Anniversary trip - Day 5: Notre Dame, Versailles and the Louvre
03 May 2017
On our first full day in Paris, Christi and I went full-on tourist mode and decided to see as many things as we could. The only thing we actually had booked for the day was a day trip to Versailles, so we started the morning by hopping on the metro and heading over to Notre Dame.
Before we get into the sites, the metro in Paris was amazing. Clean, efficient, easy to understand and extremely fast. I thought it would be a good idea to get the lay of the land before taking it to our cooking class the next day to make sure we knew how much time it would take. Pro tip: make sure you buy the carnet if you're going to be bouncing around as much as we did. After getting off the train near Notre Dame we went inside and it was absolutely beautiful. The intricate ornate details that were meticulously thought of when building every inch of the cathedral shine through every place you look. Once done inside, we went to stand out in the freezing wind for 90 minutes to get a chance to hike to the top. What made it even colder was that Notre Dame is so large that it blocked the sun the entire time we were standing there. Finally, we climbed up the spiral staircases to get a view of Paris as well as the church bells and gargoyles lining the inner towers.
Luckily we were up there at the top of the hour to hear the church bells ring out. Just like when we snuck into the Sydney Opera House ten years earlier, it felt like one of those amazing things to witness in person so close. After getting our panorama fill of the views from the top we were off to check out the Louvre ... from the outside.
With a little time to kill before our Versailles tour we crossed Pont Neuf on our way to the Louvre. It was early in the day and if you stand on the east side of I.M. Pei's pyramid, you can get some pretty good and unobstructed shots of it.
Since we've been walking around, and standing, the majority of the day we headed over to Cafe Marly to grab some good, but very expensive lunch, and just people watch for a while while relaxing before our scheduled trip to the Louvre.
After strolling through the Tuileries Gardens to pass the remaining time we had we met up with our group and were driven to Versailles. This stop was all for Christi. She loves reading/watching about the classical English and French monarchies. I'm quite the opposite ... however, I did end up having an amazing time in Versailles. Much better than I originally expected. Similar to Notre Dame the ornateness of Versailles at every corner was breathtaking. To think again that all of this was done hundreds of years ago is just mind blowing.
I was glad that we paid for a self guided tour as the audio devices they rent there you have to hold to your ear the entire time. It was nice to just have headphones and listen to a history lesson from our guide who would field additional questions as we went through. The main draw at Versailles is the Hall of Mirrors. It was extremely tough to grab a picture without literally hundreds of people in it, but I did my best.
After spending an hour or so touring the inside of the main building on the tour we had another 45 minutes to roam the gardens in the back. I had absolutely no clue how vast and expansive they were and we were actually kind of rushed in that timeframe. After soaking in the scenery, we hopped back on the bus and plotted the plan for the rest of the night.
On the bus drive back to Paris I start telling Christi that we might not be back in the area again so we should head into the Louvre. After pulling up times I see that they close each day at 6pm. It was 5.45pm. Ugh. But wait ... on Wednesday's they are open until 9.45pm. And, low and behold, it was Wednesday! Even luckier than that, I don't think a lot of other people knew that it was open late on Wednesday. After only waiting in line behind about 20 people (we saw lines of 300+ while eating lunch earlier) we were quickly into the Louvre.
If there's one thing Christi and I agree on for our relationship it's that we both are not the type of people who love spending hours and hours inside of a museum. I've read that you could spend a full week at the Louvre and probably not see everything they have to offer. It's that large. After grabbing our map we knew there would be a few hot spots that we wanted to hit. Most importantly the Sphinx. I knew you thought I'd write Mona Lisa there, but we love Egyptian culture/history so that was the top of the list.
Whether it was the map was confusing or people didn't like answering us in English we spent a lot of time just wandering around the museum looking for things. On the way, though, we wandering into seeing some pretty cool things that we originally didn't expect. The Winged Victory of Samothrace was one of these nice surprises. The first thing we ran into was Venus de Milo. After seeing that up close and personal, we really wanted to see the Sphinx but were getting extremely lost in the process. At one point we were close to the Mona Lisa so we went off in that wing to view it.
Before going I have heard horror stories from more than a handful of people for how crowded the Mona Lisa is. How small it is. How it's such a let down and it's not really worth going. Well, to tell you the truth, since there were maybe 10 people ahead of us looking at it and it only took a couple of minutes to get right up front and center, it really wasn't that bad of an experience. The size is really a let down, I'm not sure which propaganda art connoisseur in the past painted this vision that it's huge, but it's not. To have a completely unobstructed view of the Mona Lisa, one of the most famous paintings in the world, was a very cool experience.
After that was checked off our list, we still needed to see the Sphinx. It must've been the third or fourth staff member that we talked to who actually guided us to the correct location. Once we finally made it to the Egyptian wing we wade through all of the hieroglyphics and stumble upon two sphinx at the end of the hall. They were small and I was a little disappointed, but thought it was similar to the Mona Lisa and people just blew it out of proportion.
As we make our way towards the exit we see another one. Much bigger, but still seemed a little small for what we had envisioned. As we go through the labyrinth that is the exit of the Louvre, you would've thought you were trying to leave Ikea, we finally saw it. Massive. Awesome. Everything we had hoped for.
Knocking out the Louvre in just a shade under two hours we walked a few blocks away to have an amazing tapas-styled french meal at Ellsworth. After continually ordering more than we originally planned, we finally pried ourselves out of our chairs, hopped on the sweet metro and were back to the apartment to rest up for our adventures the next day.