At the end of November, for our anniversary we decided to go to Paris, because Iestyn found some cheap tickets from Dublin, and I now have a TGV train to Paris from the ‘burg (significantly less cheap but direct and fast). So we took a couple days off, and headed to Paris on Friday early morning, to meet at Paris Gare de Lyon a bit after 10am. Of course my train was exactly on time, while Iestyn was slacking along the way and kept me waiting for like half hour. After we finally met, we made our way to our cute little under-the-roof apartment Iestyn booked for us, beautifully located by the church of St Eustach in the Les Halles area – we could not be more central.
The weather was a bit grey and cloudy but it was not raining, and the xmas lights were already on in the streets, so it was all quite nice.
After we dropped off our stuff, it was practically time for lunch, given how early we both got up. We found a nice little place in our street called Little Italy, which seemed also to be super popular and it was really crowded at this hour. We managed to get us spots eventually, and had delicious filling meals and wine, but the true winner of the lunch was the creamiest, nicest tiramisu ever. It was right up there in the dessert heaven with the creamy cheese cake we had in Porto.
After lunch it was finally time to start exploring the city. We decided to start off with a gentle walk along the Seine to the Musee d’Orsay. Musee d’Orsay is beautifully located in a renovated old train station, and is one of the A-league galleries that actually have something to show for themselves – in this case it’s France’s national collection of the impressionist, post-impressionist and art noveau movements, spanning cca 1840s to 1914. The paintings collection features many works of Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Degas, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissaro, Sisley, just to name a few. So, as Iestyn noted, a far cry from some other establishments, which have a doodle Picasso made while on the phone, and call themselves galleries. We loved the space and loved the collections, and it’s a place we’ll go to again sometime. It was not allowed to take any pictures inside, so we just took one of the main area, and one of Iestyn with his favorite statue – Ours Blanc (Polar Bear) by François Pompon.
There were also a few paintings by my favorite Henry Rousseau on display, most notably The Snake Charmer, which was cool but still not as cool as the surprised tiger in the London gallery, which remains my nr.1.
When we got out of there, it was already dark, and so we walked over to the Tuileries gardens, place de la Concorde and Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. There was already all the xmas shebang on Champs-Elysees, decorations and markets. Unfortunately the decorations were a bit over the top and the markets loud and uninspired, so it really didn’t convey any xmas atmosphere, more vulgar and circus-y.
On Saturday, we started systematically going through our checklist of touristy things to do in Paris. (Well, we actually first went to find Paperchase, because I needed nice xmas cards, and I live in such backwardly place where they sell no nice cards, but it was on the way anyway so no detour really.)
First on our list, Hotel de la Ville – Paris’ beautiful town hall rebuilt in neo-renaissance style between 1874-1882. The ornate façade is decorated with 108 statues of illustrious Parisians.
From there we made it to Place des Vosges, Paris’ oldest square. Inaugurated in 1612 as place Royale, it’s an elegant ensemble of 36 symmetrical houses with ground-floor arcades, steep slate roofs and large dormer windows. They are arranged around large and leafy square with four symmetrical fountains. Victor Hugo lived here between 1832 and 1848.
On our way from Vosges to Notre Dame we passed by Centre Pompidou, the most hideous architectural adventure in Paris, and in the top European eye-sore league. Opened in 1977, it was visionary only in the way it predicted the awfulness of the 80s that was to come. The dry description in our guide notes that it was effectively designed inside out, with utilitarian features such as plumbing, pipes, air vents and electrical cables forming part of the external façade; but this description does not really convey the appalling monstrosity of the building. On top of its inherent ugliness the whole thing is of course impossible to keep maintained, so all the pipes are covered with a thick layer of dust and soot and whatever has been around in the Parisian air for the past thirty years, so it looks not only ugly but also worn down and sad. If the former French president Georges Pompidou was just trolling, he done it right, he totally pwned Paris; question is why, but that we might never know.
We just hope it’s got something to offer on the inside, but we didn’t approach it any closer.
Passing this disgrace, we arrived at Notre Dame, the heart of Paris. Nothing much to say here, very touristy but for a reason. We didn’t spend too much time there but enjoyed the views.
From Notre Dame we caught the boat ride to the Eiffel tower, catching some nice views on both banks of the river along the way. Eiffel tower is a must in Paris of course, although we had no desire to go/ride up, and just admired it from the ground for a little bit. Then we took a walk around the Hotel des Invalides, built in 1670 by Louis XIV for disabled war veterans. It now hosts Napoleon’s tomb among other things.
For the evening we were invited for a lovely dinner with one of Iestyn’s friends and his wife, and their gorgeous cat. We had a great evening with lovely mexican food, after which we decided to have another look at the Eiffel, all lit up this time, and with a view from Trocadero.
Without knowing this when we got the tickets for Paris, but finding out thanks to Gina’s thorough preparations, we were in Paris for the Sunday when all public museums are free of charge. We decided to take advantage of this fact, and stated off our day in August Rodin museum, located in the mansion he used for his atelier. We enjoyed strolling in his gardens admiring his sculptures, including the famous Thinker.
From Rodin museum we walked along the quay to another exhibition, the permanent collections of the Musee du Quai Branly – beautifully presented art from Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas, which we really loved, although at this breadth it’s difficult to take it all in. Everything from masks, carvings, jewellery, prints, weapons and more from all corners of the world.
After that we were all museumed out, and went for a walk along the Seine, Grand Palais and Pont Alexandre III and to church de la Magdalene. We then made it to Louvre although we had no intention to go in, just to admire it from the outside before we enjoyed a nice pink-colored sunset on the Seine again.
When the evening was in, we climbed up the Arc de Triomphe to admire beautiful views of night time Paris. Even the trashy xmas lights on Champs-Elysees looked better from up above. Back on Champs-Elysees we went to Kusmi Tea shop, where Iestyn bought me some beautifully smelling teas, and we then sat down in their little place to have some team with the most delicious sweets ever.
On Monday, we woke up to a glorious sunshine, so we decided to get another take on the Eiffel tower, sunbathing this time. It was quite epic indeed, although the soft white cloud was coming in quite quickly, so by the time we changed location and made it to the basilica Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, the sky was quite dull once again. We paid to go up the dome to get some spectacular Parisian panoramas. By the afternoon when it was time to catch the train back home the sun came back again though, so our last glimpses of Paris were sunny and beautiful, and we were quite sad to go.
This is my analogue capture of the weekend; came out quite nicely if I may say so myself: