Or is it the City of accordion players?
15.11.2008 - 16.11.2008 14 °C
At the end of our trip, during our last weekend in Paris, we had a little trouble deciding what to do. On the one hand, we wanted to do some memorable highlights, but on the other, we also wanted to try some new things. On Saturday, at least, we managed to be very efficient in our sightseeing. As we traveled, it struck us that four out of every five street musicians was an accordionist. We must have seen ten (including one playing aggressively in a subway car on Sunday) over the course of the weekend.
We didn't quite reach our goal of opening the Louvre at 9, but we were there well before 10, and long before there were any crowds. Having spent some time on the ancient civilizations of the Near East and of Egypt and having extensively studied the Roman Republic and Empire, we decided to fill the gaping hole in the middle — ancient Greece. So we followed the ancient Greece tour in our kids' guide to the Louvre. We admired a few of the Pantheon marbles that somehow the French got before Lord Elgin brought the rest to London, and we learned about Greek painting through a study of vases. Well, Margaret did. John was not all that excited by the Greek artifacts, though he did perk up a bit as I tried to explain the fate of Agamemnon at the end of the Trojan War! We also deviated from our program to look at some of the French Crown jewels and some Roman mosaics. It may not last, but John and Margaret now both insist that they want to make some mosaic art of their own after we return to the States.
On our way out, we paused to take a photo to say our farewell to the greatest museum in the Western world. Now that we've been to the Uffizi, the Vatican Museum, the National Gallery in London, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, we feel pretty confident in saying that the Louvre is best. (Though we haven't been to the Getty yet, so maybe we need to take another trip before we can be sure....)
So efficient were we determined to be that we ate lunch (peanut butter sandwiches) on the walk from the Louvre to the Orsay, where, once again, we were reminded how great the Paris Museum Card is, since we got to skip the ticket buying queue and went straight into the museum. The kids began by sketching — Margaret drew a sculpture of four women (representing the four continents of Africa, Europe, America, and Asia) supporting a globe; John sketched the big clock hanging above the museum.
After the sketching, we toured through the parts of the collection we had not gotten to on our first visit and looked again at Margaret's favorite part — the art nouveau furniture collection.
We had a schedule to keep, so we made sure to get out of there by about 2 and walked determinedly in the direction of the Place de la Concorde and the English-language bookseller, WH Smith to buy some books for the kids to read on the flight back on Monday (yikes, are we leaving that soon?).
On the theory that our kids like best sights that involve stairs — either up to elevated viewpoints or down into tunnels — we made our way to see the little museum of the sewers of Paris, the entry to which is in our very own neighborhood, the 7th. The internet can't do justice to the smell, or so says Margaret. But the displays, which explained the historical development of the Paris water and sewer network and had a lot to say about how the workers keep the sewer channels clear of sand and other debris. Our favorite device was a giant ball, which is pushed through by the pressure of the water behind it, clearing away the debris in front of it. Here's one of the few pix we have:
After the sewer, we wandered through the Rue Cler for a little shopping . . . and snacking . . . and more shopping. Then it was home for dinner. But did the evening end? No, we took the bus (our first bus trip in Paris) up to the Etoile to climb the Arc de Triomphe (and our last use of the Museum Pass).
On our way up there was a curious ritual we encountered a few times before. Susan and I had free admission to the site, with the Museum Pass, and the kids' admissions were also free. But at the ticket window, we all had to be issued tickets. But since our admission was free, why did we need tickets? Didn't they trust the ticket takers later on to be able to read the dates on our Museum Passes?
At any rate, as we arrived, there were still soldiers in full dress uniform at the end of the daily ceremony at the French Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We were treated to hearing the military band playing the Marseillaise, whilst the assembled French audience sang with the soldiers. The view from the top was spectacular, and shortly after we arrived the Eiffel Tower put on its hourly display of strobe lights. Our pictures of that spectacle didn't come out so well, but here's a shot of the Champs-Elysees, looking towards the Place de la Concorde, where a Ferris Wheel had just been erected.
Our last day was devoted to visits to places we had not seen on our trip of four years ago. We began with the catacombs of Paris (continuing with the theme of sights featuring stairs). Unlike the ancient catacombs of Rome, these were constructed during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when the Parisian health authorities decided that several of the city cemeteries were endangering the public health. But if the dead were to be exhumed, what could be done with them? Put them in the abandoned mines that crisscrossed the deep underside of Paris, naturally. The tour takes one through some of the mines and then through chambers and chambers filled with the bones of the re-interred dead of Paris, as these had been "artfully" arranged by the Parisian authorities at the dawn of the nineteenth century.
The catacombs tour takes one through more than a mile of underground passages, depositing one at some distance from the entry. We passed a bakery, picked up the best baguette we ate during our whole week here (and for only 90 Euro cents!), and got back on the tube, heading from the southern end of central Paris to the northern end and Monmartre. Rick Steeves does note that the neighborhood one walks through to get to the Sacre Coeur is a bit seedier than the rest of central Paris, but we were not prepared for just how nasty it was.
Even so, we had a nice picnic part-way up the hill (and as far as we could get from the people selling hot Marlborough cigarettes and fake Louis Vuitton luggage);.
We admired the church (some of us more than others). John lit a candle and finally bought the small wooden cross he has been for some time trying to get. He's been wearing it proudly ever since.
We had thought about touring Monmartre but decided that we wanted to remember Paris as more beautiful than seamy, so we headed to the Ile de la Cité and walked from there to the Ile St. Louis, which was simply delightful. Had we not felt quite so poor, we might have bought some art, but we contented ourselves with admiring it. Instead, we bought the kids a couple of Nutella crepes and some take-away coffee.
Once home, we packed for a bit, then ate our farewell dinner at a local cafe-bistro, La Terrasse du 7eme. Susan is finding it hard to to say au revoir, but a fancy meal helped! We took one final look at the Eiffel Tower all lit up for the evening, and headed home for our last night in Paris.
Tomorrow night, we expect to be sleeping in America!