En cherchant la Joconde

My mum came to visit us here in France again. January might be cold, but it is a good time to do sightseeing. The queues are noticably shorter this time of the year.

We walked a lot, like the last time she was here. This time we explored the Jewish quarter of Paris. The area is great, lots of interesting shops and signs and restaurants.

I’ve been in France for a year and a half and I still hadn’t visited the Louvre. I wasn’t that interested in seeing Mona Lisa in person and the queues were always daunting. Plus none of my visitors expressed an interest. My mum finally asked me to get tickets ahead, because the only thing that’s worse than queueing is queueing while it’s 5 degrees and rainy.

I had to give the Louvre my birth date and address and pay 2 € extra for the privilege of printing out the ticket myself. I even complained about it on twitter, because with every click i got a generic error message. And I mean that literally:

The Louvre sent me a private message to explain it’s necessary that I enter my birthdate because it’s necessary and that they will take care of the error. They haven’t.

Enough of my rant, the offline Louvre is great. In both size and content. We also didn’t have to queue at all, because it’s January. I grabbed a map and went right to the French painters, where I expected the Mona Lisa to be. It took me two floors of paintings to realise my mistake and find the Italian painters on the map.

At least we saw a few gems on this little unscheduled detour.

Once we were in the right wing of the Louvre there were arrows pointing the way and people to follow. Mona Lisa is in a large room with lots of other paintings that go mostly ignored. There are 2 types of barriers separating the throng of tourists from the painting and two very bored guards on either side. People take selfies with the image all the time and there are queues for good selfie places.

I already knew that the painting is fairly small and didn’t expect to be impressed. And it felt like it was a matter of duty, seeing Mona Lisa in the Louvre :-)

Afterwards we had coffee and tackled the rest of the museum. I had no idea the Venus of Milo was also in the Louvre and the room she was in was almost empty.

We had tickets to go to Reims for the next day. So we got up early and went to Paris to board the TGV to Reims. It’s only a 45 minute ride with no stops because the train goes over 300 km/h. My mum was really excited about the velocity, but didn’t want to act too touristy. I totally encouraged her to get up and take a picture of the sign that displayed the speed. I take pictures of anything and everything, I very much understand the impulse :-)

Reims is a pretty town, not too big to walk. A lot of it was destroyed in WWI, so many houses in the center have art deco façades.

It also has a giant cathedral in which most of the French kings were crowned. Some of the stained glass windows were designed by Marc Chagall in the 70s. We missed the opening times of the palace de Tau, which houses the coronation museum, so we wandered on to the basilica.

Reims is also the place were Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of Germany on May 7, 1945. When my mum mentioned that I had to laugh. I only know the name because of the Hitler reacts to meme and he is one of the people who stay in the room. I tried to explain the meme to my mum but retelling YouTube memes doesn’t really work.

I was confused. All French towns appear to have a rue 8 mai, why not 7 mai? It turns out, the surrender was signed on the 7th in Reims and then signed again in Germany in the presence of the Soviets on May 8. In Russia the end of the war is considered to be May 9, because it was already after midnight Moscow time.

We visited the museum dedicated to this event. It’s in the former headquarters of Eisenhower next to a school. It was a small museum but I found it really interesting. I don’t need the uniforms but I liked the contemporary newspapers and the original war rooms with all the maps.

Ici repose Napoleon

One of the things my mum wanted to do when visiting Paris is visit the Dôme des Invalides, where they put Napoleon’s tomb.

After admiring the brown monstrosity that is Napoleons tomb we walked to the Eiffel Tower. On our way we found the ultimate Paris apartment: 8 m2!

8 square meters and energy class G. Just 95 000 Euros!

8 square meters and energy class G. Just 95 000 Euros!

I managed to successfully avoid climbing the Eiffel Tower, so far and mum neither wanted to climb the steps nor take the elevator. So we just admired the view and enjoyed the irony of the wall for the peace being instable and dangerous, so you weren’t allowed get close.

Later Gergö suggested to visit village Saint Paul. It’s several interconnected yards with little shops, artisans and cafés. Leaving the area we came across a motorcycle protest. Apparently the cyclists were protesting against a new anti-pollution law that would ban motorcycles registered before the year 2000 during weekdays. Fittingly they did that by polluting the city center with traffic, noise and, well, air pollution.

In the evening we visited Butte aux Cailles, which Gergö already wrote about. We went to the Basque restaurant again and I tried the duck with Roquefort sauce. I realy liked the food, but the place is very small and loud.

Duck with roquefort sauce. Sounds weird, looks odd, tastes great.

Duck with roquefort sauce. Sounds weird, looks odd, tastes great. Also, unlike my mum I have no shame whatsoever in photographing my food.

On Monday we walked to Montmartre and enjoyed the lovely view, the street art, a glass of chilled wine in the afternoon sun and the strange little shops of the quarter.

After Montmartre we went to visit Jim Morrison at Père Lachaise cemetery. The last time I was there it was a foggy February day, so it was interesting to see the place in a different light.

Mum had already announced that she really wanted to see the Bayeux tapestry, so we took a day to get there. Bayeux is in Normandy, about 2.5 hours by train from Paris. Apart from the world famous tapestry that’s almost 1000 years old, there’s also a cathedral and a D-Day museum.

The tapestry is embroidered on linen and something like 70 metres long. It depicts the story of William the Conqueror / Guillaume le Conquérant and the battle of Hastings. Because it’s so old, it has to be protected against light, humidity, etc. and you can’t take any pictures.

The tapestry itself is fascinating. We walked along the tapestry twice, once with audio guide explaining the scenes, and once to just look at stuff. Mum had read up on the tapestry and pointed out how they could tell the Normans and English apart: The Normans had short hair and no beards, while the English had long hair and mustaches.

The museum that is dedicated to the tapestry is also really good, I thought. They explain the technique that was used to embroider the pictures, the dyes used, what happened during earlier restauration attempts. And for example also show how the tapestry was an important source for researchers looking into ship building tools and techniques of the 11th century. Fascinating stuff.

We had a great time and were really lucky with the weather. It was an exhausting day, but a pretty unique experience, totally worth it.

Ma mère nous a rendu visite

Last week my mum came to visit us in Palaiseau. She stayed for a week and we walked so much, she joked about requesting a wheelchair for the airport.

I’ve been to the cathedral of Notre Dame several times, but I never actually went inside. This time there was no queue at all, so we had a look. Mum brought her SLR and it’s okay to take photos, as long as you don’t use a flash. I just took a single blurry photo of the candles, because I was surprised that they let you light a real candle with real fire in the old cathedral.

It started to rain, so we wandered in the direction of Les Halles, to catch a train home. Les Halles is a big train and metro station and underground shopping mall. The ground floor has been a building site for years. Now the giant yellow canopy roof is finally finished and was officially opened.

As we took the escalator down, I could see regular wet spots where the brand new roof is leaking. At one end a rain pipe funnels the water onto the stairs. There are guard rails surrounding the spot where the water comes down, so I think it was on purpose. The waterfall splashed beyond the rails though. I am not the only one who noticed the leaking.

Les Halles is used by a lot of people. You have to go through the underground mall to get to the train and metro station. Yet some stairs were closed off. I suspect it has to do with the fact that there’s a security guard at every entrance that waves a metal detector at passerbys and asks to look into bags. The whole redesign was planned long before the Charlie hebdo shootings and the November 13 attacks.

The day after our walk through the city we walked along the Seine. At pont neuf we rather spontaneously decided to get on a boat for an hour long tour.

It was lovely and sunny which then changed to a drizzle while we were walking to the Musée d’Orsay and then to horizontal rain while we were trying to find the entrance. The business savy vendors out front sold umbrellas, which were of no use in the wind.

The museum is in a former train station. I read about that fact and didn’t much think about it, until I went inside. The train station was built for the world fair in 1900. Apart from the beautiful beaux-arts architecture (yeah, I looked it up) it also has a huge collection of impressionist paintings. Also, there’s a small replica of the statue of liberty.

After the museum visit the weather had cleared up and the vendors had returned to selling water bottles. We walked to Jardin Luxembourg, just across the Seine and headed for the obelisk. The guide on the boat had said that Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were beheaded on the Place de la Concorde and we wanted to see the plaque for ourselves.

At this point I’d like to point out that we are still on day 2 of sightseeing.

And because the Arc de Triomphe was already in sight and it was still nice, we decided, what the hell. We reached the Arc while a ceremony was winding down.  Lots of people in uniform and at least one marching band were leaving the place when we arrived. Under the Arc is an eternal flame and a memorial for the unknown soldier which I assume was the reason for the event.

Day three was spent in Palaiseau, where we took a walk along the Yvette and finally had dinner in the restaurant that has the best tripadvisor rating of Palaiseau. It serves specialities of the mountains and is decorated in that fashion. We had giant portions of potatoes with smelly cheese with beer brewed with water from Mont Blanc. It was delicious, of course.

Potatoes, salmon, spinach with lots of reblochon cheese.

Potatoes, salmon, spinach with lots of reblochon cheese.

I think that’s enough for today. I still have some stuff to do before our next guests arrive tomorrow :-)