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The Fresco

Why I'll Never Ask For Directions Again

A two night trip to Paris without kids is supposed to be romantic, right? Somehow I managed to turn it into a 48 hour episode of The Amazing Race except we weren't racing against anyone. My wife is used to that kind of thing by now.

In the middle of our annual trip to Ireland, we left our kids in my mother's safe care and hopped over to France on a short economy flight (picture that bus scene in Romancing the Stone without all the chickens).

Time frames on my Paris itinerary were so tight that we went straight from the airport by train to the famed Catacombs with luggage in tow. We got there fifteen minutes before closing time. They have no coat room or storage area so I had no choice but to carry two cases and two back packs down 130 windy stairs to access a half mile track through passages and chambers referred to on a stone sign as "the Empire of Death". The ossified remains of a staggering estimated six million Parisians line the passageways. I had to use extreme care to not interfere with the arranged bones lining each side. It was an amazingly overwhelming experience to think that all this lies belows the bustling streets of Paris. At the end of the route I had to lug the cases back up from deep underground up to ground level before finally checking in to our hotel.

From there it was non-stop for two days from one site to another, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Musee D’Orsay, Sacre Coeur, etc. Of course, we mixed in the occasional wine bar along the way to stay hydrated.

Our visit took place in 2006. The D'Avinci Code was about to leap from blockbuster best seller to blockbuster movie. There were posters all over Paris celebrating the upcoming release of the film. This added another layer of interest to our trip.


Having read the book a year before, I wanted to see as many of the key Paris locations as possible before seeing the movie. It would make watching it that much more interesting. We visited Ste. Sulpice Church, site of a pivotal and quite gory scene. We found some of the brass markers that form the Rose Line in the Paris Streets. We were politely tossed out of the lobby of the Ritz because of the “jean bleu” we were wearing. Even our obligatory trip to the Louvre was going to take on an extra dimension because of all the thrilling action that takes place there in the story.

I meant to scan the book on the plane and make a list of the key locations and artworks in the Louvre but I think "researching" French wines in flight may have distracted my effort.

So we went in to the Louvre, winging it. I definitely remembered the famous glass pyramid, Madonna of the Rocks, the Mona Lisa (of course), and finally D'Avinci's, The Last Supper played a critical role in the plot.

The Mona Lisa is situated in the back of a massive gallery. I don't know what I was expecting but first of all, the painting is small. It could easily fit above a fireplace. To handle the crowds it is in a space about the size of a gymnasium. From a distance the sense of scale I felt of the painting in the gallery was like a stamp on a large envelope. Secondly, when viewed up close it looks exactly like the hundreds of images I had already seen of it. Go figure.

After we saw the Mona Lisa that only left The Last Supper on our list. I didn't see any signs or directions for it anywhere throughout our visit. I always like to have a plan, know where I'm going, and I definitely don't like to ask for directions. The Louvre is beyond massive. We had more stops to make and didn't have time for a goose chase. So I figure I would swallow my pride and ask one of the staff. Yes, we would look like typical American tourists, but since that's what we were I rolled with it.

Standing to the far right of the Mona Lisa stood a nice enough looking gentleman smartly attired in a blazer and museum badge. I said to him, "Hello sir, I'm sorry to bother you, but could you point me in the right direction to view D'Avinci's Last Supper?"

He cleared his throat. He smiled. He paused for effect, bounced up a little on his toes, and in a voice loud enough for most of the large crowd assembled around the Mona Lisa to hear (make sure to adopt the most condescending museum curator tone and accent possible in your head as you read this), "But of course Monsieur, to view the Last Supper, you will need to take a left as you leave the gallery, go back the way you came and board a flight to Italy. For you see Monsieur, the Last Supper is a fresco adorning a wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan." All the while the little punk had his hand outstretched directing us to the exit like a flight attendant.

So in summary, Paris was great and I’ll never ever ask for directions again.

Posted by EuropInFebruary 11:48 Archived in France

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