…and then it was a foggy morning in France, as we covered the last few kilometres to Paris.
From Madrid we took the Francisco de Goya service that runs overnight to Paris. Our last long journey for the trip and our second last day together. In the early afternoon out train pulled out of Charmantin and headed north across the rolling plains of the Meseta. As evening closed in we adjourned to the dining car, shades of the Orient Express to sit and watch and talk as the landscape of central Spain rolled by in the afternoon light. Paris in the morning…
Dali came to Montmartre to see the windmills and stayed to work on his Don Quixote engravings, he even ended up being crowned the emperor of Montmartre…typical Dali.
Paris is also a city of dark labyrinths
Down the circular stairwell you wind, past the marks and signs left by the surveyor’s of this realm, and deep into limestone strata that lies beneath Paris.
Truth be told, we’d meant to visit the Montmartre cemetery on our first day, but walked right over the top of it without realising. So this morning we decided we’d visit with some of the more permanent residents of Paris. As it turned out the day ended up as our parisian ‘day of the dead’.
After a day of Rodin’s artistry and the imperial grandeur of Les Invalide’s we made our way back to our place in Montmartre then freshened up a bit and headed up the north side of the hill for dinner at the La Maison Rose on Rue Cortot.
I can’t say that I was wowed by the food, reputedly it’s standard has dropped, but it’s still worth a visit and a simple meal for the history (painted by Utrillo while legend has it that Picasso had a room) or simply to enjoy a quiet picturesque location, away from the touristy bustle of the Place du Tertre.
Handy hint if you’re visiting, there are tables across the road and on a summer afternoon they may be a better bet to avoid one of you facing the westering sun. The place is on the Montmartre bus route and (I think) the mini train as well.
So as Les Invalides is just across the road from The Musee Rodin we thought we’d pay our respects to le petit corporal.
A visit to the Hotel Biron on a hot summer day.
Somehow the possibility of rounding the corner and coming face to face with the Phantom of the Opera seemed to demand a Hipstamatic shoot. Yes there is an underground lake (kept in check by a coffer dam with a resident white catfish), yes there has been at least one death (a worker killed by the theatre chandelier’s counterweight) and yes the cellars in the basement go on forever.
Our adventures in the great art attic that the french nation calls the Musee Louvre. If your looking for photo’s of all the ‘great’ works, sorry. I was just taking pictures of whatever took my (eclectic) interest.
So we we finished the day with a cruise along the Seine. A great way to give the feet a rest while seeing a bit more of Paris, and its bridges.
So after overdosing a little on Impressionists we adjourned to the cafe Les Deux Magots for a little bit of history, a glass of wine and some people watching.
Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Bouevoir, Hemingway and Picasso all hung out here at one time or another. And as the restaurant is smack in the Latin quarter, with all it’s busy energy, you can understand why.
Is there anything better than walking along the banks of Seine on a warm summer afternoon with your love? Answer, nothing.
Now add the tattered riches of the bouquinistes green boxes to investigate…
By the time we’d had lunch the early morning cloud had started to clear so we decided to go exploring the Ile de la Cite a little more.
We found the Palais de Justice easily enough, but the queue to get in was just a little too long so after admiring the gilt decorated gates we turned to the right and walked along under the shade of the trees that line the Boulevard de Palais.
Walk across the Pont au Double and you’re standing on the left bank facing the church of St Julien le Pauvre. Curious fact, the church is Melkite, their eastern catholics who follow the Byzantine rites in their service, and have a Patriach, but are still in communion with the pope.
If you cut around through the rue du Fouarre then in through a little gate there you find the eastern, and best preserved side, of the church with its three apses. Dante attended church here… or so the legend goes, and I choose to believe the legend.
While I’d been checking out the Cathedral my partner in crime had been minding our place in the queue for the Cathedral basilica tour, we swapped and she went off to have a look while I minded our place. I’d like to point out that’s not me in the shorts…
You duck into the cathedral by a side entrance then it’s up some stairs to the gift shop. Oh yes, you don’t come back via the gift shop so if you want souvenirs, that’s your one chance. Unless you have a wife and travelling companion who can sweet talk her way round just about any obstacle, I think she may have super powers…
And after another round of stairs (nope I didn’t count) you arrive on the roof of Notre Dame, with a birds eye view of the Ile de la Cite and the surrounding arrondissements. This really is the heart of France, road distances are still calculated from the 0 kilometre mark in the square facing the west end of Notre Dame.
Of course once you’re up there you realise that there’s someone else watching the city below with interest. What is he thinking? Maybe about some deeper point of medieval theology, or maybe about all the changes that he’s seen or maybe he’s just thinking about lunch…
Looking upstream, so the left bank is on the right and the right bank is on the left, clear? To clarify, the left bank or ‘la rive gauche’ is on the south side of the Seine while the right bank or ‘la rive droite’ is on the north side. Of course talking about north and south only applies if the river is following the east west line, which it doesn’t (all the time). Well see me after class if it’s still not clear.
And on the left bank tucked next to her younger sister is the church of St Julien le Pauvre, the oldest church in Paris and the medieval heart of the city.
But turning away from the lure of the left bank, inside the south tower of the cathedral you find Emmanuel, the great bell of Notre Dame. She’s a survivor, the only bell to make it through the revolution, the rest were melted down and turned into cannon. She’s also had some powerful protectors, Louis IV was her godfather and Napoleon had her re-installed in 1802.
Apparently Emmanuel is in good shape and still in tune, unlike the bells of the north tower who have fallen out of tune (I heard them, they are) and are scheduled to be melted down and reforged.
And yep, that’s me, stepping through the tiny entry to the belfry, it’s lead sheathing by the way. Hmm, lead, wood and copper, you can understand why medieval buildings burned so furiously when struck by lightning.
“That most terrible church of the most glorious Virgin Mary, mother of God, deservedly shines out, like the sun among stars.”
Jean de Jandun 1323
Well again the ides of jet lag were with us and we arose early to catch the metro into Isle de la Cite. Of course once you’re on the island you’re standing in the secular and religious heart of france. Funny that it’s a island…
Yes, Notre Dame, that most beautiful of medieval churches. Though not the most beautiful and terrible thing on the island for me. 🙂
Oh yes, and we also met Dominique Pinon on the Metro. I with my usual Anglo-Australian reserve (read shyness) was loath to say anything, but my girl who’s made of sterner stuff (they make them strong east of the Urals) introduced us. A very nice guy, and as it turns out he has a place in Montmartre as well, who’d have thought?
We decided rather than paying exorbitant prices for a postage stamp hotel room that we’d try airbnb, an apartment in Montmartre looked like a good bet and we’ve ended up renting a place in 71 Rue Lamark (just down from the metro) for a week. The flat is renovated and fully furnished with the kitchen window opening out into a quiet courtyard and a view of a wild garden and adjoining apartments.
Making our way home on the first day we took the twelve line to Abbesses and walked up to Pl. St Pierre. Then a quick ride to the top on the funicular and several hundred steps later we were looking out over Paris in the afternoon light.
The climb up to the basilica roof is through a series of winding staircases and narrow passages that culminates in a narrow open gallery that circumscribing the basilica roof. This all combining to give you simultaneously a mild feeling of claustrophobia, agoraphobia and acrophobia. Worth it though.
Well our visit to the garden was enjoyable if a little disjointed, we hopped off the metro at the Tuileries stop with the intention of visiting the L’Orangerie. Of course we got turned around and headed off to the eastern end of the gardens, until we realised which way we were going, i.e. the wrong way!
The closest stop on the Metro to the arch is Charles De Gaulle which takes you to the edge of the roundabout that er, goes round the Arch. Don’t worry about directions, the arch is kind of hard to miss, which was probably the point.