People often say to us, “You must visit Paris all the time!” Actually, we’ve been there only twice as tourists in our 20 years in France, and I’ve been there for the day (!) a couple of times for work. We live more than 600 km from Paris and the train service is currently slow, although that is planned to change from July. Last week, we rectified the situation.
It didn’t start well. We got to Montauban to find that our train was supprimé (cancelled). Fortunately, another one left two hours later, but it took a different route, ending at la Gare d’Austerlitz, and not at Montparnasse where our hotel was. Never mind; we were in Paris and it was only a short métro ride from one station to the other.
We had only 2 ½ days, but we took advantage of the fine but chilly weather to walk almost everywhere. Provided the weather is good, Paris on foot is very rewarding. I particularly like the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank, with its atmospheric narrow streets, so different from les Grands Boulevards.
The Marais, one of the older quartiers, is also a good place to stroll. In these neighbourhoods, you find local markets, quirky shops and the lesser-known sights. Friends own a 17th-century house in the Marais and invited us for dinner. Their house is a fascinating jumble of rooms on several floors with a small, private courtyard – a rarity in Paris.
We also discovered the buses, which are efficient, easy to use and preferable to the métro because you can see everything. You can buy a carnet of 10 tickets for €14.50, which you can use for the buses, métro and RER trains. Montparnasse is a good place to stay, since the hotels are cheaper than in the centre, but it’s not far away from the main sights and it’s a transport hub.
If you want to go by bike, you can hire a Vélib’, the public bicycle-sharing system. Paris has thousands of bikes and plenty of Vélib’ stations where you can find them.
First up was the Swedish Embassy. The SF, being a Swedish citizen, has to present himself in person to renew his passport. However, the service was friendly and efficient and we spent less than an hour on this essential but tedious task.
The embassy is just around the corner from the Hôtel Matignon, the French Prime Minister’s official residence and we couldn’t resist a look. In today’s insecure climate, the street was bristling with armed police, so I thought it prudent not to take photos.
If you’re an art lover, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Paris. It’s a good idea to decide what you want to see before you go and book tickets in advance if possible.
We had visited le Musée d’Orsay, a former station, on a previous occasion, but I needed another fix of the Impressionists. Tip: start on the top floor, since that’s where the best paintings are located. I was in seventh Heaven, surrounded by Monet, Manet, Degas, Sisley, Renoir, Pissarro…
My favourite among them? Impossible to single out one, but Monet’s ghostly painting of Rouen Cathedral and Degas’ L’Absinthe rank highly among those in the Orsay.
The art feast continued at the Louvre with “Vermeer and the masters of genre painting”. This exhibition featured 12 of Vermeer’s paintings, around one-third of his known works. His paintings focus on 17th-century domestic bourgeois life in his native city of Delft. I think they’re wonderful, especially his use of light and colour. For me, they stood out head and shoulders above those of his contemporaries in the exhibition.
The exhibition continues until 22nd May. If you want to see it, it’s advisable to pre-book tickets. Even then, you’ll have a wait of about 45 minutes to get into the exhibition, since they have to ration the numbers of visitors at any one time.
Part #2 coming shortly.
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