It’s our last day in Paris so we have to choose which of the many offerings can’t be left languishing on the “next time” list. The Louvre is close and has art, Sacre Couer Basilica and the Montmartre artist district are not close, but you get two for one. We decide on Sacre Couer and Murray and I plan the metro lines. The ladies use the “we trust you, but we’ll ask a local anyway” method and get advice from the front desk. “You should walk to the Place de la Concorde and catch a metro from there. It is not far.” Where have I heard that before?
We bypass the station the boys had selected and trudge on to the Place. So this is where more than a thousand people were butchered by cheering mobs. Yep, let’s celebrate that by erecting a copy of an Egyptian obelisk – go figure. We eventually find the metro, and head to the recommended station (just happening to pass through the station that the boys had previously selected – but we are too gracious to point this out).
OK, so metro stations are underground – right? And the Basilica is at the top of a really high hill – right? Hmm how to get from one to the other. The cunning Frenchmen have this solved. They simply bring in a spare lighthouse, drill a deep hole, and drop it in (well this isn’t actually true but the endless narrow spiral staircase definitely brings those thoughts to mind.)
We finally reach the Basilica and get two pleasant surprises. First, it’s free, and second, there’s a service in progress. We can’t understand a word, but the chanting, singing and gestures are self-explanatory. The building itself is simply stunning, with amazing frescos across the ceiling of the main space while the surrounding naves and chapels are plain but beautifully sculpted stonework.
No photos are allowed inside so I have added an image from the internet. We emerge from the relative quiet of the Basilica and head around the corner to the famous art district of Montmartre. Here, we must run the gauntlet of tourist shops and wandering artists of all ages offering to immortalise your image on their sketchpads. It’s hard to believe that this is the same place where some of the most talented artists the world has ever known lived, worked, and probably starved for their art.
We’re now so entranced by our dreams of Picasso, Monet and the others who walked these streets that we decide we just have to head to the Louvre and see the real thing. Fortunately, a local directs us to a metro station with a few less stairs than the one chosen by….. Another long walk and only one train change and we find ourselves at the Louvre ticket office. Entry is free if you’re under eighteen. Murray and I reckon it’s worth trying, but the lady at the counter isn’t fooled and demands the full price for all.
OK – where to start? We feel pretty silly when we find that there are specific signs to each of the works we have selected – Mona Lisa this way, Venus de Milo that way. It seems that other people want to see these too. The mind boggles thinking about the amount of priceless works that must be amassed in this one place. It’s way more than we can possibly hope to take in, so we settle for the Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Medieval sections in addition to some of the individual “must-see” pieces.
Even though we spend minimal time looking at each piece, and walk unseeing past hundred of works that each represent the pinnacle of someone’s life’s efforts, the hours seem to fly by. We’ve been here for most of the afternoon and have just scraped the surface. Exhausted and saturated, we finally decide to leave the rest “for next time” and follow the Sortie signs to the exit lobby and the escalator up into the glass pyramid.
It’s a bit of a shock to emerge back into the world of the 21st century, but, in Paris, you’re never that far away from the past.