You can tell whether anyone posing in front of I.M. Pei’s infamous pyramid entrance to this museum actually intends on visiting based on one thing. Footwear. To try and pack in as much as possible of this museum you need your most comfortable shoes so forget Parisian chic and all that rubbish – just wear trainers for the endurance sport that visiting the Louvre actually is.
I’d planned to get to the Louvre as early as possible knowing there’d be a long queue for the entrance, however by the time my brother had spent an age arranging his hair in the bathroom and we’d dropped our bags off at the train station – the queue was already around two hours long. Whilst the museum is undoubtedly worth a wait this long, the Louvre was enveloped in an icy mist that gave the palatial complex a rather gothic feel and coupled with the sub-zero temperatures, the queue did feel an age.
Once inside however we immeadiately picked up a map and sat down to draw our route incorporating the highlights for my brother and some more obscure galleries for me. We were there for a whole day and only saw a small portion of the galleries despite neccessary military style planning.
For our first stop I took my brother to see the Venus de Milo. Crowds and crowds of people surrounded it and this is my problem with the idea of ‘highlights’ – often people just stare, including my brother and I, just because we’re told an object is important. Although apparently famed for its beauty, since this is definitely subjective, to me this statue seemed often less interesting than those tucked into the surrounding alcoves.
Quickly exhausted by the sheer mass of crowds we headed from classical civilisation to the empty galleries of the Levant and Mesopotamia. From one armless statue to another and this time without the surrounding selfie sticks yet personally this statue from ‘Ain Ghazal in Jordan is far more interesting. Yes, it may look like a crude figurine but this figure from the 8th century BC is one of the earliest examples of ritual figurative art. Whilst seemingly crude they originally wore elaborate costumes and wigs and had a complicated internal structure to support the weight of the dried plaster. I could go on… maybe because I once managed to write 2,500 words on them for a university essay.
Continuing through these galleries you encounter more amazing exhibits – the Palace Gates of Sargon II rivalling displays in Berlin’s Pergamon; Hamurrabi’s law code (the oldest deciphered law code in the world) and bizarre votive figurines, all completely free from crowds.
We then travelled forward a few thousand years in time, although only having traversed a few galleries to early French sculpture. Napoleon sitting up in bed crowned with laurels and crushing an eagle to a Neapolitan fisherboy strangling turtles. No subject is seeming too great or small. My personal favourite is the tomb of Philippe Pot, a Burgundian nobleman, notable for the ghostly life-like mourners, faces all completely shrouded. Although it’s closely followed by St George and a dragon nibbling his lance like a breadstick!
Bonjour mon petit pois!! Just after Christmas my brother and I headed away on a joint Christmas/birthday treat together to Paris. My brother had never been and I only visited once aged 9 but some memories are still incredibly vivid and others came flooding back during our three day trip. We essentially wandered around Paris for two days taking advantage of the EU members under 26 free entrance and spent another compulsory day in the Louvre.
Other than our occasional family holidays to Germany/Austria, my brother had never been abroad and also had no experience of long-distance coach journeys. His introduction to my second home – the departures area of London’s Victoria coach station – was not auspicious. We had chosen to travel on the busiest day of the year – the evening of the last Christmas holiday when sardines would have complained about the conditions, people spilling outside into the coach bays to not be suffocated by the sheer mass of travellers. After eight hours of bus and ferry travel later we arrived with a Parisian morning still enveloped in darkness.
Deciding to start exploring in this characterful area of Paris we headed towards the only purveyor of breakfast open at 8 in the morning. Having picked some relatively cheap but unusual pastries and ordering some necessary caffeine, I nearly had to be scraped off the floor, learning the lesson that whilst the patisserie may be cheap, apparently it is standard in Paris to charge €5 for a small mediocre coffee! But the pastries were just the sugar kick we needed before heading to our next destination..
Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Seeing as it was so early, Paris hadn’t come alive yet we decided to visit the dead. It would have been perfectly possible to wonder around this cemetery for hours with each corner having unusual tombs stones and the rising sun added to the atmosphere. Unfortunately though we were still encumbered by our joint suitcase and as Pere Lachaise is rather hilly, we eventually decided to cut our aimless wondering short to drop it off in a station locker before heading for the islands.
Walking alone the Seine toward the Ile de la Cite in the crisp winter morning air was pretty scenic and arriving at the myriad of statues and buttresses and all-round Gothic architectural beauty was undoubtedly a highlight of the trip even if the exterior has been etched in my mind for over a decade. We both really wanted to visit the gargoyles but with a two hour queue and so much of Paris to visit we headed off to possibly the greatest piece of architecture on earth.
Waiting in the hour long entrance queue that is the norm for any attraction in Paris and eating a balanced lunch of crisps and macaroons cobbled together from the bottom of our rucksacks, my brother asked whether the queue was really worth it .Little did he know. 20 minutes later and we were inside a place that (cliché warning) photos cannot possible do justice to. Saint-King Louis IX’s reliquary chapel for the “Crown of Thorns” is a place where I would happily just lie on the floor and stare at the windows and their amazing overall effect for hours. In fact one day when I care less about social propriety I probably will!
Sorbonne Quarter and the Pantheon Continue reading