Paris Free City Tour

 

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Notre Dame is one of those landmark buildings that is so big you can’t really capture it on camera, especially if all you’ve invested in photography is in your phone.  Still, I try to shoot some good pics, to no avail.

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I’m awed by the church, really. By the way, the above sculpture wasn’t IN the church, for obvious reasons.  LOL

That engineers and artisans could put together something so massive and enduring using basically hand tools 850 years ago is a testament to their skill and faith.

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My tour guide is trying to tell me all about it, but she’s being drowned out by construction noises and/or a street guy with a squeezebox.  I cut her some slack for this, but part of the problem is her company basically accepts any number of people, and in our case that is 23, which means she’d have to have the pipes of an Army drill instructor to be heard over the normal cacophony of Paris city streets, and she just doesn’t, so I have to strain to hear her, and eventually just give up before the tour is over.

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Before she finishes, though, she takes our group through the Latin Quarter, showing us the ancient Roman baths, the vintage movie theater district, the Pantheon, and the Sorbonne.  Any one of these sights would be the centerpiece of any normal city, but in Paris they’re just regular architectural/historic elements.

But Notre Dame is special even for the City of Lights, and I do enjoy seeing her.  I have a word (or two) of advice to those who do.  One, the “Crypt” exhibit has nothing to do with dead people but rather is a subterranean examination of the way Paris was actually built, first by the Celts and Romans, and later torn down and rebuilt again by the kings and queens.  It is worth seeing, especially if you have the city pass that I purchased at the Louvre.  Two, don’t go on a weekend, when the lines are ridiculous and have the usual French organization of queues.  Meaning, you stand outside while two huge snakes of tourists converge at a nexus from which the people make some kind of sense of the mess rather than the authorities

I actually enjoy the outside of the church as much as the inside.  Like any great sculpture, you can view her from any angle and appreciate the beauty.  In front, a magnificent gothic façade telling the story of God and His people.  On the sides and back, flying buttresses and gargoyle-gutters.  There is something of interest everywhere.

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Soon we move on to the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, rescued from oblivion by Ernest Hemingway, who loved Paris and, well, books.  Actually a lot of the “Lost Generation” hung out there, including F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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I mentioned the rest of the tour above.  If you take this, and I don’t recommend “Free Paris Tours”, make sure you plan on time to go back.  Their start times are designed to ensure you will not be able to see any of the museums and attractions that the guide is blabbing about.

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We started out the morning at the Louvre.  Well, actually, we meant to start there but got going late and arrived at precisely the peak time, allowing ourselves about 5 hours here.  You can’t see this in 5 hours anymore than you can memorize the Constitution in that time.  But do you even want to, is the point.  I’d recommend on a museum this size that you take a tour, which we did, because he’ll hit all the highlights such as Michelangelo’s Slaves, the Venus de Milo, the origins of the great museum, and, of course, The Mona Lisa.  He’ll not only show you what’s important, but why, and within a historical context. I didn’t “get” the most famous painting in the world until I understood WHY it was so iconic.

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If you don’t do this, good luck.  With over 3 million pieces of art, all of them worthy of some consideration at least, you’ll never get through without a plan.  Take a tour.

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By the way, if you go, normally you can skip the long lines by heading over to the Porte de Lions, rather than standing around all day in front of the pyramid.  I did this the last time I was here, but it wasn’t opened on Thursday this time.

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The Louvre is just too much, to me.  Over the top.  A museum version of Versailles.  I love going there, but I’d try to hit it during the winter or some other non-peak periods.  The crowds are just out of control.

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Tomorrow, the Musee’ D’Orsay!

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