Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lost in the Louvre

As I suspected Helen was up about 3 am - what a dag!
Rain started to fall last night and is predicted for today so it looks like a very good day to be indoors. It is off to the Louvre we go!

The day starts with more trips on the metro and Helen comments at one point how they must have heard her earlier impressions because someone has come through in the night and cleaned the place up. I suspect that it is more like the first shock has worn off a little - although we were not at the older stations of yesterday! We need to change lines to reach the Louvre and it seems that wherever we want to go entails walking from one extremity of the station on one line to the other extremity to get to the connecting line. Up stairs, down stairs, along tunnels and then up and down again. At one stop this afternoon, we are lucky enough to have a lift - a huge behemoth of a thing that will take most of the people in a carriage - guess that the distance to climb is just too great.

Like the underground systems of many cities, the Paris Metro is amazing. Very regular services and reliable. Today we travel from Bir-Hakeim to Charles De Gaulle Étoile on Line 6 and then change to Line 1 for Palais Royal Musée du Louvre. It is surprisingly smooth trip with only a two minutes wait for the connection (but after walking quite a way).

Arriving at the Palais Royal Musée du Louvre is a bit of a surprise - although I am not sure what we were expecting. From the station, you walk towards the Louvre, following the signage, but actually come to a very nice shopping centre first. A bit cavernous, it is nonetheless clean and very chic. Knowing we were in for a lot of walking today I have taken drugs and now need to put something more than an orange juice and a banana in my stomach. So the first stop is on the 'restaurant' floor. Now, these were not restaurants in the true sense of the word - more like the shopping centre food courts back home, but a little more up-market. We have foccacias, orange juice and coffee. And that foccacia pastry is so light. Mine is ham and cheese and Helen has a mediterranean mix one. They are so scrummy that I forget about a photo! And when you put something in, then the consequence is . . . The toilets were quite amazing and at €1 each to use them, one of the most expensive I have encountered in Europe yet. But they were spotless and beautifully scented with each loo cleaned as soon as you vacated - by the all male staff! They sold lots of bathroom accessories such as coloured and patterned toilet papers that started at €4.95 per roll!

We also find a store called Nature & Découvertes that was kind of like a mix between the Australian Geographic store and Red Earth. Since leaving her kangaroo travel buddy on the plane at Tokyo, Helen has been searching for a replacement and we find a kinda cute lady bug. Celine who we get chatting to at the checkout is asked to name her a typical French name and so we welcome Laura into our travels!

This shopping centre is home to a feature made famous for most of us in the movie 'The DaVinci Code'. The inverted end of the pyramid of the Louvre. Can't resist getting photos here!
You have to agree that it makes for one very very cool photo!!!

Since we purchased our tickets, there is no need to join the queues to buy tickets here at the museum - hang on, what queues?? We don't see queues, but do see plenty of ticket selling machines. Oh well, didn't really matter. And while it is cool and windy outside, inside it is the opposite - very warm. So we are grateful for the opportunity to leave our jackets (sorry madame, no scarves - hang on, I'll just put it in the pocket!)

And the huge pyramid that forms part of the main entry into the Louvre is so interesting - especially when you look through it to the older structures of this museum. We collect maps as we go past the information desk and then try to decipher them. They are not at all very clear. From my reading of the Louvre web site over the last couple of days, I know that we want to go to the Denon and Sully wings. So off we set into the Sully wing as there seems to be less people heading in to it at the moment. We pass through an area that has been set up to display the history of the Louvre - could be interesting but we are so limited with time that we give this a miss and head through a display of the Louvre Medieval that includes the footings of the Louvre when it was a palace.

We then spend a bit of time in the Egyptian artefacts area. For most people, the Louvre is associated with paintings and I was not aware of the vast collection of other materials that they have. We have seen plenty of Egyptian artefacts on our trip so far, but these were as good as any. The biggest problem for us was that although we were allowed to take as many photos as we wanted, we could not use flash and the lighting was terrible from a photographic perspective with way too much light from the outside and harsh overhead lighting. It just meant that whatever we took photos of, we also got all the unwanted reflections - ours included at times!

There are a couple of famous Louvre items that we are making our way towards - the statue of Venus de Milo and of course the Mona Lisa. But cleverly, there is a wealth of culture and history that stands between these most famous items and your starting point. As we begin in the Sully wing, we are headed to Venus de Milo first. To get to it, we must pass through a series of galleries that are devoted to some of the finest sculpture of Greek and Roman antiquities - the Caryatids of the Louvre. The detail that has been carved in marble is amazing, and the knowledge of human anatomy is astounding - the sculptors must have sat for hours and hours just watching which muscles moved when an action was being done.

There are lots of other famous examples of early Grecian sculpture and later Roman copies such as Artemis (of the Diana of Versailles) and the Miletus torso. The beauty of this era is breath-taking – oh, if the lighting were just better controlled so we could get some good photos, sigh!

The Venus de Milo or Aphrodite stands at the end of a long gallery and unfortunately we come in from behind - only unfortunate because when later we see it as we walk away from the statue, the view is amazing. She stands on a plinth so that no matter how tall the people are that are around her, she can always be at least partially visible.

We finally get around to an area with paintings! These are huge works of art primarily on a religious theme and not at all what we are seeking. We are still in the Sully Wing and need to get to the Denon wing. The Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) is found on the second floor in the Denon wing and after asking for some help from one of the staff members, I understand why I can’t find it – I thought we were on the second floor, but no, we are still on the first floor – gosh with all the stairs going up and down and the numerous corridors that turn, even the greatest cartographer could easily get lost here. That is one of the downfalls of using a building designed for one purpose in another, different way.

The Mona Lisa as most people know now is not a big painting. In fact it is about the size of an A3 or maybe A2 sheet of paper. There are lots of people heading to it, and when we get into Room 16 where it is housed, I expect to see it all on its own. But no, she hangs on a wall in the centre of the room, facing a mammoth of a painting – The Wedding at Canna and is surrounded on the long walls by numerous other paintings of this time. Trouble is, there are barriers that keep the surging crowd back from the painting. You elbow your way to the front, take your photo and leave. You do not get the time to stand and just look deeply, to let this famous work talk to you, to allow its beauty to sink in. And that is a real pity.

Its time to get away from the maddening crowds. Helen wants to see the French Impressionists of the 19th and 20th centuries – Renoir, Matisse, Cézanne , Degas, Pissaro et al. The modern French paintings are in the second floor of the Richelieu Wing. We make our way there (again having to ask for help) – only to find it closed! Now, there is advice on the Louvre website that says that they do not have enough staff to keep all sections of the museum open every day, but we surely do not expect them to close the French Painters rooms, in France! But no, it is closed on a Thursday. Poor Helen. She is so disappointed. She so much wanted to see these works in a local context. We do, however, chance upon a painting of Tolouse Latrec.

We left the Louvre after about 5 hours and, which to be honest, we felt was a tad over-rated - mainly because of the difficulty in finding things and moving around, but also because they close off the French paintings - in France! for one day a week! They really need to learn to better signpost the corridors so that you can easily find your way around - I mean, I am a pretty decent map reader and kept finding that the only way to get from one point to another was to ask a staff member! Still, it is one of those icons that needs to be visited to be understood! One of the joyous things are the fascinating glimpses of the site and indeed the rest of Paris that can be seen from the large windows in all the areas of the first and second floor. The juxtaposition of old and new works so well and is so easily see from up there.

As we are (trying) to find the exit - follow the Sortie signage - we pass many, many other amazing collections including more classical pieces, Egyptian collects and some amazing early Iranian artworks. We also pay a quick visit to one of the inner courtyards filled with larger than life size marble and bronze sculptures. Standing proudly in a garden setting is the way to show these pieces to their best advantage. The changing light is also very kind to the eyes and it is easy to imagine yourself in some priveleged place long ago, being pampered and surrounded by the best of beauty.

And now it was off to Montmarte and the Sacre Cœur. This is one amazing place. From the moment we get off the metro at the Abbesses stop and head up to the street, you feel a very different kind of energy - an earthy, connected sort of buzz. There are a lot of little bookshops and small small cafes.

The Sacred Heart church (Sacre Cœur) is white against the background from anywhere in Paris. It stands out because it is on the hill of Montmarte surrounded by the flatness of the rest of Paris. A-m-a-z-i-n-g. So, just because it is on the hill, does it have to be a BIG hill? You either catch the funicular railway up the hill, or climb a million steps. Hmm not a really hard choice for me to make! And to make it even better, our rail pass that we bought covers the cost of the funicular trip as well. As Helen says "Cool!"

As the train leaves the floor of the valley and climbs towards the church high above, the air clears and the city falls away below. It is a surreal sensation. The true colour of Paris comes to light - the creams and white and slate blues. The terracotta chimney pots. The deep grey of the steels. THIS is what we will remember as Paris! There is a wind blowing and on top of the hill it is a little chilly. So coffee is the order of the day before we do anything else - sitting in the brisk breeze!!

Then it is over the cobbled road to have a look at the Church. Helen is struck not only by the view that it commands over the city below, but also by the enormity of the basilica in front of her. AND then we go in! Now it hits Helen. What I have been going on about when I refer to the churches and cathedrals. And while it is nice, it is nowhere near as stunning as many we have been in. The space is large and reasonably plain except for the ceiling over the altar - a very large, very elaborate mosaic frescoe. But they do not allow photos and the prices for the candles are that exorbitant that for the first time I light only one candle - the two mums and Mutti will have to share this one!

Back into the wind we go. We take a photo for a couple of young girls who gladly reciprocate and so we have a photo together on the forecourt before we head back down on the funicular (another first for Helen) and sit down for something to eat. We have decided to have an early dinner (like it is after 6:30 pm). The cafe has a wonderful position - overlooking the garden and straight up the hill to the Church. But they do not take the greatest advantage of it - the service is contemptable and the food mediocre. Such a waste. We walk around to the Metro and head back to the Marie Antionette so we can make an attempt at packing before bed tonight. We eat more of the Reblochon and finish the Boursin, washing it down with a lovely Cotes de Blaye red - ahhh the good days we spent at Blaye come flooding back. Time to go and pack!

No comments: