March 15 – Paris
One feature that I think is characteristic of Paris is their roads meet at spectacular junctions or circles. It makes for great photography and I’m referring to cinematography as well. Of course Arc de Triomphe is the most famous of them, but there are so many more – though of a smaller scale – in and around Paris that still induce “oohs” and “aahs” from me. I remember telling Jean-Michel during our cheese dinner from the night before, that looking at the streets along La Seine, images of the news footage of Princess Diana’s accident and scenes from Bourne Identity come to mind. Call me shallow but that’s what I remembered while walking along these beautiful Parisian streets. Have I mentioned that European architecture is gorgeous? After Paris, the next place I absolutely have to visit is Prague. Canan said Prague is a place you just have to go once in your life.
First destination of the day was the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). It was a very foggy day and I was glad that I had gone to the Eiffel Tower the day before when the skies were clear. Navigating the map was a little tricky because I suspect the free map I had procured from the hostel’s reception didn’t include little streets and back lanes. I found my way soon enough and saw that MOMA shared a building with Palais de Tokyo.
The museum was quite small and didn’t have that many exhibits. One of the main exhibits was showcasing about fifty little sculptures made of plasticine and they were really intricate. No photography was allowed though. Anyway, no one spoke English at the museum. First, I tried to enter the plasticine exhibit area but that required an entrance fee whereas the rest of the museum was fee. The ticket attendant at the entrance was dressed as a security guard so I had no clue I had to buy a ticket. At the ticket counter, I had no way of seeing how much the ticket was until she punched it into the cash register. And then the funniest bit came when this little French African attendant pointed to my bag and I assumed she wanted to check my bag before I went in. But she took my bag and gave me a chip. Hmmm. I wasn’t going to stuff one of those plasticine figurines into my bag… Anyway, there were two attendants inside the exhibit area who watched everyone like hawks.
A foggy day in Paris.
Arc de Triomphe
At one of the most recognized spots in the world, I couldn’t ask for more. The Arc lies on a historic axis that leads to many things including the world famous boulevard, Champs Elysées, which I will get to in a while. The Arc is an architectural phenomenon, (to me at least), adorned with intricate carvings. There’s an underpass that brings you below the Arc. I can imagine how cyclists feel when they compete in the Tour de France because the Arc represents the end of their race. It’s a nice sight to behold. Anyway, finally I managed to find someone (a pretty American Chinese) who captured me and the Arc within the frame. You can take a tour of the interior and go up the Arc but I didn’t do that. Lots more pics at my online photo gallery.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where an eternal flame burns in memory of those who died in both World Wars.
Champs Elysées, the avenue of luxury brands, fashion houses, upmarket cafes and cinemas. It’s the French version of NYC’s Fifth Ave and London’s Oxford Street. Anyway here I was approached by a middle-aged Chinese couple. They came up to me, asked me where I was from and if I spoke any Mandarin. Turns out the guy is Singaporean and stays in Ang Mo Kio, the lady is his wife from China. Warning bells started ringing here. But he went on to ask me if I could do them a favor by buying an LV wallet for them. Apparently they had bought two already and that was the limit the salespeople would allow. They told me which one to buy and even gave me 450€ to make the purchase. The guy then said he would be waiting for me outside the store.
I was thinking that there shouldn’t be a problem at all. He was definitely Singaporean after all, and he did give me money. It wasn’t like fake money (but how would I know that anyway) and it only required some time and effort from me. I decided to do it, but while I was walking to the LV store, I called Jean-Michel and sought his advice. He too, didn’t think it sounded like a scam. Call it cowardice or good sense, but I decided not to do it in the end. I turned around and saw that they were about ten feet behind me. I returned the money and told him I was rushing off somewhere so I couldn’t help him.
Still replaying the incident in my mind, I ventured further along Champs Elysées in the direction towards the Louvre. On the left is a picture of the street with Arc de Triomphe at the end. You can just make out its shape behind the fog. I got a little hungry and it was lunch time anyway, but this was an upmarket area so lunch would have to wait. I walked towards Grand Palais. This trip was fast turning into a speed tour, where I just walked and saw the different places from their exterior because there was no time to explore each museum the way they deserved, plus I had to stop myself from spending unnecessarily.
I like it how the Eiffel Tower makes it into most of the photos without me being conscious of it.
I was conscious of it here though. I intentionally fitted the Eiffel Tower into this shot and also tried to have the Arc de Triomphe within the frame. Visibility is too poor to see it though. This is the Place de la Concorde, and the Obelisque, which was a gift from Egypt. The obelisque is one of three Cleopatra’s Needles, the other two residing in New York and London. This used to be an execution site where the guillotine stood and Queen Marie Antoinette was executed here.
Lunch was a hot dog baguette for 5€
Large pond and fountain at Jardin des Tuileries where I had my lunch
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
Musée du Louvre
So here I was. At the most famous museum in the world. This was a moment I never want to forget. Writing about it now makes me want to return to Paris. The museum was very modern indeed and very overwhelming. More than British Museum was. There were sections that led to more sections and you could get lost in there. Seriously. It just wasn’t possible to finish the Louvre in a day. You need at least 3-4 days for this spectacular museum alone. I was overwhelmed…
From the interior
Venus de Milo
Winged Victory of Samothrace
Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss
Art is cool. But too much of it gives me a headache. There’s just so much to take in and it’s best that you spread it out over 2-3 days. Photography was prohibited in certain sections of the Louvre and that included the area where Mona Lisa was housed. Honestly Mona Lisa was a lot smaller than I’d imagined it to be. Or maybe it was the most crowded section so that took away some of its splendor. Anyway, you can take an audio tour narrated by Jean Reno that guides you through the sections of the Louvre that were featured in the Da Vinci Code. I didn’t take the tour – partly due to the fact that I didn’t agree with what the book/film portrayed – commercialization and “Hollywoodification” wasn’t what I came to Europe for.
Notre Dame de Paris
The intricacies of Parisian architecture amaze me very much
Notre Dame is renowned for its French Gothic architecture
From Notre Dame, I found Rue de la Harpe, the little street that Rowie recommended for reasonably-priced restaurants. It was kind of early for dinner though so I walked along Boulevard St-Germain towards Rue Mouffetard – where I was searching for the Nicolsen Artisan Chocolatier, having been tasked by Rowie to buy hot chocolate powder and caramel dark chocolate sweets. Along the way I passed the Panthéon (left) where many bigwigs have been laid to rest – Pierre and Marie Curie, Alexander Dumas (author of The Three Musketeers), Louis Braille, and Victor Hugo.
Rue Mouffetard reminds me of Khao San, Bangkok. It is situated in the Latin Quarter, and is a lively street market. I was trying to book a hostel here but it was fully booked. Many young people in this area, probably because of the nearby universities. There are also all kinds of cuisines in the cafes and bistros here – I spotted a couple of Vietnamese restaurants. I managed to find the chocolatier and after some difficulty communicating with the saleslady, I managed to figure out what I was looking for. Also saw little shops selling all kinds of cheese/fromage. Also saw the roast chicken and potatoes that Rowie told me to try, but it looked so unhealthy. The potatoes were soaking in oil, which I presume is chicken fat.
Le Pret a Manger at Rue Mouffetard, the Indian owner made me take one of him posing even though I only wanted the sign..
I returned to Rue de la Harpe and chose a restaurant that offered 3-course meals at 13€. I had mussells in butter sauce for starters, steak in mushroom sauce for the main course and mousse au chocolat for dessert, with a half bottle of red wine. All that for 15€, and their service was pretty good too.
Feeling completely satisfied from dinner, and also happy that I had done most of what I set out to do in Paris (other than going to the Centre Georges Pompidou and Jardin du Luxembourg) in a short two day visit. I definitely have to come back here one day and I’m hoping not as a tourist, but with a job for maybe three years or so. I returned to the hostel intending to pack up a little and then head out again for night shots of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre but I succumbed to fatigue and slept through the night. Never mind, Rowie has them, so we can trade pictures. haha!