With a week before school starts and the rain finally gone, now seemed like the perfect time to take in some of Paris’ top attractions, including Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and Notre Dame. Since the weather is still a bit chilly, I figured I’d save the outdoor activities for later in the Spring.
People always say that the first place you should visit when you arrive in Paris is Arc de Triomphe. And it’s true! There’s no better way to see how the entire city is laid out. In order to reach the entrance to the Arc you have to walk through an underground passageway, since the Arc is located in the center of a super busy roundabout. Of course, the climb up the spiral staircase (all 284 steps) isn’t easy either, but the view from the top makes up for it all.
The best time to go is definitely right before sunset. The perfect lighting will give you photographs worthy enough to print on postcards!
Notre Dame (’Our Lady’) is actually located on a little island along the Seine River. I didn’t think it would be tourist season this time of the year, but Notre Dame was definitely crowded with people from all around the world.
The view from outside is already quite impressive… with detailed sculptures and engravings that were made hundreds of years ago. Full construction of the cathedral actually spanned from 1163 to 1345.
The beautiful arches and intricate details inside the building showcase amazing workmanship. And miraculously, there seems to have been minimal (if any) wear-and-tear over the centuries. The architecture of Notre Dame, both interior and exterior, are truly awe-inspiring.
On the right bank, less than a mile away is the Louvre. Admission to the museum is actually free on the first Sunday of every month, but you can imagine how crowded it can get that day. I decided to take advantage of the reduced admission after 6pm on Wednesday and Fridays instead. Since the museum closes at 9:30pm, you only really have around three hours to see everything you want to see. I’ve never been much of a museum person and the only pieces I really wanted to see were the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, Venus de Milo, and of course, the Mona Lisa.
For whatever reason, I’ve always imagined the Mona Lisa to be a grand painting, very large, mounted on a wall, and very imposing. The real Mona Lisa is anything but… almost a bit disappointing when you see it in person. It’s a rather small painting, on stage in its own display case, protected by what seemed like a 12-inch thick wall of bullet-proof glass, and a waist-high metal barricade to keep all visitors at least six feet away. Fighting the massive crowd to get to the front was pure madness. I took one good look at it and escaped as fast as I could so I had time to pay visits to the other pieces on my list.
The Louvre is most definitely the largest museum in the world. I can see how people can spend a whole day here. The four level’s form an almost M.C. Escher-like maze. I could feel the onset of motion sickness as I wondered around the various galleries, making my way through the herds of people.
Outside in the peaceful courtyard, I could finally hear my own thoughts. The view of the Louvre Pyramid at night was timeless.
After a few days of sight-seeing (mostly walking), I definitely need to rest up before my culinary venture officially begins!