Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May 18, 2011: Avignon/Paris - Petit Train, TGV, Big City, Louvre

For our last morning in Avignon we took the Petit Train tour. It's the kind of thing that would have made more sense to do at the start of our stay in the city, but it fit in to the schedule better today. And it was a relaxing way to see a few more of the quaint streets of Avignon - it's remarkable how tight a squeeze it was in places for the train to fit!

Mid-day we took the TGV train to Paris. It was a fairly quick trip of just over three hours, with a beautiful transition of scenery from dry Mediterranean Provence to green and lush farm fields leading up to Paris. Paris itself was quite hot and sunny when we arrived, so it felt like a bit of a slog to find our hotel. But in reality it was only ten minutes away, in the 10th arrondissement, and conveniently located to a number of train and subway stations. While Mom rested I stocked us up on some basic breakfast supplies at Monoprix, since our hotel room had a fridge and a kettle.

Then we headed downtown for an evening at the Louvre. We had dinner at a nearby bar/brasserie, where Mom had a very nice cassoulet and I had a good quiche with salad. We also had crêpes for desert, with Calvados apple liqueur (set on fire!). It was very liberating to be able to get a quick meal at an early hour - it always seems that dinner out elsewhere in France always takes a couple of hours and doesn't start until at least 8pm. Many of the Parisian bar/brasseries advertise that they have "non-stop" service, so you don't have to worry about what time you want to eat - great for maximizing your sight-seeing time. I also discovered that I would have never improved my French by living in Paris - everyone spoke English to us, even as I persisted in responding in French. Good thing we're living in Grenoble!

The Louvre was, as we expected, dauntingly large. I had printed off an internet guide to seeing the best of the Louvre in three hours, so that made it easier, as we just followed its recommendations. The Mona Lisa was early on the tour, and wasn't as crowded as I expected - but that might be because we were visiting late in the evening. I think the highlight for me was seeing the medieval stone foundations of the Louvre, deep in the basement - an interesting archaeological relic, upon which there was a projection of a contemporary video by Michal Rovner (sadly I missed her other work, large stone sculptures fitted together from stones from destroyed Israeli and Palestinian homes). For Mom I think the highlight was spotting the Eiffel Tower in the distance - an iconic view that proved we could be nowhere else in the world other than Paris.

Avignon - Place d'Horloge - I finally spot the clock tower that gives the square its name!

Our Petit Train barely fits down the medieval streets

A fisherman sign states simply "Restaurant"

A view of the Pont d'Avignon

Birds lined up above

The Avignon train station - with the wooden decking and chairs up at platform level, you feel like you're relaxing at the beach while awaiting your train - fantastic!

The café where we ate dinner

Fountains and pyramid tip in the Louvre courtyard

The famous Winged Victory of Samothrace, one of the first sculptures we saw. I just read on Wikipedia that the right wing is a plaster copy (with reversed orientation, obviously) of the left. I had no idea.

Signage to see the Mona Lisa is everywhere (I'm not sure if the double 'n' is a misspelling of the English name, or if it's correct in another language)

And there she is!

We rested in this lovely sculpture gallery for a while

Our first view of the Eiffel Tower

The Napoleon III apartments - perhaps a sneak peak of what Versailles will be like?

Interesting contrast of ornate ceiling and Matisse paintings

Michal Rovner's projection onto the medieval stone foundations of the Louvre

A view up through the pyramid to the evening sky

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