The Louvre, The Notre Dame, The Sommelier

Trip Start Jun 01, 2010
Trip End Mar 11, 2011

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Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bounjour Paris. The Eiffel tower is greeting us this morning in a blue sky dotted with white clouds. We head downstairs to a little bakery across the street. Here we enjoy some freshly baked croissants and a quiche before we head out into a dazzle of Paris.

We walked a couple of blocks, wandering around when we found a big and old building on a square. It seemed that we bumped into the famous Madeline Church. It looks like a building escaped from the roman empire, surrounded by big pillars. The condition of the building was poor though, the stone had turned black from the pollution and the (sour) rain. As we tried to find the entrance we walked into a little restaurant under the church. We were 'greeted' by an unfriendly old Parisian woman telling us, 'Here food, no church', or in other words, get lost tourists. So we did, we turned around and headed out continuing our exploration.

A few blocks further we saw one of those big double-decker 'hop on hop off' tourist buses parked to pick up some people. I figured, why not, as these buses take you to all the key locations and you have a good view from the top deck. We got ourselves tickets for three days, and hopped on. We decided to take bus to the famous 'Louvre'. I have never been there, and this is one of the 'must do' things when you are in Paris. The bus took us there, passing the Opera, the royal palace and some more key historic buildings.

Arrived at the Louvre I was overwhelmed. Not so much by the great palace, which is beautiful. But more by the amount of people there. It is vacation time in Europe, and that is obvious here. There was a huge queue just to get in, and then another queue just to get tickets, followed by another queue to get an Audio Guide. But we came all this way, so we queued up as good tourists. It was not too bad, and within 45 minutes we had our tickets and our audio guide. This is a little machine you take with you that gives you a tour of the Museum, explaining the things you see. I like this idea as otherwise you just see some statues and paintings, not knowing why they are there and what they mean.

We both clicked in to get a tour of 'MasterPieces', a short forty five minute walk that shows you around the biggest attractions of the Museum. We walked through the bowels of the old Castle, up into the gallerie, where the 'Venus de Milos' stands at the end. Up the grand staircase to the 'The Winged Victory of Samothrace', and then through the red rooms towards De Vinci's 'Mona Lisa'. Just before the end my audio tour broke down, as the battery had died. I had it replaced as we continued on with the tour. It was very very busy in the museum, and we had to wrestle the crowds to see Mona. But hey, we are tourists today, and we came all this way to see it, so we will.

After our culture tour our stomach was complaining and wanted an overpriced snack. We went to one of the two restaurants in the Louvre to get some. It was a true French service experience, an absolutely rude waiter and exorbitant prices. But we had a great spot on the north terrace, in the shade overlooking the big square and the odd Pyramid in the middle. We stayed a while to give our feet some rest and had a laugh over the incredible rudeness of the staff as they insulted the customers and tossed the dishes and drinks on the tables. No wonder tipping is not common practice in France.

After our break we continued to explore the museum, we wandered around the more unknown exhibitions, visited the Egyptian rooms and saw some interesting artifacts. Every time there was something that made us wonder, what is that? why is that? how is that? We punched the number of the item in our audio tour unit and got some explanation. Unfortunately not all items have audio descriptions, but a lot do.

After a while we were 'Louvred-out', you can indeed spend a day or more in the maze of the Museums, but not on a day like today. It was very warm on the upper floors, the air-conditioning had serious problems cooling down the heat created by the hordes of people. Gasping for air, we surfaced out of the maze through the glass pyramid.

We hopped on the bus, and continued onwards. Our next stop, the Notre Dame on 'Centre Isle'. This famous church with its two towers is an iconic building in Paris. Maybe more so by the cartoon “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Again a queue to get in and hordes of people. I guess there will be no escape to that. First we went inside to have a peak at the masonic masterpiece. It is a marvelous piece of architecture, and the round glass in led windows inside are beautiful. Outside we saw the oddest thing, we were planning on climbing the towers, but we were too late. The gate was just closing. Then a sign saying 'Entrance free for people under 27 and of European nationality' caught my eye. I was wondering, what is this all about? But then again I never understood the Catholic Church, but let's not go there.

After out little stroll in the Notre Dame, we just had to stop for a crepe with Nutella. I saw a terrace with a sign, Crepe, 3 Euro, so I thought not too bad. Yeah right! this is Paris, so you will get ripped off no matter what. We sat down and ordered some water and a crepe to share. Now suddenly the crepe was 6 Euro, and a bottle of water 4. Unbelievable, how do these businesses survive, probably off tourists like us, as we did not argue, ate our crepe and left. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with paying a bit more on popular spots. But can't these Parisians be honest, and just write prices as they are, then at least you don't have the feeling that you are ripped off, it just annoys the daylights out of me. And I can imagine other visitors as well.

Anyhow, we enjoyed the crepe and went onward. Our Hop on, Hop Off ticket includes a water bus as well named 'Botabus'. So we got on this ride around the Notre Dame and sailed down the Seine. It was very warm on the boat, so we decided to get off at the next stop to continue on the bus. Not realizing that the bus route for that segment already stopped as it was early in the evening. Luckily we could catch the next boat to continue our journey on the water. This boat was less hot as it had all the roof windows open. We sailed along the Seine towards a stop close to the 'Champs Elysees' where we strolled a bit along the boulevard.

For dinner we found a little restaurant called 'Le Sommelier'. First we found another Bistro, but here the (rude) waiter refused to give us the table that we wanted, so we left. At 'Le Sommelier' we were welcome, so we gave it a try. It was quite an experience. I was seriously under dressed for the restaurant as it was a bit pretentious. Linda on the other hand was looking ravishing as always in one of her nice summer dresses. The place was more about the wine than the food. It turned out that the owner was the Sommelier of the year in 1992. The staff was unexperienced and very young, which was quite amusing. We both decided to have a 4 course surprise menu, paired with wine. The preparation of the food was good and typically French. But the ingredients used were cheap. The main course was chicken breast, the desert a crème brule and the appetizer a pea soup with salmon tartar, nothing stunning. The wines were nice and unusual, but our 'Sommelier' forgot to explain what he poured and where it was from. Same with the food, as it was presented they did not explain what it was. It might be that they were just very uncomfortable speaking English, but still.

It was a fun day in Paris, we enjoyed its oddities and beauty. Tomorrow we have scheduled 'Montmartre'.

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