Flew into Paris yesterday evening after a pleasant and uneventful flight with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. Caught up on my movie watching (probably about five films – I lost count) and tried to immerse myself in French culture and language by watching all the art house French and English language films in French with English subtitles. I think it helps and really enjoyed both ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘Premier Cru’.
As usual I take a taxi from the airport – I think its worth the money just getting into a car and being driven to your hotel after 24 hours in a plane – I also like chatting to the taxi driver to get the ‘feel’ of the place. So, first chance to try my French, and managed OK and learned that the traffic was ‘catastrophe’ that evening (we were caught in a very long gridlock), that all my driver knew about Australia was kangaroos – I was introduced by him at my hotel as a ‘kangurou’! He is also an artist and paints and sculpts and said ‘ooh la la’ about the traffic about 20 times!
My Paris hotel was found on Wotif (I read all the reviews to try to get one that suits) – it is the Hotel Castex near the Place de la Bastille. Very central and welcoming – enormously helpful receptionist (not a hint of the famous French rudeness from anyone in Paris so far), smoking forbidden, small room, but nice outlook, in an ancient building with timber beams in the ceiling and a spotlessly clean bathroom with bath (heaven!)
Had an excellent meal and vin blanc at a nearby bistro (Cafe Margot)
last night and managed to have a bit of a look around before falling asleep in a blissfully comfortable bed. Started today with petit dejeuner French style – cafe au lait, baguette and orange juice to fire up the neurones before setting off to collect my ‘Paris Pass’. This is well worth purchasing ahead as it gives you entry to heaps of museums which means no standing in interminable queues and also provides you with a travel pass (unlimited) for however many days you require. The Metro is really easy to use, its a great boon, but I do like to walk as much as possible because you see so much more of the city.
So, armed with my pass, I started at the Centre Georges Pompidou – an extraordinary building composed of huge ‘pipes’, lots of steel and glass – pretty ugly on the outside to my thinking, but a wonderful treasure trove of modern art and looks great on the inside. On the 6th floor you get a magnificent view of the city – Montmatre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the classic Parisien apartment architecture. It is amazing to see artworks you feel are so familiar but you have never seen in ‘real’ life before – the work of the Fauves – a favourite was Georges Braques ‘L’Estaque (1906) and Matisse’s work – especially his design for the stained glass windows of the chapel he designed, the Cubists – Picasso, the abstractions of the Delaunays, Wassily Kandinsky, Kupka and Paul Klee. The were also bronzes by Giacometti and furniture from the Bauhaus – I so remember learning about these famous artists in art history at high school.
On the next floor down was an exhibition, as retrospective, I guess, of Gerard Fromanger. He is like so many artists an activist and famous for his depictions of political events with social commentary in brilliant colours – often he uses red as a symbol pf both blood spilling and defiance of authority. His work is truly awe inspiring in its technical mastery and conception. I came away with a real interest in his work – do check out the photos of his art.
Enough of the moderns, and with only two days in Paris, I hopped onto the Metro with a coffee and sandwich to The Louvre – so many years since I had seen it last. It really is magnificent stepping off the station platform into the marble halls and the inverted glass pyramid. The crowds were monumentous and security is tight (with good reason) – be prepared to have your bags searched and put through an X ray machine at both museums. I was then pretty much ‘washed’ up the marble stairs and through the magnificent halls of Greco – Roman sculpture (capped off by the superb ‘Victory of Samothrace’ at the top of the stairs) by the crowd. Swept in past the frescos from Renaissance times (a beautiful Botticelli fresco) and into the presence of the Mona Lisa. She really is a superstar, everyone goes to see her. She still looks pretty good for her age!
Tomorrow, the Musee d’Orsay and Notre Dame. Tonight some vin blanc, baguette, ham, camembert and French TV!