Sunday, May 08, 2011

Wandering in Paris

Art Nouveau House
Markets Rue Poncelet
I have been to Paris a number of times and my last  two visits were each over 10 days so I did not need to see the usual tourist icons.  I was fortunate to find a book in the Dunedin Library called “Walking Paris” by Gilles Desmons and then ordered an updated copy from  It has been a gem. I love wandering the streets of Paris but this book has led me into little nooks and byways and pointed out buildings that I would have walked blindly past. There are 30 walks ranging from 3 to 8 km each and I completed 3 of them plus parts of another 3 so this book could have me coming back again and again.

On Saturday I probably walked nearly 10 km. I began at the Arc De Triomphe and headed into the northern precinct of Ternes which is off the usual tourist track.  Art Nouveau buildings (photo 1), the dance hall used to film parts of “ Last tango in Paris”,  street markets (photo 2) and the leafy Place des Ternes led me past the Russian cathedral to the Parc Monceau (photo 3). I, of course, stopped for an expresso, sitting at a table on the pavement, along the way. Then I visited the Museum Nissim-de-Camondo. This 1910 house was built to house the 18th century collection of the owner and left to the State but on the condition that everything be left as it was, so it contains porcelain, tapestries, and other art works just as the owners would have displayed them when they were living there(photo 4). Even the downstairs kitchen facilities are state of the art 1910 and have been kept original.

I returned to the lovely parc for my lunch prepared that morning in the little kitchenette in my studio. As on previous visits, I had gone out early to buy a baguette from the nearby bakery and used it to make breakfast and lunch. Unfortunately the hotel is now very dated, they have removed the only English TV channel (even CNN keeps me up with the world) and the Wifi would not work in my room. The owner was very arrogant., I think he is new.  If I am fortunate to return to Paris I will be looking for somewhere else to stay.

After lunch back in the park I made my way to another museum past many large homes, a wealthy area of Paris. There was a queue for the Museum Jacquemart-Andre because of a special exhibition of art and photos by a couple in the early 20th Century. I was more interested in the regular paintings - French, Italian (Mantagna, Tiepolo ceiling, Uccelo) Flemish and even a British Reynolds and a Gainsborough. It is described as the best collection of Italian paintings in France outside the Louvre. Again in a beautiful home built in the mid 19th century.

I completed this walk and added part of another nearby walk which visited two churches, St Phillipe de Roule and St Augustin then past the Palais D’Elysee ( I was not invited in), the British, US and Japanese embassies to the the Eglise Madeleine which I have visited several times so I thankfully caught the Metro back to my little hotel and dinner in the Brasserie a block away.

On Sunday I went out of town to St Germain en Laye about 19 km from Paris. This is a mini Versailles and about the same distance from Paris. It is nowhere near as good as Versailles but it is free and not crowded although there were a lot of locals picnicking in the park on the May 1 holiday.  After arriving in the town I had my usual expresso in thesquare or place then headed into the gardens following the Petite (small) Terrasse to a view over the river to Paris in the distance. Then I walked along part of the Grande Terrasse (photo 5). It is 2.5 km long but I did not go all the way. I turned into the forest which was delightfully cool (it was a lovely sunny day). people were walking, jogging and bicycling. Back in the formal gardens you could purchase lunch and eat in deck chairs but I ate my sandwich and juice prepared that morning. I then walked through the town, a bit quiet on a Sunday although I later found the market as it was closing down. I headed for a museum about a km away but was disappointed that, although it is open on Sundays,  not on the May 1 holiday. After taking a wrong turn I needed a beer when I arrived back in the main square. I then headed for the chateau (photo 6) which is now a museum of prehistoric to medieval objects. These did not interest me but I wanted to see the Saint Chapelle which was built by the same person as built the glorious one opposite Notre Dame in the city. Being a holiday, the chateau was not closed but free, so lose one, gain one. Sadly the Chapelle while similar looking, only has clear glass windows so does not have the beauty of its city cousin. However the 13th century Gothic architecture is the same.

On Monday I headed first for the St Denis Basilica (photo 7). It is 9 km from the centre but still on the metro system. The basilica was established in the 7th century but largely built in the 13th. It was the first structure to be built largely in the Gothic style and is the burial place of nearly every French king from the 10th to the 18th century. Although many were dug up during the revolution, as far as possible they have been replaced, even what could be distinguished of Louis XV1 and Marie Antoinette. There is a memorial statue of them. Some beautiful windows as well as the tombs. I had often wanted to visit the cathedral but it is a longish journey out in the metro.
Back in the city after an expresso and a lemon crepe on the Ile St Louis, I began one of two walks from my book through the Latin Quarter and around the Sorbonne University.
While the book recommended entering many of the schools, it was probably dated as there were doormen checking student IDs so I stayed outside.  Showers meant I cut short the walk and returned to my room a little after 2 pm to eat my lunch and rest.

Finally on Tuesday I headed back to the same area as I realised I had never actually been inside the Pantheon. This was designed as a church but was finished around the time of the Revolution when churches were very out of favour so has become a pantheon to the great men of France. I saw the tombs of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Emile Zola, the Curies  and many others whom I did not know. The pantheon itself is colossal and I joined a tour up 250 steps into the Dome and a great view over Paris (photo 8). With my fear of heights, I was a little hesitant but there was a broad stone parapet and only one small section of stairs looking down over a dizzying height so I managed okay. I went into the nearby Eglise St Etienne du Mont with a flamboyant architecture of various styles as it was built over 2 centuries. The stone rood screen(photo 9) is apparently unique. The organ was playing, making it a very pleasant experience. I then followed a shortened version of the 2nd walk described in the book through the Latin Quarter and found the Roman arena which is the oldest monument in Paris then through a typical Parisian Place and down the famous Rue Mouffetard with its fruit and vegetable market. Past the Mosque which I did not have time to visit as I went into the Botanical gardens for a brief visit and lunch and then back to my hotel as I had to make my way to the station Montparnasse and catch the 3.50 pm overnight express to Portugal.

I have 182 photos from my time in Paris and it was hard to choose which ones to post
Parc Monceau
Nissim Camondo Museum

Grande Terrasse St Germaine en Laye

Chateau, St Germaine en Laye
St Denis Basilica
Paris from the Pantheon
Eglise St Etienne du Mont - Note Rood Screen

1 comment:

Fran said...

Lovely - Paris is fantastic. You reminded me of my own journey out to St. Denis, so long ago. All your descriptions and photos are really great. Onward!