Paris, Day 2: Jardin Tuileries

After checking out the African and European galleries at The Louvre, I walked back to the Jardin Tuileries, a large public garden located between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde. This time, I sat for a while and people watched.

View of the Louvre from Jardin Tuileries - Maynefoto
View of the Jardin/Garden Tuileries - Maynefoto

The Jardin Tuileries has been opened to the public since 1667.

More garden view - Maynefoto

Thousands of Parisians and tourists stroll, sit, eat and relax in the Jardin Tuileries everyday.

Garden fountain - Maynefoto
View of the Eiffel Tower from the Jardin Tuileries

Jardin Tuileries, a great place to spend a Paris afternoon.

Paris, Day 2: The Louvre – Cameras Allowed

As I walked through gallery after gallery in The Louvre in search of the European and African art collections, I couldn’t help notice that many of people ahead of me were taking photos of the artwork. Most didn’t even look at a painting long enough. They just got within camera range, snapped and moved on to the next one.

Granted, with the size of The Louvre — I’m sure I could visit every day for a month and not see the same collections twice — the objective for many visitors is to capture as much as possible in the time that they have. But, to me, it just waters down the experience.

Sculpture from the African Art collection at The Louvre - Maynefoto

I couldn’t help thinking about it for several hours after — and it comes back to mind each time since that I’ve been to an art gallery or a museum.

In this time when cell phones and digital cameras are so ubiquitous, it shouldn’t have been surprising but it was.

In thinking about what I’d write in this post, I thought about a comment Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, made recently at a talk at the New York Public Library. To paraphrase, he said CDs and computers make a large collection of music more easily accessible but flattens the sound.

The same could probably be said about taking photos of works of art. By relying on a camera instead of the eye to interpret and record the image, we reduce it to one dimension. Sure, it’s accessible — we can load it on to our computers, print a copy, share it with our friends, etc., but no camera I know of can capture the subtle qualities, like the light or tiny brush strokes that the eye can pick up, or the feeling that some works of art can evoke in a viewer.

Seeing this “drive-by viewing” had me thinking about how we engage the things around us and how technology is allowing us to breeze through our lives without slowing down or stopping to notice, to take stock.

Having worked with creative people in different fields, I’m acutely aware of the right of ownership whether of a manuscript, photograph, song or painting and how easy it is for us to ‘own’ a knock-off or a copy of the original. I’m also well aware that some museums, like The Louvre, allow visitors to take photos (sans flash).

Maybe it’s not such a big deal to allow cameras in museums since most of their artists are dead and maybe they recognize that a lot of us take photos on our digital cameras and never print them.

What do you think?

Paris, Day 2: The Louvre

As a former art gallery director, a visit to Paris would not have been complete without a visit to the Louvre. Yet, when I finally arrived at this world renowned museum and saw the lines, I balked. I had three days in Paris. There was no way I wanted to spend my time in an endless queue!

In addition, it was an unseasonably warm April and the unrelenting afternoon sun forced several people to take refuge under their umbrellas. They came prepared, I wasn’t.

Paris, Day 2 The Louvre
The Pyramid, the main entrance to the Louvre – Maynefoto

No, there was no way I’d stand on that line, not even for the Louvre, I thought. Sitting by the fountain was infinitely more pleasant. But more than half an hour later, I was still there circling, taking photographs, people watching, undecided.

Finally, I came to my senses. Who was I fooling, I asked myself. Why come so close and not visit? I joined the line which, surprisingly, moved more quickly than I anticipated.

Louvre escalator
The escalator to the underground lobby – Maynefoto

The security guard checked my bag — the source of the slow moving lines — and I was finally in! As I entered the underground lobby, I spotted a bank of vending machines and within a few minutes, had ticket and museum brochure in hand.

Ceiling of the European Art collection

One of the most visited museums in the world, with 15,000 daily visitors, the Grand Louvre opened in the former Palais du Louvre in 1793. It contains nearly 400,000 objects, displays 35,000 artworks in eight curatorial departments and has almost 700,000 square feet dedicated to its permanent collection.

View of the Pyramid from inside – Maynefoto

With only a few hours to spend, I knew there was little chance that I’d get to see the Mona Lisa, without a doubt the Louvre’s most popular attraction, or the statue of Venus de Milo, so I decided to check out the Louvre’s collection of African and European art.

It turned out to be a good choice as I had to walk through the European gallery to find the African gallery, which was so well off the beaten path, I had to ask several security guards to help me find it. When I did, I exhaled and relaxed in the quiet.

African Art gallery, Louvre Museum – Maynefoto

Dedicated in April, 2000 by former French President Jacques Chirac, the African, Asian, Oceanic and American gallery was almost deserted — only one person, an artist or art student — who stood silently sketching one of the exhibits and a couple security guards. It was also much smaller than I anticipated but no less impressive. And the best part, I could enjoy the exhibits almost undisturbed. I didn’t have to dodge the backs of other viewers’ heads.

The Louvre Museum

Hours: Mondays, Thursday, Saturday and Sundays 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Wednesdays and Fridays 9 a.m. – 10 p.m., closed on Tuesdays, December 25th, January 1st and May 1st.

Fees: 10 € (Full day access), 6 € multimedia guide

Metro: Palais Royal Musee du Louvre station

Even though I spent only a few hours at the Louvre, I was overloaded visually by the time I left. But I’m very glad that I stayed. As an art lover, I would have been kicking myself now if I had not seen it.

The Louvre — worth a visit, even for a couple of hours.

Paris, Day 1: Paris on Foot

Golden sunlight filled the room when I woke on my first morning in Paris but as soon as I opened my eyes, I began to sneeze. It had been an unseasonably warm and everything was in bloom, someone told me later. I didn’t let that stop me.

I had planned on being in Paris for only two days then head to Barcelona for a day before returning to London. But when I mentioned my plan to Karen, she said I was crazy, that I needed more time just to see Paris.

My goal for the day was the Champs Elysees, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. So I left the hotel shortly after breakfast, map ready.

Come with me as I walk from the metro towards the Avenue de General-Eisenhower.

Pont Alexandre - Maynefoto
Post Alexandre, back view - Maynefoto
Lights on the Pont Alexandre
Detail of the Grand Palais - Maynefoto
Detail of door at Grand Palais - Maynefoto
Paris Street

I spent most of the morning strolling the expansive boulevards around the Champs Elysees, admiring the beautiful buildings that line the street.

Then I made my way to the Arc de Triomphe.

My First Paris Night

I was a little nervous as I walked into the terminal at the Gare du Nord. It was my first time in Paris and unlike my London trip, I was not prepared. I had not mapped my route from the terminal to my hotel. The most I’d done was an Internet search for hotels within a 15-minute radius of the terminal and booked the first one that looked acceptable. It was then that I realized that I’d missed a key part of the plan — I had no idea where the hotel was in relation to the terminal and the city map made absolutely no sense at that point.

I was scheduled to meet my friend, Karen, for dinner at 7:30 p.m. at Le Relais de l’Entrecôte. I had just about an hour to check in and freshen up so I joined the line at the taxi stand. My cabbie was young and Moroccan. We talked about his work, life in Paris and reggae music.

Guy Môquet metro - Maynefoto

The desk clerk gave me a map of the metro and showed me how to get from Guy Môquet to Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Finding Saint Germain was the easy part. It took me almost as long to find the restaurant. No one, not even the folks in a pizza restaurant, seemed to know where rue Saint Benoit was. I got so frustrated that I gave up and hailed a cab.

When I told him where I wanted to go, he tried to give me direction because it was close, he said. By then, I was so turned around, I didn’t trust myself to find it on my own. We’d just started getting into a discussion of Haitian politics (he was Haitian) when we arrived. He was right: the restaurant wasn’t even a 10 minute walk away!

Le Relais de l’Entrecôte was humming. All the tables, including the ones outside, were taken but the wait gave me time to begin my catch up with Karen, who I hadn’t seen in months despite her living just across the river in Brooklyn.

Finally, we got a table. It’s a simple setup at l’Entrecôte. On the menu? Steak. Steak and steak. Well done for me and it was delicious. There was nothing left on the plate by the time we finished.

My dinner at Le Relais de l'Entrecôte - Maynefoto

Karen knew her way around Paris and after dinner, we decided to go for a stroll so I could enjoy my first Parisian night.

Pont Neuf - Maynefoto
Cathédral Notre Dame de Paris - Maynefoto
Rue du Grenier sur L'Eau - Maynefoto

When we parted, it was close to midnight. By the time I returned to my hotel, it was a little after 1 a.m. My first Paris night turned out better than I had anticipated.

I fell asleep excited about what the next day would bring.


London-Paris via Eurostar

Train travel is definitely a lot more popular in Europe than it is in North America, where we tend to drive or fly more.

When I heard about the tunnel that was being built under the English Channel to connect Britain and France, I was fascinated. I marveled at the vision and the incredible feat of engineering it took to bring it to life and wondered what it was like for the people who worked on building it.

More than anything though, the idea of traveling in a capsule 250 feet under the English Channel sent my imagination wild. I was particularly curious to experience that part of the trip. How would it feel?

As soon as I booked my trip to London, I purchased a ticket to Paris on the Eurostar. For me, there was just no other way to go.

When the day arrived, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to get on the train. Once I made my way to King’s Cross, I followed the signs to St. Pancras International Station. Since I had purchased my ticket beforehand, all I needed to do was check-in. There were several Eurostar employees helping and directing us so the lines moved smoothly. Eurostar warned that check-in closes 30 minutes before departure but I got there about an hour before.

After going through immigration and baggage check, I found my car and assigned seat – unfortunately, it was not near the window. I read a little, especially during the 20 minute under the Channel. I didn’t know what to expect but I was disappointed by how normal it was!

French countryside from Eurostar - Maynefoto

Once we were above ground again, I kept my eyes peeled as the beautiful countryside rolled pass my window. Approximately 2 ½ hours later, I was in Paris.

Getting There —

Book your ticket online at up to the day of departure – provided there’s availability but be prepared to pay more. For the best prices, book well in advance, say a month prior, and stay away from peak times: weekends, holidays, mornings and afternoons.

There are three categories of tickets: Standard, Standard Premier and Business. Within Standard and Standard Premier, there are two options: Non-Flexible and Semi-Flexible. As the name implies, Non-Flexible offers no flexibility to change, exchange or refund your ticket once you’ve purchased it. Semi-Flexible tickets can be refunded or exchanged up to 2 months after purchase for a fixed fee of Twenty-two Pounds plus whatever the difference is in the ticket you wish to exchange for.

On board –

There are power plugs for electronics however, there’s no wifi. Free internet access is available at St. Pancras, paid at Gare du Nord in Paris.

Meals are served in Standard Premier or Business. If you’re traveling Standard, you can purchase snacks, sandwiches, drinks in the club car.

Visas —

If you require a visa, make sure to get one before you leave your home country. France is one of fifteen Schengen countries that are signatories to the Schengen Agreement which allows travel among the Schengen countries on one visa. The visa is issued by the country that you arrive at first, so if you’re going to France, you’ll need to visit the French Embassy for the visa. If you’re landing in Spain first, go to the Spanish Embassy, etc. To avoid delays, check the visa requirements carefully before you go.

For me, traveling by train in Europe brings on a nostalgia for a time when I wasn’t even born, that I see glimpses of in brochures and old movies. The Eurostar brings me a little closer to that time.

Have fun!

Re/discovering Myself Through Travel

One of the unintended benefits of traveling, for me, is discovering something new about myself or rediscovering some personal quality that time and life had made me forget.

On my last trip to London, I stayed with my sister and her family. While it was a holiday for me, it wasn’t for them so I knew I’d be navigating the city on my own.

It wasn’t like that on my first trip. I stayed with my favorite female cousin who worked, but I didn’t venture out much. Fresh from completing school in Barcelona, I can still remember the energetic and confident 20-something I was then but I can’t remember why I stayed in so much. I missed out on a lot and it wasn’t because it rained everyday except the day before I left.

In the 20+ years between these two trips — the third doesn’t count as the 4 days were consumed by preparations for my sister’s wedding — I’ve logged several thousand miles of both solo and group travels.

This time, rather than letting myself feel alone or worry that I’d get lost — my friends say I’m directionally challenged, I call it exploring alternate paths —  I felt the free and confident person that I am return. And I got even more confident as each day went by and I found my way even when I returned late at night or wandered far afield.

Like the day I did the London Eye. I wandered the Southbank aimlessly, stopped for something to eat then rejoined the sea of people who seemed to be out for a Sunday stroll and enjoying the unusually warm day. I had no idea where I was but I wasn’t bothered. I knew I’d find the underground and my way back — and I did.

After a week of finding my way around in London, I was excited to tackle Paris, where except for a friend from New York, whom I saw once, I was totally alone. My aloneness emboldened me. Could it have been because I speak some French? Probably. But the first night in the hotel, I put a chair behind the door, just in case.

Everyday, I picked the places that I had to see then spent the rest of the time wandering around, discovering quaint streets, flower stalls, boutiques and ‘real’ pharmacies along the way. By the time I made my way back to the metro, it would be way past midnight.

The trip was a big boost to my confidence, especially at a time when I was feeling more than a little unsure of my footing.

I’m eager to start the next trip to see what else I discover about myself.

What do your travels reveal to you?

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