By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Mar 03, 2008 at 3:18 PM

PARIS -- Today was our first low-key, evenly-paced day of this vacation. We didn't get lost, had ample time to hit our objectives, and while my feet are aching from all this walking, we even found time for a nap.

We planned only three major sights for today's agenda. First, we visited the Arc de Triomphe. Next, we strolled down the Champs-Elysees. Finally, we toured the major works at the Louvre. After a quiet dinner, we're back at the hotel by 9 p.m.

Here's how the day went down ...

The metro took us right to the base of the Arc De Triomphe. After a lifetime of imagining the scene, the arch, itself looked much like I expected. The traffic circle leading to the Champs-Elysees was less spread out than I had imagined. The Champs-Elysees, too, seemed less grand in person.

Equipped with the two-day museum pass, we skipped straight to the front of the line, up about a million stairs and to the top. From above the arch, we got a great view of Paris, different from our nighttime gaze from the Eiffel Tower. In all, we spent about an hour exploring this monument begun by Napoleon, but finished some 19 years after his death.

Next, we waked down the long boulevard that is the Champs-Elysees. It's a lot like Michigan Avenue in Chicago, but without so many tall buildings, and I didn't feel overly inclined to buy any $400 sunglasses at Louis Vuitton. A few of the French car companies have mini showrooms on the boulevard, so I took the opportunity to see the latest Citroens and Renaults, though I doubt I'll ever see one in Milwaukee.

We walked the whole commercial district, window shopping where we saw unique stores: we avoided places like Sephora and the Gap. Velia bought a handbag at Benetton.

Approaching the already-blooming Tuilieries Garden, we hopped another metro for the short trip to the Louvre, stopping for a baguette at the metro station. Again, Rick Steves' insiders' tips for skipping the lines at this gigantic museum worked out perfectly. This guy's book is paying for itself.

Because of the size and scope of the Louvre, one could literally spend days learning, observing and studying. Steves offered a highlight tour that was supposed to take two hours. We gave ourselves four, and wound up splitting the difference.

We saw the works you read about in art history classes: the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, Botticelli's frescos, a few Michelangelo statues, and a handful of Leonardo da Vinci works, including, of course, the Mona Lisa.

Everyone told me I'd be surprised how tiny the Mona Lisa is, and how many people would be crowded around to see it. So, expecting a painting the size of my laptop screen, I was actually surprised that it was a decent size. And the crowds weren't overwhelming, either. I easily made it to the front of the line, where I could study Mona's famous smile. My verdict on her mysterious facial expression: a wry smile.

Heading toward the exit, we saw a handful of paintings commissioned for Napoleon. The big one depicts his self-coronation, painted by David, and it's massive. That little guy sure did like larger-than-life expressions of his power.

As we pondered leaving, a putrid odor overtook the museum, sort of like sewer gasses. I'm not just exaggerating, either. Even employees covered their noses, reviling in disgust. If we had any notions about a second lap around the Louvre, the stink ushered us out. We got back to the hotel in time for a well-needed nap.

For dinner, we visited the nearby Bercy Village, which is a formerly industrial neighborhood by the train tracks that has been recently rehabilitated into a quaint shopping area. Think Milwaukee's Third Ward, but smaller.

I'm starting to get a little tired of French food, so we found a great little Italian restaurant and had pasta for dinner. After our meal, we wandered around a bit and came back to our HQ. We'll start it up again tomorrow with the four-hour Paris walk (courtesy of, you guessed it, Rick Steves) and the Orsay Museum in the afternoon. Dinner is TBD.

I'm getting used to the foibles of this most unique city, so I have only a few random observations to share tonight:

Rick Steves knows what he's talking about. The guy is a real insider, and so far, his tips have been dead on. His guide to enjoying, but not getting overwhelmed at the Louvre, was great. I highly recommend his books.

At the Arc de Triomphe, I expected at least a passing mention of World War II, when the Nazis paraded down the street, forcing the Parisians to watch. But the displays completely avoided the subject, instead focusing on the military triumphs by the French. Last I checked, this country is 0 for 2 in its last two wars. I found it ridiculous that they didn't even acknowledge that painful chapter in French history -- as well as the bail out from America.

On that note, the French are very proud of their revolution, claiming to be the world's first democracy. But their revolution came after America's, and a few dictators followed the storming of the Bastille. Ah, les details -- ce n'est pas important!

Like Munich, Paris looks a lot like Washington, D.C., to me. I know that's because a Frechman, Pierre L'Enfant, designed our nation's capital, but the similarities are obvious. Still, I maintain that Paris is the most striking city I've ever seen. A little weird and a lot funny (though the Parisians don't smile much), this city is unbelievably picturesque.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.