June 24, 2010
On our last day in Paris, we finally decided to go to the overwhelming Louvre museum. On our arrival, we were immediately met with an unbelievably long line to enter the museum. After about fifteen minutes, we were informed that the long line in which we were standing was not the line for the museum but a line to get the new iPhone at the adjacent Apple store. We were then directed to a considerably shorter line for the museum. This line, however, was not moving at all. The museum still seemed to be closed thirty minutes after the posted opening time. It was then that we got our first taste of the frequent strikes that workers unleash in Europe.
We were told that the strike would not end until at least noon, so we decided to take a walk in the adjacent Tuileries Gardens. These gardens go back to the time of Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, back in the mid-1500s. The gardens became a public park after the French Revolution in the waning years of the 18th Century. In the Tuileries Gardens, you will see a statue of a gentleman blowing a horn while riding winged Pegasus, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (not THE Arc de Triomphe but pretty impressive nonetheless), and the Musee de l’Orangerie which houses Monet’s Water Lillies and some of Rodin’s sculptures.
After lunch in one of the Gardens’ cafes, we took a train to the nearby town of Saint-Denis and the basilica which houses the tombs of many of the French monarchs from Dagobert I to Louis XVIII as well as several queens, princes, princesses and other influential French statesmen. The Basillica itself was the most amazing site. Built in the 1100s, it was one of, if not the, first gothic basilicas built in the middle ages.
Of course, the town and basilica are named for Saint Denis who is famous for losing his head. Literally. Back in the 3rd Century, Rome still ruled the world and had not yet converted to Christianity. In fact, during this time, the Romans were known to go out of their way to punish Christians in creative and brutal ways. Denis, who was the bishop of Paris, and a couple of his buddies were decapitated in the city by the Roman authorities. Legend has it that Denis then picked up his severed head and walked several miles preaching the whole way until he finally collapsed and died. It was at that exact spot where the Saint Denis Basilica was built.
The town of Saint-Denis is also known for its higher than average crime rate, so be mindful of your surroundings. Following the 2015 Paris Attacks which included the mass shooting at the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan theatre, the mastermind behind the attacks was killed in a gun battle with police in Saint-Denis.
When we got back from Saint-Denis, we still had a few hours to spend at the Louvre. We saw the Mona Lisa (now encased in a climate controlled, bulletproof glass case to protect it from loonies), the Venus de Milo, the painting of Emperor Napoleon’s coronation, other important paintings and sculptures, exhibits on Greece, Rome and Egypt, artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia (make sure you check out Hammurabi’s Law Code etched on a seven-foot stone), medieval objects and art, and Napoleon III’s apartments.
The Louvre, by itself, is reason enough to visit Paris. Just make sure you give yourself a couple of days in case of strikes and to ensure that you see all that you want to see.
Until next time…ramble on.