Yesterday we bought the four day museum pass for 56 euros, a very good bargain if you plan to hit even a few museums. We had planned to do just two today, but as the weather rapidly changed from sunny to at times heavy rain showers, and the relentless wind tore at my pitifully inadequate outer gear (unprepared Floridian tourist – I should have known better), we ducked into a few extra spots to escape the cold.
From a packed morning rush hour metro we gratefully entered the nearly empty Notre-Dame Cathedral at 7:45 am. A mass started at 8 am as we slowly made our way around the interior, to the sound of the Priest saying the mass in French and some occasional chants.
From Notre-Dame we quickly made our way to Sainte-Chapelle, also on the Ile de la Cite and just a few blocks away. Unfortunately, we ended up standing in line, in the wind. We thought it opened at 9 am, but it was 9:40 by the time they opened the door. After passing through a metal detector we entered the upper chapel, built by Louis IX from 1242-1248. 1113 glass panels tell the entire Bible story.
Sainte-Chapelle was truly beautiful, windows and floor, but it was also frigid. I just couldn’t linger in the cold, so we headed back over to Notre-Dame with the intent of climbing the tower for the classic gargoyles over Paris photo op. The line for the tower was not only long, but directly in the wind and neither of us had the tolerance for it. So we left the area and headed towards the Musee National du Moyen Age in the Quartier Latin.
The museum was wonderfully warm, not crowded and a very good size. It turned out to be my favorite visit of the day. The museum houses the best-preserved Roman remains in Paris and the famous tapestry series La Dame a la licorne (“The Lady and the Unicorn.”)
From the handbook I purchased at the museum:
The Lady and the Unicorn is a famous series of six tapestries rediscovered in the 19th century and exhibited at the Cluny Museum…The tapestries are generally thought to have been produced some time in the last two decades of the 15th century…the weaving to have been carried out by one of the workshops of Northern France, Brabant, Flanders or the Netherlands…Since the twenties, historians have recognised an allegory of the five senses in the first five tapestries: Sight; Hearing; Smell; Taste; and Touch. However, the sixth tapestry known as “A Mon Sevl Desir” after the inscription embroidered in gold on a blue pavilion in front of which stand the lady and her maidservant, is not as easily deciphered.
The tapestries all hang together in one dimly lit room (to preserve the colors). It seems that here, as in all the monuments and museums we have visited, the authorities have given up any hope of stopping cell phone picture taking, and everyone was doing it. So the above photo is my own iPhone photo of the 6th tapestry. The most control they have now is to ask that photos be taken without the flash.
The Cluny also exhibits carved choir stalls, altarpieces, stained glass and other tapestries. It was a good size, not too small and not too big and a pleasure to tour.
Making our way back to the north side of the river after The Cluny, we made a brief stop at the famous book store Shakespeare and Company. I purchased Colette’s Cheri, (in English) an appropriate choice for Paris and stamped with the “Shakespeare And Company Kilometer Zero Paris” logo.
After a lunch break back on the north side of the river, we had enough time to make a brief stop at The Louvre. We hadn’t planned to visit it today, but with the unpredictable weather and a museum pass, it ended up on our itinerary.
Even though our feet were aching at this point, we made our way through more than 5,000 years of art history. My all time favorite piece of artwork in any museum is The Winged Victory of Samothrace. That was our first stop. Again, photos were allowed, but the Chinese tourists who posed in front of the piece and touched it were quickly reprimanded by the attentive museum representative. It was crowded and there was even an artist sketching the masterpiece.
Fading fast, we opted to skip the Mona Lisa (yes, that’s right) and made our way through Louis XIV – Louis XVI and to the exit. I finally got my fill of Louis chairs, but it took The Louvre to do it.
The last of our energy was spent getting to the metro and back up to the apartment. It was heaven to have our own place to come home to.