Thursday, February 25, 2016

Museum Visits - The Big 3

3 museums that you have to hit in Paris are the Musee Rodin, the Musee D'Orsay and the Louvre.

Kaleigh (niece) and I took the 69  bus from their location off of Blvd Sebastopol. The stop was just around the corner on Rue de Rivoli. Kaleigh seemed anxious to get going and the others weren't quite ready to go. So we went to the Army Museum which is part of Les Invalides to pay our respects at Napoleon's Tomb. It is quite an impressive tomb by any standard. It is surrounded by statues of Napoleon with various quotes about his leadership and what great things he had done for the country.

We texted the rest of our group to see where they were and somehow they had gotten on the right numbered bus but were heading in the opposite direction. Judy was upset that I gave such incomplete directions on how to get to Rodin. They finally made it and we met them right at the bus stop otherwise they might still be walking in the wrong direction trying to find the museum.

The gardens really interest me. There are some of his most famous works in the garden, like The Thinker, Burghers of Calais and the Gates of Hell. Even tho it is not in the middle of the growing season, there was plenty of green. The roses along every walkway were pruned back but will be really stunning when they bloom. The museum is made up of the entry way and courtyard, Rodin's private home and a large garden behind the "house". It is next to Les Invalides as can be seen in the photo.

We then walked to the Musee D'Orsay and ate lunch there. The cafe on the 5th floor is nice and convenient as we were pretty hungry. We were telling the young waiter that we first came to the D'Orsay when it was an abandoned train station. They had set up temporary stands in the station and we saw Harold et Maude there a long time ago. To look at the photos you could never imagine that it once was a grimey train station. They really do a great job of salvaging old buildings and converting them to something very contemporary.

There are so many recognizable masterpieces in this museum that one can't take pictures of all of them. This one kind of hit home with me after my previous rendez-vous  chez le dentiste. I wonder if this woman's teeth are still hurting to this day.

I always like looking at the model of the Opera Garnier opera house at the back of the museum. It even has the controversial (at the time) ceiling by Marc Chagal. The detail is amazing and people are always surprised to see the how little of the opera house is dedicated to seating. The largest part is the stage.

Plus, you get a great view of Sacre Coeur from the top of the museum

The Pyramid entrance into the Louvre is another great example of using imagination when solving the problem of entering the museum.  Before the Pyramid, there were multiple entrances to visit all the different galleries, or at least it was very difficult getting from one major part to another. It is a huge set of buildings that evolved over time into the one big, horseshoe shaped Louvre. There are administrative offices as well as multiple floors of galleries holding paintings, mainly from France, Italy, Holland and Spain. Plus there are rooms with thousands of ancient artifacts and other galleries with nothing but immense sculptures.

There are signs pointing to the Big Three (Moan Lisa (aka Mona Lisa), Winged Victory and Venus de Milo) where there are massive crowds, but many of the other galleries are not crowded at all.

It is amazing what they have done with the interior to handle the movement of crowds. They must have gutted a part of the interior to install escallators to get people up and down from floor to floor.

There are still many stairways and if you want to go up a flight you could find yourself having to go down one set of stairs to then climb another set to reach your destination. Maybe a remnant of the original buildings.

While walking in one of the lesser galleries, we saw some workers moving a piece, perhaps from storage. I took a quick shot of the  back but when I tried to photograph the  actual painting, the two women holding clipboards asked me not to take any pictures. I took a look at the painting but had no idea who could have painted it. Maybe it was going back into storage.

A bit later, I shot this picture of a woman copying a small masterpiece. There were a few other people in the  museum doing the same thing. Only after I took the photo did I see the piece of paper on her easel with the "NO CAMERA" icon. Oh well...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Another interesting experience.....

I'd rather not go through again.

It all started 3 years ago here in Paris when we were out for dinner with Curt, Terry and Klodia. I was eating a slice of cheese-y pizza when I realized I had pulled out one of my crowns and, before I knew it, swallowed the crown never to be seen again. All that was left was a stub of a tooth that had been ground down for the crown and as it did not bother me, I never did anything about it (despite my dentist's suggestions to the contrary)>
Well all that changed the other day when I chomped down on something and got a shot of pain through the top of my head, It seemed under control for a few days but came back with a vengeance today. I figured I had to do something about it. Despite some recommendations from friends for a kindly, qualified and in-expensive dentist, I decided to go to a "walk-in" clinic near the St Lazare train station.

We went to the floor for the "dentist without appointment" and got in line. My tooth was really bothering me then. When it was my turn with the receptionist, I asked, in French, if she spoke English. She responded, "Not at all", in French. I explained, in my best French, what my issue was. She didn't seem to care too much. She just signed me in, told me to come back at 2pm and kept my passport for security.To kill time, we walked to the Madeleine, an impressive church that took a couple hundred years to complete due to wars and revolutions.

We came back about 1:30 and waited for my turn. I had an X-Ray then, after explaining why I was there, I was sent to room 3-1 on the next floor. I walked into the room. There was a dentist and his assistant.He was about our age and asked if "Madame voulait entrer" I asked Judy to come into the room for company and as a witness to the torture I was about to endure. Without looking at me, the dentist said, Je vous ecoute... I'm listening. After explaining my problem, he said he would take a look and sat me down in the chair. He proceeded to poke, prod, twist, dig, gouge, pick and drill all without any hint of Novocaine. I thought I would have my tooth pulled but he had other ideas.(I concluded, after the fact, that they probably don't use Novacaine because they don't want to wait for it to take effect. Get 'em in, get 'em out.)

Here's our dialog.
Does this hurt?
Not too much.
Does this?
Does this?
How about this?
etc, etc, for a while. At this point I was almost jumping out of the chair.

I should have known I was in for some trouble when he kept whispering in my ear, "Is it safe?" (film reference), He said the tooth was infected and that I needed a root canal. He gave me a prescription for anti-biotics and pain killers. He didn't have much of a "bedside" manner and the only time he smiled at me was when I asked if the pain killers would work until I got back to the States. He looked at me, grinned and slowly said, "Maybe".

So, I got a not so kindly, probably qualified and definitely not expensive dentist. The X-ray and session in the torture chamber totaled less than $60. He said he could do a root canal for me in a couple of weeks, but I told him I'm good. When I went to pay, another receptionist retrieved my passport and started giggling as I was her first American. She had never seen an American passport and was enthralled with it. Sort of cute, actually. But it made us realize that this clinic was probably meant for people with no regular doctor or dentist,

 Having said all that, it is now about 5 hours later and my tooth feels pretty good and maybe the anti-biotics will work for a while and I will make it home for the rest of the story.

Back to cultural activities tomorrow...

Cultural Activities

It seems like there is always some sort of cultural activity going on here in Paris. It is the City of Light and the French are proud of their "joie de vivre" which includes many performances that will enhance your intellectual or cultural advancement. (Even if you don't want to be culturally advanced..).

The other day we went to the Musee Carnavalet which is the museum of the City of Paris. This museum traces the history of Paris through paintings as it shows Paris as the pastoral landscape it once was, to the evolving city that became the fashion capital of Europe, through the French Revolution and into the post revolution under Napoleon. (The painting of Marie Antoinette being guillotined is particularly impressive.)

There was also an exhibit of the saving of the Marais. Under the minister of culture, Andre Malraux, a new law was put in place in the late 60's to protect existing old or historic buildings and monuments from being destroyed due to urban development. This became Maraux's Law and it saved many of the important structures in the Marais as well as all over Paris.

So, continuing our cultural advancement...

4 of our nieces (Jackie, Kaleigh, Kelsey and Becky) arrived saturday morning for a week's vacation in Paris, They rented an apartment near us. They were pretty jet lagged, but to keep them from falling asleep, we took them to another interesting cultural activity, an evening organ recital at the Cathedral de Notre Dame.

Periodically they have well known organists from all over the world come to the church to test their chops on the huge antique organ. The sound coming from the organ was amazing. Unfortunately for us, it was just a matter of a bunch of sounds, really. We couldn't make out any melody. It was mostly short and long blasts. I had no idea where the organist was in the program but I was pretty surprised when, at the end of one particular series of notes, some members of the audience started to applaud. I guess they knew what was going on. That was the end. Despite our lack of knowledge of what was being "played", it was something to experience in that environment.

You can make out the organist behind the railing in the balcony.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Markets and Buses - Le Grand Epicerie

There are many mini-marts all through the neighborhoods of Paris. They are all pretty small but have most things you would need for daily existence. They are usually on one or two floors and the aisles are crammed into relatively small spaces. There is one market that is worth visiting to buy that hard to find food or condiment or just to check it out.This is Le Grand Epicerie.
It is a huge super market that is part of Le Bon Marche department stores. The main one is near the Sevres-Babylone metro stop.

Things are not arranged in aisles but in displays according to type of food and/or country of origin. There are whole sections for cheese, poultry, beef (whole sides hanging behind a window), bread, desserts, etc.
It really is very decoratively and creatively organized. Here is an old Citroen delivery truck used to display fruit and vegetables. Very creative. The store has multiple floors so one needs to take an escalator or an elevator to go from one floor to another. There are also many little cafes specializing in such delicacies as sushi or  fancy desserts.

Close up of the cornucopia of fruit on display.

The quickest way to get to Le Grand Epicerie , or most places, is via Metro. You put up with the stuffiness of the underground to avoid the street traffic. But we decided to take a bus. Taking a bus in Paris is like getting a mini tour of the eclectic neighborhoods and historic monuments. When we lived in Paris in the early 70's, my favorite bus from the end of our street was number 24. It went along the left bank passing Place St Michel, passed the Musee D'Orsay (not yet a museum in '74 but an abandoned train station, Gare D'Orsay), crossing over the Seine, around  La Place de la Concorde and ending at the Place Madeleine. Worth the metro ticket just for the tour, The bus we took from the Marais went along the Right Bank, crossed over Pont Neuf (Pont Neuf means New Bridge and it is the Oldest in Paris now), passed the oldest restaurant in Paris, Le Procope, where Ben Franklin used to dine and ending at Le Bon Marche. I was gawking out the window the whole time, On the way back, Judy grabbed a seat and crashed. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Arrival Back in Paris at Rue de Tresor

Well, we've been planning this trip for a long time and the time has finally come. We are in our apartment at 4 Rue de Tresor in the Marais section of Paris. We were dropped off on our little pedestrian-only street and were happy to see that the entry code had not been changed recently. This is an apartment in one of the oldest parts of Paris. It is in a charming old building and has an elevator which we don't need as we are on the 1st floor (American 2nd floor).

It has everything we need and the "quartier" also has everything we need. One of the first things we needed was lunch, so after unpacking we went to a little restaurant where we had eaten once before called Le Petit Fer a Cheval where I had to order one of my favorite meals in France. Yes, an Omelette jambon. There is nothing like a French omelet.

We took advantage of the nice weather to walk over to one of the beautiful spots in the Marais, the Place des Vosges. It is a large square with fountains and walkways that is surrounded by apartments where royalty once lived. Now there are many eclectic galleries and restaurants in those buildings. It really is pleasant sitting in the park and watching families come and go and kids playing in the sand boxes. Or course, it is a little more comfortable when the weather is warmer, but it didn't stop a lot of people from coming out to enjoy the scenery.

We capped off the day by stopping at a nearby cafe for a little refreshment. We found one that was in the warmth of the sun, so we relaxed and enjoyed a a glass of wine and a nice hot-chocolate. Such a deal for $17.

After our break, we did a little shopping at one of the many mini-markets in the area. They are not really small, but they are  mini compared to the gigantic super markets in the states. But, we found everything we needed for our first home cooked meal in the apartment. One thing we love is turkey scallops in creme fraiche with mushrooms. Judy cut up the turkey cutlets and cooked them with the mushrooms then made a "gravy" with the creme fraiche. We also had some frozen frites from Picard that came out of the oven and really hit the spot. It was great sopping up the creme fraiche with the fries.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Quick side trip to Amsterdam.

After a reasonable night's sleep at Jacques and Claire's apartment in Le Chesnay, we got off to an early start and left their apartment at 6:50 am to drive to Amsterdam.We've been there a few times but not in a while and we figured, while in Europe why not go check out the Van Gogh Museum and sample some Dutch Cuisine. So, off we went. After Jacques got us started, I drove most of the way in his new Nissan, a model that doesn't exist in the USA.

Using the onboard GPS, we found the address of the hotel but had a tough time actually finding the hotel itself. It was in a courtyard of an office building with a little sign on the mailbox. We checked in, dropped our luggage and walked to the Van Gogh Museum. Amsterdam is a pretty good walking city so we were close to where ever we wanted to go. No photos allowed in the Van Gogh museum except at this spot...see photo on the left...

I was there about 4 years ago while on a business trip to Holland and it has been redone since then. It really is a terrific museum, not overwhelming but loaded with a history of his life as a painter.

That night we had to go for Rijsttafel, a Dutch Indonesian meal with 15-20 small plates of meats, poultry and vegetables in a variety of sauces.
Here we  are with our waiter at Kartika after he has loaded up the table with a pile of food that we washed down with a few IPA's Rijsttafel was one of the Dutch Treats we remembered from our first visit to Amsterdam in 1969. Tempus Fugits.

Next morning it was time to tackle the Rijksmueum home of all the Dutch Masters. The building was constructed as a museum to display the best of Dutch art work. We signed up for a guided tour and met Esme for our walk around to see the highlights. The building itself is worth the visit. The entry way before the main gallery is meant to inspire you or make you grow as a person (according to Esme ). There are tile inlays in the floor of the four seasons and the signs of the zodiac and the stained glass window has images of Dutch artists and scientists instead of saints. At one time it was deemed to be "too Catholic" so the walls and floor were completely covered over with paint and wooden floors. Only recently was it restored to its original state.

Of course, the main attraction of the museum is the Dutch Masters. One enters a long gallery lined with famous Dutch painters like Vermeer and Frans Hals. At the very end is the room dedicated to Rembrandt. You see it as you walk down the gallery after taking in all the other masterpieces on each side.

When you finally reach the end of the walk you join the masses who are appreciating one of Rembrandt's most famous paintings, The Night Watch. The watch was a group of militia who patrolled the streets of Amsterdam. Because of the dark background, it was assumed that the men were getting ready to patrol at night but it was probably a day patrol. With the dark background, the light on the men in the painting makes them stand out more and become more important. These were portraits of the major players in the Watch. It is thought that Rembrandt himself is peeking through between a couple of guards.

That night, we wanted to try another Dutch "Delicacy" called HotchPotch. That is a catch all name for a pile of mashed potatoes with other vegetables mixed in topped off with, in my case, a giant meatball. Judy had cheese croquettes on her mashed. The restaurant, De Blauwe Hollandeer, was near the Leidseplein Square. Leidseplein Square is a very busy and happening area just at the outer ring of canals and just far enough from our hotel that we could walk off our latest culinary experience.

No trip to Amsterdam would be complete without the obligatory canal tour. So, to get out of the cold wind, on the last day we boarded a boat near the West Church, not to be confused with the East Church, the New Church or the Old Church. It was a leisurely cruise around the loop of canals that make Amsterdam so charming.

Once again, walking through neighborhoods and crossing the weave of canals we were presented with iconic views of what makes us want to come back to Amsterdam.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Barcelona - May 2013

The last trip we made in 2013 before leaving Paris was to Barcelona with Jacques and Claire. I have been sitting on the photos since then and am now finally putting them into the blog.

Barcelona is a beautiful city on the Mediterranean Sea. It is the capital of the Catalonia region of Spain and the home of the architect Antoni Gaudi. The main reason for visiting Barcelona was to see some of the famous Gaudi creations.

 We flew out of a tiny airport somewhere near CDG on Ryan Airlines. There was no luggage check-in and we just jammed our way through a doorway to drag our carry-on onto the little plane. It looked a bit shaky but we made it to Barcelona without any problem.

Click on the photo to see the funny cloud funnel. Not sure what caused that but I thought it was worth taking a picture.

We picked up a taxi and Jacques applied his knowledge of the Catalonian language to get us to the hotel. After checking in, we walked to the nearest Metro and tried to figure out how to get around. Our hotel was a bit off the beaten path but convenient to the main metro line so it worked out fine. 
Our first stop was the grand Placa de Catalunya to look for a tourist office. What a beautiful and immense square. Loaded with people from all over.

Not sure of the order of our tourist activities from there but usually we would be hungry and looking for something to eat. Of course, when in Spain, do as the Spaniards and eat at a Tapas bar. There were many in the area and we stumbled on one from our tourist info guide. We weren't exactly sure what we were ordering but whatever it was, it was delicious and got us ready for our walk to the famous Gaudi apartment building, La Predrea. Speaking of eating, the Spanish eat very late. We had a tough time finding a restaurant that was open before 9pm for dinner (snack bar type places are open). For lunch one day, we found an interesting looking place and entered about 2:00 for a "late" lunch. We were the only ones in the restaurant and the owner said that the cook wouldn't be in until 3pm but we could order a drink and wait. We decided to leave and bought a sandwich from a street vendor.

La Predrera, also known as Casa Mila, named for the family who commissioned it, is the last public work of Antoni Gaudi. At the time, it was controversial because of its undulating stone facade and twisting balconies. There are no right-angles and no load bearing walls inside. Access to the floors was by elevator, only, which stopped on every second floor which made it necessary for neighbors to come in contact with one another, one of Gaudi's goals. There is a interesting interior courtyard that mimics the exterior and a truly unique rooftop. When visiting, make sure to purchase a ticket in advance as the line to buy a ticket can be very long, even during slow seasons.

Interior Courtyard

Roof Top

More Roof Top
Our Tour guide

Next stop on our tour is the stunning Sagrada Familia. This Catholic Cathedral was started in 1882 and Gaudi took over in 1883, At the time of his death in 1926, it was only 1/4 finished. From the outside you can see the different architectural styles, like some of the chateaux in the Loire that took over 100 years to build. From the inside, you can see his genius or insanity in the construction of the columns that would support the roof. 

Once again, we recommend reserving a guided tour in advance to skip the long lines. 

Newer Style

Older Style
Stained Glass and Balcony
Gaudi wanted high, open ceilings with lots of light from the sky and through the stained glass windows. But, he wanted open space below without massive structures holding up the roof. If the technology was not there to provide him with what he wanted, he would invent it or wait for it to be invented to get what he was looking for. The interior of this Cathedral is incredible. It is still under construction and hopes to be completed by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death. 

The last Gaudi site is the Parc Gruel which is loaded with Gaudi structures including his house.

Finally, we spent some time along Las Ramblas which is a long walkway from the Placa di Catalunya to the edge of the Mediterranean. There is a large statue of Christopher Columbus at the end. Although, maybe this guy in the photo to the right would be just as good.   Las Ramblas was a lot of fun although VERY touristy. We watched a street performer for a while which was quite entertaining. He would copy the attitudes and walking styles of the passersby with mixed results from those being imitated but got a lot of laughs from his audience. 

Nearby is a great indoor market place that is really the most colorful scene you could imagine. All sorts of meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, candy, flowers and anything else you could possible eat. It really was amazing.