Friday, March 28, 2008

French Travel and Sights, Part Two

Here are the adventurers in our journey (this is us at Pierre's house, mentioned in a previous post).

This post covers Monday, March 17 through Wednesday, March 19. After having arrived at our hotel in Paris on Sunday night, we got up Monday morning ready and raring to go. I won't bore you with the details of every sight that we saw, but just the highlights along the way.

First we went to the Louvre, where we bought a museum pass so we didn't have to pay to any of the museums we went to while in Paris. For me I love them, because then every time we went to some museum or another I wasn't adding up in my head whether the short time we spent there was worth the Euros we paid. I think if I could do an all expense paid trip to Europe I would, because then I would know at the beginning how much money I needed, and could just pay it out all at once. My favorite (and practically only) sight-seeing I've done was on my Egypt study abroad back in Fall of 2004, where we did pay all up front. I never knew how much anything cost, from our trains/buses to hotels to food. And I loved that. Unfortunately, unless Avram gets to take a group on a study abroad at BYU to the Jerusalem Center, I won't have that experience again. Even then I may not have that experience; the one who arranged everything for our trips was our Program Director.

Regardless, there we were in the Louvre, at Avram's mercy. He was like a little boy on Christmas, so excited to see what he could. We went to the Egyptian part first, which had a nice selection of statues, but I have to admit I was disappointed a little in the exhibits. Of course, having visited a larger selection of Egyptian artifacts in my life than any other form, I suppose I'm a little hard to impress in this area.

We also went to the paintings sections that day. Of course, there are a lot of good paintings in the Louvre (duh.), and we enjoyed the renaissance and medieval ones a lot. In fact, we saw on Madonna and Child that looked as if one of our dear friends had posed for it. Any guesses who? Unfortunately, they''re in the same larger hall as the Mona Lisa (she hangs in a separate room off of it), and so the whole time we were in that section there were huge crowds flowing towards that Painting, completely neglecting any art that might have happened to be in their way, and then afterward directly leaving the area. Nothing against Leonardo Da Vinci, or that painting, but having seen it (admittedly from many feet back, over all of the heads that were stationed around it, probably a 100 at least), I don't think it's really worth only seeing, or worth more than most of the other paintings I saw. I know that many people like to see the most "famous" things in museums, and certainly the Mona Lisa is that for the Louvre (I will refrain from making jokes about The Da Vinci Code at this point), but it still bothered me. It reminded me of when I visited the Smithsonian, and among many other items saw the Hope Diamond. It was in its own separate room, on a rotating pedestal, and there were many people gathered around it taking pictures. When it was finally my turn, it was just a big blue diamond. I'd seen better specimens along the way (in the gem rooms; I love looking at gems).

We did our fair share of famous gawking, like when we saw the two slave statues done by Michelangelo, or Charlemagne's sword. And we were prepared to do the same for the Code of Hammurabi; unfortunately they had moved it to the special Babylon exhibit, and left only a small picture in its place. Although for the last two examples there weren't any crowds at all; in fact, there were hardly any people at all. That's a funny thing about the Louvre; some parts are chock full of crowds, and people, but then there are huge sections, like the Medieval Objects d' Art that were almost completely empty. We liked those places the best.

Lydia actually appreciated the Louvre (when she wasn't tired or sleeping) a lot; but not what most people came to see. In the picture (being held by her Papa) she's not asleep, she's staring at the ceiling. She couldn't get enough of the baroque ceilings, with their carvings and paintings, and spent a lot of time pointing them out to us, with commentary like, "Mama! Baby!"

We spent the most time in the Louvre in Paris, going back on Wednesday as well.

Another highlight on Monday was the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I wasn't prepared for how spiritual I would feel in it. We filed into the darkness and silence, and I almost started crying it was such a religious place. Which is weird for me; I don't usually cry at religious things. It's a good thing that we weren't supposed to talk, really, because I think I couldn't have managed it anyway. They had a treasury in there, where among a lot of reliquaries (various items where bones/and other pieces of saints are stored; a saints body is supposed to have power in it's very parts, and so, both in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and in Islam bits of saints adorn many objects and places. The oddest one I saw was in the Louvre; a medieval crown that behind the clear gems were slivers of bone from a saint.) were some amazing ceremonial robes. The most amazing thing about them were their embroidery. There were many people embroidered on these (saints, Christ), and the amount of detail amazed me.

Lydia's highlight of the whole trip happened Monday as well, when we stopped by a Carousel, and her and Avram rode it. Avram absolutely loves carousels, and so he went with Lydia. Before it took off Lydia explored every possible option of riding, from a model of a Renault car form 1900 to small and large horses. They ended up on the balcony of the carousel for the actual ride, and apparently she just loved it. She waved to the crowds (although never on the side I was on with the camera), and went "Wheeeee, Wheeee," over and over.

Monday evening we ended up at the Arc d' Triumph that Napoleon caused to be built to celebrate his military victories (although it wasn't even finished until long after his loss and death). We could see Paris from the top, and it was a neat little museum, but the best part came completely accidentally. Below the Arc France has its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, with an eternal flame they relight every evening. As we excited the Arc it seemed as if a special one were being done; there were barricades up around it, and policemen scattered about. We decided to stay and watch it, and indeed it was unusual. Now, we're not quite sure what the ceremony was for, but there was the Legion of Honour, with old veterans from different Legions, and there were military groups, and flag holders, but most unexpectedly of all, the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy was there. I even have a bad picture of him; he's the one standing to the right of the man signing the book (it was getting dark, so I'm sorry for the low quality of the picture). (Also, it's your right as you face the screen; it was the book-signer's left). We watched the ceremony, and the singing of the Marseilles (which I found very moving, although I felt a perennial difficulty of knowing what to do with my hands, since the left one kept on wanting to cover my heart, but apparantly this isn't done in France as no one else was doing it).

In America I'm sure that if the President were at an activity, they never would have let gawking foreigners watch it was from about 15 feet distant, but I'm glad that they did; this one ceremony, although I'm not completely sure why it happened that day or what it was for, meant more than all of our sight-seeing put together. I think because I can always come back and see more of the Louvre, or more museums, but you can't put a glimpse into another country's patriotism and war memorials into a display.

As the President Sarkozy also dedicated a memorial for World War One at Napoleon's tomb on the same day, March 17, I can only presume that it was a continuation of that. More than at any other time in my life I've felt like In France I've partaken of unique cultural experiences while having no idea what was going on.

I know that the French aren't particularly celebrated for their military victories and prowess, but as I stood there on that cold Monday, I realized that this didn't in any way lessen the individual bravery and resolution of the soldiers who have fought for France in WWI and WWII. One of the flag holders had a metal leg and arm; it looked as if he had lost half of his body in WWII. Other ones walked with limps, while on others no obvious physical injury showed. But all had fought for their country. If nothing else from my trip in France, I feel like I've come home with a greater appreciation of France as a nation, both on an individual level, from all of the wonderful people that we met, to its highest and most formal circles, as I saw at the Arc.

On Tuesday we saw Napoleon's tomb, which unfortunately didn't carry the same weight as the previous evening's experiences had. Part of this came from Lydia. After we had settled in (on the floor; there were no benches, and at this stage in my pregnancy I can't stand very long), Lydia looked around her for a bit, and then started whimpering and asking me for chocolate. She soon went hysterical, screaming and crying for some chocolate, pawing my coat and backpack looking for some. Avram and I were baffled; we don't make it a habit at all of carrying around chocolate, or any candy, for Lydia, and we weren't sure where she had even gotten the idea of chocolate. We weren't sure, that is, until we finally looked atNapoleon's tomb while thinking about this.It's a little hard to tell in the picture, but Napoleon's tomb is made of velvety smooth brown marble, that to a little girl could very well look like a massive, chocolate chunk made just for her. So we left the tomb and went next door to the cafeteria, where, being the indulgent parents we are, we bought her some peanut M&Ms. It wasn't a tomb, but it did satisfy her sudden craving, so all were happy. Lydia and I then sat there for the next hour, while Avram went back to the tomb, and then the museum store. That may sound slightly martyrish on my part, but honestly it was just nice to sit down for a stretch in a warm room, with Lydia being happy.

Wednesday we had planned to take the all night bus back from Paris to London Wednesday evening, never realizing until we began the trip that this meant we would have to check out of our hotel on Wednesday morning, and then carry our luggage with us around all day. Providentially, a second cousin that my Mother had never met had recently been in contact with her over genealogy, and it turned out that she and her son and daughter-in-law were coming to Paris for eight days, and arriving on that very Wednesday. They had arranged to meet at the apartment that our cousins were renting very near the Louvre. So one Wednesday around 12:30 we showed up outside the address of the apartment with all of our luggage, hoping that they would not mind too terribly much if we asked them to hold our luggage for us until the evening, when we could retrieve it and go home (we wanted to go to the Louvre a second time). A man approached us, in charge of the building , who at first thought that we were these cousins, and then when he realized that we were waiting for them too, he let us in to wait for them inside. He was understandably confused as to why we were loaded down with luggage though (especially because it was a one bedroom apartment; definitely not enough room for seven adults and a two year old to stay), but didn't seem to mind, and I think he finally understood that we weren't planning to stay there, but were just meeting for lunch...with all of our luggage.

The landlady over the apartment, waiting for these cousins to arrive as well didn't comprehend nearly so well. Because they were late on arriving from the airport, she assumed that we were them, and proceeded to give Avram the grand tour of the apartment, and then started asking him for the deposit of 500 Euros for the week. Avram and Don tried explaining in French, but she either didn't care or didn't understand. All she knew was that the other Americans weren't there, we were American and were, and had luggage with us, so it looked like we were staying, and she didn't want to wait around any more and so wanted her 500 Euro deposit. Avram got so embarrassed and awkward in this that he came down to the main waiting place to avoid any more contact, while Don continued to try and placate her. Thankfully just a few minutes later, at around 1:10 the cousins arrived, the Landlady got her Euros, and most wonderfully of all they didn't mind (at least not so we noticed) us stashing our luggage in their home.

We all went to lunch, had a good time, and once again had a unique travel experience to bring home. I think that travel in the end is probably much more about these type of mind-broadening (ie, awkward at the time, but interesting to look back on) moments, and less about what you see. Of course, we did see some pretty neat things, and I didn't even mention the Rodan or Orsay (Impressionist Paintings) Museums, nor the Cathedral of St. Denis that Avram and my parents went to (I stayed home with Lydia. She had been a trooper throughout the trip, but had gotten fevers every night, I think because of teething, and so was continuously behind on sleep. On Wednesday morning she fell asleep during our morning scripture study, right before we were going out to see the Cathedral, which was only a five minute walk from our hotel (an unusual thing; we were in the far northern "ethnic" parts of Paris), and so we could see it Wednesday morning, and then return and check out in plenty of time. So I ended up staying and napping with her, while they went. I'm glad that we let her sleep; it helped with her mood the rest of the day).

So that was our trip; we had an uneventful trip back home (although be forewarned if you take a night bus from Paris to London, you'll spend most of the night awake, because the bulk of the trip time-wise is spent either waiting to get on the ferry, on the ferry (where you can't stay in the bus), or in customs surrounding the ferry, none of which are conducive to sleep.

So there you have it. A good trip; although tiring enough that we only went to see Oxford around here, and sent my parents without us to London, and just stayed home and rested ourselves.

(I just have to tell you, at church in Lille the sacramental bread was baguettes, and it was the most amazingly good tasting sacrament I've ever had).


  1. I want to go to the Louvre so bad! Not to mention the Rodin museum...and Notre Dame.

    I didn't know Avram liked carousels! I love them too, always have. And Lydia is right, choosing where to sit is the most important part. But I always choose a horse...and give it a name, sometimes :D I've always been horse-crazy.

  2. Oh, my gosh, it does look like chocolate, doesn't it? That never even occured to me.

    It is so cool that you got to see M. le president! Absolutely freakin' fantastic.

    Was that carousel the one right next to Notre Dame? I seem to remember seeing one there . . . the geography's all kinda wonky in my head now.

    Poor Avram and the 500 Euros . . .

  3. The Rodin we saw at my insistance, and it was worth every second of the time we spent there. But I found it even harder to spend much time there than in the Louvre: one's spirit can only stand so much! Good news Althea! There's another Rodin Museum in the US; I believe it's on the East coast. La Belle Heaulmiere is there. Darn it! I was hoping to show her to Barbara.

    Yes, Rosee, the carousel is the one you remember, just outside Notre Dame.


  4. After the concierge (director) of the apartments understood that Barbara really was meeting her long-lost cousin in Paris for the very first time, on the only afternoon that both would be there, ahe cried, and said OF COURSE we could leave our bags there, before the family had even come! (They did show up about five minutes later.) Proverbial French sentimentality!

  5. I remember when studying Rodin that, while the sculptures were wonderful, I had the feeling that one had to actually see them to really understand what everyone was raving about. (The same idea with Bernini, whose stuff I must see at least once.)

    Well maybe Samuel and I can make it to the museum in the U.S.!