Just a peek at the grandeur of Paris

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We walked home late Sunday afternoon, with Île Saint-Louis bathed in sunlight that had finally won free of dark clouds. We’d sampled pungent blue cheese and local wine and walked a timeline from the very roots of the city to the fall of brave heroes in World War II. It had been a full day, and yet just a bit of all that Paris has to offer.

That first night I hadn’t gotten much sleep, couldn’t sleep, and didn’t even feel tired when morning came. Paris energized me with her tempo that never seems to stop. It was invigorating, pulsing, embracing, but also required our commitment not to linger. We didn’t. I’ve fallen in love with French butter and tried it this morning on a croissant, though Mom and Dad’s crepes looked awfully good, too.

Our day began at the Musée d’Orsay, a treasure trove of Impressionism, with lovely exhibits of art nouveau, architectural models, and more that we didn’t see. We traveled by metro to this museum which resides in a former train station.

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We spent about four hours there and absorbed so much that we never ended up (at least this weekend) going to the Marmottan. I was particularly drawn, logically, to the natural landscapes of the Impressionists, who strived to capture moments in time by working quickly in the ever-changing light. “The brushwork is rapid and visible,” said one display. “The framework is often off-center; the colours are light, seeking to capture the atmospheric effects outdoors.” The two works below did this well, I thought.

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Both of these paintings were in a gallery focusing on the early years, following the first Impressionist Exhibit in 1874. Renoir’s painting above (1876) shows the banks of the Seine at Champrosay. Alfred Sisley’s painting below (1877) is of the Seine at Suresnes.

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Then there was the fun of discovering paintings that I knew, from art history class or a book…moving close to scrutinize the brushwork, then moving back to see the whole scene. Renoir’s Bal du moulin de la Galette and Van Gogh’s first Starry Night (not the one painted later after he was confined to a mental institution) both reside at d’Orsay.

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My favorite work in the art nouveau exhibit was the delicately- colored stained glass of “Cygnes sur la lac d’Annecy,” created in 1890.

Our Seine river tour was not particularly noteworthy, although it did help me understand the layout of Paris a little better. The overcast sky and crowded quarters dampened our moods or perhaps we were still jet-lagged. I did enjoy the motley assortment of houseboats moored along the banks; some are older working canal boats repurposed for habitation, with patio sets and umbrellas out on the decks.

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From the Hotel Abbatial, it was just a short walk across one of the bridges to Île de la Cité. This island in the Seine is the oldest part of Paris, first populated by Celtic tribes in the third century B.C. and home to the cathedral of Notre-Dame. A bride and groom were just emerging from a shiny white Rolls Royce to take wedding photos, so I took one, too.

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As we walked across the small island, we passed two plaques honoring the places where men of the French Resistance had died during the Liberation of Paris in August 1944. You could just hear the emotion and respect in Dad’s voice as he explained their significance to Megan.

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Nearby was Sainte-Chapelle, whose towering stained glass windows are framed by the thinnest of columns, curving into the heavens. This marvel of Gothic architecture was constructed in the mid 13th century by Louis IX to hold Christ’s Crown of Thorns and fragments of the cross, which the king purchased from the Emperor of Constantinople. These holy relics cost three times as much as the chapel’s construction!

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With our aesthetic and historical minds full, we headed to another excellent restaurant that Dad remembered from long ago, called La Rotisserie d’Argent, where I had superb confit de canard. We enjoyed the food so much that we made a reservation to return in a week on our last night in Paris. In the interim, our next stop will be Normandy.

 

 

 

 

Paris, we love you!

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“Any rubbish for the bin?” our cheery Aer Lingus flight attendant asked, collecting the remnants of our breakfast. “Any children for the bin? Or have you all been good children now?” I laughed. The travel logistics had gone smoothly and we were almost to Paris.

From the plane window, Dad pointed out the English Channel, which he said the French call La Manche. It’s been 47 years since Dad first came to France and he returned often on business trips. For the rest of us (Mom, Megan, and I), it would be brand new.

We arrived midday Saturday for two nights in Paris, then a week touring northwestern France. We will wind our way through Normandy, Brittany, and the Loire Valley, before returning to Paris for one last night.

Just getting to our hotel was an adventure, with a rolling rail strike in process. On certain days, there are trains running, but only a few. On the RER train from the airport to the city, the crush of humanity seemed limitless, as more people crammed on at each stop, far more than I would have believed possible. As an icebreaker, the experience was unsurpassed, and one young woman even helped us negotiate our transfer to the metro.

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People in Paris seem to welcome conversation. At this sidewalk table, we talked with a woman walking her spaniel, who was excited to discover that we were from Maine. She loves watching the TV show “Murder She Wrote,” which still airs here, and wanted to know if Cabot Cove was a real place.

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Megan was waiting when we arrived at our hotel, amazingly cheerful despite her suitcase being still in D.C. On the bright side, she got to shop for a new Paris dress!

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The Hotel Abbatial St. Germaine, on busy Boulevard St. Germaine, lies close to the Seine River and Notre Dame. Our room is on the street side, with a small balcony, and we’ve enjoyed leaving the door open to the sights and sounds of the city. It also brings fresh air into our small and rather warm room.

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We finished the day with dinner at La Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris. We ordered a bottle of champagne to celebrate our safe arrival. I had a country terrine, coalfish with winter vegetables, and crème brulee, then we walked upstairs to see Voltaire’s desk, which occupied a place of honor amid the elegant décor. Then, to sleep.

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