Paris, the City of Lights. It seems imminently appropriate to finish the 21-day Best of Europe tour here. I am ever so grateful that I’ve been able to do many itineraries for Europe Through the Back Door, but this tour seems the most complete, the most perfectly laid out, the best suited to my passions and strengths. And I love finishing in Paris.
Even though it is a busy, urban environment the city is tempered by its wide boulevards; the many large parks; the pedestrian-friendly, wide, tree-lined sidewalks; its unparalleled public art and architecture; bustling café culture; and polite citizens all make it a pleasure to return over and over. However, despite my fondness for its many virtues, some things have become increasingly complicated here. I’m thinking primarily of the Louvre. It is
approaching, if not surpassing, the Vatican Musuem in Rome for institutional volitility and hassle. The Vatican has always been difficult with its willy-nilly layout and refusal to limit visitors. But the Louvre is out-hassling their Roman cousins when it comes to arbitrary rule changes, security and entrance closures, and heavy-handed requirements. What should be enjoyed as a jaw-dropping summery of western art and the glory of French culture now ends up being as notable for the great difficulty in navigating its shifting rules and capricious patterns. As usual, this grouse is coming from a guide’s perspective and it is my firm belief that the average tourist still finds the museum spectacular and rewarding. And I cannot express enough praise for our intrepid Parisian guides who still make our visits work despite whatever obstacles-de-jour we encounter. It is always a great visit, full of enlightenment, summary knowledge, and the perfect finale to three weeks of European culture. I just wish it could be simpler and easier. As it is, I now have to warn my tour members ahead of time to pack extra patience and flexibility. On my most recent visit I thought we were in great shape as we arrived early, got our audio guides kitted out before any other groups, met with one of our local guides while the second actually braved the messy process of getting our entrance paid - a three-ring circus that has sometimes sucked up a good 30 minutes in recent years. Our only difficulty was the fact that the restrooms, as always, did not open until almost 9:00AM - delaying our using them and therefore our entering of the museum. But our luck ran out there.
For some unexplained reason, the underground security entrance we’ve used for two decades was closed. We had to race other groups up into the courtyard and enter the pyramid above ground - the primary entrance and by far the most crowded. Again, kudos to our guide Elizabeth for sweet talking the guard on duty into allowing us into an employee entrance where they hand-checked our bags. Disaster averted, but panting from the mad dash, we entered the museum only 45 minutes after our arrival - a time I consider to be a victory in recent years. I must confess the visit went very smoothly thereafter and we even visited Mona Lisa with a relatively small crowd of admirers instead of the usual seething throng, complete with pickpockets. We had Michelangelo’s statues to ourselves, not much competition with the other Leonardos, and moderate group juggling in front of the French masters.
Only the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus d’ Milo were swamped by the usual sea of admirers. Elizabeth gave us an added bonus of the Richaleau wing and a quickie glimpse of the Winged Bulls from the Citadel of Sargon (massive at 12 feet tall and 15 wide) and the Stele of Hammurabi (first written law) - two sights I have always loved and regretted we don’t get to see on the tour. As much as I encourage my travelers to stay inside and explore on their own, typically they are exhausted in mind, spirit, and body after 2+ hours of the ordeal that the Louvre has become. What a shame.
I am exhausted when we finish and I’m not even doing the guiding. Oh well, restoration is easily at hand in the form of a café lunch or Champs du Mar picnic. Dispite the hassles of the Louvre it remains an inspiring finale to the tour and a highlight of this world class city.