Other cities have their wonders, but for me, Paris is queen. Dazzling, compelling, impressive and sometimes infuriating (don’t try to drive in that traffic!), the City of Light draws me back.
On our latest trip, John and I stayed in the Latin Quarter at Hotel St. Jacques (see my last posting, “Paris Again,” for more.) We explored the 5th Arrondissement and made it a point to eat in nearby restaurants, but we went further afield too, walking or by bus. We’d never been in two of the city’s most famous museums, the Fine Arts Museum in the Petit Palais, and the Decorative Arts Museum in a wing of the Louvre, as they were under renovation on our previous trips. Of course we were bowled over by both.
Thousands of tourists go to the Louvre to see Venus and Mona, along with quite a few others, but not as many find the wing that holds the Decorative Arts Museum, which you enter from rue de Rivoli. It is well worth a visit to see the fabulous art and furnishings, from medieval to modern. There are tapestries, ceramics, glassware, toys, intricate clocks, stunning Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces, and more. The sleek black-and-chrome museum cafe serves tasty food indoors or out.
The Petit Palais, on Ave. Winston Churchill across the street from the Grand Palais, was built for a 1900 exposition in classic mode dressed up with statuary and gilt. The light-filled interior shows off ornately painted ceilings and great art from antiquity to the 20th century. It’s been called “a mini-Louvre without the crowds.” And, a nice plus, entrance is free.
It’s also free to see the changing art displayed on Pont des Arts, a pedestrian bridge over the Seine. There’s always a line-up of provocative art; this time it was photographs of Palestine, showing a different point of view from what we usually see in the news.
On all travels we look for bookstores, and Paris has a great many, some with books in English, used and new. We happily browsed through the stacks at Berkeley Books, San Francisco Books, and Abbey Books. Abbey, in an 18th century building, has a marvelous vaulted ceiling stone cellar with floor-to-ceiling books. We couldn’t pass up Shakespeare & Co., directly across the river from Notre Dame cathedral. The warren of rooms in this famous shop, crammed with books of all kinds, is a great place to visit just for the atmosphere.
Sunday is the day to visit lively rue Mouffetard and the outdoor market at Place Monge. That’s when Parisians shop for fresh produce, cheeses, chickens, cherries, foie gras, flowers – and the market is always jammed. On one corner, a knife- and scissor-sharpener was hard at work, on another, a cluster of women pawed through boxes of shorts and sweaters, while the cheese man offered samples and vendors hawked their wares.
Another great street for people-watching is rue Buci, where we ate at L’Atlas, one of the sidewalk cafes, and chatted with an elderly woman (my French, poor as it is, was good enough for this) who said she has been coming to this cafe daily for 40 years. “Bonne journée,” and “santé,” she called as she left.
It is connections like this, even brief ones, John and I agreed over ice cream, that add luster to travel. Monuments and museums are wonderful, but every bit as satisfying are the moments you share with the people you meet along the way. Especially in Paris.