I have visited Paris at least five times, the first on a school exchange visit the remainder to see my friend John who has lived near there for much of the past forty years, but Margaret has never been, so a week staying with John whilst we ‘did the sights’.
Rather than fly, we travelled to Paris on the Eurostar and John met us at Gare du Nord.
Here we are with John and his wife Florence at their home in L’Isle Adam. I first met John in 1969, we shared accommodation for four years at University in Leeds. After graduating he moved to Paris, after a spell back in the UK he returned to France and eventually settled in L’Isle Adam, a pretty town on the banks of the River Oise some 40km north of Paris.
That evening we went into L’Ise Adam and had a meal at a restaurant by the River Oise.
The following morning John took for a walk around the town that has been his home for the last twenty years. This is the town hall.
The local market was full of delicious cheeses, sausages and fruit. Margaret was quite taken by the wide choice and was keen to sample what was on offer.
Being a Sunday John was able to drive us into the centre of Paris – although we got caught up with a Mardis Gras festival.
Not the cultural experience you would expect in the capital of France.
We visited the famous Cimetière du Père Lachaise to the east of the city centre, the world’s most visited cemetery.
The cemetery holds a remarkable number of tombs of famous French artists, musicians and politicians plus some foreigners who have died in the city. We didn’t have time to seek out graves of the twenty or so famous people who I was familiar with but we did locate the final resting place of Oscar Wilde (traditionally female fans of his works kissed the enormous headstone wearing bright red lipstick, but due to the fear of damage the headstone has been encased in glass).
We passed the tomb of Frédéric Chopin (John tells a wonderful story of an old school friend of his whose life’s ambition was to play Chopin’s ‘Revolutionary’ in the middle of a pub brawl and he actually succeeded in doing so).
But the tomb we wanted most to see was that of rock star and poet Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors who died in Paris in 1971 at the age of 27. The original tomb was covered in graffiti by fans and the stone bust of the singer was stolen in 1988. The entire tomb was replaced in 1990 and fenced off from the public. The Greek inscription translates as translated as ‘faithful to his spirit’ or ‘against the devil within’.
Later we headed to the Place de la Bastille, the site of the former prison which was stormed at the start of the French Revolution on the 14th July 1789. The monument was unfortunately partially hidden by hoardings, presumably for renovation.
Nearby is the new Bastille Opera House.
We took a wander around the area where John first lives when he worked in Paris in the mid 70s and passed his old (somewhat basic) flat that I stayed at in 1974. The area has had a major facelift in the intervening 43 years.
This bottle store looked quite enticing (because its attractively backlit – not because it full of booze!)
On the Monday Margaret and I headed into Paris on the train and visited the Louvre. It was a very wet but at least we would be inside ….
…. however we hadn’t bargained for the hour long wait in the rain to get in. Paris is still on a heightened security alert and all bags are searched before entering historic buildings.
The Louvre is one of the most important (and one of the most rambling) museums in the world and is packed to the brim with countless priceless works of art including this gallery of French sculptures ….
…. these bronze statues known as ‘the Four Captives’ are by Dutch sculptor Martin Van Den Bogaert and represent four nations: Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, Brandenburg and the Dutch Republic defeated by the armies of Louis XIV. Originally in one of Louis XIV’s palaces the statue was brought to Les Invalides and then to the Louvre. Each of the four statues is supposed to portray a different aspect of defeat.
There are also galleries of wonderful Assyrian (above), Greek and Roman sculptures ….
…. and mosaics.
Not forgetting, of course, the iconic Venus de Milo. The following is from Wikipedia: an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. Created sometime between 130 and 100 BCE, it is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty (Venus to the Romans). It is a marble sculpture, slightly larger than life size at 203 cm (6 ft 8 in) high. Part of an arm and the original plinth were lost following its discovery. From an inscription that was on its plinth, it is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch; earlier, it was mistakenly attributed to the master sculptor Praxiteles. It is currently on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The statue is named after the Greek island of Milos, where it was discovered.
Of course the Louvre is better known for its vast collection of paintings, none more famous that the Mona Lisa, a portrait of Lisa Gherardini by Leonardo de Vinci, painted between 1503 and 1506. Considered the most famous and most valuable (estimated at $880,000,000) painting in the world, it has been in the Louvre since 1797 (apart for a time in the early 20th century when it was stolen by an employee).
Due to a number of attempts to damage the painting over the years it is now enclosed in a climate controlled chamber behind bullet proof glass. Just getting to see this masterpiece is tricky due to the huge crowds that throng the Louvre. Of course people want a photo but why do they have to use a selfie stick to get themselves in the picture!
We could have spent several hours more looking at these treasures but after a few hours you get museum-fatigue and your brain can take in no more. If I lived in Paris I would go regularly and do one section thoroughly each time. Rather than leave via the main entrance we descended to the shopping mall below which led directly to the Metro. If we had known about this initially we could have avoided the long queue or at least if there had been a long queue, stood in it out of the rain.
All underground systems have their buskers, most of which are totally ignored by people rushing to or from their place of work, but the standard of musicianship in the Metro was outstanding, particularly this opera singer who was giving a rendition worthy of a concert hall (yes, we did give her a tip).
Although still wet, the weather wasn’t as bad the following day so we headed for the Île de la Cité ….
… and the Palais du Justice.
Within its grounds is the Concergerie, which was used as a prison during the Revolution to hold those awaiting the guillotine, and preserves the cell that held Marie Antoinette.
We also visited one of the best churches in Paris, indeed in the world – Sainte Chapelle. The lower chapel where you enter is pleasant enough ….
…. and has a highly decorated ceiling ….
…. but when you ascend the narrow spiral staircase to the upper chapel your breath is taken away. This was on a dull day, imagine it in full sunshine with the light streaming through the windows.
From Wikipedia: The Sainte-Chapelle is a royal chapel in the Gothic style, within the medieval Palais de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century, on the Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris, France. Begun some time after 1238 and consecrated on 26 April 1248, the Sainte-Chapelle is considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns—one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom. Along with the Conciergerie, the Sainte-Chapelle is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace on the Île de la Cité. Although damaged during the French Revolution, and restored in the 19th century, it has one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collection anywhere in the world.
We still had one more architectural wonder to see, the beautiful Notre Dame cathedral. The queue to the mainland stretched across the bridge to the south bank of the Seine so we could watch the tourist boats pass by as we waited.
Notre Dame de Paris built between 1162 and 1345 ‘is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and is among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world’ (Wikipedia).
The beautiful rose window.
As we left we got caught in a torrential downpour and sought shelter in a restaurant adjacent to the cathedral. Not the cheapest of places to have lunch. With the weather improving we walked along the south left (south) bank of the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay.
The museum was originally a railway station and by 1970 it was due for demolition. However following a campaign it was saved as a historic building and turned into museum designed to bridge the gap between the Louvre and the National Museum of Modern Art at the Georges Pompidou Centre.
A former clock is now an ornamental window giving views out over the city ….
…. towards Montmartre and the Sacré-Cœur.
The museum holds many impressionist paintings including works by Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Cezanne and Gaugin. Here is Claude Monet’s ‘London, Houses of Parliament. The Sun Shining through the Fog’, painted in1904.
And here his famous ‘The Water Lily Pond’.
But if I had to chose my favourite artist it would be a toss-up between Salvador Dali and Vincent van Gogh. This is Van Gogh’s famous self-portrait.
As with the Louvre the day before we could have spent longer had time allowed but as well as getting museum-fatigue we were both feeling the effects of all that walking. we returned to L’Isle Adam and had a restful evening.
Part 2 of my account will deal with our visits to the Palais de Versailles, Eifel Tower, Arc du Triumph, Montmartre, Les Invalides and Place de la Corncorde.