Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jardins du Luxembourg

It was a beautiful, sunny Sunday in Paris. I went out for a walk looking for flowers and beautiful vistas. The Jardins of Luxembourg lies about 15 minutes by foot south of the Isle de Cite. It's the second largest park in Paris and was established by Marie de Medicis, the widow of Henry IV, in 1611 and has grown in size on a few occasions since.

The way to the park through Paris streets is not quite straight forward, but I made it by about ten a.m. There were baskers and joggers in abundance - it was a beautiful morning.  The flowers were in full bloom, colorful and healthy from a period of rain and coolish weather. The photos are hard pressed to do justice to the scene. But I, at least, tried.

The famous centerpiece is the Medici Fountain, a sculpture with a long pool in front of it - I guess in the Italian style.

Another view of the flowers with the Luxembourg Palace in the background.  It's all a huge classical French garden, flowers all abloom.

And there are sculptures.  This is the model of the Statue of Liberty which was installed here in 1870, a symbol of French-American friendship.  The final version stands as welcome to immigrants in New York City.

The southern end of the park is the Fountain of the Observatory, which was installed in 1867. It's one of the nicest fountains in Paris, where there are a lot of fountains.

Then I walked to a famous cemetery - Montparnasse - some distance south of there on the irregular streets of Paris.  They were laid out on ancient paths and named and renamed as they were changed, paved and rerouted.  Baudelaire and Jean-Paul Sartre, among others, are buried in Montparnasse and I thought I'd be able to find their graves.  It was too hard.  Too many graves.  So I started back to my home on the isle.  I managed to get myself lost for about ten minutes before I realized that the street I was looking for on the map, had a different name for the first few blocks I had to walk next to it.  I made it safely home  in time for lunch.

This afternoon we went to L'hotel national des Invalides, the national museum of military history.  It has a gold dome and innumerable old and ancient weapons and coats of armor.  Also a complete - I'm assured - history of WWI and WWII.

I came away realizing that the history of Europe is closely aligned with the history of war.

There were also cannons. Old ones, but state of the art when they were new. They were displayed in the courtyard.

It was a long, busy day and my dogs were barking by the time I reached the Isle de Cite.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

French Kings wore crowns and not berets

Contrary to popular belief, very few people wear berets in Paris these days.  It's just too much like World War II  headgear.

It was a nice morning, sunny and warm, and I walked over to the Notre Dame Cathedral, just a block away to look at the garden behind the old church.  There are blooming roses and many other varieties of flowers growing there.  It's also an opportunity to photograph the famous flying buttresses that support the walls and make it possible to have large stained glass windows in the church.

The Jardins des Plantes was my destination again. It is a large and well used Paris park and botanical garden featuring plants from all over the world as well as some old and large French trees. I think I recognized this plant as a Minnesota plant - I think horse tails - but the name on the tag was in either French or Latin and I can't confirm that it is the same.

This is the large field of plants, at least a couple of city blocks in length containing mostly colorful flowers, but also edible vegetables.  There were lots of French families visiting the gardens - including small children.  There were also runners, some of whom used the paths through the flowers as they pursued their exercise strategies.

This is one of the areas that is structured like classical French garden and includes some old and quite striking sculpture among the plants.  There was also a carousel in this area that was not in use but had seen much wear over the years.

I also visited the Pantheon and a pair of old churches on my way back home for lunch. After lunch it was time to visit the ancient castle of French kings from the time when it was built in about 1150 until Versailles was built about 1682 for Louis XIV. For 500 years the king used this castle for a hunting lodge and as his favorite place to hang out outside the bustle of Paris.    It features a lot of security features including a deep and wide moat.  It looks to my eye what a castle should look like, one where Cinderella might dwell.

This is a good depiction of the entrance and shows the moat pretty well.  The moat is now dry and a good crop of grass is growing at the bottom.

It was a good and also active day and I'm worn out from the all day walking, but I saw some new and beautiful sites and think I have a better understanding of how medieval castles were built and protected.

Friday, July 29, 2011


We took a train ride to Chartres, a town of about 40,000 about an hour from Paris by train. It's the home of one of the oldest and well preserved cathedrals in Europe - another Notre Dame Cathedral. It's at the top of the highest hill in town and has been here since the 12th century,

The doors to the church have statues of some of the important saints of the Catholic Church, and they have been recently cleaned of several centuries of grime. In fact they are in the midst of a restoration project for the whole cathedral which will be done in about five years.

After a tour of the church led by a long time student of the cathedral, we set out to see what a town - an old town - in France looks like.  It's a river town and a town of flowered parks and old stone walls.  Very pretty.  Here the cathedral is mostly obscured by village buildings on the steep side hill.

The river is slow flowing and dammed in places to retain the water.  There are large trees and flower gardens and picturesque old bridges.

There is even a bridge - Bridge of the Massacre - which commemorates a historical, I'd guess you could say, massacre.

It was a day which the weather guys said would be 75 and sunny, but was about 62 and cloudy until very late in the day. But it was a nice day to be alive in France.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


"Jardins" means gardens and there are plenty of them in Paris. I walked down the Seine towards the Jardin des Plantes this afternoon on a day that changed frequently from rain to bright sun. Along the Seine is a park "Musees de Sculpture in Plein Air" that features open air gardens and sculpture. The tourist boats were going by as I walked and as I enjoyed the varied modern sculpture. This was a favorite with the Seine behind it.

At the entrance to the Jardin des Plantes, there is an old sculpture, I think of its founder. Beyond are all sorts of plants from all over the world, including food crops like squash and rhubarb. There is also a small zoo on the site which I did not visit (I like the Como Zoo in St Paul). There were also a lot of blooming flowers brightening the afternoon.

It's a large often visited space in the middle of a large city.  The sun shone when I entered but by the time I reached the far side, the rain was falling again.  Who doesn't love Paris in the rain?

There is a small park across the Seine from Notre Dame Cathedral, Garden of St Julian the Poor is a pretty good translation. This photo of the flowers with the women behind them among the pigeons holds a surprise.  Some perhaps homeless guy is sleeping on the grass behind the ladies.  It was a nice day and who doesn't like a nap on the grass on a day like this?

We ate at a Japanese restaurant across the street from the park.  It was good food and about the right amount.  A good evening in Paris.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Four hundred and twenty-two steps

After a tasty breakfast mostly consisting of brioche swiss pastry, shown below, we went to Notre Dame to get in line for a tour of Quasimodo's stomping grounds, the high towers and belfry of the cathedral.


After about two thirds of the 422 steps were ascended, we encountered gargoyles, pretty much face to face. I took a lot of photos in my delirium at reaching this height without a stop for oxygen. Here's Gino taking one of his closeups of one of the beasts; a photo which can be found on his blog.

Here's one of my favorites which indicates at least a little bit the height to which we had ascended. The guidebook said, "no lifts and no bathrooms" and both were correct.

The view from the top was pretty nice, even on an overcast day. The city of Paris lies out all around the tower. Three hundred and sixty degrees of city.  You can see the Seine in the foreground and the Eiffel tower near the horizon.

Here are two more of the concrete monsters looking down on the city.

The circular stairway on the way down felt endless. They were narrower at the top and showed signs of wear of their 850 years all the way to the bottom. As Gino said, I'm glad I made this climb while I was young.

Then after a lunch of  chicken pita sandwich and a chocolate eclair, we set off to the Georges Pompidou Museum of modern art.  This is one of the twentieth century sculptures that I liked, "Deux negresses" by Henri Matisse.

On the fifth floor they have some sculptures gracing the balconies that overlook the city. We had a sit down here for a while while we recharged and went back to see more. There were very many recognizable artist names here and some of their more famous works on display - Picasso and Dali and famous artists like that.

This is me posed in front of a work of art featuring a bending female form painted on a mirror - a form popularized in a slightly different form in American folk art as "yard butts."

Another interesting, but somewhat taxing day. We went to the local food market and found the necessary ingredients for a dinner at home - grilled cheese and ham (a fancy French cheese and jambon), plus coleslaw and fancy olives.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trekking around the City of Lights

The French weather is improving somewhat.  The sun is shining some of the time and it's not raining.  This morning we walked over the bridge on the Seine and looked back on another partial view of the Cathedral Notre Dame.  The crowds were beginning to form as they do every day, and they stay all day long.

We spent much of the morning at City Hall (Hotel de Ville) looking at an exhibition of Impressionist art that is on loan from the Museum d'Orsay.  The big names were represented - Monet, Degas, van Gogh, Toulose-Lautrec - plus lesser famed names.  The major theme seemed to be scenes from Paris, some of which I have become familiar with.  The artists mainly deserve their fame.

Below is the courtyard at the City Hall.  They are bringing in palm trees for an exhibition.  Where's Waldo?  Find Mr. Moohoo in the photo below.  There was also a panhandler who you won't recognize.  There is always a lot of activity in this square in the morning.

The afternoon was another self-inflicted forced march, beginning at the Arc de Triomphe (shown below from a spot in the middle of a busy street), continued past the spot where Princess Dianna was killed in a traffic accident some years ago, over the Seine with a view of the Eiffel Tower, and back to home passing the Musee d'Orsay. We stopped for a much touted ice cream cone on the Isle de Cite, too, but it was pretty much the same quality as some of the good ice cream available on Grand Avenue in St Paul.

There are lots of details of the city that are coming into focus. It seems to be a really livable city especially if one knows a little of the language. I've been trying to read as much of the info in the exhibits as I can, and it's fun to be able to almost translate some sentences. Give me another month I might get there.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Church and State

A nice day. The sun came out and hung around all day. We took the Metro and RER to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Denis in the suburb of Saint-Denis. It has been there since the 7th century and is the burial place of many of France's kings. It was interesting to visit a suburb of Paris, a place that is very much different from USA's suburbs, populated by immigrants, and very many unemployed folk.

From the old church we walked to a very modern soccer stadium, the national stadium and site of the 1998 World Cup final, Stade de France. We were able visit the stadium, but didn't tour the playing field area.

On our way to dinner we stopped by Eglise Saint-Eustache, a place we visited several times last year. Here I'm standing by the Henri Miller created "L'ecoute," a face and hand sculpture, which is located in the courtyard. I was standing among some of the other crowd in the area..

After dinner we went by the courtyard outside of Notre Dame, just to see what was happening. There was a lot of activity, especially street performers. One of the groups was made up of a couple of guys jumping over a stick propped about 10 feet in the air, while wearing roller skates. They were very daring and quite good. This guy didn't quite make it on this jump, but was successful on his next attempt. He jumped without a net or pads, but landed on his feet every time. They passed a hat and I gave him some part of a Euro. Gino gave up one of his silver dollars.

And there was a beautiful sunset over downtown Paris.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tour ends Sunday on the Champs Elysees

It was the last day of the Tour de France and we were determined to see some bike racing. We started the day by visiting the old cathedral nearby. As we were in the building we stayed for mass at the 850 year old church. It was in French (of course) but the music was beautiful and the chairs filled.

After a lunch of home-made grilled cheese and jambon we set of to find the bike race where it began its laps on the Champs - not far from the Louvre. On the way we visited this beautiful old church, the Church of the Madeleine, dedicated, I think, to Mary Magdaline.

On the way we stopped for a sit down in the Tuileries and watched people lounging among the old statues with a modern Ferris Wheel in the background.

Then off to wait for a couple of hours in a place near the Louvre for the bikers to appear. When they did, this is the view I had as they went into the tunnel near the Jeane d'Arc statue. If you expected us on TV, we were well out of camera range.

After a couple of laps we moved to a better location on the Champs Elysees. This was as good a photo as I was able to get. It depicts the yellow jersey winner, Cadel Evans, as he sped by at about 40 mph. As is the case with most pro racers, they are very hard to photograph clearly as they zoom by.

After the race we had a tasty dinner at our neighborhood restaurant, served by a native Parisian guy, Frederick, who lives next door. A nice day.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

April in Paris in July

The cool weather continues in Paris. It's more like April than July. This afternoon we were caught in a downpour and had to take shelter under a row of trees next to the Seine. But the sun also had brief periods of bright sunshine.

We visited Notre Dame again today. It's so close that we can slip in there early in the a.m. before the hordes arrive. Gino included a great bunch of interior photos on his blog. I'm posting this photo of the statue of Charlemagne which stands just outside the church on the grounds.

We went to the farmer's market on the Left Bank straight away. They were selling a lot of delicious looking French farm goods, including this array of fruits and veggies. I bought some dark purple grapes, and was tempted by the strawberries and various cheeses. The grapes were quite tasty.

After a lengthy break for lunch and to watch Cadel Evans win the Tour de France's penultimate stage, a time trial, and thus the whole event, we went out in search of celebrating Aussies. We walked along the Champs Elysees, checking out the preparations for the final stage tomorrow, which spends eight laps around that street. We didn't see any obvious Aussie celebration, but there were a lot of stands set up for spectators. As we walked down the Champs, I encountered a statue of one of France's heroes of WWII - Charles de Gaulle. He's one of the few people depicted in statues who lived during my lifetime.

On the way back to our Paris abode, we walked through the Tuileries, a familiar area from my last visit here. This is me in front of one of the Maillot statues very near the Louvre. By this time the sun was shining and we were close to our previous apartment from last year.

It was a nice day and prelude to our attempt tomorrow to catch a glimpse of the last stage of the Tour de France.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Contador attacks, finishes third

The Tour reached the last mountain stage today and Alberto Contador attacked from the start, but was unable to hold the lead at the end.  He did succeed in removing the yellow jersey from Thomas Voeckler onto Andy Schleck.  Two more stages to go, the last being here in Paris on Sunday.

We explored the local areas of the city again. The first shot is the fountain at the Pompidou Center of Modern Art.  It's an interesting variety of random shapes and colors in a long shallow pool.

This is the view of the street where we are living.  The entry to our abode is on the left of the street where the heavy ivy is growing,

My photo of Gino taking a photo in the Parc de Louis XIII, where we followed by a touring group of German tourists, accidentally, of course. Yes, we are still wearing jackets in a quite coolish summer day.

And a photo taken by Gino of me by the reflecting pool and fountain at the entry to the Louvre, just a walk down the Seine from here.

I'm still a little bit jet-lagged, so a short entry here, but there will be more to report tomorrow.