greek & Roman sculpture rooms. Here some general room and crowd shots:

And we developed some “favorites.” Andrew really liked this sculpture of a cupid strangling a goose, so much so that he did an endearing pose next to it.

I fell in love with this bust of a satyr (it was originally an entire satyr statue, along with others in a dancing scene, known because of other records that had been found). Apparently the only way you could know it is a satyr is because of its pointed ears and slightly unusually small teeth, but I think it was fairly obvious from the mischievous expression… It’s such an expressive face!

And there was a sculpture hallway just of famous Roman leaders and notables:

But we often preferred the fantasy sculptures, such as that of the satyrs, over the Roman leaders.

And then we came to another famous piece – the head- and arm-less “Winged Victory.” Made around 190 BC, it celebrated a naval victory of the Greeks. It stands on a pedestal that represents the prow (front) of the ship, and how its clothes are depicted makes the viewer feel the wind and misty spray that must be blowing across the scantily clad figure at the front of the ship.

Leaving the sculpture sections behind, we moved on to the paintings. Some of the oldest were frescos by Botticelli (late 1400s AD). The faces were so expressive, and yet not so different from the Greek and Roman statues we’d just seen that were created over 1,000 years earlier – again, what had happened??

Having been burnt out on paintings of the Mother Mary and baby Jesus from painting museums we went to in Germany (our eyes quickly got glazed over again), in the Louvre we focused more on other types of paintings. Again, satyrs are awesome and so is Pegasus (these were from the early 1500s AD):

But really, I’ve always been a big fan of Roman and Greek mythology, so it was neat to see the myths brought to life in the paintings, and try to figure them out (since nearly all the painting descriptions are in French – Andrew was a great translator, but I could only have him translate so much!).

I especially loved this painting (early 1800s AD) of one of my favorite myths, of how the sculpture Pygmalion had his beloved statue, Galatea, come to life – you can see the humbled awe on the sculpture’s face as she turns into flesh:

And there was also a statue of Bacchus as a hermaphrodite… haven’t seen that before…

And then there were several paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, including the super famous Mona Lisa. Several of his paintings were on the side of a long hallway, altogether, easily located by the small crowds that surrounded each. They were mostly Christian paintings, with Jesus as a baby and his mother Mary.

The room with the Mona Lisa was off on the side and while there were several other, much larger paintings in this room, the huge crowd huddled around the Mona Lisa, which was in a huge glass case, surrounded by a wooden railing, then taped off, and the entire crowd was herded around it by several guards so everyone got to walk by then exit the one-way traffic… I’ve seen much better, clearer pictures of it in books and online! The painting itself is surprisingly small, but it was still quite neat to see her faint smile in person.

There were several paintings of Napoleon Bonaparte, including a rather famous, huge one of him crowning himself emperor (he considered only himself to be worthy of the deed, casting the Pope aside even after he had come from Rome to do it):

And a favorite of Andrew’s — a devastating shipwreck scene just as hope is within sight:

And some cute tigers playing:

We were getting pretty tired by this point, but were not even halfway through the Richelieu wing of the Louvre, so we pressed on! We next entered yet another huge hall of statuary, which included some famous pieces by Michelangelo (“The Slaves,” one very sensual slave and one raging against his stone), a statue Andrew loved that was amazingly veiled (really, how do they do that with stone??), and another mythological couple, Psyche and Cupid.

Finally needing a break from art-overload, we escaped to the central area of the Louvre (where you enter and buy tickets). We watched the swarm of people entering the Louvre, including baby strollers going on a neat platform that could go up and down (like an open elevator).

After a little snack and break for our feet, we were off again! Instead of trying to finish the rest of the Richelieu wing (we probably only saw about 75%, if that much), we moved on to the Sully wing, which mainly had Egyptian art/artifacts – quite a change.

Entering the Sully wing, we could see the foundations of the old fortifications that were on the same locations centuries ago! They were still so intact, even after having been buried for so long.

The first part of the exhibit we saw was a huge sphinx about 5,000 years old.

There were amazingly preserved artifacts, including several papyrus sheets with writing – one was even a medical text from about 1500 B.C.! – and stone tablets with hieroglyphics and guides on how to interpret them. There was also a beautiful beaded tapestry nearly 4,000 years old… again, it makes me wonder why we haven’t come further over the past 4,000 years! If only it weren’t for the whole Dark Ages thing – image where we could be!

Sketches on stone before the stone drawings were cut into the stone:

Ancient Egyptian jewelry:

Mirrors, combs, and more:

Tools to de-frizz/curl curly hair (the thing on the far left)!

Games and game pieces (called “20 cases” – looked like a cross between table-top hopscotch and chess):

Musical instruments:

Sooooo many statues:

My foot is so tiny:

Many statues of the lioness goddess Sekhmet, goddess of power and disease:

And then so many sarcophaguses:

Including (and what I had been waiting for the whole exhibit!) a mummy! The person was thought to be of about average social standing, so it was not “elaborate” but seemed pretty amazing to me.

After 6 hours in the Louvre (!!) we had had enough for the day! Hopping onto the Metro, we headed up to Montmartre, a district in Paris that overlooks the city from a hill and is distinguished by the Basilica of the Secre Coeur. We went there not only for the amazing view of the city, but also because it has long been a center for artists – Dali, Monet, Picasso, and van Gogh have all lived there.

Looking at Paris from the Basilica on Montmartre…

We saw the Notre Dame cathedral (I’m quite grateful to have an awesome camera with amazing zoom capability!):

The Pompidou Center (a modern art museum):

And there are several great cafes in Montmartre. We ate in one of these cafes in the very center of the artists’ square. Mmm – French onion soup, Croque-monsieur, and, best of all, wine-soaked salmon with cheese and mussels! And flan for desert!

Montmartre is also home to the Salvador Dali museum. While it is a fairly small museum (about two large rooms), it was one of my favorites. I actually entered the museum not especially liking Dali’s pieces (I found them often disturbing), but left it feeling much better about them after reading his explanations of the pieces. I also didn’t know he did statues!

Of particular note – some amazing snail-spoons and snail-knives:

A series on Alice in Wonderland (the figure with the jump rope is Alice):

His take on classic art (great to see after seeing the originals at the Louvre!):

A winged snail we loved:

His idea of God – the big finger in the middle:

Neat take on the mythological muse of dance:

There was also a little gallery attached that had pieces you could buy! I can hardly image how much they’d cost – no price tags were shown… We saw a recurring motif in our trip though — a rhino with armor, similar to one we’d seen at a museum in Munich (and one we actually saw later somewhere else in Paris)… I suspect the Freemasons…

Probably one of the things I found I most liked about Dali was how he really didn’t take himself too seriously, even after becoming so famous. He also had a great mustache.

And then we wandered Montmartre a bit… and saw a historic vineyard!

And the famous café where Amelie worked:

And the Moulin Rouge, at the base of the hill of Montmartre. Several girls were doing the “Marilyn Monroe” on a subway vent on the road across from the Moulin Rouge – very cute:

On the same road are several other strip clubs and, unsurprisingly, the Museum of Erotic Art. We were feeling pretty museumed-out by this point, so we didn’t check it out past the entrance area, but I get the feeling you could see most of this stuff online for free, if you wanted!

Exhausted from museums and wandering Montmartre, we wandered home, grabbed some crepes from our favorite crepe stand, and collapsed!

Thank you for reading this super long post on our adventures in the Louvre and on Montmartre! Stay tuned for hopefully less exhaustive accounts of our adventures in Paris!

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