05 June 2010

Europe recap 2003, Day 3: Amiens and Paris

Tuesday, November 4th, 2003. This is my only full day in France for this trip.

I started off by heading for Gare du Nord, and taking a conventional train to Amiens, about an hour to the north. This was my first ride on a mainline French train that was not a bullet train. My increasingly rusty French meant that I had trouble following some basic instructions posted around the station platforms and in trains. Even something like "compostez votre billet" could confound me - even though in this case, "composting" simply meant invalidating my ticket myself via one of the punching machines around the station platforms.

Jet lag was still bothering me - I spent most of the ride (around 10 AM) napping.

The only reason for going to Amiens was to visit its cathedral. It is about as spectacular as any other cathedral in France (spectacular, but not unique), but the reason for insisting on Amiens was that when I took my first class in college, a mandatory one-semester Art Humanities course, it dwelled heavily on the architecture of European cathedrals - and it used Amiens Cathedral to showcase the features of a typical cathedral. That class had given me severe headaches, and I could only muster a B; to "avenge" that, I had to see Amiens Cathedral in person.

(Wikipedia does say that Amiens is the largest and tallest complete cathedral in France. It also says that because its construction did not take long, architecture is more coherent than in other cathedrals.)

I have arrived. Here is a detail of the main entrance, with archways lined by angels, the saints flanking the doors, and everything centered around Jesus.

Mercifully, Amiens Cathedral is only a few minutes of walk away from the train station. I couldn't possibly get lost.

More details of the facade and the bell towers. Very typical European Gothic cathedral design.

A look at the choir stain glasses.

Exterior of the choir area with flying buttresses visible. This cathedral's gutter gargoyles are not as pronounced as those of other cathedrals, I must say.

Sure, Amiens is a pleasant town in its own right, but I didn't really feel like hanging around, even for a traditional French cafe meal. I headed straight back to the train station, to return to Paris and its sights.

This ad for Les Sims: Abracadabra was seen in the train station.

The Sims was certainly the greatest computer game phenomenon of the early 2000s. I was known to be a very avid player myself. Late 2003 was the tail end of the shelf life of the original installment, and this expansion pack, known as The Sims: Making Magic in English-speaking markets, was the last of a series of seven. Glad to see a reminder of my favorite game in faraway France.

The Sims 2 took over in 2004, with its own batch of expansion packs. The Sims 3 followed in 2009. In all three games, I've been busy living out an alternative life for myself, a wife, and a roommate. The Sims 2 even had University expansion pack that allowed me to return to college and enjoy it far more than I had done in real life.

I wanted to hit an art museum - and among the major ones in Paris, Musée d'Orsay was the last one I had not visited, so I headed there. It concentrates mostly on 19th Century art, whereas the gigantic Louvre, not part of my plans this time, tends to cover art only up to 1800.

Here are some decorative art pieces depicting the Eiffel Tower, which has been gracing (or rather, disgracing at first) the Paris skyline since 1889.

Some small bronze sculptures from Edgar Degas.

And a peek outside, to the north. I am seeing Sacré-Coeur Basilica and Montmartre.

Just being in Paris is often good enough for me, honestly, as Paris had been my childhood dream city, and on my previous, first visit in 1998, it had treated me very well. This time around, I didn't enjoy Paris as much due to my Amsterdam demons and due to the short stay duration, but I would get to really enjoy Paris one more time in 2009.

The Rodin Museum has the full Gates of Hell, Auguste Rodin's lifelong project that was never finished. And as it turns out, Orsay has its own Gates of Hell - in plaster.

I am winding up my day in the Tuileries area, with Champs d'Elysées to the west and the Louvre to the east.

The Egyptian obelisk marks Place de la Concorde, where during the French Revolution, many members of the royalty and the aristocracy were beheaded with a guillotine. It is a lot more harmonious now. A faraway glimpse of the Eiffel Tower further reminds me that I am in Paris.

Within the Tuileries, I see a fountain, with citizens sitting and relaxing around it, maybe feeding the ducks as well. This pond is surrounded by statues, one of which is visible.

In the distance, a tricouleur flies above a building. The French display of nationalism, with the national flag around every corner, is pretty unusual for Europe.

It is a bit chilly, too chilly for this Angeleno, but nevertheless, this is a nice way to wrap up my second visit of Paris.

The next day would see me return to London on Eurostar, for the final four nights of this trip, with some heavy-hitting sightseeing as soon as I arrive.