Paris Favorite Tips by breughel Top 5 Page for this destination
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The Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci.
Favorite thing: La Joconde is an old acquaintance of mine. We met in 1962 when I visited for the first time Le Louvre.
In those years no queue at the entrance of the museum. There was no pyramid; the facades of the Louvre were of a dirty grey color as most of the buildings of Paris. We were only a few visitors in front of Mona Lisa!
Since then I have been several times to the Louvre passing by Mona Lisa -La Joconde.
From an academic point there is no doubt for me that this portrait is excellent. The enigmatic-ironic smile of the model certainly contributed to its glory.
But … if on my first visit in 1962 I felt curiosity "so that's Mona Lisa", I never felt on my many visits that emotion, attraction, complicity which I often felt with other portraits and I have seen many portraits of women painted in the 15th and 16th century when lived Leonardo da Vinci.
For example these ladies I met at the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, "Gemäldegalerie - Extraordinary paintings.". I had a real "coup de coeur" for these women painted by Van de Weyden, Petrus Christus and Botticelli in the 15th c.
A paradoxical example of portraits for which I felt more interest than Mona Lisa was from da Vinci himself "The Lady with an Ermine" (Krakow museum)!
Château de Versailles.
Favorite thing: If you read some of my reviews you can't ignore that my first favorite palace inside Paris is Le Louvre and the second, although outside Paris (30 min by the RER), is Versailles.
I must confess that on my first visit in 1967 I was not really enthusiast with the Château de Versailles but that was before the large restoration campaign called the project of "le Grand Versailles". On my second visit in 2008 I became really enthusiast and could not stop writing 35 reviews on Versailles under the title "ON THE STEPS OF MARIE-ANTOINETTE" .
You see, on the contrary of the Tour Eiffel that you can visit in half an hour, for Versailles you will need a full day to visit the various parts of the "Château", the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon and the gardens. And that's not enough, you need to prepare your visit by reading at least some books about King Louis XIV otherwise you will not understand the essence, the soul of Versailles.
There are at Versailles two inspirations: the male inspiration of grandeur from King Louis XIV and the female inspiration for intimacy from Queen Marie-Antoinette.
Before my visit I read the biography of Queen Marie-Antoinette by Stefan Zweig, a book written in 1933 but still fascinating. I tried to follow in the various palaces the life of this socialite and extravagant Queen whose brother, the emperor Joseph II of Austria, said that she was a "tête à vent" a head with wind.
I was lucky to be there on the day of opening of the Petit Trianon, after its restoration; what touched me most was that small artificial cave in the gardens behind the Petit Trianon. The small cave has nothing nice, but it was there on the evening of October 5, 1789, that Queen Marie-Antoinette was informed about the march on Versailles by the Parisian rioters.
Could she imagine in that cave that her husband Louis XVI and she would be beheaded four years later?
Hotel de Ville seen from Ile St Louis.
Favorite thing: One of the best views in Paris is to look at the Hôtel de Ville from the Île Saint-Louis across the Seine. The Palace in French Renaissance style is splendid. Standing on the square the façade and the roof with the large number of statues representing French cities and famous Parisians are most surprising.
What interested me is that this square was before 1802, called the Place de Grève.
In my books I often read "sera pendu" or "sera brulé en Place de Grève!".
It was the site of most of the public executions. The gallows and the pillory stood there.
It was here that in 1792 the first guillotine was used and in those times it was considered that the guillotine was a marked progress compared to the previous methods of the Ancien Régime for executing criminals like burning at the stake, dismemberment, breaking wheel, etc.
"Autres temps, autres mœurs" we say.
Lumière = lamp is not "Les Lumières"
Favorite thing: What is the origin of Paris "Ville Lumière - City of Light"?
Even in France there are questions so that Radio France Info on 14th July 2012 explained this:
D'où vient cette sensation que Paris brille de mille feux et incarne la ville lumière ? L'explication date du XVIIe siècle. Paris a été la première ville qui a utilisé les lampadaires dans les rues de la ville. C'est Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie qui y apporte l'éclairage public. Pour lutter contre le crime encore trop fréquent dans un Paris mal éclairé.
(= The explanation dates from the 17th century. Paris was the first city that used lamps in the streets of the city. It was Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie who brought public lighting. To fight against crime too often present in a dimly lit Paris).
Another explanation in France is that:
L’inventeur de l’éclairage au gaz, Philippe Lebon, promeut et développe son invention à Paris dans les années 1820. Dans les années 1830, le magnifique éclairage de Paris, en particulier de ses passages commerçants, fascine les Européens. Les Londoniens baptisent Paris City of Lights, périphrase traduite en français par Ville Lumière.
(= The inventor of gas lighting, Philippe Lebon, promoted and developed his invention in Paris in the 1820s. In the 1830s, the beautiful lights of Paris, especially of its shopping alleys, fascinated the Europeans. Londoners baptize Paris City of Lights, periphrasis translated into French by Ville Lumière).
It seems that there is another explanation ( here on VT) according to which "City of Light" might come from the excellence of the intellectual life during the Enlightenment period.
I doubt because the Age of Enlightenment was a cultural movement of intellectuals, indeed in the 17th and 18th century, but was not specific to Paris; it was a European movement:
It was sparked by philosophers Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677), John Locke (1632–1704), Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), physicist Isaac Newton (1643–1727), and philosopher Voltaire (1694–1778).
The new intellectual forces spread to urban centres across Europe,…, then jumped the Atlantic into the European colonies, where it influenced Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, among many others, and played a major role in the American Revolution. (ref. Wikipedia).
Reading more about the "Siècle des Lumières" it is clear at least for me that this international philosophical and intellectual movement called "Les Lumières" in France is not linked to the use of streetlights - lampadaires in Paris but I might be wrong.
Garden of Musée Rodin - the pond.
Favorite thing: The park in front and at the back of the Biron hotel -Musée Rodin is one of my preferred green places in Paris. I am not alone to feel so when I see Parisians installed for their midday pose on the comfortable seats located at the back of the ornamental pond.
It's quiet because the entry to the garden is not free (it costs 1 € but there exists a yearly subscription for 15€).
The garden, decorated with rose trees, between the Varenne street and the Biron Hotel, comprises three of the most known works of the sculptor Rodin.
On the side of the boulevard des Invalides stands the famous “Thinker-Penseur” besieged by all the photographers. It is the most prized souvenir's photo because here one finds the original of the twenty mouldings of the sculpture distributed in the museums of planet. Note that the "Thinker" presses his right elbow on his left knee. Nice for the photos is the background with the Tour Eiffel and the Dôme des Invalides.
Near the Varenne street stands the group of the “The Burghers of Calais - Bourgeois de Calais”; on the left stands that fantastic work called the “The Gates of Hell - Porte de l'Enfer".
Under the trees you will find 25 individual statues like this "Jacques de Wissant" from the “Burghers of Calais" group.
My favoured part of the garden is the pond with in the middle the remarkable sculpture of the count “Ugolin”. Remember your lecture of Dante's “Divine comedy” with Ugolin, walled up with his sons in the prison which will become their tomb, and who starving ends up eating his dead children.
With no transition, for those who might be hungry, I like to mention here the pleasant cafeteria in the garden. (re. my tip: Cafétéria le Jardin de Varenne
Garden open: Each day, closed on Monday.
1/04 - 30/09 from 9.30 till 18.45 h
1/10 - 31/03 from 10.00 till 17.45 h
Entry price garden: 1€
Musée Rodin - Jardin, 79 rue de Varenne, Paris 7e
Favorite thing: In most countries a brasserie = brewery is a place supposed to brew beer. Not in France where a brasserie is a place where one can drink beer, wine, coffee, sodas all the day but also eat breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The difference with a restaurant lies in the fact that the food served in a brasserie is generally (with exceptions) rather simple, less elaborate. Most served are salads, omelettes, toasts and steak frites. Nothing complicated to prepare especially at noon time when the brasseries are often full because employees have lunch there as well as people doing their shopping in the centre.
Do not assimilate the food of a brasserie to that of a Fast Food; there is an ocean of difference. A cultural difference and a dietetic difference. The problem of overweight is linked here to the "Burger" type food and the Parisiennes and Parisiens are, from what I observed, keen on staying slim especially in the areas with luxury shops like around La Madeleine or Place Vendome
You will see in a brasserie that most women eat salad. There are usually a dozen different ones on the menu. But even salad is not cheap in Paris, often around 12 € and more for a "Salade Caesar" type.
To be slim is a necessity when eating or drinking in a brasserie because the seats and the tables are so terribly close to each other.
Inside is non smoking; outside on the terrace is for smokers.
Orsay coup de coeur - Sisley winter landscape.
Favorite thing: This is my favorite paintings museum in Paris, for the quality of the works on display but also the architecture of the former Gare d'Orsay. I like the complexity of the plan, the level differences, and the great clock.
At each of my visits to the Musée d'Orsay - I am fortunate to live at 1h20 from Paris by the fast Thalys train - I stop a long time in front of some of my favorite paintings, my "coups de cœur" which make my hart bounce and my eyes shine with pleasure.
One of them is a rather large winter landscape called "La Pie" (the magpie) from Claude Monet.
Further I admire "Country Dance" and "Dance in the City" by Auguste Renoir.
Followed by the twenty excellent Van Gogh paintings with "l'Eglise d'Auvers-sur-Oise", "La nuit étoilée sur le Rhône" and "Les Roulottes".
Then there are these remarkable academic, impressionist or realistic nudes about whom I wrote a complete review in "things to do" (not yet censored!).
Furthermore in addition to the paintings the Musée d'Orsay presents nearly 200 sculptures from the 19th century many from Rodin. My favorite piece is a wonderful bronze statue of Albert Bartholomew "Little girl crying".
The Musée d'Orsay is undergoing important transformation works until the end of 2011. I'm eager to see again all my beloved works of art in their new presentation.
I did so in March 2012 - ref my new review in "Things to do"
Open: 9.30 -18 h from Monday till Sunday (21.45 h on Thursday).
Price (2012): 9 €, reduced 6,50 €, free < 18 yr or 18 - 25 yr from the EU.
Fondest memory: Discovering wonderful paintings at the Musée d'Orsay.
La Pyramide: a detail compared to what is inside.
Favorite thing: As I have seen Le Louvre in the early sixties well before the pyramid which dates from 1989 but also well before the huge renovation works outside and inside undergone by the Palais du Louvre I have been asked if I like the Pyramid or not.
For me the Pyramid is only a small part of the titanesque project called Grand Louvre which officially started in 1983 and aimed at transforming all the Palais du Louvre and the Tuileries in a grandiose museum increasing its surface from 57000 to 161000 m2. I'll just remember that till 1989 the Aile Richelieu was occupied by the Ministry of Finances!
My favorite is this huge renovation work of the Palais du Louvre of which the Pyramid from Ming Pei was the only controversial part. For me it is a detail compared to what is on display inside the museum.
Presently I'm used to it standing in the main courtyard called Cour Napoléon. If I want to see what it looked before I go and look at the Cour Carrée in the back.
The problem with the Pyramid, now 20 years old, is that it can not handle the enormous number of visitors. It was conceived for 4 millions visitors/year and there were 8.5 million in 2010.
That’s why "in things to do" I recommend the other entries.
There is now a "Projet Pyramide" aiming, after modifications, to increase the capacity at 10 million visitors.
Favorite thing: The river Seine is not as wide as the Tames or the Rhine but is so more beautiful when crossing Paris. Not because of the river itself but because of the scenery on the banks of the Seine.
A cruise on the Seine, especially at night, will reveal all the well lighted monuments. There are many. I'm not aware of any greater scenery than the banks of the Seine not only the famous and so many monuments but also the houses with their homogeneous Haussmann style.
There are two cities in Europe whose architecture stands above all others for me: Paris with its nearly perfect order and Rome with its baroque exuberance.
If you say "la Seine" you can not avoid the bridges. I like all bridges but have some preferences for the pedestrians bridges like the "Ponts des Arts" between the "Cour Carrée" (Sully wing) of Le Louvre and the "Institut de France" on the Rive gauche and for the "Pont Alexandre III" which is one of the most stunning bridges of Paris. When approaching from the Right Bank i.e. by the Grand Palais, there is a sight all in gildings: the four columns with sculptures of the bridge and in the background the gildings of the imposing dome of the Invalides.
Most bridges on the Seine in the centre of Paris provide nice views. The Pont Royal is certainly one of them. It is the usual link between Le Louvre and the Terrasse des Tuileries with the Musée d'Orsay on the Rive gauche.
The view on the former station d'Orsay is one of the best you can find for you photo's On your left, towards the east, you will distinguish the Isle de la Cité with, from left to right the fine and high turret of the Chapelle Royale and the towers of Notre-Dame.
Here I have to stop; I wrote already so many tips about Paris.
Flowers at the Jardins du Luxembourg.
Favorite thing: The Jardins du Luxembourg are my favored gardens in Paris because they combine with such a perfection of trees, flowers, water basins, statues, fountain and an elegant palace.
First there is an abundance of flowers. It's a private garden belonging to the French Senate, but open to the public and the French Senators apparently like flowers.
It's also children-friendly thanks to the sailing boats on hire at the central pond, about 50 m wide, called the Grand Bassin. It is student friendly as there are a lot of seats where students from the nearby Sorbonne can study. There is less sound of traffic than at the Tuileries gardens.
Amateurs of art and history are pleased to find here 106 statues representing French artists and personalities, allegories and mythology subjects, steles, monuments, animals.
The cherry on the cake is the Palace du Luxembourg a very beautiful architectural unit which owes its name to the mansion belonging to François of Luxembourg which occupied the site in the 16th century. The estate was bought by Marie de Medici, regent of France. She had a new palace build in 1625 by architect Salomon de Brosse drawing inspiration from the Pitti palace in Florence.
From her time dates the romantic Medici fountain. The fountain is in the shadow of trees so that the water of the basin is dark like a mercury mirror.
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