Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tourism Continued

Our touring with Tom and Peggy continued the next day. On their list of places to visit was Sacre Coeur and Montmartres. Sacre Coeur is a beautiful whitewashed basilica sitting at the top of Montmartre with a great view across Paris. We hadn't been up there in about 40 years.

We took the metro from our local stop and changed to one of the major tourist lines. This line and a few others are getting well known for roaming gangs of pickpockets, take care of your wallets and purses. More on that later.

We reached the bottom of Montmartre via the Abbesses metro stop. Exit the station and walk to the left, following the signs. We passed the street with the stairs leading straight up and made our way to the funicular. For the cost of a metro ticket, you can get a ride up to the church. You can see the Basilica at the top right of the picture.

It being  Good Friday, there were tons of people everywhere. I'm not sure they were there for the services or just because they had the day off, but it was crowded. Nonetheless, one can get great views of the church itself. It was a bit hazy to see much across the city but it is still a great view.

Despite the mob of people, I must admit that the little streets are very charming and picturesque.Many artists and writers lived in the area and frequented its cafes and restaurants. It is very hilly in the neighborhood so there are great views up and down the narrow streets. The one below is a side street without many people.

To the back/left of Sacre Coeur is Place du Tertre. It has cheap places to eat all around the Place and the middle is loaded with artists selling their works of art. Many of them are just doing portraits and caricatures of the tourists. Plus there are guys roaming the crowd with their sketch pad trying to get you to pay for a portrait. It's pretty cheesy.

They seem to be pretty skilled at what they are doing. I'll bet they could do some real good work, but they make their living pumping out stuff for tourists. (hmmm, not a bad idea. Note to self: pump out some stuff for tourists.)

This poor guy was just trying finish his lunch when I had to take his picture.

We roamed around a bit, peeked into a few stores, then walked off the back of the hill. Just behind the basilica is a little vineyard and the famous Au Lapin Agile where many famous artists got plastered every night.

On the way back to the basilica, we heard a choir singing and saw that they were getting ready to have a procession of the Stations of the Cross. I wanted to get a photo of this priest as he passed in front of Sacre Coeur but the paparazzi got in the way, so this will have to do.

Then it was time to tackle the stairs to get back down to the metro. Going down was a piece of cake. They go down multiple levels, crossing little streets as they make their way down from Montmartre.

We picked up the metro again at Abbesses. This station has one of the art-nouveau entrances that can be seen around the city. Many of the older stations still have this cool style.

Maybe it will be another 40 years before we make another pilgrimage to Montmartre.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Playing tourist

With Judy's cousin, Tom, and his wife, Peggy, in town for a few days, we did some touring together. The weather is still cool, but occasionally the sun comes out and it is quite comfortable. It is Easter school vacation here in France and elsewhere in Europe, plus many school kids in the states are on vacation. So, it is VERY crowded in most tourist spots.

We started with the Musee D'Orsay, once again. It is such a great museum that I don't  mind going back there. Tom and Peg had the Museum Pass which enabled them to go in a different line and they got into the museum about 25 minutes ahead of us. The Museum Pass is highly recommended for busy tourist season. Here is a view from a vantage point on the 5th floor looking towards the huge clock about the entrance.

From there it is a short walk over the Seine to the Louvre. Once again, they used their Museum Pass to walk right in while others stood in line for quite a while. Here is the entrance to the museum. It is so weird and probably so French to have a modern version of an ancient monument as the underground entry into an historical building.

Judy and I roamed around the garden and sat by the wading pool while they hit the big 3 of Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa. We haven't been back in there for years but our guests have said that the signage is good to find these masterpieces. You can see the Eifel Tower in the distance. This spot in the Tuilleries Gardens is a nice spot to people watch when the weather is better.

We walked around the gardens a bit on our way out and found these guys engaged in a game of Petanque, which is the French version of Bocci. I think every country has their version and you see guys all over Europe playing their game on any flat space they can find. That is a wing of the Louvre that you see in the background through the leafless trees.

We took the exit to Rue de Rivoli right at the statue of Jean D'Arc, the Maid of Orleans. In Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, when they were asked by their mentor, "who was Joan of Arc?" Bill, or Ted, responded, " Uh, Noah's wife?". I love that line.

Gotta go grocery shopping, to be continued...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Walk Back in Time

It's hard to believe that we moved from Norwood to Paris a little over 40 years ago when I took a job working for CHB (Compagnie Honeywell Bull) in their International Support group. Tempus Fugits...
So, now we are back in our rental at 40 Rue Descartes so we decided to take a little walk down memory lane.

Our market was at Place Maubert. It was open tuesday, thursday and saturday. Judy still remembers the first time she bought a kilo of peas and spent the afternoon shucking string beans. She would go out to shop most every day as we had a very small fridge and not much storage. Sometimes it took a couple of trips to the market to get what she needed. For the most part, she had to interact with the man behind the counter.
We lived at 24 Rue des Bernardins. This street runs from Blvd St Germain to the river and crosses the Seine just behind Notre Dame. It  has changed a lot in the past 40 years. The little restaurant that was next door, Chez Paulette, is no longer there. It has been replaced by an upscale place. The store front that sold the bags of coal and wood is long gone and replaced by a fancy kitchen supply store. The Tabac on the corner is now  a nice little cafe. 

Our apartment was very nice. After coming through the front door, we would walk down a short hallway, passed the concierge's apartment, and cross a nice courtyard to our place. It was on the first floor, or street floor. We had two huge French windows that opened on to the courtyard. The apartment was basically a large studio. The floors were parquet and the wallpaper was made of silk. Most of the furniture was antique Louis XV or was it XIV? It cost a lot but considering we didn't have a car and we were in the center of the city, it was worth it. The fixtures in the bathroom were gold plated fish heads. Quite the place.We lived very close to Notre Dame. We visited the church many times with friends and on our own. One year we went to Christmas Midnight Mass. It was a moving experience, especially the drunk street person staggering down the aisle with his bottle of wine spilling out of his pocket as he made his way to the front of the church. The park behind the church is a great place to just relax, read or people watch. If you climb the towers, you get a great view of the city and a close up look at the gargoyles.Of course, all our time wasn't spent in the city. We did venture out from time to time. After a couple of years, we decided to buy a car. We picked up a used Dyane 6 which was the ugly brother of the Citroen 2CV (deux chevaux). I drove it to work in Paris sometime, mainly to move it from one legal parking place along the Seine to another. But, it did come in handy to take some trips to country side. There is so much to see in France. Paris is great, but there is also Brittany, Normandy, Provence, Loire Valley, Alsace, etc. 

That's why we enjoying coming back here so much.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Salon des Vin

Our friend, Jacques, gave us tickets to the wine exhibit on the outskirts of Paris. So, we grabbed our metro tickets and map and headed out to meet him there.

This is one of several huge exhibits where one can taste and buy wine from all over the country. There were more than 600 wineries represented from every region of France. After showing your ticket, you were given a wine glass and that became your entry in and out of the halls. On the metro, we saw lots of people with luggage rollers and suit cases heading for the exhibition hall. It is their time to stock up for the present and also put in orders for next years vintage. In the photo, you can see one guy brought his kid to help him carry the wine around while he tasted.

We tried to find some cheap white wine for Judy but Jacques insisted we at least taste some good wines too. Here Judy is gulping down an expensive white from one of the places Jacques gets his wine. While at the booth, he added another half dozen bottles to his order for the upcoming year. We ended up buying 5 bottles from different areas, but we will still stick to the cheap stuff from the local grocery store.

Random Ramblings around Town

The weather  has been holding up pretty well so we've been getting "out and about". We had one day when the wind blew our umbrella inside out but that didn't last long. Spring should be coming soon. The weather forecasts have been off every day. This week they are predicting more sun so I hope that are accurate in the upcoming days.
No trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the Musee D'Orsay. This relatively new museum (converted to a museum in the late 70's) is definitely one of the highlights of any trip here. It is located in the old Gare D'Orsay on the left bank across from the Seine from the Louvre. It was an abandoned train station that was used from time to time as a theater. They set up stands in the lobby for plays. We saw Harold et Maude here in the 70's. It was not very  crowded when Judy, Ann and Pete walked up to the entrance.

Inside, it is really magnificent. It is amazing to see such architecture in a train station, although stations in other places like NYC are known for their architecture too. The main hallway in the middle is used for sculptures and the art exhibits are in rooms on each side of the main hall. There is some construction going on but they have moved most of the well known Impressionists to a new gallery on the 5th floor. There were lots of school kids there on field trips. I took this picture of the main hallway while standing next to the "no photographs" sign. There were signs like that all over but everyone was taking photos, so I succumbed and took a couple myself. This is looking down the short flight of stairs to the main hallway. The exhibits are on either side of this hall.

Near the museum, and all over Paris, was this rack of bicycles that are for rent. Just use your credit card to unlock the bike and off you go. You can leave them at any other rack in the city. We have some in our neighborhood but I'm not sure I'm ready to inject myself into the famous Paris traffic.

After the museum, Pete and Ann treated us to lunch at a restaurant called Le Petit Benoit located on the Rue de Petit Benoit near the St Germain des Pres area. This was a small neighborhood restaurant with lots of locals crammed into not too much space. The waitress was a veteran of many years waiting on tables. She was very friendly in a gruff sort of way, like Durgin Park. The food was excellent as were the 2 1/2 bottles of  table wine we  had. Can you read the menu? Click on it to blow it up.

This is very nice area with lots of charming restaurants and shops. There are photo ops all over the place but here is just a shot looking down one of the side streets. At this point, we are about a block from Blvd St Germain near the Deux Magots cafe. You can actually see some shadows in the photos so that proves there is some sun here from time to time.

At this point we walked up to the Sevres Babylone area and gave the Brundretts directions for finding the Rodin Museum and then finding their way back to the apartment on the Metro. And, I'll be dipped, they actually made it...

A bientot.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Ins and Outs of 40 Rue Descartes

Like most buildings in Paris, we have no key for the front door, just the key code that we have to enter to unlock. The subtle click of the door opening is always a welcome sound.

Once you enter the doorway into the hall, there is a "minuterie", a button for a light switch that puts on the lights for one minute. Our goal is to  make it up the stairs before the light goes off. Sometimes it goes off on the 3rd floor landing so we have to find another one to push. They have one on each level.

Once you start up, you follow a winding staircase over wooden stairs that are hundreds of years old. They are very worn, but in great shape. There is one at the first turn that has been replaced and it is slightly higher than the others. We both trip over it almost every time.

The concierge comes in often to wash the entire staircase. We have seen her as she is just finishing on the street level. As we go up, the stairs get dryer and dryer until we reach our floor where they are completely dry. So, it takes a while to wash them.

Just when you think you've made it to the 4th floor you remember that the 4th floor in France is actually the 5th floor.  The street floor, the rez de chaussee, does not count. There is one more to go, plus, climbing the half-flight up the glass staircase inside the apartment.

Finally, you reach the 4th/5th floor and take a moment to look back on what you've accomplished. It is 88 steps which we've been doing 3-4 times a day. So, we figure we've earned the baguette we lugged up the stairs.

So, carrying luggage up the stairs can be a problem. But, with our first round of company, Pete and Ann Brundrett, we managed to get all their stuff upstairs in one trip. We'll see how it goes with our next round....

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A few photos of the apartment.

Our apartment is at 40 Rue Descartes. It is just across the narrow street from where Hemingway had a studio to do some of his early writing. The books, The Paris Wife and The Movable Feast, talk about his work there.
Speaking of work, Judy has done a lot of re-arranging in the apartment as she likes to do. It is in a great location and has plenty of space but just needed a woman's touch. Here is a quick walk through of the apartment....

When you walk in the door, this is the room on the 4th (5th floor, US). That is folding futon that sleeps 2 comfortably.

The Glass staircase on the left leads up to the 5th (6th, US) floor.

The glass staircase is a bit daunting at first, but one gets used to it. Looking back down the stairs towards the 5th floor.

The  stairs lead up to the next level where most of the living area is.

On the next level you enter into the living room. Judy has done most of her re-arranging here. We have a great view of our neighbors across the street through the windows.

Looking from the living room into the kitchen. The living room is a bit raised up from the kitchen. Judy moved the dining room table away from the edge of the drop off. The owner probably didn't notice that, when 4 are at the table, one could fall over into the kitchen.

Here is our bedroom. The bed is actually bigger than it appears in the photo and is very comfortable. There are huge windows in the bedroom that let in the morning light. We wake up to see our neighbors across the street hanging their sheets out the window.

And, of course, the famous folding toilet bathroom. There is a washer/dryer on the left and a shower at the end of the room. That is a sink about the washing machine.

There is a fireplace dating from the 17th century which I think would still work but no one wants to lug the wood up 6 flights.

We are very pleased with this apartment. It is in a vibrant (read, noisy) student section of the city with a smattering of middle-aged people (like us ) living here. The climb up the stairs is a hike but we are getting used to it and it is well worth the effort to work off the baguettes and pain raisin.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Random Photos Around the Neighborhood

The weather has been a bit shaky lately. There has been some wind and rain but it doesn't last too long. So, when it is nice it is a good idea to stroll around the neighborhood. Here are some photos.

From our front door

View from inside the Cafe Contrescarpe

Looking down Rue Mouffetard

Dancing in the streets

French Karaoke

What have we come to. Zut, alors!

 Fruit stand on Rue Mouffetard

I always have my phone/camera/music/gps/calendar with me, so I'll try to remember to keep capturing the sights.

Monday, March 18, 2013


For those or you who want to comment but don't have a Google, etc account, I've enable "anonymous" comments. So, click on the "Comment" link at the end of the post (it may be a link with No Comment, or 1 Comment, etc) and select Anonymous in the drop down list. Please id yourself as I won't know who you are without that.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sketching with Pauline Fraisse

I started the first outdoor sketching workshop with Pauline Fraisse. To get into a bit of practice, I looked out our living room and kitchen windows and did a couple of quick sketches of what I saw. The mansard roof, on the left, is out our living room window while the church tower is out the kitchen window. The apartment, itself, is one or two rooms deep from back to front.

 Pauline is a charming, young French artist who has studied at Brown Univ and conducts outdoor sketching sessions as well as multi-day workshops. This session was a 4 hour session starting in the Cafe Austerlitz, next to the Austerlitz train station. The group was made up of 12 people, 6 French and 6 Americans, including a family of father, mother and daughter.

After introductions, we started with some warm up exercises to "se chauffer" (translation, to warm up. How appropriate). We quickly drew one of the other participants at our table paying attention to proportion, shape, position, etc. Then we did the same thing with our other hand, then without lifting the pencil, then with our eyes closed. These were all quick exercises to loosen up and get you to use both your analytical and artistic sides. Then we did one which included two people with background information to get postitionning and depth perception. Most of the sketches were "completed" in 3-5 minutes. They were the kind of exercises that are meant to get our juices flowing so they loosened us up and got us all talking and laughing about our attempts.
All 12 of  us sat at tables in the cafe after ordering just water and coffees. We were there for over an hour and no one hustled us out.

From there we all walked across the street to a large park where we worked on a couple of sketches practicing perspective. We got in a quick sketch but some of the people were too cold to continue on the park benches. The park, Le Jardin des Plantes should be very nice next month. The Museum of Natural History is located in this park.

Across the street is the Mosquee de Paris. This is a major mosque in the city and it has a tea room and restaurant. We all barged into the tea room which was mobbed with people on a saturday afternoon. It was a really series of ornate rooms with Arabic architecture and style. Padded benches and soft chairs around round, hammered gold table tops. Really unique. Waiters walk around offering "the a la menthe", mint tea, for 2 euros. The tea is very sweet, but it tastes great. They also walk around with sweet Arabic pastries for 2 euros. Here are a couple of girls enjoying their mint tea and pastry.

Anyway, here we drank our tea and did quick sketches working on perspective of walls and ceiling meeting as well as the effect of bright light (as in a lamp) on the scene. This setting was very fascinating and I'll be happy to go back again.

This was an enjoyable day. I learned some things, met some people and got the incentive to go back out sketching on my own.