Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Paris continued

Montemarte Museum
We wandered up to Montmarte just for fun as we had been there before but it is an interesting area anyway. We found the Montmartre Museum which proved worthwhile. The building which houses the museum is a charming white house, the finest in the area from 1875 provided studio space for many artists including Maurice Utrillo, Raoul Dufy and Renoir. The museum recounts the history of Montmartre through artifacts, documents, photographs and drawings. It has some wonderful displays relating to Bohemian life that flourish round the area.

From the museum you can see the cabaret-restaurant Au Lapin Agile which in 1900 was popular with artists Picasso and Renoir and poets. It got its name from the humorous painting by André Gill which was a play on words. Afterwards we wandered down the hill and managed to get a bit lost among the tangle of streets but eventually hit a metro station and were once again on track. Then we went to explore the English language bookshop ‘Shakespeare &Company’ the best bookshop in Paris is historic and rather ramshackled but is packed with books both new and secondhand. You could lose a day in there just browsing.

A walk from our hotel the length of the Rue de Rivoli was very enjoyable.

We treated ourselves to a really nice meal at the restaurant Auberge de la Reine Blanche on the Ile St Louis. Another nice restaurant close to where we were staying on the Rue du Roi-de-Sicile is Feria Café on Rue du Bourg Tibourg.


A day trip to Reims is easy to achieve especially if you take the magnificent TGV trains, more expensive but quick.

Reims Cathedral
Reims is in the Champagne region and it is possible to visit some of the vineyards, but as we just planned a day excursion we confined ourselves to the town. The reason for the trip was to visit the magnificent Gothic cathedral there. The Cathédrale Notre Dame has been the home of the coronation of most French monarchs since Clovis was baptized there in 496. The building of the church was begun in 1211; it has magnificent Gothic decoration that includes thousands of well preserved figures on the portals. There are many wonderful stained glass windows which adorn the church and those in the axial chapel were designed by Chagall. It is definitely worth a visit.

Next door is the Palais de Tau named after its T-shaped layout. At the end of the 15th century the palace was refurbished and then in the late 17th century. It was mainly used as  the archbishop’s palace. Here are housed the treasury of the coronations and the cathedral tapestries as well as statues from the cathedral which have been damaged during shelling in the First World War.

There are also some interesting museums in the town but a lot of them close for around two hours at lunchtime.

We wandered around the town and indulged in a glass of champagne a must really.

It is important to book your seat on the TGV and especially for the return journey. It is best to do it when you arrive at Reims to make sure you get the time you want.

The last full day we had in Paris we wandered along the Rue de Rivoli we started from near our hotel in the Marais area and came across a little farmers market situated in a small square straight away. Cheese was obviously well represented and a selection of fruit and vegetables as well as meet and fish.

We came across the church of Saint Eustache which was erected from 1532 to 1640; the long construction period was due to religious wars and lack of funds. The site of the church has always been a meeting place for the nobility, middle class, tradesmen and the workmen of Paris. Many major events and personages in French history have involved the church.

Saint Eustache Church
During our visit a high mass was in progress the beautiful refrain from the choir backed by the organ filled the church which enhanced a spiritual atmosphere.

When the market ‘Les Halles’ which was near St. Eustache moved in 1969 the life of the neighbourhood changed, a cultural centre was built on the market site put the church in a prominent position.

Continuing down the Rue de Rivoli we passed the Louvre and many interesting shops as well as the ubiquitous souvenir shops which sell the same things mainly Eiffel Towers in every conceivable guise and the other curse of all souvenir shops the ‘fridge magnet’

We discovered two English language bookshops and of course indulged and bought books. We are totally seduced by any bookshop and it’s hard to come out empty handed.

La Madeleine
Lunch at a little sandwich shop, further wandering took us to La Madeleine it is a Catholic Church which is designed like a Greek temple in 1764, it is one of Paris’s most distinctive sights. It is surrounded by 52 Corinthian columns. The inside is richly decorated.

As a suitable conclusion to Parisian interlude on our last night we went back to the Feria Café where we had our first meal.

The next day we left Paris for our long haul home.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


Paris, the city of lights, romance and a million Eiffel Towers. 

I have been to Paris a number of times and lived there for 6 months in my youth so all the ‘big’ tourist attractions had well and truly been visited.

So this time it was good to visit the places not populated by hordes of tourists. Even since 2003 when we were there last the number of tourists has increased considerably.

We stayed at a small hotel in the Marais which was close to the Metro station St. Paul. This was quite centrally located and was in easy walking distance to most places.

Sainte Chapelle
I was surprised that I had never visited Sainte - Chapelle, which is not far fro Notre Dame. It was built in 1248 by Louis IX the future St. Louis to house the supposed Crown of Thorns and other holy relics. I t has 15 magnificent stained glass windows which are separated by 15metre columns which you follow up to a tar studded ceiling. The magnificent stained glass windows depict scenes from the Old and New Testament.

Close to Sainte-Chapelle is the Conciergie which was a prison in the 1400s. During the Revolution their 4000 prisoners held there, including Marie-Antoinette and Robespierre, before being guillotined. There are very good displays of prisoners’ cells and excellent presentation of its history as a prison and those held there. It still has the Gothic Hall of the Man-at-Arms, where the Royal Guards lived. The building still retains the 11th century torture chamber and 14th century clock tower.

We later visited a small museum of the artist Gustav Moreau a unique and compelling artist. An exhibition of many of his works was a feature at National Gallery of Victoria early this year. His work features Moreau’s obsessions with exotic subject matter, from classical mythology and the ancient world, to some of Christianity’s escapades and the poetic narratives of the Middle Ages. The museum is also his house and the top floor is devoted to his works and thee are a huge number. Much of his work has a Pre- Raphaelite feel to it.

Hotel de Ville
The next day we explored the Marais area taking in the Hotel de Ville, a rather ornate building which is the town hall, the official home of the Lord Mayor of Paris. It is only open by arrangement and for temporary exhibitions.

We then walked to the Place des Vosges which is a beautiful square, at the centre a garden surrounded by elegant buildings. It has been the scene for many historical events, which include a tournament to celebrate the marriage of Louis XIII to Anne of Austria in 1615; it was where literary hostess Mme. De Sévigné was born in 1626 and writer Victor Hugo lived for 16 years. He lived at No.6 where his house is now a museum which is very interesting.

Chateau Vincennes
Chateau Vincennes can be reached on the Metro the last stop on Line 1. It was establishes as a hunting lodge in the forest of Vincennes (long gone) by the Capetian monarchs in the 12 century. At the start of the Hundred Years War work on a keep was stated, then a protective wall with nine towers was built around the keep and manor was completed over decades. In 1380 work on the Holy Chapel was begun. Monarchs took refuge at the chateau during the 16th & 17th century during the troubles. Louis XIV only stayed there sporadically before he finally settled in Versailles in 1682.

The chateau has had some restoration over the years and there is comprehensive information in each area of the complex. It is all very interesting for anyone interested in history.