Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Window of Faith In Paris

Christmas and New Year bring out all types of emotions for many.  Reflectiveness, sadness, excitement, happiness, but for a guy below my apartment, it makes him want to shout to the world at the top of his lungs.  I have no idea what he is saying but it doesn't stop.  First Christmas and now New Years Eve.  I feel like sticking my head out my open window and telling him to shut the - up.

He has become another familiar, although unwanted, sound of my neighbourhood.

Paris was warmer today, due to the rain. The choice of weather has been, bright sunny but absolutely freezing, or warmer 7 degrees and raining.  Today it hit a whopping 12 degrees.

Being New Year's Eve and Saturday, the streets are heaving with people.

Families dragging along their children, couples rushing with bags of champagne, young revellers, starting early, the Notre Dame seems to be ringing it's bells every half hour and the queues to get in, have nearly blocked off the square.

I took in a bit of multiculturalism and mix of faiths today, as I did a quick whip around the 5th arrondissement.

Leaving my apartment on the 3rd arrondissement, it is almost a hop, skip and a jump to L'ile de la Cite and before I know it, I am on the left bank and in the 5th arrondissement.

I slipped inside from the rain to admire the tiny little church, that is one of the oldest in Paris, St Julien-le-Pauvre.

Then moved onto the very pretty. gothic,  St Severin, as luck would have it, a choir was practicing and later the organ pumped up.  Wow - a massive organ with a big sound that added to the atmosphere.

To escape more rain, I visited the Musee National du Moyen Age.

Then for something completely different, a place I have wanted to visit for some time.

Institute du Monde Arabe - The Institute of the Arab World.

A building, on first glance, could have been built last year but was in fact built in 1981.  Steel and glass, sitting on the banks of the Seine. Ultra modern it is, harsh elements is has, however there is a gentle calm and beauty about it.

Nine floors high, although with short ceilings, glass and steel exposed lifts running up through the centre of the building, housing a museum, library and offices, it celebrates Arab nations.

The appeal of this building for me and the reason I wanted to visit, was the window shutters and the free views.

The cleverly designed shutters cover the facade of the building.  Taking its roots from Arabian design but in a very clever contemporary way.  The metal panels, sandwiched between glass, work like an eye or an aperture of a camera, automatically dilate or close up depending on the sunshine.

There is a reasonably priced restaurant,  located on the 9th floor, with a large terrace, where you can take in a birds eye view of the back of the Notre Dame and the Seine.

By the time I reached the Institute du Monde Arabe, the restaurant was closed in preparation for New Year's Eve celebrations but I had a delicious meal of humous, chicken and tabbouleh, in the cafe on the ground floor.  Fitting, considering I was visiting a place that celebrates the Arab World.

Now back by the Seine, the right bank was beckoning.  I decided to cross the river and go home.

After an organ recital, stained glass windows and a window into the modern Arabian world, a mix of religion and cultures, was what I found in the 5th arrondissement.

As I pushed my way through the crowds past the Notre Dame, with her bells ringing.  I stepped over the other side of the river,  to the right bank.  It always feels like coming home as I do this, maybe I am just a right bank girl.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Quiet Village Walk

Today I stepped out of Paris and into a quaint little village.

Well, that is how it felt when I entered Butte-aux-Callies, in the 13th arrondissement of Paris.

To get there I could have taken the metro but I preferred the 3km walk.  Observing how the areas change from one arrondissement to the next, each with their own look, feel and personality.

Starting from the 3rd,  cutting through the centre of I'le Saint- Louis,

one of the two islands in the centre of Paris, through the 5th on the left bank and finally reaching the big, busy roundabout, that is Place d'Italie.

In 1543 Butte-aux-Cailles was a vineyard and later a fenced, working class village, overlooking the Bievre River.

The river now runs underground and fills the local swimming pool and provides water from a well.  I watched as locals,  lined up with a dozen or so plastic bottles each,  filling up from the updated well.

There is definitely a charming village atmosphere about this area and is no doubt why it is becoming the new trendy area of Paris.

Getting out of the main busy streets, I discovered quiet cobbled lane ways, with gorgeous, unusual buildings some surrounded by unattractive 1970's concrete apartment blocks.

Not a tourist or chain store insight.   Just locals going about their business, charming independent stores, like a cute little honey shop crammed with wax, various types of honey, candles and all things dedicated to the bee.

On rue Daviel, is a row of chalet style cottages, known as Little Alsace and yet a stones throw away,  is an entire passage of small garden fronted terraces, which almost made me feel like I was in London!

I can imagine why folk would want to live here, with the quiet village feel, the charming, diverse and unusual housing and yet only a few kilometres away from the vibrant bustling streets of inner Paris.  The best of both worlds.

Rue des Peupliers, is simply beautiful, I had to remind myself I was still in a Parisian suburb.

An entire block of stone houses, each and everyone different,  lush gardens with trees, creepers hanging gracefully over stone walls and smoke wafting out of chimneys.

This was an area I had been looking forward to visiting and it didn't disappoint.

The light was fading and the cold air was taking it's toll on my body,  it was time to leave the quiet cobbled streets of Butte-aux-Cailles and head home.

Chatelet Metro was pumping with people and once again I was back in the centre of the vibrant streets of The Marais,  just another little piece of Paris.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hunting Down an Unusual Museum

In a city that doesn't seem to have too many issues wearing fur,  decked out in my new fur scarf that has a tail and two feet at either end, I hunted down The Musee de la Chase et de la Nature.  The Museum of Hunting & Nature.

A warning, this may upset some folk.

In Paris, you can find a museum dedicated to just about anything.

I have visited many museums in Paris;  Le Louvre,  D'Orsay, Jacquemart-Andre, Congnacq-Jay, Erotisme, Balzac, Picasco, Pompidou, Rodin, Marmottan Monet, Dali, Nissim de Camondo, Victor Hugo, Romanticism, Orangerie and the list goes on. Now it was time to see what The Musee de la Chase et de la Nature had to offer.

This strange and curious museum is well thought out.  The journey begins with the history of hunting.  Interactive pieces of furniture containing slide out drawers with information, binocular type apparatus, where you can peer through, as if you are the hunter yourself, has a certain buzz about it.  The guests mostly French families, enjoying their history.

Rooms and nooks are devoted to certain elements of hunting paraphernalia, ornate decorative pieces, stuffed animals, which are interspersed with quirky pieces that mock.

The French love their dogs and considering dogs were an integral part of hunting, of course there is a room devoted to the dog.

A small plush kennel, inconspicuously sits in the corner, art lines the walls of both pet portraits and dogs on the hunt.  Elaborate,  engraved gold collars fill a glass cabinet and what appeared to be some seriously doggy S & M equipment but is in fact a collar, to protect the dog's throat was also on display.

One nook displayed, antique decorative china plates, adorned with hunting scenes, ironically, amongst them, were some sweet paper plates that made me giggle.

The next room, even although, beautifully decorated, antique furniture, cloth wallpaper, an ornate gold encrusted clock, featuring a hunting scene hangs on the wall,  I found it quite disturbing.

Void of people, a large bear, standing to one side, a couple of grotesque porcelain figurines of a hunt - I had to ask myself, is this the present you give to the guy who has everything and hunts.

As I turned around something caught my eye.

A fox curled up on an armchair!

The trophy room, packed with 'trophies',  rows of elaborate rifles and guns, some pearl encrusted,  was a sight and yet somehow not as confronting as it may appear.

In a strangely wonderful museum, chairs with antelope horns, trophies of dead animals, plush toys in, what seemed to be,  preserved in formaldehyde, giant polar bears, wonderful art and furnishings, all depicting hunting scenes, informative information and contemporary installations made for a very interesting, quirky and different museum experience.

Even although, not everyone's taste, it is a museum that doesn't take itself too seriously, allows artists to express their views, either for or against and let me peer inside the doors of what was another Parisian home.

Paris is Photogenic, in any Weather

The temperature plummeted and a blanket of mist hung over the Seine today.

Heading over to the rive gauche, the left bank,  to explore the 6th arrondissement, with the chilly wind whipping around my face and the cold stinging my fingers, I pass the Notre Dame on the way.

But not before a quick pause.  Each and every time I pass, I stand on the pave, before continuing on.

Legend has it, if you stand on the gold disc, that is embedded into the pavement in front of the Notre Dame, you will return to Paris.

This has become a ritual for me, to ensure she allows me to come back and visit again.

As I cut my way through the 4th arrondissement down the bustling,  Boulevard Saint Michel, to enter the 6th, where I would spend the day, I found a quiet little passage I was looking for.

Paris is full of little alley ways, passages and court yards, you just have to be lucky enough to either come across them, or know where they are.

It was difficult to imagine that only a street away, people were out in the droves, unaware of this quaint, short cut.

The only noise, some rustling autumn leaves that scared the life out of me.  

Knowing this passageway leads into three private courtyards, I was a little nervous that I might be shooed away.

Entering through the iron gates into the first courtyard, felt like I was entering a secret world.  Not a sound or soul around.

Now called Cour de Rohan but once, Cour de Rouen, after the archbishops of Rouen who lived here in the 15th century, is a magical little spot.

The middle courtyard has a three legged, iron mounting block. These were used for older women or overweight people to mount their mules.  Apparently it is the only one left in Paris.

The third and final courtyard leads out to Cour du Commerce St Andre.

This is where, the world's first coffee house, Le Procope, can be found.

Last year, I had lunch here and accidentally ordered medium rare kidneys, instead of veal.

Cours de Commerce, a lovely cobbled street that leads into a covered passage way is where at #9 Dr Guillotin invented the guillotine.

A girl can't do too much walking around in Paris, in the cold, without a spot of shopping to warm the body and put a bounce in her stride.

I happened across this fabulous vintage clothes store, Vintage Lili Rose in 40 rue Dauphine, 75006.

You can't miss the black and pink signage and great window displays.  If it is fur you want,  they have it.

Racks of Fur coats, trunks full of fur hats and boxes full of fur scarves.  Vintage handbags, gloves hats for both men and women and a lot more.

I couldn't resist a fur scarf, that seems to have a life of it's own,  and keeps wandering around my neck.  Maybe it is because it has a tail and feet at both ends!

The store is organised, unlike a lot of vintage clothes stores, reasonably priced and the girls are lovely and speak English.

They had some fabulous over the knee boots but I resisted.

Refreshed after a bit of shopping, I moved along to the oldest church in Paris, St Germain-des Pres, first built in 542 but the current church dates back to the 11th century.

Feeling a lot warmer, with my new fur scarf and spending quite some time in St Germain des Pres, I braved the chilly wind, once again to see a square that features in a lot of movies.

Furstenberg Square, where Musee Eugene Delacroix is situated, is a small, charming square, with  old street lights.

Leading off Furstenberg Square, is another quaint, quiet street.

St Sulpice church, the 2nd largest in Paris after the Notre Dame, and took over a century to build, was my last opportunity to get in from the cold before I ended my day in the 6th Arrondissement at the Luxembourg Gardens and headed home to get ready for a night at the Chatelet Theatre to see The Sound Of Music.

Despite the near freezing conditions, it didn't stop people strolling around The Luxembourg Gardens.  Relaxing on chairs, reading the newspaper, playing tennis as if it was a spring day.

Joining the flaneurs, I braved the cold, bought a take away hot chocolate from a cart selling hot drinks and took in The Luxembourg Gardens. Very different gardens, to what people see in the summer.

And the crowd went wild!

All that walking around in the cold, gave me a healthy appetite, after a wonderful dinner of Cuisse de canard, duck- at my favourite bar, Le Petit Fer a Cheval, I walked down to the Chatelet Theatre.

When booking the ticket to the Chatelet Theatre to see The Sound Of Music, I didn't realise, until I arrived that I had exactly the same seat as last year when I saw My Fair Lady.

So close to the stage, on the first balcony.  Now,  I feel like it is 'my' seat.

The gorgeous plush gold and red theatre came alive, as the familiar songs from The Sound of Music were performed.

French audiences are wonderful to be a part of and add to the atmosphere.  It doesn't seem to matter whether it is the ballet, a rock concert or a musical, they are there for the ride and show their appreciation.

After goodness knows how many curtain calls, the orchestra played on and no one was going anywhere.  Once again, my hands were stinging,  this time not from the cold but from clapping along with the crowd.

Ray ... a drop of golden sun.