Originally posted September 26, 2011.
When I woke up at 5:30 on Friday morning, I had a sinking feeling that Paris was not going to be the fun vacation I had originally planned. My sore throat from the night before had turned into a cold that pounded in my head and stuffed up my nose. But, since I had to go to Paris for visa purposes, I got out of bed and tried to make the best of it. Thankfully I slept straight through the entire train ride there and when we pulled into Gare du Nord, I felt even better. And before I had to worry about where to go and what to do first, I found my friend Andrea waiting right outside the platform. What had started out as a disastrous morning turned into the perfect first day in Paris.
We didn’t waste a minute but headed straight to the Musee L’Orangerie. It took us a minute to find it in the gardens, but the views into the city were gorgeous so I didn’t mind. Unlike London it was warm and bright and I was enjoying the difference. The museum itself did not disappoint. I had heard from a friend that it should not be missed and I don’t know how it took me this long to hear about it. Inside they have two circular galleries of large Monet paintings. It’s almost like a 360-degree view of Monet water lilies. I loved looking at the colors from afar and then walking up close to the canvas to see the layering and texture. Andrea said she would go back and research what materials he used because in spots it almost looked like a layer of pastels. The downstairs gallery held even more treasures from Renoir, Cezanne, and Picasso. I love the impressionist era and so does Andrea so we made the best art museum visiting pair.
At this point we HAD to go get crepes. Not only was it necessary to check off my list of things to do in Paris, but I hadn’t eaten anything for breakfast. Andrea got a strawberry one and I got chocolate and bananas. Mine disappeared almost as soon as the lady handed it to me. Andrea was surprised, but it was delicious and I didn’t care. I guess I’m not so great at eating slow like the true Europeans.
After that it was off to the next museum: Musee de Rodin. Now I must admit that my reasons for visiting this museum weren’t as pure as for most other museums. Yes, I knew Rodin was a famous sculptor and I could name two or three of his most famous works, but mainly I wanted to visit because of Midnight in Paris. In the movie, Owen Wilson’s character, his fiancé (Rachel McAdams), and her pedantic friend all take a tour of the museum and there’s a great shot of them all standing around “The Thinker” in the garden. I wanted to go so I could stand in the same spot. In the end we spent more time in the museum because there was so much inside to see. There were at least four or five sculptures in every room, sometimes more in cabinets, and they were all so detailed and graceful that Andrea and I had to spend at time with each one. We really liked the one of the crouching girl because we couldn’t imagine who had decided to model for that one. Now I need to do some more research on Rodin himself because I don’t know much about him as an artist.
Next we took a break from the museums and headed up to Sacre de Coeur. I had seen the church from the city and I remember peering at it when my family went to the top of the Arc d’Triomphe two years ago, but I’d never visited. We hiked up the sloping streets, trying to find a path up that didn’t include steep steps. The view was breath taking at the top. Andrea tried to point out a lot of the famous buildings out to me but I couldn’t make out all of them. Inside the church they were holding mass. Thankfully we were still allowed to tour around the outside path and could still see the small chapels and the mosaics on the ceiling. It was fun, but I desperately needed a Red Bull to keep myself going because we were nowhere near done with our day.
When we were at the top of the hill, Andrea tried to point out the Pompideau Museum to me, but I couldn’t find it because I didn’t know what it looked like. When she found this out, she knew our next stop had to be the museum. From the outside, I could tell it was a modern museum by the glass pipes that circled the building, carrying up the visitors to the top floors, and the large white pipes popping out of the ground in the courtyard. Inside, it was just as cool. We spent two hours touring the top two floors and the main galleries. I liked the first floor, but the top floor was the best because they had lots of Matisse, fauvism, Picasso, and Surrealism up there. The surrealist art freaked out Andrea, but I liked it. It freaked me out too, but I feel like that’s part of the fun: it’s one artist painting their worst nightmares to remind you of your worst nightmares.
When we stopped for crepes and hot dogs by Notre Dame for dinner, I didn’t want to get up. I was still feeling a little run-down and under the weather and we had found a pretty comfy spot in the park behind the cathedral. But when Andrea reminded me that we probably wouldn’t be able to visit any other museums later in the weekend, I summoned my strength and we headed to the Louvre. I can go to Paris and miss Musee d’Orsay, the Champs Elysees, and even the Eiffel Tower, but I cannot miss the Louvre. Somehow we still passed by all the main attractions: the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the Victory Nike of Samothrace. More importantly, we found a lot of art that meant something special to me. We went to the galleries with the Dutch painters. I love their layered and soft style. I didn’t remember it, but we found two Vermeer paintings, too. I could have stared at those for hours. Even though it was a short visit and I was dead-tired on the Metro ride home, it was totally worth it. For me, Paris means a lot of beauty, and a lot of that beauty can be found in the Louvre.
I was worried about that night because in Paris I stayed at my first hostel. I had done the research online and read all the reviews, but I still didn’t know what to expect. When I walked down the street, I could see a playground, a church, and my hostel. It looked like a great place from the outside, and inside it was colorful and the staff was really friendly. I didn’t have any problems getting into my room and getting right to bed. It’s funny; I actually had better sheets and a hotter shower at the Paris hostel than I do at the apartment where I’m currently staying in London. Except for the luggage lockers creaking open and closed, I slept really well that night.
I thought I woke up at just the perfect time the next morning, but just as I was reaching for my toothbrush, I got a call from Andrea. It wasn’t seven o’clock; it was eight. I had forgotten to set my phone clock ahead to Paris time. I quickly packed my bag and literally ran to the Metro. I raced from station to station, impatiently tapping my foot as the train stopped each time. I ran into Saint-Lazare and met Andrea minutes before the train pulled away. It was insane. I’d never rushed like that. It felt weird to run through the Metro stations, but when I thought about the alternative, not making the train on time, I didn’t mind looking like a silly tourist.
And the train ride was worth it. It was cold when we got into Vernon and the bus was packed on the way to Giverny, but the gardens were fantastic. I liked Monet’s house. It was bigger than I expected, but every room was painted in simple, bright colors. A yellow dining room, a blue kitchen, and then a bright Kelly green accent color on all the exteriors. Still, the real reason for visiting is the garden. We walked around among the flowers and the water lilies, posing for pictures on every bridge, and snapping pictures endlessly. I can see why Monet painted so many floral scenes. His garden was a masterpiece and he turned it into art to share his view of it with the rest of the world.
We ate lunch in the little village. I got to know some of the other Rice students studying in Paris with Andrea. They were really nice and obviously were taking full advantage of their study abroad. I was impressed with their French speaking skills, especially since I speak no other languages, and I kept hearing of all the trips they were planning on taking. I hope that I can find some great friends once I get settled in Oxford, or maybe even on Thursday when I start orientation.
At this point we were all ready to head back in to the city. The problem: the bus didn’t arrive at Giverny again for another two hours. We looked at the signs pointing back toward the city and decided to walk back to Vernon. At first it was a really picturesque walk through the French countryside. We passed a Bed and Breakfast that reminded me of Beauty and the Beast and a field filled with ducks, sheep, and an ostrich. They started honking and bleating when we walked past. We even passed by a huge cornfield. Of course, by the end of the 6 km, we were all tired. I had a couple of blisters on my feet, my punishment for not wearing socks with my shoes. But with all the crepes and sugary food I was eating, I was glad to get even more exercise. Still, once we got on the train, everyone fell asleep. I’m sure everyone was staring at us, all slumped over onto each other, but it was worth it for the fun day. We napped for a while in the afternoon, met up again for a traditional French dinner, steak and fries, and then watched a French movie with some French wine. It was a great day for sightseeing and I was sad to leave all my new Rice friends and Andrea to sleep and head back to London.
The next morning I slowly got up and got my stuff together. I spent a calm morning down by Notre Dame, eating a raspberry crepe and watching all the French people strolling through the park on Sunday morning. Apparently I took a little too much time wandering around because by the time I made it to Gare du Nord, I only had twenty minutes to check-in and get on the train. I raced through the lines and barely made it through passport control to the train. But I settled into my seat and enjoyed the ride back. For the first time I didn’t sleep through the trip under the chunnel. My parents are right; it’s no different than going through any normal train tunnel.
There are still things I’d like to do in Paris. I’d like to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I’d like to visit Musee d’Orsay again and visit the Victor Hugo museum for the first time. I’d also like to find the places that were important to American ex-patriot writers during the early 1920s and 30s. But I am confident I’ll find my way back. After all, I did race through the crowds and touch the plaque marking the center of Paris. And that should ensure that I’ll return to the city of love and beauty once again.