Sunday, November 5, 2017

Re-visiting Paris


I love taking the Eurostar, and Paris is one of my top 5 happy places, so I had to go and spend at least a few days there after my week in London. But since I'd already hit most of the famous landmarks just a couple of years ago, and plan to work my way back in the late Spring, I didn't do any repeats this trip. Not even to my beloved Musee D'Orsay.

However, I did make it to a couple of museums, a couple of parks and splurged on a very reasonably priced meal that was typically French from start to finish, with every bite more delicious than the last.



MUSEE CLUNY



I finally got around to the Cluny to see the famous Lady and the Unicorn. Turns out this was another big hole in my knowledge of art...or, rather, a series of holes. 

I knew it was an ancient tapestry, and had seen photos of it. What I didn't know is that there is actually a series of SIX tapestries featuring the lady, the unicorn and a lion - who shares what looks like equal space with the lady and the unicorn but never seems to get mentioned for some reason.

Five of the tapestries represent the five senses, and the sixth one represents an extra sense, about which people have put forth various theories but come to no consensus. They are displayed in a rather small room and comprise only a fraction of what is on display.

The museum itself is a medieval building completely out of all my favorite periods of architecture, yet I still had nothing but admiration for it. It was lovely both inside and out.









I was struck by how such heavy stonework could form such graceful and elegant interiors.










Which meant that this temporary staircase stuck out like a sore thumb. I assume they were replacing or repairing an existing one. There is a nice looking wooden one at the exit.

In any case, as beautiful and intriguing as the tapestries were, it was the statuary I found most curious.



I swear, I am seeing more Virgin with Child representations this trip than I have in my entire life. But I have to say, I have never before encountered a nursing Virgin Mother, boob out and baby going at it like any new mother and infant. But hey, more power to the sculptor for going for it. Although it was probably considered less risqué then, than now...



...Headless Jesus, on the other hand, takes you aback a bit. I mean, lots of the statues were damaged, missing noses and so on, but Madonna and headless Child was a real surprise. So the Cluny gets big bonus points for unique displays.






Another big room had both an assortment of heads...








...and an assortment of headless bodies. Which makes me wonder if there was some mix and matching going on there for a while.









There were also some other valuable looking objects, as well as some nice displays of stained glass. So, although I feel no need to return, I found the museum well worth my time and ticket price.







MUSEE JAQUEMART-ANDRE

Given my love of older houses, it was a no-brainer to visit another museum situated in a stately home, even though it was the building rather than the art that drew me. The Musee Jaquemart-Andre is a gorgeous home on Boulevard Haussmann, and you should click on that link to see photos of it that are far superior to mine.

The elegantly curving stairway...








...and breathtaking stairway hall were my favorites. 











But, of course, I always like seeing rooms that are at least a fairly accurate representation of the way they were when the owners were in residence.







And there was plenty of that, which I loved. 

The couple who owned this home was a wealthy banker and the society painter who'd done his portrait about 10 years before they were married. He died first, and she stopped painting, devoting herself instead to enlarging the collection of art they had accumulated on annual travels.

She literally had an entire floor turned into her own museum. 

A different room had a whole collection of Madonna and Child paintings, but they weren't unique in any way that I could see, so no point in adding them here.

In fact, an overwhelming amount of the art seemed to be religious in nature, so I just mainly lost myself in admiration of the house, which was fabulous.

I even enjoyed the trip there and back, as it involved a walk through a park I'd never seen before, Parc Monceau.

I was particularly taken with this little stone bridge. But, again, clicking on the link to the official page will get you a much better look at it.

I stopped and had crepes, sitting on a bench facing the carousel. And even though the weather was a little cool and damp, I was very content to be there.

Of course, if the carousel would have been playing the usual stupid calliope crap they're known for, I would've gotten my crepes somewhere else. Somewhere far, far away.

Another feature of the park were the elaborate gates, large and small, placed at the entrances. I get a little melancholy looking at things like this, and the amazing buildings, knowing that - with all our advances in technology that should make it cheaper - we don't make things like that anymore.



Still, I'm not a big park person, I use them as respites between sightseeing. So I didn't linger after my crepes. I do like the Luxembourg Gardens. But I usually just go to have crepes there, as well, after hours of museums and other attractions. And instead of finding a peaceful spot in lovely gardens, I eat while staring at the palace that is featured in the photo at the top of this post.

Rather than spending time in the lovely green areas around town, I'd rather just walk around, looking at the magnificent buildings...








...or just watching Parisian life happening around me.








I particularly enjoyed doing that while having a truly flawless meal inside the glassed in patio of Cafe des Dames.

During the day, it seems to be a great little bistro. But at night, it becomes the perfect place to have an excellent typically French meal.

One of my complaints throughout the whole of Italy in 2015 was that the food was lousy. It wasn't until after we'd left that I realized it was only when we were trying to have classic dishes that chefs seemed to put forth no effort at all. Ask for something not usually considered Italian, and they'd go all out.

God knows I don't mind chefs wanting to cook a variety of food. I like eating a wide variety of food. But that doesn't mean they have to scorn typically Italian dishes. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case in France.

I started with escargots, which were not in the least rubbery, and finished with a really nicely sized portion of crème brulée.

My entree was steak frites, and my thin steak was perfectly cooked to the medium rare I prefer. Accompanied by a glass of the house red wine, I thoroughly enjoyed every single bite...including all of the bread that I used to soak up the delicious garlic sauce from the snails.

Considering the quality and the contents of this meal, much less that it was in Paris, I was surprised to find that it was barely $40 with the tip included. I did not begrudge so much as a penny. In fact, I may go back every time I go to Paris from now on. It will be my one culinary splurge. 

I was going to say that you could have Maxim's, but it's come to my attention that the restaurant now houses a 3-floor museum of art nouveau artifacts above the restaurant, which is now owned by Pierre Cardin. So I will definitely have to pay it a visit. But I still won't eat there, because the entrees cost twice as much as my entire meal at the humble Cafe des Dames.

So, there you have it, my fun-filled few days in Paris. There are still plenty of things left that I want to go back for, not the least of which is just roaming the streets and hanging out in various random places munching on French food.

Next up will be a little bit of Provence: Montpellier, Avignon and Arles, after which will come the Moroccan portion of this trip. That's as far as the itinerary currently stretches. 

I will say that I am looking forward to some warmer weather and sunshine. While I've thoroughly enjoyed my wanderings, the weather has been a bit dreary. Additionally, while I love the UK and Europe - culture, architecture, food, everything - there's no denying that it will be exciting hitting what will definitely be a more exotic-to-me location.

I am also very much enjoying this newer, slower pace. It is, for me, a much better blend of travel and productivity. In fact, I'm thinking of extending my time in each place from one week to two - maybe even a month if I find places I like well enough, but that won't happen for a little while yet.

As with everything else, I'll let you know how it goes...

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