Paris, Day 2 (Part 2)

Okay . . . so we walked around Versailles for about four hours? It was a long time. I can see why some people buy the two-day pass. Though I wish I had more energy (and less pained feet) to see the Petite Trianon farther out on the estate, I had to remember that this was Thing 1’s vacation, too, and he declared he was fine if he didn’t see it. I honored that. I adjusted my shoes a bit so I couldn’t feel the blister, and we set off leaving the palace’s grounds to head back toward the train station and the McDonald’s across the street.

Thing 1 and I have been careful to avoid (for the most part) American restaurants, because we want the “full experience” of being in this other country. Why eat at a McDonald’s here when one could so easily eat at a McDonald’s in the U. S.? Where’s the new experience? Nevertheless, sometimes it cannot be avoided, or it leads us to feeling just a little bit closer to home; there’s some comfort to kinda knowing what you’re going to find. Except . . . the menu isn’t exactly the same. And, we discovered, there are some delightful additions to a McDonald’s in Paris (or Versailles, just outside of Paris), that an American McDonald’s just doesn’t have. An American McDonald’s has a plastic or acrylic boxed container sitting on the counter with stale, old tarts or cookies inside. The Versailles McDonald’s has this:

The Versailles McDonald's treat case!
The Versailles McDonald’s treat case!

It was pretty amazing. How does one choose when tempted with all of that delicious goodness? Interestingly, they also had kiosks set up through which you could place your order, pay by credit or ATM, and then pick it up at a special line. This wouldn’t work for us, of course, because I don’t have that credit card with the chip in it like most of Europe has, so we had to wait in a regular line. In the end, Thing 1 got his ice cream and we left to board the train. This time it was easy to figure out what train to get on because we were at the end of the line. There was only one way to go. No RER problems to face!

Our next stop was going to be the Arc de Triomphe. Originally, I had planned (since it is open until midnight) to visit it once we arrived in Paris after we dropped our stuff off at the hotel. But, we were exhausted (and dripping in sweat), so we let it go. But it was necessary to visit it before we left, so we decided to squeeze it in between the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre. It is possible to ascend the Arc de Triomphe; there are stairs inside and a viewing deck at the top, but Thing 1 said he “passed” on going up the steps (as our feet were really tired by this point). There was no elevator. So we contented ourselves with simply walking around it and sitting for a while to view the traffic as it circled the Arc. That was entertaining beyond belief!

The Arc de Triomphe . . . commissioned by Napoleon.
The Arc de Triomphe . . . commissioned by Napoleon.

There are NO marked traffic lanes within the traffic circle that surrounds the Arc. Cars, trucks, taxis, and scooters may enter the circle from the Champs-Elysées and no less than eleven other avenues, and there are no traffic signals to indicate when to enter or not. There are only signals at the beginnings of avenues leading out of the circle, and if one of them is red, and cars want to enter, they must wait, backing up all the other cars in the circle. But no one wants to stop, and some want to veer to the right to make sure they get their opportunity to exit the circle at their desired avenue, so they  keep pushing in and driving forward, cutting off other drivers, nearly causing accidents in their quest to get to the avenue they want. There is a tremendous amount of honking and gesturing. The scooter drivers complicate things as they zip in and out of traffic. I regretted that I didn’t have the stop-motion camera app installed on the iPad I was carrying around, because that would have made for some interesting viewing. (I resolved to install it when I got back to the hotel so I could film Trafalgar Square in London in the same manner.) Thing 1 and I viewed the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (from France during World War I), and viewed the reliefs along the side of the Arc.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I under the Arc de Triomphe ("Triumphal Arch")
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I under the Arc de Triomphe (“Triumphal Arch”)

There was a wonderful breeze there that helped cool us off and refresh us a bit before our trip the the Louvre.

Feet hurting, we got back on the Métro to make our way to the Louvre. It was open late on Fridays, so even though it was now about 4 or 5 in the afternoon, it would still be open until nearly 10 p.m. that night. The plaza outside the Louvre was wildly busy with tourists, even this late in the afternoon.

Thing 1 at the famous "pyramid" entrance to the Louvre.
Thing 1 at the famous “pyramid” entrance to the Louvre.
A panorama of the plaza outside the Louvre complex . . . it is HUGE.
A panorama of the plaza outside the Louvre complex . . . it is HUGE.

We made our way to the “fast track” line since I had the Paris Museum Pass, had our backpack x-rayed, and made our way into museum. (Did I mention that Thing 1 had free admission to every museum we visited? In France, anyone under 18 years old gets free admission to museums. Also, if one is an EU citizen, under age 26, one gets in free or a significant discount. Also, anyone who is unemployed gets in free.)

We made a beeline for the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the museum. We went up stairs, then up more stairs, took a right, then maybe a left . . . it was deep inside the museum, which was HUGE. It used to be a palace. There was no air conditioning, and the place was filled with people. There were no elevators, or lifts. Thank goodness they had some photocopied signs that directed us to her. It was very hard to find one’s way around this museum! We entered a huge room with high ceilings, filled with Italian art. And there she was.

She was on a wall all by herself a little bit past the middle of the room, behind a piece of glass. Viewers were held back from her a bit by a semi-circular line of barriers, to give everyone a better chance of seeing her. At that, people were still six and seven deep, so Thing 1 and I waited our turn to push our way into the group as people at the front pushed their way back out. It is wonderfully satisfying to finally see something in person that one has only looked at in books, and I was very happy to gaze at her a bit and take it all in. She wasn’t was small as I expected her to be; people have mentioned she isn’t as large as one would expect, so I was thinking she was much smaller than she was. But, I do have to say that, compared to some of the amazingly large paintings in the room that she is in, she is quite small. Thing 1 and I gazed upon paintings that took up entire walls they were so large.

Well, having seen our prize, Thing 1 was anxious to leave. No art lover is he. I was also feeling weary, but we were at the Louvre(!) so I felt some obligation to look around a bit longer. I saw paintings by other Italian masters, as well as some by Albrecht Dürer and Pieter Brueghel, both of whom I also discuss a bit when we get to the Renaissance in history. Did I mention that it was hot – stale air, really, and that there were a lot of stairs and this place was hard to navigate? I know I did, and after a while, that’s all that Thing 1 and I could concentrate on. Somewhat miserable because of all of that, and tired, we decided to leave and make our way back to the hotel. (It is hard to really concentrate on the beautiful art when sweat is dripping down one’s back and one hates to sweat!) The Métro, and the train car we got on, were just as sweaty and stale — and we were crammed into that like sardines — that making it to our hotel was a relief! We turned up the air conditioning, took showers, and fell into bed. I read up on our sites for the next day, falling dead asleep. Thing 1 obviously turned off all the lights at some point and put himself to bed (good boy!) because when I woke up in the night, he was sleeping soundly and all was well.

Tomorrow would be our last day in Paris; we were leaving in the late afternoon on the Chunnel train to get to London. We were both looking forward to it, as at least we would be in a country where we could speak the same language! There is something immensely comforting about that. But before we left, we would be visiting Notre Dame, the Conciergerie, and the Sainte Chapelle. Still a full morning! I pulled my blanket up, turned over, and went back to sleep.

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