I planned to knock several must-sees off my list on day 5. I was going to start at Notre Dame and then visit Musee de l’Orangerie. When using the Metro, it pays to have a plan or you’ll find yourself wasting tickets and time jumping from one area of the city to another. The station going to Notre Dame was the closest to my apartment, so I wanted to go there first. Then, it was a quick jump to the museum, the only one open on Monday that I wanted to visit. However, my best laid plans were thwarted by some signal malfunction on the line to Notre Dame. No signals mean no trains. So, I had to walk to the nearest station that served the de l’Orangerie in the Jardin Tuileries. That was a 20 minute walk, but it was another beautiful day and an enjoyable walk.
The stop to the Tuileries comes out in front of a big square and next to the U.S. Embassy, which I didn’t know at the time. I couldn’t figure out where I was supposed to go and finally found someone who pointed in the general direction of the garden. I walked across several streets to get to the front of the gardens and found some signs with arrows to the different attractions. The arrow to the museum was pointing left. To me that meant down the street to my left. I decided I’d walk through the gardens and surely would find the museum. In the distance were several large buildings, and the gardens were quite beautiful, like all the gardens in Paris. I finally found a map that showed the garden layout. On one end of the garden is a large round fountain. On the other end is a large octagonal fountain. Apparently, I don’t know the difference between the two shapes because I kept going the same direction and found myself in front of the Louvre at the opposite end of the garden from where I wanted to be. Forgetting what day it was I thought I might as well go to the Louvre, but then remembered it was closed on Monday. So, back down the street I went to find the l’Orangerie. Lesson learned. An arrow pointing left doesn’t necessarily mean left. In this case, it meant behind because I found the entrance to the museum about a block past the sign. I probably walked an extra 5 miles a day out of my way looking for something that was almost in front of me. And I wondered why I was so tired every night.
When I finally found the right museum, I was excited to go in. This museum is not large, but it has two oval rooms housing eight mural paintings of Monet’s Water Lilies. These particular rooms have skylights to allow natural light in to accent the paintings. This was the first time I have ever seen an original Monet in person, and I was not disappointed. His paintings are beautiful. The colors are a little darker than they appear in most prints, but you feel as if you’re in his garden. I am not an art critic or someone experienced with fine art. I just know what I like. And I like Monet. A lot. I sat in each room for some time studying and enjoying these paintings. I felt very blessed to see them. After some time, I explored the rest of the museum downstairs. There were paintings by Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso, and some other artists I didn’t know. I very much enjoyed most all the paintings in the museum. I have seen prints of many of them, but to see the original paintings is a whole different experience.
After I came out of the museum, I crossed the large square, the Place de la Concorde, which I realized was one end of Champs des Elysees. At the other end is the Arc de Triomphe. I took a picture where you can barely see the Arc in the distance. As I made my way back over to the train station, I walked in front of a heavily guarded building that I now realized was the U.S. Embassy.
I got on a different train and proceeded to my next stop near Notre Dame. While I was waiting for the train, a lady approached me and asked if I could help her with the Metro. I was amused but happy to help. I’m not sure where they were from, but she apparently spoke better English than French and was happy to find someone who could tell them if they were getting on the right train.
Notre Dame sits on an island in the middle of the Seine. It is not as big as I expected, but certainly not small either. It is still used for church services and though visitors are welcome, they ask you to respect the reverence of the atmosphere. All the tourists spoke in hushed tones, if at all, and really it was very quiet for the number of people in the building. The construction of Notre Dame was started in 1163 and completed in 1345, so it is unreal to be in a building that is roughly 850 years old. I am unfamiliar with Catholic practices, so I don’t have a frame of reference for all the imagery. However, it is hard to not be impressed with the amount of thought and time so many people over centuries put into the development of the building. A grandeur so different than the pomp and flash of Versailles.
I decided to take a different train which would put me closer to my apartment than the station at which I had started. So, I crossed the Seine and walked along a crowded street. When I say crowded, it is hard to imagine how the streets are without seeing them. The streets are very narrow, and the sidewalks are not any wider. Cafes have tiny tables and chairs crowded outside along the sidewalk, and you may only have a few feet between them and the cars whizzing by on which to walk. I had heard of an English bookstore in Paris called Shakespeare and Company, but I didn’t really know where it was. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon it. It’s kind of a hole in the wall with books crammed in every square inch. I went in and looked around for a little while. It was an interesting place and one which I’m sure a lot of Americans living in Europe love to visit. It’s easy to get used to not recognizing the language, and then to walk into a place that’s all in English makes you do a double take.
I stopped at the boulangerie (bakery) across the street from my apartment for a snack since I had missed lunch. A little while after I got back, my friend Lori called and said she had lined up a tour of the Eiffel Tower for us. I had been to the base of the tower several times but had not gone up yet. The line to buy tickets was usually very long, like an hour wait. Ugh. We had about 30 minutes to make it to the tower for the tour, so I washed up and took off. We were part of a small group of maybe 16 people. Our guide was Seth from Denver, as in Colorado. He told us lots of history on the tower and many legends, some a little taller tales than others, but all very interesting. I particularly liked the one about World War II. As Hitler advanced on Paris, the French government fled and left the city wide open for the Nazis, purportedly to save the people from having to fight. No one else had been able to hold the Nazis at bay, so they saw no reason to stay and fight. However, they removed several key pieces of machinery from the elevators rendering them inoperable. The joke was that Hitler may conquer Paris, but he’d never conquer the Eiffel Tower and have to take the stairs to the top like a commoner.
The Eiffel Tower has three decks. The second deck is actually a double deck. We took the elevator to the first two decks. Lori’s sons went to the top deck where the designer, Gustave Eiffel had an apartment. Lori and I were too chicken to go that far up. I’m not super afraid of heights, but I didn’t relish the thought of standing 1,000 feet in the air on what looked like a 10 foot square deck. It’s actually bigger than that, but you know what I mean. The view from the Eiffel Tower is spectacular. You can see for miles. Since our tour was late in the day, we were just leaving when the lights came on. The entire tower is lit up every night, and for 10 minutes every hour it has lights that twinkle. It’s an amazing sight.
After our tour, we decided to go to the Latin Quarter near Notre Dame to have dinner. This area is crowded with restaurants, and we wanted to have fondue. We ordered several different dishes and shared them. They were very rich but yummy. Our dinner was less than 20 Euros per person. That’s about $30. Care to guess what a dinner at The Melting Pot runs?
When we went back to the train to return home, they were experiencing the same signal malfunction as earlier in the day. Not wanting to walk to another station, we had to figure out a very convoluted workaround. This is one of the stations that goes several stories down, and I felt like we must be approaching the center of the earth by the time we got to the right platform. We made it back to our apartments about 11:30. I was very, very tired.