Drawing My Way Through Europe: Oui Oui, Paris! – Marianne Vander Dussen

Drawing My Way Through Europe: Oui Oui, Paris!

Marianne Vander Dussen - Drawing My Way Through Europe

It seems hard to believe that just over a month ago, I was in the hospital giving birth to fraternal twin boys. They're beautiful. They're wonderful. And holy heck, they are a lot of work.

So you'll pardon if I indulge in some mild escapism and take you back to a year ago, when my husband and I embarked on our backpacking whirlwind honeymoon through Europe. In 24 days, we visited Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, the Hague, Berlin (with an accidental stop in Bad Bentheim and Hanover), Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Venice, Florence, Pisa, Cinque Terre, and lastly Rome.

While it sounds oh-so-glamourous, something to keep in mind is that the hubby and I are self-taught backpacking bums who were definitely not traveling first class. Both of us had cut our teeth on the backpacking lifestyle before we had even met each other (we had each gone to Southeast Asia before we'd even met, you can see my photos here), so we roamed through Europe without a set itinerary. We literally decided where we'd go the day before we went there. Our morning conversation went something like, "so do you want to do Switzerland or Austria? More importantly, which one's cheaper?" 

See below for exactly how glamourous I look while traveling.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Artist TravelingI sew Canadian flags on everything because I think that will make people be nicer to me.

But one thing I did try to do throughout the trip was take the time to sketch a vignette from each major city. At the end, I collected drawings from 6 cities. They're what I'd consider to be a gesture drawing; done quickly, to gather an impression rather than detail. But to understand the drawing, it helps to understand the context. As such, I'm chronicling our trip through this post and the ones to follow.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Eiffel Tower

Oui Oui, Paris! 

We began our honeymoon by flying into Paris, departing at 7pm local time and arriving at 6am Parisian time. Jet-lagged and hangry, we made our way by airport shuttle to Gare de Lyon, a large public transit terminal close to our hotel. After paying a small fortune for a Parisian cafe breakfast - 8 Euros for an americano (they don't do coffee), croissant, piece of baguette and glass of orange juice - we strapped our heavy backpacks to our shoulders and set off down side streets in search of our lodgings. 

After sleeping off our jet-lag, we decided to begin our sightseeing by walking to the Musée d'Orsay, while visiting Notre Dame en route. It was a cloudy grey day in Paris, and I can't help but feel that it added a little drama and mood to our touring.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame is crowded with tourists, and there's a massive lineup to get in, but it's fascinating because the church is still technically active, so worshippers are forced to contend with gawkers like me with massive SLR lenses. Having grown up on Disney movies, I'm sure I made at least a few Hunchback of Notre Dame jokes as we waited in line to enter (Sanctuary! Sanctuary!) but it was well worth the wait. The soaring architecture is simply mesmerizing.
Marianne Vander Dussen - View from the QueueMy view from the queue
Marianne Vander Dussen - Notre Dame Interior
Notre Dame Interior
Afterwards, we meandered along the Seine towards the Musée d'Orsay, a gallery converted from a stunning Beaux Arts train station featuring French Impressionist works. The museum is absolutely stunning, a work of art unto itself, and I'd consider it a worthy rival to the Louvre, and considerably less touristy. Better yet, admission on Thursday drops by several Euros after 6pm, so Ken and I sat on the steps of the museum and watched exceptionally talented buskers for an hour while we waited to enter. The museum is home to works like Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, etc., so needless to say, I was in heaven. And if you have any doubt about the beauty of the museum itself, check out its iconic clock below.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Clock in the Musée d'Orsay
The famous clock in the Musée d'Orsay, a remnant from its train station days.
Marianne Vander Dussen - Vincent Van Gough Self-Portrait
Vincent's famous self-portrait (one of many)
We also found this neat ballroom off of the main hall and snapped this photo.
Marianne Vander Dussen - Fancy Room in Museum
This room is just ever so slightly fancy, n'est-ce pas?

La Tour Eiffel, Montmartre, and the Catacombs

The next day we did the standard Eiffel Tower visit, but declined to actually go up the structure. The Eiffel Tower is, predictably, surrounded by tourists wielding selfie sticks, which is not our scene. We came, we saw, we left.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Under the Eiffel Tower

In search of something beautiful but a little less touristy, we hopped the subway to the trendy Montmartre neighbourhood, home to the gorgeous Sacré-Coeur Cathedral.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Sacré-Coeur Cathedral

Shortly before we visited this cathedral, we stopped at a cafe sheltered by trees at the base of one of the long steps ascending towards the cathedral. Montmartre is very hilly, and the views from these cafes are fabulous. It was here I pulled out my Moleskin sketchbook for the first time and quickly drew our view. It's easy to feel self-conscious while doing this; people are naturally curious to see your work, and I always fear judgement while working. I kept my sketchbook slightly below the edge of the table to try and avoid anyone seeing what I was doing. I don't think these gesture drawings are anything amazing, but it's a fun memory and a good way to train the eye.

Marianne Vander Dussen - A Sketch of Paris

Halfway through, some people sat down at the table in front of the streetlight, so I worked them in overtop of what I'd already drawn. Leaving Sacré-Coeur, we decided to venture down to the streets of Montmartre, which were also wandered by famous artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, Monet, and Modigliani to name a few (ooh la la). I proceeded to spend many Euros on delicious macarons, before pausing for this very European spread for our afternoon snack. Fromage, je t'aime.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Afternoon Snack

You can tell the area is more artsy by the cool, Banksy-esque street art that decorates the old stucco walls. I particularly liked this one, although I'm not entirely sure why.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Street Art in MontmartreStreet Art in Montmartre

Montmartre reminds me a little bit of Kensington Market in Toronto, with a boho vibe that's become increasingly more well-heeled over the past few years. Still, the plebeians can still mix with the patricians in this gorgeous neighbourhood, and I would happily go back again.

Later that day, we headed over to the Catacombs, where we were some of the last tourists admitted. For those who don't know, the Catacombs are a long series of tunnels deep beneath the city, where the bones of six million people have been arranged and stacked into different shapes. It was a sobering experience; of course, we passed tourists taking ridiculous selfies while poking human skulls, but that wasn't our cup of tea. I found it claustrophobic down there, and I couldn't stop thinking about the sheer weight of the earth pressing down on us from above, but I'm very grateful we did it because it's an entirely unique experience.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Paris CatacombsPhoto credit: https://www.hecktictravels.com/creepy-paris
Translation: Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead.

I did not take any photos while we were down there, as I find it odd to be photographing human remains. However, for those who are interested in the Catacombs, you can find more information through this Wikipedia article.  

The Louvre

Marianne Vander Dussen - The Louvre
The Louvre

Marianne Vander Dussen - The Louvre

We spent an entire half day at the Louvre, although we easily could've spent the day. I got to come face to face with the Mona Lisa, after fighting my way through hordes of other selfie-seekers.

Marianne Vander Dussen - The Mona LisaVisiting Mona Lisa in the Louvre

Add in the Tuileries and the Orangerie museum, home to the large scale Waterlilies paintings by Monet, and we were ready to call it a day leave Paris the following morning for our next destination: Brussels, Belgium. 

Paris is Always a Good Idea

I don't know if I appreciated how wonderful Paris was at the time of visiting. The three nights we spent there flew by, even though it was our longest stop in one city on our trip. I'm actually quite anxious to return to Paris, and to perhaps see other parts of France. I've never traveled with babies before, but a friend of mine visited France with her one year-old, so clearly it can be done. In addition to revisiting Paris, I'd love to see the Palace of Versailles, the Loire Valley, and Arles, where Van Gogh painted so many of his classics. While I'm dreaming, Provence would be lovely too.

I've seen prints and coffee mugs with the saying, "Paris is Always a Good Idea," a quote from an Audrey Hepburn movie. I agree wholeheartedly. Such a good idea that I have already googled how to fly abroad with babies. But while my next trip to Paris may not be for years to come, I am excited to continue down memory lane as I write my next post about Brussels, Amsterdam and the Hague.

Marianne Vander Dussen - View from the Seine
Our view from a bridge over the Seine


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