Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011--Montmartre

We took our last walking tour this morning to Montmartre, the famous area on the outskirts of the city and high in the hills.  This was the place where artists, writers, and painters congregated at the turn of the twentieth century.

We arrived at Place de Abbesses, which has a beautiful art nouveau metro stop on the site of a former abbey that was torn down after the Revolution.  Across the street is St. Jean l'Evangeliste de Montmartre, an extraordinary church designed of concrete, brick, and art nouveau flourishes.  Mass was in progress, so no entry.  

St. Jean l'Evangeliste de Montramrte

We then wandered up the curving streets and stopped at the one-time residence of Vincent and Theo Van Gogh, and then further up the hill we could look down on the home and studio of Henri de Touluse-Lautrec.  An interesting feature of this part of the city are actual houses as opposed to apartments.

Van Gogh's digs, now home to the wealthy

top floor is Toulouse-Lautrec's joint

Montmartre house

Our guide took us around in a gradual ascent up to the Butte (the top of the hill), and on the way we saw Moulin de la Galette, the last of the original thirty windmills that once dotted these hills and ground grapes and wheat (Judy, there's part of your answer about galettes).  We then came to Bateau-Lavoir, an old piano factory converted into artists' studios and salons, where Picasso, among others, took up residence.  Around the corner there are still some studios that are rented out.

 Moulin de la Galette

artists' studios

We then came to a small square which features the bronze limbs and head of a man exiting the brick wall.  The image comes from a story by Marcel Ayme in which a nondescript clerk discovers he can walk through walls and seeks notoriety and a lover.  When he finally succeeds in seducing someone, his powers fade (after taking a special medication) and he becomes trapped leaving his lover's home (residence located above this wall).  For the full monty on this story, visit

The Man Who Walked Through Walls
Next we stopped at Au Lapin Agile, a famous, tiny cabaret that is still in business.  The name is a pun and literally means the agile rabbit.  Across the street is a small, still operational vineyard, the last of the many that once characterized this once largely rural area.  Up we went to the top to see the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, that on a clear day commands vistas of all Paris.  It was hazy and incredibly cold, down in the 20s, but the views were not that clear.

Au Lapin Agile

water tower on ascent to basilica

We stopped for a good lunch at the base of the hill (recommended by our guide--thank you guide!), and then headed home, frozen but stuffed.  For those interested in the menu, see Mary's eventual blog; she specializes in the food review.

Saturday, January 29, 2011--Walking Around

We set off in the morning for a stroll without any real direction.  It was brisk and we saw yet another church, some modern buildings just outside Les Halles, and a stand of the Velibs, bicycles throughout the city available for rental.

After lunch, we set off to visit the Madeleine, a beautiful church in the more affluent area of the city and designed to look like a Roman temple.  Well, guess what--we got LOST, hopelessly lost as we faithfully followed the instructions on our two utterly useless maps.  Along the way we stumbled on Place Igor Stravinsky, with the colorful fountain sitting behind St. Merry church.  We passed the entrance to Les Halles and then stumbled along, winding through even more confusing streets, passing Galleries Lafayette, the huge shopping complex.

Place Igor Stravinsky

arch into Les Halles

grand store near Galleries Lafayette

city hall for arrondisement 2

Along the way we wandered through Gallery Vivienne again, finding it much easier to discover than on our first expedition a couple weeks ago.  When we got to the Opera, we found it covered up and under some retrofitting or reconstruction.  Nothing to photograph there.

Gallery Vivienne repris

Finally we came to the Madeleine, whose current design was commissioned by Napoleon as a memorial to his army and military exploits, hence the Roman temple appearance.  After Napoleon's fall, the Church dedicated the structure to Mary Magdelene in a Neoclassical style.  It was very dark, so some of my pictures simply did not turn out.

Madeleine altar

Madeleine organ with organ master playing
On our walk home we managed to find the Pompidou Center without any incident--compare to early outing three weeks ago at night and in the rain.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Friday, January 28--Jardin des Plantes

We got another late start and then decided to see some places we have never visited.  We headed over Pont de Sully and saw a wonderful view of the river, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower in the distance.  We walked through Isle St. Louis and then to the large, modern, glass and chrome Institut du Monde Arabe, the institute founded to promote relations between France and 20 Arab countries.

We were looking for the Jardin des Plantes, a park with botanical gardens and zoo.  Something odd and unprecedented happened--we got LOST!!  The gardens contain a number of museums, but we visited none.  We just strolled through the quite gardens, dodging the many joggers.

Jardins des Plantes

impressive prehistoric rock formation in front of museum

Upon exiting, we headed off for the Arenes de Lutece, the remains of a Roman arena (Lutecia was the Roman name for Paris).  It has undergone many transformations, but today it is used to promote physical education in the city.  Once again, we got lost.

remains of Arenes de Lutece

Upon exiting we headed over to the Rue Mouffetard, which is full of restaurants and food shops.  Guess who came up with that walk?  Little Miss Let's-Eat-and-Remember-Every-Meal-We've-Ever-Consumed.

As we continued to wander, we wound up at the Pantheon and the Sorbonne area.  The Pantheon square is beautiful, and we strolled over to a church (guess who encouraged that?) and discovered a gem, St. Etienne du Mont.  It holds a shrine to Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, and is another gothic church with elements of renaissance architecture as well.  This is one to visit; it's really stunning.


Eiffel Tower from Pantheon

St. Etienne du Mont altar

It was damn cold (not as cold as Mont St. Michel), so we headed down Rue St. Michel, then over the Seine, past Notre Dame, and home to lunch and later wine.

Notre Dame

Thursday, January 27, 2011--Mont St. Michel

We arose early and headed over to the bus station to buy our tickets for Mont St. Michel.  For the first time during this trip, we were asked if we were over 60 and received our first senior discount.  Mary was delighted; I'm still ambivalent.  The ride took about 11/2 hours through countryside and some small villages.  After passing through a final small town, we could see the abbey looming up through the fog in the distance.

The abbey sits at the top of what used to be a small island, and shops and houses are built in a spiral heading down to the base.  The place is imposing and impressive, something one cannot see anywhere else.  The streets are narrow and wind through a string of gaudy tourist shops.  There were quite a few people--many, many Japanese tourists--but once again we were lucky to see the place in winter rather than summer, when the crowds are horrible.

draw bridge entrance

winding, commercialized streets

It was incredibly cold as winds from the bay would whip through the town; the old saw about it being 30-something but feeling like 20-something was never more true.  To get up to the parapets, we had to hike and climb and climb, but the view was spectacular.

The view was magnificent, but the hike up to the abbey tested our endurance; there were stairs, more stairs, followed by another and another flight of stairs.  

stairs up to parapets

oh, and more stairs into the abbey

abbey altar



Once at the abbey, we wandered through room after room, and the light and the angles of the rooms and columns provided great shots.  Professor Artsy-Fartsy (or Bal du Merde) experimented to his heart's content.

Our big decision was whether to depart on the early bus (2:30) or later at 5:10.  It was so cold and the food so expensive, we decided to head back early, but before doing so we wandered the town and took more shots.

a new friend

Once back in Rennes, we discovered only one cafe open and pigged out on pizza.  Then at 7:00 back to Paree.