L’Hôtel des Invalides

As I walked across the pont Alexandre III, a sparkling dome rose in the distance, through the smoggy Parisian air.  I made my way across busy streets to a pair of large, beautifully crafted gates to what I learned to be the Hôtel des Invalides. 


The place is gorgeous, but it was frankly a nightmare to navigate.  Determined to get a student discount on my ticket, I traversed the entire length of the building before finding the ticket counter.  Just outside the glass doors, two imposing-looking gendarmes glared at me, robbing me of the time I needed to situate myself, which means I ended up wandering some forsaken wing that was under renovation.  Some good came of it, though, because after climbing a tall staircase covered in sawdust and broken strips of wood, I ended up in the Musée des Plans-Relief, a room full of the maps and relief models of France that were used by Louis XIV to aid in army action planning.  The room was murkily lit, one sole guard looming in the doorway, and I made my exit quickly.  I wasted a bit more time wandering among war decorations and was just beginning to think that the visit wasn’t worth it when I stumbled across the Musée de l'Armée, which was packed with armor and weaponry from ancient times to a century or two ago.  Some exhibits showed the progression of hauberks or changes in swords, while others had full-sized horse models sporting vast metal armor, a knight seated proudly on top.  My favorite item in the museum was a sword-cum-rifle, though I wonder how having a sword right next to the barrel of the rifle would affect the trajectory of the bullet.


Either through my fault or the fault of the signs, I went up and down two different staircases before finally finding the tomb of Napoleon, on the far side of a pretty little chapel.  The tomb was monumental.  A huge wooden sarcophagus, perhaps an attempt to belie the tiny man resting within, sat within a circular depression in a hall lined with marble.  Rooms to either side of the depression contained the sarcophagi of other French military heroes, but none were quite as grand as that of Napoleon.