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European travel journal – Day 8: Champs-Elysees (continued), The Louvre, Orsay, and Rodin museums, and St. Martin’s Canal festival

PastaQueen at the Louvre

It was raining and the sun was trapped behind a blockade of grey clouds, but I was in Paris, damn it, and I was going to walk the Champs-Elysees. I only had a hat and a water-resistant jacket, but at least this statue knew how to dress for Paris weather.

A man who knew how to dress for the weather

My two-day museum pass would expire tomorrow, so I declared museum mania on Sunday. I’d planned on waking at seven o’clock to finish my walk down the Champs-Elysees, through the Tuileries, and directly into the Louvre as it was opening at nine o’clock, but once again my body had other plans. I dragged myself out of bed by eight and had the hotel breakfast again because it was quick and easy, but swore I’d hit a patissiere for some pain au chocolat tomorrow.

Several runners jogged past me as I walked by the obelisk at Place de la Concorde and through the green gardens of the Tuileries. These people were running past famous landmarks in sweat shorts like it’s no big deal! There is so much grandeur and history and postcard material littered around Paris that it seems odd for people to be going about their mundane lives here like people in cities not mentioned in guidebooks.

On my boat tour the first night in Paris, the guide pointed to the large former palace on the river bank and said, “This is the Louvre.” Then the Louvre kept going and going and going and going. It is the largest building I can recall seeing and has more art than I’ll ever be able to see. This is why I downloaded another free Rick Steves audio tour and just hit the highlights like the Venus De Milo, Winged Victory, and the Mona Lisa. The only snag came when I discovered that the first room mentioned in the tour was closed, leaving me lost yet again trying to find room two. I wandered by ancient statuary and Chinese tourists and eventually ended up in the right place.

When I have visited museums before, my brain reaches information overload after about an hour and I leave without seeing many sections of the museum. Having the guide gave me the endurance to hit more sections by only visiting the highlights. Getting the background information on why each piece of art is considered as grrrrrrreast as a box of Frosted Flakes made the visit more memorable and meaningful even reflecting on it a few days later.

People always say that the Mona Lisa is smaller than you expect. So many people have told me this that I entered her gallery thinking I would see a postcard size image. Yet when I saw a portrait the size of a small poster smiling behind the glass, I was probably the only person in the room thinking, “Wow, that’s bigger than I expected!”

After I exposed myself to all that culture, I sat on the Pont des Arts waiting for Francine, my lunch date for the afternoon. As I watched for someone wearing a black cap, a middle-aged man sat down next to me and after a minute asked me something in French, which turned out to be, “What time is it?” He also spoke English, so we then talked about the “situation,” meaning the economy, good things to see in Paris, and he told the peddler trying to sell us a fake gold ring to go away. Finally, I saw a woman in a black hat approach and told this musician and geologist who was named Christophe, “Au revoir.” I greeted the woman in the black hat who looked at me strangely before I heard my name called from 20 feet away and turned to see the real Francine, also wearing a black cap which is evidently popular in Paris these days.

Francine is a friend of a friend who moved to Paris after meeting and marrying a Frenchman. We talked about the French philosophy of working to live, not living to work, and the seven nine weeks of vacation time she gets each year. She speaks French and took care of ordering this creamy, culinary orgasm on a plate for me at a crepe restaurant.

Crepes! Yum!

Before I came to France I was told most people here speak English, which they do, so I barely brushed up on my French because I didn’t see the point. I thought speaking in English here would be great, but instead every conversation makes me feel like a jackass who visited a country without having the respect to learn the resident’s language. Not being able to communicate well makes me feel vulnerable. I sometimes get the wrong food delivered to me. I get the wrong type of tickets from the metro office. It’s all a jumble and I can understand why babies cry a lot because it’s unbelievably frustrating not to be able to properly tell someone what you want. Water, food and shelter and basic human needs, but let’s add language to that list too.

Francine also led me through the curvy back streets of Paris to Laduree, the best place in the world to buy macarons. We don’t really have anything like macarons in America. The closest comparison I can think of is an Oreo cookie, but that’s not even close. Macarons have a crunchy crust and gooey insides. I tasted chocolate, mint, coconut, and blackcurrant, all of which were yum.

Francine pointed me towards the Orsay, which picks up in the period of art where the Louvre drops off. The building used to be a train station and is quite easily the coolest museum building I have ever been in.

Choo, choo! All aboard!

My museum pass once again paid for itself when I skipped a massive line for tickets and went straight to the security check. I could walk into the Indianapolis Museum of Art with a can of spray paint in my purse, but in Paris they are serious about their art museum security. There was much to love at the Orsay, including the model of Paris hiding beneath a glass floor, the large clock faces on the sides of the building, and the way the frosted panel in front of the 5 stairs of escalators lets enough light in for you to see the shadows of all the visitors walking back and forth.

I walked into the Monet room and instantly thought, I recognize those haystacks. They’re famous! Then I turned to my right and thought, I recognize that woman with a scarf. She’s famous! And then I turned again and thought, I recognize those cathedrals. They’re famous! I was so amazed that this much famous art was in one room that I stopped taking photos right there because I knew my memory card would fill up if I continued photography every notable work of art in this building. Again, I used a free Rick Steves audio guide to lead me toward the noteworthy exhibits since I had a limited amount of time.

Once I’d sucked up all the beauty my eyes could take at the Orsay, I waited for a bus to the Rodin museum for 10 minutes before walking there myself. My feet were beginning to get sore, but I had now become accustomed to this feeling since it was the sixth day in a row that I’d pounded them with sidewalks and sightseeing. Besides, pain and I are old buddies. It’s my really annoying friend who never goes away. I’ve learned to work around its quirks and habits to live how I want to, which today involved seeing some famous sculptures.

At this point, I was beginning to lose my steam, yet I made it all around Rodin’s old mansion and gardens looking at the art he freed from marble. The man was busy. There were a lot of rooms full of rocks. It really makes you think.

The Thinker

I dragged myself to the Metro and returned briefly to my hotel, happy to know I’d gotten about 60 euros worth of admissions for the price of 32, plus no waiting! Then it was off to Canal St. Martin, a recently gentrified section of the city, not known to many tourists. No one here was trying to sell me a miniature Eiffel tower. This was a more authentic Paris, a place where parents took their kids in the evenings to race on their razor scooters and play soccer in the parks sandwiched between the two lanes of roads. I walked only two blocks before coming upon the sounds of drums and this:

Costumed person

An orangutan? He or she was with his friends, a penguin, a polar bear, and about 20 drummers sounding out a rhythm and drawing a crowd to them like the pied piper as they slowly marched down the street. Soon we ran into some people with a sousaphone playing in a square next to some mimes. Yes! Real live French mimes! And no, they weren’t funny!

Real mimes!

I had stumbled upon Le Priotemps des Rues, which was quite a lark that I left only to eat dinner at a nearby restaurant. On the way I saw a man wearing shirt that resembled the Starbucks logo, only it said “Starfucks here” and I wondered if he could get away with wearing that in America. Probably.

Then it was back to the hotel once more to vege out in front of an episode of The Mentalist dubbed in German and Cinema Paradiso subtitled in French before turning off the TV and turning in for the night.

Chocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away
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Ang • May 19, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Mimes are scary and THOSE mimes look extra scary. Good thing you didn’t get too close!!


Amy • May 20, 2009 at 1:24 am

When your European tales show up in Google Reader I actually say “Yay!” to myself. I’m really enjoying living vicariously through you!


Lirpa • May 20, 2009 at 7:19 am

I know you are probably not reading all these comments since you’re way too busy exploring Paris and having lots and lots of fun and exciting foreign adventures, but somehow i feel i have to keep leaving comments to make sure you know how much i (and i’m assuming everyone else who reads your blogs) appreciates your very thoughtful daily travel blogs! i anxiously await each and every one to show up in my RSS feeds. I keep going back to my feeds throughout the day and keep clicking the refresh button in hopes that it’ll turn up. Anyway, so here’s my daily comment to your daily travel blog, just to say THANK YOU and KEEP EM COMIN! Thanks so much for letting us all explore London and Paris along with you. Cheers and Merci!


Susannah • May 20, 2009 at 10:31 am

Merci beaucoup, PQ! I am enjoying your trip so much….he he. I’ve never been to London but your time in Paris reminds me of the time (all too brief) that I have spent there. I am a Francophile to the core (obviously switched at birth with some lucky baby who grew up in France!). You are having such a great time – yea!! Wishing you a safe journey home.


dg • May 20, 2009 at 11:47 am

Yeah baby! So glad you got your mitts on some Laudree macarons… yummo :) Hope you made it home safe and the jet leg isn’t too bad!


dunja • May 20, 2009 at 12:17 pm

You look soooooo beautiful sitting under the “Le Penseur”!!!!!!


A Canadian Reader • May 20, 2009 at 1:02 pm

I too am absolutely loving your posts. I can’t wait to go back to Paris, but in the meantime, I can savour the city through your wonderful travelogue. Merci, tu es formidable ! (Thanks, you’re great-fantastic-super, whatever).


jane • May 20, 2009 at 5:30 pm

What a great trip! You’ll be happy to know we have French Macarons in the US too! You can find them in many/most bakeries. They’re my favorite and they’re becoming much more popular these days – I anticipate they’ll be the next craze like cupcakes and expensive frozen yogurt have been the last few years (and cream puffs were before that).


Vanessa • May 20, 2009 at 5:39 pm

I know you’re taking a break from your inbox (as you should!) but wanted you to know that I’m loving your travel journal. Thanks for sharing.

And I laughed out loud when you said that the Mona Lisa was bigger than you expected! So did I!

Glad you’re having fun. Enjoy the rest of your trip.


gknee • May 20, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Can’t believe “our” vacation is over!! I’ve had such vicarious fun. I was able to eat the desserts sans calories and experience the sites without spending! thanks for sharing. Sorry you had to rejoin reality again.


PastaQueen • May 20, 2009 at 8:03 pm

@gknee – Oh, there’s still one more day. I’m just back in the states, jetlagged, and my Internet isn’t working. Will probably update tomorrow from Panera or Starbucks.


fc • May 20, 2009 at 8:47 pm

wow, still going full tilt! how many more days do you have?


Francine • May 21, 2009 at 4:28 am

Yay! Glad you liked the macarons… mine didn’t even make it to the metro station after I left you!! LOL

So happy you had a good time and Paris, and am still so amazed at ALL the things you got to see while you were here (7 years and I’ve still to make it to the Rodin museum!).

It was really fun to meet you (I just realized you’re the first published author I have ever met!) and hope you have a great “going back to reality” time! =)

P.S. And, not to rub it in or anything, but it’s actually NINE weeks of paid vacation. Not 7. :)


Nan • May 21, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Really enjoying following you around Paris!

(Envy your visit to Laduree as I’m told it is the Mecca for macarons.) Just so you know, we do have macarons (macaroons) in the U.S.–just not in the grocery stores. Some big city French bakeries make them.


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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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