Paris, Day 1
After such a wonderful trip to Rome, I had been looking forward to Paris during the time between these trips. My flight was a little later than the one to Rome, so I slept slightly more the night before. This turned out to be important, as I arrived in Paris in the early afternoon, meaning more time to start the journey through the "City of Lights."
The flights were just fine, although I had a short layover in Frankfurt and had to run to the gate to make the flight to Paris. Initially I was excited to see Paris-Charles de Gaulle/Roissy Airport; I recall a new terminal was opened in 2003 (and subsequently had ceiling tiles fall and kill 4 pasengers...) that received much fanfare at the time, even being used in a music video for U2. Imagine my surprise to find nothing of the sort upon departing the aircraft -- most of the decor consisted of bland, white walls and tiled floors, with strange moving walkways and escalators within tubes that crisscross like woven cloth. However, it was significantly easier to find my way to the RER, the regional transit system leading from the airport to downtown Paris (and beyond).
Annie flew into Paris-Beauvais airport, and landed an hour prior to my arrival, so I hoped we would have a similar chance encounter like we did in the Roma Termini station. As luck would have it, I exited the train station, and she was standing directly across the street! Fortunately, the hotel let her check into the room and get settled. As I checked in, she grabbed some sandwiches (most delicious!) from a street cafe down the block. The hotel was perfect -- a few blocks from Tour Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower), and just across the street from the subway station.
At this point, it was approximately 4pm, and so we decided to weigh the options. Musée d'Orsay (the art museum containing mainly French art from 1848-1915) was open until 8pm, and hence was the best option. We purchased the Paris Museum Pass here (similar to the Roma Pass), so we could skip ahead of lines for tickets. At this point, I was quite excited to enter, after hearing so many amazing things about both the museum itself and the collection within.
Immediately upon entering, my eyes shot skyward to admire the atrium ceiling, a glass-concrete canopy that once served as a former railway station. When its design became obsolete, Parisians had a choice on their hands: raze the building and begin anew with another station, or preserve the building for another purpose. After serving as a backdrop for multiple films as well as housing a hotel, the French government wisely decided to convert it to a museum. I easily could have spent a few hours exploring the building alone -- many platforms, side rooms, and intricate designs almost detract from the masterpieces it houses.
Utilizing an audio guide, we wandered the halls, mesmerized by the elaborate sculptures and magnificent paintings. I took photographs of just a few of the sculptures and none of the paintings; the experience of being in the presence of these works is simply too powerful to convey with a still, flat image. A few that stood out for me include Renoir's Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre, Van Gogh's Starry Night Over the Rhone (clearly!), and many of the multiple sculptures in the central display floor. The museum also has a charming rooftop patio overlooking the River Seine.
Leaving the museum, I was ready to explore Paris with Annie. Most of the museums were closed at this point, and it was still a little early for dinner. Strolling past the street vendors selling everything from miniature Eiffel Tower models to classic French literature, we strolled towards Notre Dame. It was after visiting hours, so I took a few pictures, then we continued on our stroll. The sun was just beginning to set, providing a beautiful backdrop for some photos along the river.
After a day of travel, a museum visit, and a long stroll, the next task was to find a restaurant. We were in an area that likely would be classified as a tourist area, so there were many, many options to chose from. We settled on Chez Clement, a cute little (well, actually quite large...) French restaurant decorated like a grand mansion. The menu offered a delicious-sounding prix fixe option, and we both had a 3-course meal with wine. A delicious, crisp salad, followed by a light fish plate with asparagus, and 3 kinds of sorbet for dessert made for a romantic meal. I must say, Annie's ability to speak and understand some French made both this meal and the entire trip incredibly better -- each and every interaction we had with the French people was so pleasant.
The searchlight atop the Eiffel Tower beckoned as we left the restaurant, and even though it was about a 2 mile walk from where we stood, I decided I simply could not wait any longer and had to see it up close. It was a clear night with an almost-full moon shining above us, and with each block I was more and more excited. Just as we reached the base, the flashing lights lit up the steel structure for 5 minutes, signaling the top of the hour (these lights go off every hour until midnight).
Exhausted but incredibly happy, we headed back to the hotel for some rest. I couldn't wait to wake up and see what the adventures of the next day would bring!
As you will come to see in my subsequent posts, this trip turned out to be filled with wonderful surprises and chance timing. On multiple occasions, we would stumble upon something amazing, simply by dumb luck. It was an unbelievable experience that I hope to relive sometime in the (distant, or maybe not-so-distant!) future.