Tuesday 10 April 2012

Sunday in . . .Versailles!

Erica and Bobby were keen to head back to Germany relatively early, and seeing as Versailles was on their way, we decided that would be a fantastic use of our Sunday**. I've never been to Versailles before, so despite the rain, was keen to go.

First things, first, however, and we decided that sustenance was in order prior to beginning our tour of the Palace. Fortunately, a stone's throw from the famous front gates, was what turned out to be a lovely little creperie.  €13 bought a savoury crepe (or galette), a sweet crepe and a glass of cider. The crepes were enormous, made fresh to order, and just what we needed to set us up for an afternoon of sightseeing.

From there it was off to the palace! Since it was raining, Stephen and I decided to focus on the interior of the palace itself. It also had the advantage of being a rather "slow" day in terms of tourist numbers - granted it was still very busy, but much less so than usual. It was nice to be able to meander about fairly freely and not get caught up in too many large groups.

The organ in the chapel

a servant's staircase

guy with floppy hat (loved the hat)

This way? (No, that way!)

a brief lull in the rain

One of the things we enjoyed most, were some of the more "normal" people tucked into various corners of the many murals.

You! Put that back!

Reflections in the famous hall of mirrors

Marie Antoinette's bedroom

hall of emperors

a grander staircase

a chair in the King's study

still raining

Despite the rain, we then decided to take a turn in the gardens. Most of the statuary was still covered up from winter and only a handful of bulbs was poking through, but still I could start to see the resemblance to some of the grander palaces I saw in Russia (namely Peterhof & the Hermitage)

A quick cup of tea in one of the former gardener's quarters, it was time to say good-bye to Bobby & Erica and head back into Paris ourselves to fetch our bags/return the keys to the apartment.

And so another weekend in Paris came to an end, but what a wonderful weekend! It was great to revisit some of our favourite places and rediscover them with Nathan afresh as well as see some new and different sites. Not sure yet when we'll go back, but I'm hoping not too long after Stephen's exams are over. In the meantime, plenty more memories to keep us company!

** usually we try and attend the afternoon organ concert at Notre Dame

Monday 9 April 2012

Saturday in Paris - a market & more art

[Ed: the full set of pictures can be found on my flickr page, but a selection appears below.]

After sleeping off the previous evening's indulgence, we got a little later start than strictly desirable, but headed off anyway to the Marché aux Puces de Clignancourt (The Flea Market at Clignancourt). This was a particular request of Erica's, and a very enjoyable way to spend a grey Saturday morning.

Despite a late start, when we got there it wasn't very crowded once we got back into the older part of the market. The stalls lining the street were full of the usual modern market rip-offs. But back here it felt a little more like the treasure trove it was reputed to be.

Erica, kid in a candy store

shiny things in the window

A cool stall that felt like a cross with an artists studio.

I loved this little ensemble

More bargain hunters

After a few hours of trawling through all the lovely and interesting things, we were starting to get hungry. So we headed back into the centre and off to one of our favourite little cafes - La Loire dans la Théière (the dormouse in the teapot - yes, that's an Alice in Wonderland reference).

And they keep to the spirit of their moniker.

It does one of the best brunches in Paris, and it's obvious because if you're timing is wrong (or in tune with the rest of the city's) the line is down the street. Fortunately, we didn't have too long to wait, before we were seated and eating. Sadly, I had to resist a slice of the taste citron (aka lemon meringue pie) as everyone else was ready to head to the next stop - Musee d'Orsay via L'Orangerie. The latter is where several of Monnet's Les Nymphéas (The Waterlillies) are housed in custom built rooms (there is a cool virtual tour here). Their permanent collection is also rather a treat and they had a pretty cool exhibit on Debussy and the Impressionists. Fascinating stuff.

The Musee d'Orsay, just across the Seine from & a sister museum to L'Orangerie, is set in an old train station and focuses on late 19th and early 20th century art. I managed a quick snap before noticing the "no photography sign" and a very disappointing frown from one of the museum volunteers.

Worth getting a frown for, no?

We focused our time on seeing the Art Nouveau sections (including a really stunning set of original rooms) as well as a fascinating set of galleries focusing on orientalism. I think for most Westerners, when we think "oriental", we think the Far East - Japan, China, Thailand, etc. For French speakers, "oriental" means rather the Near East - (modern) Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia. This was particularly interesting for us, having just recently been to Israel & Jordan. As English speakers most of our understanding of the region is filtered through English language historians, so to see it from at least a nominally French perspective was fascinating.

From there it was nearly time for dinner, so back to the flat to get cleaned up and changed. We had managed to book into Cafe Panique, which we had been to last time with Bobby & Erica and had promptly forgotten the name. A scouring of our guidebooks gave us a few likely alternatives, but we were very pleased to arrive again to this lovely spot (and amazing food). We splurged a bit on the wine, as it was Nathan's birthday celebrations, and it really couldn't have been much better. The staff are amazing, very accommodating and keen to ensure that we taste the best their corner of Paris has to offer. Yay!

From there it was back to the flat and asleep to get ready for our final day. . .

Friday 6 April 2012

Friday in Paris, on the verge of Spring,

[Ed: the full set of pictures can be found on my flickr page, but a selection appears below.]

The trip started off rather less wonderful than usual with a wallet going walkabouts and a rather roundabout walk to the apartment after midnight. Fortunately, both were manageable with a little bit of laughter and friendly support.

Since there were 5 of us all together, we rented a flat for the weekend in the really incredible Marais district. Stephen and I stayed in this area on our last trip and loved it - still central and so walking distance to all the major sites, but that has a lot of character and a "lived in" feeling that many major city centres lack. The flat was perfect - loft style with a little kitchen and just enough space for everyone to have a bit of privacy. I think we will definitely do this again when travelling with a bigger group.

Once everyone was arrived late Friday morning, we decided to meander from our flat over to the Louvre. This took us past the famous Les Halles and on Nathan's whim we walked into St. Eustache - stunning! I can't count the number of times that we've walked past this church in the past and never stopped in, but I'm so glad that we did this time. It's an amazing piece of gothic architecture with some really beautiful niches.

The "back" of the church

One of the first niches you see, just inside the main doors

a beautiful statue, I think it's supposed to be Joan of Arc, though I could be wrong there

looking back down the southern aisle

A plaque stating that St. Vincent du Paul was once a parishoner

The organ

standing under the organ looking back toward the main altar

From there we wandered past the old Bourse (or stock exchange), which unfortunately had only just closed the public gallery for the day (next time, Stephen). So instead we stopped into a local little brasserie for lunch (nothing special) and then over to the day's main event, La Louvre!

Nathan, not quite believing he's finally in Paris!

a staircase inside the glass pyramid

From here, we all split up - Nathan headed off to see just how much ground he could cover in 3 hours, Erica & Bobby to head over to the Dome Church on the other side of the river, and Stephen and I to wander through some of the galleries we hadn't seen before. One of the things I love about the Louvre is that it is highly conducive to meandering and people watching, filled with hidden corners and an interesting mix of people. As the weather outside was stunning and it was technically a weekday, it wasn't too crowded which gave us a bit more space than we probably would have otherwise had.

Some of our favourite pieces. . .
a statue of Athena with a rather adorable owl

loved how the sculptor depicted this veiled woman

One of the galleries - can you tell it used to be a palace?

clay pot with the figurines laid out which were found inside

Stephen drawn to things with words on

One of my favourite galleries

From there we headed into a new (to us) part of the palace, the rooms that used to belong to Napoleon III and are kept more or less in the same arrangement as he had them.

a beautiful clock in a niche of the informal sitting room

heading towards the formal dining rooms

see? dining room

By that point my feet were starting to ache a bit, so we headed back out to the main entry to wait for the others to finish their wanderings. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait very long, as all three of the others turned up quite quickly. From there, it was definitely time for tea. Fortunately a highly recommended place was nearby (turns out it was rather more of an institution than expected, but a rather lovely institution) called Angelina. The pastries were absolutely incroyable (incredible). I had the olympe tart with a cup of Earl Grey tea (I love Earl Grey with violet flavoured things). Stephen had a selection of their very classic macaroons with very good coffee. Nathan and Erica both opted for the rather impressively rich tartlette eva, Nathan pairing it with coffee and Erica with Angelina's apparently famous (and worthily so) hot chocolate. Bobby opted for their homemade glace (ice cream) also with coffee.

After that kind of indulgent afternoon, there are really only two options: a nap or a long walk. Bobby and Erica opted for the former while Nathan, Stephen and I decided to swing past the Eiffel Tower. Even though it didn't feel so late, it turned out that the timing was perfect to watch the lights come on behind the Eiffel Tower as the sun set. It was stunning and probably one of my all time favourite memories of Paris. Thank you Nathan for prodding us in that direction!

And just in case you don't believe me. . .

From the Champs de Mars side

From the Trocadero side, with a really cute carousel.

Feeling very satisfied with ourselves and starting to actually get hungry again, we headed back to the apartment to meet up with Bobby and Erica. On the way (and literally down the street from our apartment) we noticed a little bistro that had a tasty looking menu and friendly staff. We stopped in and they said, why yes of course they could fit in a table for 5. Come back in half an hour? It turned out to be the fairly well-known Au Fil du Saison. And it lived up to it's reputation. The staff were super kind, witty and laid back - tolerating with great ease our varying degree of fluency in their native tongue, joking with us about our mistakes and generally guiding us towards the tastiest treats on their very generally tasty menu. The highlight of the meal though was the sauce that went with Stephen's dessert - a warm sauce of nutella and vodka. When the staff saw us passing around S's little cup of the divine substance, they brought us out enough glasses for us all to have one! The perfect end to a fantastic meal.

Even better? It was stumbling distance back to our lodgings. And so ended a pretty fantastic day in Paris. Two more left!