Tag Archives: travel

Europe 2013: The Louvre

Looking down on Paris from the Jules VerneMonday morning dawned cool and gray, but the weather wouldn’t affect our plans for the morning, because we had reserved a tour of the Louvre. However, we hoped the skies would clear by early evening as we had dinner reservations at Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower and were looking forward to a panoramic view of Paris.

The Arc de Triomphe du CarrouselBreakfast at the Hôtel Duminy-Vendôme was on the bottom floor in a former cellar. Wine cellar, perhaps? Unlikely, since I had read the building was once a bank, and it had one of the smallest elevators I have ever been in. Our server led us to a quiet corner in the delightfully decorated room with a vaulted roof. I took in the soothing black-and-white decor while Dave perused the breakfast buffet. Mindful of the time, we ate, then left to meet our guide at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.

As we had done in Versailles, we opted to “skip the line” in favor of a guided tour of the museum, a good decision considering the size of the Louvre and all it has to offer. Our feisty French guide was organized, personable, and knowledgeable in both art and history, so she had no trouble keeping her small group entertained and engaged for the hour-and-a-half tour. I had my list of must-sees, even though I was still suffering from a slight case of visual overload after our visit the day before to the Château de Versailles.

I.M.Pei’s PyramidApproaching the museum, I immediately zeroed in on I.M. Pei’s Pyramid, a seventy-one-foot-tall, interlinked steel structure sheathed in reflective, tempered glass—a masterpiece of design. Once inside, I, of course, had to photograph Pei’s self-supporting helical staircase that curls around and down from street level to the subterranean courtyard. The stair treads are of white stone with polished metal supports and the balustrade of clear glass and stainless steel. The staircase curves around an elevator that disappears completely once it has descended. Reluctantly, I left the staircase, sorry I didn’t have the chance to see the elevator in operation, and caught up to the tour. But I’ve since watched it in operation on YouTube.

I.M.Pei’s staircase

We began our tour on the lower ground floor. Many people aren’t aware that beneath the world’s most-visited museum lies the ruins of a once magnificent medieval fortress constructed in 1190 AD. During the forty-three-year reign of Philippe Auguste (1180–1223), a rampart was built around Paris, then Europe’s biggest city. To protect the capital from the Anglo-Norman threat, the king reinforced his defenses with a fortress built on the banks of the Seine. The fortification became known as the Louvre. The castle was a fortress but not a royal palace, our guide was quick to point out. At the time, the monarch’s Parisian home was the Palais de la Cité. The fortress Philippe had built was an arsenal with a moat, bastions, and defensive towers. In the center stood the massive cylindrical keep, the Grosse Tour, a fortified tower within the fortress walls, usually the last place of refuge when defending the castle. In 1527 the medieval keep was demolished to make way for a Renaissance palace. Fascinated by this bit of history, I hung back to examine more closely the ruins of the moat and the model of the original castle, which was on display.

On the ground floor, I took my time viewing the Arts of Africa exhibition, my interest springing from the years I had lived on the continent. And I spent quite some time photographing and enjoying Michelangelo’s Captive.

Napoleon’s dining room (Napoleon’s Apartments)

On the first floor, while Dave was absorbed in checking out The Winged Victory of Samothrace, I was busy photographing the Napoleon III Apartments. He approached to tell me our guide was giving a brief history of the Mona Lisa. I broke from snapping photos of Napoleon’s opulent furnishings for my first glimpse of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. I had to wait for the hordes of tourists to clear from my viewfinder before I could take a picture.

On the second floor, Dave strolled from one painting to the next. My attention, however, was fixed on one, Self-Portrait by Albrecht Dürer, created at the age of twenty-two. Dürer was born in Nuremberg, but his parents were Hungarian. Not only was he a painter, but also an engraver, and his attention to small details was what drew me to his work. During his lifetime he produced numerous drawings in silverpoint, chalk, or charcoal. However, in his later years, he produced little as an artist and concentrated on authoring two books, one on geometry and perspective and the other on proportion and fortification. They were published in 1525 and 1528 respectively.

Two hours later, we were ready to escape the tourist crowds at the Louvre for a relaxing walk through the Tuileries Garden. We sipped hot chocolate and drank in the tantalizing scent of orange trees in bloom, the citrus plants recently set out after wintering in an orangerie.

In the late afternoon, we made one last stop to see Sainte-Chapelle, a medieval Gothic chapel opened in 1248. It is located near the Palais de la Cité. The interior is eye-catching with its high buttresses, steep, rib-vaulted ceiling, and over six thousand square feet of stained glass windows in deep reds and blues. As we left the Gothic wonder, Dave commented that we had combined tickets, which allowed us access to the Conciergerie, Paris’s oldest prison, where Marie Antoinette and later over two thousand leaders of the Revolution were held for execution. I was told that normally there are no lines, but this wasn’t the case at the security check, so we bypassed the chance to see Marie Antoinette’s cell (not her real cell anyway) and headed to our hotel to change for dinner at the Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower elevator ascensionChamps de Mars, taken from the Jules VerneI don’t care for heights and never have, but in the past few years while traveling to many destinations overseas, I’ve done my best to overcome this fear by concentrating on anything, but the ground below. So as we ascended in the Eiffel Tower’s private elevator, I focused on photographing the tower itself, astounded by the engineering feat of building such a massive structure. After the short ascent to the second floor, which is one flight above the highest observation deck, the elevator landed and we were shown to a window seat in the restaurant. We had a breathtaking, panoramic view as the sun set over the City of Lights. I switched off my flash, so as not to disturb the other diners, and snapped at least a dozen photos of the city and several of the Parc du Champ-de-Mars that stretched out below.

We ordered à la carte. For starters, we had lobster in a sabayon broth, and duck liver with fig jelly and brioche. Within the week, we would be eating plenty of fish, so that night we chose meat for dinner—pan-seared beef tournedos with soufflé potatoes and a Périgueux (rich brown) sauce, and saddle of lamb from the spit, artichokes, and a meat sauce. For dessert, a chocolate soufflé and savarin with an armagnac cream. Full, we walked off our meal along the banks of La Seine, then retired for the night. Next week, we board the TGV, France’s high-speed train, to Dijon, where we will rent a car and begin our tour of the Burgundy wine region.

Next week: “Europe 2013: The Burgundy Wine Region.”

EUROPE 2013: Paris, France

Eiffel TowerAfter a fabulous trip to British Columbia and Alberta, I am refreshed and ready to continue my travel blogs, retracing my steps in time to May 2013, when I toured the Burgundy wine region of France, drove to Monaco to watch Monte Carlo set up for the Grand Prix, flew to Lisbon for a visit, and ended my vacation in Spain.

And yes, in a future thriller Darcy and Bullet will follow in my exact footsteps as they race against time to track down a killer before he strikes again. So focused are they on nabbing the murderer that they have no inkling someone else is fervently stalking them—until the hunter has them in his gun sight. Can Darcy stop him before he delivers a lethal blow?

Café LenôtreIn late 2012, my gypsy husband decided it was high time I saw Paris. No, I had never been. Without missing a beat, he began planning our next trip. In May 2013, we boarded a flight from DFW to London and from there to Paris.

Just before noon, we checked into the Hôtel Duminy-Vendôme in Paris. Famished, we dumped our bags in the room and immediately left for a brisk walk down the Champs-Élysées to Le Café Lenôtre. In my head, I played and replayed Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris,” as I finally had my chance to stroll the popular boulevard. When we reached the Arc de Triomphe, we retraced our steps to the restaurant.

Seated in a quiet corner on the outdoor patio, we played tourist by poring over a map to chart an agenda for the next few days. We glanced at the menus, ordered, and dismissed the puzzled look on our server’s face; by no means is our French good, but we manage. Our orders arrived and our server left. We looked at each other and burst into laughter. Absorbed in our plans for the days ahead, we had overlooked the fact that an “entrée” in French is a dish served before the main course, i.e., a starter. With the attitude that there is a reason for everything, we ordered two more starters, giving us the opportunity to sample a broader selection of dishes and still leave room for dessert.

IMG_6272After lunch, we headed to the Seine for a boat cruise down the river. We queued up at Bateaux Mouches, boarded, and settled into our seats on the upper deck for a view of the iconic sites of Paris—Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Musée d’Orsay, to name a few. There are some things you should experience once, and the river tour was one of them. From what I’ve heard, the summer tourist crowds can be quite unruly, but fortunately we were subjected to only one discourteous group of six, clad in tank tops and shorts, who soon sought refuge below deck, complaining about the chilly, overcast day. More interested in photographing the Eiffel Tower, I hadn’t paid much attention to the weather other than to consider how it might affect my pictures.

Eiffel Tower Up CloseAfter photographing the Eiffel Tower from a distance, I couldn’t wait for an up-close look at this magnificent structure, so the minute we disembarked from the boat we headed straight there. Ever since I had admired the architecture of the Budapest-Nyugati Railway Terminal, also built by the Eiffel Company, I had wanted see the tower.

When we arrived at the famous landmark, I was awestruck by the massiveness of the iron structure. It was impressive in size and construction, and I was looking forward to dinner at the Jules Verne restaurant—for the food, but more so for what I anticipated would be a breathtaking view of Paris. However, I would have to wait. That night, we had reservations at Kunitoraya and planned to retire early, as jet lag had begun to set in.

Next week: “Europe 2013: The Notre Dame Bells.”