Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Mad Rush

Dennis' time in Paris was shorter than Beth's - he had to leave Wednesday morning, she wasn't leaving until Friday morning.   Despite having what seemed like plenty of time to see everything they wanted to see in Paris, time was, of course, short, so the last bits of sight seeing were squeezed in.  

Dennis and Beth saw the Eiffel Tower several times, but they didn't go up it until Tuesday evening.  It was still light out when we got there:

but we did not have reservations so we got to wait in a fairly long line before ascending to the top.  By then, the sky was beautiful:

Only moments to spare to capture the setting sun over Paris!  Phew!  We made it!
And only a few more minutes until the lovely twilight hour!
Wednesday morning Ron went off to work and we helped Dennis get ready and into a taxi, and then it was just us girls. 

First stop - the Avenue des Champs-Élysées of course!

Finally!  A chance to check out those Parisian fashions!
We strolled the Champs-Élysées and wandered into quite a few shops, including this one.   Each shop has some kind of plaque or sign on the building, and this one really caught my eye:

Naf Naf - aka The Three Little Piggies!
Beth found some good buys and got something a tad cooler to wear:

I love Paris in the Spring time...
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées ends at the  Arc de Triomphe, where it then becomes Avenue de la Grande Armée.  The Arc de Triomphe is a monument honoring those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars.  The Arc is decorated with the names of great battles, locations of French victories and the names of military leaders and there are sculptures and reliefs depicting important moments of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era.

Under the Arc
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

A few of the French victories
Beth and the Le Départ de 1792 sculpture on the southeast facade
 On Beth's last day, we went on a walk through the Left Bank.  We saw lots of stuff!  We walked from our apartment to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. 

X marks the spot - the Montparnasse Tower with two vapor trails
We stopped at a boulangerie and bought a baguette lunch that we took to the Luxembourg Gardens.  We watched people playing chess while we ate lunch:

Chess in the park
Then we walked towards the palace and the parterre:

Jardin du Luxembourg - Not all the flower beds were planted yet, but still beautiful on a sunny day
Beth and the Luxembourg Palace - now the French Senate
Newly planted flowers - we saw the gardeners with flats of flowers working on the beds
The two of us at the Medici Fountain
 We left the park and went to Saint Sulpice.  Only a few photos this time:

I loved the way the light streamed through the high windows and illuminated the unlit bulbs of this chandelier
Here too, are the names of parishioners who gave their lives in WWI
Candles lit in honor of the dead
We left St. Sulpice and wandered through the streets of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and decided to join the tourists and locals alike for a coffee at Les Deux Magots:

If you squint and tilt your head just so you can see Beth on the left side
I'm pretty sure we sat in the exact same spot as Hemingway and Picasso
I would also like to mention that in order to get these photos I suffered a tremendous indignity.  I was bird bombed.  Actually, I think I was ostrich bombed.  I was leaned over my camera and I felt a horrific smack on the back of my neck.  I reached back and there was a HUGE slimy bomb that weighed 50 pounds, took two people, 300 napkins and a glass of water to semi- quasi- sorta clean up.  And for the rest of the day I had a hardened, greenish patch of semi- quasi- sorta cleaned-up ostrich bomb on the back of my head.  It was  a heavy burden, and it was bothersome.  I kept reaching back to touch the annoying thing on my head and neck, only to be reminded that even if cows don't fly, ostriches do.  In Paris.  I'm sure of it.   

After coffee, we went across the street to visit Paris' oldest church:

Saint-Germain-des-Prés - the bell tower dates to the 7th century while the nave and transept date from the 11th century
The interior, although restored, is painted in the medieval manner
Rounded arches of the Romanesque style
dedication plaques

A quiet moment

After visiting the church, we headed towards the Seine where we saw the Institut de France:

Institut de France
The Institute of France, Parliament of the Learned, is comprised of:
  • The French Academy, est. 1635
  • The Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, est. 1663
  • The Academy of Sciences, est. 1666
  • The Academy of Fine Arts, est.1816
  • The Academy of Ethics and Political Science, est. 1795, abolished 1803, re-est. 1832
Their goal is to improve the arts and sciences within the principles of pluridisciplinarity. 

Directly across from the Institut de France is the Pont des Arts; a pedestrian bridge that links the Institut de France and the palais du Louvre.  It is a popular place for lovers to attach a padlock to the railing:

Padlocks on the Pont des Arts - we should do that before we leave France!
By now it had been 6 days of high-intensity touring, standing, walking and stair-climbing and in particular, this day I was lugging around an extra 20 pounds in ostrich poop.  We weren't just tired, we were exhausted!  Still - there were things to see, so we walked along the Seine on a round-about walk to a metro station.  It was getting late and the light was low, bu the river, as always, was beautiful:

Kinda cool that you can see 3 bridges spanning the river
We walked along the Seine until we reached the Musée d'Orsay, then we went streetside to catch the metro and go home.  I've said it before - there are always interesting sights in Paris.  We saw this right by the Musée d'Orsay.  Yes, there are homeless people in Paris.  You can find them sleeping on the streets and in the metro stations.  I can't really say this belongs to a homeless person though.  A roll-away bed?  A nice clean duvet, a bicycle with a flat tire and a bottle of beer.  Perhaps it is the new Europe on $5/day?  There's definitely a story in there somewhere!

We had a wonderful visit with Dennis and Beth and were sorry to see them go.  We hope they had as much fun in Paris as we did!  One think I know for sure, they needed a vacation from their vacation!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fête de la Musique

The summer solstice is a looonng day in Paris.  And although the official sunrise and sunset are  5:46 am and 9:58 pm, respectively, the first light in the sky appears at 5:04 am and the last traces of twilight are slipping away at 10:40 pm.  That's a lot of sunlight!

Awed by the great power of the sun, people from around the world and from different cultures and times have celebrated the Summer Solstice.  Also known as Midsummer,  St. John's Day and Litha, it is longest day of the year and it is also the first day of the sun's decline into winter.  The Celts and the Slavs celebrated the Summer Solstice with dancing and bonfires in the hopes of increasing the sun's energy.  In China, they honor Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light.  The Druids celebrated the day as the Wedding of Heaven and Earth.

The Summer Solstice is still celebrated around the world and in Paris, it is celebrated with music.  The Fête de la Musique began in Paris in 1982 when an American musician, Joel Cohen, who was employed by a French radio station, proposed an all-night music celebration at the moment of the summer solstice.  His idea evolved into a festival to promote music by encouraging professionals and amateurs alike to perform in the streets and in order to be sanctioned by the official Fête de la Musique organization in Paris, all concerts must be free to the public and the performers donate their time for free.

We were very excited to learn about this event, and on the official website, you can access the music programs by arrondissement. We were thrilled to discover that many concerts were right here in our neighborhood.  Ron invited some coworkers to join us and we made plans to have dinner and then wander the streets in search of musicians.  

We knew that a band would be playing in Place de la Convention, right in front of our apartment, so I was kind of paying attention to the goings on during the day.  At about 3:00 pm. the music started.  It sounded like it was piped in from somewhere as there were no bands playing yet, and the music was varied; electronica to Ravel's Bolero.  There was definitely some excitement in the air as well!

I knew Ron would be getting home close to 7:30 pm, so I went out on the balcony to see the goings on and hopefully catch a glimpse of him coming out of the metro.  As I stepped onto the balcony, I startled a pigeon, which is kind of unusual.  So I glanced around and lo and behold, a pigeon nest with eggs!

Mama built a nest in our little olive tree!
The crowds were already starting to settle in to the square:

The band is setting up behind the trees on the left - but no Ron yet!

I went back inside for my longer lens and when I returned, there was Ron!

He sees me, he smiles, he watches where he's going and he waves.  Unlike she - she never takes her eyes off me - and I didn't notice her until I downloaded the images!
Our friends arrived, we went to dinner then we started wandering.  The very first thing I discovered was that the music I thought was being piped in was actually very large and very good quality speakers on someone's balcony:

What the hell???
At Place de la Convention - lots of people came to hear the music and the kidlets were dancing!
This DJ was mixing tunes for the folks outside Moka Cafe on Rue de la Convention
A little further down the street - on the corner of Rue Olivier de Serres

Same band as above - the crowd was really enjoying the band's Pink Floyd cover
A little further up Rue de la Convention - on the corner of Rue de Dantzig
These guys played a lot of covers of popular rock songs

They took advantage of street construction and placed themselves inside the barriers!

Dancing in the streets!
A folk soloist on the corner of Rue de la Convention and Rue Dombasle
Another small group at Parc George Brassens
 For kicks, I took this photo at 10:38 pm just to show how much light was still in the sky!
The longest day of the year - still not dark at 10:38 pm!
Our last musical stop was at another location in Parc Georges Brassens.  There were several artists scheduled and they played traditional French music but by the time we got there, only one man was playing:

These kidlets were singing along, swaying and clapping!

It was a school night and Ron and his coworkers needed to head home and get ready for another work day.  We parted ways and as we headed back up Rue de Vaugirard, I took one last photo of the crowds:

By 11:00 pm it was dark, but the music would continue until 1:00 am!  Thank goodness it was a cool night and we had earplugs!

I had great fun just walking the streets and happening upon performances.  Surprisingly, everything we saw was good - if any of these folks were amateurs, they were GOOD amateurs.  I am so glad the rain stopped early in the day and the Fête de la Musique was a success!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bohemian Rhapsody

There was a time when a small village on a hilltop in Paris was the center of the universe.  Outside the city limits, it was covered with vineyards and quarries.  It was a working-class neighborhood where the rent was cheap and the wine was tax-free.  For years it was the Bohemian artistic quarter where writers and artists gathered.  With it's narrow and steep cobblestone streets, stairways and Place du Tetre, Montmartre is one of the most poetic spots in Paris.  Montmartre has retained much of its character and small village charm because it is a designated historic area and little development is allowed. And even though it is a little Disneyesque and contrived, it's a fun place to visit and get a sense for yesteryear.  

Montmartre's most recognizable landmark, Sacré-Coeur Basilica sits atop Butte Montmartre:

Sacré-Coeur Basilica, the highest point in Paris
 You can get to Sacré-Coeur by climbing a lot of steps or taking the funicular from the Place Suzanne-Valadon to the Place Willette just below Sacré-Coeur.

The funicular and stairway to the right
There are a LOT of steps to the top!
The Steps of Sacré-Coeur are reminiscent of the Spanish Steps in Rome - lots of people hang out here; having a picnic, soaking up the rays, busking, and of course, catching your breath!  The views from here are beautiful, and natch, this is my favorite!

It was a warm spring day when we were here, and the sun was still fairly low in the sky and the light was harsh and contrasty.  Not the best for landscape photography, but way cool for shadows!

Shadow of ornate, wrought iron fence
Moi, Dennis and Beth - guess who's who?
No photos are allowed inside the basilica, so I'll share some interesting facts about it instead:
  • Architect Paul Abadie designed the basilica, winning a competition over 77 other architects. 
  • The architecture of the basilica is a loose interpretation of the Roman-Byzantine style.
  • Sacré-Cœur is built from travertine stone that constantly oozes calcite, keeping the basilica white.
  • The mosaic in the apse is one of the largest in the world.
  • You can climb the dome for an even more spectacular panoramic view of Paris.

View of the dome and interesting architecture
The Church of St. Pierre-de-Montmartre is one of Paris' oldest and dates back to 1147.  It is just round back of Sacré-Cœur and they do allow photos.

View to the altar
View from the altar
The name Montmartre comes from the Roman "Mount of Mars," and four, ancient gray columns in the church are believed to be from a temple of Mercury or Mars in Roman times.

One of two ancient gray columns at the entrance
Another ancient column bathed in stained-glass light
More stained-glass light on the worn tile floor
Statue of St. Peter on the right - see his foot sticking out just a bit?
The faithful believe that if you rub St. Peter's foot you'll have good luck,  but apparently only his right foot as it is kept bright and shiny from all the rubbing:

Bonne chance!
Outside this little church are the reminders that this was the center of Bohemian life in the late 19th century:

Reminders of a bygone era
Despite modern dress and souvenir shops, this quaint cobblestone street retains old world charm
The ATM and surveillance cams are the only things spoiling the view!
Place du Tetre is lined with cafes...
...and filled with artists

ooops!  No Photos!
We stopped here for lunch
Chez Eugene
After lunch, we continued walking through Montmarte:

On Rue Norvins, looking back at the dome of Sacré-Cœur
Field trip to Montmartre - Lapin Agile Cabaret
The Lapin Agile Cabaret was the village hot spot.  Picasso, Renoir, Utrillo, Paul Verlaine, Modigliani and other artists and writers gathered here for performances of poetry, limericks, sing-alongs and parodies.
The agile rabbit - escaping the stew pot!

La Maison Rose - a restaurant made famous by an Utrillo painting, it was frequented by Utrillo, Picasso and Gertrude Stein.
Of course, we had to stroll through the park Place Suzanne Buisson.  In the park is another statue of St. Denis.

St. Denis carrying his head
In the 3rd century, Denis was a Bishop of Paris.  He was sentenced to death by the Romans for spreading Christianity.  He was executed, and martyred by being beheaded with a sword.  Legend says that after his head was chopped off, Denis picked up his head and walked 10 kilometers to the summit of Mont Mars (Montmartre), preaching a sermon the entire way.  For this reason, some say that Montmartre is from Mount of Martyrs instead of Mount of Mars.

The parks in Paris are inviting open spaces for the folks living in cramped apartments:

We chatted with a woman in the park and she recommended we visit a nearby street,Villa Léandre, as it is the only one in Paris that has single-family row houses.  It is a lovely, quiet street:

Villa Léandre - also known as Little London and Parisian Notting Hill
We ended our tour at the Moulin de la Galette:

There are two windmills remaining in Montmartre, here at Moulin de la Galette.  The mills were used for pressing grapes and grain and crushing rocks.  As the gypsum mines and vineyards gave way to apartments, this particular windmill became the centerpiece for a popular outdoor dance hall.  Renoir's painting Bal du Moulin de la Galette (now in the Orsay) shows the outdoor dance hall on a sunny afternoon in the shaded gardens with people dancing.  This painting is considered the quintessential Impressionist work and the painting that best captures the joy of the Bohemian Montmarte lifestyle.

And because, as I said before, there are always interesting sights in Paris, I leave you with this fine view of Montmartre:

Catching the rays, high above the city!