Friday, 5 February 2016

Au revoir once more

The brilliance of Picasso was on display at the Musée Picasso, despite two floors being closed in preparation for an exhibition. The sheer volume of work this man produced is astounding. The amount of stuff he kept throughout his lifetime, little doodles and tickets and pieces of paper and all manner of tiny clues to his personality and creative process is second to none. A wonderful museum, and definitely one to revisit when it is completely open.

The Eiffel Tower and the Arc du Triomphe - staples of Paris they may be, but they always look impressive, especially in a fine haze of rain. Eating a Nutella crepe and riding the carousel nearby simply enhances the experience.

Montmartre, my heart. Another walking tour, another couple of hours of bliss, even in the cold night air. Revisiting the homes of Van Gogh and Picasso, witnessing the beauty of Sacre Coeur, even buying original work from the artists who frequent the mountain. Finishing a tour in a tiny, warm bistro, with hot onion soup full of cheese and bread, red wine and a French salade too big to finish (normal salad fare like lettuce and tomatoes, but with bread, two types of cheese, potatoes, and meat in the mix also).

Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise - a peaceful, sombre experience. Among the monuments and the graves of writers, thinkers, and artists lies a smaller plot for a 21 year old woman who died at the Bataclan in November. Visceral sculptures reach toward the sky to commemorate victims of war.

The Abbey Bookshop - an English-speaking treasure trove for book lovers. Towers of paperbacks teeter precariously on either side of ever-diminishing aisle space. A fresh pot of coffee is propped on a hidden shelf. I buy two books, determined to excavate space in my suitcase, including a 1996 issue of the Paris Review with a short story by then-unknown writer, Elizabeth Gilbert. (Whether or not you liked Eat, Pray, Love, you must read Big Magic).

The Latin Quarter yields more and more bookshops. The Pantheon with its crypt full of writers and philosophers and scientists and Resistance heroes is huge, overwhelming, and beautiful. Frescoes of Jeanne d'Arc and Sainte-Genevieve adorn the walls among their male counterparts. Foucault's pendulum mesmerises visitors.

The church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont is just as beautiful, only smaller. The tomb of Sainte-Genevieve is surrounded by candles. I pray quietly and thankfully. Next door, the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve is a hive of activity, students racing in and out of the reading room and the reserve section with its cabinet of curiosities at the entrance. An accommodating guide takes me for a tour in a small group, speaking French to everyone else and translating for me. I try to express my gratitude in clumsy French first, then English.

Our last night in Paris, and the four of us find a restaurant in the Latin Quarter. I have another beautiful French salade and am able to finish it this time. We drink more red wine and order dessert - my creme brûlée is the best I have ever tasted. We return to our mostly packed-up apartment, and in the morning we have cleaned up and are on the train to the airport by 9am. I finish this blog post at the gate, about to board our flight to Manchester and the start of our UK adventure. I will always love France, its language, its people, its capital city, and I look forward to many more return trips.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The adventure continues...

I write this sitting in a food-and-wine induced fog, having just returned from the Latin Quarter with Sean after the most beautiful dinner I have had in a long time. A bottle of red, a starter of vol-au-vent with escargot in a creamy sauce, duck breast and the most tender vegetables for a main, and a chocolate 'Napoleon' dish. Sean had the most divine chestnut soup for his starter, and a creme-brulee-type dish that was served on fire to finish. Bliss.

We have spent the last couple of days walking up and down and all around this amazing city. We started at the Grande Galerie de L'evolution in the Jardin des Plantes yesterday. Even in winter, the wide open spaces are beautiful with splashes of colour made all the more precious by their rarity. The Galerie is enormous, like no natural history museum I have seen before, and the temporary exhibit on big apes was particularly interesting.

Then we embarked on a walking tour of the Latin Quarter - I have found my new favourite place in Paris. I can't believe it is my fourth time in the city and I haven't explored this until now! Thankfully, the walking tour takes you through the Roman ruins, the history of the Sorbonne, the haunts and abodes of great writers and thinkers, and the majesty of it's architecture. Sean and I were the only two people on the tour which made for a very informative and custom-made experience!

Today we visited the Musee d'Orsay, a completely new experience for me, and concentrated mainly on the Impressionists, the sculptures, and the works of Toulouse-Lautrec, though the collection is far, far larger (and still only a fraction of the size of the Louvre). We filled up on mulled wine and crepes for lunch, and then joined Claire and Steve for the catacombs. I've been through the catacombs before, but was glad to go again. There is nothing quite like it in this world - walking through the remains of six million Parisians, miles underground, and reflecting on how many people have come before you and shared the same experience - it is sobering to say the least.

We have two more days in Paris after this. Then we start our adventure in the UK. Our job-hunting, house-finding adventure. Time will tell how we handle this, but I am excited and optimistic. We are incredibly lucky to have this opportunity and I don't intend to waste it.