Well Denise’s first trip to Paris has come to an end and I believe she now loves Paris as much as we do. We saw and did an incredible number of things and a couple of the museums we visited didn’t even receive their own blog posts: the Louvre (Mona Lisa says “hey”), Musee Marmottan-Monet (a fabulous, well-kept-secret collection of Impressionist paintings). We ran out of time and energy to do a few things we really meant to do, but we also saw some things that weren’t on our list before we left. We met and exchanged tips with people from all over the U.S. (tiny bistros with snug tables turn English-speakers into instant friends). And we met lots of nice, helpful Parisians too.
But now we’re home and we’ve moved into the croissant and Nutella-withdrawal stage of our adventure. Of course we can get Nutella at home, but without those croissants, what’s the point?
We thank you for coming along and hope you enjoyed seeing some of what we saw. Hope to see you again next time.
We loved everything about our little 20-room boutique hotel, especially the location. As I said before, it’s on the tiny island that’s next to the island that Notre Dame is on. It’s a very touristy place (although about 4,500 locals live here too) and it’s right in the center of everything. Normally that’s a good thing unless it’s really warm outside so you need to leave your windows open at night, and it’s a Saturday night, or a Friday night, or a Tuesday night, well you get the picture. Even though we’re on the 5th floor (actually the 6th since the 1st floor doesn’t count as a floor), the narrow streets just seem to serve as a megaphone for all that revelry. But it’s still a great place to stay and we loved it. Except for the Internet, that not so much.
I keep an eye out constantly, but we just don’t see that many cats. With a serious rat problem, it seems like Paris needs more cats! I would love to do a big, long post just on cats. Unfortunately, this post includes every cat we’ve seen since we’ve been here . . . a whopping 6 cats!
We commented several times on the lack of mimes on this visit. We only saw one mime and she was in Versailles. We’ve never before been to Montmartre without seeing at least one mime and often several. But this time we saw none up there. Is it a dying art? I certainly hope not. It’s a real mystery. On the other hand, there seems to be no shortage of the other usual street performers, especially on the pedestrian bridge between our island and the island that Notre Dame is on. It’s just constant entertainment and we love it. They really make Paris feel like . . . well, Paris.
There are many transportation options in Paris and I think we’ve taken them all. This is my Transit 101: what we’ve managed to learn, sometimes the easy way, and where necessary, the hard way. The RER trains run both above and below ground and go many of the same places as the Metro. The cars are mostly double-deckers and you’re less likely to lose your arm because the doors stay open for 20 seconds rather than the 10 seconds the Metro car doors remain open. HOWEVER, right now the RER is somewhat on strike so your line may not be running at all today or the trains may simply be running less frequently and the next train may not come for another 2 hours. Metro, on the other hand, is frequent and dependable. However, it can take an engineering degree to figure out how many Metro lines you’ll need to get to your destination, as well as what direction you should take each line, since each line goes 2 directions and is thus named for the street at the end of the line and not an actual direction. Taking the right Metro line in the wrong direction can make your life, temporarily at least, very miserable. And then locating and then reaching the appropriate connecting line in the same Metro station can prove to be very daunting, with long tunnels and multiple flights of both up and down stairs. It can feel like you’re walking more than you’re riding. But the Metro is entertaining. There is often entertainment on board, like an accordionist or a guitar player. And the other riders can be very entertaining too. The Bus, on the other hand, can be a lot of fun. It’s great to be able to see where you are now and enjoy the sights along the way to where you’re going. The only problem with the bus is that some lines and/or at some times of the day they can be breathtakingly crowded. And of course walking, when at all possible, is the very best option. That’s the way you get to see the most.
We mostly took the Metro with a few buses and RER’s thrown in where necessary. We only took a taxi a couple of times. And of course we walked A LOT!
We were in an RER station one day and having problems because our train had been cancelled and the next one wasn’t coming for another hour. This gal from Cuba, named Dai (sp?), was so sweet and tried hard to help us find an alternate, faster route. First she enlisted the aid of 2 transit information officers who went over the maps with her and pointed us in the right direction. Then we switched to the Metro and she actually got on 2 different Metro lines with us to make sure we got to the correct stop. At one point when we needed our bus passes to get into another station, she couldn’t find hers and just emptied the contents of her purse onto the floor in the Metro station and dug around until she found it. Chuck tried to pay her for helping us but she wouldn’t take anything. She was amazing!
Okay we didn’t really go to an opera because there aren’t any playing right now. But we did go to the Opera House to see a modern dance performance put on by the Paris Opera Ballet and backed by the Paris Opera Orchestra. And the whole evening was a real treat. The Opera House is amazing and we haven’t been inside since 1977 so I barely remembered it. It is truly stunning. And the 3 modern dance pieces the Ballet performed were creative and very well done. Of course we’re not allowed to take photos during the performance, but I do have some photos of the Opera House as well as one of the Ballet performances that I borrowed from the evening’s program.
I love all of the little parks we come across as we’re walking to the different sites in Paris. On the way to the Musee Marmottan Monet, we ran across a funny intersection with 3 parks around it. And they were all very different – something for everybody. It was a beautiful day and the parks were getting a whole lot of use by a wide variety of individuals.
The humongous Pantheon is the final resting place of many French VIPs and the home of the Foucault pendulum. King Louis XV had the church built as a replacement for St. Genevieve’s ruined church aftr she miraculously healed him. Begun in 1744, it was finished in 1791 when the revolution was in full swing and it was converted into a nonreligious mausoleum honoring the Champions of French Liberty. Many famous French men now call the Pantheon their final resting place.
Saint Sulpice is the largest church in Paris, bigger even than Notre Dame. It’s where part of the novel, The Da Vinci Code, was set, and a small part of the movie was filmed there. Construction begin in 1646 and was completed in 1745. I don’t think the church is as attractive from the outside as Notre Dame; indeed the two towers aren’t finished, don’t match, and one is taller than the other. And the huge windows around the nave were deliberately not set with stained class. But the other windows throughout the church, though not as colorful as in some churches, are very detailed and exquisite. The church is home to a remarkable organ, with 5 keyboards and exceptional sound. It was installed in 1781 and renovated and enlarged in the 1860’s. We were lucky enough to enter at the end of a weekday mass when the organist played for an additional 15-20 minutes after the service. What a treat!
The Montmartre neighborhood lies on Paris’ highest hill which is topped by the iconic Sacre-Coeur Basilica. The lively area is well-known for it’s cabaret nightlife, bohemian artists, and pickpockets. We attended a show one evening at the famous Moulin Rouge nightclub and earlier in our stay we attended the Lapine Agile Caberet show – both are located in Montmartre. And we saw several artists in action. Fortunately we ran into no pickpockets.
This is the first time we haven’t seen mimes in Montmartre. In fact, we’ve only seen one mime since we’ve been here and that was in Versailles. WHERE ARE THEY???
Giverny is the little village about an hour outside Paris where Claude Monet, the Impressionist artist, and his wife lived with their 8 children from a blended family. Middle-aged Monet moved to this pink farmhouse with the green shutters in 1883 and lived there for 40 years. In front of Monet’s house are 2 large gardens separated by a village street. The garden immediately in front of the house was called the walled garden while the garden across the street (joined by an underground tunnel so it’s not necessary to cross the street) is the water garden, a large pond full of water lilies and surrounded by weeping willow trees, colorful flower beds, and Japanese bridges. Monet cleared the land of pine trees and designed his own symmetrical beds. You can’t help but be impressed by the way the color scheme of each bed contributes to the look of the whole garden. And it all just looks so . . . so . . . Monet
Last time we visited the gardens was on May 1st, Labor Day, and it was a zoo. So we avoided going on that day this time. However, the day we chose this trip turned out to be Victory in Europe Day when they celebrated the end of WWII in Europe. We can’t win. (Actually I think France observes 4 holidays in May so it’s especially hard to avoid them.) So there were crowds and I don’t think the flower beds collectively were quite as pretty as last time although there were a lot of pretty individual flowers. In particular, the wisteria and rhododendrons were prettier this time but most of the tulips were past their prime. They replant constantly, so once again, it’s the luck of the draw. So here’s some of what we saw, first some pretty scenes, followed by some very colorful individual flowers.
A day trip to Versailles is a very long day. First of all you have to take a train out there. Or 2 trains if you count the first one you took that was going the wrong direction. But it’s a very nice train and, unlike the Metro, it’s above ground so you can see the countryside. Even if you’re going the wrong direction, the scenery is very nice. Everything is so green in the springtime and the countryside is beautiful. It takes about 45 minutes or so to get from Paris to Versailles on the train. Then you have to walk from the train station to the huge cobblestoned grand entrance to the Palace. We already had our tickets in hand for a 9 a.m. entry so that let us skip the ticket line and hordes of people and walk right in at 9 a.m. when they opened. So for a very short time, it felt like we were all alone in the palace. But the hordes caught up to us very quickly.
After we had visited all of the inside areas that are open to the public and had some lunch in their lovely restaurant, we went outside to check out the gardens and the grounds. My goodness that place is huge. And it sits high on a hill so you can get a good view of the expansiveness of the estate. We found a little train that took visitors to two other smaller palaces on the estate – – areas where the royals could get away from prying eyes u the main palace. We also saw many fountains, statues, lakes, and the grand canal where they rent cute little boats to visitors. The grounds of the estate are actually public areas and on our little train journey we saw many cars parked along the roads and people were cycling, eating picnic lunches, and just generally enjoying the out of doors on a beautiful spring day.
After our little train ride, we walked back through the front of the palace and down across the courtyard to where the horse stables are. There’s a fabulous carriage museum there called The Coaches Gallery with carriages from the 18th and 19th centuries and we went in and saw the dozen or so immaculate carriages they have on display.
At 3 pm we attended the corps de ballet put on by the National Equestrian Academy of Versailles in the nearby Palace Stables. The show combined dressage with dancing, singing, fencing and Kyudo. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed, so the photo below was borrowed from the program.
The Jardin Atlantique (Atlantic Garden) is an 8.5 acre park that occupies the top of the Montparnasse Train Station. It’s a real challenge to find a way into it but once you’ve conquered that challenge, it’s a cool little park and gardens. It’s surrounded by tall office buildings and you can hear the rumble of trains below your feet.
Just as it was getting dark, a vintage Citroen picked us up at our hotel and took us on a tour of Paris at night. It was fabulous! The top was open, but we weren’t allowed to stand up while the car was moving, of course, so it was a little difficult to get photos through the tiny windows. But we did the best we could, wind in our hair, and ostensibly about to get hit countless times. It was really a fun experience.
You can see the Hotel des Invalides, the home of Napoleon’s tomb, for miles. On a sunny day, the golden dome is very impressive (this photo doesn’t do it justice). And when you get inside, it’s even more impressive.
We payed a return visit to this huge, lovely garden located just a few blocks from our hotel. Some of the flowers were in transition but it’s still a beautiful place and this time we included a trip into their sweaty old horticulture buildings that house many large, tropical trees.
After we visited Sainte-Chapelle, we went next door and walked through the Conciergerie. This is the prison where, like many others over the years, Marie-Antoinette, the Queen of France, was beheaded in 1793. We took a walking tour of the area and saw the cell where Marie-Antoinette was kept before her beheading which has now been turned into a tiny memorial chapel.
I suspect this huge painting captures the event very well.
Here’e a little more information about the event.
In another area of the Concergerie, a huge cave-like place, we ran across an art installation. We had seen part of it from outside the building when walking by a couple of days ago and wondered what the story was. Now we got to see it from the inside too. It’s very strange but very interesting. It’s called “Detournement,” or Detour. As the Paris Convention & Visitors Bureau explained it:
“Sculptor Stéphane Thidet is continuing his exploration of nature with an impressive, bespoke installation at the Conciergerie de Paris. By diverting part of the Seine, taken from the Pont au Change, Thidet echoes the 1910 flood that left watermarks on the monument’s columns. Like a rollercoaster, the bare wood installation transports water through the building, passing through the Soldiers’ Hall and the historic kitchens, to pour out through the basement windows into the moat of the conciergerie.” Okay . . .
The wood is a striking natural color in this stunningly low-lit area. The water rolls, sometimes smoothly, sometimes roughly, down trails of troughs and occasionally forcefully falls from a waterfall into a tub and into a trough again and continues along. Eventually it comes out of the building through a tall basement window making a striking waterfall. Here . . . see for yourself.
Tiny Sainte-Chapelle is probably the best place to see the most amazing concentration of stained glass windows anywhere. It lies across the street from Notre Dame and is sandwiched in next to France’s Supreme Court in the Palace of Justice. The church, a great example of Gothic architecture, was built for King Louis IX in the 13th century and essentially the only thing visible from the street is the roof, the tops of the windows, and a tall spire that was added in the 19th century. You go into a low-ceiling basement which also has beautiful windows. Then you climb up a narrow spiral staircase to the Chapelle Haute. Upstairs, the tiny church contains 15 separate panels of stained glass, all very high up, for a total of 6,500 square feet. It is breathtaking inside.
When we were planning for this trip, we ran across an article about a Paris light shop called Lumiere de L’Ceils (Light of the Eye). Located on the left bank, it was a challenge to find because of it’s location on a tiny side street that’s only about 1 block long. But perseverance paid off and what a delightful place this is! In this tiny boutique/museum, the owner sells, repairs and collects antique lamps, lampshades and light bulbs. His workshop in the back is also filled with lights being repaired and/or collected. And he says he has many more at home. They’re like his children; he knows their complete history, including when they were made and when and how he acquired them. When I asked the shopkeeper if it was okay to take photos, he replied with a grin, “it would be a shame not to.”
We visited Notre Dame first thing in the morning and amazingly the crowds weren’t bad at all. I’ve talked a lot about Notre Dame and its history in the past. But for me it’s all about the view from across the river and those gorgeous windows. So lets take another look at those windows and a couple of river views and then we’ll move on.
Okay, you know the drill. This is where I get to post all of those fun odds and ends of photos I take everywhere. Those weird little photos that aren’t enough to make a post of but too fun not to share. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.