Think art in France and your mind explodes with visions of the Mona Lisa, Impressionists and the sculptures of Rodin.
And on day three of our Paris vacation, we dipped our toe into the ocean of art that is the Louvre. Although this is my third visit to the Louvre, I had forgotten how enormous place is. You could spend a lifetime in the former palace and still not have a full appreciation for all it contains.
Tip to the visitor to Paris: Buy the Museum Pass from the Official Tourism Office. You save money on the tickets and get to skip the long line. Once you’re inside, go straight to the Mona Lisa. Get it over with, because it’s a zoo.
You simply can’t appreciate the piece while you’re in the Louvre. The crowds are too big. There are too many people who want to get their photo made with the lady with the mystic smile - and no eyebrows. Don’t believe me, just look closely
If the Louvre is not your scene. Then no worries - the beauty of Paris is that you don’t have to go inside a museum to see some interesting art. Just look up on the sides of buildings. The street art movement – which gained acceptance in the 1980s and has grown mainstream in recent years - is everywhere.
As we were walking near the ESCP University, we spotted this Andre the Giant by Shepard Fairey. Fairey, of course, become famous for his iconic portrait of Barak Obama for during the 2008 presidential campaign. Now I can’t tell you if this is a Shepard Fairey original or a knockoff, but I can tell you that it was a thrill to spot it.
My middle son Garrett, who helped sparked my interest in street art (and jazz, but more on that later in the week I hope), also pointed out the Space Invader icons on buildings. The French street artist – appropriately given the non-de-plume Invader – created these tributes to the classic video game by using square ceramics.
What? You don’t think this is art? Open up. Breathe deeply. Enjoy. This is Paris, after all!
Our tour continued after a quick lunch of sandwiches. We headed over to the most iconic of all Paris attractions – the Eiffel Tower, where we did our best to avoid an afternoon shower and the African street vendors illegally hawking cheap souvenirs out of their sacks.
We successfully dodged the souvenir sellers but got caught in the cold spring rain. To reward ourselves, we headed into a café for coffees, hot chocolates and profiteroles.
Here’s the thing about Paris cafes. Once you’re in, you take your time. Don’t gulp down that coffee. Sip it. Engage in deep conversations or tell funny stories. People watch. Believe me, if you’re in a café near the Eiffel Tower, you’re probably paying a premium. Go ahead and get your money’s worth by resting your feet and engaging your senses.
Since we had spent the day viewing (mostly) classic art and viewing classic sites, we then headed to a classic French restaurant – Le Procope. How classic? Let’s just say the place opened its doors in 1686. Napoleon once left his hat there as a promise to pay for his meal. The hat’s still there, so I can only assume that the Emperor stiffed them for the bill.
The restaurant is steeped in tradition, but is anything but stuffy. The staff was welcoming and friendly and put up my meager attempts to order in French. (They spoke perfect English of course).
Our table was groaning with coq au vin, entrecote steak, calf’s head stew (it tasted a lot like pho) and veal. Desserts and cheese followed as did happy complaints that we had overindulged.
We pried ourselves from the table, Ubered back to the apartment and collapsed, filled with memories of French art, architecture and food.