Let’s talk about Paris.
The Louvre is one of the most iconic tourist attractions in Paris, second only the the Eiffel Tower. You can’t go to Paris and not go to the Louvre. And you can’t go to the Louvre without spending the entire day there.
The first time I went to Paris, in May of 2013, I was utterly blown away by the museum. It’s the sort of place that makes you completely rethink your perceptions of history, art, and architecture.
But before we get to all of that fun stuff, let me tell you about the not-so-fun.
When my then-boyfriend and I went to Paris, our first stop was the Louvre. The day after we arrived in Paris, we went to this museum, which was not a great idea.
We were both completely exhausted and jet-lagged from the trip, not only throughout the day, but particularly in the morning. We didn’t end up arriving at the museum until around 11, even though the plan had been to get there early in the morning to avoid having to queue too long.
To be fair, we did not end up having to queue as long as we expected. The line stretched well outside the complex itself, and we honestly expected to be waiting for more than an hour, and it turned out to be less. And besides, the view you get while waiting isn’t too shabby.
I still highly recommend getting to the museum as early as you possibly can. The sooner you can get there, the less energy you’ll waste standing in line. Energy that you will definitely need to make your way through the seemingly endless exhibit.
When we did finally get into the museum, we took one look at the first exhibit and turned back around.
We needed the audio guide.
Being a French museum, of course all of the plaques and descriptions for all of the exhibits are in French. I did not, however, speak a single bit of French, and James only spoke a little. It would have been unspeakably boring without the audio guide.
As it turned out, the audio guides for the Louvre are kind of incredible.
The guides, at least in 2013, were a GPS enabled Nintendo 3DS. This thing would track your location to keep track of what room you were in, and then you would use the touchscreen to select any of the exhibits you were interested in hearing about. The top screen would show an image of the exhibit, and you would hear a 2-3 minute spiel on the history or significance of the piece.
This has actually become one of my top travel tips.
Whenever I go to a museum now, I always get the audio guide if one is offered. It’s usually quite reasonably priced, and you get so much more out of the experience than if you were simply to gaze at all the exhibits, never understanding the significance of any of them.
So, equipped with our stunning audio guides, we ventured into the museum. And boy am I not exaggerating when I say that we “ventured.”
The Louvre is such a massive complex, it’s astounding.
This diorama is one of the first things you see when you enter the museum. It’s a depiction of the entire museum, along with some of the surrounding Parisian cityscape. There are three stories of exhibits in more than twenty different collection, ranging from Egyptian Antiquities, to Sculptures, to French Paintings. I don’t know that it’s even humanly possible to see every single piece in the museum in a lifetime, with over 380,000 different pieces and displays.
I was there for the entire day, more than six hours on my feet listening to descriptions of one artifact after another, and probably managed to see less than a quarter of the entire museum.
Five years later, of course I don’t remember every piece that I saw, but there were certainly a few memorable ones.
Let’s start with the obvious – the Mona Lisa.
Despite this being one of, if not the most famous painting in the world, what I remember about seeing the Mona Lisa is not the painting itself, but rather the crush of people surrounding it.
I got to glance upon it’s glory for all of thirty seconds before I found the multitude of bodies too much to bear. Just enough time for a bad picture, not enough time to really appreciate anything about it.
The one piece that I really fell in love with was The Coronation of Napoleon.
There was something about this piece that really transported me to the time, to that moment in history that before, had just felt like a story to me.
Otherwise, it was mostly collections as a whole that I liked. The biggest surprise was how interesting the exhibit on Mesopotamia was. I didn’t know anything about Mesopotamia, and it was fascinating!
The Egyptian collection was also extremely impressive.
What was the highlight of the museum for me, though, was not any of the collections, the art or the history. It was the architecture and murals of the building itself.
The Palace that is now the Louvre museum is a phenomenal structure. I was surrounded by priceless artwork and historical artifacts, but all that I could think about was the amount of time and care went into each archway, each column, each mural.
Fortunately, the audio guide did discuss the palace itself on occasion. Sure, the Mona Lisa is an important painting, but tell me what the room it’s housed in was designed for! Explain to me the significance of that imagery sculpted into the ceiling, or the years of work that went into creating the facade of this building. Those were the most fascinating things to me.
While I was living in Paris, several years after my first trip, I only went to the Louvre once, with my orientation group before school started. We got a whirlwind tour of some of the most iconic pieces in the museum, but it was all in such a rush and so early in the morning that I barely remember any of it.
Even though I only visited the museum once, I walked by the Louvre on numerous occasions on my way to and from school. If my usual Metro line or stop was down for some reason, the second easiest route from my apartment to school was to walk from a stop near the museum.
Occasionally, though, I would go out of my way to walk by the Louvre, and here’s why – there was nothing like the Louvre to remind me that the city I was living in was truly remarkable.
Here is this massive palace, reaching several stories high and featuring some of the most intricate and stunning architecture you’ll ever see. Here is this stunning park, with sprawling gardens. Here is this endless museum containing countless pieces of priceless art and history. And it was all just minutes from my apartment.
It helped put things in perspective sometimes, and was one of the things that I missed the most when I left.