I’m setting a new record for delay in posting my travel photos. normally it takes me six months, this time it’s closer to ten. In my defense I had to replace my external storage and, twice, send my Mac for repair. But, anyway. Yea, I went to Paris last year with the family.
Since my first visit, more than twenty years ago, before this blog existed, I have loved Paris. Not the first of course, but I really feel a je ne sais quoi. Walking the streets, sitting in the cafes or visiting the museums. This feeling survives the rude people, the stink of the Metro, the homeless, and the bitter cold we had on this trip. London, New York and Tokyo are the only other cities that I have spent a significant amount of time in that have a similar sort of presence and mystic in my mind.
I’ve seen just about everything there is to see in Paris over my many visits, but this was my daughters first trip. So, we marched our way through all of the sites I think are worth it:
Arc de Triomphe
The Arc [wikipedia.org] was our first stop. Seemingly every flight from Singapore to Europe lands at six AM and the hotels don’t want you until two or three in the afternoon. So after dropping our bags at our hotel in the Latin Quarter we hiked down to and across the river, and then up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Arc. It was cold and windy and the sky was overcast, parils of winter travel, but the Arc is as good an introduction to Paris as any; a Napoleonic monument seated at the intersection of grand boulevards with views of the Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Cœur atop Montmartre, the hideous Tour Montparnasse. Notre Dame was hidden by the renovation works.
You have to, the only reason not to visit is just to be contrarian, the Eiffel Tower [wikipeidia.org] is Paris, dispite the fact that the parisians hated it when it was first built. No one wanted to climb the stairs. There is a new (to me) glass wall that goes all the way around the base of the tower so they herd people through security screening. It ruins all the photos. C’est la vie.
Musée du Louvre
We went to the Lourve [wikipedia.org], twice in fact. It’s much too big for one visit. We got really lucky on the first visit, it was on a Friday, they have extended hours and when we made our way to the Mona Lisa [wikipedia.org] there were surprisingly few people. Even with two visits the Louvre is overwhelming. We checked off the majors: Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo [wikipedia.org], Nike of Samothrace [wikipedia.org], Liberty Leading the People [wikipedia.org], the apartments of Napoleon III, and much more. So much more…
Musée de Cluny/Musée du Moyen Âge
The Moyen Âge is a smaller museum, less crowded. You feel like you can take your time. But really you go for one thing: ze tapestries. The Lady and The Unicorn [wikipedia.org], six large tapestries that are always linked in my mind with opening titles of The Last Unicorn [wikipedia.org], the 1982 Rankin/Bass animated movie. Though younger people may associate them with the Gryffindor common room in the Harry Potter movies.
The Orsay [wikipedia.org] is my favorite musum in Paris. I love the collection, focusing on art from the late 19th and early 20th century. There is something about the transition from classical painting and sculpture to fully modern art that just works for me. I love the impressionist and post-impressionist; the Orsay has a huge collection: Monet [wikipeida.org], Van Gogh [wikipedia.org], Cézanne [wikipedia.0rg], Degas [wikipedia.org], and many more. I love also the sculpture of Rodin [wikipedia.org] his student Camille Claudel [wikipedia.org], and those of Carpeaux [wikipedia.org]. The Orsay is the right size, not as massive as the Lourve, not so small as the Cluny. A long lazy afternoon wondering among great art. This time there was a exhibit on the works of Edvard Munch [wikipedia.org], we got to see an early hand colored lithograph of The Scream [wikipedia.org].
Musée de l’Orangerie
The main attraction in the Oragnerie [wikipedia.org] is eight massive paintings by Cloude Monet in his Water Lilies [wikipeida.org] series. If you’ve never seen these or the other large format ones that are in other museums, you will be shocked at how large they are. While many of the Water Lilies in museams like the Orsay are ‘normal’ size, typically around 1 meter by 1 meter or so, the eight that hang in the Orangerie are two meters high and range in width from six to seventeen meters. The museum also houses many more other impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.
Rodin [wikipedia.org] is my favorite sculpture (Dalí comes close), and the Rodin Museum [wikipedia.org] in Paris is wonderful place. A quiet garden and manor house that once housed Rodin’s studio, set not too far from the Eiffel Tower. It’s a great escape from the city without leaving the city. You can spend hours wondering around the garden and inside the house. Among hundreds of Rodin’s works; including The Thinker [wikipedia.org] and The Kiss [wikipedia.org] as well as a cast of the full The Gates of Hell [wikipedia.org] (both The Kiss and the Thinker were orginally part of the Gates).
Dali Paris [wikipedia.org], is a small private museum in Montmartre, devoted to Dalí. There are a number of casts of various images from his surrealest paintings —melting clocks from the Persistance of Memory [wikipedia.org], a long legged Space Elephant from The Elephants, Alice jumping rope and more. It’s small, but if you like Dalí it’s a great stop.
Standing in Sante-Chapelle [wikipedia.org], one a sunny day, the stained glass windows filling the room with all colors of the rainbow, is one of the most peaceful and beautiful experiences you can have. Of all the churches and other places filled with stained glass I’ve visited around Europe (and other places), there is nothing that compares with Sainte-Chapelle.
Sacré-Cœur [wikipedia.org] is beautiful building, a mix of muted orthodox churches —massive ceiling mosaics and almost onion domes— and the classical revival styles. Nothing gothic about it, but, while it is pretty, it doesn’t do it for me, I prefer the gothic architecture of Norte Dame. The best part of visiting Sacré-Cœur is going up to the dome and getting the view of Paris from the very top of Montmartre.
Shakespeare & Co
There are other, larger, book stores just around the corner from Shakespeare & Co [wikipedia.org] —though sadly Gibert Jeune closed due to the COVID19 pandemic— but Shakespeare & Co’s focus on English books means I can actually read a book I buy there. And it just feels more cosy. The shops along Boulevard Saint-Michel are massive, Gibert Jeune was 6 stores and Gibert Joseph stretches across multiple locations. Shakespeare & Co is cosy, you can barely turn around in the used book shop. The new book shop is bigger, but still just five irregular shaped rooms, packed with shelves of books. I know this is not the original Shakespeare & Co that published Ulysses, that one closed during the Nazi occupation, but it has the ambiance. I picked up a used copy of Chaucer, The Pardoners Tale edited by Nevill Coghill and Christopher Tolkien.
Catacombes de Paris
“I see dead people”… Well, their bones. Bones everywhere. Millions of bones. I’ve been the theCatacombs of Paris [wikipedia.org] before, twice. This trip was all about taking my teenage daughter. She likes horror movies so this was right up her alley. My wife and younger daughter declined to join us, they went shopping and dinning.
The Palais Garnier or Paris Opera House, is the very definition of over-the-top architecture. Wikipedia says it’s Second Empire or Napoleon III style, which is not technically baroque but includes many elements of baroque as a revival… But the basic principle seems to be leave no surface unadorned. Statues, carvings, mosaics, gilded mirrors… it’s all there. And somehow it works. Even if you don’t appreciate the aesthetic the exterior and, especially, the interior of the Palais Garnier are awesome and worth the visit. And don’t forget this is where the Phantom of the Opera lived.
In addition to all the sights we visited in the city, we made a few trips out to the surrounding areas. We went to Versailles [wikipedia.org] to see the opulent palace of the Sun King [wikipedia.org] and Marie-Antoinette [wikipedia.org]. Actually we had to make two trips, the first day we went we arrived late and the last tickets for the (short) day were sold out. Fortunately we had a few free days so were able to get tickets online for one of those days towards the end of our trip.
We also visited Chartres to see the cathedral [wikipedia.org]. The idea was to make up for not getting to see Notre Dame, since it was still under renovation and repair after the fire. You can’t go to France and not see a proper gothic cathedral. Unfortunately, Chartres is undergoing restoration and cleaning and the tour of the tower and upper floors was closed. C’est la vie. So we had to settle for the main floor and outside views.
So, yea, a long, packed trip to Paris. We marched back and forth across the city, averaging 16 kilometers a day. We rode the Metro nearly every day; using the old school little blue tickets and enjoying the, um, unique, smell of the Paris Metro while navigating the maze-like passages and stairways and braving the overly aggressive doors on the older trains. We ate fresh baguettes and crescents from boulangeries (I will fight you for the last baguette from Maison d’Isabellein Place Maubert!); Comte cheese and yogurt, raspberries and apples for from the markets for breakfast. We wondered the Latin Quarter and Montmatre. I love Paris.
You can see the full Paris, France, November-December 2022 [flickr.com] photoset on Flickr.