Setting the time machine to Thursday, October 15 to Monday, October 19.
Our romp through the Best of Europe with Rick Steves ended with a day and a half in Paris. We extended that by two more days before heading out to Le Moulin (see our separate post).
Of course, even having been to Paris before, four days is hardly enough to revisit old favorites and explore new treasures. There is so much to see and do, Paris can seem a little daunting. Still, I am always a little surprised with each visit how easy, cozy and intimate Paris can be. A small corner table in a cafe, a green bench along a path in a park, a tucked away pew in a medieval parish church are all marvelous places to watch Parisians – and tourists! – go about their lives. And a ride during rush hour on the Metro brings a whole new meaning to “intimate!”
So, off we go!
After arriving in Paris from Beaune in the early afternoon, our RS group set off to one of the most exquisite buildings in the world: the 13th century Sainte-Chapelle. Built in less than 10 years, it has a unified aesthetic rare among other Gothic churches, which often took centuries to complete. Even more rare, almost two-thirds of the stained glass is original, surviving storms, wars and revolutions.
The lower level of the chapel was essentially a parish church for people like you and me, ordinary red-blooded folk who happened to be servants of the King. It is a marvel of rich, warm colors and gilt. At first, it’s hard to imagine that the next level could be even more grand and impressive.
Lower level of Sainte-Chapelle, Paris
But it is. The chapel exemplifies the soaring beauty of gothic architecture. Even on a cloudy day, as we had during our visit, light pours down in jewel colors. Our photos cannot begin to do justice. If you’ve not seen Sainte-Chapelle, I encourage you to google and feast your eyes on images that better capture the radiance, light and beauty of this spectacular site.
The glorious upper level of Sainte-Chapelle, Paris
After a wander through the Latin Quarter with our group, we entered Notre Dame. Stan and I stayed for Mass. As you might imagine with such a great cathedral, the organ and cantor were superb. Afterwards, there was a smaller ritual (for those familiar, the Veneration of the Blessed Sacrament). At this point, all tourists had left. Most of the lights were dimmed, with only the altar illuminated, a large basin of incense beside it creating wisps of patterns in the scented air, accompanied by the murmurs of many prayers. A deeply sacred moment.
Entering out into the cool, damp air, we grabbed a bite to eat, and then rejoined our RS group for a night cruise along the Seine. Another magical experience of a different sort.
Eiffel Tower from the Seine
The next day, while I relaxed and followed up on future travel arrangements, Stan went with our RS group for a dash through the Louvre, followed with viewing the Monet’s at L’Orangerie. Stan rates this as one of his top experiences on our trip.
Stan in front of one of Monet’s Water Lilies
Later, all the RS group had a superb last dinner together. It was bittersweet, saying goodbye to so many interesting, good people that we had really just begun to know.
Last meal with fellow tour members in Paris
After bidding a final “au revoir” to our fellow RSers on the morning of the 17th, we headed off to Les Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb. No particular reason to spend much time there (although the Military Museum is impressive, if that is an interest), other than wanting to see the venue of a splendid recording of Berlioz’s Requium, which took full advantage of the lively acoustics there.
Napoleon’s Tomb, Paris
We then headed to the nearby Musee Rodin. The actual museum was closed due to renovations. But no matter. The museum’s gardens are full of reproductions, and the day was beautiful. The sun emphasized the robust musculature of Rodin’s bronze statues, conveying a surging creative life force or struggles against injustice.
The Thinker in the gardens of Musee Rodin
The hands of The Three Shades, Rodin
And then, onto the Eiffel Tower. No commentary needed.
Top of the Eiffel Tower
After descending to the ground, we hailed a taxi and headed across town to the Philharmonie de Paris. Stan has written an earlier post about the stunning performance from the London Symphony Orchestra that night. I will only add that I agree it was the best concert I have ever heard. Thrilling.
The next morning, we spent some hours at the Musee Cluny, possibly the finest medieval art museum in the world. (Sorry, Cloisters!) The Unicorn Tapestries, bejeweled reliquaries, beautiful gilt-framed triptychs, exquisite wood carvings of Madonna and Child (many of them nursing!). But the most stunning collections were of the stained glass. Many of the techniques for creating the rich jewel colors are now lost. How fortunate we still have some reminders of their glory.
Stained glass, Musee Cluny, Paris
Then, off on the hunt for a small street I recently read about in “The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris,” by John Baxter:
“For more than two centuries, the Cour du Commerce has remained virtually unchanged, embedded in time. This is a place on which the past refuses to relax its grip. In a way that always escapes museums, it preserves the essence of Paris… It hasn’t changed much from 1732, when the Cour du Commerce was nothing but a ditch to channel storm water and worse as it rushed out if Rue de l’Odeon. It still looks more like a gutter than a thoroughfare. A sidewalk clings to one edge. Ancient cobblestones pave the rest, with gaps to trap the careless high heel. Subsidence has dragged down the left-hand gutter. Buildings on that side lean out unpleasantly.”
As Stan and I were tromping down the Boulevard St. Germaine, hot on the scent, I looked to our right, and with a shock, recognized the Cour immediately! I was so caught up in the excitement and romance of discovery that I had us walking up and down the Cour three times, peering into the little shops and cafes.
Cour du Commerce, Paris
Cour du Commerce, Paris
We stopped for lunch at the cafe at the far left of the photo above (in the passageway). Later, when we arrived back at our hotel room, I realized I had only taken four photographs, I was that intent on my explorations!
After lunch, we wandered for a while along St. Andres des Arts, enjoying the windows full of chic fashion, colorful art and antiques.
Along St. Andres des Arts
We spent the rest of the afternoon ambling through the Musee d’Orsay. Who does not fall in love with this museum? Converted from an old train station, the interior is light and graceful. The conversion created intimate rooms for the paintings, while most of the sculpture is in galleries with long deep benches for viewers to sit and absorb the beauty.
One of the primary highlights of the museum is its collection of Impression art. It is always a thrill to see a beloved piece of art, known only through books (or, now, online), in person. Rarely is the piece how you initially saw it. There is always something surprising, whether it’s the size, the brush strokes, the vividness of the colors.
Van Gogh’s La Siesta was one of many surprises the Musee held in store for me. I was taken by what felt to me a great tenderness in the painting.
La Siesta, Van Gogh, Musee d’Orsay
We know from Van Gogh’s letters to his brother how he longed for human connection, and in particular, a stable, safe relationship with a woman. But how he feared rejection and abondonment. Look at the couple, asleep on the hay, her head nestling close under his arm, but not in full embrace.
Detail of La Siesta, Van Gogh
Then look at the sickles, lying side by side with a sense of formality, with little overlap. The shoes, side by side, but barely touching. So, tenderness, but also distance. Or so I project!
So many more rich moments that afternoon. But this post is getting rather long. Let’s wrap it up as we did on our last morning in Paris, with a walk down Rue Cler. Yum!
Flower shop on Rue Cler, Paris
Luscious fruit, Rue Cler, Paris
Fromage, Rue Cler, Paris
Take out, Rue Cler, Paris
Huge and small macaroons, Rue Cler