Today began with a hop on the Metro to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, a stunning Roman Catholic Church that exemplifies the French Gothic movement in architecture. Construction of the Cathedral began in the 12th century, and finished in the 14th century. Eva (our tour guide) gave our students a brief art history lesson as we stood outside the massive church. Their complete lack of grounding in art further cements my belief that art education should be compulsory throughout public school education. Filling in bubbles on a standardized test with an HB pencil DOES NOT count as art!
While the kids listened to Eva, Addie and I played in the beautiful green space, the Notre Dame Gardens, to the side and back of the Cathedral. I love when urban spaces have small enclaves of nature! The gardens were just beginning to show springtime blooms. Addie chased after the ducks walking along the river wall, yelling “quack! quack!”
The interior of the Cathedral was just as stunning as I had remembered. We wandered along the walls, admiring the intricate stained glass windows. Unfortunately, the stairs to the tower were closed due to a labor strike. (Who knew churches had unions?)
We had some free time after visiting Notre Dame, so Kendra, Addison, and I slipped into a quiet cafe for cappuccinos and a quick bite to eat. Our waiter was perfectly charming! (A stark contrast to the typically rude Parisian subway worker I dealt with in the Metro station earlier in the day. I do not completely understand the intense dislike Parisians seem to have for Americans, but I have yet to visit Paris without getting the feeling that my presence isn’t universally welcomed.)
After our snack (yes I had another nutella crepe!), we took the kids on a leisurely river boat cruise along the Seine river. Like our cruise down the river Thames, it was a great opportunity to see many major sites of Paris without the hassle of dealing with crowds. Unfortunately, the ride was more relaxing than we anticipated, and many of our exhausted teens couldn’t help but fall asleep!
When we disembarked, the group headed on foot to the Louvre Museum. As an artist and art teacher, I had been waiting for this visit for our entire trip!
Before we made it to the Louvre, we made a few stops. First on the list was a photo opportunity on the Pont des Arts, a simple pedestrian bridge spanning the river. A longtime hotspot for artists, the bridge also draws couples who attach a lock to the railing and toss the key into the river. Kendra and I were sad we didn’t have a lock on hand. The kids were inventive, and one of them pulled a luggage lock from their backpack and placed it on the bridge – too cute!
Next stop was lunch at the Carrousel du Louvre Shopping Center. Yes, there is a shopping mall at the Louvre with not just one, but two Starbucks. The food court reminded me of the old Marche restaurant in Boston’s Back Bay. It featured cuisine from around the world and you got your “passport” stamped at each station from which you got food. Anyway, I digress – the food options at the Louvre Shopping Center were similar. I opted for the Mediterranean stand, while Kendra went for the French stall. Though expensive and overpriced, the food was good.
With full tummies, we finally headed to the museum. It was Addie’s nap time, so we planned on letting her sleep in the backpack while I carried her though the exhibits. Unfortunately, our great plans were squashed at the entrance to the Richelieu Wing, and we were sent to get a stroller from the info desk. It was a cumbersome process that wasted 30 minutes of our time and left us regretting not having brought the Ergo with us to the museum. Even worse, the layout of the museum is not conducive to strollers – elevators are few and far between, painfully slow, and often filled with perfectly able-bodied folks unwillingly to make room. I cannot imagine trying to navigate in a wheelchair! Having a baby most certainly makes you appreciate the difficulties faced by the physically handicapped. If your legs can move you, take the stairs!
Despite the bumpy start, we did manage to cover a great deal of ground. We did a fly-by of the Mona Lisa, which was predictably crowded. Addison did manage a short nap while we spent two hours wandering the beautiful hallways of the museum.
While waiting for the kids to get back from the photo scavenger hunt we had assigned them, Kendra, Addie, and I stopped for more cappuccinos (and a babyccino!) and some pastries at the Louvre cafe. To make sure the kids didn’t miss any of the truly famous works in the museum, we gave them a list of must sees that they had to take pictures of, as well as a few other requirements. It was a fun way for them to explore the Louvre while also learning about art.
On the way to dinner, we caught a classical music performance in the Metro! I love buskers – especially good ones :)
Dinner was at Flam’s, which featured salad and Flammekueche – similar to a thin-crust pizza. We ended our night atop the Montparnasse Tower 56th Floor Observation Deck. As we gave out awards for the Louvre scavenger hunt, Addie made friends with two little French kids who delighted in letting her chase them around the deck. She had a blast and wore herself out! The kids loved the view, especially when the Eiffel Tower sparkled!
It was a great way to end an awesome European adventure. Tomorrow we head home, and I know this experience has changed the lives of our students and broadened their worldviews. Tonight, I am a proud teacher.