Spring is in the air, the sight of the daffodils and the sound of birdsong puts a bounce back in your step after the long, cold winter months. A lovely short break is in most peoples thoughts. Paris is in mine. My first trip to Paris with my beau was in early September. Quite some time back, when I was in my late twenties. He had studied french and planned the trip as a lovely surprise.
We stayed very near the Champs Elysees. The hotel reception and our room was on the small side, which is pretty standard in Paris. It was perfectly located within walking distance to the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe. In fact I think we walked everywhere we went. I don’t recall travelling on the metro or any other mode of transport other than our feet.
It was wonderful to reach the viewing platform at the Eiffel Tower, after years of seeing it in photographs and films. Opened 31st March 1889. Surprisingly it only took two years to build the lattice design, wrought iron, tower. Like all great architectural structures, seeing it with your own eyes, with the lovely uninterrupted views of Champ de Mars was joyful. Champ de Mars, an area of grassland with scrubs and flowers. In centuries gone by vegetables and grapes grew there.
The Arc de Triomphe, with its golden glow at night, was spectacular. Situated in the centre of a roundabout, in the middle of Etoile, with a dozen avenues leading from it. It is more than 200 years old. It was commissioned by Napoleon. In honour of the French soldiers who passed away during Napoleonic and French Revolutionary wars.
Etoile means ‘star’ in english and the well know tree lined boulevard, Champs-Elysees means ‘Elysian Fields’ in english and to go one step further Elysian Fields means ‘heaven’ in Greek mythology. So with ‘star’, ‘heaven’ and the golden light of the Arc De Triomphe at night, it is no wonder Paris is known as a ‘romantic’ city. Where couples all over the globe flock there to get engaged to be married, usually, on top of the Eiffel Tower. Paris, the romantic city for lovers and the city of lights.
Nearby there are several more boulevards where you will find all the fashionable stores and the couture houses of Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Dior to name a few. Several restaurants where world renowned chefs are based. Cultural venues including the Palais Garnier opera house.
I can’t recall where we dined way back then, but I clearly do remember we bought wine, cheese, grapes and bread and had a divine picnic at Luxembourg Garden, or in french, Le Jardin du Luxembourg. It was delightful and one of the most memorable events of the trip.
The restaurant ‘Le Fouquent’s’ on Avenue des Champs-Elysees remained in my mind long after we returned home. We walked by it in the evenings on the way back to Rue Lauriston. It embodied Parisian style.
Springtime (Printemps a poem by Victor Hugo 1802-1885)
Here are the long days, light, love, delirium!
This is the Spring! March, April with a sweet smile,
May flowery, June blazing, all the beautiful friendly months!
The poplars, asleep by the riverside,
Bow gently like great palms
The bird quivers at the far end of the calm, tepid woods
It seems that everything laughs, and that the green trees
Are joyful to be together and say verses to each other.
The day comes crowned with a fresh and tender dawn
The evening is full of love, the night, one can almost hear
Through the immense shadow and under the sacred sky,
Something happy singing in the infinity.
I included the above poem by Victor Hugo because we stayed right next to Avenue Victor Hugo during our visit. A French poet, writer and dramatist who wrote Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame novels. He belonged to the Romantic Movement. Partly why he wrote The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was to revive interest in gothic architecture in Paris, such as, Notre Dame cathedral.
Fast forward to August almost nine years ago and my second visit to Paris. A three day visit this time. Blest with glorious sunny weather and an itinerary planned. This time the hotel was based in the Latin Quarter of St-Germain de Pres at, Street of the School, in French rue des Ecoles.
I know it was Sunday when I returned to Le Jardin du Luxembourg. Dotted around simple, at the same time elegant, green chairs Parisians were chilling. Some reading the Sunday papers. It is impeccably maintained with a stunning Palace, pond and gardens. It is owned, now, by the French Senate which meets at the Palace. In 1612, the Italian wife of King Henry IV of France, created the Palace, gardens and a fountain. Marie de Medici, sadly, the day after her coronation, in 1610, King Henry IV was assassinated.
It is a beautiful park, hence, my second visit. There is several stunning statues. Many of them are perched on pillars at heights towering down on the pond and gardens. Grown-ups take their children to sail multi-coloured sailing boats on the pond. Temporary exhibitions are held at a museum inside part of the Palace.
Near the Medici fountain within the park, The Pantheon is in view, from a diagonal alley, near the Medici fountain. The Pantheon (Greek: temple to all the gods), originally built as a church, now used to house the remains of French dignitaries, including Victor Hugo. The first lady, along with her husband, to be entombed was Marie Curie in 1995.
Walking from the hotel to the metro was an absolute pleasure with a cafe on a corner location, not far along, and a pretty flower shop on another corner. Elegant apartment blocks with large diagonal shaped french windows with petite balconies, most, with flower boxes. Local french ladies and gentlemen, of varied age, who took great care with their appearance. Who looked effortlessly elegant and super stylish, even when dressed casually. No doubt, from people, places and open spaces the french have a certain je ne sais quoi. That is before, they even, begin to speak it their wonderful language, which is just so expressive.
Couldn’t possibly have had a clearer or sunnier day to visit Montmartre. Sacre Coeur’s dove-white domes reaching up to the perfect blue cloudless sky. Some kind of demonstration was taking place which prevented entry. It was fine with me, so much so see and explore around the area just left more time to do so. Another time, another trip I will explore it then. Externally, Sacre Coeur is breathtakingly beautiful. With wonderful far reaching views of Paris below. Montmartre translated: Mont means hill and martre means martyr.
Place du Tertre is a lovely village square where over a hundred artists paint portraits of tourists and other works of art. Perfect place to have a crepe, coffee, meal or a drink. You will also find art galleries and music venues there. I absolutely love the expressive photograph I took of the artist wearing a red beret talking to the perplexed tourist and another photograph of an artist with a Chris de Burgh (singer/songwriter: Lady in Red) look-alike in the background. The photograph with the back of a waiter’s head with his grey beret and navy neck scarf, carrying a tray with slices of a french baguette, couldn’t be more Parisian. The photographs included in this article were taken, almost nine years ago, with little technical finesse. Still, I love the memories they hold and the stories they tell.
On a glorious summer’s day in Paris, somewhere near that wonderful village, young musicians where playing sweet music. One played cello and the other violin.
Montmartre village squares attracted artists from the last century, Picasso, Van Gogh were amongst them and now modern day artists.
I knew the cafe where the film Amelie, a quirky romantic/comedy, was near Place du Tertre. Actress Audrey Tatou was a perfect choice for the role as Amelie. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I wanted to pop into the cafe, Les Deux Moulins, on my way to Cimetiere de Montmartre. A famous cobbled stoned cemetery dating back to 1798. Where a multitude of people including prominent french writers, film directors, artists and composers are laid to rest.
What happened next, is one of the absolute joys of exploring a new place, happening across something delightful and totally unexpected. Why it is always best to have a flexible itinerary. As I had my eyes peeled in search of the cafe I came across the house where Vincent Van Gogh resided for two years with his brother Theo. They lived there between 1886 and 1888 at number 54 rue Lepic. I was thrilled to bits with this glorious find. After just walking away from the square where modern day artists now paint.
All the attractions I visited and perhaps the lovely warm weather, all of a sudden, made me feel tired and in need of a sit down and a cool drink. I did just that and decided I had explored enough for one day and made my way back to rue des Ecoles. I didn’t reach the famous cemetery or indeed the cafe, based at number 15 rue Lepic which somehow evaded my search.
The cafe I searched for ‘Les Deux Moulins’ features big picture windows where you can watch life go by at Montmartre. At one time there were numerous windmills in Montmartre. Van Gogh featured ‘Blute Fin’ in his paintings: ‘Le Blute Fin Windmill’ 1886 and ‘Vegetable gardens and the Moulin de Blute-Fin on Montmartre’, 1887. The artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’, 1876 which is probably the most well known painting of the three.
Then there is Moulin Rouge the famous can-can dance hall venue. Founded in 1889 by Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler. Built as a tribute, to the many windmills that were once in Montmartre when it was a small village in the countryside. Where chansons’ Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour have performed live there. The song La Bohemia by Charles Aznavour, where he laments about how happy people were when they didn’t have much. Who never stopped believing in fame and he now thinks, la bohemia, doesn’t mean anything anymore. Is a good example of a chanson song. Chanson, refers to a style of heartfelt lyric-driven music.
A few years back I was very fortunate to attend one of Charles Aznavour’s concerts at The Royal Albert Hall in London. In June 2018, when he returns to the Royal Albert Hall, he will be the oldest artist, ever, to headline there.
At the foot of the hill where Sacra-Coeur is, there is a lovely carousel. I wonder if it was the inspiration of Jacque Brel’s song ‘Carousel’. Jacque Brel, from Belgium was a singer/songwriter/actor/director who lived in France since he was a young man until he passed away in 1978.
From Carousel to Caravan Palace, electro, swing style band from Paris. They are quite simply in a league of their own. Incredible group of musicians and super cool dancers. Their first album was released in 2008 and they are still going strong.
As far as I know, if your name is up in lights at Paris Olympia as a singer/musician, you have made it big time. It opened in 1888. It was renovated several times and closed down, at times, over the years. Well known names performed there such as, Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf, Ray Charles, Jacques Brel, Billie Holiday, Rolling Stones, Miles Davis, Iggy Pop and David Bowie.
Carla Bruni, singer-songwriter has also performed at Paris Olympia and is the wife of the former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy. Which in a roundabout way brings me back to the restaurant ‘Le Fouquent’s’ on Avenue des Champs-Elysees. I had lovely, leisurely lunch on my last day in Paris at Fouquent’s. Sitting on their terrace in the August sunshine on the Champs-Elysees was divine. I was, quietly, celebrating three significant milestones in my life. The same restaurant, where a couple of years earlier, Nicolas Sarkozy celebrated his election victory.
Sunday is a good day to visit museums, the same applies when you are in Paris. On my itinerary was Musee Picasso. While I was there, it was celebrating 50th Anniversary of Culture – 1959 to 2009. Roughly a week after my visit it closed for renovation work and didn’t reopen again until 2012. The museum is situated inside a beautiful mansion (Hotel Sale) which was completed in 1659. Nicknamed ‘Salty’ after its’ first owner (Pierre Baudet) who made a fortune by taxing salt. It holds paintings, sculptures, engravings, drawings and sketchbooks by Picasso. If you like Picasso works it is well worth a visit. At 5, rue de Thorigny.
A chocolate lovers dream, Jadis et Gourmande at 39 rue des Archives, another wonderful find, I happened across after leaving the Picasso museum. There are so many interesting museums and art galleries to visit in Paris. You can purchase a Museum Pass at any Paris train station. Which will enable you to visit museums as many times as you wish, for free without queuing, while the pass is valid. Viewing art, from childhood onwards is built-in to Parisians leisure time. Which is evident in Parisians sense of aesthetics.
Shakespeare and Company is a great English-language book store to visit at 37 rue de la Bucherie. Opened since 1950’s with the Seine River close by and Notre Dame Cathedral across the way.
La Boutique des Anges is a lovely gift shop where everything they sell relates to angels. It is based at 2 rue Yvonne Le Tac, Paris-Montmartre.
Paris is a beautiful elegant city. Immersing yourself there for three or six months would enable you to live in an apartment with french windows opening up to a small terrace with pretty flower boxes. Go to the boulangerie, the cafes. Learn the language. Take a cooking course. Visit the art museums, monuments. Go to jazz concerts in small venues as well as the more established places. Have picnics by the Seine River or boat trips along it in the summer months. Visit the street markets and fashion shows at the large stores and contour houses. Learn how perfume is made and bottled.
Like all interesting cities in the world, no matter how long you stay in Paris, it would never be enough. But that is absolutely fine, just means another trip back there will never be far from your thoughts.