A December 2003 trip
to Paris by travelprone
Quote: Paris, perfect, the second time around, all museums open, we found. The Louvre and Orsay, hurray! The Cluny’s surprises made our day! We celebrated 35 years of married bliss In the city of beauty you don’t want to miss.
For lovers of the Impressionists, the Musee Orsay beckons irresistibly. Its Degas collection enthralled me - so much in so many media, not just ballerina paintings. Fortunately, the Orsay has a massive Degas collection that defines the wide range of his genius.
Of course, you HAVE to see it - the Centre Georges Pompideau (Beaubourg), a bustling cultural beehive that also sports a fantastic view of Paris from its topmost floor.
We felt that Sainte-Chapelle’s stained-glass magnificence almost rivals that of the incomparable Chartres Cathedral; we encountered a guide who illuminated for us its historical importance, but curtailed the opportunity just to gaze at its magnificence.
Our Louvre apartment on the sixth floor fulfilled all the stereotyped pied-a-terre dreams. Within walking distance of the Louvre and Seine, with a people-watching balcony, in an area packed with restaurants and markets, this apartment was our "Blue Heaven" for 3 days.
Apartments for only two persons still remain easier to book in Paris, where many apartments, especially in the inner arrondissements, are typically small, averaging 300 to 500 square feet. Prices (averaging and up) of apartments accommodating three or more persons continue to rise.
We bought the somewhat pricey 5-day Carte Musees-Monuments at the Picasso Museum for 45€ each. But it covers admission to the major city museums and allows you to go ahead of long lines for entry at the popular Louvre and Orsay.
We took advantage of the loophole that existed in late 2003 of buying cheap off-season tickets - a pop - and upgrading to business-class for two major legs of our trip to total about ,000 for two. Now one must pay more per person to do this. I can assure you that after the 3-hour ordeal in lines and on the bus, we were so glad to stretch out in big, comfy seats, gulp much-needed water served immediately on boarding, and gobble an appetizer served not long after takeoff.
We felt like the proverbial bugs in a rug; I didn’t have the crawl-and-squeeze-out problem I had encountered with the bedroom in the Marais apartment, and there was just enough space to exit near the side wall at the bottom of the bed in this apartment.
Although billed as accommodation for four since there’s a nice sleeper sofa in the parlor that can be closed off by double doors from the rest of this 485-square-foot pied-a-terre, this apartment is better for three and best for two. The bathroom off the kitchen contained a small shower and delivered welcomed hot water, and the toilet was the grinder type we had found in Marais. The bed was comfy; the apartment was quiet, as our next door neighbors killed their TV before 10pm as we did; and the kitchen was well-equipped for cooking.
We didn’t cook, as we found the area was full of restaurants, and two doors away was a traiteur with a variety of meals for takeaway, which we patronized twice after exhausting days of exploring. Since this area had been the site of the Les-Halles market, photos of which were featured in the Paris segment of Anthony Bourdain’s series "No Reservations," which we viewed recently on the Travel Channel, the area still abounds with numerous restaurant supply houses. My husband prowls these stores the way I do bookstores; the French seem to have a kitchen tool for every kitchen task imaginable. In the 1960s, when the market was torn down, it was replaced by the still-standing, but rather seedy-looking, shopping mall across from Saint Eustache. Renovation plans for this mall are in the works, but when we were there, just adjacent to the mall, vendors of food and arts and crafts had set up booths for the Christmas season only. We browsed but didn’t buy, but many shoppers did, and it was busy each time we passed by it. www.parisholidayapts.com
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 8, 2005
Rue Montmartre Apartment
Attraction | "Centre Georges Pompidou (Beauborg)"
To get to the Musee National d’Art Moderne, one goes up the famous outside escalator to level 4; as you rise, the view of Paris emerges before you , especially of Sacre Coeur. Designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, the centre’s piping is color-coded (yellow for electric, blue for air-conditioning, green for water, and red for elevators). Level 5 presents art of the first half of the 20th century, and level 4, the most far-out in my opinion, has art from that half to the present. On level 6 is a café with gorgeous view and temporary exhibits; when we were there, the work of a husband and wife, Charles and Sonia Delauney, was featured. Of the two, I preferred his paintings, as her all-too-vibrant colors reminded me of Gaugin’s.
Level 4 has Matisse, Juan Gris, Kandinsky (whom I like very much), Pollack, and Picasso, to mention a few giants. The glass walls let in lots of light, which facilitates viewing the paintings, and nothing seems crowded in this spacious interior. I don’t die for modern art, but I did like the Calder and Moore sculptures here, and we did want to see this remarkable landmark.
According to guidebooks, the extensive place before this museum is the scene for various forms of street entertainment, particularly when the weather is warm. A few hardy street vendors were on the site, but no entertainers; in the weeks before Christmas, Parisians were gathering in shopping districts like the Rue Montorgueil or the special Christmas market adjoining Eglaise St.Eustache at Métro Chatelet-Les Halles, where the smell of roasting chestnuts in the air evoked a song’s memory.
Unfortunately, we got tired and did not go to the Homage to Stravinsky Fountain nearby. It features sculptures of some of his noted compositions by husband and wife Jean Tinguely and Nikki de Saint-Phalle, appropriate since the premiere of the wild "Rites of Spring" in Paris in 1913, featuring Nijinsky’s equally unexpected choreography, had caused a riot. Since several de Saint-Phalle sculptures have been installed in San Diego, I have come to like her art for its vivid colors and exuberance.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 8, 2005
Place Georges Pompidou
+33 (1) 44 78 12 33
Attraction | "Sainte-Chapelle -- 9:30am-6pm daily"
Overwhelming, even on a sunless afternoon, the 15 stained-glass panels before us seemed seamlessly to stretch out in colorful glory, a biblical re-telling in glass. Its rose window sufficiently shines amid glittering arches and columns above elaborately patterned floors. Moving our eyes clockwise from Genesis on our left and ending with the Apocalypse of the rose window on our right, the windows literally dominate the chapel. A stunning achievement of French Gothic, exceptionally unified in design since it was completed so quickly (1246-1248), the chapel has windows composed into a mass of glorious color created with craftsmanship akin to that of Chartres Cathedral, but existing in much less space.
Fortunately or not, a tall cloaked woman approached us and several others, and, after briefly introducing herself and her credentials as a candidate for a doctorate in French history, began to talk about Louis’s reasons for obtaining the Passion relics and building so speedily to enclose them. Politically feeling a need to justify his legitimacy (as king of a new line of royalty) to the aristocratic families, whose support he wanted to be sure of, as well as genuinely religious, Louis knew exactly what this chapel should contain. In a non-literate, pre-Guttenberg society, religious art could illustrate the power of God’s earthly representative, the king; the magnificence of this teaching chapel could provide testimony of the riches at the disposal of that kingly presence.
As she dramatized her story, she frequently queried us at points in good teacher fashion to keep our attention. At one point she DID explain if we wished to give her a gratuity it would be acceptable, but there was no obligation. We agreed: others stayed in the group, but we, unobtrusively as possible, withdrew. We had limited cash with us, our new policy since Barcelona, and had reserved what we had to pay for takeout food.
My attitude towards use of guides, human or audio, varies with the occasion; if I haven’t prepared, I welcome aid. Here, I’d prepared and felt her dramatics were obtrusive. I preferred just drinking in the eloquent magnificence of the mostly original 13th-century art before me.
4 boulevard du Palais
Paris, France 75001
+33 (1) 5340 6080
Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, and Renoir are stars here; at first we concentrated on the Renoirs because we’d visited the Monet-Marmottan Museum on our first Paris visit and seen Manets at the Prado’s special Manet-Velasquez exhibit just 2 months before this Paris visit. Renoir’s colors are so beguiling –"Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette" shimmers with color and depicts diffusion of light and presence of shadow amid his dancers. Similarly, his duo "The City Dance" and "The County Dance" excel in color and the beauty surrounding his subjects. Both Renoir and Degas were more traditional in execution than Manet and Monet; I like the clarity of image in both.
As post-Impressionist star, there’s Vincent Van Gogh the inimitable, represented by his "L’Eglise d’Auvers-sur-Oise," "La Sieste," and his stark self-portrait painted just after he entered the hospital in St Remy. Also unappreciated in his time, Cezanne experimented trying to achieve three-dimensional effects similar to those of Van Gogh. His "The Card Players," just two fellows playing cards, emerge from the blobs of color Cezanne constructed for them. Of course, we had to see Seurat’s "The Circus," and Toulouse-Lautrec’s "Jane Avril Dancing." I bypass them , but the Orsay has some prized Gaugins and Rousseaus.
I have bypassed Degas in the past, perhaps because I’m not a ballet enthusiast, but this Orsay visit made me fall in love with his artistry. The Orsay has a strong Degas collection, including his bronzes cast after his death from the impressions he made in his later years. Like Monet, Degas’ sight began to fade with age. For Degas, this diminished sight impelled him to rely more on his sense of touch, to making sculpture rather than continuing painting as Monet did. After the critics attacked his "Little Dancer," he could afford to retreat and not expose his sculpture to their attacks. Degas was not a plein air painter; he worked in his studio well-equipped, as his family was prosperous - no starving artist was he. He was a bit of a socialite and liked to attend a wide range of social events, like the ballet and horse races. What struck me about Degas was his fascination with movement, bodies in movement, whether ballerinas or horses. This fascination with the expenditure of energy, kinetic representation, shows throughout all his work in many diverse media. In a controlled, dimly lit room on this level was a collection of pastels, many of which are by Degas and just exquisite.
Since it possesses such an estimable Impressionist collection, the Orsay frequently lends works to other museums. Before your visit, you can check on the website to see if any of your favorites will be away from home under "Artworks Abroad."
62 rue de Lille - Never on Monday;
Tues.-Wed. and Fri.-Sat. 10-6; Sun 9-6 www.musee-orsay.fr
Adult 7€, under18 free; free First Sun. of each month
RER line C, Musee d’Orsay; Métro Solferino
Before our visits, I pored over a Barnes and Noble book, "Art & Architecture Louvre," with lots of color photos. Too heavy a paperback to travel with, I substituted a small list of what I wanted to focus on and brought that with me. Since we had recently visited the Prado, I did not spend much time in the Louvre’s Spanish collection. On both occasions we spent at least an hour in the Italian collection of paintings, so many of which Napoleon Bonaparte had seized (stolen) from monasteries, churches, and private owners during his Italian campaign. The highlights for me are Ghirlandaio’s "Old Man with Grandson," Caravaggio’s "The Fortune Teller," Titian’s "The Man with the Glove," Veronese’s ‘the Marriage at Cana," and Raphael’s piercing portrait of ambassador and author of "The Courtier" and "Baldassare Castiglione."
On our first visit, we explored the basement in the Sully wing, first to see the remains of the medieval fortress that the Louvre initially was. Excavations of two moats were particularly interesting, for they showed how several engineering attempts were successively made to bolster support for this enormous edifice. Released to the upper atmosphere, we then proceeded to the Nike of Samothrace at the top of the staircase between the first and second floors in the Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities section. This striking masterpiece, discovered in 1863, has been dominating this highlighted space since 1883. Nearby is the beauteous, armless Venus de Milo emerging from the folds of a gown, the essence of Aphrodite. The rest of the visit included the Italian and French Painting Collections. Several Titian’s and Raphael’s garnered our attention, then we moved on to Poussin’s, Watteau’s, Fragonard’s, and Ingre’s to Salle Mollien’s enormous canvass by David of "Napoleon Crowning Josephine," and to the Salle Daru’s "Liberty Leading the People," by Delacroix.
On our second shorter visit, we visited my favorite, the Cour Marly, the most glorious, light-filled space for sculpture I’ve ever seen. Its glass ceiling allows for maximum appreciation of the Marly horses and other sculptures while enclosing them away from deterioration that had attacked them in their former outdoor venues. The rest of this visit we spent with another tour of the Italian, and then we went on to the Early Netherlandish and German. The "jewels" here are Holbein, the Younger’s portrait of "Erasmus of Rotterdam," Durer’s "Self-portrait with Thistle," Quentin Massys’ "The Money-changer and his Wife," Memling’s "Triptych," Jan van Eyck’s "The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin," and Roger van der Weyden’s "The Annunciation," a small collection for the Louvre, but superior in quality.
The Louvre at night offers an experience more mystical than during the day. The Pyramid stands out, enhanced by the stone vastness extending around it. I loved looking up through the Pyramid to see the moon and stars. There is simply no museum as grand as the Louvre, in which only about 5% of its treasures are on display at any one time. This mind-boggling percentage reflects the cultural wealth that is the Louvre.
My husband had a very good warm potato soup, and we split a foie gras appetizer. This was the first time I’ve eaten foie gras, and it’s definitely something I could come to adore: smooth, velvety, and soothing comfort food. For entrée, Dan chose onglet echalote, a steak with shallots, and I had filet boeuf. The sauce with the shallots was excellent, slightly piquant, and both steaks were thin and fork-tender. For dessert I enjoyed Ile Flottante and he had his favorite - crème brulee, a very good version, he said. He also enjoyed a glass of house port (3.50€). The tab was a modest 63.10€ before tip; we noted that the TVA was a not-modest 19.6% of the bill. Do figure this tax in your mind when selecting entrées, even in modest bistros.
Afterwards, we walked off some of the splurge by proceeding north on Montorgueil, where pre-Christmas shopping was going on till 9pm. We admired the fact that Christmas decorations on shopping streets noted it was the holiday season, but that these decorations didn’t shout with Santa Clauses and Rudolphs. Lights tended to be white festoons above the streets. However, we noted multicolored decorations on nearby streets of restaurants (Rue Etienne Marcel and Rue Tiquetonne in particular) that looked quite touristy and were packed with patrons.
For the remaining nights, we bought takeaway at a traiteur two stores away from our apartment (touring the Louvre and Orsay is exhausting). Both times, the obliging proprietor nuked our food; the apartment did have a microwave, which I used to heat a quickie instant coffee in the mornings. We lunched at the Louvre at the Cafeteria De La Pyramide (tab was 22.70€ for a substantial lunch of two quiches with soft drinks, water, and coffee); at the Café De La Pyramide, near the Richelieu’s entry point, we stopped for water and Sprite, at 4.10€, a bit pricey. With seven eating places, the Louvre assures that visitors won’t starve, but its amenities are NOT budget.