Paris is full of must-visit spots, and right up there is the Louvre, with its imposing glass pyramid and of course, the Mona Lisa. Then there’s the Arc de Triomphe, a bright, solid landmark in the center of a famous area and illuminated by the Champs–Élysées.
What can I say about the Louvre? It’s… intense. With only a day, most people would try to cram in whatever they can, or perhaps make a beeline for the Mona Lisa. I’m going to admit that I’ve never been particularly enamored with her, though we were no different in that we also only dedicated a day to this massive museum of art and sculpture.
Then again, as we experienced in Amsterdam, David and I can only absorb so much art before everything starts to blur and we get “museumed out.” In Berlin this was not an issue, because our experience with Berlin’s museums was a blend of historical and cultural, and we somehow mixed them up so that we sampled a good mix of everything.
So, the Louvre. Entry lines were long as far as we could tell, but we found that if you take the Metro to the Palais Royal stop, you can go through the Carrousel mall and enter the Louvre that way, instead of through the pyramid. Considering that it was a Saturday morning, we got through security in perhaps 15 minutes or so, and once inside, buying tickets through the self-serve machines was a snap (love my Chase Sapphire — no foreign transaction fees!). Admission is 15EUR (about $17 at the moment) for everyone, but hours vary and are worth checking before you go.
What next? With only a day, we had to choose which wings to focus on. I always love sculptures and Egyptian ephemera, but I’ve been to some excellent Egyptian exhibits elsewhere. The Louvre provides you with a map (and there’s an interactive one on their website) that talks about 8 collections. We found that it was easiest to choose one of the 3 wings to start with, and decide beforehand which wing we were least interested in visiting and so should leave for last (typically the Richelieu wing, which doesn’t hold any of the “big” art pieces).
The Louvre has an audioguide, available for a fee ($2.42 on Android). We had a guidebook with us as well. I suggest having something to discuss some of the more famous works, unless you know your way around art history. I also suggest just meandering along until something catches your eye, because there is definitely a lot to see, and in some areas, the styles are so similar between artists that some of their works, I felt, lost a little of their punch.
And, well, the Mona Lisa is small and rather dark, and there is always a massive crowd in front of her, trying to get in front to see. Potentially disappointing if your expectations are high. We did, however, thoroughly enjoy the painting across from her. The largest painting in the Louvre’s collection is a riot of color and character, quite a contrast from the small, solitary Mona Lisa: the Wedding at Cana by Pablo Veronese. There is so much going on in this painting that you could just sit there and try to focus on certain areas–the people above right, along the columns, the musicians trying to keep up with the party and each other, the dogs (one bored to death, the other seemingly in need of a drink and eyeing the wine being poured at bottom right), the cat messing with the vase in typical cat fashion, the wedding couple rather forgotten and bored-looking at bottom left. And then, well, there’s Jesus. Walk up close and look at the guy’s face. I think Veronese’s Jesus was an introvert, and was probably thinking, “Seriously, Mother? That wine was such a bad plan.”
We also liked the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It’s interesting because before and since, we had noticed that Victory or Nike is always depicted with such a pose. Venus de Milo also unsurprisingly brought about some thoughts on beauty and proportion.
Arc de Triomphe
We eventually got tired of walking for miles and miles in the Louvre, so we grabbed some dinner and then went to see the Arc de Triomphe up close– we had seen it from a distance atop the Eiffel Tower.
It stands at the center of 12 roads radiating outward. To reach it, you have to go through an underground path, near the Metro stop.
Essentially, the Arc de Triomphe is a war monument, built to honor the fallen of the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. Numerous reliefs cover the columns and the arch itself. The whole structure is a solid, squat monument. “Arch” normally conveys grace to me, but while there is an arch here, there’s more bulk and undeniable neoclassical presence.
You can climb 40 steps to reach the top of the Arc de Triomphe, and entrance is 8EUR for adults. We chose not to do this, having punished our feet enough that day in the Louvre.
After close examination, we walked down Champs–Élysées for some passing glances at some ultra-expensive shops. Tip: do NOT buy souvenirs in this area, or even the Eiffel Tower area. Your best bet is near the Notre Dame, where the variety and prices are much friendlier.
And that’s it for the grand monuments of Paris that we saw on this trip: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe. There was much more that I wanted to see, like Sacré–Cœur and Trocadero, which will have to wait for our next visit. However, we are not completely done with France! Next up, all the amazing French food. Believe the hype!