Paris: Our Last Day

We wanted an early start on our last day.  Jane had spotted, during our first two days in Paris, a hotel that was renowned for its early and good quality breakfast.  This was Frenchie Pigalle in Hotel Grand Pigalle where the chef (Greg Marchand) was a Jamie Oliver mentee/colleague who had now struck up successfully on his own.  Certainly the coffee was good, my omelette was nice and Jane enjoyed her granola.  Satisfyingly replete, we set off to fulfil our pre-booked visit to Sainte-Chapelle.

The Seine From Pont St Michel

In a bit of spare time we walked around the front of Notre Dame Cathedral.  A huge crane towers over the site but it is clear that the restoration following the great fire in April 2019 is well under way.  Its current closure is presumably adding to the popularity of nearby Sainte Chappelle and the queue we joined outside the Palais de Justice was rather chaotic and substantial – even with our pre-booking. 

Notre Dame Cathedral

We had a good moan to ourselves about the French system of queuing and the bottlenecks around security checking but actually we were in chapel with 30 minutes and had to reprimand ourselves for our impatience.  The visit was, in any case, well worth the wait.

Palais De Justice (With Sainte Chapelle In The Background)

The building dates from the 14th century.  Its highpoint are 15 terrific stained glass windows telling stories from the Old and New Testaments which date from that time.  These windows are set in huge panels over 15 metres high under the extraordinarily high, barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Upper Chapel.  Although the stained glass (over 1,000 pieces) is only of five colours, the overall effect is spectacular and there is huge detail in each piece.  Apparently these details, such as facial features, have been picked out by painted-on mixes of powdered glass, oxides and vinegar.

The Upper Chapel, Sainte Chapelle

The bright colours of the windows have been replenished through careful cleaning in recent years and luck and happenstance seems to have allowed the chapel to avoid predations of the French Revolution and war.  It remains an awesome, gigantic space.

Stained Glass Windows, Sainte Chapelle (The Pictures Can’t Capture Their Marvel)

Beneath the upper chapel was a lower one that, with its low ceiling, resembled a crypt.  It too has beautifully coloured stained glass, walls and columns.  It was another lovely room.

The Lower Chapel, Sainte Chapelle

Once back outside, we left the Ile De La Cite and strolled through the shopping streets of St Germain.  I dived into the church of Saint-Sulpice while Jane bought socks.  This is the second largest church in Paris (after the Notre Dame) and its simple internal structure ensured that its sheer size was the first thing I noticed.  There are some famous murals including one by Eugène Delacroix but I found more interest in a small display showing the way the church had been realigned and then expanded from its inception in 1646 through to the late 1770s.


Jane and I split up for the afternoon.  While she returned to the Marais district’s shops, I spent the afternoon in the Musée d’Orsay.  This is a large, old railway station converted into multiple galleries for art but with the original carapace of the building still very much on show.  It is yet another impressive Parisian building.

Musee D’Orsay

The art on show isn’t bad either!  The collection of Impressionist art is perhaps the museum’s crown jewels.  Its home on the top floor, alongside an equally strong collection of post-impressionist art, was the busiest part of the museum and by the time I arrived at the Van Gogh section I was flagging in the crowds a bit.  This was despite the wonderful familiarity of his self-portraits and a version of the gorgeous ‘The Starry Night’

Certainly there are so many famous paintings at the Musee D’Orsay.  Occasionally, as a layman and non-artist, I felt a little frisson of self-satisfaction as I entered a room and either spotted a painting I knew or guessed correctly its artist creator.

Famous Pictures By Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet and Degas at Musee D’Orsay

Of course there was much that was new to me too.  In particular I was struck by what I think I understood to be a number of ‘realist’ painters.  I understood that realism predated impressionism; while realism focused on portraying accurate, detailed, almost unadorned depiction of everyday scenes, impressionism developed to capture how light interacts with the subject matter.

On several occasions my slow wandering around the museum was arrested by a picture that caught my eye and it often turned out to be by a realist painter.  In the future, I will look out for painters I’d not heard of before this visit like James Tissot and Ernest Messonier. 

Pictures That Caught My Eye By James Tissot

….And By Ernest Meissonier

I will also look out for exhibitions of work by Vilhelm Hammershoi, a Danish post-impressionist (I think – I’m no expert in all the genres) with strong artistic links back to 17th century Dutch masters.  I saw two of his works, liked both and thought that Jane would like the grey tones in them.

Interieur, Standgrade 30 By Vilhelm Hammershoi (1904)

I wandered back through the Tuileries to our hotel to meet up with Jane.  I was both pretty exhausted and over-exposed to art by this time but I was very ready for another go at Buvette for dinner (rather than breakfast which we had tried earlier in out trip). 

Tuileries Gardens

My coq au vin was excellent but the vegetable dishes were a little strange.  Jane’s beetroot and horseradish dish and my chopped brussel sprout, raisin and nuts mix were both cold (deliberately) and so large that it was as well we were prepared to share rather than overdose on each.  It felt good having had another dose of French food though – when in Paris…..

I’m looking forward to the next time!

Paris: A Joy Once Again

Jane and I visited Paris back in 2018 and, last week, we had another lovely visit to what is surely one of the most impressive capital cities in the world.  I loved being back in a big, busy urban centre (I’m still missing London) and Paris has some tourist attractions that are second to none.  The food is excellent again (after what seemed to me to be a dip in recent decades compared to London) and the café culture is thriving.

Paris Stretched Out Before Us – A Great Urban Experience And City

On the back of BBC weather forecasts in the days leading up to our short break in Paris, we had prepared for three days of rain.  In practice, we barely felt any rain.  The afternoon of our first day was sunny and we had decent weather throughout our stay; not bad for February and excellent expectation management by the meteorologists!

We stayed in the gently trendy and comfortable Le Pigalle hotel.  Having checked in, we used the unexpectedly good weather on our first afternoon to stroll around the nearby streets.  As usual when we travel to European cities, we were impressed by the array of independent shops including florists, cheesemongers, bakeries and vegetable and fruit sellers – we barely saw a supermarket chain.  We paused our walk to top up with a street-side burger-and-wine lunch and then wandered around Monmartre just to the north. 

Wonderful Fruit And Veg, Cheese, Bread And Mimosa Along So Many Streets

The Basilica du Sacré Cœur dominates the hill that the shops and residences of Monmartre surround.  From the hill there are great views of almost all of Paris.  The steps between the funicular and the Basilica were teeming with tourists and hawkers of souvenirs, cigarettes and little locks that adorn – no, litter! – the mesh fences around the slopes. 

Basilica Du Sacre Coeur And Great February Weather

I was amazed by the numbers of people; it was mid-week and February after all.  But as we walked 50 yards away from the tourist hot spot, the numbers fell away quickly.  Once we were clear of the souvenir shops, there was peace enough to enjoy the atmosphere, views, architecture and the sight of a great French tradition: games of petanque in the little gravelled spaces between the blocks of flats.

Views Just Behind Basilica Du Sacre Coeur (The Only Crowds Here Are Those Playing Petanque)
Eglise Saint-Pierre De Montmartre (Just Behind Basilica Du Sacre Coeur And Almost Deserted)

It had been an early start and so we welcomed a pre-booked early dinner at Julien Bouillon, a pleasantly traditional French Brasserie with a solid traditional menu of French food and wine.  The stroll back through Pigalle showed how well French city café life has survived Covid and whatever economic travails France may be suffering.  For a mid-week night, the streets and bars were very busy.

Next day we tried out breakfast in the Paris branch of Buvette.  The breakfast itself was fine but the French seem to eat breakfast relatively late and the café was both empty and cold. 

We didn’t linger and jumped on the metro to pay a visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery.  This is the largest cemetery in Paris and, apparently, the most visited cemetery in the World.  Fortunately the sheer size of the place means that its tranquillity is preserved once one is away from the main gate and into the lattice of paths that divide the cemetery into its 97 ‘divisions’. 

Views Approaching And Inside Pere Lachaise Cemetery

We saw some of the famous graves (Jim Morrison, Moliere etc.) but the real pleasures for me are in the scale, extravagance and creative designs of some of the lesser known graves and family mausoleums.  Some of the family mausoleums are as big as houses!

Close Up Views Of Some Of Pere Lachaise Cemetery Mausoleums

Our joint favourite tomb was that for Antoine-Augustin Parmentier who was an 18th century agronomist who, after living on potatoes as a prisoner during the ‘Seven Years War’, became evangelical about potatoes as a staple food.  His avid promotion of potatoes was very successful and someone has celebrated this by placing a potato on his grave with the words “Merci pour les frites!” (look carefully below middle right).

As we had in 2018 (when it had been 40 degrees of heat in the cemetery) we walked south along the Canal Saint-Martin.  This wide but often tree-lined canal provides a beautiful avenue to walk along with a multitude of bars left and right.  We stopped in one (Brasserie au Comptoir) for a quick beer but enjoyed the place and the hoppy IPA beer so much that we rested up for longer than planned and shared a very nice chicken caesar salad.  This model for lunch was something we tried to follow the following day but beer that we like (rather than lager) is still quite hard to find in the French café scene.

Canal Saint-Martin

We walked into the Marais district, past all the pretty shop fronts, and intended to see the Picasso exhibition at the Musée Picasso.  We had been thwarted in this during two previous Paris visits due to building works and, although we could get into the museum this time, the Picasso exhibition was not open due to a major rehanging of the work.  At least we have an excuse to revisit Paris in the future when the Picasso section of the museum is open.

We sucked up our fleeting disappointment and went into two other temporary exhibitions in the museum.  The first was a retrospective of the work of Faith Ringgold. 

I had not heard of Ringgold and the first couple of rooms, while interesting, did not seem to offer me enough new on black art in late 20th century America.  However, as the exhibition showed how her work evolved into a mix of paint and textiles, and of imagery and text, so I became very engaged.  I liked the colours and the subject matter often, pleasingly, a little oblique to the normal activist themes.

Selection of Works (Paint And Textiles) By Faith Ringgold

The exhibition in the basement of Picasso-inspired works by Pierre Moignard was much less interesting.  What would have helped would have been some imagery of the Picasso piece that triggered each of the Moignard works.  As it was, it was hard to understand or like them much.

Some Of Pierre Moignard’s Work On Show At Musee Picasso

Dinner at Papi that night was a joy.  We had spotted this beautiful-looking and busy restaurant during our walks the previous evening and we had booked the two remaining early evening slots.  We found that the food quality more than matched that of the minimalist décor.  The food and the service to deliver it were lovely and I recommend this restaurant highly.

The dinner capped a full day of Parisian pleasure.  We had one more day in Paris ahead of us.  The morning was partly planned out with a booking to visit Sainte-Chapelle in the morning followed by us splitting up for a while to pursue different interests after lunch; more on that in my next post.

Eiffel Tower From Basilica Du Sacre Coeur