We headed out via the metro to the Arc de Triomphe. This was our first sighting of the famous monument and it was packed. We stepped outside into a very hot sun and multitudes of tourists. With our museum passes in hand, we sidestepped the massive line and started climbing up the spiral staircase, 238 steps to the top of the Arc. Since Bastille day was just two days away, they were setting up for their national holiday which starts off with a parade marching down the Champs Elysees and an incredible flyover. On top of the Arc they were setting up radio towers to coordinate this impressive display.
The whole of Paris was visible once again, and it was splendid. In the distance you could see Sacre Cour, the ever present Eiffel Tower, and the eyesore Montparnasse Tower. Amy thought it would take about 20 minutes to walk up, but it took less than 5. Definitely a view worth seeing when you’re in Paris.
We decided to get out of the hot sun and descended the steps and arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, commemorating World War I. It was pretty fun just sitting under the Arc, people watching and looking at the impressive statues incorporated into its structure. We headed away from the Arc and up the Champs Elysees, a few steps away from the Etoile so we could catch a bus and ride it half way around one of the craziest roundabouts in the world. Unlike Chevy Chase we didn’t get stuck, and stayed on the bus through the shopping district until we got down near the Musee de l’Orangerie.
This museum houses Monet’s Water Lilies in two giant oval shaped rooms with white walls and skylights. The giant canvases dominate the rooms, and you really have to take your time to soak in the beauty. Stroll around the room, seeing the brush strokes close up. Then find a spot on the bench and try to take in the wider view. Reproductions definitely don’t do this work justice. Young guards try and shush the crowds – it’s supposed to be silent inside to enhance the meditative mood of the work – alas, they were not so successful.
Downstairs, there was a large collection of Monet’s friends’ artwork, including Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso, Rousseau, Matisse, and others.
We bought sandwiches and ate them in the Tuileries garden, accidentally sacrificing a small piece of chicken to the ravenous pigeons. We hung out in the shade for awhile. [ed: we are currently hanging out in the shade on a ridiculously hot day, waiting for the Tour de France cyclists to make their way into the city on the last day of the tour. Hence all the references to the heat and the importance of finding shade.]
At 5:45pm we met up with a small group of people for a guided tour of the Louvre. We had such a good time with our free walking tour guide Arnaud that we decided to attend his tour of the Louvre, the largest museum in the world. We found it very worthwhile to pay a bit extra to be able to follow him around and listen to him, not worrying about what route to take in a museum that is impossible to see in one day, let alone three hours.
We really just scratched the surface, but we saw the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, and 3/4 of the Ninja Turtles (Leonardo: the Mona Lisa and some other paintings, which we actually liked better; a bunch of Raphael paintings, luckily on display since they had had an exhibition recently; and two Michelangelo sculptures). We saw old stuff and older stuff like the castle walls under the Louvre. Amazing! The last 45 minutes we tried to see some of the Dutch masters, but first we had to sit down. It turns out that the Louvre really shuts down 30 minutes before closing time, so we got to see a Vermeer and a few Reubens, but then we had to go.
It turned out to be more of an adventure to get out of the Louvre than to enter. Each exit we tried near where we entered turned out to be closed. We went to the parking garage and finally found an exit.
A nice full day with the Mona Lisa and each other. C’est bon!