Lady Liberty At The Louvre

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A MUSEUM PASS CAN SAVE YOU MONEY

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Whenever we travel to big cities we always look at the attraction passes that bundle various museums and sights under one prepaid admission.  Paris has two significant passes.  One (called the Paris Pass which is MUCH more expensive) includes transit and a large number of significant museums and sights.  When we started our research we didn’t understand that there was a cheaper way to get most of the things we wanted to see on a different pass with a similar name.  THAT pass is called  the Paris Museum Pass.  It comes in various versions that include a 2 day, 4 day or 6 day pass.  It also provides front of the line access for many attractions which can save you from long line-ups.

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Regardless of which pass you get, there are a few rules to be aware of.  First of all, the pass must be used on consecutive days.  This is important because many museums in Paris are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so  be aware of your schedule and plan accordingly. For a full list of what museums are closed on which days go to http://en.parisinfo.com/what-to-see-in-paris/info/guides/weekly-closing-days-of-cultural-sites-in-Paris   When you get the pass, you write the date on the back of it on the first day you use it. The pass expires at the end of the 2nd, 4th, or 6th day of use.

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BUYING A TEN PACK OF METRO TICKETS CAN ALSO SAVE YOU MONEY

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Our initial itinerary was based on taking the Metro from Montmartre each morning to an area of Paris and taking in two attractions in that vicinity, and spending the rest of the time eating, drinking and strolling.   When we were at the airport picking up our Museum Pass, we also picked up three “carnets” of Metro tickets (a package of 10) which cost just over 14 Euros each (saving you about 4 Euros per packet compared to making single ticket purchases).   Most days we used 2 tickets each, with the exception of 2 days which I will discuss separately.

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Working with the dates of our trip, which day we were going to start using the pass (a Wednesday in our case), and the dates certain attractions were closed, we slowly figured out the puzzle that became our itinerary.  Did I mention I LOVE trip planning?  For me … this is fun!  Our itinerary changed multiple times in the weeks prior to our trip to accommodate new ideas for places to go.   We also tried to switch up a museum day, with a trip out to Versailles, with a day for other styles of attractions so there was variety.

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THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN PARIS

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In our case we got a 6 day pass, but only used it on 5 days. The savings were still substantial.  As of today, a 2 day pass is 48 Euros, a 4 day pass is 62 Euros and a 6 day pass is 74 Euros (per person).  It includes most major sights  including Versailles,  (which can cost up to 25 Euros on its own).    You should also be aware that some museums in Paris are free, so do your research before you go.  Go back to that travel guide and plan accordingly.  By our estimate if you see only 5 attractions on the 6 day pass, you will already have saved money.  We saw 14 attractions on the pass so it saved us a bundle.

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You can order online, but there is a service charge to mail it to you.  Instead … pick it up at the airport information kiosk when you come in and save all the service charges.  The official site for this pass can be found at http://en.parismuseumpass.com/  If you want to look at the other pass (just called the Paris Pass), it does offer the convenience of everything on one pass including transit, but it is truly a lot of money, and when we did the math the Paris Museum Pass was a better deal for what we wanted to see.  No matter which pass you get, there will always be things that aren’t covered by either pass such as the Eiffel Tower or The Catacombes.  Sacre Coeur Basilica wasn’t on the pass, but the inside of the Basilica was free and the dome climb was only 6 Euros each.  We still had time and energy after Sacre Coeur, so we decided to end our first day by going shopping.

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SHOPPING AT GALERIES LAFAYETTE HAUSSMANN IS A BEAUTIFUL EXPERIENCE

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  For those of you who know us well, this must be puzzling … we aren’t big shoppers.  But there is a place known as Galeries Lafayette Haussmann in Paris that has taken an old train station and restored it into an amazing experience that crosses shopping with architectural splendour.  And if you don’t buy anything  it is free.  This fantastic sight was a 15 minute stroll south of where we were staying and is located in the Opera district right across from the Palais Garnier.

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THE VIEW FROM THE TOP OF GALERIES LAFAYETTE IS PRETTY GREAT … AND FREE!

The dome extends well above the fourth floor, but the the shopping area above the fourth level is on the outside of the dome.  If you take the escalators to the very top floor, there is a lovely outdoor cafe and restaurant and stunning views of Paris for FREE.  This is well worth a look.  I will warn you  that the colours of the clothes displayed were stunning and  we just barely got out without buying something.  For the weaker-willed shopper, only the prices may detract you from taking away a stunning piece of Parisian couture.

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 We ended our day by strolling back to a local bistro and ordering a pichet (750 centilitres) of light chardonnay, a steak with bernaise sauce and some delicious pommes frites (crispy french fries).  The wine was light and fantastically cheap.  We made our way back to our hotel to rest up for our first big day of seeing the sights on our Museum Pass.

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After a restful night, we got up and headed out the door onto the Metro system.  We knew that our first stop was The Louvre, so we had figured out in advance the nearest Metro stop to us (a 2 minute walk away).  All you need to know is the number of the line you you are traveling on, the name of the station you are getting off at, and the station at the end of the line (which indicates which direction you are going).  It is really well signed and very easy to use.  We google-mapped our destinations in advance and used the system with ease.  Remember to keep the ticket until you get off at your destination, and then discard it so you don’t mistake it for the new ticket you will use to get home.

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CAFES IN PARIS PROVIDE A GENTLE START TO THE DAY

We got off the Metro and enjoyed a traditional Parisian breakfast at a small cafe. Breads are the order of the day in France, and we got a lovely pastry, a piece of baguette served with butter and jam and a coffee.  Food in Paris tastes … better.  The pastries are delicious, the coffee is strong and has the right level of bitterness and the baguette is crispy on the outside and light and flaky on the inside.  As you sit at a table (side by side, facing out) your cares ease away as you watch people and traffic go by.  Nothing is rushed.  It is the perfect way to relax your way into the morning.

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THE LOUVRE IS SURROUNDED BY LARGE WALLS

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An hour after we had sat down we realized we had came to see The Louvre not sit and eat all day, so it was time to  get moving.  There are several ways to approach entering The Louvre which is surrounded by walls on three sides.  We went through an archway into the central courtyard and thanks to our Museum Pass skipped the long line that had started around the time we first sat down to breakfast.  We joined a small line to go through the metal detectors and security that are more common in Paris at the moment and descended into the main foyer area one story below the ground.  One could grumble about the security, but it makes sense … after all, this museum houses some of the great art treasures of the world.

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THIS IS THE LINE-UP IF YOU DON’T HAVE A MUSEUM PASS

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THE MAIN ATRIUM OF THE MUSEUM IS BENEATH A GIANT GLASS PYRAMID

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We decided to pay a little extra and get an English tour of the Louvre.  It was 90 minutes long and was EXCELLENT.  Tour tickets are available at a desk in the central atrium near the coat check.  Our admission to the museum was included in our pass but the tour was 12 Euro extra (each).  It was worth it!

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THE LOUVRE IS MORE THAN  JUST A MUSEUM

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Before you start your tour you must leave a piece of identification or a passport in order to receive the headsets that are given out.  These headsets simply allow the guide to talk at a normal level into a microphone that transmits her commentary to your earphones. In the busier sections of the building this is important as the museum is crowded and noisy.  Even when you can’t see your guide, her voice will tell you larger landmarks she is passing so you can find her and reconnect around a corner or at the top of a set of stairs.  The first place we were taken was to the archaeological restoration … for The Louvre was initially a fortress that protected the city.  Far below the surface you get to stand in what would have been the moat … 40 feet below ground level.

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IN SOME AREAS, CROWDS CAN BE PRETTY SIGNIFICANT

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The museum is immense so an overview tour is a great way to get a sense of what to see and do.  The guide is tasked with explaining the history of the building and then taking you to see three central pieces of art during the 90 minutes tour.  The hordes seen in the picture above are in the gallery that houses La Jaconde … The Mona Lisa.

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WHY IS THE MONA LISA SO FAMOUS?

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The picture itself is behind a plexiglass wall and there is a cordon which ensures that the throngs of visitors don’t press in too closely.  A security guard makes sure that people keep moving past it so everyone gets a chance to see this work.  So why is The Mona Lisa so famous?  Well, it was painted by Leonardo Di Vinci, but according to our guide there are many more accomplished pieces of art.  Part of the mystery is the look on her face … approaching a smile (which was considered inappropriate in portraits being painted at the time), but not quite smiling.  What did the artist imagine she was thinking that created that slight smirk?  Another factor that makes the piece even more famous is that it was stolen (and returned).  And then of course … it is in The Louvre, one of the most famous museums in the world.  Our guide explained (with some pride), that if it was housed in another museum, it truly might not be as well known.  The Louvre sees millions of visitors per year, many of them simply trying to get a glimpse of this one painting.  The collections are vast, and each piece has a story.  An art-historian could spend years in the museum.  Instead of providing detailed descriptions, the next few pictures will simply identify the work of art.

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FENTON FINDS THE MONA LISA

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THE VENUS DE MILO ALSO DRAWS LARGE CROWDS

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The Venus De Milo is a stunning sculpture which depicts the Goddess of Love  . It was discovered on the island of “Milo”  (thus … the Venus of Milo) and is thought to date back to around 100 BC.  It truly evokes a sense of awe.  Pictures never really do justice to the magic of smoothly sculpted marble which is so lifelike.

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THE WINGED VICTORY FEATURES THE GOD NIKE ON A PEDESTAL SHAPED LIKE THE PROW OF A BOAT

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THE DENON WING OF THE LOUVRE HAS A LARGE SCULPTURE SECTION AND THE NUDES HAVE BEEN LEFT UNTOUCHED (WITHOUT FIG LEAVES).

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STUNNING ART WORK IS AROUND EVERY CORNER

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THIS FAMOUS PICTURE ENTITLED LIBERTY LEADING THE PEOPLE WAS PAINTED BY EUGENE DELACROIX.

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There are many fine paintings by French masters, including the above work.  For those of you familiar with the musical Les Mis, you may notice the small boy with the pistol on the right.  This may have been the inspiration for the the character Gavroche in the musical based on Victor Hugo’s famous novel.  We learned that the revolution that Les Miserable was based on only lasted three days but a huge number of people lost their lives as they revolted against the elite… seeking liberty for all.  Lady Liberty  in the centre is seen frequently in paintings of the period.

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HOW BIG IS THE LOUVRE?  THIS IS ONE SMALL HALLWAY IN THE DENON WING

After our 90 minute tour, the guide advised us not to focus on any one area, but simply to wander and get lost and enjoy what drew our attention most.  For both Pete and I, three hours in a museum is probably the most we can spend.  Our heads get filled up.  We happily wandered about for another hour and then found an outlet to buy a sandwich and pastry and headed out for a picnic lunch in the Tuileries Gardens.  We had checked off an item on our life-list … we had seen a painting that included one of our favourite characters in Les Mis … er … I mean … we had seen … The Mona Lisa.

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Tomorrow … Walking the Champs Elysees

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Fenton & White (or in this case … White & Fenton)

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