We arrived in Paris Bercy station about 1 hour late. It didn’t help that we had an uncomfortable night on the train as Theo had forgotten to close the windows letting in cold gusts of wind into the cabin all night long. Our very first hurdle in Paris is deciphering the metro network. In Rome, as there were only two lines and also because it was not the transport of choice, we did not need to struggle with that.
However Paris was a different matter. We were baffled by the multi-colored lines that crawled across the metro map, stretching in all different directions. Add to that, Bercy station is only served by a self-service machine from which we had to buy our tickets. Thankfully, some of the local Parisans offered to help us with the purchase. Theo was visibly showing signs of stress and confessed later on his extreme discomfort in being in a country where people do not speak English. Apparently the language barrier is much more evident in France compared to Italy where he never complained.
Immediate differences we noted between the two cities. Paris is clean, modern, efficient but lacking in warmth while Rome feels like an old grandpapa extending its arms to embrace the visitor with its grand tales. In Italy, we did not have problems crossing the roads as cars always stopped for us. In contrast, the cars in Paris dash through the pedestrian crossing and one almost knocked us even though it was flashing green for pedestrians. However, having said this, the efficiency did lift our spirits as we encountered no issues getting our refund for the train tickets.
We had lunch in a cafeteria serving Chinese cooked food where you order a selection of dishes to go with the ubiquitous rice. The cost of this simple meal is equivalent to three times what we would have paid in Singapore, although it was comparable to the cost of local cuisine. Thankfully the chefs from China did justice to the food and we realised how much we missed Chinese food.
We bought ourselves a two-day Paris Museum Pass for 64 Euros which will grant us access to about 60 odd museums and historic sights in and around Paris. I thought it was a good deal but Theo felt that with the pass, we had subjected ourselves to unnecessary stress to visit as many places as possible to maximise the value of the pass. Right or wrong? I guess it depends on different values and perspectives.
Our first stop was the Arc de Triomphe. With the pass, we were able to zoom our way up to the top of the Arc via an elevator built inside one of the columns. From a vantage point 50m above ground level, we were afforded a bird’s eye view of the city and I was quite impressed to actually see twelve avenues radiating from the locale of the Arc, like spokes in a bicycle wheel. This is really THE center of the city. Paris is relatively flat so we could see almost every distinctive feature from the top of the Arc.
From the Arc, we took a leisurely stroll down the renowned Avenue Champ D’Elysees, passing all the famous boutiques, to place de la Concorde, through the Jardin des Tuilleries and then the prominent glass pyramids of the Musee du Louvre, one of the world’s most impressive museum collections! I cannot believe how easy it was to walk in Paris with all the sights located within walking distance from each other.
The Louvre was once the palace of the French royalty and when the monarchy phased out, the building with its entire works was donated as a museum for the people. The collection in the Louvre is humongous and I was at a lost at where to begin. In fact, it is quite impossible to finish appreciating all the exhibits in one visit. We decided not to spend 6 Euros to get an audio guide but unless you are an art connoisseur, you would be quite clueless without the guide. Three particular sections caught my eyes – the Italian and Greek sculptures, Mona Lisa and the Mesopotamian section.
I like the way sculptors are able to carve life out of block of marble and marvel at how they were able to express even the most intricate human features and emotions in something so hard and cold. The painting of Mona Lisa was quite the joke as it was no larger than an A3 size paper. It is encased within a plastic barrier and visitors are not allowed to come closer than a metre to see ‘her’. Other than the supposed mystery behind her crooked smile, I wonder why people are so fascinated with this work of art.
At the Mesopotamian exhibits, I saw a block of stone carved with Sumerian writings. Although I have no idea what was written, this is a piece of ancient history that dates way back before the Romans, Greeks, Persians or Egyptians. Joel also contributed his fair share of opinions about the sculptures and paintings from his childlike point of view. By the time we left the museum, it was close to 9pm and most of the eateries was closing. However we did manage to crash into a pizzeria bar that operated till midnight near our hotel for dinner.