Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reflections on Paris

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Paris. We packed a lot into nine days: Paris staples (like the Eiffel Tower), tons of museums, Versailles, the list goes on. Our group of 13 also grew closer as we explored and experienced the city. We came back to Ambialet more tight-knit and united.

It is still sometimes hard for me to believe that France has been my home for almost two months now. Paris, with its familiar landmarks, really drove that point home. Our time here is really flying by, and it almost scares me, because I want to savor everything, to soak it all in and just enjoy it, but sometimes it just falls through my hands, into cracks, never to be seen again.

I think the fast pace of city life has something to do with that. We were always doing something in Paris, walking from one place to another, moving from one activity to another, taking the metro and making transfers, so it was semi-overwhelming. When the end of our trip rolled around, I was definitely ready to leave and return to the nice, slow pace of life here in Ambialet. Being sick probably had something to do with that, too. I wanted sleep and rest, but being in Paris, you always felt like you had to be out in the city, experiencing all it had to offer; staying in wasn't an option.

I'm looking forward to our next trip--there should be warmer weather and hopefully we'll all be healthy for the whole of the trip. I felt like such a nuisance, walking around Paris, blowing my nose every five minutes, haha. Thankfully I'm finally feeling better now, though! :)

Last day

On our last morning in Paris, Lyndsay, Owen, Matt, Leah, Chelsea, and I visited the catacombs of Paris. It was a short 10-minute walk from the FIAP.

The catacombs are an underground ossuary, a receptacle for the bones of the dead.

We had to navigate dark, underground tunnels before we reached the bones.

It was kind of creepy, but definitely worth seeing.

Then, after lunch, we headed to what we thought was a science center. Look at the building, it's all techy-looking, isn't it? Well, we headed inside only to find out that it was a museum.

...A modern art museum. It was kind of a letdown, especially since we were all museum-ed out and were expecting a science center. But we made the most of it and walked around for awhile, before leaving to enjoy one last Paris crepe and take a peek into yet another church.

Rodin and Salinger

The day after we visited Versailles, we went to the Rodin Museum. Auguste Rodin was a famous French sculptor.

His most well-known work is probably The Thinker. The sculpture is situated outside, a dome adorned in gold behind it.

Upon getting a closer look, you could see that it is truly a masterpiece. Portraying a man deep in thought, it is not hard to see why this figure is often used to symbolize and represent philosophy.

Inside the museum, there was more artwork to admire and appreciate. I especially loved the sculptures Rodin depicted of hands. I think the Rodin Museum was my favorite museum we visited. Its size and the scope of its collection wasn't entirely overwhelming or overpowering. Also, the majority of the pieces were sculptures, a refreshing change from the paintings we had been practically overloaded with at the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay.

Next, we visited the workshop of Schlomo Salinger, a prominent sculptor and Holocaust survivor.

His experience in the Holocaust often acts as a catalyst for his artistic endeavors. Above is his depiction of his concentration camp.

He was truly an inspiration and we were so appreciative of him for letting us into his home and workshop. Before we left, he told us that he wished us a good life and asked that we make the best of it. He was a very nice man who seemed happy to have us visit. You'd think a famous artist like him would dislike having such an imposing crowd in the personal space where he lives and works, but that wasn't the case at all. I'm so glad we got to meet him and I will definitely take his words to heart.


I was really excited for our visit to Versailles. It was hard for me to believe that I would be walking the same halls of a palace that has housed famous figures I've learned about such as King Louis XIV.

To get there, we had to ride the metro to the train station, then take a train to Versailles. It wasn't a long train ride, but we seemed to be going so slow! There were a few stops between the station and Versailles, so maybe that had something to do with it.

The palace is just massive. Gold trim and decorations are everywhere.

The Hall of Mirrors wasn't quite what I expected it to be. It was grand and opulent, crystal chandeliers running the length of the hall, the windows on one side spanning the the height of the wall, with the little light of the day reflecting in the mirrors on the opposite wall. But when I went to get a closer look at the mirrors themselves, they were extremely dirty and dusty. It was surprising; I don't know if we were there on a bad day or what.

This bust of Descartes really brought back memories of the European History class I took my senior year of high school. We spent a great deal of time studying the Enlightenment, an 18th century movement which emphasized the ideals of reason and progress, among other things. Descartes was a philosopher and mathematician who contributed greatly to the movement. He is known as the Father of Modern Philosophy, as well as the Father of Analytical Geometry.

After exploring the palace ourselves, we dealt with an inefficient lunch line (lots of customers, not a lot of workers manning the cash registers) which forced us to gobble down our food in literally two minutes, because we had a private tour to run to. It was an interesting tour; we were able to go into the chapel and visit the King's quarters.

After the tour, we ventured outside to see the gardens. It was kind of a dreary day, very windy and cold, plus I was trying to fight off a sickness. Needless to say, I was ready to head back to the FIAP as soon as possible.

Nothing was really in bloom since it's still technically winter, but we talked about coming back to Versailles during our next trip to Paris just to see the gardens. By then, it should be a lot warmer, and hopefully, a lot prettier.

You can see the bones of what the gardens contain, and I think it will be a beautiful sight to see in warmer weather, with greenery and flowers flourishing in the warmth.


Montmartre is a district in northern Paris. The Basilica of the Sacré Cœur is situated on top, at the highest point in Paris, and from here you can see all of Paris at your feet.

We had to walk up a lot of steps to get to it!

I thought the basilica was such a pretty display of architecture, with pure white domes and points extending into the sky. I wish it had been a nicer day. A little bit of sunshine would have done us all some good. A few of us were starting to get sick--I vividly remember feeling a sore throat coming on as we observed the foggy urban sprawl before us.

A nicer day would have also given us a better view! After appreciating the view, Gerry took us on a little tour of the area. There were lots of artists painting local sights and drawing portraits of tourists. We passed many shops, creperies, and restaurants. I stopped and had a gelato, and it was AMAZING. Soooo good!

There were a lot of cool treasures everywhere you looked. The entire area just has a hugely artistic and creative atmosphere.

We returned to Sacré Cœur and got a charming view of it from the bottom of the hill. It was very pretty and picturesque.

Next, we ventured off to find Moulin Rouge in the Red Light District of Paris, on a street lined with very provocative shops and clubs. We didn't spend too much time there, just posed for a few photos and headed back to the FIAP to rest up before dinner.

Medieval Musuem

After visiting Saint Séverin, Cat, Eric, Matt, Ian, and I went to a medieval museum in the Latin Quarter.

It was a nice change of pace from the usual art museums we had been visiting. The things contained in this museum were mostly relics from the middle ages--fabrics, tapestries, ceramics, religious artifacts, ironwork, and stained glass. There were paintings and sculptures, also, but by this point in our trip we were reaching museum overload and I think we all appreciated the more historical aspect of the collections, rather than the pure artistic elements we had become accustomed to examining.

There were two rooms in the museum devoted to stained glass. The walls were covered entirely in stained glass. It was my favorite part of the museum. I just love how the colors become so vibrant and spirited as light shines through the window.

A lot of us had been wanting to find some reading material, but obviously most of the bookstores around here sell books that are written in...French. But we were told that there is an English bookstore called Shakespeare and Company in the Latin Quarter, so after visiting the medieval museum, that's where we headed.

I was in heaven as I browsed through the book selection there. It's weird, but it was oddly reassuring to see books with titles written in a language I could understand, and when I picked up a book to flip through it, I was almost comforted by the English I saw. I guess I'm just used to seeing things written in French now, and although I try to decipher what I read, I'm not always entirely successful. So it was nice to feel at home again, if only for a few moments, even though I'm an entire ocean away.

I was debating between buying A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway or Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. In the end, I went with Everything is Illuminated, because it was the cheaper of the two. I'm saving pennies where I can, haha.

Three churches

We started out earlier than usual on Sunday, leaving FIAP (the international dorm where we stayed) around 9:30 in the morning. First on the agenda was a visit to Sainte-Chapelle, a Gothic cathedral.

Inside, it was stunning. These pictures do not do the stained glass justice. The gorgeous windows reached lofty heights, giving the chapel a grand presence. As the morning sun flooded through, the colors came alive and it was just beautiful.

Next, it was onto Notre Dame de Paris for Sunday mass. It was an international mass, so there were many different languages used--there was one reading in English.

It's so pretty inside the church, with the standard stained glass, high, ribbed ceilings, and the chandeliers all aglow.

The outside is just as impressive, with decorative gargoyles and chimeras everywhere you look. What made it even nicer was that it was turning out to be a gorgeous afternoon, the sky a splendid blue.

After mass, we walked across the river toward the Latin Quarter, where we would enjoy a couscous lunch. Looking back, we got a nice view of the flying buttresses on the side of Notre Dame. These buttresses act as arched exterior support, taking damaging weight off the thin, high walls of the cathedral.

After a delicious lunch, it was onto Saint Séverin, also in the Latin Quarter. This church is famous for its center pillar, which is in the shape of a palm tree.

I will never tire of stained glass... The stained glass in this church was really interesting, because there were both ancient and modern windows to admire.

Simply magnificent! :)

Musée d'Orsay

After our night on the town, we visted the Musée d'Orsay the next day. Most of the museum's holdings are French, masterpieces by Monet, Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, and more.

The Musée d'Orsay used to be a train station. There was a beautiful ceiling design between arched skylights, and so natural light streamed in from above, enveloping the main corridor in a soft effulgence.

At one end of the museum, there was a hugely ornate clock, adorned with gold decorations along its edge. I thought it was absolutely exquisite and beautiful.

The museum boasts an extensive collection of Impressionist works, as well as other paintings, sculptures, and photographs. As I walked through the museum and took in all the artwork, I wasn't as distracted as I had been at the Louvre. The Musée d'Orsay seemed to be much less imposing on the senses, which allowed me to view the works on my own terms, without being disturbed by a huge crowd or the noise that comes with it. All in all, it was a nice, quiet day, just what we needed after a tiring but fun night.


We couldn't visit Paris and not dabble in the nightlife there. So, when Friday night rolled around, we headed to the Duplex discotheque. The club is near the Arc de Triomphe, and we got a beautiful look at the monument, with the Eiffel Tower shining in all its glory in the distance.

We had heard that Duplex was a four-story club with different music on each floor. The group of us that left for the club earlier in the night lucked out--well, just the girls at least--because we were expecting to pay anywhere from 20-25 euros just to get in, but girls ended up getting in free. We were pretty excited about that, haha.

When we first got there, the club was fairly empty, especially compared to the flood of people that crowded the dance floor by the end of the night. Whenever we wanted to move to a different place, we would all hold hands and there'd be a whole line of us meandering our way through the mass of people, trying to fit through openings that were sometimes entirely too small to fit through, haha.

The night flew by, maybe a little too fast--we were having so much fun. I was so surprised when I found out that it was almost 4 in the morning as we were leaving. We made our way back near the Arc de Triomphe and got a taxi on the Champs-Élysées. When all was said and done, I didn't get to bed until 5am, but luckily we didn't have an early wake-up call, so we were able to sleep in.

The Louvre

A trip to Paris would not be complete without a visit to the Louvre, the largest museum in the world.

Formerly a palace, the museum is just massive. We were only in one little part of it, and even that was a little overwhelming. There were works of art as far as the eye could see, paintings in elaborate frames, sculptures along the walls, pieces encased in glass. Something would catch my eye, but when I walked toward it to get a closer look, I would be distracted by something else on the way there. It was remarkably hard to focus because there was just so much to see, so much for my eyes to take in.

Of course, one of the main attractions is Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. She is situated in a room off the main corridor of the Denon wing, hung on a half-wall by herself, covered by glass. Unlike the other art pieces we saw, the Mona Lisa was center stage, no other work competing with her. It was almost unreal to be standing before this world-renowed painting that I have learned about in practically all of my history classes throughout the years. She was smaller than I expected her to be, but that didn't detract from her artistry.

As would be expected, there was a large crowd clamoring to get a look at Da Vinci's masterpiece. We were literally elbow to elbow in the crowd, standing on our tippy-toes, until we made our way to the front. The amount of people in general at the Louvre almost detracted from the artwork--the buzz of the crowd, the swarm of people in front of popular, promient pieces was semi-distracting. But I was appreciative of the whole of my experience at the Louvre. To be in the presence of such truly distinguished works of art was enough to make me overlook my dislike of the crowd.