Waking up early our first day and going to the Louvre wasn’t necessarily the best idea. Apart from getting very picturesque shots of the pyramids against the bright blue sky with a glimpse of the moon still hanging on the horizon, fate was against us getting inside the museum at a decent time. Little did we know as we stood in line with hundreds of people in the freezing cold, the museum workers inside were going on strike! It wasn’t until French camera crews began to apear that we noticed something was going on.
Not only were the Louvre workers on strike, but so were the employees at Musée d’Orsay, Pompidou Center, Arc de Triumph, and Versailles… all places we were supposed to go for lectures and assignments. After waiting around for an hour while some of us were interviewed by the French press, we finally accepted defeat and left. After taking a tour of the Opera house and going to the Galleries Lafayette, we were fortunately able to return to the Louvre. When they say it’s the largest museum in the world, they mean it. With hallways that go on forever, we were able to see some of the most famous pieces of art in the world, including The Raft of the Medusa, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Madonna on the Rocks, sculptures Winged Victory of Samothrace, Venus de Milo and Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, as well the Sarcophagus of the Married Couple and the Code of Hammurabi, the first ever documented set of written laws from ancient Mesopotamia. Unlike the Louvre, modern art museum the Pompidou Center as well as the Picasso museum were not reopening in the afternoons, but instead were closed indefinitely throughout the remainder of the strike. Fortunately, we lucked out and were able to get into the remainder of the museums, monuments, and cathedrals.
Later on in the week we traveled an hour by train to the royal Palace of Versailles which housed the French monarchy until the revolution. With it’s vast sweeping landscape that goes on for miles and its beautiful interior, it is easily one of my favorite places in Paris. Although the gardens weren’t in bloom as they are in the summer, the enormity of the grounds was breathtaking. While walking around we made a little friend, a black and white cat (with a spot that looked like a mustache!), who acted like he owned the place. With a canal used for boat parties, several hedge mazes, fountains with swans, several smaller chateaus, and much much more, this royal feline certainly was smart in taking his throne at Versailles. In the palace, we saw Marie Antoinette’s bedroom and several other rooms, but my favorite by far was the hall of mirrors, a luxurious hallway lined with chandeliers. On the way back into town one of our group members got trapped on the subway!
The scariest moment of my trip was when our group visited the Arc de Triomphe, a monument honoring all those who fought for France in the Napoleonic wars. The actual arch has all the names of the generals and wars fought and underneath is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War 1. We got to climb to the top to see Paris at sunset, and after coming down, I stood underneath the arch to photograph the tomb. When I was done, I looked up and didn’t recognize a single person around me. Needless to say, I panicked. I went left, I went right… no one! The Arc itself sits in the middle of a gigantic traffic circle, so I knew the group couldn’t have gone far, but being alone at dusk in a foreign city amidst a gigantic group of tourists is just a little unsettling. I eventually went out the way I came in and bumped into a group member coming back to get me, but it was scary! Who knew that by the end of the week I would be off exploring the city by myself?