Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Paris 2011

Day 1 in Paris - December 26, 2011

After arriving bright and early at Gare du Nord on the Thalys high speed train, Mom and I hopped on the metro, which brought us closer to our hotel.  Not wanting to lose any sightseeing time, we hit the ground running, beginning our day with a trip to the Musée du Louvre.  Well, our real first stop was to a café called Tea by Thé for lunch, because going through a huge museum on an empty stomach is not really a fun idea.  At Tea by Thé, they had these really cool macaroon desserts that came in about ten different colors.  You shouldn't be surprised that I chose the pink one.  It was the pinkest cookie I had ever seen, and it was metallic.
Pink Cookie at Tea by Thé

My Louvre Ticket
We hadn't purchased our Louvre tickets ahead of time, but we used the time in line to take pictures of the glass pyramid in the courtyard.  The pyramid is the entrance to the museum.  As we waited, I remembered bike riding around the pyramid back in 2009 with Sima, Katie, and Beth.  When we got to the front of the line, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that as a resident of the European Union, my entrance ticket was free!  (Even though I still didn't have my Spanish residence card.  bureaucracy + siesta = no residence card)
Musée du Louvre - Glass Pyramid
"Mona Lisa" - Leonardo de Vinci
The first piece we went to see in the Louvre was, of course, Leonardo de Vinci's Mona Lisa.  In order to view the Mona Lisa, you have to struggle through a crowd of people who are all trying to take the perfect photo of the famous portrait.  No one wants to relinquish their spot, and there's lots of elbowing, but in the end, you get to see the Mona Lisa, and it's pretty fantastic.  Two things to note about the painting are that 1) It was the first portrait done with a landscape in the background, and 2) The subject's eyes seem to gaze at you regardless of where you're standing.  It's very difficult to get a good photo of this painting because it is behind a huge sheet of glass, and you can't get close to it.  Also, the lighting in the room alternately brightens and darkens every few minutes, probably for conservation purposes.

One of Michaelangelo's
Slave Scuptures
In addition to looking at the paintings and sculptures, it's important to look up at the ceilings in the Louvre.  The ceilings are painted, covered in gold leaf, and otherwise ornately decorated.  From there, we went on to visit Venus de Milo, the Nike of Samothrace, Michaelangelo's slave sculptures.  The Nike of Samothrace was actually what we first saw when we entered the Louvre because  the headless, winged sculpture is perched at the top of a long flight of stairs, which leads into the rest of the museum.  This is a great way to display the sculpture because it gives everyone a chance to gaze at the headless wonder.

Nike of Samothrace
Venus de Milo

That evening, we went to see the Paris Opera Ballet's rendition of Onéguine (Onegin).  This was the first time my mom and I had seen Onegin.  The plot was kind of like a soap opera.  We really enjoyed watching the dancers' clean technique and control, and were amazed by the unusual lifts in one particular pas de deux.  I love going to ballets!!!  The Palais Garnier was equally as beautiful as the ballet, thought in a different way.  In the Palais Garnier, a large theater with a comparatively small number of seats, we sat in the second row of a box in the third balcony.  We chose to sit so high up for two reasons.  My reason was so that we could have a raised view of the stage and appreciate the formations in the choreography.  Mom's reason was so that we would be closer to the ceiling, which was painted by Marc Chagall.  We nearly had to lean out of our box, and over the people in the box's first row, in order to see the ceiling, but it was totally worth it.  The elegant, showy theater has four balconies, lush red velvet curtains, statues covered in gold leaf, and an enormous chandelier.  Sounds like any nice theater, right?  Wrong.  The Chagall ceiling in the Palais Garnier shows scenes of dancers, musicians, a wedding, and more in vibrant colors that contrast with the style of the rest of the theater.  It's like a hidden gem.
Marc Chagall's Ceiling at the Palais Garnier
Another super cool thing about the Palais Garnier is that they sell glittery ballet shoes in their gift shop.
Ballet Shoes in the Palais Garnier Gift Shop

Day 2 in Paris: December 27, 2011

Eiffel Tower
View from the Trocadero
Our first activity of the day was to see the Eiffel Tower, one of the most popular attractions in Paris.  We had heard that the best place to view the Eiffel Tower is from the Trocadero, on the other side of the Seine River.  The view from the Trocadero is raised, which makes it easier to fit the tall tower into your camera lens.  I'm not sure if I'd say that the view from the Trocadero is the best, but what I would say is that since you are raised and farther away, the legs at the bottom of the tower do not look as wide as they would if you viewed the tower from the Champs de Mars at ground level.  We did both.  As we arrived at the Trocadero, we came around the corner and saw half the Eiffel Tower.  It was cloudy, so we couldn't see the top.  Even so, the Eiffel Tower was pretty photogenic.  However, we did decide not to go up to the top of the tower since we would have just been in a cloud.  It's would be like eating on the 95th floor of the Hancock building without the view.

Eiffel Tower - View from Champs de Mars
We snapped a few photos, ok a bunch of photos, bought a nutella crepe from the Christmas Market, and made our way over to the Champs de Mars.  As we got closer to the tower, we could see higher because there was less fog in the way.  
Making Nutella Crepes - Trocadero Christmas Market
The next stop on our itinerary for the day was the Champs-Élysées, one of the most famous shopping streets in Paris, and probably in the world.  We started out at the Christmas Market and bought a long baguette sandwich for lunch.  From there, we strolled down the fabulous street, and noted its similarity to Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile in Chicago.  Well, there is no Nordstrom on the Champs-Élysées, but it was still great.  We saw a variety of stores including Massimo Dutti, Zara, the Gap, Banana Republic, Chanel,  D&G, Fendi, etc.  We had heard that the Coco Chanel scent smells different in Paris, and wanted to check it out.
Shopping Buddies Unite!
Arc de Triomphe
Later, we walked to the Arc de Triomphe.  It's in the middle of a 5-lane roundabout, and we didn't want to run across the traffic to get to it.  That said, we were perfectly comfortable standing in the middle of traffic to get just the right picture of the Art de Triomphe.  Somewhere, there is an underground passage that takes you from the sidewalk to the monument, but we couldn't find it.  Back in 2009 I can't remember if we found the passage or if we ran across the traffic.  In any case, Mom and I took our photos, admired the monument from a distance, and decided to walk back to toward the Eiffel Tower.  So, we went back and took a few more photos.  At night, the Eiffel Tower is filled with lights.  Once per hour, extra lights come on, giving the tower the effect of sparkling.

Eiffel Tower at Night
Day 3 in Paris: December 28, 2011

Notre Dame
In the morning, Mom and I decided to go to Notre Dame.  When I was there back in 2009, there had been a mass in French and Latin in progress, and we got to observe part of it from the sides.  This time, during our visit, a choir began to sing.  Mom and I sat for a few minutes to listen.  One of the cool things about Notre Dame is that visitors are allowed into the cathedral during events like concerts and services.  Notre Dame comes to life when there's a service or a choir concert - it's more than a luxurious, gigantic building.  Notre Dame is active, and that makes an impression on the visitor much more than the vast emptiness of many other cathedrals.
Notre Dame
"Matching Hats"
After leaving the cathedral, Mom and I bought matching hats - the perfect solution for two lovely people who aren't exactly having the best hair day ever.  Following our mini shopping excursion, we headed over to the Musée d'Orsay, and waited in line, in cold misty weather, for about two and a half hours.  Finally inside, we saw one of the richest collections of impressionist work we could have imagined.  They had Monet's bridges, Van Gogh's sunflowers, several Renoirs, and much, much more.  While strolling through, we speculated about if we had seen any of these paintings during special exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago. At the National Gallery in London, I saw two of Monet's bridges, and one of Van Gogh's sunflowers.  The paintings in the Orsay were different though.  If I remember correctly, the Orsay had one of the sunflower paintings with a blue background, instead of yellow.  By the end of the impressionist floor, we were sort of on art-overload, and it was great!  
Musée d'Orsay
As we were about to leave for the second floor, we noticed another room we hadn't seen before.  I'm so glad we found it because there were many famous Degas paintings there, including "The Dance Class," one of my favorites.  His sculpture of the dancer, which we had previously seen on a special exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum, was there too.  Simultaneously, my mom and I wondered if someone had to re-tie the bow in her hair each time she traveled to a different museum.  We seem to have some ESP thing going on.  Either that, or we just think the same thing, phrased the same way, at the same time, about 10-15 times per day.  

Opéra Bastille
This is a view of the side of the theater.
Stage on the left, seats on the right.
Later that night, we went to the Opéra Bastille to see the Paris Opera Ballet perform Rudolf Nureyev's Cendrillon (Cinderella).  I loved the vision of setting the fairy tale in Hollywood and turning the ball into a movie set.  The Fairy Godmother is the movie producer.  I thoroughly enjoyed the corps pieces because they were very different than many I had seen previously.  The corps often danced in groups divided into trios instead of duets, which lead to creative, different sequences of movement.  Loved it!  Additionally, there were several corps pieces with all male dancers.  This was a welcome change from the traditional array of female dancers.  The evil step sisters were hilarious, and watching them made me realize that it's probably more difficult to do steps incorrectly (on purpose, of course) than to do them correctly after you have spent your entire life training to perfect your technique.  This was the least-fairy-filled ballet I have ever seen, and I really enjoyed the change.  It's always fun to see something different when it's accompanied by fabulous, technical dancing!

I want to thank my mom for this trip!  We had a great time traveling together!!  The next morning, we woke up super early and flew to Barcelona, which you can read about in the next blog post.  Happy reading!

1 comment:

  1. Your blog really helps me remember all of the wonderful things that we did together! I loved every minute of Paris.