Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Our European Vacation: Artistic Paris

The feeling of waking in Paris was delicious.  The sunlight filtered through the sheer curtains at our full length window.  The noises of the city morning drifted up from the sidewalk below as the city moved into second gear.  We began our day with a typical European breakfast, cold cuts, boiled eggs, yogurt, rolls and coffee.  After breakfast we took the metro to the Louvre to immerse ourselves in the artistic side of Paris.

The Louvre as a museum, even without the art that's housed there was impressive.  A former palace, it's structure and size were awe inspiring.  If the entire palace had stood empty it still would have been worth touring.  In fact, I think at the end of the day Rob took more pictures of the paintings on the walls and ceilings of the Louvre than he did of anything else.  I found it amazing that with all the political unrest centering around the monarchy in France that the palace was standing and still so beautifully decorated.  I suppose the citizens didn't love the royalty but took pride in the art even when they were part of an angry mob.

Once again, we used Rick Steves as our guide and made our way through the Louvre using his suggestions and information.  I noticed several people inch closer as I read the entries from Rick.  We both decided that we were glad to have the actual guide book and not the audio version as we moved through the museum.  It was nice to pick and choose what we learned and not to stand so close together all the time in the crowded areas. 

Rob was focused on finding and experiencing the Mona Lisa up close or at least as close as possible. I preferred to walk loosely and soak in as much as possible.  My favorite piece of art turned out to be Winged Victory but the pieces that I was most eager to see had to do with our study of ancients last year; Hammurabi's Codex and the winged bulls from the throne room of Sargon II.  We both found the Louvre to be amazing and overwhelming.  Rick suggests spending at least two hours there.  I think we called it enough at three hours and left without seeing 3/4 of the museum's collection.  We both felt satisfied with hitting the highlights.

Upon leaving the Louvre we felt the need to sit quietly and eat well.  Thankfully there is no shortage of lovely places to eat in Paris.  We found a cafe a few blocks from the Louvre and took a table outside.  One of my favorite things about Paris was the outdoor dining and the easy availability of table space.  If one cafe was full it was a simple thing to walk to the next for a seat. 
After enjoying lunch and a relaxing break from the world of art we made our way from the Louvre through the Tuileries Garden to the Orsay Museum.  The day was beautiful and our stroll through the garden refreshed us almost as much as our lunch.
We were immediately impressed with the openness of the Orsay Museum.  Compared to the corridors and connecting rooms of the Louvre, the Orsay seemed straight forward and manageable.  Unfortunately, even our walk hadn't cleared our heads of the Louvre and the Orsay started with the disadvantage of coming second in the day.  Had we seen the collect first we might have counted it among our favorite experiences of the trip.  The greatest hits of the impressionists and post-impressionists were represented in impressive numbers. The galleries are astounding.  Given a fresh start and a full day we might have lingered.  There is such thing as an overdose of beauty and art.  We reached our saturation point before we reached the end of the Orsay collection and as a result we may have missed some of the museum highlights.  We did stick with Rick through out so I'm sure we didn't do the museum a total injustice.  Two hours was our limit for the Orsay and we were ready to see something besides art. 

We opted for military prowess and Parisian views instead and headed for the place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe.  The view and the history lesson were just what we needed to finish our sight seeing day.  From the Arc we took the metro back to our hotel and changed clothes for our dinner cruise.  We were looking forward to a delicious meal and sightseeing without walking.

Prior to our departure for Europe we had chosen a few special events.  These were things we were willing to pay money for over and above the normal expenses of sight seeing.  Our dinner on the Bateaux Parisiens was one of these activities.  We took the Paris Illuminations dinner cruise and it was magical.  The ship was beautiful, the food was excellent and the service was outstanding.  Best of all, there was no walking.  Choosing a boat for our expensive dinner out was perfect for us.  It insured that I got three solid hours to eat and relax with my husband and it insured that he was a captive audience.  It also took the stress of ordering away.  For the most part, meals in Paris didn't concern us but going to a fancy restaurant and ordering seemed challenging.  The boat menu made it painless.  We had four choices for appetizer, main dish and dessert.  All the choices were exceptional. 

Upon arriving on the ship we were delighted to be seated at our own table toward on the starboard side of the ship.  We weren't right next to the window but with all the glass we had beautiful views all around.   We were also a few tables from the center stage area so when the live entertainment, a singer and small band, began we were close enough to enjoy but not so close to impare our ability to talk.  We enjoyed a kir with sparkling Blanc de Blancs and mini-savoury breads while we waiting for the ship to get underway.  As appetizers we shared Royale of porcini and morel mushrooms and tender leeks in a creamy sauce and chilled king prawns in a creamy crab sauce. 

Cruising down the Seine River enabled us to see the sights we'd toured over the last few days from a different perspective.  The river and the evening lent a glow and glitter to the city outside our windows.   As it was a Friday night and the weather was beautiful it seemed that much of Paris had come out to enjoy a waterside picnic or stroll.  We departed the Eiffel Tower and traveled past les Invalides, l'Assemblee Nationale, le Musee d'Orsay ,  la Conciergerie and la Cathedrale Notre Dame turning back down the river at la Bibliotheque Nationale de France.  For our main dish we shared poached sea bass in truffle sauce and fillet of roast beef in Chateaubriand sauce. 

The singer and band provided entertainment as we traveled back toward la Tour Eiffel.  For dessert we shared mature Saint Marcellin cheese with young salad leaves and fresh strawberries and strawberry sorbet in a strawberry coulis. The music was a lovely backdrop to the view and the conversation.  The night darkened and it because obvious why Paris was called the City of Lights.  A beautiful city turned into something even more magical at dusk.  We traveled past Notre Dame and la Conciergerie on the opposite side then proceded on past le Louvre, la Place de la Concorde and le Grand Palais circling la Statue de la Liberte and returning to the Eirrel Tower.   The Eiffel Tower illuminated exceeded my expectations.  It was glorious and I couldn't get enough of the view.  We strolled from the boat under the tower and down the Champs de Mars.  We arrived at our hotel full of delicious food, beautiful Paris and thankfulness for the day.

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