The Musée du Louvre, pt 2- Paris, France

A continuation of my previous post, photos from my visit to the Louvre.

I know I usually write words upon words for my posts but the thing is, not to cop out or anything, it’s just that words really don’t do this museum justice and even my photos can’t quite touch on how magical it was to get to explore this building all the treasures it holds.

In total I spent around 5 hours here, just walking from hall to hall, and the further I got from the main central exhibition area the less people I saw, until I was sitting down somewhere reading an info placard and realized I hadn’t seen anyone at all in the last 20 minutes, unless you counted the museum attendants. Eventually though, I had to start making my way back to the main area as the time was approaching when I would be due to meet up with Rachid for whatever that evenings adventures would hold.

Of course I got a little sidetracked when I passed a section with Mesopotamian artifacts, because I mean come on,  how could I resist? And then of course I pass through what I think is the loveliest section in the whole museum, where it’s just sculpture after sculpture and you can’t help but lean in closer to catch all the details carved into the stone.

Eventually though, I got a msg from Rachid saying he was on his way so I knew I had to tear myself away from it all if I wanted to have time to hit up the gift shop (you know I had to). 

I exited the museum with a head and heart almost to bursting with all the beauty I had seen and a slightly lighter wallet, breathing in fresh air and getting hit right in the gut with the realization that I would be leaving Paris the next day and I wouldn’t be able to come back to this museum any time soon. But I shook that feeling off, promising myself I would come back as soon as I got the next chance and went off to find Rachid amid the crowds outside the Louvre and then finish up the day with a visit to the Sacré-Cœur basilica.

~m

 

A Goodbye to Versailles and Hello To A Magical Night Out- Paris, France

 

By the time I had wandered my way to the Grand Trianon on the grounds of Versailles after leaving the the Queens Hamlet, my feet were getting achy and the rain had started to sprinkle down a bit more forcefully. Instead of going inside however (because that would be too logical), I sat just inside the steps, the beautiful black and white tiled floor providing a super elegant resting place to get my energy back up to start the trek back to the main palace and eventually to the meeting place for the tour company I had arrived with that morning.

A lengthy and leisurely visit to the gift shop (but of course) and then it was goodbye to Versailles and back to being a peasant outside it’s gates while I waited with my gathered tour group for the bus to arrive to take us back to Paris.

While on the ride back I got in touch with my friend Rachid who was finishing up teaching a class (because he’s a very smart cookie that teaches mathematics and the story of how we managed to become friends is best left for another day but involves me discovering that some math majors are actually quite cool) and we attempted to coordinate when and where we would meet up, things made a little more difficult because of the weather and unpredictable traffic. Eventually though, I made it back to Paris and the drop off point with the tour group and shortly thereafter met up with Rachid. Being a current Parisian resident, he immediately shuffled us off to the nearest Métro station so we could journey back to my hotel so I could pick up the gift I had gotten for him in Amsterdam and drop off that days souvenirs. He was exceedingly keen on having me experience this form of public transportation, as it’s what he uses on a daily basis and well, why not right? It was a quick trip and soon we were back on our way to our first destination, the french-gothic cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris.

The cathedral was as beautiful as I had expected it to be, almost larger than life in a wonderful way. We didn’t go inside as the area was deeply congested with visitors but just getting to see it up close and personal this way was a great experience to mark off as done on my list of “things to do/see in Paris“. Even as we crossed back over the Seine to head towards what turned out to be the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, I was already making plans in my head to come back for a more in-depth visit.

Before visiting Paris, I had only heard of the bookstore via movies and blurbs in travel guides- I think I might have mentioned this before but, I’ve never viewed Paris as that interesting to me personally. Not because its not bursting at the seams with museums and fascinating history- it surely is- but just because there have always been other places that interests me much more. That being said though, the history of the Shakespeare and Company Paris bookstore is a fantastic one and I definetly suggest stopping in. It’s situated just across from Notre-Dame and its a really unexpected book oasis that invites you to linger for a good long while.

Once we had managed to extricate ourselves from here (because I of course wanted to buy dozens of books and maybe a couple of postcards) we began the hunt for a place to grab dinner at nearby. After a bit of talking we settled on the idea that we should try and find a traditional French restaurant as I had never really experienced French cuisine before. Eventually after some walking around the area, we stopped to read a menu displayed outside a restaurant and the waiter (or host, I couldn’t quite tell) managed to get us-er I mean, to invite us to come inside.

So… i’m not going to give the name of the place we ate it- mostly because I honestly can’t with 100% accuracy remember it and so therefore i’d hate to drag the wrong place. But gods, I don’t think i’ve ever had a worse meal. Perhaps it might have been because I couldn’t read the menu (as Rachid speaks fluent French and when our waiter asked “anglaise or french” he said French, leaving me a bit in the dark as an unintended result) and I felt mighty uncomfortable asking him to translate every item and so ended up just going with what seemed familiar to me. It might have been the odd neon lighting, the crinkly plastic tablecloth that stuck to my skin the second I dared to let my arm rest on the table, maybe the really narrow table and hard wooden chairs…or maybe the rather unexpectedly terrible food.

The good thing though, is the meal wasn’t an utter wash because Rachid tucked in and greatly enjoyed his food, the vegetable soup I got on a haphazard whim ended up being almost tasty enough to make up for everything else and the really great conversation we had over the hour we were there made everything else fade into the background. Ahhh the powers of friendship, no?

 

And so, with that neon adventure behind us, we walked onward with no real destination in mind and the sky darkened to true nightfall. We walked over what felt like half a dozen bridges, talking about literature, history, our relationships and respective ideas of love (after all, the subject is almost infused into the bones of this city) and eventually found ourselves outside the Louvre. I remember seeing people walking past the gates and towards the illuminated pyramids and turning to Rachid to ask, “Wait, people can go in there at night?” . He hadn’t known you could explore the courtyard area after the Louvre closed for the day either, and so we crossed the street to follow the rest of people wandering in.

To say it was magical would be such a severe understatement. The next day I came back in the bright daylight hours but the way everything look that night- softly lit and only sparsely populated with visitors- thats the way I think I want to remember it forever.

I really can’t overemphasize visiting the Louvre at night- you can’t go inside the museum itself because it’s closed but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting the area to view it at night, to get a chance to look around such a historic place with plenty of breathing room thats very hard to find during the daylight hours. Also, it’s just really freaking cool.

We ended the visit by crossing the street to get a closer look at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (not to be confused with the larger and more famous Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile ) and idly wondering how far it would be to walk from here to either the Eiffel Tower or the other Arc. Probably overambitious on my part but I was considering walking from either one back to the Louvre the next day, though Rachid was more rational in that taking the Métro would be the better plan (he’s such a smart guy but definetly still needs to learn just exactly how utterly irrational I can be, ha).

Eventually though, as the time got later and later, we decided it would be a good idea to call it a night as he had a class to teach in the morning and I was more than a little tired from the long day. Ever the gracious host to his city and an amazing friend, Rachid walked me back to my hotel before finding his own way back home. Have I mentioned what a great person he is? Yes? Once more then!

Considering I started and spent half the day exploring Versailles and then the other half seeing so many wonderful Parisian sights and treasures, it truly was a day and night to remember and it ended up really cementing in me the deep desire to come back again, and soon.

~m

Wooden Masks, Colorful Frescoes, and Rain Soaked Violins- Mittenwald, Germany

I woke up that morning to the sound of soft rain and my phone buzzing with unanswered texts and WhatsApp messages. It was my last full day in Germany and I almost didn’t want to get out of bed , just to prolong the time I had left. But Julia would be arriving soon to pick me up so we could make our way to the days adventure so lounging around in bed really wasn’t an option. Besides, when had time ever stopped for someone?

An hour later I was downstairs, checking out and receiving my complimentary chocolate and then shortly thereafter I was running through the rain to get to Julia’s van. We drove around Garmisch looking for somewhere to stop in at for breakfast (and coffee for me) all the whole wondering if the rain would ever let up. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t)

Breakfast was procured at an amazing little cafe and I had what felt like my 100th cappuccino of the trip (more about that in my last post) and then once more, we set off into the rain.

Our first stop of the day was the Werdenfels Museum, in the Partenkirchen section of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The history of this town is pretty interesting, especially considering that for most of their respective histories, they were separate towns, with Garmisch in the west and Partenkirchen in the east. They were forced to join together in anticipation of the 1936 Winter Olympic Games by Adolf Hitler and while they still remain recognized as one town, each side retains its own unique identity and atmosphere. Julia and I mainly spent our time in the Garmisch part but that morning we ventured over to the other side.

Definetly the smallest of museum i’ve ever been in, but also one of the most interesting. Julia and I spent about two hours here, walking around the small rooms and up creaking wooden stairs, taking in all the items on display . One section we stayed in front of for a while was this room that held a case displaying wooden face masks. These, she explained to me, were face masks people wore for the Fasching festival, which I later learned was a bit like Carnaval, basically a pre-lent celebration.

I thought about those masks a lot after we left, the history behind them, and frankly also just the way they managed to be wonderfully artistic while also being slightly terrifying. It didn’t help that Julia noticed and said, once we had left and were in the dimly lit underground parking garage, “It would be really scary if you were in your car and looked out and a person in one of those mask was just outside, but also kind of funny too- how would you describe them to the police.” In either case, the museum was very interesting and there were so many great items and pieces of art and history to look over that even if I might have had some small nightmares about those masks later, I didn’t regret the visit.

After a morning spent indoors we were ready to breathe in some fresh air, even if the rain still hadn’t let up. Julia suggested a quick trip over to the town of Mittenwald and off we went, curling our way in her van towards what ended up being another dreamy fairly-tale like town.

A town famous for its painted houses and violin making history, it’s also well known for its colorful church of Saints Peter and Paul. We of course had to pay it a visit.

A beautiful interior matches the almost exuberant exterior and even the rainy day couldn’t diminish the way it stands out even amid all the other brightly colored buildings. Very few people were inside that day and so we got to gaze up at the frescoes in relative peace and quiet, sheltered from the rain outside. It was the last church we visited on my trip there, and while I can’t say it was my favorite (given the almost literal dozen I visited) it definitely holds a special place and if you’re in Mittenwald or even in the general area, I highly suggest you make the visit.

We walked around a bit more after that, the streets quiet and mostly empty apart from some other intrepid sightseers. The air smelled just like it had when we were in Ramsau, clean and crisp but with the scent of woodsy burning firewood drifting over us. Eventually though, even the comforting smell and brightly colored buildings weren’t enough to distract us from the way our feet were getting rather cold and how time was rapidly moving towards afternoon.

And so, rain still falling, we headed back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and then later, back to Geretsried so I could repack and get ready to finally head off to the trips last destination, Paris.

~m

A Sunset Walk Goodbye- Salzburg, Austria

There’s very few times where i’ll recommend visiting a cemetery, but St. Peter’s Monastery and it’s accompanying cemetery is easy to recommend given it’s history, location and general beauty. One of the highlights of the cemetery (which btw, is the oldest cemetery in the city) are the accompanying catacombs which are carved out of the Mönchsberg itself. They’re open year round and if you’re interested in going up into them, the entrance is located at the graves of Mozart’s sister Nannerl and Michael Haydn. Julia and I of course decided to go up and take a look.



After coming back down from the catacombs we walked to some other churches in the area and then sat on the stairs of the Kollegienkirche for a while, just people watching and wondering where everyone had gotten the delicious looking ice cream cones they were walking around with. Eventually we found ourselves heading to the river to cross back to the other side as the sun climbed lower in the sky.

And whats that in the background? Another church of course. In front of it is the hotel i’d really love to stay at the next time I visit( because yes of course i’m already thinking of when I can visit again). 

Walking back through the gardens of Mirabell Palace, we ended up right back to the first view where we started that day and looked out across the landscape and up to where we’d been just a couple of hours ago.

We eventually made it back to where we had parked the car and the plan had been to head back to Geretsried since its about a 2 hour ride back but, Julia had a suggestion for another place to visit that was hard to resist. So with a roadmap out between us and some fruit snacks ready to be chewed on, we headed on to the last part of that days adventure.

~m

Under the Heavenly Domed Ceilings- Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg is a city full to bursting with charm, history, impressively well preserved Baroque architecture and a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s plenty of ways to view and tour the city- from a Mozart inspired adventure to a more architecture oriented exploration, I’d be hard pressed to say there isn’t something for everyone.

For me and Julia though, we were just happy to explore wherever the streets took us that Saturday we were there and they just so happened to wind us through countless churches and cathedrals (I say countless because we really did pass through a bunch and I didn’t take photographs at each so i’m honestly still not sure which all we saw…I want to say we saw and/or passed by at least 5 though). If you’ve ever looked at a city view photograph of Salzburg you should be able to immediately pick out the many cathedral domes and church towers- especially if its a view of the Altstadt ( the Old City on the left bank of the river)- so its definetly, as the city guide website puts it, a City of Churches. 

After coming back down from our walk up to Hohensalzburg Castle we immediately veered of from the path we had taken before through a iron gate into what turned out to be The Petersfriedhof (St. Peter’s cemetery). Fans of The Sound of Music movie might know this as the cemetery where the von Trapp family found a secure hiding place before ultimately escaping to Switzerland- which, if your keen on it, I saw plenty of tour buses for Sound of The Music inspired tours in the area as well. This is also where we visited the Catacombs, but that along with the cemetery will be it’s own separate post. Stiftskirche Sankt Peter (St Peter’s Abbey) was where we went into after coming back down from the catacombs, and it was an unexpected rococo splendor.

With a history spanning back to 696 when it was founded by Saint Rupert, the abby is full of history and definetly worth at least a cursory visit. The romanesque abby church that is open to all visitors was erected around 1130- though it wasn’t dedicated to Saint Peter until 1147- and the interior that makes it such a beautiful place of worship was refurbished in the Rococo style between 1760 and 1782.

After leaving and walking for probably less than 15 minutes, we came across the Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church)- this would be the one with the slender steeple that’s almost instantly recognizable on the city skyline. This church is one of the oldest churches in Salzburg and it’s gothic style makes it a genuinely fascinating church to visit, from outside to the interior (though apparently I didn’t take any photos of the interior….or if I did my phone and/or camera ate them…?)

Finally the last church we came across and couldn’t help but visit was the gorgeous Baroque style Kollegienkirche (Collegiate Church). This ended up being my favorite of all the churches we visited that day, at least in Salzburg. From the moment you walk in, it’s an otherworldly experience. As soon as you shut the heavy doors behind you, the bustling of the busy square outside shuts off like water from a tap being turned off, and a calm hushed silence completely inundates you. The tall domed ceilings allow light spill into and over the beautifully renovated walls, and while there are plenty of statues, frescos and touches of rococo splendor to be found, its an overall restrained beauty you’ll find here. It’s hard to stand inside and not feel utterly small but, somehow, the expansive halls never once lose their intimacy.

I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I was raised in a fairly spiritual household and the iconography of Christianity was always in my life in one way or another. Rebellious and eager to strike out on my own, I went through a short lived but rather hardcore atheist period that really just drew a kind of “uh, ok then” reaction from my family and eventually petered out into a general agnostic view of things. Now, older and with a deep seated love for learning about history (especially with regards to the Byzantine empire), I find myself much more comfortable exploring these areas of western religion – whether it’s at a museum or in a centuries old cathedral – than I ever did before, mostly as a oddly knowledgeable and respectful outsider but every so often, if the mood is right, as a hands clasped reluctant believer.

Whichever one you find yourself as when visiting Salzburg though, I highly recommend taking a quiet walk through at least one of the churches here- not only for the architectural beauty on display but also as an integral step into understanding the city’s long and fascinating history.

~ m

Final post on Salzburg coming up next, after which will be a post about the Parish Church of St. Sebastian (also known sometimes as the Ramsau church) and then diving into some fairytale castles built by Ludwig II that Julia and I visited.