A December 2003 trip
to Paris by travelprone
Quote: Booked in a hurry, toured in a flurry, five days of museums, bistros, and strolls. We happily enjoyed feasts for tummy and eye. There’s nowhere like Paris for a sense of the old, enmeshed with a modern dash of the bold.
The Carnavalet, museum of the city of Paris, proved disappointingly difficult for us. Tantalizing captions only in French frustrated us from full appreciation of this museum’s wealth.
Late (2 weeks before arrival) apartment booking, necessitating our staying two nights in the 3rd er (Marais) and three in the 2nd er (Les Halles), proved an unexpected boon.
Compared to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, the Musee Picasso shows less of the artist’s quality work, but more of a portrait of the man who had a multitude of friends and preserved everything it seems - letters, bills, receipts, and sketches.
Food - from the biggest omelet I’ve ever tried to eat to roast pork and pears to scrumptious pate – in both arrondissements we found to be superb.Quick Tips: To visit Paris in the glittering, light-twinkling Christmas holiday season, prepare for photographic challenge, especially at night along the decorated shopping drags like Rue Francs Bourgeois. If you have a new camera, as my husband did, you will be challenged when capturing the ultra-bright nocturnal sights, especially if it’s also raining (we had a lot of photo rejects – losing precious memories of lovely sights).
Weather in December will be brisk; I brought cashmere and leather but still nearly froze my posterior off in the half-hour waiting for a taxi in a queue at the Gare du Nord. Ironically, during the hour-long wait in a warm midday sun in a bus parked on De Gaulle’s landing field prior to departure, I wished I was NOT wearing toasty warm leather (jacket and slacks) and cashmere (sweater). Layering is the way to deal with variability, but layers should also be easily removable; during our five days, the daily temperature changed from the upper 30s to lower 50s, and fog and rain receded before clear skies and sun. We didn’t object to the improved weather.
We spent very little time on the Metro. Walking around Paris is the best way to enjoy its beauties, especially to see the quaint alleys and byways of the Marais, the majesty of old buildings, and the glory of the Seine. By staying closer to the center of Paris this time, we could savor more of an older Paris than the Paris of Montparnasse, where we stayed during our first trip.
Attraction | "Musee du Moyen Age (Cluny)"
When I saw this beauty, I had not read Tracy Chevalier’s best-selling imaginative reconstruction of what its history might have been. I would recommend reading her "The Lady and the Unicorn" as a preamble to seeing this astonishing artistic relict for her description of the painstaking weaving process by which Brussels masters created it, enhances your appreciation of it, as well as the extensive restoration that preserved it. Simply breathtaking is the much-admired final panel in its celebration of harmony and reconciliation, pulling together the primary details of this story’s depiction.
Thanks to the anti-clerical principles of the French Revolution, zealots desecrated churches throughout France and denuded them of their art. Another special room into which outside light filters features glorious examples of medieval stained glass that originally resided in various ecclesiastical establishments. Thus, you can see up close what you usually crane your neck to see dimly and imperfectly in Notre Dame of Sainte Chapelle.
Don’t miss exploring the well-signed remains of Roman baths below this museum’s building. You can see where the typical three kinds of spa rooms were--the hot, the cold, and the tepid--a Three Bears arrangement characteristic of the Latin conquerors’ spas. In December the temperature surrounding all of these plats was mainly that of a frigidarium so we limited our visit to about 20 minutes. Guests can take guided tours of these depths on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2pm. We arrived just after opening time on a Friday and had to rely on our limited reading French to understand the ruins, so I would recommend the tour.
This was formerly called the Cluny, after Benedictine monks who lived there.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 18, 2005
Musee National du Moyen Age
6, Place Paul Painlevé
Paris, France 75005
+33 (1) 53 73 78 00
Attraction | "Musee Picasso"
Fittingly located in the artsy, still slightly funky Marais, within the 17th-century Hotel Sale (Salt, as its first owner controlled distribution of that once precious substance), a building that required extensive renovation before the museum opened in 1985, this museum informs the visitor about the personal Picasso who seduced fellow artists’ wives, had multiple marital troubles of his own, and seems to have kept every scrap- of letters, bills, and photos of self - and many sketches and drawings. As probably the most well-known modern artist of the last century, everything he touched appeared to have monetary potential. Even his studies for various paintings such as that for "Les Demoiselles d" Avignon," which is exhibited here are now extremely valuable.
Wall plaques in each room as well as a plan available at reception provide information in English, a real aid to understanding exhibits and the various phases in his pursuit of art. The atmosphere is light and airy, which allows for excellent viewing of the art works. Preternaturally artistically gifted, Picasso was also an original in sculpting and pottery-making; like his compatriot Joan Miro, the older Picasso continued to paint but also worked in other media.
Musee National Picasso Paris
Hotel Sale 5, Rue De Thorigny
Paris, France 75003
+33 (1) 42 71 25 21
Attraction | "Musee Carnavalet"
I was led to suspect that the city’s funds might be limited by need for restoration and maintenance in this free museum after we blundered into some rooms in the second building (the former Hotel LePeletier de St. Fargeau) that showed ongoing renovation with wallpaper half-stripped and worker’s equipment on the floor.The museum itself is not newly founded but it did consist of only the mansion of the Hotel de Carnavalet for most of its life, since Baron Haussmann suggested such a repository be established in the 1880s. Its most famous former resident was Madame de Sevigne whose letters to her daughter are a major source of data about 17th-century court life.
The Hotel Carnavalet underwent extensive renovation in the late 1980s, so perhaps the St. Fargeau is now enjoying its restorative turn. The latter is a late Victorian edifice joined to the Carnavalet by a gallery on the first floor.Entry is on the ground floor of the Carnavalet on which the Grand Salon de l’Hotel d’ Uzes exhibits the splendor that was pre-revolutionary aristocratic excess. This room, designed by Claude- Nicholas Ledoux in 1767, illustrates what disgruntled Parisians rebelled against those living with ornate, over-the-top gold, crystal, and opulent "stuff." Two of Madame de Sevigne’s rooms have been recreated and have a couple of her portraits.
When you leave the Carnavalet side for the St. Fargeau, the exhibits represent Parisian life after 1789. The rooms depicting French Revolutionary times are full of its symbols on numerous artifacts including furniture and plates. Highlights include Napoleon Bonaparte’s 110 piece picnic case and, on a somber note, his death mask. The interior of a famous jeweler Fouquet and Proust’s cork-lined room that enabled him to write in silence are exhibits here,along with a multitude of photos and paintings that capture essential elements in the Paris scene throughout the 19th century that saw the rise of the bourgeoisie,the defeat of the Prussian War, and the stirrings of accelerated modern urban life.
After viewing this massive encapsulation of the ups and downs of Paris Past, if able, stroll southeast to the perfect square, the lovely Place des Vosges, where you can see more history, Hugo Museum, and French beauty at its finest.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 18, 2005
23, rue de Sévigné
Paris, France 75003
+33 1 44 59 58 58
Available for only the first two days of our stay, this 520-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment on our second floor with no lift had a rather scruffy-looking exterior in contrast with newer renovated buildings that surrounded it. Located on a small, dead-end street of graphics and art shops, intermixed with apartment residences, its location a few blocks south of Republique metro station and around the corner from a Monoprix that sold everything- groceries, clothing, cosmetics, you name it, you could get it- was so very convenient for us. We walked to the Picasso and Carnavalet Museums and it was a quick metro ride to the Latin Quarter and the Cluny Museum.
However, the queen bed squeezed into its tiny, cell-like bedroom had a iron footboard; my husband had noticed this fact clearly pictured in the website’s front page photo but in my haste to book 10 days before arrival, I had not (and he didn’t mention it). When our elderly bodies had to use the toilet facilities at night, neither of us could avoid waking the other up despite the most cautious crawling. On the second night, we adjusted our liquid intake, just as we adjusted to not flushing nocturnally, for inner arrondissement toilets grind contents deposited within them, making loud noises indeed. Apartment walls were thin, but our temporary neighbors here were equally circumspect and the apartment was well removed from busy Rue de Temple traffic, so it was quiet.
The Thursday we arrived, the apartment was quite cold, as it had not been recently occupied, our greeter told us, but, bless her, she’d already turned up the heat, so that by the time we returned with supplies from the Monoprix, its temperature had risen above arctic for us San Diegans. We closed the second bedroom door and just used the cozy parlor in which we ate snacks at a small table near a window overlooking the small cobblestone courtyard below in front of "our" building. The galley kitchen had all the necessities, including washer-dryer combo that we didn’t use, but to cook a full scale dinner in it would have been challenging; equipment in the two cabinets was limited by the overall diminutive dimensions. Similarly small was the bathroom off the parlor but its shower provided agreeably hard water much appreciated in the cold weather.
On Saturday morning around 9, as we were finishing up clearing out before our taxi to the next apartment arrived, we were surprised by a knock on the door. Outside stood intrepid traveler Aussies--Dad, Mom, boy, girl, and MOTHER-IN-LAW--all looked weary; in immediate empathy we told them they could leave their suitcases, and we’d be out by the deadline of 10am. The apartment has bed space for six; in my not-so-humble opinion, it was more suitable for two people, but Australians are amazing!
"Amazing" was the price, with no security deposit or cleaning fee--$135 a night.
The only tourists in this small half-filled restaurant on a rainy week night, we ordered from a 3 course menu that had 3 choices per course. My husband and I in rare duplication ordered the same choices- salad with shrimp and avocado, veal scallops with spaghetti and mushrooms and a dessert we both love, tarte Tatin, warm, caramelized apple enfolded a la crepe in this restaurant’s version of the classic sweet.
With a glass of house red and a lemon soda, the tab was a reasonable 35 euro, about $44U.S. at a time when our dollar hadn’t sunk against the euro. Low on atmosphere, with a take-out pizza side counter and the usual photos of Italian scenes dotting the walls, this was an unpretentious place (tel. # 01 42 72 25 25) to have good, simple food after which we could wend our way back to the apartment for early to bed in preparation for next day’s serious touring.
Hungry after our visit to the Musee Picasso, I brunched at Les Arcades Restaurant where I faced a mushroom omelet as big as its plate-the largest omelet I’ve ever encountered. My Waterloo-I couldn’t finish it. Dan had a yummy house pastry and we both had excellent coffee (officially this restaurant on pagesjaunes is a salon de the). On the street level in a plain 5-story building of mostly apartments,at 2 Place Thorigny (tel.# 01-42-77-32-05),this fueling stop cost 18 euro including TVA.
The best for last- our last night in the Marais we found Le Sablier at 4 Rue Dupetit Thouars (tel 0148873845). This heart-filled restaurant is the quintessential Mom-Pop little place you hesitate to recommend to too many others. A review of this find appears on the web site www.parismarai.com/visit-le-marais.htm, so it has been discovered already. Behind its pink curtained entry door is the domain of Jean and Sophie, the names of the chef and his wife according to this review. Sophie with her heart-framed glasses was our efficient waitress, while, behind the open Dutch door, Jean produced his culinary masterpieces. Hearts abound even in the shape of the bread placed before you with your drinks. Photos of turn-of-the 19th century adorn the walls; natural wood beams and benches highlight the absence of plastic.
The chef excels in traditional French cooking of the type popularized by Julia Child whose books taught us HOW to cook when we were young and newly married.
What did we have? For appetizer, I had scallop salad with croutons; Dan had escargots. Fortune smiled on him for he had pork loin poached with pears,so simply delicious a combination that he’s prepared it at home several times since. I had boeuf rose, a thinly sliced beef dish; both our entrees were accompanied by pommes de terre sautés(lovely, crisp potatoes quick fried). Feeling happy at our discovery of this place, Dan ordered sancerre wine to accompany his meal. For dessert we both had tarte tatin; this version was topped with lots of heavy whipped cream and was a more traditional tarte Tatin-scrumptious pastry! We literally rolled out of this place after over an hour of leisurely dining. What was this feast’s total? The tab was 73.40 euro. What a way to leave the Marais--on a food high.