Thursday, August 23, 2012

Paris: The Sainte-Chapelle and Saint-Pierre

Paris is a wealth of gorgeous churches, and the following 2 were probably my favorites. First, the Sainte-Chapelle:

The Sainte-Chapelle is right around the corner from the Notre Dame. And I guess, as a result of its proximity to the world's most famous church, the line to get in is significantly shorter, but the wow factor is absolutely no less. Sainte-Chapelle is overrun with stained glass. And if all the gorgeous colored light filtering into the cathedral was not enough, Sainte-Chapelle has also maintained its original painting. The whole effect is wonderful. You may even like it more than its famous neighbor! Next up is the Saint-Pierre de Montmarte:

If the Sainte-Chapelle is a little too flashy for you, look no further than the Saint-Pierre. It is also right around the corner from a much more famous neighbor, the Sacre-Coeur, and so it too is overlooked by many tourists. In fact, there's no line here despite the fact that the Saint-Pierre is one of the oldest churches in all of Paris. It's been around since the 12th Century, and it is supposedly the site where the Jesuits were founded. Personally, I loved this quiet, small respite tucked away behind a tree shaded courtyard. It was a welcomed break from overwhelming tourist trap surrounding the Sacre-Coeur. Plus, I never get tired of statutes of Saint Denis holding his own head!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Paris: Père Lachaise Cemetery

Père Lachaise Cemetery is the most famous cemetery inside Paris city limits. It does have some famous residents (Oscar Wilde*, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf), but I think those grave sites are some of the less interesting ones (except for Oscar Wilde's). If I make it back, I would spend my time taking in all of those monuments and head stones and mausoleums that aren't included in the guide book. I'm endlessly fascinated by the different ways we choose to remember and recognize the dead.

* Funny trivia: Oscar Wilde died in poverty while staying at a run-down hotel, and apparently some of his lasts words were "Either this wallpaper goes, or I do!"

PS: If you like the cemetery, you have to check out the post on it over at Making Magique. Her photographs really do it justice.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Paris: Faire du Lèche-Vitrine

Faire du lèche-vitrine means to window shop in French. Well, technically it means to lick windows, but we're just translating the spirit here. Anyway since I had to get a new apartment when I came back from Paris, most of my money was reserved, and I did a lot of faire du lèche-vitrine as a result. We passed a phenomenal little card-stationary-knick knack store (remember my love of knick knack stores?) on the Rue du Bac called Magna Carta. This shop carried a line of watches, of which you see one example above. There were literally dozens of different options designed to appeal to just about any hobby or career you could imagine, but I would have loved to get this one in particular for my chef-father. Next time, Dad!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Paris: Pantheon & Crypt

Despite its impressive size, its elaborate decoration, being the resting place for some very famous Frenchies (Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Rousseau, Marie Curie, Alexandre Dumas), and containing Foucault's pendulum which demonstrated the rotation of the Earth, the Pantheon was virtually deserted compared to Paris's other famous sites. That was fine by us, though. After the insanity of the Louvre, Notre Dame, even Shakespeare & Co. (that bookstore is packed!), a cool, quiet, beautiful place with a lot of benches is a welcomed change of pace.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Paris: The Louvre

We had to go. You cannot go to Paris and not stop by the Louvre. To be honest, it can be an unpleasant experience. You really have to work hard to make it a nice experience. But since there is just so much famous art there, we made the effort to enjoy it. We ended up going 3 times so as to not overwhelm ourselves--Wednesday and Friday night when it is open until 9:45 pm and Sunday morning. Here are my thoughts:
  • Our guidebook recommended going on the evenings, saying it would be calmer then. We found that going at 6 pm on Wednesday was still crazy. But going at 8 pm on Friday was a significant improvement.
  • Getting there 30 minutes before it opened was actually our best experience. The security line moves super fast once the museum opens, and then you're inside with only a few hundred other people for a little bit. But we made sure to get out by 11.
  • The Mona Lisa is never not crowded. The first 50 people in line will always run there immediately, so unless you are one of them, you are not going to see that painting without a crowd. So see it, cross it off your list, and then get out of that room asap.
  • The museum itself is so massive and so stocked that, if possible, you should cap the amount of time you spend there to about 2 hours. This is just my experience, but I have found that any more than 2 hours in the Louvre becomes completely overwhelming. And your feet will start to hurt.
  • Speaking of feet, Napoleon had slippers made of real rabbits. Creepy.

Paris: Maritime Museum

There have been a few unexpected surprises during our trip. 1) There's a bottle of pretty decent sparkling wine at our local grocery store that says its 4 euros but for some reason always rings up at only 1.62. 2) Despite being highlighted extensively in our Rich Steve's guidebook, the modern art museum is abysmal. And 3) the Maritime and Army museums (which might seem boring to anyone not very well versed in French military history) are both fantastic and not very crowded.

I can only report on the greatness of the army museum through my brother since I, in my shortsightedness, did not go in. But I did go into the Maritime Museum and loved it! There are so many model ships, and they are so beautiful! And the actual experience of going to the museum, unlike all of the art museums, is so pleasant. We got there around noon and were literally 2 of maybe 20 people in the whole place. And the audio guides are free here. So you can follow along with the  pieces that interest you the most. I learned:
  • that the female masthead holding the scorpion was part of Marie Antoinette's boat that she cruised the lake at Versailles on. And the white boat with the raised ores was Louis XVI's counterpart.
  • the most boats were "shes" with female mastheads unless they were large, important warships. Those were always "hes" with mastheads depicting famous leaders.
  • the boat made of ivory was a gift to Napoleon and his second wife, and some of the ivory sailors sculpted on it are only a few millimeters tall!