London, Normandy, and Paris: November 1999


I.M. Pei's pyramid in the Louvre Courtyard has become so familiar now that I can barely remember what the area looked like before the pyramid was here.  I have never been one of those who complained about it being out of place, and it has certainly helped in the moving people into and out of the museum.  The pyramid itself stands directly over the ticket booth area, and an underground shopping mall and parking lot extends from there toward the Tuileries Gardens.
We hired Peter Caine of Paris Walks for a guided tour of the Ile de la Cite, including Notre Dame, the Conciergerie, and St. Chapelle. Peter is an Englishman who has lived in Paris for many years.  He founded the company several years ago and now offers a variety of itineraries.  His training is in history and the history of art, so he was able to offer us new perspectives about each of the places we visited.  For example, we stood in the Garden of Sculptures for our view of Notre Dame.  We could see Eglise de St. Julien le Pauvre, the oldest church in Paris, at the same time.  Peter was able to illustrate to us what was going in the world using the two churches as symbols of the change. 
Getting to Versailles is really easy using the RER.  Just take RER line C from central Paris to its last stop, here at the Versailles R.G. station.  From the station, the chateau is only a short walk away.  At Versailles, we had a guided tour with perhaps the most unusual guide we've ever had.  I'm convinced that he was a descendant of the royal family and felt that we were invading his home.  For information about Versailles, go to their web site.
The Musee d'Orsay once again was a favorite with almost everyone.  At the Orsay, and at many of our visits to other museums in the last few years, several of the rooms have guides to the paintings in the room listed in many languages.  Often, I'll find information on these guides that I've never seen listed in any of the arts books.  The Orsay was once a train station in central Paris, and for many years, the building was an eyesore along the Seine.  Today, when we visit it, it's very had to believe that anyone ever wanted to tear it down.
We spent our last afternoon in Paris on the slopes of Montmarte, the highest point in the city.  Everyone wandered around, buying last minute souvenirs, listening to the music, exploring the church, and having a good time.  One of the students said that she liked this part best because it was more like the Paris that she'd read about in the books.  Although Montmartre is now very touristy, walking only a block or two from the crowds can bring you back to the village that must have been there a hundred years ago.
A Paris guidebook says, "One does not merely visit Montmartre; one ascends it."  And, sadly, one must descend it too.  This photo serves as a kind of metaphor for our trip as a whole.  This was one of the last things we did on our final day in Paris before we had to descend from the heights that we had been to during the previous eleven days into the routine of our daily life-- work and school.  But, now, we always end these trips with the knowledge that our memories have been enriched and that someday, we will return.

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