Monday, January 23, 2012

Paris Day 1 - When plans change

It was a Sunday...the first Sunday of the month and our very first Sunday in Paris! To say we were excited is a gross understatement. It was cold, possibly the coldest I've ever felt (coming from Mumbai, India, that's hardly surprising).

Our bodies were still adjusting to the time difference and even though we were tired from a long flight from home, we were up at 5 am, long before the alarm went off. We fixed our first coffees at our wonderfully stocked rental apartment and we were out on the streets at 8.30 am. Being the first Sunday of the month and we had the Louvre lined up first on our list since entry is free on first Sunday of every month. After a bit of walking around, we found our way to Metro Gobelins to take our train to Louvre-Rivoli.

The walk to our first Metro ride

Paris has a way of changing your plans. You're sometimes walking briskly to some place you have planned out and an inviting bistro or cafe stops you in your tracks and before you know it, you've spent a greater part of your day watching Paris go by from your cafe table. Sometimes, it only takes the whiff of freshly baked croissants to change your mind. For us, on this first Sunday, it was tourists. We ooh-ed and aah-ed in the short walk to the Pyramid, only to find a seemingly endless line of tourists snaking their way in endless loops, waiting to enter. We were disappointed but not worried. We'd anticipated this a bit and already planned on swapping today's plan with Day 5 on our itinerary. So Musée Cluny (or Musée du Moyen Age, to use the exact name) and Panthéon it will be today.

Before heading off to Musée Cluny, we decided to catch our first Parisian breakfast at Cafe Le Corona, just across the Louvre. Stomachs full, we decided to walk to Musée Cluny, which wasn't too far away. As a little detour, we walked down to Place Saint-Michel. We'd visit this area so often during our stay but the first time here would always be unforgettable. It was crowded but we spent a few wonderful minutes here, dividing our time people watching and staring in awe at Saint Michael. Even with the scores of tourists, pigeons, teenagers and a fantastic soap bubble hawker, it made a beautiful sight!

The Lion, the pigeon and St. Michel

Musée Cluny is old. And it was beautiful! From the wonderfully illustrated books to the rescued stained glass from Sainte-Chapelle to massive rings worn by former Popes to lots of other Christian memorabilia, this was a journey back to a time when religion was art's primary inspiration.

It felt like she'd move any second.

Most of what you found here had to do with this direction.

There's lots to see out here. My advice would be to find a section that captivates you and sit down. They seem like simple sculptures or paintings, but sit down and watch them in silence and they begin to grow into something a whole lot more.

Things once lost, are now found.

And sometimes, it also helps to stop looking around you and look up. I did that at many places we visited and caught some of the most intricate ceilings I've ever seen.

From the imposing largely religious themes at Musée Cluny, we decided to walk down to the Panthéon after a short lunch break (which was also a good excuse to rest feet that weren't accustomed to museums). It's not a very long walk, roughly about 1.5 km in a straight line across the island.

The Panthéon is imposing. From the first time you set your eyes on it, you know there's something special about it (or as I soon would discover, underneath it). The Panthéon was originally built as a church and was later converted as a mausoleum for great Frenchmen. It apparently swung back and forth from being a church and a mausoleum until they finally settled on letting it stay a meeting house for the intellectuals.

It's much bigger than it looks in pictures.

At the entrance is an inscription, AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE. To the great men, the grateful homeland. And they're all down there. Voltaire, Hugo, Dumas, Zola, Braille and the Curies. Of particular interest to me was Foucault's Pendulum, the physicists famous experiment to demonstrate the rotation of the earth. It's something I'd read about as a kid when my fascination for Physics began and it gave me goosebumps to actually be standing there, watching it gently swing by under that spectacular dome. In the picture below, you can see the pendulum at a distance through the crowds.

It's very easy to feel very small inside here.

We spent an about an hour walking around and taking it all in. It seemed like we were re-living a part of history itself and I half expected to bump into Voltaire or Foucault as I turned a corner. The Panthéon can get really intimidating. And this was just our first day in Paris! After walking around and taking more pictures than I should have, I just had to slow down and breathe. And walking back to the the end, where those massive doors stay shut, and just standing in the silence seemed like a perfect way to end this visit.

Even the smaller version is just as magnificent.

I know quite a few people who passed on the Panthéon during their visit to Paris. If you have the time to spare, and that's just an hour, I would strongly recommend it. It's a homage from the fatherland to a few of its great men. If you ask me, it's the perfect place to begin making your connection to this one-of-a-kind city.


A great feel for what is really interesting! If you ever get in a rental car and want to see something stunning not too far from Paris (70 km), one major suggestion: the château of Pierrefonds.

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