The morning started a bit unusual. First of all, there was actually bright sunshine and a blue sky! I mentioned it in my blogs 2 years ago, but for the first time traveler to Paris…be prepared for all sorts of weather. It can be rainy one moment and chilly, and then the sun comes out and it’s warm and delightful…only to cloud over and rain an hour later. Dress in layers, pack an umbrella or wet weather gear and you will be good to go.
After delighting in the nice weather, I ran down to the boulangerie and got the usual, and after finally waking up the youngest of our Trio, we were able to enjoy breakfast up on the roof overlooking the City as it came to life. New York has some amazing bakeries, but literally nothing compares to the pastries in Paris. And fruit in Europe is simply better. The strawberries sold in European stores and markets are small by American standards, but they are very ripe, similar to those you would pick at a strawberry patch….and very unlike the huge, hollow, tasteless ones we get at our stores. You will taste a strawberry or a raspberry as it is supposed to taste.
After a lovely breakfast, we headed just a few blocks away to the Cluny Museum. I had actually visited the museum when we were in Paris 2 years ago, but i thought Josette and Lena would like to see it. And since that time, they have changed the name of the museum to the Musée National du Moyen Âge….which means National Museum of the Middle Ages. It should be noted that the building also sits on part of a Roman Bath from the 3rd century A.D. and you can visit the huge frigidarium (cooling room) that is part of the complex.
The museum is housed in a former hotel (or private mansion) built for an abbot of Cluny around 1585-ish (actually, the building is a century older than that, but it was gutted and remodeled in the late 1500’s). Much of the charm of the museum is the building itself. They have an amazing collection of medieval artifacts from Paris (and France in general), most notably home to the “Lady and The Unicorn” tapestries, created in about 1500. No one knows for sure what the series of tapestries is about….probably the senses (touch, taste, smell, etc.) but everyone agrees that in sheer size, detail, and vibrant color, they are a marvelous medieval artifact.
One of the more interesting parts of the Cluny collection are the statuary that used to adorn the facade of Notre Dame. After standing tall and proud for centuries, these statues were worn down by the elements and were replaced with replicas.
The museum also houses a huge collection of medieval wood carvings. The detail on these is amazing and I could stand for hours admiring all of the intricacies and talent that these artisans possessed.
If you recall from a previous post about Sainte Chappelle (the beautiful stained glass Chapel that we visited), the Cluny possesses some of the original stained glass removed from Sainte Chappelle during the French Revolution, when the chapel was severely damaged. It’s interesting to get a chance to see the pieces up close and try to understand the technique. Many of the pieces are 3 dimensional.
I don’t know enough details about the former Roman Baths from the 3rd century A.D., but you can see the remnants of the Roman facility and actually walk thru the frigidarium. It is vast and has a distinctive mineral/sulfur smell (one that we actually noticed when we were in the Roman Baths in England and at Roman ruins in Italy last summer).
I won’t belabor the Cluny visit anymore, but I think it is an oft overlooked museum in Paris. The following are a few objects from the collection that caught my eye.
Just around the block was our next stop for the day, the Church of Saint-Séverin, the oldest church on the Left Bank, begun in the 1200’s. It’s a lovely church, after a visit, is not in my top 20 in Europe that we’ve visited thus far. Most interesting to me was the odd, palm tree-like column found at the rear of the church and the modern, 1970’s stained glass windows by Jean René Bazaine representing the sacraments.
Since we were so close to Notre Dame, we decided to take a walk over and see her once again. I’m not sure why the cathedral is so magical, obviously it is an icon of Paris, but I think the way the church is perched on the edge of a sliver of a little island in the middle of the Siene is probably what makes this cathedral so unique and dramatic. We didn’t bother to venture inside, but it was nice to see her up close again.
I will note here that Paris is FULL of armed militia in almost any place where there are crowds. We have this in New York as well, so rather than being alarmed or feeling like it’s a military state…I personally took some comfort in their presence.
We walked along the Siene, towards our next destination, Les Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb (all in one complex). Along the way, we passed by a busy brasserie full of diners in business attire…so rule of thumb is that if a place is good with the locals then it must be good enough for us. The food and service was great…I enjoyed a haddock dish with some sort of white sauce, Josette had beef and a salad and Lena had a hamburger. Of course, there was espresso and a bit of wine, as well.
After a rather arduous and long hike, we made it to Les Invalides, a former military retirement home and hospital for war veterans and soldiers built by the Sun King, Loius XIV in 1670.
Now a military museum, the complex is full of room after room of military paraphernalia from all of France’s various wars.
There is also a military chapel, designed in the baroque style (apparently, residents were forced to attend mass here).
We chose not to visit the World War I and II areas, instead concentrating on the medieval armor. Possibly a little influenced by our love of Game of Thrones, it was really interesting to see the armor up close and try to figure out how those men maneuvered to fight or joust in such heavy gear.
Finally, it was on to Napoleon’s tomb, which was unsurprisingly grandiose and over the top. However you feel about Napoleon, he always did things in a big way… even in death!
At this point in the day, we were exhausted, but determined to cross everything off our list before the end of the day. We stopped for a snack break and then made another long journey by foot for a quick ride on the relocated giant Ferris wheel with spectacular views of Paris. For whatever reason (probably sheer exhaustion) my fear of heights wasn’t so bad this time…
And as if the day had not been long enough, we decided to go all the way up to Monmartre to take in a sunset view from Sacré-Cœur. On our last visit to Paris, this was not one of our favorite spots. The view is amazing and the church is gorgeous…but the area is seedy. Throngs of annoying tourists, mostly young people smoking and drinking, but also the home to loads of scam artists and pick pockets. On this visit, I had a bit of an incident with a guy trying the string bracelet scam…he actually grabbed my wrist and when I pulled away and said “no thanks” he grabbed my shoulder and wouldn’t let go. In hindsight, I’m embarrassed, but little old me told him to get away from me, and I threatened to punch his face if he didn’t let go of me. Probably a stupid move as he had at least 20 friends around trying the same scam…but we came out unscathed. I suppose with the previous terror attacks, the police have other priorities in the city….we didn’t see any police at all at Sacré-Cœur, so these scam artists have no reason not to be aggressive. Be forewarned…it was like this 2 years ago, and has only gotten worse (IMHO).
And finally…after a VERY long day, we were back in our neighborhood, had a quick bite and enjoyed one last night enjoying the amazing views of the City from our roof.
Tomorrow we head south for Avignon.