(This is a personal memoir of my first trip to Paris in 2019.)
November 16. Day one. Paris.
Part One: Trip to Louvre Museum.
The very early morning metro ride to Gare Du Midi from Albert station was literally a chilly experience. Brussels temperatures early morning was hitting sub zero every day, but this was one morning I was out of the comfort of my home, excited inside because I was going to Paris.
The Flixbus I had booked was supposed to leave from a stop next to Gare Du Midi station at 6:20 am. It took me a while to find it, what with all the cold wind and my senses dulled due to lack of sleep and five layers of clothing. I boarded the very visible green bus and got seated. I was pleased to find a charging socket and Wi-Fi on the bus, not to mention a coffee vending machine and a toilet too. Unlike others who went to sleep immediately, I could not. So, I streamed Eminem all along the way.
It takes about four hours to travel from Brussels to Paris, in spite of the distance. The roads, unlike India, are very smooth and the traffic is much less and far better behaved. Europeans drive on the right side of the road, so it was quite amusing for me to see the Bus turn opposite to what my instinct called.
Four hours went by smoothly. The sun was slowly coming up to show the bright and beautiful landscapes, something we Indians are not used to seeing. Green fields as far as eye could see, under a cold, but slightly luminous morning sky. The sun seemed lazy to come up, and the beautiful windfarms added imagery to my memories. The bus did stop in between at a motel, and people got fresh and bought things to eat. I got myself a snicker kind of some random chocolate, and a few mouth fresheners and returned to the bus muttering expletives under my breath, because they charged me 7 euros for all of it.
The Paris airport falls along the way. The one noticeable thing was flights taking off from runway, while we drove into the underpass beneath it. Quite a sight.
I reached the Bercy Seine Bus depot at 10.30 sharp. I was quite surprised with the punctuality of Flixbus and thanked the driver for it. I walked out of the depot and found myself in a big park, quite happy to be in the legendary city of Paris. I took a photo, wish Shreya “Good Morning from Paris” and took a stroll towards the Bercy metro. The park was quite expansive, and there seemed to be a Zumba class of sorts going on at the steps on one side. There were people around me, running. And some were walking their dogs.
Beautiful people, all dressed like they do in the Hollywood movies. Everything around me felt clean, tidy, and the air felt so quaint.
And in the middle of them, was I, all hooded and bagged up, yet shivering and claiming my Indianness from my clothing.
I had decided that I would only check in to my hotel at night after exploring the city. And my first spot was museum Louvre.
I took a two-day zone 1 to zone 3 metro pass (I would regret this later) instead of buying the more recommended bulk of ten metro tickets for my trips. It cost me 19.50 Euros. Paris metro stations are quite the puzzle when you use them the first time and quite boring once you have figured them out.
The whole set up is a complex mesh of tubes and tunnels and stairs and platforms, and one has to navigate seeing the various signs. At the same time, these metro stations are unexpectedly windy in parts, and one moment you’re comfy enough to open your cap and just one turn later the cold wind makes you wish you were dead.
Navigating in Paris turned out to be easier that I thought it would be, primarily because of the following reasons:
- Almost all metros in Europe follow a similar process of boarding and deboarding, and directions, which I had gotten so acclimated in my last two weeks in Brussels.
- The language used everywhere, although French, was written in the roman script, which made it easier for me to google. Very soon I figured out “sortie” meant exit and just followed directions given by RATP or Google apps.
- The over all system is quite systematic once you know what is what and figured out which metro line you shall be boarding and in what direction, and where to get down to change the line.
The one thing that I felt uncomfortable with was the tiny metro ticket they gave, which one can easily lose in the short duration of journey. And it also has to be inserted into the machines before you are allowed to enter or exit, which again feels a lot more tedious. Thankfully I did not lose mine and used the same ticket for two days (there is another story to it but that comes later).
I got out at “Pyramides” station and started walked towards Louvre. It was still about a kilometer away and I looked around, fascinated with the beautiful architecture of the building around me. Everything looked movie like, and fascinating.
I thought I must be imagining myself in some Hollywood movie. Men were dressed in overcoats, and women wore many dresses I do not even know the names of. But they all looked very pretty and suave. The roads, although the same width as India, were scenic, because everyone followed traffic rules.
It was mindbogglingly cold, and my cheeks kind of froze and felt numb. Thankfully, I had packed gloves and caps with me, and I wore them. The wind could still be felt beneath four layers of clothing, so I kept walking fast to keep myself warm.
There were many shops around and looked like something you would see in paintings. They were all small but felt different and more organized. A lot of them were selling souvenirs and “Paris stuff”, from small Eiffel to other things. I was not very interested in buying things so I kept walking.
I found the big entrance to Louvre. Everything about it felt big and classy. The golems and gargoyles and statues on the high walls, combined with the medieval architectures and big bulky pillars, gave it a very artistic feel.
There were some Indians too, students, from the looks of it, and they kept looking at me from the corner of their eyes. This felt strange. Being ogled. By fellow Indians.
Louvre lives up to its name. While the wait outside was quite long and chilly, the beautiful area and people made up for it. The line had more than 200 folks, and they must have been from all over the world. Couples dominated the demography, and I understood why they call Paris the city of love.
Because here they let lovers be.
I went inside the glass pyramid and was nonplussed with the size and grandeur of it. Went to the ticket counter and got one for the museum. And then I strode of. Mona Lisa and Egyptian sarcophaguses were my prime targets to see, but Louvre, being one of the most famous and renowned museums in the world, had enough to consume a day or more, if you are into art and that sort of thing.
I will not bore you with the descriptions and names and historical tidbits of the pieces at display. I will just post the photographs here so you can see for yourself.
I was quite flummoxed in my attempts to find Mona Lisa. Of course, I had a map. Of course, it showed where Mona Lisa was. And of course, there were actual physical signs all around to find your way.
But Mona Lisa, like all women, is a tough lady to find.
It took me one hour to find Mona Lisa. I will let you judge my map navigations skills, but for my sake, Louvre is a very big museum. There were many things to see and observe, and I often got distracted.
I did not think much of the Mona Lisa, for all the pop culture icon it has become. Perhaps the most famous painting in the world, it indeed is one of the smaller artworks on display at the Louvre. There are far bigger and more interesting paintings, based on my irrelevant personal opinion, but Mona Lisa is the one crowd puller than beats them all. It was the only painting that one has to get in a line to see, and one gets a maximum of 30 seconds in front of it.
The painting itself is kind of small, and her smile I felt was forced. Of course, that is my personal opinion, going by the accolades it has got over the decades. Leonardo Da Vinci had his own expo going on at the museum then, but I guess Mona Lisa, being the star, she has become, would beat all other artwork in terms of revenue.
Once I was out of the museum, I realized I was very hungry. I had not eaten the gaufre I bought before leaving Brussels and had forgotten about eating at all in my excitement to eat. So I got the cheapest item on the menu.. bread filled with chicken.
And I ate, still unable to believe that ..
Hey! I am not in India!
Hey ! I am in France!
Hey! I am in Paris
Hey! I am in The Louvre!
Hey ! I just saw Mona Lisa!
And I munched away, looking at everyone and everybody.
I had not smiled like that in ten years !