En cherchant la Joconde

My mum came to visit us here in France again. January might be cold, but it is a good time to do sightseeing. The queues are noticably shorter this time of the year.

We walked a lot, like the last time she was here. This time we explored the Jewish quarter of Paris. The area is great, lots of interesting shops and signs and restaurants.

I’ve been in France for a year and a half and I still hadn’t visited the Louvre. I wasn’t that interested in seeing Mona Lisa in person and the queues were always daunting. Plus none of my visitors expressed an interest. My mum finally asked me to get tickets ahead, because the only thing that’s worse than queueing is queueing while it’s 5 degrees and rainy.

I had to give the Louvre my birth date and address and pay 2 € extra for the privilege of printing out the ticket myself. I even complained about it on twitter, because with every click i got a generic error message. And I mean that literally:

The Louvre sent me a private message to explain it’s necessary that I enter my birthdate because it’s necessary and that they will take care of the error. They haven’t.

Enough of my rant, the offline Louvre is great. In both size and content. We also didn’t have to queue at all, because it’s January. I grabbed a map and went right to the French painters, where I expected the Mona Lisa to be. It took me two floors of paintings to realise my mistake and find the Italian painters on the map.

At least we saw a few gems on this little unscheduled detour.

Once we were in the right wing of the Louvre there were arrows pointing the way and people to follow. Mona Lisa is in a large room with lots of other paintings that go mostly ignored. There are 2 types of barriers separating the throng of tourists from the painting and two very bored guards on either side. People take selfies with the image all the time and there are queues for good selfie places.

I already knew that the painting is fairly small and didn’t expect to be impressed. And it felt like it was a matter of duty, seeing Mona Lisa in the Louvre :-)

Afterwards we had coffee and tackled the rest of the museum. I had no idea the Venus of Milo was also in the Louvre and the room she was in was almost empty.

We had tickets to go to Reims for the next day. So we got up early and went to Paris to board the TGV to Reims. It’s only a 45 minute ride with no stops because the train goes over 300 km/h. My mum was really excited about the velocity, but didn’t want to act too touristy. I totally encouraged her to get up and take a picture of the sign that displayed the speed. I take pictures of anything and everything, I very much understand the impulse :-)

Reims is a pretty town, not too big to walk. A lot of it was destroyed in WWI, so many houses in the center have art deco façades.

It also has a giant cathedral in which most of the French kings were crowned. Some of the stained glass windows were designed by Marc Chagall in the 70s. We missed the opening times of the palace de Tau, which houses the coronation museum, so we wandered on to the basilica.

Reims is also the place were Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of Germany on May 7, 1945. When my mum mentioned that I had to laugh. I only know the name because of the Hitler reacts to meme and he is one of the people who stay in the room. I tried to explain the meme to my mum but retelling YouTube memes doesn’t really work.

I was confused. All French towns appear to have a rue 8 mai, why not 7 mai? It turns out, the surrender was signed on the 7th in Reims and then signed again in Germany in the presence of the Soviets on May 8. In Russia the end of the war is considered to be May 9, because it was already after midnight Moscow time.

We visited the museum dedicated to this event. It’s in the former headquarters of Eisenhower next to a school. It was a small museum but I found it really interesting. I don’t need the uniforms but I liked the contemporary newspapers and the original war rooms with all the maps.

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