When I started to plan for the short European vacation over the Christmas season there was one day I knew was going to be difficult to plan for: Christmas Day in Paris. According to my internet research every museum except one, most public facilities and even many restaurants were going to be closed on Christmas. And if the weather was going to be miserable that day it would mean we would be stuck in the apartment, a lost day of sightseeing. It would be a restful day, but unwanted. But you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Thank goodness Christmas day turned out to be sunny and a splendid day of new experiences.
On the train from Amsterdam to Paris via Brussels
This was our 3rdh visit to France and 5th to Paris (what makes you think it is one of our favorite destinations) and walking the rues, between all those Haussmannian pierre de taille (dressed stone) buildings and seeing all those familiar landmarks again made me feel I’m home again. Even using the metro has become second nature.
And for not believing everything you read on the internet, well that is true. On previous occasions we have stayed in the 3rd, 4th, 6th 10th arrondissements and this time our apartment was in the 11th. It was a little outside the usual tourist area and on the internet it showed there were several grocery stores in our area. However, arriving late on a Sunday afternoon we were in need of some basic groceries like milk, coffee, bottled water, wine (always, but specifically not needed on that day because I bought a bottle of South African red wine, a Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon in Amsterdam) and also some vegetables, butter, cheese, etc. because I had to make dinner that night with some sausage we bought at a Christmas market in Amsterdam, which was supposed to be dried, but was not at all.
Google maps showed that all the groceries stores in the area would be closed by 12 noon with the last one opened only until 2 pm. We arrived at our apartment after 4 pm and immediately went searching for an open store, hopeful for a non-French owned produce store that sometimes also sells a few general groceries or a superette along Boulevard de Beaumarchais, which was not far from our apartment. Well, we found a Franprix convenient store, not shown on Google maps at all, just two blocks away and it was opened on Sundays until late. It was even opened on Christmas day until 12 pm. So while M had her feet up and caught up on her emails and Facebook correspondence, I slapped together a Penne with a Bolognaise sauce made from Dutch sausage, red wine, mushrooms and Swiss Emmental cheese and served it up with a small green salad and a few slices of baguette and creamy French butter. The strong flavorful dish was well supported by the Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon.
The George Pompidou Centre for Modern Art
One of the places that have eluded me on previous visits is the Pompidou Centre for modern art in the Beaubourg area. It is the largest modern art museum in Europe and two of its floors are dedicated as vast a library for research. I like all forms of art and all mediums, and I like to believe I have a balanced outlook on art. As long as it is reasonably pleasing on the eye or evokes a reaction or I can understand what the artist is trying to convey I will appreciate it. I will admit that since a young age I have had a soft spot for Wassily Kandinsky, Salvador Dali, Picasso and the landscapes of Camille Pissarro. I thoroughly enjoyed the morning’s visit to the Pompidou Centre, M probably not that much, although I have to acknowledge there were some works that totally baffled my mind and which I would not call art. Or rather, “art” that can be done by anyone with a few brain cells, not necessarily enough cells to be talented. But hey, who am I to judge? Their work is in the Pompidou and mine isn’t.
Indian art exhibition inside the Saint Merry Church on Rue Saint-Martin
After a late lunch, we roamed the streets in a seemingly “aimless” fashion, browsed the open markets down Rue Saint-Martin, popped into Saint Merry Church to look at an exhibition of Indian mixed medium art, sculpture and photography, until we ended up at the Saint-Jacques Tower and from there walked to the Hôtel De Ville and a Christmas “market” on its square. There weren’t many stalls, (nothing compared to the real thing with a festive vibe we experienced in Amsterdam outside the Rijksmuseum,) just a carousel for kids, some artistic natural representation of a festive season (I guess in an effort to attract everyone without offending anyone) and not much more. Dusk was settling upon Paris and we started to walk down Quai de Gesvres toward the Place de Bastille and our apartment, realized its crazy to walk that far in a nasty cold breeze and on tired feet, so we stopped at a Starbucks for warm coffee and some people watching of Parisians hurrying passed us with their last minute shopping on Christmas Eve, and then walked back to the Hôtel De Ville metro station and caught the train home.
One of the arrangements I could secure beforehand for Christmas evening was a dinner cruise on the Seine River. It seems that among Parisians a dinner cruise on the eve of Christmas was very popular and traditional, but cruises on Christmas evening were more for tourist. The only museum that was opened according to my internet research was the Jacquemart-Andre Art Museum, which claims to have an impressive Italian collection, but also had a special exhibition over the Christmas season of Caravagio paintings. But I didn’t wanted to take the chance of buying tickets up front, not knowing whether the museum was really going to be open or not.
On Christmas morning, the first thing I did was tried to call the museum but no one answered the phone. Maybe they were busy, maybe they were closed after all. Not deterred though, we stepped out into the cold Parisian streets, boarded the Line 1 metro at Bastille station, switched trains at Franklin Roosevelt station to Line 9, traveled to Saint-Philippe-du-Roule station and emerged from the underground in glorious sunshine. At a Starbuck on Avenue Myron Herrick we enjoyed a croissant and coffee before we walked to Boulevard Haussmann and the museum. The museum was open and very busy. Because I didn’t buy tickets beforehand we had to wait nearly an hour to get inside and the line grew longer by the minute. Tour groups and people who bought specifically timed tickets beforehand had preference. However, it was well worth the wait.
Inside the Jacquemart-Andre Museum
The museum was previously the mansion of Édouard André, a very rich Parisian banker during the late 19th century and his wife, the painter Nélie Jacquemart, who, upon her death, bequeathed the mansion and its collections to the Institut de France as a museum. These two traveled the continent extensively and were great art collectors and built the mansion specifically as a place to display their art collection. I guess you could call them showoffs. Although impressive it was not as impressive as what we would see the next day at Chantilly, but then…there is a difference between being rich and being royal.
After the visit to the museum we took the train to the nearest station to the Place de la Concorde. We enjoyed a light lunch and a glass of Chablis under the covered colonnade at Café Sanseveria on Rue de Rivoli and then started to explore the area. We have traveled through this area on several occasions by bus, but never actually got off to explore it. But that is why I keep on coming back to Paris. There is always something new to explore and there are still so many places I have not yet visited. After all these visits I still have not been to the Les Invalides, the L’Orangerie, the Rodin museum or the Picasso museum. Last mentioned has also been in reconstruction on previous visits and this time it was closed on the Monday before Christmas. But at least this time I got to visit the Pompidou Centre.
L'eglise de la Madeleine
First up in exploring the area around the Place de la Concorde was a visit to the church with the most beautiful name, L'église de la Madeleine. It is just me, but the name Madeleine is such a beautiful rhythmic name. Built in the Neo-Classical style, inspired by a Roman temple in Nimes, France, it is a rather unusual style for a church, with its Corinthian columns and beautiful carved pediment featuring a scene of the Last Judgment. Arriving just before 4 pm, the place was chock-full, standing room only, Christmas afternoon Mass was probably to start any minute, but I was not sure. Not that we were planning to stay, we were just drifting through. For a usual Catholic church, the inside was rather darkish but beautiful. From its steps it offered a spectacular golden-yellowish view down Rue Royale towards the Luxor Obelisk and the French National Assembly building beyond the Pont de la Concorde.
At the entrance gates to the Jardin des Tuileries, M indulged in a warm sugar-filled crêpe. By now thousands of Parisians and tourists, wrapped up in scarves, woolen hats and windbreakers joined us to enjoy the rare sunny day in the middle of winter as we strolled down the garden paths of the Tuileries towards the Louvre. A golden sunset was descending upon Paris and apart from enjoying the wintry scenery, the duck ponds and the statues along the paths through the Tuileries Garden we were making up time before we had to be at the marina in front of the Musee D’Orsay for our dinner cruise at 6:30pm.
We lingered for a while at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, sitting on the stone blocks nearby, more taking a breath than anything else, then ventured to the Louvre to snap more photos, capturing the moment. We crossed the Pont du Carrousel to the left bank of the Seine and at the Café La Fregate, in full view of the lighted Louvre Palace, we enjoyed a hot drink, the very same place we enjoyed a breakfast 6 years ago on our first morning of our first visit to Paris.
The icons of New York and Paris together, constructed by the same artists, Gustave Eiffel. The Status of Liberty on the little man-made island in the Seine River, Île aux Cygnes, at the Pont de Grenelle in the 15th arrondissements, not too far from the Eiffel Tower. (By the way, there are 5 statues of Liberty in Paris.)