Christmas in Paris came and went almost like a roller coaster, fast and exciting and when it was over, we barely realized it had happened. But we formed memories more reminiscent of an easy-going carousel, images from the day slowly coming into view three weeks later during euphoria-inducing daydreams and then temporarily fading away as new recollections appear and spin round and round in my head. After Christmas, we still had another full day left in Paris, and among other touristy sights that remained elusive of our gaze, we had not yet seen the cultural icon of Paris: that iron lattice that slashes clouds as it extends toward the sky, marrying industry and art with its metal framework so attractively fused and raised. It was, of course, the Eiffel Tower that remained on our Paris to-do list.
First, though, comes the most important meal of the day. We indulged a little for breakfast that morning. Raspberry sherbet, tart and icy, topped with bubbly sparkling wine (not champagne, in strict adherence to appellation law) made for a morning treat that can be justified when vacationing in a place like Paris. With an elated feeling due to either the bubbles from the sparkling wine filling our head with air or (more likely) our slight inebriation, we boarded the Metro and found ourselves on the bank of the river Seine, its muddy waters reflecting the gray sky above. Long riverboats were docked along the embankment. The Eiffel Tower crept into view with a bronze point towering over barren trees and baroque buildings. The soaring structure made it simple enough to find our destination. Under the light of that cloudy day, it was not quite the gilded feat of engineering that is usually portrayed in photographs and paintings but more of a steampunk chocolate color. It was still undeniably impressive; maybe even arguably more interesting. The tower was even bigger than I had imagined, and as we stood under it, I thought how easily this masterpiece could be confused with any old crane or industrial-era piece of construction, but there was something about the curved foundation and cross-hatched metal, resembling the inner workings of old machinery without gears and levers, that gave it an unquestionable appeal.
A park bench was an inviting spot for a picnic next to the Eiffel Tower. We split a sweet but slightly salty wedge of Gruyère cheese, paired with juicy slices of deli meats and a cheap French red wine. Pigeons hopped around, pecking at crumbs. Other tourists mingled in the area, snapping photos of the eminent landmark in front of us. We had our fill of cold cut chicken and creamy cheeses and decided to go exploring through the area. Across the street from the tower, an open courtyard called the Jardins du Trocadéro provides an excellent vantage point of the tower, and so we climbed the steps to take in the view. We had spent most of our trip thus far taking photographs with an outstretched arm, snapping selfies that might not capture what our eyes saw. For this picture, I wanted to get a good shot, and in broken French, I asked a man with a backpack filled with camera equipment if he would take a picture for us. He agreed and instantly, his photographer training kicked in as he had us pose holding hands, smiling at one another, and leaning in for a quick kiss. We both giggled as he told us how to gaze lovingly at one another for the camera. He had Kierstin foot-popping as we smooched, just like the dame and hero always do on old classic TV shows. We could barely hold still long enough, shaking with laughter. It was incredibly fun, and strangely, something that you would never expect to happen on a vacation, but something that we will remember forever.
We made a quick stop back at the apartment before jumping back on the Metro to visit Notre Dame. The cathedral epitomizes French Gothic architecture. A thin spire points upward like a needle over the main cathedral. Stained-glass windows, sometimes cloistered and sometimes with ornate, flowery patterns, decorate the building’s walls. Angled buttresses prop up the cathedral, providing structural integrity, but also adding to the architectural beauty. Two rectangular towers with narrow pointed arches further capture the Gothic feel. The line to enter the cathedral stretched through the courtyard, and we chose to just walk around the outside as the evening darkened the grey sky. The chilly air persuaded us to purchase a hot cup of cocoa, and we sipped our warm beverage and marveled at the building as green and orange hues illuminated the outside walls in the Paris night.
Notre Dame was just a quick stop on our way to the Louvre. I did a little research before visiting, and I discovered that if you are under 26, the Louvre is free from 6 PM until closing on Friday nights. Paintings, sculptures, and artistic collections, and all for free; there was no reason not to go! We navigated through the streets of Paris, again without our crutch, trying to make sense of the tiny screenshots of maps on our phones. We were searching for a glass pyramid, but we found ourselves in the center of a gigantic courtyard with a three story palace on any side of us. Undeterred, we kept walking until we finally saw the crystal clear glass panes, four corners coming to a point, framed by the arched breezeway we were walking under and highlighted by a twisting red light. The Louvre entrance, surrounded by placid fountains on either side of the path around the structure, could hide from us no longer. As it turned out, we were at the Louvre the entire time! Of course, that would have been more obvious had I known at the time that the museum was the largest in the world, covering over 650,000 square feet of Parisian soil. The typical portrayal of the Louvre as just a glass pyramid can’t encapsulate the entire edifice that surrounded us; we marveled at the architecture outside as we waited in line, entranced by the art before we even entered the museum.
Since our ticket in was free, we had no sunken costs weighing us down, persuading us to hurry through the exhibits and see as much as we could. Once inside, we wandered leisurely, not really sure what we were looking for or, sometimes, not even sure what we were looking at. There were giant statues of hunters and warriors and wrestlers; we walked through the ornate bedroom and lavish dining hall, both filled with golden chandeliers dripping with teardrops of crystal, plush red velvet couches, and incredibly detailed murals and rugs, once belonging to a Napoleon (not the Napoleon); and we found pottery remains millennia old. After having our fill of the random assortment of culture, I picked up a map and laid out a plan for seeing some notable exhibits. We first gazed upon the Code of Hammurabi, a stone pillar from the days of Babylon with pristine engravings that describe the law of the day, like how many gur of corn field laborers deserve (eight gur) or what to do if a son strikes his father (slice his hands off). We moved through ancient Egyptian history. There were preserved mummies, once mobile, bipedal, and fast-talking mammals now merely husks to be admired. It was truly fascinating. The celebrated pharaoh Ramses II greeted us from his stone throne in one of the galleries. The Colossal Statue of Ramses II commemorates his sixty-seven year reign of Egypt. What’s incredible is that it’s believed that the statue was modified to its current state; specialists have the tools to present evidence that shows how the smooth stone may have been re-worked over three thousand years ago.
We zoomed by intricate statues of gods and goddesses in various poses as we bee-lined for the Venus de Milo. Not being too much of an art history buff, I was slightly perplexed as to why this sculpture deserved more awe and fascination than any of the other white marble carvings. The others had arms, for one. Reading the information card, I learned that the difference was how the statue has withstood weathering, erosion, and all Mother Nature could bombard it with. The other statues were inspired by works similar to the Venus de Milo and created during the Renaissance period. In addition to praise for her beauty, art fanatics laud her perseverance. Venus was sculpted over 2000 years ago, then discovered nearly 200 years ago, and still remains an art icon today. Next up: the Louvre’s pièce de résistance – Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
Everyone always talks about how small the Mona Lisa is. I can imagine something so eminent being associated with something gargantuan. But I heard that so much, that I was expecting something smaller than a piece of paper. So for me, I was one of a few who thought that the Mona Lisa was larger than I pictured it. It was definitely interesting to see, something to look at and think about: how old it was, who the painter and his subject were, and what they were like. We turned around and saw a painting that had swallowed the wall behind it; the Wedding at Cana, the Louvre’s largest painting, told us a story. Such thoughtful detail – symbolism, positioning, and themes – for such an enormous work of art is a testament to the human ability. With sore legs, empty stomachs, and the night nearly over, we sought the nearest exit. Our boots splashed through puddles as we dodged raindrops falling onto the cobbled streets of Paris. Sadly, our adventures in Paris were ending soon, but it was not all bad news, only bittersweet, as we’d be arriving in Belgium the next day.