Paris 2016

Paris Trip Report Under Construction!

Day 1: Eurostar from London and Orientation

My design student daughter and I took a 4 day trip to Paris, via the Eurostar from London. It was a return trip for me, and my daughter's first trip to Paris, although on my last trip to Paris I was 6 months pregnant with her. Our focus was art museums, architecture and design.  We imagined ourselves spending mornings in the museums and afternoons walking the parks, sketching and writing in the sunshine. What we got instead was record rains and flooding. But we didn't let that stop us from sampling some of the best of Paris! 

We had a slightly embarrassing start to our trip...we arrived at Gare Du Nord with no trouble and were feeling so very cosmopolitan, hair bouncing dramatically, in our darling scarves, wheeling our bags off the train, headed to Metro, with our tiny Metro ticket already in hand (we had ordered a length of stay Metro pass along with our Paris Museum Pass before we left home) looking for all the world like we knew what we were doing! We got to the Metro station underground and there was suddenly a huge crush of people! A beautiful sunny Saturday in Paris had just gone sideways, with a sudden, severe thunderstorm rolling in and all the Parisians who had been enjoying picnics in one of Paris's many parks, were suddenly scurrying for the Metro, like ants headed back into the ant hill! And there we were with our roller bags trying to squeeze through the turnstyle.  My bag got stuck in the turnstyle, and would not budge. With waves of people building up behind us, I could not get the bag to budge (which is ironic since my husband and I shared a 7th grade French class and the only French he remembers to this day is a phrase from a story about a stubborn elephant; "Il refuse de bouger".  Well, like the little elephant, my bag wasn't going to move.  My daughter swiped her pass, which turned the turnstyle and freed my bag, but then she couldn't pass through. Swiping her ticket again didn't help, because even though it was an unlimited use ticket,  there is a limit to how many swipes you can make in a short time to prevent using it for more than one person.  We stood on opposite sides of the turnstyle arguing about how to solve this problem while most of the population of Paris brushed past us in annoyance at the obstacle we were creating! Finally, in the crowd we found an orange vested attendant who had pity on us (or just wanted to clear the clog!) and opened the wheelchair gate for her so we could be reunited and move on. It was not the most elegant start to our stay in Paris!

Our Eurostar train was tired and poorly maintained. We had no AC in our car, which was pointed out repeatedly by people passing through to the dining car.  The attendant provided free water, but it was still a pretty unpleasant trip with no seat power or wifi on board. The in pocket magazine described upgraded trains coming soon.

Our Eurostar train was tired and poorly maintained. We had no AC in our car, which was pointed out repeatedly by people passing through to the dining car.  The attendant provided free water, but it was still a pretty unpleasant trip with no seat power or wifi on board. The in pocket magazine described upgraded trains coming soon.

Hotel Brighton

We planned our trip more or less last minute, about 4 months in advance, most people wouldn't call it last minute, but it was for me, so some top choices for hotels were already fully booked.  I checked Trip Advisor for well reviewed, conveniently located hotels and found the Hotel Brighton to be the perfect mix of well located and special enough for a mother daughter trip! I knew we would be staying with relatives for half our trip, so I felt we could splurge a bit on our Paris hotel.  We followed our rule of choosing one of the "worst" rooms in one of the best located hotels.  Hotel Brighton is located on Rue De Rivoli, halfway between Place De La Concorde and Palais Royal; however our room (009) was located on the first floor, with a view of the street, and an awning blocking the view of the Tuileries and Seine. Higher level rooms at this hotel probably have beautiful views. They also cost more than we preferred to pay.  The hotel proved to be a great choice, the location was perfect, easy to walk everywhere and directly across from the Tuileries Metro stop.   Service was top notch, with every request cheerfully fulfilled, our room was serviced perfectly twice every day, and the concierge made excellent suggestions for dinner, even calling to make a reservation for us. Despite being near street level, we found the room very quiet. 

Rue De Rivoli

The classic architecture along Rue due Rivoli from Tuileries

Some of the sights and shops along Rue de Rivoli.



The concierge at Hotel Brighton suggested L'Ardoise for dinner. It was a an excellent recommendation, we found the restaurant so good, my daughter wanted to return for her last night in Paris and we enjoyed sitting in the small dining room early with Pierre Jay, the chef, joking that we couldn't order the pigeon after enjoying watching pigeons in the park!  He teased us that he was just out there chasing them around Tuileries to catch them for our dinner, We all had a good laugh, and ordered the hake, which was delicious and we assume he hadn't fished out of the Seine!

(Click arrows to scroll)

Walk to Left Bank

After dinner we strolled along the Seine, enjoying the beautiful evening, which was the last beautiful evening we had in Paris before all the rains!

Orientation Ferris Wheel

Despite my disappointment that the Ferris Wheel seems to interrupt the "line" of Paris on the Right Bank,  that runs from Palais Royal to the Arc de Triomphe, we did ride to get an overview of the city. 

Place de la Concorde and the Obelisk from the Ferris Wheel

Palais Royal (Louvre) from the Ferris Wheel; at this time of night with the distance and low light, it almost looks like an impressionist painting! 

Day 2: Musee D'Orsay,  Musee des Arts Decoratifs and Ile De Cite and Notre Dame

On our first full day in Paris, we woke early and planned get to the Musee d'Orsay first thing in the morning.  We had the Paris Museum Pass, which allowed us 4 days of unlimited entry to many museums and monuments in Paris. We had ordered this before we left the US and had only to add our names and have the first museum we visited stamp the start date.  This eliminates the need to stand in the ticket line and we only lined up at the museum entrance for security screening and to have the pass checked. Some museums and monuments offer an expedited line for entry for pass holders, others did not offer expedited entrance but saved the cost and the need to stand in a ticket buying line. 

Musee d' Orsay

If the Louvre is a collection of art before the 19th century, M d'Orsay is the art from the 19th century, and the Centre Georges Pompidou is 20th and 21st century art. The M d'Orsay features the impressionists France is so well known for.  Its a popular museum and gets an early start and pre paying for your tickets is well worth the effort.  

Musee D'Orsay from across the Seine.

My favorite piece- self portrait of Van Gogh 

Interior of the M D'Or                                             Paul Gauguin                                                Cafe                                  Monet's Rouen Cathedral 

Degas Little Dancer

polar bear by Francoise Pompon

Arc De Triomphe du Carrousel

A Triumphal Arch at Palais Royal

After spending the morning at M d'Orsay and having an early lunch in the cafe there, we took a short walk across the Seine and made our way to the Les Arts Decoratifs also located at the Palais Royal (where the Louvre is also located) This museum of design was still pretty quiet when we arrived at 12 noon, since others were starting their visits of the "blockbuster" museums, so this was a good choice for a later start.  However, when we left at 2 PM, the line was wrapped around the corner with people who had left the "blockbusters" and quite a few local families who were there for the "Barbie" exhibit with their young daughters!

              Art Deco interior                                                                a Lalique door                                                                    Rateau tea table

One of my daughter's favorite exhibits- a collection of modern chairs from all her favorite designers!

This museum confounded us!  It's set up vertically, with 9 levels, most not accessible to the ones adjacent to it without walking all the way through the galleries. We might have done more walking in this small museum than we did at the Louvre!  We might have benefited from a guide who would have known how to navigate the labyrinth of galleries here! 

Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame

After a short rest back at our hotel, we made our way to Ile de la Cite to climb Notre Dame, enjoy the Medieval architecture and attend Vespers Service on Sunday evening. 

Seeing the flying buttresses used int he architecture was highlight for the young designer! 

After spending the late afternoon at Notre Dame, we wandered past the Flower Market.

One of the incredible buildings on Il de Cite is the Palais de Justice (on the right in the photo below, with Sainte-Chappelle behind) We were too late to enter Sainte Chapplle , but we did dine at a cafe within sight of both beautiful buildings at Cafe Les Deux Palais.

Day 3:  Louvre and Pompidou

With history making rains just starting (two days later the Louvre suffered floods and was closed), we had selected the right day to schedule two Context Tours in museums for the day. We met our docent at 9:30 AM at the cafe to the right in the above photo, just a few steps from the Palais Royal which houses the sprawling Louvre Museum. Using a docent was an excellent choice, the museum is huge and there are giant crowds both to enter and at the "blockbuster" pieces of art . Having the Paris Museum Pass and a docent allowed us to use the direct access line, no need to stand in line to buy the tickets, though you can pay for your admission through Context and they will provide you with the tickets when you arrive. We were able to navigate easily to the headliner artwork as well as get excellent commentary on many other lesser known works and have it all connected to the history and culture of France through our Context docent.  I have visited the Louvre a few times and frankly came away disappointed and overwhelmed by the crowds.  This trip with our Context docent, we had the most incredible visit, with the art truly put in "context" at comfortable pace and route that saved us tons of time and allowed us to relax and enjoy the art work, despite the inevitable crowds. Think of hiring a docent as hiring a driver to manage the driving on unfamiliar roads; you'll get there faster and have a more pleasant experience enjoying the "ride"!

This was the line forming when we arrived early and were able to go to the immediate access line, simply passing through security and having the attendants scan our pass.

Our Context Guide orients our group       The interior of the underground Pyramid visitor entry area                                  Free electronic lockers

Just a few hours later, the line was wrapped around the courtyard of the Pyramid. We were glad we went early!

The French do an excellent job or organizing their musees chronologically. If you'd like to let art and sculpture guide you through history, the Louvre is where you'd start! We started at the beginning, underground at the "medieval Louvre", where the original walls have been excavated and are on display. 

This scene at the Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa is one of the reasons I never had a good experience at the Louvre in the past.  That all changed with this visit with Context. Viewing Mona Lisa still wasn't pleasant to experience, but the rest of the museum was opened up to us in a way it never had before!

If you are like about 75% of the visitors I saw, you can get the free guide map in one of dozens of languages and just follow the yellow dots on a hit parade.  I'm just spit balling a number here, but a large number of visitors are at the Louvre to get a selfie with the art work featured in the guide map, tick it off their list and move onto the next world famous iconic site in Paris. If this is is a scroll of the greatest hits we saw with our Context docent, about 6 of the 16 of the "star attractions" in a 3 hour tour. What I loved about our tour with Context was that we saw so much more, and learned so much about the art work from our art teacher docent. Some of those and what interested me about them are posted in my post below the hit parade!

All of my source material comes from things our guide told us or from the Louvre's own website of it's collections HERE

Aphrodite, a 2nd century before Common Era Roman marble. I loved her fancy hair, the cherub looking up at her, and the fact that he's standing on a dolphin!  Our docent told us about all the symbolism involved in using a cherub on a dolphin. While Athena was always shown clothed, Aphrodite was a water goddess and usually depicted unclothed as if emerging from the water. 

One of the starred attractions...Venus De Milo, 3rd-1st century before Common Era is an example of Greek marble sculpture, another version of Aphrodite, despite having a Roman name.

Another block buster, the Winged Victory is 1st century before Common Era Greek sculpture.  What fascinated me about this was seeing it in person, I simply couldn't believe the ability of the (unknown) sculptor to create the illusion of wet, sheer material on her bodice!  It's one of the reasons to see art in person, I simply couldn't appreciate the artistry to create that effect in a photograph!

Another block buster, the Winged Victory is 1st century before Common Era Greek sculpture.  What fascinated me about this was seeing it in person, I simply couldn't believe the ability of the (unknown) sculptor to create the illusion of wet, sheer material on her bodice!  It's one of the reasons to see art in person, I simply couldn't appreciate the artistry to create that effect in a photograph!

Moving from the ancient sculpture, we made our way to the Apollo Wing which was finished for Louis the XIV, the Sun King and spent some time looking at the French and Italian paintings from 13th -19th centuries. 

We learned that early Italian religious art often lacked perspective and the development of perspective was just starting with this work by Giotto depicting St Francis. 

Most of the artwork in this section is religious of my favorites is this Leonardo Da Vinci painting called Virgin and Child with St Anne.  It just feels very accessible to me, an ordinary, adoring family! Of course there are whole websites devoted to the unintended humor of the expressions painters of this era depicted in their confusion about how to paint the expression of a God-child with due respect! In this one Da Vinci seems to catch an anachronistic "candid" family moment

Then of course, we swam our way to the front of the selfie snapping crowd to see the Mona Lisa, Da VInci's most famous work. 

After the revolution, the Louvre became a place for artists to live and work, and the museum still allows artists to get a permit to work in the galleries. 

In this area we also saw late European paintings depicting the French Revolution, here, July 28 Liberty Leading The People, by Delacroix, perhaps one of the most famous French Painters

A detail from a painting by Jauques-Louis David another painting illustrating French history, this time when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor and Josephine Empress!  

On the way up to the first floor, we passed by Michelangelo's twin sculptures Captive (The Dying Slave) and (The Rebellious Slave) which were commissioned as Pope Julius II's funerary statuary, but the project was never finished or used for that purpose. 

The end of tour we had just enough time to tour the Apartments of Napoleon III, which was a treat for us, because of my daughters interest in the decorative arts!

After a full morning of art, we needed to indulge in the art of French cooking!  Especially a taste of the macaron...a colorful pastry you can buy on the street or in the museum gift shops, but we thought it would be best to get it in one of the best bakeries in Rue de Rivoli. Since it was lunch time, we decided to wait for a table at Angelina's Tea House and there is ALWAYS a wait! During our 40 minute wait we ended up chatting with a mom from Chicago and her precocious 11 yo daughter.  When a table for 4 came up before the dozens of people waiting for tables for two, we impulsively decided to dine together to get a table more quickly and we had a wonderful time with our new friends!  Angelina's has been a tea house since 1903 and it's Belle Epoque architecture is as fascinating as the food was tasty!

A variety of mini macarons

The entrance menu at Angelina's                The pastry counter                                     in the dining room                macarons for take away, no waiting! 

After a late lunch at Angelina's and a short rest, we made our way to Les Halles area of Paris to explore and meet our Context Docent for a tour of the Pompidou Center.  If the the Musee de Cluny is the art of medieval history, Louvre picks up from there with ancient civilization through the Renaissance and revolution,  the Musee D' Orsay is the golden age of France's influence and French painting in the 19th century, then the Pompidou Center is the most modern, with works of the 20th (and 21st!) century. If you do them all in that order, you could study art through the ages, but it would take you years!!  We only had a few days, so we picked our way through history, enjoying the art and architecture that most interested my daughter, the design major!

In Les Halles,  the last Renaissance fountain in the city- Les Fontaine des Innocents 

A street view in Les Halles

At Place de Igor Stavinsky, a contemporary fountain by Niki de St Phalle and Jean Tinguely sits in the shadow of the Gothic style St Merri 15th century church.

The entrance to the Pompidou Center

Here is where we find Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism and Surrealism.  Even Dadaism (which is about where I started to get lost!) While my daughter followed it all, I'll admit I found it surreal all right!  Maybe I had just hit the art "wall", but while I enjoyed the art work, even with an excellent docent, I was only able to make the barest of connections about how one influenced the other.  I understood the politics, but the art (construction- deconstruction) was more challenging!  It reminded me of a Warhol calendar I gave my daughter shortly after she started art school that attributed a quote to him..."Art is Hard"!

Le Luxe I Henri Matisse                                                                   Pablo Picasso's Rose Period                          Decorative Figure Henri Matisse

Yves Klein SE 72 L'Abre Eponge Bleue

Auf Spitzen  Wassily Kadinsky,                                Piet Mondrian                                  Salvador Dali                         work of a modern artist in neon

The best way to clear my head?  Pizza and beer! At the nearby Paris Beauborg Cafe, we enjoyed a quiet dinner on a rainy night! 

Day 3: Eiffel Tower, Trocadero, Arc De Triumph, Champs Elysees, and Petit Palais 

We kept putting off our walk around Invalides/Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees Quarters for a better day. Each day got progressively worse, as Pooh would say "floodier and floodier"! Every day more buckets appeared in the Metro Stations and by our third day, we started out on our walk with umbrellas blowing out backwards and grumbling about the weather. Then we passed a man sleeping in a bus shelter with nothing but a soggy sleeping bag.  We decided not to let a let rain get us down! We were in Paris! And so what follows is our very soggy tour of the western part of the city. 

A little (a lot!) of rain didn't discourage us from a walk through might not have been how we imagined it, but it ended up being an unimaginably great trip!

A view of Trocadero form the second stage of the Eiffel Tower

We did not pre buy a timed ticket for elevator at the Eiffel Tower, and given the rain and poor views, we were happy to just pay to climb to the second stage and get a view from under the clouds!  We could see them setting up for the UEFA Euro tournament, and the Trocadero fountains.

Because the park was closed to set up the UEFA tournament infrastructure, the best views of the Tower were from Trocadero while we were there. 

Because the park was closed to set up the UEFA tournament infrastructure, the best views of the Tower were from Trocadero while we were there. 

We decided to dine at Le Wilson (named for US President Woodrow Wilson) at  Place Du Trocadero)

Arc De Triomphe

Fortified, we continued our walk to the Arc De Triomphe

Our soggy walk continued along the Champs Elysses. Not being shoppers, we just took in the scene rather than shopping, especially since most of the shops are found in shopping malls all over the world. 

Our destination at the end of our walk was the Petit Palais.  This is the museum of the city of Paris.  It's a great visit for several reasons; 

1- Its a beautiful building built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition

2-It contains a manageable amount of art work with Greek, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Art Noveau and and Art Deco periods represented as well as some of the other words, for a non art person, this would be a great choice to easily "sample" the breadth of art work featured in other museums and

3-It's free! 

While the special exhibits require admission, the Musee Des Beaux Arts de la ville de Paris at Petit Palais, is a free, uncrowded  way to survey the art scene in Paris, and the building itself is pretty amazing to see! 

Monet's Sunset on the Siene

Monet's Sunset on the Siene

19th Century "revolution" art                     Mary Cassat                          Rodin                                           Renoir                                an 18th century                 by Shnetz                                                  Le Bain                      Armour et Pshyche                               Coco                                 decorative clock

After a long, wet walk...a good way to refresh is with...chocolat!  We had been eyeing EdwArt on Rue De Rivoli for a few days so we stopped in to find chocolatier Edwin in his shop.  After a short chat about who we were, where we were from and tasting what he thought we would like, he curated a box of artisinal chocolates for us.  It seemed like the perfect gift to take back to share with relatives we planned to stay with the next day in England! 

Edwin presents us with the chocolat he curated for us.