They light up the tower with sparkling lights for 5 minutes each hour, at the top of the hour. This photo was taken at 7 pm, the first lighting.
They light up the tower with sparkling lights for 5 minutes each hour, at the top of the hour. This photo was taken at 7 pm, the first lighting.
We started today with a tour of the Musee d’Orsay. A fabulous museum with three floors of Art Nouveau objects d’art, furniture and design (an entire room) that I didn’t even know were there, and rooms of master piece paintings, it was a great way to spend a birthday. The building was reopened as a museum 47 years after it had been closed as a train station and was almost demolished in the 1970s. It has been put to a very good use.
The Musee d’Orsay was among the few places that had the ‘no photo’ sign everywhere. However, there was one spot in the museum that allowed photos to be taken, and I confirmed that before snapping these two photos, the second being my favorite shot of the day.
After about 2 1/2 hours in the Musee d’Orsay, we walked back along the Seine and towards the Place de la Concorde.
The bridge was covered with the ‘love locks’ so popular with tourists. At least on this newer more modern bridge it seemed ok, but not on the historic bridges, where we also saw the locks and they are causing problems. There was a man selling locks on the bridge, and they even engrave them.
On our way back to the apartment to rest before going back out for the evening, we stopped at a magazine stand to buy a Charlie Hebdo. The local French man seemed quite happy about my inquiries into Je Suis Charlie, but we haven’t seen much use of the phrase so far. I was hoping to get a sticker or t-shirt or something, but there has been nothing to purchase.
Birthday pastries served as cake.
We rested the afternoon in preparation for our big night out, dinner reservations at Le Jules Verne restaurant. We took a cab to Place du Trocadero for the best location for Eiffel Tower photos. It was cold but it was a good spot for photos.
Le Jules Verne restaurant has a private lift, and a gorgeous view.
We enjoyed the 5 course dinner with the 5 wine pairings.
It was an easy one hour train ride from the Montparnasse Train Station in Paris to Chartres and a nice change of pace to see the countryside after spending a few days in the city. The 16 euro fare took us past cute French villages and through farm land.
From the Chartre train station, it’s a short walk to the stunning cathedral that absolutely dominates the surrounding area. It was a beautiful sight, and luckily we had sunny weather for our arrival. The cathedral was built between 1194 and 1260, relatively quickly for a Gothic cathedral and the reason for its harmonious design.
We took our time walking the interior with an audio guide, and my sister’s running commentary bolstered by many years of art history helped my understanding of the stained glass windows. There is nothing random about the stories the windows tell.
There are three rose windows, depicting different bible stories and times of Jesus’ life, and most of the stained glass is original.
The virgin shown holding the baby Jesus is the oldest stained glass at Chartre. This depiction of Mary dates from the previous church on the site that burned in 1194. The four panels were incorporated into the windows of the 13th century church.
As we exited the cathedral we were hit with a cold rain driven by strong winds. Retreating to a cafe we enjoyed a local lunch, and then headed back to Paris. On the train northbound we saw the facade of The Chateau de Versailles off to the west.
Back in Paris by 3 pm, we hopped the metro to Galeries Lafayette, one of the city’s biggest department stores. The building was beautiful with an Art Nouveau stained-glass dome, but the prices were so high we walked and looked, but didn’t buy.
Yesterday we bought the four day museum pass for 56 euros, a very good bargain if you plan to hit even a few museums. We had planned to do just two today, but as the weather rapidly changed from sunny to at times heavy rain showers, and the relentless wind tore at my pitifully inadequate outer gear (unprepared Floridian tourist – I should have known better), we ducked into a few extra spots to escape the cold.
From a packed morning rush hour metro we gratefully entered the nearly empty Notre-Dame Cathedral at 7:45 am. A mass started at 8 am as we slowly made our way around the interior, to the sound of the Priest saying the mass in French and some occasional chants.
From Notre-Dame we quickly made our way to Sainte-Chapelle, also on the Ile de la Cite and just a few blocks away. Unfortunately, we ended up standing in line, in the wind. We thought it opened at 9 am, but it was 9:40 by the time they opened the door. After passing through a metal detector we entered the upper chapel, built by Louis IX from 1242-1248. 1113 glass panels tell the entire Bible story.
Sainte-Chapelle was truly beautiful, windows and floor, but it was also frigid. I just couldn’t linger in the cold, so we headed back over to Notre-Dame with the intent of climbing the tower for the classic gargoyles over Paris photo op. The line for the tower was not only long, but directly in the wind and neither of us had the tolerance for it. So we left the area and headed towards the Musee National du Moyen Age in the Quartier Latin.
The museum was wonderfully warm, not crowded and a very good size. It turned out to be my favorite visit of the day. The museum houses the best-preserved Roman remains in Paris and the famous tapestry series La Dame a la licorne (“The Lady and the Unicorn.”)
From the handbook I purchased at the museum:
The Lady and the Unicorn is a famous series of six tapestries rediscovered in the 19th century and exhibited at the Cluny Museum…The tapestries are generally thought to have been produced some time in the last two decades of the 15th century…the weaving to have been carried out by one of the workshops of Northern France, Brabant, Flanders or the Netherlands…Since the twenties, historians have recognised an allegory of the five senses in the first five tapestries: Sight; Hearing; Smell; Taste; and Touch. However, the sixth tapestry known as “A Mon Sevl Desir” after the inscription embroidered in gold on a blue pavilion in front of which stand the lady and her maidservant, is not as easily deciphered.
The tapestries all hang together in one dimly lit room (to preserve the colors). It seems that here, as in all the monuments and museums we have visited, the authorities have given up any hope of stopping cell phone picture taking, and everyone was doing it. So the above photo is my own iPhone photo of the 6th tapestry. The most control they have now is to ask that photos be taken without the flash.
The Cluny also exhibits carved choir stalls, altarpieces, stained glass and other tapestries. It was a good size, not too small and not too big and a pleasure to tour.
Making our way back to the north side of the river after The Cluny, we made a brief stop at the famous book store Shakespeare and Company. I purchased Colette’s Cheri, (in English) an appropriate choice for Paris and stamped with the “Shakespeare And Company Kilometer Zero Paris” logo.
After a lunch break back on the north side of the river, we had enough time to make a brief stop at The Louvre. We hadn’t planned to visit it today, but with the unpredictable weather and a museum pass, it ended up on our itinerary.
Even though our feet were aching at this point, we made our way through more than 5,000 years of art history. My all time favorite piece of artwork in any museum is The Winged Victory of Samothrace. That was our first stop. Again, photos were allowed, but the Chinese tourists who posed in front of the piece and touched it were quickly reprimanded by the attentive museum representative. It was crowded and there was even an artist sketching the masterpiece.
Fading fast, we opted to skip the Mona Lisa (yes, that’s right) and made our way through Louis XIV – Louis XVI and to the exit. I finally got my fill of Louis chairs, but it took The Louvre to do it.
The last of our energy was spent getting to the metro and back up to the apartment. It was heaven to have our own place to come home to.
One word describes the St-Ouen market: wow! This famous flea market on the northern edge of the 18th arrondissement has anything you might be looking for and more. It would have been easy to fill a shipping container with all the pieces I found that I loved, but it would have completely drained all bank accounts. Block after block of shops held anything you could possibly dream of. My dear friends Teresa and Joanie would be lost for days in this shopper’s paradise.
I did find the one perfect piece on my must have list, a Schneider art nouveau desk lamp. I had two goals for my stay in Paris; one awesome photograph, and an art nouveau desk lamp. One down and one to go.
You could easily spend days going through all the shops, but after finding my treasure we headed towards the metro station at a leisurely pace. Paranoid I would break the irreplaceable Schneider art glass, we made our way directly back to the apartment.
After safely depositing the desk lamp in the apartment, we ventured back out with a Rick Steves restaurant recommendation as our destination. It was in the Montmartre area, but away from the hustle and bustle of tourist traffic. This one turned out to be a good recommendation so Rick earns some points.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and looking into shops. Montmartre seems to be the windy spot of Paris, so I didn’t last too long without ducking into a shop to avoid the wind. The sun did shine now and then, but temperatures were still cool.
I liked Amsterdam. It is clean and organized, from the ticket lines at the museums to the signage at the train station. It’s easy to get around and everyone speaks English. As our Heineken cruise guide said “There’s more to Amsterdam than prostitutes and coffee shops.”
It was an easy walk from our B&B to the train station, where we boarded the Thalys high speed train to Pairs. The ride was smooth, comfortable and fast, reaching a maximum speed of 300 km/hr, or 186 mph. It felt like we were rolling right along as the countryside sped by.
From the Gare du Nord train station in Paris it was a short 10 minute walk to the apartment at 74 rue Dunkerque. We rented the apartment through VRBO.com, and it was perfect; two bedrooms and roomy. We have found that apartment rentals beat hotels every time, and if you split the cost, it is more economical too.
A market is one block away, and a pastry shop is in the same block. We are also one block from the Anvers metro station stop.
After unpacking and grocery shopping (food in the market was reasonably priced, a bottle of wine around 5 euros), we took a walk up to Sacre-Coeur to get our bearings. It had clouded over and there was a cold wind, still, the streets were full. There is no end to the tacky souvenir shops and even in February there were many tourists. We made an initial reconnaissance of the area for future lunch spots and found a money changing shop. All essential.
Back at the apartment it was heaven to relax in a toasty warm roomy place of our own with a kitchen.
With the departure of the “cold, bleak, biting weather” (thanks Charles), we headed out into sunny skies and crisp temperatures. What a difference no rain and wind make, and how nice to have a little sunshine. We walked all day and checked off most of what we had on our ‘to do’ list.
The floating flower market was pretty much a bust in this pre-growing season month. The flower stalls had many bulbs for sale, but not the endless buckets of fresh flowers I was hoping for.
We visited the cat art museum called Katten Kabinet, and had the sweetest, most talkative little docent of any museum I’ve toured. Her name was Shirley and she had a hair trigger purr. She guided us through the rooms of cat art in a converted canal home; two museums in one really, as we were able to see what one of the old houses looked like on the inside.
From the cat museum we walked along Vijaelgracht, then followed alongside Singelgracht until we reached the Rijksmuseum, newly renovated and quite popular. However, I can usually only take one large museum per day, and my priority was the Van Gogh Museum, so on we walked, passing an ice skating rink, and then into line for the Van Gogh Museum. The Van Gogh Museum was truly fabulous, and with as many people as we saw in the exhibit in this off season, it must be shoulder to shoulder in the tourist season.
The Van Gogh Museum is four floors of the world’s largest collection of his works, including 200 paintings. You work your way chronologically through his life, starting on the ground floor. It was quite informative, and we learned many details, including that without his brother’s wife, the world may never have known his art. His nephew, Vincent Willem van Gogh inherited the art collection and carried on the legacy by creating the Vincent van Gogh Foundation.
I bought some postcards of a few of my favorites, and the museum masterpiece book. Here are copies of the postcards, as best as I can post them without a scanner.
A pub lunch, of course, followed the museum, and then to the Heineken Experience. I’m not a beer drinker myself, but I did want to see the stables where the Shire horses that pull the beer wagon are housed. Unfortunately, the stables were closed for repair.
The Heineken Experience was interesting, included two free beers (admission was 18 euros), and seemed geared towards a younger audience. I really did try the beer, taking a “manly swallow” and not a sip as advised, but I still have to count myself a non-beer drinker.
We boarded the complimentary Heineken boat and saved ourselves some walking, as it dropped us near the Opera House on the Amstel River, the only natural waterway in Amsterdam. We still had quite a few blocks to walk back to our B&B, and as the sun started to lower in the west, the temperature started to drop under the clear sky.
We walked along the river as the sun faded and light turned magical.
After a very brief rest at the B&B, we headed out for dinner in our neighborhood, the Jordaan. We know this is the off season, but for all our lunches and dinners, the restaurants have been packed and we can’t imagine what it would be like in the busy tourist season.
February is not high season in Amsterdam. Still, my sister and I made the most of our first day here, despite cold, foggy, drizzly weather.
As we walked the cobbled streets along the canals, the inescapable fumes of pot permeated the air in nearly every block. Locals take this weather in stride as bicycles dominated the streets, while tourists stood in a long line even in the rain in Feb. to see the Anne Frank House Museum. We sampled the famous pancakes for lunch and took a canal cruise in a thankfully warm and dry boat.
One of the oldest pubs, The Papeneiland, provided a warm and welcoming respite to the drizzly weather.
After the rain stopped we walked from the oldest pub to the oldest church, the Oulde Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest building established in 1306. It is right in the middle of the red light district, and a beautiful old church.
We walked around the inside of the church with its beautiful stained glass windows, wooden barrel vaulted ceiling and a floor made of carved memorial stones. The church is a covered cemetery with 2500 graves. The gravestones tell something about the people who had been buried there, but now all graves have been excavated and filled with white sand.
There was a modern art installation on display inside the church, video clips by Tony Oursler. I found it rather disturbing, almost creepy, and not at all to my liking. The brochure described the installation as follows: Oursler “hacks” the church, using digitally produced performances that emphasize the evolving character of the architecture and the cultural usage of the monumental building.
I guess I just didn’t get it.
The square around the church is lined with sex shops, window prostitutes, pubs, and all other assortment of commerce. The world’s first condom shop had a delightfully colorful window display, and no lack of customers.
Christmas cards are a wonderful way to bring art to the holidays. As I’ve said before, my family is a card family. We share cards for many occasions, so Christmas is a big card holiday. I love to send and receive Christmas cards, and am always looking for the perfect card.
While I was in Norway this past January, I picked up these Tomte cards to send this year (first two).
Another card I particularly like:
A few of the cards I received last Christmas:
Happy Thanksgiving, on this day, one of the most American of all American holidays.
The modern day Thanksgiving with its emphasis on shopping, and football, or how much you can eat is nothing like the first Thanksgiving. The first thanksgiving gathering, in November of 1621, was truly about celebrating being alive, the fall harvest, and preparing for the winter. The 53 Mayflower survivors, “First Comers” along with several other ships, set out for America in 1620. They landed in Plymouth in December of 1620.
By November of 1621 they had survived one year and were preparing for winter. Edward Winslow, one of the Mayflower “First Comers”, writes:
“our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God,
we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.”
And from William Bradford, another “First Comer”:
“They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; For as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their
portion. All ye somer ther was no want. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids, they had about a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports.”
The paintings of that first Thanksgiving are idealized of course, but they are probably what Americans envisions for that day. It seems a shame to me that so many of our traditions and holidays are now focused on shopping and sales, and really have no resemblance of what the original holiday was about.
Norman Rockwell’s famous depiction of Thanksgiving, 1942. What Rockwell said of this famous turkey scene, “our cook, Mrs. Wheaton, roasted it, I painted it, and we ate it.”
Thanks to the website http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.com