I allowed myself a miniature sleep in, hoping I would start feeling better but I wasn’t so lucky. My cold persisted. I did the same deal with breakfast and lunch again and caught a bike back to the Louvre. The audio guide wasn’t included with my museum pass so I explored silently because I didn’t want to pay the EUR5. Good thing too, with everything written in French, I was not tempted to linger at every interesting painting and learn more. The Louvre is absolutely massive and quite a challenge to navigate. Some of the most impressive artwork is not in display cases, but on the ceilings throughout what once was a palace. I don’t think I saw a single plain ceiling, each open space overhead had at least one statue or painting emanating from what is really just there just to keep rain off your head and warmth in.
The once-palace housed dozens of exhibits covering the time span of all human history. I mostly got into the Egyptian stuff, but everything was interesting to look at. I made sure not to get too caught up in anything because I knew I would grow tired of it within a few hours. I strolled everywhere, always trying to keep track of where I was within the maze of corridors.
The highlight was Napoleon III’s apartments. These were the most grandiose rooms I have ever seen (not that I’ve seen many, but I’ve been to Downton Abbey and it was not as boisterous as these rooms). There was gold everywhere and the gaps were filled in by beautifully coloured carpets, curtains and cushions. My imagination took me back to the day when ladies would have sat to enjoy tea and appropriate conversation while the men huddled in small groups smoking and talking business. Oh to have a glance into their lifestyle!
Feeling like I couldn’t top what I’d just seen, I made my way back to the entrance where I had lunch and people watched. I didn’t have any more approaches from strangers remarking on my silhouette, so I made my exit. I walked across the river to the old Ile de la Cite to visit the Conciergerie and Sainte-Chapelle. The gothic architecture of the Conciergerie (a royal residence, turned court, turned jail) was awesome. Absolutely breathtaking in its symmetry as soon as you enter the main foyer. There were a few tight corridors which were difficult to navigate with the people moving around the space, but each of the cells were interesting to see. There was even a courtyard for female prisoners to take afternoon walks, as if this was a necessity for women in prison society! This place is most well known for housing Marie-Antoinette before her execution in 1793 and many of her personal belongings were on display here.
Right down the road was the Sainte-Chapelle where I think the security guard detected my growing annoyance at being amongst so many people because he asked if I was ok. Whoops, didn’t know I was wearing my heart on my sleeve, but it is true I was getting fed up with ignorant people with not spatial awareness so not making allowances for other people. When I entered the chapel, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, it was a small room not used as a church since it didn’t have any pews, instead it was lined with stalls selling souvenirs, so not the most traditional. Then I saw the stairs to the upstairs chapel. This was astounding. The stained glass windows must have been at least ten metres high and there were fifteen of them around the room, not including the giant rosette at the tip. They had information cards here so I could learn about how the windows are made and the stories they each told. All tales of Jesus of course.
I walked to the south side of the river to The Pantheon which is a temple and crypt for the rich and famous of French history. At the centre of the building was an engineering masterpiece. From the tippy-top of the dome there was a ball hanging and it swung in a very slow pendulum, keeping time on a dial fixed to the floor. My mouth gaped wide open. How did they think of this stuff! I also wanted to know how it defied the laws of perpetual motion, but I assume it would have to be re-“wound” eventually to keep the ball moving. Around the main hall were huge paintings and statues, all depicting images of Christ and the stories of the Bible. In the last two weeks, I have seen more depictions of Christ than I ever have in my life.
Downstairs, the crypt is a solemn place. The arched stone walls are dimly lit and the crypts provide a last resting place for those who had an impact on French history. Some were decorated with elaborate decorations of their life’s great successes, others with no ornaments at all. While you could walk in to see the tombs, I didn’t venture further than the crypt openings, I feel like it would be walking over graves.
It was time for a bike ride. I pedalled west over to the see the tomb of the great Napoleon. The building was hard to miss, it was the one that I had ridden past two days ago with its grand golden dome. Another security check, this time from fully armed guards with automatic weapons, and I was in the courtyard in front of the building. There were some miniature Christmas markets here, but I went straight into the building, up the red carpet in the middle of the stairs. I had no idea that the sole purpose of this building is to house the tomb of Napoleon and his friends (I assume they were his friends or other historical figures). It is crazy the size of Napoleon’s dedication. He is obviously a very celebrated figure of French history, I just didn’t realise he was that big of a deal. At first, I couldn’t believe how many candles surrounded each tomb and marvelled how not one of them was out. Eventually I figured out they were fake, but very convincing fakes, even close up.
It was 5:30pm and I was starving so I had a waffle with chestnut sauce from the Christmas markets in front of the Pantheon to tide me over. After that, I rode back towards the hostel Haussman Boulevard where I was meeting Gabriel, my friend who I’d worked with at Tesla in California. He’d left in December of 2015, so it had been a year since we’d seen each other. I was excited to catch up with him. Turns out we were meeting at his work building. When he came out of the entrance, it was surreal that we were together in Paris.
We walked the streets of the most expensive area in Paris, at the centre of which is the Opera building which is very grandiose and drew a crowd just by being there, all lit up. When I told Gabriel where I was staying, he informed me that I was in the ghetto of Paris, not that I’d noticed! Strange to think this is possible when it is so close to the fancy streets lined with shops and Christmas lights. After wandering the cobblestones, we ended up full circle and at a lively bar where we went in for a beer. Within minutes of sitting at a small table by the window, Gabriel looked across the room and saw someone he knew, so went over to double check it was him and say hi. Turns out it was a friend he hadn’t see in three years and who now lives in Australia. So great they could see each other, I was happy that I could facilitate their meeting! You can guess what we talked about as we drank our beers, catching up on old times and talking about the new. We were both very happy with our post-Tesla lives.
We called it a night before 10pm, both of us tired, me from being a tourist and Gabriel from a full week of work nearing holidays. I walked back out onto the streets while he stayed to reminisce a little while with his rediscovered mate. I smiled the whole way back to the hostel where I had a quick dinner and easily fell asleep, despite my blocked nose and sore throat.
France Fact #4: Even if the area around Gare Du Nord is the ghetto, it’s perfectly safe.