August 18: Taking in some of Paris' "Greatest Hits"

It was slightly cloudy when we awoke this morning. Feeling confident that it would be a warm, breezy day, we headed out without jackets or umbrellas and we were right. It was the perfect day for touring Paris.

Studying the bus schedule carefully, we hopped on board the city bus with map in hand. The only problem was we went in the wrong direction to the end of the line. Thankfully the driver was very understanding and let us ride back the other way to get off at our first sight of the day, Notre Dame. Following an English tour guide inside, we learned that Notre Dame is 30 meters high. Surprisingly, for centuries no one paid much attention to its Gothic architecture until Victor Hugo's book was published.

Notre Dame is enormous inside. It holds 10,000 people and 50-75% of the stained glass is original. As we stepped outside the cathedral, we were amazed at the long lines to get in and especially to climb the tower which we had been hoping to do. Instead we visited Sainte Chapelle. Here there are two sanctuaries, one on top of the other. The upper sanctuary has stained glass windows that are a feast for the eyes. There are 15 panels of original glass with 1100 scenes telling stories from the Bible. We learned that what is believed by many to be the crown of thorns was once housed here. It is now in Notre Dame.

Just a short walk down the street is the Conciergerie. During the French Revolution it was a prison. The first room we visited which had been the guards dining room, was known as the cavalrymen's room. It's from the early 14th century and is the oldest surviving medieval hall in Europe. We also visited Marie Antoinette's cell which had the original wallpaper. The furniture there was not hers, but from that time.

Strolling past the Louvre we couldn't resist the urge to go in. Knowing that this is a monumental museum requiring many visits, we decided to just visit some of the highlights. The glass pyramid in front is actually a lot smaller than I thought it would be, but it's a grand way to make an entrance. Inside we sought out some of the major masterpieces of the western world. The Venus de Milo statue stood on a pedestal with adoring fans surrounding it taking pictures or listening to information on their audio-visual guide. We also saw Giotto's St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata. Tour guides stood in front of it talking softly so that only those wearing headphones could hear. Raphael's La Belle Jardinere was stunning and again it was easy to locate due to the crowd around it. The most crowded area was the gallery with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. It seemed so small compared to the size of the room. Also, given its enormous popularity, the Louvre has the painting behind a protective glass and prevents viewers from getting too close to the artwork. Still, people posed for pictures with it snapping pictures left and right.

The sun was shining brightly as we wandered through Tuileries Garden. All of the seasonal flowers were in full bloom and ducks floated gracefully in a man-made pond. Just up the path from the gardens is the Orangerie Museum. Here we saw 8 huge curved panels showing reflections of the sky, clouds, and willow trees on a pond with water lilies. Monet painted this masterpiece for the museum and they are so peaceful. As you admire the panels you can see the changes in the day from dawn to sunset. The Orangerie also houses an amazing collection of other fine works by artists such as Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso.

In the evening we took a cab across town to Notre Dame to hear a classical music concert. It featured a soprano, mezzo soprano, and the organ of Notre Dame. We felt so privileged to be able to hear the actual church organist play Bach and Mozart and his music reverberated throughout the cathedral. Back on Rue Cler, all of the cafes were in full swing and we felt very content after a busy day.


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