Map in hand, it was time to ramp up my speed seeing Paris before flying home on Monday. Cluny, Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower were on my list, and since it was Saturday, it might be crowded. Being March, perhaps it would be less busy with tourists.
Ending up back on St. Germaine I actually went into a Starbucks which, in my real world, I rarely do. I would rather patronize small business owners than major corporations. So since I had to get a move on and didn’t have time to tarry, I grabbed a cup to go and started walking to find the Cluny, a medieval museum.
Not wanting to waste time being lost, I paid close attention to where I was going. However, instead of being lost, I wasted time taking photos of store windows, storefronts, buildings, street signs, etc. Photographing everything in sight appears (no pun intended) to be an addiction for which, in my case, there is no cure. Which reminds me of a story of walking with a friend in Venice who left me ‘in the dust’ when I was pausing and taking photos, as we walked back to the apartment where we rented rooms from her friends, several years ago.
I had recently been diagnosed with the autoimmune thyroid disease called Graves Disease, and had not yet been diagnosed with another bothersome disease called Fibromyalgia. My meds weren’t properly adjusted yet so being stressed out elevated my hormone levels amplifying my frustration at being lost, abandoned, and exhausted for a couple of hours all the while trying to find the apartment. This was the only time I have ever felt so close to tears from being lost when traveling. I kept going in circles and seeing the same North African guys selling scarves near a bridge. This girl went through life always in a hurry so I still think if she had just slowed down a little, while walking with me, would have been kinder. Yet its events like this which tell you who your friends really are….or aren’t. Traveling with others can be difficult, especially if you don’t know them well, or, if you’re lucky, it can be memorable – in a good way. But, I digress….
Slowing down when traveling lets you see places like this shop with all the different dolls in the windows. Is it a ‘doll hospital’, I wondered. And in a real estate office, there is a listing for a studio apartment for sale at “only” 640,000€ or $843,456. Yikes. Paris is far from being inexpensive. And in a recent article it said this is a great city to retire, which I believe would be true, but I presume that means for people who have suitable incomes affording them the ability to live a comfortable lifestyle.
I came across this building with a number of kids, looking like students, out in front. Later I learned it was the College of France, established in 1530 by King Francis I of France. The college leans toward Humanist inspiration, as an alternative to the Sorbonne, to promote disciplines such as Hebrew, Greek, and Mathmatics. The motto is “Docet Omnia” which translates to “It teaches everything.” “Not preconceived notions but the idea of free thought.” (Quote by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.) There are no degrees distributed here and, if you’re interested, they have podcasts available.
Across the street from the College of France is a wide street (see photo with red awnings) called the Sorbonne Square (Place de la Sorbonne) which looked like a great place for lunch or a coffee. The Sorbonne is one of the first universities in the world and is in the 5th Arrondissement of Paris, also known as the Latin Quarter.
From the Sorbonne’s website:
Paris Sorbonne University is the main inheritor of the old Sorbonne, which dates back to the 13th century. It was one of the first universities in the world.
The biggest complex in France, dedicated to Literature, Languages, Civilizations, Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, is located on the original medieval foundations, and now extends to the Latin Quarter and to other areas in Paris.
The University has two characteristics : rich culture and tradition, with top-quality researchers, and therefore an excellent scientific reputation shown through publications and international exchanges; its concern to constantly adapt to present day social and technological changes and to encourage as many students as possible to study at Paris-Sorbonne while preparing for their future careers. The Sorbonne incites its students to think freely, to construct their own judgment, so that they can become responsible and inventive citizens who can promote dignity and peace culture.
According to the map, it looked like I was getting close to the Cluny. I am always so proud of myself when I actually find the place I am looking for while travelling in a foreign city. As I walked along the side of the Sorbonne, I could see a medieval-looking building ahead and was very pleased to find out it was the Cluny.
The Cluny is a Gothic building with vines, turrets, gargoyles and dormers with seashell motifs. It was originally the mansion of a wealthy 15th century abbot, built on top of and next to the ruins of a Roman bath. By 1515, it was the residence of Mary Tudor, widow of Louis XII and daughter of Henry VII. After Alexandre du Sommerard died in 1842, the government bought the building and his collection of medieval artworks. The tapestry of the Lady and the Unicorn is the most acclaimed tapestries of their kind. These were discovered only a century ago in Limousin’s Chateau de Boussac. The five floor to ceiling wall tapestries tell the story of the five senses with the unicorn a focal figure in the company of “The Lady.” These were beautiful and housed in a room with special low lighting and temperature to preserve the tapestries.
Other exhibits range from Flemish to 14th century Sienese John the Baptist, sculptures, statues from Sainte-Chapelle (1243-48); 12th-13th century crosses, chalices, manuscripts, carvings, vestments, leatherwork, jewelry, and coins; a 13th century Adam; and recently discovered heads and fragments of statues from Notre-Damn de Paris. Also stained glass and some of the earliest panes of painted glass.
The admission price was reasonable; the line was short. I felt like a kid in a candy store looking around at the building, the exhibits, the beauty of the tapestries.
Following are just images of this cool museum for those of you going to Paris and may want to check it out. And for those of you who may never get to Paris, enjoy the viewing of The Lady and the Unicorn and so much more.
Before continuing on to the Louvre, I sat in the courtyard of the Cluny and watched a grandmother show her grandchildren how to play chess using the life-size set. The children were darling.
After leaving Cluny, I found a Vietnamese restaurant close by for lunch. Soup and a chocolate dessert. Just enough to warm a girl’s heart on a brisk and chilly March day. When paying for the meal, this was another one of the rare times my debit card would not work in Europe. But the woman behind the counter put my card in a plastic baggie, smoothed it out, and ran the card through the machine again which actually made it work. Interesting technique.
Heading over the river again, and not knowing of the short-cut at the time, I walked the long block next to the Seine taking some photos of the exterior of this very large building which seemed to go on and on. It was 4:30 p.m. and time was tight to get inside the museum before it closed.
But I made it, along with several other people, inside to see the museum for 45 very short minutes. I sprinted through as many exhibits as I could but certain rooms, such as Napoleon’s, were closing as I got to their doorway. I managed to see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, though. Plus I saw some wonderful statutes, amazing paintings, and, yes, I thought it was very cool that I could take as many photos as I pleased.
I sprinted through almost empty corridors of The Louvre in a silence I bet most people don’t experience in this massive and popular museum. Even though I wasn’t able to see so many of the exhibits, I did enjoy the fact I was able to see so much without having to tiptoe to peer over other people’s shoulders. I had Venus de Milo all to myself (she is thought to be Aphrodite – Goddess of Love and Beauty – and from between 130-100 BC.) There were not many people around the Mona Lisa, either. My near-solitude even made me fantasize what it would be like to be locked inside this place for the night. I would love that!
It was time to get over to the Eiffel Tower so I could see it light up at 7:00 p.m. but I certainly had no intention of walking there. I asked one cabbie how much to the Eiffel and he quoted me 25 euros. I think not. Then I saw this guy with a funny black and white checkered bicycle cab. He quoted 15 euros and I went for it. I knew this would be a one of a kind experience. A bit like when I rode a horse and buggy around the pyramids in Cairo. And, the ‘driver’ was a sweetheart. He said he was from Greece and that I should go there sometime. Apparently he comes to Paris every few years, works hard riding his buggy around, and then goes back home to Greece until it’s time to head back to Paris to make some more money. He would stop and point out sights like the Champs-Elysees (which I knew would be the only time I’d see it on this trip), and Napoleon’s tomb housed behind a bridge with gold posts and entombed in a building with a gold dome looking more like a state capital building in the states rather than a tomb.
The line for tickets to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower was too long and it just wasn’t important enough to me to wait. So I bought a snack and sat talking with a guy who was a counselor on a field trip with a school from San Diego.
It was a bit of a walk from one end of the plaza to the other but fun to people watch along the way. There was romance in the air as I saw many couples strolling hand-in-hand.
One drawback to solo travel is asking strangers to photograph you although everyone I have ever asked has always been so incredibly kind and willing. However, things happen like the top of the Eiffel Tower gets cut off in your photo. Nonetheless, at least it documents that I was actually there.
At 7:00 p.m. the tower lit up and then every hour there is a light show of sparkling white lights racing up and down the tower. After watching awhile, I decided to start making my way back to the hotel. By now it was 8 p.m. and dark. I had walked all the way to the other end of where I came in so this was a new road and one which seemed a bit less traveled. I tried to flag down a cab whenever I would see one but not one stopped. I walked and walked. Then I thought that if I was mugged, I should take a couple of photos of where I was walking so I would know where to tell the police it happened.
Weird thoughts cross the mind on dark Parisian streets when you have no clue where you are. Finally I got to a wide boulevard and saw a young couple walking. I asked them where we were and which direction was the West Bank. This was very poor planning on my part. First, I have night blindness so I couldn’t read my map and my little flashlight broke back in England so that wasn’t an option. I told this couple how cabs weren’t stopping for me and the young woman said they pick and choose their customers. Great. That did not give me a lot of confidence since no one had stopped so far. Using her iPhone’s mapping app, she figured out where I should catch a bus to get to my hotel. The bus stop was right across the street so I walked over and stood next to the shelter. However, I kept trying with the cabs, too. Finally a cabbie stopped and I got to the Hotel Bonaparte tired but unscathed.
The next day the plan was to go to the cemetery and look for Jim Morrison’s grave. I have always been curious what it would be like to visit this old Paris cemetery. My last day in Paris, and in Europe, was one night’s sleep away.