Rainy day 7 was spent primarily at the Louvre. Overwhelming, immense, claustrophobically crowded, and over the top in every way possible, who can visit Paris without a visit to the Louvre?
The apartments of Napoleon III were luckily open and were awe inducing even after the splendors of Fountainbleu. The Grand Salon, seen above, reminded me of a hotel lobby in scale and how I would have loved to have had a drink there!
It was fascinating to see the furniture of Madame Recamier (including HER recamier) as well as numerous portraits of her including the famous one by David. The museum is so immense it is difficult to even follow the maps given upon entering under the Pei Pyramid but treasures abound around every corner. While the highlights of the museum such as the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo, etc., draw huge and overwhelming crowds, other parts of the museum are quieter and cafes are to be found in all sorts of corners for museum breaks.
I think the biggest surprise upon seeing many of the paintings I studied back in art history school is that many of the paintings by David and others of that time period are LIFE SIZE if not larger! 'The Consecration of the Emporer Napoleon' must be at least 30feet long and 20feet high. Vertically challenged Napoleon never looked so big.
The stairwells are so large that you would think you were in Grand Central or some other train station. They provide excellent meeting points however and many have cafes or small gift shops.
Rounding the corner on my escape, I was shocked to see both of Michelangelo's slaves with no one paying any attention to them. It was a joy to be able to study them closely without being jostled about.
'Winged Victory' flies over a palatial set of stairs, straight out of Funny Face; The only thing missing was Fred Astaire! A quick run over to the Marais for last minute shopping (I'm keeping Mariage Freres in business) before a quiet night at home and packing rounds out this magical trip. I hope you've enjoyed my daily recaps and find something useful for your own trip to the city of lights!
As you can probably tell we've done a lot in just a few days! So day 6 was kept intentionally slow. We decided to stay close to home and at the recommendation of a couple we met at dinner one evening checked out the Conciergerie.
An odd museum, it encompasses the prisons used notoriously during the revolution. The history of the building goes much further back however as it was part of the old Capetian palace from the 15th century. Here you can see a recreation of Marie Antoinette's cell as well as a memorial to her and Louis XVI. I have to be honest and recommend that you skip this museum; so many other greater things to see in Paris!
The bonus to visiting the Conciergerie however was buying tickets to the adjacent St Chapelle and avoiding the horrendous lines! I had never visited the 13th century chapel before and can literally say it took my breathe away (and not just the tiny circular stair which takes you up to the main Upper Chapel). If you can visit SOON as the restoration of the windows is nearly complete and it is so interesting to contrast the restored windows versus the unrestored.
I have to say some of the worst behavior I've ever seen at a tourist attraction was exhibited here from people of all nationalities and ages. People were touching the painted surfaces everywhere (despite constant warnings not to and numerous signs) as well as being incredibly loud and disrespectful even though silent signs were everywhere and guides where shushing us like kindergarden children. Really a disappointing environment to have in such splendor.
The weather has been damp with daily rainfall but even the flooded Seine is a sight to behold in the evening.
Day 5 started with a long overdue visit to the Rodin Museum located in the historic hotel Biron. Despite ongoing restorations (half of the museum and gardens were closed) it was an awe inspiring visit; great house, great art, great story.
One thing I have to say is that it was nice to see a place that actually looked OLD, at least on the interior. Most things I find here are 'restored' to a state more pristine than their original form. Whats wrong with old sometimes? Being a museum since 1918 has left it a little worn though. The entry foyer was a beautiful space seen above.
The art is amazing of course. The movement found within the pieces is my favorite aspect; these large hands were so expressive and probably my favorite piece.
A (quick) stop next door to the Invalides is also recommended, but you don't need to spend too much time here (unless you're interested in military museums). Check out the chapel and Napolean's tomb (you can't miss it, under the dome!).
After a quick lunch at a local bistro, we jumped on the subway to the Marais to check out the Cognaq-Jay Museum. Often overlooked, the charming museum is housed in a renovated hotel particuleur and is full of 18th century decorative arts and furniture (you KNOW I loved that). Light on substance perhaps but lots of pretty.
Across the street is the enormous Carnavalet Museum - the museum of the city of Paris. The central garden courtyard, seen above, is gorgeous. I had avoided this museum on past trips thinking it would be a dry but I was so wrong.
The museum tells the story of the city through its people and events, not dry numbers and facts. Models of the city and its monuments, paintings of celebrities, period rooms, ephemora from the revolution and different time periods: altogether a fascinating look at an interesting but dramatic city.
The period rooms are lovely, this boiserie was highly detailed. The photo above was of Proust's bedroom recreated along with a number of other celebrities.
A bust of architect Mansart lines one of the many stair wells. Don't miss the Carnavalet! Lesson learned.
After the excitement of day 3, Day 4 was spent a little slower and more organic. After sleeping in we wandered over to the Place de la Bastille for the antique brocante market. Above you see the last remains of the dreaded Bastille.
The brocante market is a moving event throughout the city where antique vendors come from around the world to display their wares. It was the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon. Expect to pay about 10 euro for entrance.
A late lunch in a cafe on the Place des Vosges was a great way to relax and people watch.
The Place des Vosges is one of the most beautiful spots in the city. While the townhouses surrounding the square are all very similar, each is slightly different proving you dont' have to have perfect symmetry to have balance.
Wandering around the Marais is full of surprises. The oldest existing part of the city you never know what you'll stumble upon. Ancient buildings are filled with new and inspiring art and clothing galleries mingled with the cities most fascinating museums located in stunning hotel particuleurs.
Make sure to stop into the church of St Paul St Louis to see the stunning Delacroix paintings in the side chapels.
Even after a gloomy, rainy day, Paris will surprise you with a fantastic evening and an even more spectacular sunset!
Day 3 was meant to be one of the trip's highlights and did not disappoint. I scheduled a Pariscityvision tour of both Vaux le Vicomte and Fountainbleu - a little out of the city.
For the most part I can't recommend these bus tours highly enough; 'leave the driving to us' and enjoy your trip! Vaux le Vicomte is an amazing 17th century chateau which led Louis XIV to create the Versailles we have today (and imprisonment for its' owner who dared build a greater palace than the sun king!)
The interiors mostly have been brought back to this early creation but glimpses of the future styles to come still remain as well. We were lucky with the weather and the chateau was astounding.
On the way out of the chateau don't miss the large carriage museum and lunch at the cafe located in the stables; very charming.
Next on the trip was Fountainbleu, country home to French Kings and later emporers for more than 7 centuries.
Fountainbleu will take your breathe away by sheer size and the number of styles included. Really though it is an architectural 'hot mess' that is delightful and magnificent.
Napolean left the largest mark on the chateau perhaps because he was the last person to make significant changes. Above you see about 1/3 of a corridor showing his family portraits (big family!).
Napolean's camp bed has been set up within a tented room - so chic!
Napolean had a throne room set up within the apartments of king Louis XVI. cheeky.....
Which was set up next to Marie Antoinette's bedroom. I will never understand the flow of these 18th century palaces and their enfilades. How do you live here? bedroom attached to bathroom attached to throne room.
The tour ends at the Hotel Regina across from the Louvre and I suggest you end the day with a drink in their elegant bar as I did.
After dinner at L'Ilot Vache on the Ile St Louis (one of my favorite retaurants I find myself at time and again), I was thankful to climb the million steps up to my own Paris Pied a terre just across the street. Long but fabulous days!
Dear Reader, I again find myself blessfully and blissfully on vacation in Paris. The first two days have been spent organically, wandering around the city and reacquainting myself with different charming nooks.
I spent a fair part of the afternoon wandering around the Luxembourg gardens after a delicious lunch at one of my favorite restaurants that I come to again and again; Chez Fernand on the Rue Christine.
I particularly loved these stone urns planted with simple geraniums in the gardens. Also not to be missed is the Chagall exhibit at the nearby Musee Luxembourg.
A walk past the wonderful Invalides convinced me I need to visit inside sometime this trip!
No post on Paris is complete without the ubiquitous shot of the Eiffel Tower.
On the left above is the Hotel Crillon (the clean part of the building) which is sadly closed for renovations. We caught them loading the last of the contents into trucks(famously auctioned off last month at staggering prices).
Paris is full of beautiful doorways but the one above, in a very Parisian turquoise, boasts newly cleaned brass hardware. While I love the patina of age something is just so beautiful about frequently and lovingly maintained old hardware.
After a long day of wandering around the city nothing is better than returning to your own little apartment in the city seen above (rented of course) with copious amounts of stinky cheeses and a still-warm baguette from the local boulangerie. I am again staying in a cozy apartment on the well-located Ile St. Louis which I can't recommend more highly; just say no to hotels!
Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending one of those lectures which snaps you right back to life career-wise in a "oh, thats why I'm doing this" kind of way! Award winning architect and president of the ICAA, Gil Schafer spoke in Georgetown about his life, his work, and his book, The Great American House: Tradition for the way we live now.
Many of you are probably familiar with his work through the many national publications in which it has been featured as he works with many top name designers such as Miles Redd and Bunny Williams. However, his work stands strong on its own and it was a pleasure to hear him speak of his childhood inspiration, his grandmother's country house in Georgia. Ever modest, Schafer is quick to speak on how a great house is 3 parts: Architecture, Decoration, and Landscape. He explained how these topics made his grandmother's house so special and in turn, he pays strict attention to them in each of his projects.
Schafer pointed out that he strives for dignity and comfort in his houses but not strict elegance (although one could argue they are also quite elegant just not in a 'fancy' way.) Hierarchy of spaces is important; so living and dining rooms will be detailed quite differently from family and breakfast rooms ( no bloated, oversized mcmansions here!). Like me, Schafer thinks of himself as an architect who thinks like a decorator. How will you live in a space? Is it comfortable, is there room for curtains, is it so contrived so that someone won't feel at home? Schafer believes decorators teach architects, if they listen, to loosen up.While he tries to give new houses a 'history' he warns one to be careful not to become too kitsch or slavish in its historical decoration: this is a modern time of course. Schafer also stressed the importance of landscape in a project from the get go and not 5 years later when the money is available. He advises someone building a new house to plan on a fully developed landscape with a SMALLER house at first and then later put on an addition as needed.
Schafer practices in the classical language but is not a purist; he believes it's important to live in the current moment in a modern, comfortable way; not a museum (here here!). His new houses are designed 1 or 2 rooms deep with traditional, proportionally sized rooms that aren't too big so that natural light is spread throughout the space. While his work contains much larger interior openings and windows than found in older houses he keeps the proportions the same so the buildings appear 'correct'. And most important to me during his poetic and inspiring lecture, he correctly used the words house and home; home was rarely uttered. Nails on a chalk board!
Images of Schafer's New York City apartment courtsey Gil Schafer.