Story and photos by Carol Stigger
Room to wander in Paris
If all roads lead to Rome, it seems that all planes land in Paris. Surely, the city’s most famous attractions are worth some elbow knocking and selfie-stick puncture wounds, but sometimes one craves a little room to ponder the wonders of Paris. With personal space a primary goal, my friend Susan and I booked a flight on United (bad idea) and an apartment on Rue Cler through Doorways, Ltd (great idea).
I would like to nominate United Airlines for a LuxuryWeb Tin Award for delivering us to Paris 24 hours late after turning around in the middle of the Atlantic and not landing at the nearest airport for a “mechanical” reason. We returned to O’Hare on a faulty plane, landing around midnight. Staff promised an 8 a.m. departure. With no text or email to alert us that our 8 a.m. flight was leaving at 5 p.m. we left our hotel before dawn and spent a dreary day at O’Hare.
On to Paris, finally, and Doorways’ excellent service that had a limo waiting even though we were a day late. The limo delivered us to our apartment in the middle of Rue Cler’s pedestrian-only gastronomic wonderland, not to mention a Mephisto shoe shop. We deposited our luggage in our apartment and collapsed at an outdoor table right outside our door.
Over coffee and crepes at Ulysse, we decided to set aside our anger at all things airborne. Rue Cler, we noted, has just the right mix of tourists and locals who have time to stroll. A grocery store with basic provisions is an unassuming presence on a street with two chocolate shops, two wine shops, cafes, and shops selling farm-fresh produce, meat, seafood, and bakery products. A cheese shop carries 400 varieties of cheese. We learned that the two delis across from each other have an on-going competition to offer the best food for the best price. Susan pointed to a souvenir shop and said, “If we did not love art, we would not have to leave Rue Cler all week.”
As weary as we were, it was tempting to forget about art and turn our Parisian experience into a food fest. But the Cluny was open and I had waited decades to see the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. On my last trip to Paris, the tapestries were on loan to Japan that had contributed to their restoration.
Musée National du Moyen Age (formerly the Cluny) in the Latin Quarter is seldom visited by group tours, but its treasures from the Middle Ages are astounding. The museum is built on Roman ruins that have been excavated down to the mosaics of a Roman bath. The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries woven in Flanders in the 1500s consist of six panels. Five celebrate the senses. In the sixth panel, the Lady, known as the Mona Lisa of woven art, makes an enigmatic statement: to my sole desire. The tapestries can be studied from benches in an uncrowded room; many have speculated what that sole desire might be. Susan confessed her sole desire was that Japan Airlines take over United.
The museum houses the original heads of the kings of France from Notre Dame Cathedral and an impressive collection of medieval stained glass. A gilded silver reliquary of the Virgin and Child from the 1400s is beautifully crafted and was once believed to hold the Holy Umbilical Cord. From Roman ruins to the pagan and religious art of the Middle Ages, the museum is an enlightening trip through time.
From Foucault to Rodin
We continued our time travel with a short walk to the Pantheon that Louis XV rebuilt in 1774 on the ruins of a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. One of the great neoclassical monuments, the Pantheon was a church and is now the primary burial place for martyrs and notable French citizens such as Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Marie Curie.
In 1861, physicist Léon Foucault proved the earth rotates by building the 220-foot Foucault Pendulum beneath the central dome. Although the pendulum is now housed in the Musée des Arts et Métiers, a true copy commands the center of the Pantheon. It is as impressive as the little bouquet on Marie Curie’s grave below is touching. It felt strange to visit such an important place along with just a handful of visitors. “We’re still flying beneath the radar,” Susan noted, wincing at the word “flying.”
We walked to the Rodin museum. The mansion was closed for restoration, which probably discouraged visitors. The three-hectare gardens include a rose garden and ornamental garden plus a small lake. Many of Rodin’s masterpieces are displayed where he placed them, including “The Thinker.” Rodin’s “Gates of Hell,” which was cast in bronze after his death, contains 200 figures, some of them from his most famous works such as “The Kiss” and “The Three Shades.” Watching the play of sunlight and shadows on the bronze statues, it is obvious why Rodin placed so much of his work outside.
A Parisian evening
A restaurant dinner was too much effort after such a long day. We picked up a baguette, a melon, cheese, a roasted chicken, and a bottle of wine from Rue Cler shops and ate in our robes. After dinner, we walked to the Eiffel Tower about eight blocks away to see it glowing with 20,000 lights. The lights twinkle for five minutes on the hour. To get away from the carnival atmosphere in front of the Tower, we headed to a little park behind it. We watched the stunning light show as if it were performed just for us.
We were not too tired to stop at Ulysse for Grand Marnier crepes to top off our first day in Paris. The crepes were so tasty and the ambiance of Rue Cler so mellow, we did not spoil the mood by reminding ourselves this was supposed to be our second day in Paris.
Hey! That’s a Monet, not a backdrop
We spent the rest of our six-day week seeking out the cobbled lanes less traveled, but could not resist the Musée de l'Orangerie housing Monet’s magnificent water lilies. It was not overly crowded, but a large group considered the art mere backdrops for their faces and new traveling outfits. We did our best to appreciate the artistry, but camera flashes, selfie sticks, and people jostling for the best background for family portraits diminished our experience. We bought prints of the paintings and scarves inspired by Monet’s work so we could contemplate the colors and shapes at leisure.
Happily, the crowd did not consider the outdoor restaurant in the Tuileries Garden a photo op. My Croque-Monsieur and Susan’s Croque-Madame were our idea of a LLTP (light lunch and tasty picnic) in one of Paris’s most beautiful gardens. The day was sunny but chilly, so we wrapped up in the shawls thoughtfully draped over each seat and finished our LLTP with hot chocolate.
Hushed galleries and gleaming glass
Built before shopping malls were conceived of, Paris’s 19th Century covered passageways are evocative of a time when people took time to linger. These arcades have glass domed ceilings and hand-carved wood features. Shops and cafes open to mosaic walkways. Galerie Vivienne, built in the early 1800s, has small shops of elegant items you won’t find elsewhere, a rare book store, and a tea shop, A Priori Thé. There, we enjoyed scones and tea at our “outdoor” table under the gallery’s glass dome. Gone are the top hats and long sweeping skirts, but the spirit of a time gone by lingers in a hushed atmosphere of surprises. As for the crowds, they were at the Louvre just a few blocks away.
On our last day, we had been so successful in avoiding lines, we decided the 13th Century Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité would be worth the 40-minute security line. This was the royal chapel of Louis IX who was canonized shortly after his death. The upper chapel has 6,458 feet of stained glass windows surrounded by delicate, panted stonework. Two-thirds of the glass is original, and it has been meticulously restored. More than one thousand Biblical figures are illustrated on a blue and red jewel-toned background. We were enveloped by light and colors.
“This is the closest I’ll come to the gates of heaven in this life,” whispered Susan.
We hoped memories of the glittering, glowing glass of Saint-Chappelle would carry us graciously through the United Airlines gates of hell awaiting us the next day. We were surprised the plane left on time, did not falter in flight, and landed on schedule. If the flight to Paris had been as smooth as the flight home, it would have been a perfect week.
Note: to book an apartment on Rue Cler or other locations in Paris, visit Doorways’ website: www.villavacations.com
© January 2016 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.