“I am a traveler, not a tourist.” – The motto of the Matador Network, an online travel blog.
My breathing increased rapidly and my legs grew heavier with each step I took. Nevertheless, I continued to climb each floor more quickly than the last as adrenaline pumped through my veins. Sweat started to gather on my brow and the forty pound hiking backpack taunted me naggingly as it bounced with every step. I did not care, however, as I continued to rush upward. I was racing – not against a person, a clock, or even myself – I was racing out of pure excitement – running towards another memory to grasp tightly.
An hour earlier I sat on the side of a boat as it drove around the Seine River. When the boat tour started, the sun was setting, which briefly illuminated the Eiffel Tower with a golden color. The grey sky provided a dull backdrop which made the tower magnificently standout. When I had initially laid eyes on the Tower the day before, I thought it was kind of ugly and slightly out of place – in this moment, however, I decided to amend my initial judgement – I had not laid my eyes on many things more beautiful than the sun setting on the Eiffel Tower. Pink and orange rays of light reflected softly off of the river as the boat began to move. Two female students sat on to my right and three of our boys to my left. All five of the kids sat in silent astonishment for several minutes. One of the boys looked at me and remarked, “Mr. Franklin, this is pretty cool, huh?” Pretty cool, indeed.
As the boat drove us up and down the river, night fell upon us. We were able to see many of the structures we had seen either on foot or from our bus tour, but from a completely different perspective – sitting on a boat on the Seine River in Paris as the city lights beautifully filled the darkness. I looked at my students and said with a smile “This is one of the moments from this trip you will not forget.” With a deep breath, I shut off my camera, exhailed, and enjoyed the moment.
People of all ages and ethnicities sat on the bank of the river, which was a man-made walkway. Many people waved to us as we passed. Some were sharing a drink (or a bottle), others were eating a late dinner, and a few couples were partaking in romantic moments that were not necessarily as private as they should have been. Musicians lined the river walk and played; we even passed a group of adults ballroom dancing. For whatever reason these groups of people were out, it was a fun experience to see the Paris night life along the river’s shore. As the boat trip neared conclusion, I took a pinch of Dad’s ashes and sprinkled him over the side of the boat and into the river.
We pulled near our docking station a few minutes later and to my surprise, the Eiffel Tower, which was illuminated not by the sun but by massive orange lights, began sparkling brightly – a light show equal to fireworks which lasted for five minutes. It was quite a finale to our time on the boat.
Earlier in the day, our group had the opportunity to spend four hours at The Louvre – the second largest art museum in the world and home to da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. I was excited to see The Louvre as my grandma expressed her love for the museum from time to time throughout my childhood. We walked through the crowd, past the first gate, and into a scene beautiful fountains shooting water into the air as the sun reflected off of three glass pyramids.
When we entered the old medieval fortress, however, my perception of the famous art museum began to shift. Part of the original wall of the fortress still exists, and I began to admire it before I realized that there were shops everywhere – gift shops, a Starbucks, an Apple store, and plenty of other name-brand stores – I felt like I was in a shopping mall in the United States. The shops were not what bothered me, however; it was the sheer mass of people, of tourists, which immediately overwhelmed me. We stood in a security line for about 30 minutes and then made our way up to the Italian art wing, seemingly with a million other people.
We allowed our kids to explore the massive museum on their own, and Melissa and I got separated rather quickly as we were admiring various pieces of art. One of my favorite parts of the Italian wing were how all of the ceilings were decorated with beautiful paintings. I walked all the way down the wing and saw famous paintings I have admired via art history class or the Internet, and read the names of many famous artists underneath their master pieces. I was becoming increasingly frustrated and started to feel claustrophobic, however, due to the endless droves of people. The massive building seemed quite small.
I am going to go on a quick rant and I apologize in advance for this cynical parapraph, but oh my god! – I love taking pictures…I love photography…and sometimes I am guilty of “living through a lens”. However, the more I have traveled and grown, the more I have realized how important it is sometimes to just experience moments without taking a picture of every single thing (see my previous blog, Brain Pictures). I have no problem with people taking pictures of something meaningful to them, or of a cool artistic angle of something – but that is not what the majority of people were doing in The Louvre – Maybe I am in the minority here, but taking pictures of every single painting, not even with a person in the photo, is pointless, annoying, and it ruins the experience for other people. How many times are you actually going to go through random pictures of art that you took at a terrible angle with random strangers next to it? One of my biggest pet peeves is someone taking pictures of everything with an iPad or tablet. The camera is about 6 mega pixels (aka it sucks), the person operating it is obnoxiously blocking the view from everyone else, and none of his/her friends or family are going to want to look an iPad-photo of the Mona lisa from 30 feet away with the heads of 400 other people in the shot. If I want to see a high quality image of the Mona Lisa, I will go to Google and search for it! People, put the iPads down, please!! Again, I apologize for my cynicism, but if you’re offended then quit living through a lens quite so much. Modern technology has ruined touristic places to a degree and it has taken all of the art away from photos. Put the art back into photography – we should be travelers not tourists.
Now back to the story – I decided to go ahead and get the Mona Lisa out of the way. I went into the offshoot of the main wing which held the famous painting and saw the massive crowd circled around the small painting. I politely stood uncomfortably in line in order to try to get a close view but I could only take being surrounded by photo carnivors for so long. In an act of irony, or hypocrisy (you decide), I decided to snap a selfie with da Vinci’s painting in the background. I also hate selfies but in this case, at least my face is in photo with the Mona Lisa. On a side note – there is absolutely no way that is the real painting considering hordes of people using flash photography, bright ceiling lights, and one security guard.
It was time to get away from the crowd – I longed for solitude and to actually enjoy the experience. In order to escape, I shoved in my ear buds, cranked some music, and entered my own world. I left the Italian wing and ventured down to Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia. There were far fewer people in these areas and my inner history nerd began to wake. For the next two hours, I walked around looking at various artifacts from thousands of years ago while listening to music. Suddenly, The Louvre seemed much larger and more personal.
I found a quiet spot to sit near an Egyptian burial tomb and sat for awhile. When the room was completely empty, I took a pinch of Dad’s ashes and inconspicuously sprinkled them in an unnoticable spot. I only took one photo after I saw the Mona Lisa, and that was when I found Hammurabi’s Code – the earliest known recorded law of man – the history teacher within could not resist and there was no one near the stone. After purposefully getting lost in the museum for a few hours, I found Melissa and we ate lunch/relaxed outside away from the crowd. Those final two hours were great – meaningful, quiet, and a good memory…what I was looking for in the first place.
When I finally climbed to my destination, the second floor of the Eiffel Tower (and by second floor I mean the second base/platform), I was completely out of breath. The prize for my climb, however, was an overhead few of Paris at night. It was so late at night that there was not a large crowd of people on the platform. The stunning view of lights along with the adrenaline masked my massive fear of heights as I approached the edge to get a better look. Lights reflected off of the river far below as a cold breeze threatened to gain hold of my hat. I enjoyed the view immensly as the dark purple clouds shifted around the tower. I watched our kids for a few minutes as they were all trying to take in the magnitude of what they were experiencing – sometimes I really admire the innocent joy of fourteen-year-olds.
I took a few students back down at 11:50 so that we could watch the sparkling display of lights from the base while Melissa kept another group on the Tower to experience it from there. When midnight hit, the Tower again exploded with bursts of bright white light. I saw on the bench with my kids as we watched the awesome light show. After the show was over, we caught the metro back to our hotel. Across the street from where we were staying was a small sports pub filled with people. I popped my head and realized the USA was playing in its first World Cup game against Ghana. For some reason, I did not think the game was on for another hour. A few students and I stayed and watched the game with another crowd of American students and teachers. With four minutes left in the game, the Americans took the lead on an amazing header and the pub exploded in jubilation. It was a great way to end my favorite day/night in Paris.
Other highlights from Days 3 and 4 in Paris:
– Our students found entertainment at The Louvre by posing as different sculptures and statues which they saw around the museum…some of the photos are quite entertaining to say the least.
– We spent the last day in Paris exploring a small art district – see a fewphotos below, the Interet is currently too slow to upload everything I would like to – it was a quiant town with a beautiful cathedral. As we walked away from the town, we discovered the original Moulin Rouge. Naturally, we made our students pose with their legs kicked up.
– Due to a strike with French transportation agencies, our original plan to take a night train from Paris to Barcelona was cancelled. Instead, we had to embark on a 15 hour bus ride – I actually enjoyed the chance to sit, relax, write, and look at photos because we had been non-stop to that point.
– Next up: Barcelona for two nights!