Paris day two
29.10.2017 - 29.10.2017
Around Saint Germain des Prés
Les Deux Magots
We had planned to have breakfast at the Café de la Mairie where we had drunk our aperitifs last night, but being Sunday it didn’t open till nine so instead we walked down to the Place Saint Germain des Prés for breakfast at the iconic Parisian café, Les Deux Magots. Despite its fame we found our pastries and coffees reasonably priced and the service friendly.
This is a good opportunity to mention that in six visits we have never experienced the haughty or downright rude service that other visitors to Paris complain of. The reason is, I suspect, our willingness to talk French. Often, indeed, waiters subsequently hear us talking English to each other and swap to that language themselves. The mere fact that you make an effort, however poor, is enough to win you their respect and courtesy.
After breakfast we took some photos around the square and in front of the church.
Wallace Fountain, and café customer
Outside the church
Entrance to the church
We then went into the church, which is currently undergoing restoration. We could see the impact this is having as the section around the high altar is already completed and the colours of the wall paintings there are deep and rich compared with the sombre colours nearer the entrance.
Saint Germain des Prés is the church of a former Benedictine abbey on this site which in medieval times stood in the middle of the meadows (‘prés’) on the left bank of the Seine. It is one of the oldest churches in the city, having survived the disbanding of the abbey during the French Revolution and an explosion of saltpetre that was being stored here which levelled much of the abbey and its cloisters. The rest of the abbey was lost under Baron Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris, but the church fortunately survived.
Stained glass in Saint Germain des Prés
The first abbey church was built in the 6th century on the ruins of a Roman temple. This was destroyed by the Normans when they besieged Paris in 885-886AD, and rebuilt between 990 and 1021. That Romanesque church forms the basis of what we see today, although it has of course been added to over the years.
In Saint Germain des Prés
There is a lot to admire here. I loved the murals of the saints above the arches either side of the nave (the work of Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin and added in the 1840s as part of major renovations to the church) and the gold figures that adorn the tops of the painted pillars.
There is some beautiful stained glass, interesting statues (the one of St Anthony of Padua in my photo is in the as-yet unrestored section of the church and clearly needs work to remove the defacing graffiti) and the tombs of many early French kings and other important historical figures including René Descartes.
Leaving the church, we walked a short distance along the Boulevard Saint Germain. We ignored the Metro station here (other than to take a photo of its iconic sign) and carried on a little further to Mabillon, which would give us a slightly shorter route to our destination, Concorde.
Metro station Saint Germain des Prés
Metro station Sèvres-Babylone
Place de la Concorde
Assemblée Nationale and Invalides from Place de la Concorde
We took the train to Concorde (changing at Sèvres-Babylone), where we enjoyed taking photos of the sculptures, fountains and distant views of the Tour Eiffel. The weather was dull and there was rain in the air, but Paris is beautiful in any weather, isn’t it?
On the Champs Élysées
Tour Eiffel views
At the centre of the Place de la Concorde is the gold-tipped obelisk, which was almost merging into the grey sky. This was a gift from the viceroy of Egypt to King Louis-Philippe, and dates from the time of Ramses II. But while the obelisk is the most defining feature of the square, I am especially fond of the fountains, and their deep colours (green and gold), and of course their wetness, made for much better subject matter on this gloomy day. My photos are all of the northern fountain, the Fountain of the Rivers, which has figures representing the Rhine and Rhone, and the main harvests of France: wheat and grapes, flowers and fruit. The one to the south is known as the Maritime Fountain and has figures representing the Mediterranean and Atlantic, and the spirits of maritime navigation, astronomy and commerce.
Although the grey weather gave us some photographic challenges it also threw up opportunities, especially when we went into the Jardins des Tuileries where local families, couples and tourists were strolling, enjoying a relaxing Sunday morning.
At the entrance to the Tuileries
In the Tuileries
Jeu de Paume
Café view, and pigeon sculpture
We stopped for a coffee at a café on the Rue de Rivoli, before returning to the gardens to visit the Jeu de Paume, where our Eurostar tickets scored us 2 for 1 entry. On its website it describes itself as ‘an art centre that exhibits and promotes all forms of mechanical and electronic imagery (photography, cinema, video, installation, online creation, etc.) from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries’. It houses changing exhibitions with a focus on photography and there were three on show when we visited.
Of these only one really appealed to me, a retrospective of the work of the early 20th century German photographer, Albert Renger-Patzsch. But there was more than enough in that one to justify the cost of admission, even if we had paid full price, and to keep us engrossed for some time. His work displays a fascination with the contrasts between the rural landscape and the industrial, and covers a period of great change in Germany, including both World Wars.
In the Jeu de Paume
Although a historic building, its interior is stark and modern, with white walls and white marble staircases, and I enjoyed that as much, if not more than, the photos on display.
Jardins des Tuileries
In the Tuileries
After leaving the Jeu de Paume we walked east through the Tuileries. This is one of my favourite spots in Paris. I love the contrast between the statuary and trees, the regimented landscaping so typical of the French style, the human elements of people enjoying the environment in various ways, and so on - all perfect for photography. As a bonus today, the Halloween holidays had brought out child witches and skeletons, and even a whole family of zombies!
In the Tuileries
Art in the Tuileries
Enjoying the Tuileries
We had planned to have lunch in one of the cafés here before continuing our walk towards the Arc de Triomphe du Carousel (which I much prefer to its larger cousin at L’Etoile) but the rain turned much heavier and we beat a retreat back to the Rue de Rivoli in search of lunch under cover. Of course we paid a little extra to eat on this rather smart street in the heart of fashionable Paris, but it was worth it for the cosy atmosphere, friendly service and tasty food - Croque Madame for Chris, Croque de la Mer (with smoked salmon) for me.
Musée de l’Orangerie
We had hoped that the rain would abate while we ate but it was still pretty heavy when we left the restaurant, so we abandoned our original plan to walk to the Carousel in favour of Plan B, a visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie. This sits opposite the Jeu de Paume at the western end of the Tuileries and is another of the museums offering 2 for 1 entry to those with Eurostar tickets.
Once inside I found it hard to believe we hadn’t been before! One of my favourite artists is Claude Monet and here his Waterlilies series of paintings is displayed just as he planned that they should be when he donated them to the city of Paris after the First World War. His intention was to offer Parisians a haven of peace: ‘Nerves strained by work would relax in its presence, following the restful example of its stagnant waters, and for he who would live in it, this room would offer a refuge for peaceful meditation in the midst of a flowering aquarium.’
The paintings are displayed in two oval rooms where, despite the large numbers visiting, the museum staff make a mostly successful effort to impose the restful atmosphere Monet had envisaged by encouraging low voices and of course banning flash photography. But how refreshing it is that non-flash photos are permitted, as I’m sure many people were paying the pictures closer attention in their efforts to obtain their own copies than they might otherwise have done (although personally I don’t get the current obsession with taking a selfie in front of everything you see!)
When you have seen the Waterlily paintings on this floor you can go down to the basement to see the other major collection here, that of Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume. This is the private collection amassed by the latter, a Parisian art dealer during the 1920s and 30s. His widow left the collection to the state to realise her husband’s ambition of creating a museum of modern art. The result is a very manageably sized exhibition focused on modern Classicism and Impressionism, with works by Renoir, Cézanne, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso and others.
We also visited a temporary exhibition, Dada Africa, which highlighted the influence of non-Western art on Dadaism. Here I found most interesting the examples of that non-Western art used to illustrate the parallels - African masks and wood carvings, for example. There were also some works by contemporary African artists on display.
Contemporary African art
By the time we left the museum the afternoon was well advanced. We took the Metro back to Mabillon and stopped for hot chocolate (it was that sort of day!) at a pavement café near the station before returning to the hotel to rest up and sort photos.
Casting of Rodin's 'Le Baiser' outside the Orangerie
Evening in Jussieu
For dinner this evening we had booked a table at a restaurant recommended by friends, as a pre-birthday celebration. We took the Metro from Mabillon to Jussieu, where we had a drink in a café on the Place Jussieu before walking to the restaurant just nearby, Le Buisson Ardent.
In the Place Jussieu
In Le Buisson Ardent
There we had an excellent meal. To start with I had wild boar terrine, while Chris had a wild mushroom pasty with a snail mousse on the side. Both were delicious, as was the crusty bread served alongside them.
My main was hake served with pearl barley and mushrooms - again, the fish was delicious and perfectly cooked, although I found the pearl barley a little dry. Chris liked his shoulder of lamb although was less enthused by the accompanying squash - not his favourite vegetable. He did however love his cheese, as did I my rum baba with figs - and they left the bottle of rum for me to add extra as desired!
After dinner we took the Metro back to Mabillon and finished the evening with a night-cap of Poire Williams in the O’Neil pub a few doors from our hotel in Rue des Canettes.