Sunday, May 21, 2000

Woke up early (well, it felt like it, anyway; tired from yesterday) to go to the Louvre. Ate breakfast in the hotel, which was confusing at first because we didn't know where their reserve supply of trays was. Fortunately, someone pointed them out to us and we got on with the job...

Our guidebook said that to get into the Louvre fast, bring exact change in coins (40FF on Sundays) for the ticket machines, but our, um, friendly Ibis hotel staff let us know that any sort of money exchange was absolutely out of the question. Sure made me feel good that they have a 15 minute "solve any problem or you stay free" guarantee and that they are "ISO 9002 certified" because they take a "total quality approach". Yeah, whatever. We chose Ibis for this trip because they were clean, friendly, and not overpriced in some other cities, but I think we'll look for another chain next time.

We walked out into rain (glad we had remembered both of our raincoats, sorry later that we had forgotten the traveler's checks) and made the pleasant discovery that once we got into the Metro system, we did not have to emerge above ground level at all to get inside the Louvre. Our second pleasant discovery was that the ticket machines no longer accept any form of cash, only credit cards, which we had and could use. The price had gone up a little bit, but the total for both of us was still under $10.

We saw a few of the important paintings and looked over a huge crowd of heads and cameras at the Mona Lisa in her special security box. We only saw a few thousand paintings (or so...) before lunch. While we walked through, we saw the weather turn beautiful, and so we decided to try going outside to do one of the walks in our guidebook. The wind was brisk, but the weather was beautiful--for about 25 minutes, after which it rained on and off (mostly on) for several hours.

Early in the walk, we saw Sainte-Chapelle. Words cannot describe it adequately. We had both heard it described, seen pictures, read descriptions, and nothing prepared us for it. If you go, bring binoculars to look at the windows so that you can follow the amazingly complete picture bible in the stained glass. The only minor problem was that the admission fee used up all but 2 francs of our available cash. We were glad we had saved it that far, and didn't grudge spending it, but the cash crunch was now far tighter.

We walked towards Notre Dame, saw that it cost money to go into the tower, and walked away. We found an exchange bureau that said that it took credit cards, and as we had a credit card with a small positive balance specially for the trip, we decided that this was our best option. They told us that their credit card machine was broken (a likely story...) and wouldn't talk to us. To get rid of us, they lied to us about the location of an ATM and we went to look for it with no great hopes. Of course, it didn't exist, but I, at least, was too dispirited to go tell them off--which was precisely what they expected, I'm sure.

We ended up walking towards Centre Pompidou. Nearby, we finally found a working ATM and had to wait about ten minutes in line to get our turn to take out money. Naturally, we took out a bit more than we expected to need, just in case.

After treating ourselves to ice cream and souvenirs to celebrate, we went back to Notre Dame and found that we didn't have to pay to go in the nave, just the tower (which we were too tired to climb anyway), and went in for a bit. A mass was about to begin, and after seeing Sainte-Chapelle there didn't seem to be that much to see. (If you are in Paris, see Notre Dame first, then Sainte-Chapelle!)

We then hiked off to the Arc de Triomphe and watched traffic getting snarled in the huge traffic circle around us. The French right-of-way rules demonstrate that French civil engineering is right up with the best of French engineering--i.e., generally unusual and apparently not measured by objective standards.

Too tired and hungry to be sensible, we trudged around for a long time looking for food, and ended up in a second-rate place. Well, they were friendly, but the food was nothing to write home about, so I won't.

We went home, took lots of Advil and collapsed in pain for the night.