Monday, May 19, 2008

Day Six - Hanging out at the Louvre

April 28. We woke up early so we could be at the Louvre when it opened. There was a little bakery across the street from our hotel where we had lunch our first day and decided to have breakfast there. They had wonderful croissants and coffee and a place to sit and watch everyone else hurry off to work. I had always heard that everyone in France has cafe au lait in the morning, but I did not see it on the menu anywhere we ate. But they all had cafe creme, which is coffee with hot milk. I tried to have this every morning since it was so good every where we went. There was a small subway entrance just in front of the bakery and when we tried to enter through the turnstyle, it would not accept our tickets. Then we realized that the machines were broken and we could go through for free. We did this every morning we took the subway. My guess is that everyone who used this entrance was aware of it since we saw many other people go through. They were not about to report a broken turnstyle that was saving them money. I wonder if it has been fixed yet.

We were a little late for the opening, but were there a half hour after it had opened. The crowds had not yet arrived. When you enter the Louvre you first must go through the boutique section. It's like a mini-mall, but the stores were not yet opened even though the museum was. We had been there in 2001 with a tour and had the one-hour special highlight's tour. We needed more time and decided to spend as long as we could stand it. The tickets worked, we only stood in line for five minutes, and that's mainly because everyone had to go through a security checkpoint. If you have never been there, what is really interesting to see is the foundation for the old fortress in the basement. The fortress was built around 1190 and surrounded the city (which was much smaller then) to protect it as was the custom in those times. In 1358 Charles V built a wall around the fortress and made the fortress into his palace. Over time many other monarchs added to the palace until is grew become the building that is now an art museum. In the 1700's planning began to convert part of the palace into a museum for the pubic which opened in 1793. This started with just a couple galleries, but the French royalty liked building palaces and eventually moved out permanently. What I found most impressive was the different architectures, mainly inside the building. Each gallery was ornate and different from the next. No expense was spared, different colored marbles are everywhere along with mosaics, wood carvings, plaster mouldings, gilding, ornate brickwork, etc. The building alone with worth the visit.

We made our way to the sculpture garden then found ourselves in Napoleon III's apartments. These were truly grand as a ruler's house should be. We started with the dining room. Dinner for 50 was not a problem. Then moved on the grand salon which could fit just as many, then through the sitting rooms. I found these room not that different from Versailles. Same family, similar tastes. From there we wandered from gallery to gallery still impressed with the architecture.

We eventually found our way to the Italian paintings--this is where the crowds were forming. Many had come for one purpose, to see Mona. The painting is actually not all that big but commands its own separate wall in the middle of a gallery. The crowd is usually around ten people deep, but with perseverance you can make your way to the front and snap a picture. Picture taking is allowed in most European museums. There were areas where flashes were not allowed, but pictures without flashes were not a problem. Thankfully, this was the only section of the museum were there crowds were large. As afternoon came, there were more people in the museum, but nothing like the Italian galleries.

The museum houses a large collection of Egyptian, Greek and Roman scupltures and artifacts, but we only passed through these galleries. We totally skipped the Oriental, African, Asian and American art exhibits. Our interests were mainly Western European which was the main focus of the museum.

By 2 p.m. we were starving and found our way to the cafeteria and dining rooms. Our past experience has been that museums usually have fabulous cafeterias. The Louvre was a disappointment. There was their version of fast food which was prepared sandwiches on baguettes, a formal dining room which was too expensive and a cafeteria which would also make custom meals and was the one we chose. There were lines and it was somewhat expensive, but if you were patient, you could find something that looked good. I got a vegetable quiche, fruit and bottled water. Ken ordered something that took longer. Then there was the problem of finding a place to sit for both Ken and I. I eventually found a table that was clearing out and in a location that I could flag Ken down. It turned out that we were next to a couple from San Francisco. They were in Paris for a couple days then off to South Africa. He was very friendly and appeared to be quite successful, but she was too into herself. That's her with the red hat.

After a not that relaxing lunch, we ventured back to the galleries. I was ready to call it quits, but Ken wanted to get his money's worth. We found ourselves in the Greek sculptures and there she was, Venus. She appeared to be more important that Mona since she did not share a room with any other sculptures or art. In fact, she even had a long corridor leading up to the room she was located. We worked our way through the Roman sculptures, artifacts, mosaics and reliefs. There were no escalators or elevators, but staircases were everywhere. So we climbed our way to the Nineteenth century art on the top floor. This was somewhat of a disappointment since I had expected a larger gallery. There were only two Impressionist paintings. It turns out that most of the Nineteenth century artwork after 1850 was moved to the Musee D'Orsay along with art from other museums. I did not realize that the two museums were connected in that way. If you were looking for French paintings before 1850, then the Louvre was the place to be. Especially if you are a fan of Delacroix. His paintings were quite prominently displayed.

After we felt we couldn't absorb anymore, we headed for the exit and the museum shop. The shop is on two floors and filled mostly with books. I did pick up a book on the museum, but that was it. I wanted to pick up a scarf since the MFA in Boston and the Metropolitan in NYC have great scarves in their shops, but the selection was not that impressive.

I was glad Ken talked me into staying. We saw almost every gallery and did not leave until after 4 p.m. Thank God, I own comfortable shoes!

1 comment:

Lindsay T said...

I just love reading your travel diary. Thanks!