I’m writing this from our apartment in Sorrento, Italy. So many things to share! We’ll get to it all eventually. But we left off telling the story at the point just before we arrived in Paris, so here are some highlights of our visit there.
We arrived via shuttle bus from Beauvais airport, tired but excited to be in Paris.
(Click on any image to see it larger, then click your back button to return to the blog.)
The city has a unique character, with mansard roofs, balconies, and lots of outdoor cafes, as seen in this random shot from the taxi on the way from the bus station to the apartment.
We stayed on this street, Rue Oberkampf, in the 11th arrondissement. It’s not a particularly remarkable street, but it’s fairly close in, with metro stops nearby.
We picked up a Parisian baguette and settled in for our first night in Paris.
Early the next morning, a rude awakening. Literally! Workmen were pounding away on our bedroom windowsill at eight a.m. They were close enough to reach out and touch. When we had arrived the night before and saw the scaffolding, our host had said that they were repairing the roof, which was several stories above us. He said it wouldn’t be noisy. Click the photo below for a brief video, recorded as proof of the disturbance.
Click this picture for a short video of the workers outside our windows.
This was too much. We knew we couldn’t tolerate this loud disruption for our entire week in Paris. We contacted our host as well as AirBnB. It took all day to get any kind of response, and by then the workers had left. We decided to give it one more day. If they returned we were going to ask for a refund and a new apartment. AirBnB was willing to arrange it, and our host was very apologetic. Happily, the workers didn’t return, and we stayed the entire week.
So we set out to explore Paris. We visited Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine where Paris was born.
Notre-Dame Cathedral on Île de la Cité.
Notre-Dame is certainly worth a visit, but, for us, not as inspiring as the cathedral at Chartres.
Outside Notre-Dame, a huge statue of Charles the Great towers over the square. I couldn’t resist posing near my namesake. 🙂
Under the square in front of Notre-Dame is a remarkable site: The Crypte Archéologique du Parvis Notre-Dame (archaeological crypt). The crypt shows the recently excavated foundations of the Gallo-Roman and other eras predating modern Paris.
On the Pont de l’Archeveche (Archbishops Bridge) connecting the Île de la Cité with the rest of Paris, generations of lovers have sealed their love with a lock, the key to which is then thrown into the river. Nearby vendors, of course, will sell you a lock for just this purpose.
The Seine, with its grand bridges and surrounding buildings, is a feast for the eyes.
We strolled the Champs-Elysees, and saw the Arc de Triomphe. As fans of the Tour de France bicycle race, this was a special treat. The final stage of Le Tour is held on these cobblestones.
The Eiffel Tower is hard to photograph in an interesting way. Here’s one attempt.
We visited the Place Pigalle neighborhood, home of the famous Moulin Rouge burlesque club, among more seedy sex establishments. The only temptation to which we succumbed was a visit to Starbucks across the street (believe it or not, more coffee for less money than the cafes). You can see the red windmill of the Moulin Rouge in the background of this photo, over Sarah’s left shoulder.
We noted with some irony that Pigalle is nearly straight downhill from Sacré-Cœur, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The magnificent white church is perched on Paris’s highest hill.
Paris is filled with sculptures, monuments, and fountains, each compelling in its own way.
But for all its splendor, Paris has its sullied side. Anything that can be tagged with graffiti is tagged. And not just anything that doesn’t move. Plain white trucks are a favorite target.
Then there are the museums. Works of art themselves, they house many of the famous paintings and sculptures we have seen pictures of our whole lives…
…like the Three Graces (sculptor unknown, 2nd c. BCE) in the Louvre. They are exceptionally lovely in person.
Some of the Louvre’s decorations almost outshine the art within the rooms.
What great sculptors can do with hard, cold marble is miraculous, as shown by the intricate lacework in this piece by Antonio Corradini.
There’s nothing like seeing great art in person. A photo can show you the shape of a sculpture, and the grace of it’s form…
… but it’s a real challenge to portray such exquisite, creamy smoothness as the bodies of Cupid and Psyche, in this work by Antonin Canova. We were taken with this piece perhaps more than any other.
The Musée d’Orsay is elegant in its own way. It’s a former train station, well transformed to show off the art inside.
From inside the d’Orsay, you can view Paris through the glass face of a giant clock visible from the street. People on the outside see the time, unaware of the people peering from the inside.
The d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie exhibit many of the most iconic Impressionist treasures we’ve seen in books.
Monet painted giant water lily panels to be installed in this dedicated room at l’Orangerie.
I love seeing the actual signatures of the artists close-up. The signatures take me to the moment when the artist declared the work finished. And they show their humanity, somehow.
We also found the visit to the Rodin museum a delight…
both inside and out.
PÈRE LACHAISE CEMETERY
One other thing we’d like to share from our stay in Paris: The Père Lachaise Cemetery. Our apartment was located very near it, so it is what we visited on our first full day in the city.
Père Lachaise Cemetery is a beautiful place, with many lovely monuments set amid rolling hills and shading trees.
Like all cemeteries, an aura of sadness envelopes it. But this one is special because of the stories it tells, the historical figures who populate it, and the traditions that have developed at their graves. Here are some of them.
This is the final resting place of the tragic, doomed 11th century lovers, Abelard and Heloise. As the story goes, when Heloise’s uncle found out about their secret marriage, he had Abelard castrated and sent Heloise to a nunnery. Their love letters after this became famous. In 1817 their bones were finally united here. Lovers now leave their own letters at the grave.
Abelard and Heloise’s dog is portrayed at their feet, as if waiting for them to awake.
Fans of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas leave stones and Paris Metro passes, among other things.
Jim Morrison’s modest gravesite is one of the most visited.
A tradition at Morrison’s grave is to leave chewing gum on a bamboo barrier nearby.
Sarah resting between graves, as I took pictures of Jim Morrison’s.
As popular as Morrison’s grave is the massive and whimsical tomb of Oscar Wilde, now protected from defacement by a clear plastic barrier wall.
The tradition at Wilde’s memorial is to plant a lipstick kiss on the massive stone.
Despite the barrier and a posted placard from the family pleading with people to stop, the kisses are still planted.
This man is also something of a Père Lachaise tradition. I read in a travel guide that he will approach you and offer to show you to the graves of the famous, but then he expects to be paid for his services. He offered to show us around, but we were on our way out by then. Here he is next to the grave of Edith Piaf.
Père Lachaise is also the home to many moving memorials for Parisian victims of war, such as this Holocaust memorial.
And this one.
We were surprised by our reaction to Paris. It is magnificent to look at, full of great treasures, but too big and impersonal to be the romantic place of its reputation. We came away glad to have been there, but without a desire to return. No matter, everyone should see it at least once.