It was a Sunday…the first Sunday of the month and our very first Sunday ever in Paris! To say we were excited is a complete 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. Luckily, we weren’t jet-lagged at all. We fixed our first coffees at our wonderfully stocked rental apartment and we were out on the streets at 8.30 am. We had the Louvre lined up first on our list since entry is free on the 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.
You can plan all you want but Paris will find a way to change your plans. Often for the better!
Paris has a way of changing your plans. You’re sometimes walking briskly to somewhere you have planned out and an inviting bistro or cafe stops you. Before you know it, you’ve had one too many espressos and you’ve spent a greater part of your day watching Paris go by from your cafe table. Sometimes, all it takes is 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 anticipated this and had 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. [To catch our Louvre visit later during the trip, go here.]
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!
Musée Cluny is old. And 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.
There’s lots to see out here. My advice would be to find a section that captivates you and sit down. What seem like simple sculptures or paintings, grow into a whole lot more when you spend a few minutes with them.
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 walking around 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 would soon 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.
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 physicist’s famous experiment to demonstrate the rotation of the earth. It’s something I’d read about as a child 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.
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. Walking back to the the end, where those massive doors stay shut, I just put away my camera and stood in silence, thinking about all the history that surrounded me. Underneath the layers I was wearing, I felt very real goosebumps! It was the perfect end to our visit.
I know quite a few people who passed on the Panthéon during their visit to Paris. If you have the time to spare (an hour will do), I would strongly recommend visiting the Panthéon. It’s a homage from the fatherland to a few of its great men. I thanked the tourists at the Louvre for pushing the Panthéon up on our list. For me, it’s the perfect place to begin making your connection to this one-of-a-kind city.