Category Archives: Paris


More art and a happy reunion

Being wise travelers, we didn’t want to tackle the enormous Louvre by ourselves, so we booked a Context tour. Context never disappoints! This tour was led by Pablo, a brilliant guide who knew just where to go and what to see.

We started with architecture, which I can too easily overlook. The Louvre started out as a fortress built in the 12th century, and rather than just walk by the walls on the way to somewhere more interesting, we stopped and really looked at what we were seeing.

Surrounded by a moat and reinfoced by ten towers, the fortress was meant to keep the English away (of course). These massive walls were uncovered back in the 80s and are part of the Medieval Louvre exhibit.

Next, we looked at sculpture, another kind of art that I too easily overlook. Pablo positioned us just right and commanded that we turn around to look back. Each time he did this, we saw a vista of room after room connected by doorways in perfect symmetry.

The Caryatids Room, completed during the reign of Henri II, is a good example.

And we looked up to see these heavily decorated ceilings that celebrate Henri, just in case visitors or courtiers weren’t sure just who was in charge. Note the H’s everywhere.

Pablo knew how to engage his audience. Here, for example, is an exquisite sculpture of a sleeping woman.

After we had admired her from this angle, he told us to walk slowly around it and tell him what we saw. We dutifully shuffled along and then saw this:

It took a moment for the penny to drop. Luckily, all four of us had no idea what to expect and were astonished, as we should be!

And then there was the enormous Winged Victory of Samothrace, dominating the space, which we examined from all angles.

Again, he told us to turn around and enjoy the vistas through the galleries from this vantage point. It’s placed here for a reason, but we might not have noticed its position without Pablo’s help.

The final hour was spent visiting old friends:

The Coronation of Napoleon by David (an early example of fake news, since some people pictured were not there, and some others who were there were not pictured)

The stirring Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix

Veronese’s Wedding at Cana (which is positioned directly across from the Mona Lisa and as we all agreed is a much more interesting and significant painting)

This tender Old man and His Grandson by Ghirlandaio

And more, of course. The tour was terrific because Pablo made us not just look but see.

Then, of course, lunch, and Pablo recommended Café Blanc, a place that was filled mostly with French people eating their food with precision and appreciation. This was mine, a salad whose flavors were primarily that of cheese, ham and potatoes. Notice how beautifully the tiny potatoes are placed on the plate.

Then home to the apartment to await Silla’s arrival. I looked up the street and down the street, and there she was! What joy to see her again.

After Silla got settled in, we walked over to our favorite food street to find dinner. We brought home something that I failed to record, but there’s no doubt that we ate something and it was good! More adventures to come tomorrow.


Bonjour, Paris!

We said goodbye to Amsterdam on a rainy morning. Thanks to Sebastian who called for the cab and made sure we were safely on board before bidding us farewell, we got to Centraal Station (for the last time!) and soon found ourselves on the Thalys train to the Gare du Nord, Paris. It had been a really good week, in part because of the comfortable, efficient apartment, and of course because of the VERMEER! On to the next.

The otherwise efficient train was late getting in, but no matter. We checked into the apartment on the Rue du Caire and were disappointed with what we found. This is what was advertised, which was technically accurate,

but in real life the space, though roomy, was dark and depressing, especially the bare gray flooring (not the warm color pictured) and weird lighting (mostly overhead). The ensuite bathrooms had only sinks and showers, with the shared toilet in a separate spot, which was inconvenient and would have been clearer to us on a closer reading. But the real problem was that the apartment appeared to be in the middle of a half-finished renovation. The kitchen, toilet and my bathroom had recently been updated. But Alison’s bedroom floor was severely buckled, which is a tripping hazard, at the very least.

Cedric, our contact, promised that new flooring was to be installed the week after we left, and in the meantime he could offer a rug, which was unlikely to help and in fact never showed up. Alison tread carefully the whole time we were there. And the sight of trash on the streets, seen from the cab, was a glimpse of real life in Paris during a strike, but hardly welcoming.

Oh, well, we miss our friendly host Sebastian (where’s the complimentary bottle of wine? the high end coffee maker well stocked with beans? directions to the best local restaurants? the offer to take out the trash for us? etc.). We will just have to adjust…

It took us a while to get out the door the next morning, but we finally got on the Metro with our newly purchased Navigo passes and made our way without much incident to the Musée d’Orsay. As soon as we stepped inside, it all came back to me. The train station is so vast and spacious, and the art has room to breathe.

Or course we had a list: famous paintings that we had learned about in our Western Art series, like Dejeuner sur l’Herbe (so much bigger in person)

and the lovely Manet mockingbird and fife player (the empty background so reminiscent of Velazquez).

I could really develop a passion for Manet.

Cezanne’s still life with oranges must have been in the house because it looks so familiar, and here was the real thing.

Also Degas, Van Gogh, Caillebotte and more. A surfeit of impressionists but there’s nothing wrong with that!

Lunch was in the cafe and hit the spot. A salad for me with artichokes, salmon, a poached egg, candied cherry tomatoes (not really candied but more like cooked down), and pickled onions. Plus a simple dressing that was quintessentially French and just delicious.

AND a small glass of beer because I never had any in Amsterdam. Alison’s quiche and salad were equally good.

From here we traveled by Metro to the Cluny, of which I have fond memories from last time. Though we were both a bit museum-weary, we did have to stop and admire the Unicorn tapestries (time to go back to the Cloisters in NYC),

as well as the stained glass and the Adam and Eve sculptures. (I might have to specialize in A & E the way Alison does with annunications.)

They both look a bit nonplussed here.

The Cluny was lovely, but somehow not as enchanting as last time. “You never can recapture that first, fine careless rapture…” Plus, by this point we had museum feet.

Back home we took a detour to the Montorgueil neighborhood in search of dinner for tonight and possible eat-out opportunities when Silla joins us tomorrow. We came home with two vegetable gratins and some chopped beets and hoped we’d like it! (Guess what, we did!)