Monday: Touring the Louvre & a sunset from the top of the Eiffel Tower

We had a big day planned for Monday, our third day in Paris. First, we’d start out taking a (very brief) tour of the Eiffel Tour, and then we were heading to watch the sunset from the top of the Eiffel Tower, before rounding out the day with a late night river cruise through the city. I was quite excited about being able to squeeze all three into the same day.

We scheduled a tour guide for our time at the Louvre, knowing without one we’d end up lost and probably miss most of the big items we were hoping to see. We took a bus to the Louvre first thing that morning…

…and we waited for a few minutes before our tour guide met us at the front entryway.

He was a nice guy. A bit quiet, but nice. He told us he was from San Francisco, and that he was studying art here in Paris. At the university. He had been here a couple years, and he had started leading tours of the Louvre short after he arrived, he explained.

“Even after a couple years, though,” I still haven’t seen every wing of the Louvre.”

Apparently, it’s a pretty big place…

Our tour guide led us through the stone archway that led into the Louvre, and we took several escalators that led us further and further under ground. After several minutes, we were standing under the large glass pyramid we had seen aboveground. From this view, though, we could see the inverted pyramid now stretching downward from the ceiling above us. It was pretty impressive.

Our tour guide mentioned a few things about the architecture before continuing the tour, and leading us toward, what he explained as, the oldest part of the Louvre. He explained that the Louvre actually began as a fortress that was built in the 12th century.

He pointed out the old, original stone walls as we walked, and mentioned all the restoration work that had been done. It’s not everyday you see the foundation from a 900-year old fortress; it was something else. You can see the old, original brick foundation in the wall of the marketing firm I worked at back at home in Bellingham, but somehow I’m thinking it wasn’t quite this old…

From there, we headed to the wing of the Louvre that housed the ancient Greek and Roman statues. We had seen quite a bit in Rome, but their collection was still quite impressive.

We walked up several long, wide staircases to get to this wing and, once we did, our tour guide led us into a long hallway full of ivory-colored marble statues. One of the first of which was of Cupid, embracing a girl by the name of Psyche, as our guide explained.

Apparently, the story is that Psyche, the most beautiful woman in the world, has fallen into a lifeless sleep. And she would have remained that way, had it not been for a kiss she received from the god of love, Eros, or Cupid, which revived her. The moment of that embrace, the embrace that brought her back to life, is captured in this statue: Antonio Canova’s  “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss.” I thought it was a pretty powerful piece.

I had never seen the next statue our guide pointed out to us before, but I was taken aback by it. At first, it just looked like a woman seated in the windowsill, but then our guide told us a bit more about it.

He told us this statue was of a beautiful nymph who had just been stung by a scorpion. Not only is she dealing with the painful sting, though, she is quickly coming to the realization that she will soon be dead.

The thing that stuck with me most is the look on her face. It was more than just a look of pain. It was a look of anguish. She knew her death was coming, and there was nothing she could do about it.

I think really good art, the kind that sticks with you and makes its way into your conversation long after you’ve experienced it, is the kind that approaches life. The kind that, even though you know it’s not real, creates an emotion with you that feels real.

And I think that’s what this statue accomplished. It was almost as if you could feel the anguish of death and grief in her face, as the reality of her pending death set in like a surprise visit from an unwanted guest.

We turned from these two statues and continued walking down the long hallway full of other figures.

About halfway down the hallway stood these statues: the Dying Slave and the Suffering Slave. Both works of Michelangelo.

Our tour guide told us that the Louvre had the most pieces of Michelangelo’s work outside of Rome. We told him we had just come from Rome, and so we had actually seen quite a bit of his work there.

Apparently these two pieces, the Dying Slave and the Rebellious Slave, had been seized during the French Revolution and brought here to the Louvre. I’m sure those in Rome were pretty happy about that…

We continued to make our way through the long hallways, noting the colorful, painted ceilings along the way. The ceiling artwork reminded me a lot of our time at the Vatican Museum.

We rounded a corner and entered into another long hallway full of more ivory-colored statues. In the middle of this room stood a tall, armless statue, one we immediately recognized: the Venus de Milo.

Our tour guide told us the statue had been carved sometime around 100 BC. He told us that, even though it wasn’t carved by a famous sculptor, like some of the others in the hallway, it was easily the most famous in the room.

Apparently its fame is due largely to an act of propaganda by the French to get people to the Louvre to see it, which dates hundreds of years back. However, those who to this day hold up the de Milo as a true work of art say it is the epitome of feminine beauty.

Our tour guide asked us for our thoughts on the statue, and I told him it seemed a bit tall and exaggerated, as if its torso was longer than it should be. He told us that was actually done intentionally, as a way to exaggerate her features. Again, as a picture of the “ideal” woman, and not necessarily the most realistic.

I may be a little biased, but, personally, I prefer mine with arms.

In the next room, our tour guide had us stop at another, similar statue. This statue was actually created by a more famous artist, and it was done quite literally, as opposed to the exaggerated features of the de Milo (in the background).

“You can see,” he said, turning toward us, “the de Milo really is more beautiful.”

We continued walking through the long hallway of statues, stopping at the end of the room to take in a very tall statue of another woman wearing, this one wearing a soldier’s helmet.

Before wrapping up our time with the statues, our tour guide led us down a large staircase and asked us to stop at the landing to take in a headless statue. It was Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.

Standing on the landing look up at this large, winged figure, our tour guide pointed out Victory’s robe, showing how it really did look as if it were blowing in the wind. An illusion the statue was famous for.

At this point, we traded statues for paintings, and we entered a long, darkly colored room with different-sized paintings on the walls.

Some of them were quite large, including this painting of Napoleon’s inaugurating his queen (Note the Pope standing by and watching, signifying Napoleon was even more important than the Pope. This painting was obviously done by a Frenchman).

Not far from this portrait hung a painting of King Leonidas, whom, as our tour guide told us, we probably knew of from the movie, 300.

The painting, he explained, was meant to represent the celebration that would have taken place on the eve of their battle with the Persian empire, which the men would have surely believed to be their last night alive.

We passed through an arched doorway and entered another hallway of art. Our tour guide pointed out what he referred to as one of the most famous French paintings, that of “Liberty Leading the People.”

The painting was meant to speak of the French Revolution, and the different parties involved (the older man in the top hat on the left representing the older generation, and the young boy on the right with two guns representing the newer generation), both of whom were fighting for the people’s freedom, led by Lady Liberty, a mythical figure. Interestingly, he told us, this figure was likely the model for the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to the US.

Oh, and you might also recognize this painting from the cover of the Coldplay album, Viva la Vida.

From this hallway we took a right and entered the largest room we had seen for some time since entering the Louvre. The ceiling rose high into the air as we entered and, even though there were paintings on all of the walls, it looked as though there was only one wall that was gathering everyone’s attention, the wall holding the Louvre’s most famous painting: the Mona Lisa.

Our tour guide told us quite a bit about the Mona Lisa, as the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd pushed and shoved, everyone trying to get a closer look at the painting. He told us that the portrait hasn’t always been so famous, but it was liked very much from early on. Apparently Napoleon liked it so much he had it hanging in his room, but the woman in his life didn’t like that and it was soon removed.

Later, an employee of the museum was so enamored by it that he decided to leave with it one day, and he actually managed to keep it as his apartment for something like eight months before anyone found out. Hard to believe. But now, you’d be hard-pressed even to get within 10-feet of the painting.

The crowd was quite tight, but we managed to squeeze our way to the front and snap a handful of decent photos.

Brock asked our tour guide if he thought the photo was originally a self-portrait Da Vinci had painted, and then later changed into a woman. He shook his head and said he was sure that was just a myth. Instead, he told us the woman was probably someone of very little significance, but whom Da Vinci wanted, for some reason or another, to paint. Maybe not even someone he knew very well.

After wrapping things up at the Louvre, we hopped on a bus and headed back toward the Eiffel Tower. We were had plans to take in the sunset from the top of the Eiffel Tower, and I couldn’t wait.

I didn’t realize it, but apparently Brock is not a fan of heights. Not in the least. In fact, when we got off the bus at the base of the Eiffel Tower, he declared that he’d wait for us at the bottom. Monty & Heidi must have done some smooth-talking, because Brock joined us as we huddled together with a large group, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a small elevator with glass walls, climbing up toward the top of the Eiffel Tower.

The elevator doors opened a few moments later and we stepped out onto the metal platform, hurrying to the edge of the railing to take in the 360 degree view of the city.

“Wowwww…”, I said with my mouth hanging wide open, hands gripping the railing.

I knew Paris was a beautiful city from what we had seen already, but taking it in from the Tower was something else entirely. It really was a spectacular view.

On one side of the tower, you could see the River Seine, and boats floating by, along with everything on that side of the city. On the opposite side of the Tower, you could the the large park that stretched its green, tree-lined lawn on and on and on. Along with all of the old architecture of the city, pieced together like a miniature model. It was a beautiful view. 

It was a sunny afternoon when we made the climb up the tower, but it was still quite cold from this height. Even with our jackets, there was a bit of a breeze that seemed to cut right through us.

We stood near the railings and snapped several photos, while Brock did his best to remain near the inside core of the tower, not caring to venture toward the railing and peer over at the city below.

From time to time, I’d brace myself, making my eyes really big, and look over at Brock as if to say, “Did you feel that?!” He’d smile, barely, and look away. Jen would hit me and tell me to knock it off. Mean, I know. 

The Eiffel Tower has two platforms for guests. Two different levels. The elevator you get on at the ground only takes you up so far. If you want to go up to the peak, you have to buy another ticket at the lower level. Which we did. And I’m so glad.

Another short elevator ride and we were now at the very peak of the Eiffel Tower, looking out over the city from an impressive height. The view was stunning.

I kept finding myself hunched over the railing, looking down at the ground so far below.

“Wow… that’s amazing,” I said aloud to myself. “I just wish there was a good way to show…” And I stopped myself, mid-sentence. I had an idea.

Jen and Heidi both had their cameras with them. They have the same camera, but they were using different lenses. Jen was using her high-powered lens to snap far-away shots close-up, while Heidi had her standard lens, which allowed her to take wider photos of the city.

“You mind if I see your camera real quick?” I asked Heidi. She looked a bit unsure of the question, but hesitantly handed it over.

“Thanks,” I said, taking it from her. Then, extending my arms as far as I could reach, I raised the camera over my head and snapped this photo of the view below…

Our plan was to stay at the peak until the sun went down, that way we could take in the sunset from this beautiful view. We found a perfect spot in a corner of the platform, near the river side of the city, and waited. We had some time to kill, so we snapped several photos.

They even managed to talk Brock into (carefully) walking to the railing for a family photo. I was impressed.

There was a very small door at the top of the Eiffel Tower, with a young guy inside. He was selling wine and champagne to those who wanted to celebrate the view with a drink.

I was getting hungry at this point, and so I joked with Brock that we should see if he had any burgers in there. Brock laughed. He told me I should. But I chickened out. America doesn’t need any help looking stupid in France, I figured.

The clouds soon began getting dark, and we could tell the sunset wasn’t too far away, casting rays of light from behind the clouds that did their best to hide its brightness.

It grew increasingly cold as the clouds hid the sun, and several of us began to shiver. But we decided to stick it out and take in the view. It shouldn’t be too much longer, we figured.

And we were right. Soon, the entire sky turned a burnt orange color as the sun began making its final descent behind the skyline.

We took the elevator down to the lower level just in time to see the sun make its final appearance before dipping below the horizon, leaving the Parisian skyline to grow dim, as if someone had just hit the light switch.

It really was an incredible view, and I was so thankful for the experience. As we made our way down the tower, I told Jen we’d need to take in this view on New Year’s Eve one year.

A wide grin spread across her face at the suggestion. She nodded her head in agreement.

“Yeah, that’d be beautiful.”

When we reached the bottom of the tower, we had some time to kill before our river cruise that evening. It started at 10:00, and we had about an hour and a half, so we grabbed some dinner at a nearby restaurant and snapped a few more photos of the tower, all lit up in the night sky.

After a warm meal, we boarded the river cruise. Behind a group of, what looked like, American high school students. One of the boys wore a sweatshirt with a giant, yellow “O” on the front, and I wondered if the group was from Oregon. It’s always a weird feeling seeing references from so close to home when you’re so far from it.

We took our seats toward the rear of the boat, near the windows, and played with, what looked like giant, metal remote controls. Apparently, they’d be playing the audio tour during the river cruise. The metal was cold as you held it to your ear.

Before we took off, Heidi told us all to look up, just before snapping a photo of us.

While the view of Paris from the top of the tower was amazing, this was something else. You couldn’t see nearly as much from our spot on the river, of course, but, as we floated along, slowly, and it was almost as if we had been invited to a secret, night-time tour of the city. The river was quiet and calm, and it reflected the buildings we passed, floating through the old parts of the city.

Our audio tour guide pointed out points of interest along the way and, when the recorded voice stopped, a woman in the center of the boat would make comments about the area over a loud speaker. First in French, then in English, and then in about six other languages. All from the same woman. It was pretty impressive.

I wondered, to myself, if she knew all of those languages fluently, or if she had just recited the scripts for each. Her accent made me think it was the former.

The group of American high school students were spread out across the boat, as well as a number of other guests. I thought it was funny that almost all of the guys from the group of students sat on one side of the boat, and the girls sat on the opposite side. Apart from three of the more athletic looking guys and three of the girls, who sat huddled together in the center aisle of the boat.

About 20-minutes into our tour, a group in the front of the boat began hollering and the sound of clapping soon filled the boat. Someone had just proposed and, from the clapping, I assumed someone had just said, “Yes.”

It was a beautiful view of the city, from this quiet spot on the river, and it seemed like the perfect way to wrap up an already amazing day in Paris.

Tuesday: Saying “goodbye” to Paris and great friends

On our last morning in Paris, we walked down the street from our hotel, rounded the corner, and found a small, open air cafe with a red canopy to enjoy breakfast. I made sure to order the croque madam, following Jennifer’s lead. And I was not disappointed.

Several others ordered the croque madam as well. Jen was a breakfast trailblazer, it seems.

From there, we hopped on a bus and headed back toward the Notre Dame. We had heard that the chapel held some ancient relics, including the crown of thorns from Jesus’ crucifixion. It seemed pretty hard to believe, but that’s what they said…

While there’s no charge to get into Notre Dame, there is a fee to enter the room holding the chapel’s relics. We paid an older woman standing behind a small desk and entered a long, dark room with loads of relics behind plates of glass. Lots of jewelry. And crucifixes. Finally, after several minutes of looking, we noticed a photo of the ring that holds the purported crown of thorns that sat on Jesus’ head during his crucifixion. That’s right, a photo. Apparently they only take out the real thing on the first Friday of every month.

“That would’ve been good to know before we came in,” I said aloud as we left, feeling a bit like the kid who spends his allowance on a pair of x-ray glasses only to find out they’re not good for seeing through anything.

From there, we saw a bit more of the Parisian architecture we hadn’t had a chance yet to see, including a tall, long building with water fountains that seemed to dance in celebration before it.

Around noon or so, we decided to go our separate ways: the women to their shopping…

…and the men to their war museum.

The war museum was housed in a huge building with a square courtyard in the center, an expansive green lawn with cone-shaped bushes spread out across the green grass, and rows of cannons standing in front of, what I assumed to be, an old moat. 

The many manicured bushes that stood up in rows around the lawn reminded me a bit of a scene from Edward Scissorhands.

We entered through the large archway, crossed the courtyard and made our way into the first room of the war museum. They had several exhibits, displaying room after room of knights in armor, old swords and guns, and more. It was pretty impressive just how much they had on display.

After about an hour or walking through the war museum, we wandered around to the rear of the building and entered a large, dome-shaped room: home to Napoleon’s tomb. The building that housed his tomb was breathtaking in both its size and architecture. The entire place appeared to be built out of marble, with columns and arched-ceilings that climbed high into the air.

A large room to the right of the entryway was home to an incredibly large tomb, the largest I had ever seen up to this point. It was the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, and it was housed in a beautiful room, with large windows that allowed the outside light to come pouring in over it.

The ceiling of the room that housed Napoleon’s tomb was painted with several scenes and an incredibly ornate border. It was terribly impressive.

But then we walked back into the main room, where we had first entered, and stared down at a tomb that made Napoleon’s tomb look not quite as large as it had first seemed.

This tomb belonged to Napoleon II, Napoleon Bonaparte’s son. While Napoleon I was known for his military conquests, Napoleon II was known for investing his energies into Paris itself. Into the city. And the people loved him for it, as his tomb showed.

His tomb really was incredible. It stood nearly 20 feet in the air, including its marble base, and it must’ve stretched nearly 10 feet long, if not more. It stood in the epicenter of the building, with the large domed ceiling staring down at it. It was encircled by something like 15 statues, all of them nearly 20-feet tall. I wasn’t sure what the significance of the statues were, or who they were supposed to be, but the whole scene was just stunning.

Standing there, staring at this tomb, at this monument, really, I found it hard to believe this was built to remember any one man’s life. But it was.

And it was there, while taking in this scene, I was reminded of a quote I heard many years ago. A quote I love, and that sticks with me to this day. It came from a Pastor I like to listen to by the name of Alistair Begg. He’s from Glasgow, and he has this incredibly rich Scottish accent, even though he’s been in the States since the 80’s.

And it was then I remembered his Scottish accent saying, “The best of men are men at best.” And I found it fitting, staring at this tomb. This tomb that was now home to only bones, where before there had been life.

By this point, we realized it was nearly time to meet up with the women for lunch before grabbing our things from the hotel and heading for our chunnel ride back to London.

We had a bit of a walk, past several markets, through a handful of neighborhoods, with their beautiful, ornate balconies…

Thankfully we made it just in time. And thankfully, the women were shopping, so we figured, even if we were a few minutes late, we’d probably still be okay. We were right.

We met up with them at a restaurant in a beautiful neighborhood just down the street from the Eiffel Tower. We had eaten there the night before, and it was amazing. We figured we’d take advantage of it one last time, for our last meal in Paris.

As we made our way down the final street toward this restaurant, we came across two parked Vespas. One white, one black. With a large apartment building in the background, it felt like the perfect Paris scene. The kind I’ll recall years from now, when we talk about our first time in Paris. Hopefully it won’t be the last.

After another amazing meal, we grabbed our luggage from the hotel and made our way to the chunnel station. The two hour drive provided plenty of time to think about our trip, and our time in Rome and Paris. It was hard to believe it was all coming to an end.

Two hours later, we were sharing hugs and saying “goodbye” to Monty & Heidi and Brock & Lacy. We’ve been through a lot with these guys. They’ve been there by our side through some of the most painful times we’ve known; it only seemed right to now have shared some incredibly joy-filled experiences in Rome and Paris as well.

With tears and smiles, we said our “goodbyes” as they prepared to return to the States and we made our way back north to Oxford. Jen’s parents had yet to see Oxford, and we were excited to introduce them to it.