It had been a magnificent vacation so far, nothing like we have ever had. Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and now Paris. Wish I could do more of France, but time is too short in the busy world Corporate America. This was my third visit to France. About a couple of years, back I had been to Lille (pronounced lee) which is at the northern most tip of France bordering Belgium. That was a charming but bustling small city that had exposed me to the makings of an inner-European city. Colorful homes and buildings, juxta-positioned and the laid-back French population always enjoying a sandwich and a coffee at a street side cafe that abounded the streets. Paris had been different. We were in the midst of one of the most populated cities in the world. Unlike India or other developing countries, too much population didn’t necessarily mean filth and pollution. When we arrived in Paris, it had just stopped raining and that brought me back memories of those ever-present paintings on the side-walks of a French woman in simple, yet clean-cut fashionable clothes holding up her umbrella but walking alone and attracting all passers-by, well the flirty males.
Today, the last full day we were to be at Paris, our agenda was the Louvre. But first we stopped at the Opera House. This glorious piece of art is just spell-bounding in its display of artwork and artistry. The outside might appear deceiving and if you aren’t an opera fan, the temptation might be to skip the Opera house and find something else. Don’t! You will be missing one of the most beautiful interiors on the planet of a public performance place. As we entered the Opera house, we saw hordes of young artists having grabbed the prime locations already started their day practicing drawing the interior. The marble staircase is something so beautiful that I haven’t seen anything parallel in another palace or place of abode. If you are a music fan, then you MUST attend an orchestra or a performance at this holy-grail of performance theaters. We couldn’t get enough of the interior – a place were some of the world’s greatest across times have performed.
We pulled ourselves out of the Opera House and got onto the hop-on-hop-off bus that
dropped us off at the Louvre Museum. This museum is so huge that there is about 6 kms length of exhibits space to walk. You just can’t see it all in one day. I am not such a museum fan – as I mentioned before, I prefer to see things in their own natural settings. An artwork, showcased in glass doesn’t tell the whole story, however good the narration is. Our main destination here was the Mona Lisa – the most famous painting in the world. The space is so huge that finding your way onto an exhibit requires a map and some real keen planning. There are trails that you can select to pursue depending on your interest. And there was so many people – probably in the thousands that made it less enjoyable to navigate or should I say more stressful. Amidst all the din of the crowd, you just can’t find the quiet time to take in a painting or an art work. About one hour into the trail, we decided to go for her. The painting is in its own room off the main hallway. As I entered the room, I saw the back of about 100 people’s head all staring at the painting. Most were in fact content on taking a picture that pay due observance. So much hype and so much disappointment – I wasn’t impressed. A Michelangelo painting with all the complexities and the sheer breadth of it all is more fascinating. But maybe the simplicity of Mona Lisa’s painting in contrast is what is more appreciated. Not me, however. But one attaches value to the history of an artwork in addition to just the content. I don’t have the money or the time either to spend so much appreciation on artwork!
After seeing her and the anti-climax, I was ready to wrap it up. I took the option of waiting in the main hallway while Rama and Vikas explored a bit more in the museum. It didn’t occur to me that I was in the world’s most famous museum. That’s what tiredness does to one’s acumen. As I walked out to the hallway, I spent about 10 minutes walking through the Egyptian ‘quarters’ and had a glimpse of some mummies and really old artifacts. Once out, I was happy to find a seat and I collapsed! It was about 3 PM and couldn’t wait to grab something to eat. Once we were all back together, we stopped at the cafe in the museum and got an average sandwich for above-average European fare.
Back at the hotel and after a good stretch, it was time to spend our last evening in the city. The Arch de Triumph was our next stop. We were just in time to catch the last hop-on-hop-off bus after a short train ride. The Triumph is a World War II memorial to all the souls lost much like the memorial at Valley Forge National Park. We went up to the top and had a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. People were waiting for the evening to settle in so that they could see the Tower light up. Since we had seen that, we quickly got down the 160 or so steps narrow enough to be concerning. Out of the Triumph, we were on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées – one of the most recognized shopping streets in the City. You can find many restaurants and brand name shops lined on either side of the avenue. We found a restaurant that had some vegetarian fare and settle down for the evening. It was about 10 PM when we finished dinner. Though we weren’t hungry, I wanted to grab something to eat on this famous street. Price was decent for such a prime setting – about 70 Euros for a light dinner for the three of us. As we got out of the restaurant, I could see the evening just about blossoming with people still sitting in the road-side cafes not having finished all the wine. A beautifully dressed young couple were immersed in taking a selfie and I offered to take a photo as always. He was impressed with the camera I was carrying and thought I was a pro. I don’t think I did justice to his assessment after I reviewed the photo I had taken, but he was impressed anyway. Their smiles said it all. Who doesn’t smile on such a beautiful evening in such a beautiful setting in one of the prime shopping locations on Earth?