They say that a change is as good as a rest, and when it comes to seeking inspiration most musicians will tell you that a change of scenery is as good as it comes. The best musicians take inspiration from their surroundings: so if you’re starting to find that you have songwriters block, it might just be time to strap on that backpack and get your groove back. You certainly won’t be the first: in fact you’ll be following in the footsteps of some of the biggest names in popular music. Names like…
Arguably the most influential band in the world, the Beatles are behind many 70’s youngsters’ ambitions to fly cheaply to Indiato ‘find themselves’. In February 1968 the fab four attended a transcendental meditation training session in Rishikesh, resulting in one of the most productive periods of their career. Although the trip wasn’t exactly idyllic (most accounts speak of tensions between the Beatles and the Maharishi) the time out of the spotlight certainly gave the band the peace and the time to compose a great body of work: including most of the songs from The White Album.
It seemed like all was lost for Bowie before he bit the bullet and left LA,grabbing a one way ticket to Berlin after a brief stint in Paris. In 1976 the thin white duke was exhausted and the trials of fame were starting to get the better of him: Bowie later said that during this period he lived on “red peppers, cocaine, and milk” (not the healthiest diet). Three years of exile in Berlin was the perfect antidote. Working with Brian Eno, Bowie released his ‘Berlin Trilogy’: a set of three albums that included one of his best albums, “Heroes”. Musicians have to take risks, and during the 70’s the Berlin Wall was still standing: the Cold War inspiration for the album becomes deeper when you realise that it was recorded not 500m from the wall itself.
Despite a fairly successful career after his partnership with Garfunkel ended, by the mid 80’s Paul Simon was starting to lose his touch. Disappointing sales of his album “Hearts & Bones” made him believe that he had lost his mojo once and for all. By chance he listened to a cassette of instrumental South African music, which kindled his artistic flair, and inspired him to visit South Africa. The trip resulted in his Grammy award winning album “Graceland”, and a return to the spotlight. Like Bowie before him, the trip was a risk: during the 80’s apartheid was still in full swing and most of the world was boycotting South Africa.
Snoop Dogg… or should that be Snoop Lion?
More recently, a simple trip to Jamaica turned out to be life changing for Snoop Dogg. After meeting with some Rastafarian priests, the rapper had an epiphany and now claims to be the reincarnation of Bob Marley. Snoop is “tired of hip hop” and is planning to make reggae music instead under his new moniker, ‘Snoop Lion’, and plans to release records that young and old alike can enjoy. We’ll be keeping our eyes on this transformation with bated breath.
Words and photos by Brian Leibold (Check out Brian’s Rules of the Road on Kindle!) The valley of Chamonix is set in arguably the most stunning location in Europe, with the great Mont Blanc overlooking it like a wise stern infinitely distinguished grandfather capable of making you feel lucky and inspired or low and humbled, according to his whim.
I arrived on a foggy night, and the clouds obscured the mountains.
There was a refuge called Gite Le Vagabond. This intrigued me, but the price for a cot was unfit for the vagabonds who they purported to attract, so I slept on a bench in a little hut by the train tracks on my ragged blue mat.
In the morning, the fog had cleared, and I woke up to a clear blue sky. Eyes and spirits seemingly magnetically fixed skyward, I embarked on the Tour of Mont Blanc, the TMB for short, a week long 200 kilometer hike beginning in the French Alps and continuing to the Italian and Swiss Alps.
Solitude if sought in the Alps can always be found, and for me it was always found in the early morning. Every morning I would wake up before six and would usually have about three hours before the rest of the (mostly elderly) hikers would start their day.
In these early hours, I would feel like the lone human viewer of the mountain musical symphony, my companions the chirping birds, the bored cows and their jangling bells, the tranquilly flowing water, the soaring snow-capped peaks, and the enigmatic forests. I would try to discern the age old whisperings of the forests and mountains.
I am inclined to walk fast, and the trees in particular were undesirous of this, I felt. They would silently express their disapproval at my quickness. What would I see walking quickly that I couldn’t see trekking slower? This is no race, least of all a rat race. Take your time, they seemed to say. They parroted the Ents, the trees of Tolkien, warning me against hastiness.
At one point, I became hopelessly lost in the midst of a ever-thickening forest. Beginning to actually become frightened, I cursed loudly for a few minutes. But the tall trees admonished me for my blasphemous unquiet, and seemed to whisper confidentially to each other,
“Who is this brash young American vagabond who comes into our woods and expects to never get lost?”
They shook their branches at me in the wind. When I quieted down, they welcomed me back saying
“Sit under our branches for a spell and quit your cursing and worrying. You will find the road again.”
Words of Wisdom: In the mountains and the woods, trek slowly, and engage in unhurried reflection. Listen to the Ents, and hasten not back to civilization. Do not give a moment’s thought of the things that burden you in the valleys and back alleys down below.
Thoreau says “What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”
Mark Twain, in his travels in the Alps, wisely writes that “All frets and worries and chafings sank to sleep in the presence of the benignant serenity of the Alps.”
On the hike, I liked that almost every person that passed would give a friendly greeting. In the French cities, this is unheard of. But in the mountains, it is the norm. Tony Hawks remarks on this in his book A Piano in the Pyrenees when he goes for a hike saying
“Every person we passed offered a jovial Bonjour! Every single person. It was almost as if the moment they left the speed, noise, and fluster of the town behind and exchanged it for the freedom of the countryside, their manners had changed.”
Perhaps it also has to do with the fact that in the city, the ruck sacked are often looked down upon. What are you doing? Where are you going? Get a job. Take a shower. Button your top button. Buy a lot of stuff you don’t need, and so become normal. Stop making us feel so uncomfortable by your strangeness. There’s nothing wrong with having a job and taking showers and buttoning top buttons. Neither is there anything wrong with not doing those things.
But, in the mountains, we all have the rucksacks and the muddy boots and are alike in that we are choosing (at least for a few days) to voluntarily remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle. We are all trekking vagabonds. So the natural feeling of freedom that comes when we are removed from our burdensome obligations combined with the incredible natural beauty of the Alps allows people the ease to smile at strangers, strangers who are alike in many ways. All greet all with the joy they really feel.
The trek continued. Every day there was a peak above 2000 meters. There is perhaps nothing more satisfying than reaching a peak after an arduous and long climb. The beauty seen below is enhanced by the climb’s difficulty.
John Muir, in his observations of Yosemite says “One must labor for beauty as for bread, here and elsewhere.”
It is why going to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (and, more especially, coming back up) is so much more satisfying than simply gazing at its grandness from the visitor center. And it is why the view after hiking to a peak in the Alps rewards the traveler more than the same view when reached with the help of the gondola.
At the top of a mountain, the golden eagle, flying towards the golden sun, provides more joy than he would lower down. You have climbed to where the birds fly high above the cowbells. The wind, though fierce, seems benign and congratulatory, like it is applauding you somehow in all its frantic activity. The green unperishing ageless, yet at the same time youthful, hills with innumerable knotty roughened toughened trees and the tranquil Edelweiss flowers high up in the rocky soil soaked by the sun seem also to congratulate you. You have done well, they say, and you have not been hasty. Now, look out and see what we see, and be calm, as we are. And the snow-capped craggy Teton-esque mountains, inimitably eminent on their natural thrones, appear more inviting that they do imposing, as if they are responsive and open to you now that you have worked so hard climbing higher to meet them. They are still unknowable and silent and all knowing and unviolent, but in your proximity to them, you feel closer to unlocking their brooding mysteries.
As you descend, this feeling begins to fade, and as you reach the valley of Chamonix again, you look back up and feel small and unimportant and, well, human. You feel like what you are. But you look with pride back up at the mountains, remembering how you felt and knowing you can feel like that in the future. You feel that thirsting unquenchable desire to rise up high in the sky above the clouds. So, again, you climb.
The legend says jazz was born in the New Orleans at the end of the 19th century. Very fast, this new music expands to Europe, where many black American jazzmen decide to stay, because they are more recognized and accepted than in the US. Many of them stay in Paris after the war and will contribute to the success of Jazz in Paris from 1918 onwards. Music historians say that without Paris, jazz would not have known such a great success all over the world.
Asking a Frenchman what the best jazz bar in Paris is like asking him to find the best croissant in Paris: it’s impossible. Every jazz club has a certain flavor that makes it unique. Every club has its specialty and has a different characteristic. And there are so many jazz clubs in Paris that you can find every different flavor you want.
If you want to be in an little club that is not crowded with tourists and where you can discover young talents, then the Caveau des oubliettes is the place to be. It is one of the few jazz clubs in Paris to be free, and many celebrities like Keziah Jones enjoy spending the evening there, so maybe you’ll get lucky! And, if you do get lucky, it might be good if you’ve found your own jazz crashpad – there are plenty of Paris apartment rentals to choose from, so no reason to deal with the hotel scene.
Another one of my favorite bars is the Swan Bar. There, you can drink some delicious cocktails prepared by the lovely waitress Isla in the historic jazz district of Paris. The lineups are very different, there are a number of different “styles”, from great fusion jazz trios to gipsy music. The ambiance is also very friendly and the drinks are relatively cheap. A great place to finish the evening!
The Duc des Lombards has been one of the most popular clubs in Paris for 25 years. The atmosphere is quite intimate and many great jazz musicians come to play there, and contribute to its great success. Lots of free jazz on the lineups, it will bring you back straight to the 50’s.
The New Morning is considered to be the sanctuary of jazz in Paris. It is one of the largest jazz bars (up to 300 people can fit in) with great artists on the program all year long (Lucky Peterson Band, Pat Cohen Blues Band, Mo Rodgers, etc.). But before you go, make sure you have a ticket to avoid the queuing for hours.
If you are a real jazz addict and you want to come to Paris this summer, a great event is the Paris Jazz festival, which takes place in the Parc Floral. There are over 1500 seats available, but you will certainly enjoy this open air festival a lot more just sitting on the grass with some friends, a bottle of good wine and a picnic. The festival takes place every Saturday and Sunday at 3pm from mid-june until the end of July.
There is so much choice it becomes overwhelming and you can spend hours trying to decide which bar you want to go to and you generally end up walking all night from one bar to another.
To avoid this, you should try one of my personal favorites: the Balle Au Boat. It’s a boat/restaurant that is permanently moored alongside the “Ile Saint Louis” What better evening can you think of than listening to Jazz in Paris on a boat, sipping on a good glass of wine in good company? I can’t! However, the schedule is quite unpredictable and jazz nights are relatively rare but definitely worth it.
When people began to get sick in Paris in the late 1700s, they did the natural thing – dig up all the 6 million corpses and artistically arrange them in an abandoned stone quarry under the city.
I admit that I am drawn to underground attractions (literally) and the more macabre sites around the world, if there’s a tunnel, a skull or mummified human corpse on display, I’ll probably go there. So of course, in Paris, the catacombs were on my must see list. Two out of three – check.
Since I only had six Euro the last time I was there and the cost of a ticket is 8 Euro, I had to miss it, but this time I was flush, so I caught the subway to Montparnesse, gave the vendor my 8 Euro, and descended into the bowels of the city where even though I had read about it and knew the numbers, I was astounded by the sheer volume and artistry of the human bone arrangements.
Before reaching the bones, I had to descend 19 meters on a rusty circular staircase, then walk through wet stone tunnels where I found a view to the massive aqueduct below and a model of the Port-Mahon fortress created by a former Quarry Inspector well before the bones were brought. The model itself was quite creepy, like a miniature city of the dead waiting for inhabitants. (The sculptures of the gallery of Port-Mahon made by a quarryman called “Décure”, veteran of the armies of Louis XV, who carved in the wall a model of the fortress of Port-Mahon, principal city of Minorque to the Balearic Islands where he would have been a time captive by English army. Finally restored and exposed by a specific lighting, they constitute an undeniable curiosity of the circuit re-opened to the public after 13 years of closing.)
In truth, the overflow of dead bodies had become a serious health risk in the 1700’s since the church made a huge profit on burying people in the ‘fashionable’ cemeteries – it is after all Paris and always has been. So they would put more bodies than the earth could decompose in the most expensive plots and it took the government condemning and shutting down the cemeteries to put an end to stuffing more status starved dead rich people into the chic districts.
It was a police lieutenant, Alexandre Lenoir, who came up with the bright idea of putting all the human remains into the abandoned stone mines.
Twelve years of bone filled wagons emptied the city’s dead into the caverns below where they sat in piles and heaps for twenty-two more years until Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, decided to turn the bone piles into an artistic monument which also incorporated gravestones and funerary monuments such as could still be found. Stacking the femurs and skulls in artistic fashion was difficult work and one can reasonably ask where are the finger bones, scapula, and toes since only skulls and femurs seem to have been used. The answer may lie buried in the rest of the vast network of combing tunnels that create a city of the dead beneath the city of love. And since it is Paris, it’s indeed a beautiful city of the dead.
Reaching the Paris Catacombs
The entrance to the Paris Catacombs is located at 1 avenue of Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy near the Montparnesse Cemetary. You can reach there by the Paris Metro station Denfert-Rochereau or by taking bus #s 38 or 68. If you are taking the Paris Open Tour, take the yellow line and depart at the catacombs exit. Entry is 8 Euro per adult.
Getting out of the Catacombs
You do a good long bit of walking down beneath the surface of the city. The catacombs extend hundreds of miles but only a small portion is open to the public. However, you do come out quite a distance from where you go in and it is completely disorienting. After coming out you will see plenty of confused looking people squinting into the sunlight and looking at maps and for non-existant street signs. Here is the simple way back to where you started. Come out of the Catacombs, turn right, walk to the next big street, turn right, walk back to Denfert-Rochereau, it should take you fifteen to twenty minutes. Or, just find the metro and go back underground.
…Eiffel Tower…Louvre...Champs-Elysées; been there, done that – it was fun, but there’s more to Paris than this. The City of Light is full of wonderful hidden gems; you just need to know where to find them. Join me on a little tour, away from drunk English, moody French and bossy Germans, and discover off the beaten track in Paris.
Sewers of Paris Paris has one of the most remarkable sewer networks in the world and you can now see it with your own eyes! Take a tour down under to learn more about the history of this huge sewer system. Definitely a different view of the city.
Goutte d’Or Take metro line 4 and hop off at Chateau Rouge. The nearby Goutte d’Or district has a lot of inhabitants of African origin. These people know good food, so whilst wandering around, make sure to check out one (or more) of the many restaurants. Also not to miss is the street market at Rue Dejean, which is held every day but Monday.
The Great Mosque of Paris The beautiful Mosque of Paris was inaugurated in 1926 to honor the North African countries that had helped France during World War I. You’re most welcome to visit the Mosque and join a tour of the building, the courtyard, the Moorish garden and the marble Turkish baths whilst enjoying a cup of mint tea.
Le Marais Le Marais owes its beautiful buildings of historic and architectural importance to its former inhabitants, the Parisian aristocracy. When they moved to a different district, Le Marais became home of Paris’ main Jewish community. Nowadays, Le Marais is one of Paris’ most popular districts, housing art galleries, fashion houses and uber trendy restaurants.
Sainte Chapelle Everyone knows Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur, but Paris has a lot more beautiful churches that are well worth a visit. Sainte Chapelle is one of them. Located at Île de la Cité, this stunning structure is a prime example of ‘rayonnant’ Gothic architecture. Both interior and exterior will blow your mind, but the real show-stealers are without a doubt the huge stained glass windows.
Buttes Chaumont If you feel like getting out of the city crowd, why not head to a lovely public garden? With all its attractions, Parc des Buttes Chaumont is more than just a park. There are several cliffs and bridges, a huge waterfall, a lake and several beautiful gardens. An absolute must-see is the belvedere of Sybil, a Corinthian style monument, situated at the top of a 30 meter high rock.
Lapin Agile If you’re looking for some entertainment and queuing for Moulin Rouge is not your idea of fun, a visit to the Lapin Agile might be just the thing for you. The Montmartre cabaret owes its fame to renowned artists like Picasso and Apollinaire. Sit down at a wooden table and enjoy a range of French songs, some dating back decades.
Buddhist Temple Do you like surprises? Take a metro to Paris’ Chinatown! At the Avenue d’Ivry you’ll find the Buddhist temple L’Amicale des Teochews de France. Just around the corner is the beautiful decorated pagoda of the Temple de l’Association des Résidents d’Origine Indochinoise, which is hidden in an underground passage that looks like a parking garage entrance. The best things are found where you don’t expect them!
Catacombs Deep down beneath the beautiful streets of the city, you can check out the remains of 6 million people in Paris’ catacombs. Based in the underground tunnels of what once were Paris’ stone mines, this unique museum is more than worth a visit, if you can deal with some smell and cold. Visits aren’t recommended for young children.
The Passer-Through-Walls In the Montmartre district, at Place Marcel Aymé, you’ll find a famous statue called Le Passe-Muraille (or The Passer-Through-Walls). The sculpture is based a short story of French novelist and cross-genre writer Marcel Aymé, about a man who discovers he can walk through walls. Definitely a must-see if you’re in the neighborhood.
Do yourself a favor on your next trip to Paris: leave the flocking to the sheep, and you’re bound to enjoy a different perspective of the city…you’re also less likely to get fleeced. One more thing – if you happen to pass boulangerie Paul on Rue Buci give a little wave – chances are I’ll be sitting outside sipping a frappe and trying to guess your nationality.
4. Don’t Read
To me, reading is an essential part of travel. As far as I’m concerned, if you are one of those people who ‘doesn’t like to read’ than you are one of those people who should stay home and not travel.
Don’t read anything about the country of place you are going to. That way you won’t understand the culture, the traditions, the history, the climate, or anything else. You will be able to have a completely one dimensional experience. If you should read, for example, about how it is rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone in Thailand, then you’ll miss out on the ass kicking that results when the kick-boxer tells you to stop pointing your feet at him and you continue to do it. You wouldn’t want to miss that.
Or if you read, you might feel compelled to go fifteen kilometers out of your way on the way between Seattle, Washingon and Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the remote and gorgeous Scenic Hot Springs. Wouldn’t that suck?
Don’t read on your trip. Don’t discover that Mark Twain stayed in the same hotel you are visiting in Honolulu (The Moana Surfrider) or that the lovely looking picnic spot in Cebu, Philippines is where Lapu Lapu ate a famous explorer. Who needs to know details like that?
Don’t read when you are stuck at the airport. It’s much better to just sit and get angry at the workers or eat overpriced food. Don’t read at the beach because it’s much better to sit there wondering what to do now that you are done swimming.
Yes, if you don’t want to enjoy world travel, it is essential that you not read.
5) Don’t talk to anyone unless you have to
If you want to have horrible and meaningless travels, don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Don’t talk to the man next to you on the airplane or bus, he might be a Chinese businessman who would invite you to visit his home and stay with his family.
Don’t talk to the guy who works at the hotel unless you need towels or directions. If he thinks “Hey, this is a nice person” he might actually tell you someplace that he doesn’t recommend to every other rude tourist. You might end up going to a tiny temple in Penang, Malaysia instead of going to the big one that has eighteen tourist buses outside it.
Don’t talk to people in the street. They might try to sell you something. They might want to practice English with you. They might want to share a bit of their culture or learn something about yours. Wow, wouldn’t it be a bummer if that Indonesian guy learned that the USA is not just like Bay Watch and Jerry Springer? Don’t talk to him.
If you want to NOT enjoy your travels, do not talk unless you need something.
6) Don’t learn any of the local language
Finally, if you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t enjoy your world travel, pretend your a British Colonist and refuse to speak the local language.
Don’t say Tarima Kasih in Indonesia, don’t ask where to get the gonggongcheecha in China, don’t say Yvet in Turkey, don’t show the grocer in Barcelona you can understand the uno, dos, tres, don’t speak French in Paris (I found Parisians to be very gracious about my bad French), don’t say shukran in Morocco, kapcun kap in Thailand, daijobu in Japan, bollacks in England, dude in California, wienerschnitzel in Germany, or Mahalo in Hawaii.
Speaking the language encourages people to learn about you, to teach about their culture, to make friends, to have relationships, to even fall in love. There is nothing miserable about any of that. So if you want to Not enjoy the world of travel…don’t speak the local language.
Got more tips about how to NOT enjoy world travel, why not leave a comment below or send your tips to me using the contact form.
Here’s a fun video I put together that hits some of the video I shot on my travels during 2009-2012 in Serbia, South Korea, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Turkey, Egypt, and a whole bunch of other places – I wasn’t real sure what to do with these so I proudly present to you – Vagobond Travel Dramatic. Please be sure to subscribe to my You Tube Channel. I’ve had several people ask me who the singer is that is just chilling out next to the Thames and grooving – I have no idea, but I enjoyed his impromptu show. He could be someone very famous for all I know…
A few days ago, I asked readers if budget travel is worth it. The overwhelming answer is – yes, of course it is. And, actually, I totally agree. I admit that sometimes you need to bite the bullet and spend a little bit extra to avoid discomfort and inconvenience – but for the most part, if the choice is between no travel and budget travel – take budget travel.
Maybe you’ve noticed that I manage to see quite a few places and you’ve thought to yourself “It must be nice to have enough money to travel like that – I wish I had the money to do that!”
The fact of the matter is, so do I. The other fact of the matter is that I don’t. In the past several decades it has been the exception rather than the rule for me to have a job where my time belongs to someone else. I don’t usually have any savings. I’m in debt up to my ears (but am constantly deferring my student loans) and yet even in that condition, I’ve managed to travel to 50 or so countries, have a fabulous wedding in the Sahara, and get quite a few little side trips and excursions in too. How do I do it?
Honestly, I’m not sure, but the following is some of what I’ve figured out about how to travel for next to nothing. Hopefully, it will inspire one or two of you out there to get off your butts and hit the road like you’ve always dreamed of. If it does and your life changes forever, feel free to buy me a beer someday.
A trip to a theme park costs most than I spend on most of my solo international adventures. World travel doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, there are many times that it is free.
Of course the travel agencies, cruise lines, and airlines don’t want you to know that. Big hotels and resorts live off of people who don’t know where they would stay without Hilton or Marriott to house them. Those guys and the talking heads in the media earn their salaries selling trips to all-inclusive resorts and big time guided tours of places you can walk through for free.
They are banking on the fact that your imagination stops at your credit card and that most people are just too damn scared to take a chance when they leave the confining comfort of their own home. I’m about to spoil that misconception. Unless those guys start sponsoring me, I’m going to keep giving away tips and tricks that open up the entire world to you.
Nothing holds you back more than fear. Fear of the unknown. FDR said it right, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Face it, you’re going to die and you’re going to lose everything. We all do. You have very little control about when that is going to happen. The thing that makes most people miss out on the joy of travel is that they think they can control it and so they stay at home watching Netflix until they die of a coronary. They know the geography of the world, but they’ve never seen it. If you don’t open the door, you won’t see anything but the television.
Tip #1 for Cheap World Travel:
Let go of all that routine that arises from you trying to control your own dead end. The best thing about living is new experience and you can have as many as you want for free. Once you step away from your societal imposed responsibilities, you find that the world opens up and gives you more joy than you’ll ever find trying to buy your future security at the expense of the present.
When you start breaking free of your routine, you will discover the wonder of new faces and places, taste incredible new foods, and discover secrets about yourself and the world that you never expected to find.
Each new wonder unfolds before you like a road that was hidden from view and like any road, a new experience will often lead you to another and another and another. When you walk the road of travel, you get to experience life differently from when you take a package vacation or go through the daily motions in your ‘home’. In fact, the world is your home, if only you choose to accept it.
Sunsets are free. Mountaintops don’t cost a thing. Walking through a public market takes not a dime. Striking up a conversation with someone working beside a road you are walking down can lead to adventures you can’t imagine. Just being in a new place will provide you with more insights about yourself and the world than all the new clothes, fancy meals, or well rehearsed tourist trips can ever give you.
Your mentality is the primary reason why world travel costs a ton. Change it and you will find that few things are as cheap.
On my first trip to Paris, I went to the Louvre – saw the huge line of people waiting to go into the glass pyramid and said “Forget this, I’d rather walk along the left bank and look at the book stalls.” There are incredible things to see in the Louvre.
After hearing about the crowds around the Mona Lisa, I almost decided to skip the Louvre on my second trip too, but instead, I decided to do a bit of research so that I could enjoy the highlights of the museum, have some time to explore, and avoid the crowds. I’m glad I did. By itself, The Louvre is reason enough to visit Paris (as if you need a reason!) but doing it smartly is the trick.
About The Louvre
The largest art museum in the world opened it’s doors in 1793 without the pyramid or the lines. Inside are some of the world’s most precious treasures. Not just Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa but more than 35,000 individual wonders that each could be the centerpiece of a smaller museum. With massive mazes of corridors spread through eight cultural departments including decorative arts, antiquities, sculptures and paintings. You could spend a lifetime there and that doesn’t even include the huge line.
Knowing what you want to see in the Louvre is essential. Study the map or go to the museum’s website.
Avoiding the Crowds
So, first things first – skip the line. The Paris Pass or the Paris Museum Pass allows you to walk by all the people waiting in line and go straight in. Or, if you don’t want the pass (and by the way, it is completely worth it) you can enter through the Carousel (Louvre Mall) across the street and go right to the ticket counter, thus avoiding the big line outside the pyramid. With your ticket you will get a highlight map that points out the major treasures. Of course, if you want to wait in the long line for some reason you can go very early in the morning or after 4 PM and it will be more manageable. During the week, the crowds inside the museum are smaller and don’t forget that it is closed on Tuesdays.Once you are inside, here are my suggestions for ten things to see that will make you thirsty for more.
My Top Ten Highlights
1) Of course you want to see the Mona Lisa, despite the crowds and the poor presentation. To see the Mona Lisa, head straight for the 13th-15th century Italian paintings section (on the first floor).There will be a crowd of people elbowing their way close to the painting. Good luck getting a picture without someone’s head in it.
2) Nike of Samothrace aka Winged Victory. Almost 2000 years old, massive and beautiful. Take some time to contemplate here, it’s worth it.
3) Venus de Milo – I mean you have to see her, but really, she’s not all that hot. A big armless woman not wearing a top. Here’s a funny fact, the statue used to be on the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Fill in your own punchline.
4) Islamic Art Collections – spanning thirteen centuries and three continents, this collection is astounding. Islamic art holds a special place in my soul because of my time in Turkey and Morocco. If you take a bit of time here, I think you will see why.
5) 17th and 19th Century Dutch Artists. You know what’s great about this section – you will probably be alone and frankly, the art is mind blowingly wonderful. Not nearly as many religious themes and plenty of drunk, stoned happy looking people (in the pictures I mean).
6) The Raft of Medusa. This 1818–1819 by the French Romantic painter and lithographer Théodore Géricault is simply astounding. Rather than a classic Greek theme as you might expect, this is the aftermath of the shipwreck of the French Vessel Meduse’ where 146 people struggled to survive on a raft. Only 15 were rescued, the others were eaten, committed suicide, were killed or died of the elements. The painting depicts the moment when rescue appears imminent. The history of this painting alone is worthy in terms of art history and historical events.
7) Madonna on the Rocks by Leonardo danVinci. The Virgin Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist. Not so much the religious icons, but this painting gives you the chance to see da Vinci’s mastery much closer than you can with the Mona Lisa.
8) The Coronation of Napolean by Jacques-Louis David is ten meters by six meters. Massive and beautiful. Painted in 1807 and depicting the coronation at Notre Dame. This is a painting that will also enhance your visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame and Napolean III’s Apartments.
9) Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. This masterpiece, Antonio Canova’s statue Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, first commissioned in 1787. To me. this is the ultimate classical sculpture. Riveting.
10) Akhenaten, the rebel pharoah’s statue – his name and images were systematically destroyed by later Pharaohs. This statue piece is over 3,300 years old. The Sphinx at Louvre is another great piece – again over 4,000 years old. Check out the history of Akhenaten – awesome dude.
Finally, give yourself time to indulge in some aimless wandering.
Location, Admission, and Hours
To get to the Louvre take the Metro to Palais-Royal / Musée du Louvre or just walk along the Seine until you reach it. You can’t miss it, but you will only see the pyramid when you enter the Louvre’s courtyard. Inside you can find expensive food court food to sustain you – even a bit of wine, but here’s a winning tip, bring a small backpack and pack your own food. There are areas you can sit and picnic in the Louvre!
The museum is open every day but Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Mondays the Musee d’Orsay is closed so expect crowds. Wednesdays are probably best because it is open late. There are also evening openings until 9:45 p.m. on Fridays. It is closed on New Year’s Day, Labor Day (May 1) and Christmas Day.
Entry costs 17 Euro for general admission. The price drops a bit after 6 p.m. A ticket is valid all day for repeat entries. Entry is free for anyone under age 18 (or under 26 on Friday evenings) and the disabled. The first Saturday of each month, admission is free. By the way, a two-day Paris Museum Pass is gets you in this and 60 other museums around Paris.
Get the audio-visual guide and keep in mind that you are in France so don’t expect all the descriptions to be in English