Our first full day in Paris was our free day to sightsee - but not before we all got in the bus and drove to the Eiffel Tower for our Contiki group photo. On the way, we had a very entertaining ride around l'Arc de Triomphe. It's known as one of the world's most dangerous roundabouts, and a common joke is that it's so dangerous no insurance company will cover a car accident that occurs in it.
Once we drove through it, we understood why. We watched from the relative safety of the tourbus as cars jammed into each other and brave citizens on narrow scooters darted through every available space like minnows, proper lanes be damned. I saw at least one motorist on the side of the road angrily scribbling his insurance information onto the hood of another man's car.
Once our picture was taken, roughly 70 percent of the group signed up for the Fat Tire bicycle tour of Paris, and the rest of us (myself included) decided biking in 30-plus degree heat through a crowded foreign city where most of its native motorists instinctively hate you was a terrible idea.
Today was the day I was going to be a social traveller. I knew the main
bits I wanted to see, but I wasn't as invested in seeing everything in Paris as I was in London. So I teamed up with Trudy, Franco, Romio, Anthony, Sophie (the roommate), and Michael and headed for the Louvre. After safely dodging two
urchins offering the Charity Scam
, we made it to the "secret door" of the Louvre our tour manager pointed out to us:
There are several lines at the Louvre. There's a line just to get in, and then a line for tickets, and then an uncomfortable shuffle through a crowded lobby before you get to the actual art. That side entrance there? To the left of the glass pyramid? That lets you skip the first line.
Once we got tickets, I discovered the main members of our group were only there for the "Mona Lisa Dash" - which involves buying a ticket, rushing straight to the Mona Lisa, snapping a picture, and leaving. Which is the stupidest, most wasteful, tacky tourist thing I ever heard. I'm being fairly hypocritical, since in England I rushed through the 1000-year-old Roman Baths like a flaming racoon was chasing me just so I could see the Pump Room at the end. But still. What's the point of saying you went to the Louvre if you only saw one thing in it? Hell, the Louvre is a palace - the ornate ceilings alone are works of art.
I get it - there's so much in Paris to see and only so little time. And no one's capable of seeing everything in the Louvre in a couple of hours. So we walked through the Italian art wing, past the Winged Victory statue which I had never heard of before that day because I am a philistine. I refused to crowd in to see the Mona Lisa. I got a glimpse of her from the end of the room, and looked at all the dozens of other perfectly awesome paintings instead. I didn't take too many pictures - it's not the point, really. You can Google Image practically everything these days. BUT, I did snap some of the funnier religious paintings:
The Prophet of Sass. Work it! "Jesus is coming and he is fierce!"
The "Sears Portrait" of Virgin Mary scenes. "Have you finished the picture yet?" They just both look so bored and depressed.
Baby Jesus does not give a fuck. "Peace be with you, or whatever."
At Mikey's urging, we also explored some Greek and Roman sculpture, which was lovely - got to see the Venus de Milo. After that, the group decided they wanted to get some lunch. I was torn - I wanted to be social, but I definitely wanted to see more of the Louvre before I went home. So I compromised - the others were planning on seeing Notre Dame after lunch, so I told them I'd stay at the Louvre for an extra hour (and secretly eat a granola bar) and meet up with them there.
I spent that extra hour in the French art wing. That seemed appropriate. Lots of David, understandably. I was blown away by the enormous Coronation of Napoleon painting, and really fell for this self-portrait of Marie Antoinette's favourite painter and her daughter:
I have a particular fondness for realistic portraits that demonstrate emotions we can still relate to hundreds of years later - such as loving one's mum.
It was only after I left the Louvre and wandered into the gift shop (bought magnets and a notebook) that I realized one of my favourite sculptures, Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss by Antonio Canova, was part of the Louvre, but by then I had no time to go back in and find it. Oh well. I'm not well-versed in classical art, but I've always loved that sculpture - it's so dynamic. Plus the Cupid and Psyche myth is the prototype for the fairytales Beauty and the Beast, The Raven Prince, and East of the Sun, West of the Moon.
From there I decided to walk from the Louvre to Notre Dame. This required strolling along the Seine in the sunshine, past the (soon to collapse) lock bridge, past sellers of antique and secondhand books, jewellery, artwork, and souvenirs. I overpaid for a bottle of ice water because I couldn't understand the water seller and bought a compact mirror from one of the kiosks. The only thing marring this idyllic afternoon was my foot, now smarting with a vengeance.
I managed to hobble my way (barely) to Notre Dame.
Sophie the Tour Manager said there'd be no line - that was not true. But the line moved quickly, and just as I neared the front, the rest of my group arrived!
Notre Dame was amazing, and I really wanted to linger for far longer than my group did, but my foot was hurting and I knew it was time to quit (after kneeling and saying a prayer for my mum, first). I bought a simple wooden rosary (the Swarovski crystal ones made me feel guilty) and all of us shared a few cabs back to the hotel - and I just caught a glimpse of the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company as we passed by.
Back at the hotel, my roommate and I just chilled in the room. Honestly after all that heat and walking, it was nice to just rest, nap, and read a book in a cool, quiet room for a few hours.
After that came the Moulin Rouge!
Now ... the Moulin Rouge was an altogether different experience. We were led into an enormous red-upholstered dining room and theatre and wedged into tiny tables - the space between the tables and the next row's railings were so narrow all the waiters had to crab-walk sideways. And of course I found myself wedged in between a metal railing and the Abominable Australian.
While the lounge singers on stage went through songs so well-known and digested they were practically musical jello, my compatriots and I tried to eat off-tasting smoked salmon, decent steak, and a chocolate dessert without elbowing each other in the face. The staff provided us with two bottles of wine and a pitcher of water - I finished off the water in short time. I was suddenly terribly thirsty, and my throat was starting to hurt.
The service at the Moulin Rouge was terrible. I had to ask four times, from four separate waiters for more water, and was ignored or lied to. Sophie (Tour Manager) managed to steal us one off a cart, and we made short work of that, but it wasn't nearly enough.
Then the waiters dropped off a bottle of Champagne, the dining room darkened, and the show began. The Moulin Rouge show is a burlesque, and it's very crazy and campy and random. Basically, gorgeous French women in showgirl costumes come onto the stage and dance through bizarre scenarios or skits while lip-synching to French pop songs. Either they'll all be topless, or the Three Obvious Starlets will be topless and the rest of them will wear diaphanous tops or jangling necklaces to make them look topless when they're really not (like Neytiri from Avatar). There were about a dozen male dancers as well (with an Obvious Hero sporting a square jaw straight out of a 1940s Marvel comic), but none of them removed so much as a stitch of clothing. A shame.
The scenes and skits were thus: pirate men seducing topless pirate women through dance, the patriotic can-can with a flexible but disappointingly fully-clothed male dancer doing high-kicks backwards and forwards, a 1940s boogie woogie number, an Arabian Nights number, a Kentucky derby number involving female jockeys in thongs leading real miniature horses around the stage, and a finale involving enough pink feathers to give Cher an aneurysm. I can only assume that Vegas showgirl performances are similar.
Of the two acts that stuck out to me, one was an Aztec Human Sacrifice number where a nubile girl was delivered up to the topless priestess by two topless guards in enormous headdresses. She stripped down to her nude thong, and as she did so, a clear swimming pool began to rise out of the stage. A clear swimming pool full of what looked suspiciously like live pythons. The girl dove into the pool, swam around the snakes provocatively (paging Dr. Freud), then Britney Spears'd herself a python necklace and climbed out of the pool to astounded applause.
The second was a circus number with a ballerina, a Conjoined Twin number (two girls wearing one dress), and a chorus line of topless female clowns. You read that right - topless female clowns. They wore the conical white hats and what I can only describe as the French lingerie version of saggy clown pants with suspenders. So if you're in the mood for the weirdest sex dream ever, this is the show for you.
In between the skits, a husband-and-wife tumbling act, a three-man tumbling act, and a French comedian would come out to give us a break from all the sequins.
I enjoyed the show, in a distant way, but I was distracted. I have a weird immune system. I don't get colds as frequently as other people do, but when I actually catch one, it hits me like a fucking freight train. And this cold struck me about five minutes after the show began. Within ten minutes, I developed a throbbing sinus headache, an overflowing runny nose, and I couldn't stop sneezing. I ran out of water and kleenex, folded as I was between an immobile iron railing and the Loudest Fucking Australian Ever, and unable to escape, I had to resort to snuffling and dabbing at my nose with the disintegrating remains of my table napkins.
When the show finally ended, I couldn't go out with the rest of the group to the Irish Pub directly next door (O'Sullivans). I'd planned to, I'd looked forward to it, but by the end of that show, I was a (likely contagious) wreck. Horrifically disappointed and embarrassed, I was the only girl to limp back to the bus and then the hotel.
So maybe I had two low points on this trip - my 45 minutes at Westminster and this wretchedly painful and sleepless night, where I tossed and turned and imagined all the fun drinking shenanigans I was missing out on. My youngest sister (who's gone on numerous Contiki tours) describes this as the "Contiki Clap" - there is always one sick person on every Contiki tour who will spread their disease to several other people. In this case, I likely caught it from Meagan the Floridian Nurse. At least my cold caught me after London and allowed me to enjoy the Louvre.