Saturday, October 17, 2015

Our last sighseeing day in Paris

Day 15:  N'opera, shopping, 3 museums

I woke up sad: it was our last sightseeing day in Paris.  On the agenda was a tour of the Opera Garnier, shopping at Galleries Lafayette, and whatever else we felt like. 

We ate the last of our breakfast supplies (why do eggs taste so much better over here?) and headed out.  A short Metro ride later and we were at Opera Garnier.  It was gloomy and cold so the gold on the roof was not sparkling but the building was still beautiful. We headed in to buy tickets as I had procrastinated and not bought them ahead of time.  That's when we noticed a sign saying "The Auditorium is Dark.  We're sorry for any inconvenience."  Since a major reason I wanted to see the Opera Garnier was the Chagall ceiling in the auditorium, we decided against visiting.  I know there's a lot more to the building than just the Chagall but I want to see it all!  We'll plan to visit on our next trip to Paris.  I hope the "third time's the charm" since it was closed for tours on our 2012 trip.

We walked over to Galleries Lafayette and somehow chose the building with the beautiful dome.  We did a little souvenir shopping, took pictures of the dome, walked out on the terrace (the weather was better: we could see some blue skies!), got lunch and planned the rest of our day. 

We decided on the Army Museum and Napoleon's Tomb (free with museum pass) which we hadn't visited since 2005.  It seems to have undergone restoration since then because the buildings in the courtyard were clean and shiny, there were new wood beans in the walkway ceilings, and the displays were different (better) than we remembered.  Husband always talks about Napoleon's horse and his tent so we set out to find them. The Army museum is in several buildings and was a little confusing to navigate but we enjoyed our walk through rooms with cool uniforms, guns, armaments, etc., until we reached the Napoleon stuff.  The horse was in a kind of dark hallway display.  The tent with the leopard print rug was something to see.   A military enthusiast could probably spend days here; there's so much to see.  I liked the displays of the cavalrymen from different wars and eras. 

We were able to briefly visit the Saint-Louis des Invalides church before they closed it for the day.  It was plain but beautiful inside. 

Next was Napoleon's Tomb.  The building is ornate, over the top and beautiful which of course fits the man for whom it was designed.  The baldachin over the tomb reminded us of the one at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. 

We walked around the garden outside, took some pictures and decided to head over to the Rodin Museum.  When we arrived the sign said the museum was closed as its ~still~ under renovation but to visit the garden was free.  They also had a nice special exhibit of Rodin's plaster casts and information about his process of creating his masterpieces (free with museum pass).  The weather had changed once again (cold and wet) but we took our time wandering around the gardens which were, honestly, not as pretty as on previous visits.  The roses by the Thinker were lovely but elsewhere there was a neglected feeling--dead hydrangea looking bushes, scraggly plants, leaves all about, slippery muddy spots from all the rain.  I guess they were working so hard to finish the renovation for the grand reopening on 12 November that the gardens were somewhat of an afterthought.  I look forward to seeing the renovated museum on our next trip.

It was only 4pm and since we hadn't been to the Louvre (free with museum pass) yet, we headed there via Metro.  We made the mistake of getting off at the Carousel de Louvre exit and were routed outside into the Tuilleries for "special access, including museum pass" entry.  Terrible signage!  I remembered a Rick Steves tip from our trip in 2012 and we headed back across the street, into the courtyard, past the restaurant, into a side corridor, to a quiet security checkpoint for groups and those with museum passes. No waiting, thankfully.  But by time we did all of this, we would have been through the security in the Carousel du Louvre, grrr.

Once under the Pyramid, we decided to first visit the Napoleon III apartments (in the Richelieu wing) and then maybe the big French paintings, like David's huge canvasses.  Our way to Napoleon's apartments, we got turned around--impossible not to do in the Louvre--and walked into a really pretty (new?) exhibition on armory and decorative arts (some items were from the Nissim de Camondo collection).  It was a gorgeous detour.

We retraced our steps and found our way to the Napoleon III apartments, which we had seen only once before (2005). They are spectacular!  I was amazed at the chandeliers in the first few rooms but then we entered the grand salon (or whatever it's called) and I gasped (literally) at the size and beauty of the chandelier there.  And I was not the only one astonished, I heard exclamations from several people behind me!  Even unlit it was stupendous.  Every room was ornate, gilded and gorgeous.   Exiting the apartments, we paused at a jewelry case with Josephine's tiara, brooches and a crown--they were almost an afterthought.  The Louvre just has too much of everything!

We were aiming for the French Paintings but navigating the Louvre is just so hard.  We went through the sculpture garden and made it back under the pyramid, up the escalator to the Denon Wing. The signage was now pointing us to the Mona Lisa and all the those masterpieces.  We've been underwhelmed by Mona three times in the past and didn't want to see her again so, confused and thirsty, we bailed.   We'll be back to the Louvre on our next trip, I know, and see more of its endless treasures.  But we'll be sure to buy the water from the touts outside (1E/bottle) before venturing in!

The exit under the pyramid was closed so, along with hundreds of our closest new friends, we were routed out via the dark and narrow escalator under the Richelieu wing.  One thing we couldn't understand was why there were signs prohibiting touts selling stuff on Louvre premises while several plied their trade in this space, with one boldly roasting chestnuts and blocking the doorway.  Security guards were nearby but did nothing to stop them.  I guess they've given up the fight.  And it would be my own fault if the hot coals burned me as I tried to leave the building since (I believe) you can't sue if injured like we can here (it's excessive here, please don't get me wrong, but sometimes it would be good to have that as a threat)... 

We came out at the Place du Palais Royale where they had an exhibit of fashions celebrating the 150 years of Printemps.  We settled into an outside table at Les Fontaines Saint Honore for drinks and to watch the world go by.  We watched a family of 6 load into their minivan (baby in a stroller, three older kids, mom and dad) and leave. We busted out laughing when a Fiat 500 couldn't fit into the huge spot vacated by the minivan! Hilarious. 

Around 645pm we headed back to our apartment via rue de Rivoli.  We stopped at C&A where I bought socks and a tank top.  I wished I had more time to shop there--good prices for pretty cute clothes.  We crossed the bridge by Hotel de Ville and decided to have dinner at La Reserve de Quasimodo (4 Rue de la Colombe), which we had passed several times and was recommended by Thierry of our apartment. 

The place was half full so we were seated immediately.  Here we encountered the second "ugly American" of our trip.  This is a tiny restaurant, maybe 18 covers, and this man was talking so loudly and patronizingly at his companions that I wanted to hit him.  He sounded like the comedian Stephen Wright (slow nasal voice) and was an obnoxious, patronizing know-it-all.  This was the second time that I felt compelled to tell a waiter that "not all Americans are like him." The waiter happened to speak Spanish well and told me that the man was even worse than I knew because he demanded to be seated at a larger table (like for 6) when his party was just 3.  They left when we got our main, thankfully.

The menu at La Reserve de Quasimodo is on blackboards hung on the restaurant walls.  I had two different lovely glasses of red wine (probably the best wines by the glass of the trip) while husband had beer.  We started with salads: tomato and olives for husband, goat cheese for me.  Our mains were curried duck with pasta (recommended by waiter) and a vegetable sandwich like thing for me (not what I was expecting).  We shared a hot chocolate cake for dessert.  All of it was pretty good, although nothing was exceptional.  Next time I'm making reservations at a more special restaurant on our last night!

We went for one last long walk around Ile Saint Louis and Ile de la Cite before heading back to the apartment to pack up.  It had been a lovely last day in Paris.

Takeaways:
1.  The 4 day museum pass was worth it to us
2.  It's not always a good idea to buy tickets in advance--I would have been disappointed to spend the money and not see the Chagall ceiling
3.  The Louvre is best in small bites so we'll be back next time
4.  Make reservations at a special place for our last night in the future
5.  I hate that it's over because I love Paris. 

Next: Finally, we have to leave Paris.

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