On 17th May 2013 Chris and I drove to Portsmouth to catch the Brittany Ferries “Cap Finisterre” to Santander. We were off on another of our retirement holidays.
This one was inspired by a geological excursion, organised by the Geologists’ Association (the GA) to the Bordelais looking at the areas geology and its affect on the main agricultural product of the region – wine. We could have done the excursion by flying to and from Bordeaux, but we decided to make it more of an adventure by using the ferry, staying near Santander for almost a week so we could explore a part of Spain we knew not at all, drive to Bordeaux for the excursion, drive back to Spain and Bilbao, visit the Guggenheim, then back on the ferry and home. we would be away from home for just sixteen days. And we would be able to carry a reasonable quantity of wine back with us!
To make the bits of the blog more manageable I am splitting it up into pages which you can get to from the links below and the Menu at the top and bottom of all the pages.
Now that I am (almost) fully recovered from my discitis Chris and I decided that it was time to start what we had dreamed about doing in our retirement – lots of trips to places we had always wanted to go to and had somehow missed.
We had been to Paris before – on our honeymoon almost 30 years ago! But, although we have passed through the place several times, we have not stayed there for any period longer than a night. Unlike our honeymoon, this time we decided to go by train – not possible in those dim and distant days. The journey and our hotel were arranged by Railbookers with whom we have had many dealings. As ever, their arrangements worked perfectly and included a free glass of champagne at St Pancras.
Chris enjoys her free glass of champagne at St Pancras.
Unfortunately it was so cold that we did not linger. The guy who served us our champagne said that it was warmer inside his fridge than it was on the terrace!
We checked in to Eurostar and soon were in our seats. We had booked Standard Premier which is not a great deal more expensive but which does offer much more space and a light meal. We found it to be very comfortable and worth the extra.
Chris on Eurostar – Standard Premier
We got to Gare du Nord on time and took the Metro to Ste. Placide and went off in search of our hotel. Unfortunately we set off in the wrong direction along the Rue Vaugirard and spent a frustrating ten minutes not finding our hotel. However all was not wasted as we passed a small shop which attracted Chris’s notice because of some colourful tops. Its position was noted and we returned to it the next day!
Eventually we found our hotel – the Hotel Le Littre – in the Rue Littre. It was a nice hotel and we got a large room but it was rather anonymous. Still it did all we wanted.
A walk round the area proved that Paris still had lots of eating places and we marked a few possibles in the Rue du Cherche Midi. And we found a theatre with a cafe which (temporarily) had no coffee but did have very good hot chocolate.
We ate at a very French place on the Rue du Cherche Midi called Marlotte which was like going back 30 years to the last time we were in Paris. The ambiance was old and French, the prices were modern and French. Similar to Bristol prices, cheap compared to London. The food was good – I had a lump of steak which was cooked very well.
The next day – Wednesday – saw us heading towards the Musee d’Orsay. The weather was overcast and cold but at least it was not raining. The Musee is a converted railway station and it is situated on the banks of the Seine, on the opposite bank from the Louvre and a little downstream. As a railway station it must have been impressive; as an art museum it is fantastic.
Inside the Musee d’Orsay
The space is huge in all three dimensions. The view above is only a small part of the place. There are extensive galleries off to the sides and several floors higher. The external station clock has become a feature of the restaurant.
Time to eat!
One suspects the station was built to impress – it was the station for the French foreign ministry. In the decades of steam train use it must have been a nightmare to keep clean.
A challenge for the station cleaners in the age of steam
Like St Pancras it has a rather impressive internal station clock, (see the first picture in this post) but this one is rather more French.
The station clock
But it was the contents of the museum which we had come to see. Its collection is mostly French Art from 1848 to 1915. And its got an awful lot of it! Its mostly famous for its collection of Impressionists. Some which caught my eye were Manet’s Olympia, and also Cezanne’s Modern Olympia.
Cezanne’s A Modern Olympia
Manet’s painting was greatly criticised when it was first shown – perhaps it struck too close to home for many in the Paris of the day. Cezanne’s looks as if it was dashed off in an hour but has much the same message. Manet’s critics were much more comfortable with the soft porn of Couture’s magnum opus “Romains de la décadence”
Romains de la Decadence – Couture
This is a huge canvas – note the woman at the bottom left. One can imagine well-off Parisian men looking at this, saying “It’s a good thing that we are nothing like these dreadful Romans!” Then hurrying off to their rendezvous with Olympia.
In the latter half of the 19th century Art seems to have been an excuse for the respectable to look at naked ladies. I found some of the excuses to be hilarious. Perhaps none more so than the following.
Les Oréades by Bouguereau
The guy (sorry, Satyr) at the bottom right especially so.
Les Oréades by Bouguereau (detail)
Maybe Bouguereau was being ironic and critical, but maybe not. As the museum’s web site says “the mythological subject here is a pretext to demonstrate his outstanding drawing skills, capable of capturing all the attitudes and expressions of the human body. The mythological subject also enables him to introduce an erotic element without lapsing into bawdiness (the lust in the eyes of the Satyrs is, in this respect, unambiguous).”
But, besides naked ladies, the museum contains some great pictures. The next one may not be on everyone’s list but both Chris and I thought it wonderful.
Les Dindons by Renoir
Others are conspicuous by their lack of conventional beauty.
Absinthe by Degas
This van Gogh contains a woman but she is almost lost among the flowers.
Mademoiselle Gachet dans son jardin à Auvers-sur-Oise en 1890 – van Gogh
And some do not contain a woman at all
Still Life – Cezanne
But we cannot leave the Musee d’Orsay without their most famous Naked Lady – another of Manet’s.
Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe – Manet
We walked back to our hotel via the clothes shop we had stumbled upon on Tuesday and Christine managed to make do with just two tops. They were colourful, summery, ones so they were not to be worn on this trip. To reward ourselves for our efforts we called in at a cafe and had a Viennese chocolate – hot chocolate with lots of cream on top!
After resting in our room we went out for supper and walked to “Le Paris” restaurant in the Hotel Lutetia. This was fine dining, Parisian style. The hotel is very 1930’s in style – lots of cut glass mirrors and stainless steel statues. There is lots of staff, including a young lassie whose job is to carry the tray of food to the table, where the waiter puts the covered plates on the table then whips off the stainless steel domes (to gasps of delight). The lassie takes the tray and domes back to the kitchen; in a few more years she may be allowed to do the exciting bits.
Chris was to have a starter and main course and I would have main course and sweet. But in a restaurant like this what you order is only part of what you get! Extras included bread rolls (of various sorts) with seaweed flavoured butter, and three different “amuse bouches”. There was a soup – this appeared before Christine’s ordered soup; something else before the main course – it was nice but I cannot remember what it was – ; and before the dessert another small dessert. I, being the trencherman I am, thought this was wonderful, Chris thought it quite spoiled her parsimonious eating strategy – by the time her main course arrived (pigs cheeks – tastes much better than it sounds!) her appetite had been satisfied, so she could not do the dish justice.
But, all in all, it was a wonderful meal. Everything was well cooked and very tasty. And priced accordingly! Our bill was higher than it should have been as a bottle of wine for a neighbouring table found its way onto our bill. I was in a beneficent state when the bill arrived and was willing to sign anything. It was only the next morning that we looked at it more closely and discovered the error. A visit to the hotel resulted in call from the restaurant manager and my credit card being reimbursed.
Thursday was Louvre day. Again we walked to the museum and got in using our Paris Museums Pass. It was raining by the time we got to the Louvre so we were glad to get under cover.
Chris makes her way to the Pyramid entrance of the Louvre
The entrance is through the pyramid. This was our first visit to the Louvre so I do not know how things were arranged before, but I suspect it was much more chaotic than they are now. If you were designing a museum as large as the Louvre, you would not come up with the Louvre. You can’t go round it; you have to sally forth along a wing and then come back to where you started; then set off along another endless wing, only to return again. There are many floors but tall salons run from ground to top floor so upper floors tend to be discontinuous.
Nowadays the starting point for the artistic expeditions is the huge space under the Pyramid. From here one can enter the three major wings of the gigantic museum.
Part of the space below the Louvre Pyramid – the Hall Napoleon
The three wings are Richelieu, Denon and Sully. we started off with the Denon Wing as we wanted to see the nineteenth century French paintings. We were not the only people who wanted to see them. Even on a wet Thursday in February the Louvre was packed. Many were tourists from east Asia whose main ambition was to have their photo took in front of a famous painting. So it took some time before I could get this one.
The Oath of the Horatii by David
There was certainly a buzz about the place. Besides the people who were “doing” the Louvre there were lots who were really looking at the paintings.
Big paintings and big crowds
Other paintings took my eye. The “Raft of the Medusa” was so big (5m x 7m) that I could not get it in one exposure – I do need a wider prime lens!
Part of Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa”
One cannot see all the art which the Louvre possesses in one visit, but to get a flavour of the place here are some of the pictures which took my fancy.
An El Greco which looks very modern, except for the subject
A Botticelli fresco
The Botticelli was the last thing we noticed in the Denon Wing. We returned to the space below the Pyramid and crossed to the Richelieu Wing where we had a light lunch, and, refreshed, returned to the Art!
Part of a triptych altar piece by someone whose name I did not note. I presume you can get into heaven with dirty feet. These are being closely inspected by those left behind.
A still life which has most everything fishy. Not sure about the seal!
One of Bethsheba’s serving maids – a detail from David and Bethsheba by Jan Massys
Thought to be Gabrielle d’Estrees and her sister the Duchess de Villars, with allusions to the forthcoming birth of Gabrielle’s bastard, Cesar de Vendome, conceived with the active participation of King Henri IV
Then back to the Pyramid and on to the Sully wing.
Detail of “The Monks of Mont Saint-Gothard”. This lady, inappropriately dressed for crossing an alpine pass, is being rescued by the monks from the nearby monastery after being attacked by brigands. Fortunately for the souls of everyone concerned, her husband is being rescued by another monk.
We then came upon a room with lots of paintings by Ingres. Or was it the same painting done lots of times by Ingres?
Three versions of the same lady by Ingres
After this cornucopia of pulchritude we decided we had had enough and headed (with some navigational difficulties) back to the Pyramid and the way out. We found our way led us through the Egyptian galleries but we did not pause except for the lady below.
An Egyptian carving unlike any I have seen
And that was the end of our visit to the Louvre.
We had enjoyed the quality of the food at the Lutetia the previous night so we decided to go back, not to the posh restaurant, but to the somewhat less grand Brasserie. A very good choice! It was Valentines day so there was “free” champagne and lots of people – we were fortunate to get a table.
Friday was our last day and we decided to look at different things. Chris wanted to go to the Rodin Museum; I wanted to go to the Museum of Mineralogy next to the Luxembourg Gardens. It was a pleasant, if rather cool walk to the Luxembourg. On the way I passed the Luxembourg Palace.
The Luxembourg Palace. This is where the upper house of the French Parliament meets.
But I was disappointed when I got to the Mineralogical Museum – the collections were only open in the afternoon. So what was I to do? It was a lovely day so I decided to walk to the Orangerie which is at the other end of the Tuileries Gardens from the Louvre. This proved to be a very fortunate decision. I had found out that it was where Monet’s Water Lilies were on display and these came close behind the minerals in my list of things to see in Paris.
At the end of World War I Monet gave several of his water lily paintings to the nation. For most of the period since then they have been displayed in the Orangerie in two specially constructed galleries. These have been updated several times and show the paintings very well. Unfortunately one is not allowed to photograph them but you can get some idea of their size and beauty HERE. Thankfully the Orangerie is off the mass tourism trail so one can enjoy them in relative peace but one is most definitely not on ones own!
But downstairs photography is allowed and I can share some of the wonders to be seen there. The Orangerie contains the art collection of Paul Guillaume who must have known most of the artists of his time. Presumably he collected most of the pictures as they were painted and, hopefully, got them cheap – I suspect no one person could afford them now. How they came to be in the possession of the French State is somewhat mysterious. Did his wife murder him, a subsequent husband and arrange the murder of her stepson; escape justice by donating the paintings? A starting point for these speculations will be found HERE.
But back to the paintings, which are also quite interesting. The first to catch my eye is this one:-
Jeunes Filles au Piano – Renoir
A quick glance suggests that if I had enough crayons and rather more talent I could dash that off pretty quickly. A second glance tells me that I couldn’t. Apparent simplicity and masterful execution! I don’t think I can do either!
Dans le Parc de Chateau Noir – Cezanne
With Cezanne we move firmly into modern art. Renoir is rather more difficult to place.
La Carriole du Pere Junier – Rousseau
Rousseau isn’t even trying to make things look real, unlike Renoir.
Paysage du Midi – Derain
There are a lot of Derains in the museum – he seems to have been a favourite of Paul Guillaume. Some of his works seem to have a marquetry look to them.
Portrait de Madame Paul Guillaume au grand chapeau – Derain
Murderer and Art philanthropist?
And my last pick is from the progenitor of the Liquify Filter in Photoshop!
Portraite d’Homme – Soutine
And to prove that we were really in Paris, here is the obligatory picture.
The Eiffel Tower
After my visit to the Orangerie I met up with Chris, lunched, got our cases from the hotel and headed to the Gare du Nord. Our train left on time but soon came to a prolonged halt. Apparently a train in front of us had had a fire and it had to be rescued. So we were an hour late into St Pancras and so missed our 7PM train with our booked seats. So we caught the 7:30 which was absolutely packed. Because we could not move we sat in reserved seats and hoped no one would turn up. Someone did so we moved to some others and the occupants of these did not show until Reading. Being extremely kind people they took one look at us and told us to stay where we were! Thankfully they managed to get seats at Didcot as the train emptied. And so we got home from an enjoyable trip to Paris.