Posted by: reecejharley | January 11, 2010

The Arc de Triomphe, Parc Monceau and the Musee Nissim de Camondo

Parc Monceau

Parc Monceau

The north west of Paris, centering around the Parc Monceau, really is where all the old money is. Grand mansions line the streets. Apartments, viewable to the pedestrian passers by, show glimpses of grandeur and extravagant decoration. Many of the apartment complexes here, more than two hundred years old, glow in the sunlight, pristine, well-maintained, gated and manicured.

The Parc Monceau’s history dates back to 1769 when Phillippe d’Orléans, Duke of Chartres and a cousin of the king began to buy land on which to establish the garden. Over the years the garden, designed in an informal English style, grew to about 12 hectares up until 1793 when the Duke was guillotined during the French Revolution and the gardens passed into public ownership. In 1860 the garden was purchased by the city of Paris and about half of the land was subdivided and sold of to Paris’s well-heeled aristocracy.

Musee Nissim de Camondo

The Spiral Staircase

One of these aristocrats was the Comte Moïse de Camondo who was left an enormous inheritance and used his wealth to indulge in his love of 18th century architecture. He filled his opulent mansion with fine paintings, furniture and Objet d’art and hosted lavish society dinner parties. After his only son died in World War one, and his daughter was married, he ended up alone amidst all of his beautiful belongings with no one to share them with. He found himself personally acquainted with the concept that money can not buy you happiness and made the altruistic (though somewhat egotistical) decision, to bequeath his property and all of its contents to the Republique of France in order for it to be established as a museum for perpetuity in memory of his son. The Musee Nissim de Camondo is a masterpiece and is well worth a visit.

Staircase of the Musee Nissim de Camondo

The Arc de Triomphe

The Arc de Triomphe, sits at the centre of a star-shaped configuration of twelve radiating avenues; the Rue Hoche connect the Arc de Triomphe in a direct line to the Parc Monceau which sits just North-East.

It is probably the second most recognisable symbol of Paris after the Eiffel Tower and despite having seen it on a number of occasions in the past, it never fails to stop me dead in my tracks with a mixture of awe and enchantment. It is the shining, glittering and pulsating symbol of Emperor Napoleon’s military victories. The traffic rotating counter-clockwise around the Arc de Triomphe is considered some of the most dangerous driving territory in the world with an average of one car-crash every 30 minutes. I saw one when I was there, and a number of other close calls.

The Arc de Triomphe

Gilbert Martineau describes it like this:

The Arc de Triomphe, constructed from 1806 to 1836 according to the plans of Chalgrin, to the glory of the imperial armies, has gradually become for the French, especially since 1919, the symbolic monument of national honour; a kind of gigantic altar of patriotism.

The value of the monument, more grandiose than original, lies chiefly in its massiveness. It afford, too, the most important ensemble of sculpture of the first half of the 19th c. The great sides are adorned with four colossal groups in haut-relief.

The twelve avenues which radiate out from the Etoile pass through one of the finest residential districts of the capital. They are the great arteries of an aristocratic and social character. (pge 241)

A round-about to rival all others

Tonight is, sadly, my last in Paris for this time around. I have one more post left, and very little energy. I have enjoyed maintaining this blog and have relished the opportunity to travel this incredible city with the advice of Nagel’s guide to Paris circa 1950. In almost every instance, the guiding words of Gilbert R Martineau (publisher of this little literary gem) have been spot on and still relevant to today’s traveler.

Paris has a proud and fascinating history, and large swathes of the city seem to be fixed in time.

Despite this appearance, Paris is a vibrant and modern city, living in and amongst the remnants of it’s past. New buildings, bars, and restaurants have popped up all over the place bringing formerly docile quarters into a buzzing and lively future. France is a paradox; while holding reverently on to its history, France has always been a country geared up for change. It is the land of revolutions after all.

Tommorrow, my thoughts on Paris not as Gilbert Martineau knew it, but as it is today.

Signing off.

Posted by: reecejharley | January 10, 2010

Montmartre… of course!

On the way up

Del Montel

The little apartment I’m staying is about a five or ten minute walk south of Montmartre up Rue des Martyrs, which has a bunch of great little cafes and food shops all the way up it. Two patisseries in particular, have captured the hearts of Parisian’s in the 9th arrondissement and conveniently, are located opposite one another, Del Montel and the Rose Bakery (where i stopped for breakfast, and where everyone seemed to speak french with an American accent).

Bacon, eggs and tomatos at the Rose Bakery

Montmartre grew on a natural hill of gypsum rock which was quarried for centuries to construct many of the city’s finest monuments and buildings. Until the 1800s it was a semi-rural area renowned for its windmills (situated there because of the hill’s exposure to constant wind). As Montmartre was, at the time, outside the city’s boundaries (and therefore free from the oppressive taxation of the city), it became a popular drinking area.

The colourful atmosphere of Montmartre, its ladies of the night and its infamous dancing and drinking culture made it a magnet for artists. Toulouse Lautrec (resident artist of the Moulin Rouge), Degas, Renoir, and Van Gough (who lived at number 54 Rue Lepic) were all regulars in Montmatres bars and cabarets.

The steeps steps up to the Sacre Cour

The climb to the top of Montmartre is not for the faint-hearted, no, really… It’s steep! And on this particular morning, it was snowing and slippery.  From the top of the hill the view across Paris is Panoramic and truly breathtaking.

From the top

View from the top

Page 272 of Nagel’s guide provides this:

The butte Montmartre is 430 ft. in altitude, rising 343 ft. above the level of the Seine; it is the highest point of Paris. The basilica of the Sacre Cour, which stands on the top of the hill, above square Saint-Pierre, is a huge white building which overlooks all of Paris. From the parvis in front, the view of Paris, although less extensive than that seen from the dome, is nevertheless a splendid one in clear weather. (pge 272)

The Sacre Cour

Just around the corner from the Sacre Cour, along a few winding streets is the Place du Tetre, renowned for it’s art market and portrait painters. My tip? avoid these guys at all cost. Do you really want a caricature of yourself? do you really want to pay 25 euros for something you’ll end up shoving in a box a few months from now?

In the immediate vicinity of Place du Tetre (particularly on the northern slope of the hill) there still remains something of the old Montmartre. The series of winding and steep cobblestone streets running down the hill were home to Piccasso who was known to trade his paintings for entry into a cabaret and a few stiff drinks. One of these is Lapin Agile. Picasso’s famous Painting ‘At the Lapin Agile’ now hangs in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.

Back up Rue des Saules is ‘Le Consulat’ another cabaret which has featured in many paintings, and a whole host of little cafes and creperies.

On the way down

No post on Montmartre would be complete without a few words about its most famous Cabaret, the Moulin Rouge (Red Windmill). The building’s current incarnation is a sham, and its main clientele are distinctly foreign, though the reputation of its dancers is undoubtedly first class.

The Moulin Rouge is situated at the bottom of the hill on Boulevarde de Clichy. Its neighbours include ‘Quick’ a french version of McDonalds, and a host of other tourist shops peddling unnecessary accoutrements to daily life. Opposite the Moulin Rouge, a Starbucks. This really is Paris at its most showy and garish, but the setting nevertheless retains some of its charm.

Le Consulat

Montmartre scenery

Moulin Rouge

Posted by: reecejharley | January 9, 2010

Paris by night

Saint Germain des Pres & the Latin Quarter

Paris by night

As the sun drops towards the horizon (something which occurs depressingly early at this time of year) a blanket of darkness draws

across the city, and the lights begin to twinkle. Last night I found myself on the left bank, north of Boulevarde Saint Germain and south of the Seine (Saint Germain des Pres), as the day drew to a close.

Saint Germain des Pres is a maze of streets that have grown up west of the medieval Sorbonne University. This ancient part of the city was also the heart of Roman Paris and spectacular remains survive alongside cobblestone streets and alleyways steeped in the history of the French and American revolutions… but more of that later.

View towards Fontaine St Michel


Nagel’s guide offers this:

Between the quai de Conti and the quai Malaquais, opposite the Pont des Arts, the Palais de L’Institut de France forms a discreet and harmonious square dominated by the famous cupola. Mazarin, in his legacy, had left 2,000,000 in silver and 45,000 pounds in revenue for the foundation of a college of 60 noblemen from the 4 provinces annexed by France in the treaty of the Pyrenees.

The Institute of France consists of the five academies; the most famous, The Academie Francaise,  founded by Richlieu in 1635 and specially entrusted with the task of compiling the Dictionary of the French Language. (pge 212)

Further south, some of Paris’s most quaint and historic streets still offer the visitor a sturdy meal and respite from the cold. Cafe Procope, opened in 1686 by a Sicilian called propopio, was the city’s first cafe. Within a few years there were hundreds, and within a few decades, thousands of cafes had sprung up around the city.  It is the literary cafe par excellence and was the meeting place of philosophers, politicians, revolutionaries and… ambassadors. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson both dined here.

Cafe Procope

Shopfront at night

View north from the left bank

Posted by: reecejharley | January 8, 2010

Fashion, street life and the Flaneur

Rosa Clara

I have never seen so many fur coats in my life! They are EVERYWHERE! Paris’s shop-windows and streets are full of beautiful fashion with the most exclusive boutiques centering around Place Vendome, Rue de la Paix and Rue Saint-Honore (adjacent to the Elysee Palace).

Gucci, Cocco Chanel, Yves St Laurent, Hermes, Lacroix, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tiffany & Co, Issey Miyake, Rosa Clara, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbanna can all be found within half a kilometre of each other.

Now let me clear the air, for all of my animal-loving readers… I think that the wearing, purchasing and admiration of fur clothing is vile and merely leads to the killing of poor, innocent animals who should otherwise be roaming free… The thing is, I can’t help but snap my head around when I see a tall, beautiful woman in a fur coat. Fur coats have become synonymous with glamour and elegance. In Australia the elegance of fur clothing seems to be a thing of the past and it’s considered not just to be unfashionable, but also cruel. Paris seems to have missed memo.

Fur coats

As far as the fashions are concerned, there is perhaps no domain, except that of painting, where Paris more richly deserves her reputation as a world capital. If it can be said that the new meridian passes through Grenwich, we can claim that the meridian of fashion always passes through the rue de la Paix.

In any case, the ingenuity and the taste of the Parisian dressmakers are unrivalled, and find their expression not only in the creations of the first class houses but also in a number of shops. Anybody who claims to know Paris would do well to consider this as part of her artistic life, which is more important than one might at first believe. There is often more art to be found in the creation of a great dressmaker than on several walls of an art gallery. (pge 69)

Fur coat in the window of a boutique on rue Saint-Honore

Paris is, like any major city, a cultural hot pot, buzzing with tourists, visitors and locals. The fashionable, the unfashionable, the students, the elderly, the kids walking down the street rugged up as if on their way to Alaska and… most notably, the tourists…

Paris is a tourist mecca, so let me give my readers a few tips about how not to stand out like a sore thumb when visiting the great capital.

1. If u have a camera, put it away when you’re not using it.

2. Paris is full of shops. You do not need to carry a huge bag around with you every where you go… you can buy things if you need them. Do you usually take a spare change of clothes, your toiletries, three guide books, a water bottle, a packed lunch and snacks with you when you go shopping? If you can afford to, buy your food on the go. You’ll learn more about Paris in restaurants, cafes and markets than just about anywhere else.

3. Have a good, long look at the map of the city before you leave for the day, memorise the main streets, remember the alignment of the main features and don’t be afraid to get lost. Avoid standing on street corners with giant fold out maps. Aside from attracting pick-pockets, you also look like another silly tourist.

4. Don’t be afraid to get lost. This is when things get most interesting.

5. Focus on the human interactions around you. Smile. Even if you don’t know the language, body language will get you a long way.

Framed photos in an arcade

On foot – If we wish to know the charm of the quays of the Ile Saint-Louis or to see the old mansions, this is the only way. The same for the shop windows of which some are beautifully studied by window-dressers, specialists of this decorative art, and specifically reflect the Parisian taste; these are to be found particularly in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, rue de la Paix, Place Vendome and rue Royale. (pge 54.)

Boulevarde Saint-Germain

We strongly advise a visitor to Paris to obtain first a general knowledge of the city before starting detailed visiting of its monuments and museums. He should also realise that Paris can only be satisfactorily seen on foot, except for certain extensive modern quarters of which all that is wanted is a general vista. But in the city centre and the old quarters, one can only get to know Paris in the course of many walks, and even by wandering aimlessly about. For the scenes and aspects of the city are are infinitely varied, never quite identical from one day to another, and the wonderful light of Paris is constantly changing. (pge 78)

Tomorrow, Paris by night…

Posted by: reecejharley | January 7, 2010

Les Halles, Saint Eustache & Rue Montogrueil

The Halles (not my photo!)

Les Halles

A market has stood in the vicinity of Les Halles for more than 800 years. In 1183, King Philippe II Auguste enlarged the marketplace in Paris and built two stone halls to provide shelter for the merchants. Covering a space of more than ten hectares, it was, up until the 1970’s the throbbing belly of Paris; stuffed full with merchants, bellowing out the prices of their produce, and swarms of Parisians shopping for their daily meal. Les Halles was described by Napoleon Bonaparte as the Louvre of the people and is quoted as saying that the three most important things for a Parisian were water, wine and food. Makes sense!

It is the kingdom of strong smells, deserted at certain times, but in the early hours of the morning swarming with feverish activity. Among the mountains of foodstuffs, at the foot of Saint-Eustache, the most beautiful church in Paris after Notre Dame, in these old streets and small cafes there seems to survive something of the atmosphere of the middle ages. And perhaps more than any other, the quarter does evoke the old municipal and commercial Paris of yesterday. (pge 139)

Sadly, not everything described in Nagel’s Guide to Paris circa 1950 is still accurate. Les Halles, marketplace of the city for more than 800 years, was demolished and moved to the outskirts of Paris due to over-crowding, infrastructure concerns and commercial interests. The massive, underground Chatelet metro station, which is the hub of all metro and RER stations in Paris and sits at the city’s geographic centre is buried beneath the old Markets. Above the metro station (but still below ground) is a multi-level shopping mall, cinema complex, gymnasium, swimming pool, and food court. From the air, the old Les Halles looks like a peaceful park, but below ground level there is nothing peaceful or beautiful about Les Halles. The whole atmosphere is one of unfortunate loss.


Adjacent to Les Halles stands the church of Saint-Eustache. The scale and grandeur of this church is indicative of the wealth generated by the market and its close proximity to the former Royal Palace, The Louvre. The church is steeped in aristocratic associations; Cardinal Richelieu, Molière (famous French playwright and actor) and Madame de Pompadour (official mistress of King Louis XV) were all baptised here and Louis XIV took his first communion here.

The Eglise Saint-Eustache, after Notre Dame the most beautiful church in Paris, is a rare and magnificent building built from 1532 to 1637, where the gothic persistance shows itself in the middle of the 17thc, not in the ornamentation which is Renaissance, or even beyond Renaissance, classical, but in the ossature, in the plan, the equilibrium of the arches. Moreover the excellence of its religious music attracts many visitors to Saint-Eustache…

Saint-Eustache is particularly dear to musicians; apart from the funeral rites of Rameau, those of Mozart’s mother were also solemnised there (1778); Berlioz presented his Te Deum there, April 30, 1855 and Liszt gave his ‘Messe de Gran’ in 1866 and 1886.

The interior, 270 ft. long, 130ft. broad and 100ft. high, gives a good impression of nobility and grandeur.

Saint Eustache

Rue Montorgrueil

In a direct line north from the Church of Saint Eustache runs one of my favourite streets in Paris… Why? Because it’s FULL of food!

The lengthy rue Montorgueil is one of the best food streets in Paris, lined with everything from meat, fish and produce markets to bistros, patisseries and bars.

It’s also home to the historic Pattisserie Stohrer, the oldest continually operating Pattisserie in Paris. It was founded in 1730 by Nicolas Stohrer a Polish pastry chef who first came to to work at the Chatteau of Versailles as head Pastry chef when Marie Leszczynska (the daughter of King Stanislas of Poland) married King Louis XV in 1725. The tiny store is an Aladdin’s cave of flans, eclairs, cakes and pastries, as well as a healthy smattering of savoury delights, piled high in colourful arrangements to entice all who pass by. This is not self service… No no no… Despite there being food stacked high, surrounding the customers on all sides, you must make your order at the register, and the dutiful staff will step out from behind the counter,weigh your selection, and delicately wrap it up for you to take away… though I doubt most  purchases make it past the next block before being eaten. I ordered a Tomato and Basil tart (which was still warm) and proceeded to meander up the rest of the street in a kind of food-induced euphoria 🙂

Rue Montogrueil

Tomorrow,  Paris street-life and fashion…

Posted by: reecejharley | January 6, 2010

Ile Saint-Louis

The Ile Saint-Louis

Well….. after the grandiosity of Ile de la Cite, we now come to the smaller, more residential and human-scale Ile Saint-Louis.

Until the 17th century Ile Saint Louis was actually just two mounds of earth in the middle of the river; uninhabited, and mainly unused. King Henri IV ordered the island to be built up and populated, and so it was… The new apartments, especially those circling the island with a view of the river, were snapped up by Paris’s most wealthy noble families. The great exodus from Paris after the Royal Palace and its courtiers moved to Versailles, saw the island transition from an upper-class enclave to a more working class, neighbourhood so much so that in Marcel Proust’s novel “À la recherche du temps perdu” his heroine is told that it would be “scandalous” to live there

Much of Paris used to resemble the tight-knit alleyways of Ile Saint-Louis prior to the city’s grand-scale redevelopments under Baron Von Haussmann in the 1860s. Baron Haussman was commissioned by Napoleon III (Nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) to redesign (read demolish) vast swathes of old Paris. When you think of the Champs Elysee, Boulevarde Saint Germain, The Arc de Triomphe and the Paris Opera house you are thinking of Baron Haussmann’s work. He was much criticised by his contemporaries for destroying much of the historic city and forcing Paris’s poorest to evacuate their homes and relocate (often to the outskirts of the city). This was gentrification at its most ambitious.

The Ile Saint Louis is, like it’s sister island, connected to the rest of the city by a number of bridges. It’s tight and narrow streets are perfect for the pedestrian, and troublesome for the automobile. Actually, despite the fact that the Rue Saint-Louis in the island’s main traffic thoroughfare, it more closely resembled a pedestrian arcade where the car seemed out of place. Berthillon, Paris’s most famous and ice-creamerie is located here.

The Ile Saint-Louis, immediately upstream from the Ile de la Cite, to which it is linked by the Pont Saint-Louis (which collapsed in 1939 and is at present replaced by an ungraceful, temporary, metal footbridge), is today still a kind of little land independent of Paris, a realm of the past, very peaceful, which many fine scholars claim as their own. (pge 104)

Funnily enough, the ‘temporary bridge’ remains…

The 'temporary bridge'

Crossing the bridge from the Ile de la Cite a few things stood out. The man playing the piano in the open air, the exceptional view back to the right bank, and the woman throwing a ball to her little dog. A small crowd gathered to watch this energetic little hound run back and forth across the bridge chasing it’s ball. The owner? about 70 years old, she was wearing, a fur coat of course… I managed to get a shot of the dog mid-air 🙂

Doggy, doggy, doggy

Cafes, restaurants and little shops abound on Rue Saint-Louis, but the rest of the island is mostly  left to its residents.

At no. 21 stands the Church of Saint-Louis-en-Ille, the name of which has extended to the island as a whole. Preceded by a church consecrated in 1623, the present church, in what is known as jesuit style, was begun in 1644 by Le Vau and finished in 1726. A tower with perforated spire, 98 ft high, was raised in 1765, the earlier steeple having been struck by lightning. A wrought iron clock is hung from a bracket like an ancient inn-sign. (pge 104)

The Church of Saint-Louis

Island Cafe

In the 1920s this area became a favourite with the ‘Lost Generation’ including Ernest Hemmingway who wrote in his book ‘A Moveable Feast’: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.“, Dos Passos, Nancy Cunard and Helena Rubinstein; cosmetics industrialist and publisher of ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

Further down the street I came across one of those typical french cafes… All the chairs facing the street, the wait staff all in their blacks and whites. I sat down to rest my feet, take in the atmosphere and read more of Nagel’s guide over a cup of coffee. I’m not sure if it is that the milk is creamier, or just that the consumer is sitting in an idyllic setting, but the coffee was the best I’ve had in a long time…

Walking East, further down Rue Saint-Louis a succession of apartments, mostly uniform in style, but some obvioulsy older than others, stand proudly proclaiming their previous residents.

Nos. 12; where Phillippe Lebon discovered the principle of gas lighting (1799).

Nos. 7; the Hotel Bretonvilliers, built around 1640 for the Secretary to the King’s Counsel, Claude Le Ragois de Bretonvilliers, in which the famous painting the ‘Triumph of Venus’ one hung.

Hotel Lambert

Nos. 2; The Hotel Lambert which dominates the Eastern tip of the island and has been owned by the billionaire Rothschild family since the 1970’s. It was designed by the same architects who laid out the plans for the Palace of Versailles and its original owner was Claude Lambert de Thorigny, President of the Chambre des Comptes (The Court of Finances, which oversaw the kingdom’s incomes and expenditure and provided advice to the king).

Circumnavigating the island affords incredible views. I have uploaded a few more pics from the day below…

Tomorrow, Les Halles; Paris’s ancient market district!

Tight streets

The View


Posted by: reecejharley | January 5, 2010

Ile de la Cite

Boy is it cold today!!! A bunch of fresh parsley placed on the window sill a few nights ago in a glass of water now finds itself more akin to a floral display on top of an ice-block… The poor little things feet are frozen!

So, what did I get up to yesterday? A day spent on two little islands in the middle of the river… Conveniently, the first Sunday of the month = free entry to most of Paris’s museums… So I made good use of the offer!

The Ile de la Cite is not just the geographic centre of Paris… it is the historic heart.  Floating in the middle of the Seine, the Ile de la Cite is connected to the city on either side of the river by five bridges, four which run straight across the island, and the fifth (the  pont l’Archev), connecting to the left bank.

The Ile de la Cite contains four of Paris’s most famous buildings:

  1. The Notre Dame – The pride of medieval Europe;
  2. The Palais de Justice – Paris’s central court buildings, steeped in history;
  3. The Conciergerie – The former palace of the Capetians and central prison (Marie Antoinette it’s most famous inmate); and
  4. Sainte Chapelle – Jewel box of Paris, a high Gothic chapel with a ceiling which seems to float atop walls of bejeweled windows.

The two islands are very different from each other, in fact, it’s not too much to say that they are quite opposite. The Ile de la Cite is grandiose while the Ile SaintLouis is more residential. The Notre Dame is imposing, the Conciergerie is monolithic and slightly intimidating, the Palais de Justice is imposing and the long banks of apartments are lofty.

In this restricted space stood the whole of the primitive town and it is here that logically a visit to Paris should begin. The stone ship with the tapering prow, moored by its bridges, encloses the cathedral.

The Ile de la Cite, crowned by Notre Dame, is the cradle of Paris. Transformed too radically by the second empire and covered with great public buildings, it has not the quietness and unique charm of the Isle Saint-Louis, but it contains the finest Gothic monuments in the capital: Notre Dame and the Saint-Chapelle.  The Palais de Justice is one of the most history-laden spots in France and the circle of its quays discloses a succession of incomparable scenes. (pge 86)

Notre Dame from the left bank

The Place Dauphine

At the western-most point of the Ile de la Cite stands the Place Dauphine. Two rows of apartments opened at the end constituting an elegant triangle, much like the bow of a great stone ship. The Place Dauphine is perhaps the most intimate and residential section of the island. As I walked into the Place Dauphine I noticed a rickety little door swinging open and shut, a diminutive man stepped up and out of the shoe-box apartment at street level. Hunched over, he seemed to be having difficulty working the lock on his door and he hurried back inside once his dilemma had been resolved and hurriedly swung the drapes shut to ward off prying eyes.

The Place Dauphine

Nagel’s guide offers this:

The Place Dauphine, created in 1607 to complete the Pont Neuf and in honour of the Dauphin (later Louis XIII), extends in a triangle between the  Quais des Orfevres and de L’Horloge. First of the royal squares, conceived in the classical period, the Place Dauphine was uniformly built pf houses of brick and stone, with two identical facades, one facing the square and the other the quay. They were all of three stories, with the ground floor arcaded and crowned with large dormer-windows with curving fanlights in the slated roof. This fine ensemble has been regrettably disfigured, most of the houses having been altered, heightened or rebuilt. Only nos. 14 and 26 have preserved their original appearance.

The place Dauphine opens on the west on the place du Pont Neuf, between two attractive Louis XIII houses in stone and brick, restored. This marks the point of the Ile de la Cite and the middle of the Pont Neuf. Opposite stands the equestrian statue of Henri IV. If the merchants and ballad0singers of former days have dissapeared, the spot is lively, cheerful and always charming. Downstream one sees the Louvre, on the right bank and the Mint and the Institut on the left bank. Behind the statue of Henri IV, as a low beach, the point of Vert-Galant tapers like the bow of a ship, and bears a delightful little garden filled with ancient trees. This whole scene, viewed for example from the Pont des Arts forms one of the world’s loveliest urban sights. (pge 88)

Ile de la Cite from the Pont des Arts

From the Place Dauphine I walked east towards Notre Dame along the quay. The weather in Paris has been unexpectedly mild with cool weather, but not the biting chill I was expecting. The sun continually peeps out from the trees lighting up the facades of the buildings and basking the throngs of tourists in a warm glow.

The Palais de Justice

The Palais de justice takes up a substantial proportion of the west of the island stretching from one side to the other. This is not just a tourist attraction. It is a fully functioning government building, rimmed with guards, police vehicles, barriers and authoratative signage.  Though most of the building is off limits unless you have been accused of a crime or are on the payroll, parts of the building are open to the public, including Saint Chapelle which stands in the main forecourt of the building.

Palais de Justice

The Saint-Chapelle

The Saint-Chapelle (the steeple is viewable in the left of the photo above) is actually my favourite building in Paris, and probably the world. It is quite unimpressive when viewed from the main street and even when viewed up close. It appears diminutive, darkened by years of weathering and hidden as if somehow shameful. All of this could not be further from the truth when you step inside!

The Sainte-Chapelle, marvel of Gothic architecture (1246-48), unfortunately closed in by unpleasant surroundings, is one of the jewels of Paris. It consists of  a low and high chapel.

St Louis had this chapel built to contain the Crown of Thorns and a part of the True Cross, which had been sent to him from Constantinople by Jean de Brienne and the Emporer Baudouin II. The Saint-Chapelle was burned in 1630 and rebuilt very slowly.  The building, 117 ft. long, 55ft. wide and 136 ft. high (the spire rises a further 108 ft.) arouses admiration first by its remarkable lightness: the stained glass windows are so large by comparison with the slender framework of stone that the monument seems to stand by a miracle of equilibrium.

All parts of the upper chapel are covered by gilding and colouring: but the principal beauties are the stained-glass windows. Each of the 15 windows is a dazzling jewel-box. Scenes from the Old Testament fill seven windows in the nave and four in the apse. The great rose which dates from the time of Charles VIII is divided into 86 panels (the apocalypse). (pge 91)

The interior of Saint-Chapelle

More to come…

Posted by: reecejharley | January 3, 2010

The Louvre, The Seine & Pont Neuf

The Seine

The Seine is the main feature among all those that compose the multiple and complex life of Paris. It intervenes conspicuously in the landscape. It is at the city’s origin, was the primeval element in its food supplies up to the introduction of railways and remains one of the principal factors in its development. Moreover no waterway is more loaded with history. (pge 78)

From the little apartment I’m staying in to the Seine is a 20 minute stroll down one of Paris’s grand promenades (rue la Fayette), past the opera, through the financial and business heart of the city and finally through the Jardin de Tuileries (the gardens of the Louvre). A ride on the metro is much quicker and direct, but glossy tiles and bad posters flashing by in a zoom is not as interesting as the hustle and bustle of daily life on the streets.

The famous glass pyramid

The Louvre again

To my delight, my first ever experience of snow falling from the skies was yesterday standing in the forecourt of the Louvre… just tiny little specks of it, but snow nonetheless. I surveyed the que into the famous glass pyramid, and decided the Louvre might be best left for another day… I walked through the archway formed by the Denon wing and along the Quai Francois Mitterand named after the former President of France (1981-1995).

Archways of the Denon wing of the Louvre

Crossing the Pont des Arts onto the Left Bank (the half of the city south of the river) and along the Quai de Conti to the Pont Neuf (the bridge in the photo below) I pass a few booksellers and merchants peddling, postcards, posters, little paintings of the main sights and tourist junk who set up shop from little green boxes attached the the wall.

This area is unique: particularly the book boxes, bolted to the parapets, provide one of the most striking sights of Paris, “The only town with its library in the open air” (Hanotaux). Book finds however, become more and more rare, and it looks as if the quays are on the decline since the great days when Sardou, Heredica, France, Barres, used to come hunting among the boxes.

Between the Pont-Neuf and the Pont des Arts, the Quai de Conti has taken the name of the old Hotel de Conti, replaced in 1767  by the Monnaie and the Palais de l’Institut. Opposite the latter, the Pont des Arts joins the place de l’Institut to the Quai de Louvre: raised a few steps above street level, it is reserved for pedestrians.

View across the Pont des Arts

A metal bridge, it marks the debut of iron construction at the beginning of the 19th century. Its name comes from Palais des Arts (title of the Louvre under the 1st Empire). At first it was lined with boxed orange trees and chairs, and still keeps its peaceful character, as it is only used by pedestrians. From the bridge there is an incomparable view over the west point of the Ile de la Cite… (page 83)

The Pont Neuf

The Pont Neuf is a busy thoroughfare with buses and taxis back and forth and over-dressed  tourists seemingly prepared for a stroll in the artic packing the side walks. The view of the Louvre and down the Seine toward the Eiffel Tower is incomparable. Nagel’s guide has this to offer the traveler:

The two arms of the river, on both sides of the island, are crossed by a single bridge, the most famous in Paris, and the most popular, sung by Hugo, and painted, engraved or sketched by artists of every period, the Pont Neuf, a double bridge, with its base on the west point of the Ile de la Cite.

In spite of its name (Neuf = new), it is the oldest in Paris. Henri III laid the first stone on may 31st 1578. The assassination of Henri III (1589) interrupted the work, which was restarted by Henri the IV in 1598 and completed in 1606 in a style more classical than Renaissance. The equestrian statue of Henri IV by Jean Bologne, the first statue to be erected in a public way in the Roman manner, was destroyed on August 13th 1792, and replaced by a statue by Lemot in 1818.

The bridge with its supporting square had a tremendous vogue, for it had the first footpaths in Paris and was the one and only not lined by houses. It became the scene of perpetual and swarming fair: booths, flower girls, strolling peddlers, booksellers, and a thousand picturesque scenes. It has its name in the history of the theatre, for it was the chosen scene of the farce-actors… Finally nits most exhaustive historian, Fr. Boucher, thinks it is not too much to say that the Revolution was born on the Pont Neuf. (pge 82)

Pont Neuf

Tomorrow i’ll be visiting the Ile de la Cite, Place Dauphine, Notre Dame, and Ile Saint-Louis…

Spending my days traversing bridges and walking through little squares filled with pigeons and prams is yet to lose its sheen. The vibrancy is palpable and the history is unavoidable. Almost every building in the oldest parts of Paris displays a small plaque proclaiming a famous former resident or monumentous event which happened within its walls.  This is a city I would gladly live out my days in.

Posted by: reecejharley | January 1, 2010

Paris, here I come!

With just a few short hours left before i hop on my gruelling flight to the the elegant city of Paris I thought i’d share with you a passage from page 23 of Nagel’s Guide to Paris titled; ‘Employment of time’.

To “see’ Paris, more or less, the formula “a month in Paris” is as indespensable as a “month in Rome” is for the Italian Capital. A sojourn of four weeks in Paris is not too long for anyone who desires to have a complete idea and to devote to the principal collections and monuments more than a passing glance. One may also thus avoid the fatigue resulting from too hastly visits.

A fortnight however may suffice, if needs be, to make an exact survey of Paris, without, nevertheless, being able to visit thoroughly the big collections, or have much rest.

It may be added that one can visit Paris in a week, naturally without making any serious or deep study of the city, by a week, we mean eight days completely filled up, every minute taken from morning until night. For such a visit one must be blessed with good health, for nothing is more tiring than walking about a city, entering churches and visiting museums, in a word sight-seeing all day long amid a continual movement of the population which is not the least attractive spectacle of a city like Paris but which leads to an undeniable fatigue.

Well, without the luxury of a month in Paris, or even a fortnight, i’m going to have to employ my time well… Having visited Paris twice before, I’m more intrigued by the small details, the culture, the cafes, the little alleyways and hidden courtyards, than the big tourist traps… but the Eiffel Tower does have a mysterious and continuing allure which might see me head back time and again.

To my one or two readers 🙂 strap yourselves in… I’m about to step back in time and i hope you’ll come with me for the ride!

Au revoir et salut!

Reece 01/01/2010

Posted by: reecejharley | October 10, 2009

What’s this all about?

A few years ago, while rifling through the shelves of a second-hand bookstore I came across a well-loved, slightly yellowing and stylishly-simple guide to Paris.

“Nagel’s Paris”, published in 1950 (just one of in a long series of the now world famous ‘Les Guides Bleus’ (The Blue Guides)) is a real delight to hold in your hands. Gold embossed lettering printed onto dark blue cloth, bound around light and fragile pages. The dense text (devoid of the glitzy photos which swamp modern travel guides) is straightforward in parts:

“The Place Vendome, a rectangle with cut corners, 240 yards long and 136 yards wide, surrounded by uniform Corinthian-order facades, presents an admirable architectural unity of the Louis XIV period (1687-1720)” pp131

And generously descriptive in others:

“Although the cinema has become a habit, and a week does not pass when a Parisian does not go to see at least one film, the theatre has never ceased to hold a very important place in the literary and social life of Paris. The capital of France remains a dramatic centre where reputations are made and broken, and the fame of of its consecrated works spreads throughout the provinces and abroad.” pp62

Instantly my mind wandered to thoughts of Paris in the 1950’s. The bustling elegance of Boulevarde St Germain, the conversations overheard in Cafe de Flore, The Jadin de Tuilleries filled with wide-brimmed hats, men in their waistcoats and the excitement of post-war freedom still lingering in recent memory….. Did my idealised vision of Paris come close to resembling reality? Perhaps this guidebook would help me better understand an iconic city which has since slipped into history? What cafes, restaurants, parks and museums would remain true to the descriptions of George Monmarche` when he visited them, taking detailed notes for Nagel’s Guide?

School Children in Parc Mountsour with a view to the Arc De Triomphe

School Children in Parc Mountsour with a view to the Arc De Triomphe

I am arriving in Paris again (my third visit) in January 2010: Exactly 60 years on from the Guidebook’s publication, and this time i’m on a mission; a mission to find what’s left of Nagel’s Paris of the 1950’s

This blog is a meandering journey through the ageing pages of Nagel’s Guide to Paris and through the streets of Paris itself!

Follow my travels, as I follow the advice of Nagel’s Guide to Paris, 60 years on…