Paris is so different than anything I have ever seen or experiences. The tall off white buildings, with black iron gated windows romantically decorated with drooping flowering plants, loomed around me taking me back hundreds of years. It wasn't hard to imagine women hanging out of the windows, yelling down to neighbors as they passed. Strolling down the street, lost in another world, the sound of passer-bys babbling on in French danced in my ears to the tune of a street performer's guitar, like a love song meant only for me.
The subway took me, as if moving in an underworld, swifty to the Eiffel Tower. But this story isn't all romantic past century stuff. Upon resurfacing, the reality of a few (eight?) months ago immediately smacked me in the face. Police were everywhere, carrying guns, something they apparently do not normally do. Army men walked by with very large guns, their finger hovering just on the trigger. I've been around police and I've been around army men. But never like this. This was something different. This was driven by fear inducing acts of terrorists.
A Fan Zone was set up for the Euro Cup (soccer! or...futbol!) which meant the large park in front of the Eiffel Tower was blocked off and heavily guarded. It also meant none of the gorgeous far away pictures from the end of the park. We walked up to it and just relished in the beauty and enormity of it. We had tried to buy tickets that morning, but alas, none were available so last minute. I should have planned that better.
After, we headed over to the Tomb of Napoleon, which was actually my favorite part of this leg of our journey.
The French really idealize this guy. He was a god to them, shown around the bottom of the tomb in a neo-classical style, making connections between the old and new (Roman law used to create Napoleonic code, for example). And his tomb sits down below in an underground level, where the light breaks through the windows from above and shines down on him. Side note: Did you know that Napoleon wasn't really short? That was just English propaganda. Who knew?
We had a lovely lunch of baguette and cheese in the park before heading to the Musee Rodin. I love Rodin. I had no idea how awesome he was. His sculptures are mind blowing.
The museum in Paris is housed in the Hotel Biron, which was used as his workshop from 1908. He agreed to donate his sculptures to Paris as long as they housed them in the Hotel Biron, turning it into a museum of his works. I want that kind of sway.
The Museum Rodin houses some of his most famous works, including The Thinker, The Kiss and The Gates of Hell, all there of which are just stunning in person. The collection also includes some work from Monet, Van Gogh and Renoir which were part of Rodin's personal collection. There is a huge garden out back housing several other large Rodin sculptures, as well.
The day was dwindling away, so we made our way to the Pantheon for one last visit before things started closing. Originally built as a church, the Pantheon now functions as a secular mausoleum for distinguished French citizens such as Voltaire and Rousseau. We were very excited to see Marie Currie and her husband, Pierre, also in the Pantheon. Beyond the crypt below, the building itself was gorgeous. Huge domed ceilings and intricate statues and gorgeous paintings surrounded us. Breathtaking architecture. We just don't make buildings like this anymore.
We decided to take a Literary Walk, found in the Paris guide, to visit some of the places Hemingway and Joyce lived, as well as a Hotel where the Beat poets hung out. We only got four stops in on this walk before the kids had had enough and demanded dinner. Kids and their food needs. Ugh.
We stopped at a restaurant for some snacks, only to find that when you sit at a restaurant in France, or at least this restaurant in France, we had to order dinner. We rolled with it and I had a delicious asparagus risotto.
Because the sun sets so late in this part of the world, we had plenty of time to make our way back to Montmartre to the top of the hill at Sacre-Coeur to watch the sunset over Paris. A perfect ending to a first night.
While the day was amazing, the language barrier, at times, created stress. My fault. No one else's. Traveling abroad for the first time is a wake up call that your "normal" isn't normal at all. There is an entire world out there to explore that will open your eyes to different cultures and ways of living. And the things you take for granted aren't normal at all. We should all travel more if only to break out of our narrow view of the world. It is a beautiful thing...