Sunday was a lovely day, sunny like every day over the last two weeks, but comfortably warm rather than scorching. Jared and I decided to take full advantage of the fine weather by going on one last day trip. We chose Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which is easily accessible by RER, and which neither of us had ever visited.
The centerpiece of the town is the impressive Renaissance château where Louis XIV — as well as many of his predecessors — was born.
While it is quite beautiful in its own way one can understand why Louis XIV wanted something even grander, hence Versailles.
After a walk in the vast forest that was used for royal hunts we circled back to the town and had lunch at a café directly across from the Château. We were pleased to find that we could eat almost as well in the provinces as we do in Paris.
The Château no longer has its original furnishings, but can be visited since it’s now the national museum of paleontology. It has a mind-boggling collection of artifacts created by prehistoric humans (including Neanderthals). Some fall into the dreaded category of “cracked pots,” but many others are beautiful and/or curious.
The museum also had a temporary exhibition on Henry II and his family, which was mildly interesting.
There are apparently other things to see in the city, such as the home of painter Maurice Denis, but we were satisfied with our trip so headed back in time for the farewell events I described in the previous post.
It was nice yet again on Thursday (yawn) so we strolled through the 13ème arrondissement to the Bibliothèque nationale de France – site François-Mitterrand (the National Library on the Seine) to see an exhibition on globes that had caught Jared’s eye. The library is an impressive complex, albeit highly dysfuctional.
The exhibition covered globes of the earth and of the heavens from antiquity to the present day. They basically seem to have gathered together anything that was or depicted a globe.
After the exhibition we foraged for lunch, and found a nice place in the amazing complex of new buildings that has sprouted over the past few years along the Avenue de France. We were impressed by the way in which each building reflects a distinct architectural vision yet also fits in with overall guidelines for height and features. Jared wondered aloud what Baron Haussmann would make of this. I think he would have found the variation in style incomprehensible but he would have approved of the consistency of mass.
We planned to attend an orchestra concert at La Villette in the evening, but we had plenty of time so we decided to walk back to Bastille via the Promenade Plantée (which we both love). It took a bit of navigating to get onto it, but we found an entrance (at the left of the photo below) right next to a dramatic arch of the Petite Ceinture, another abandoned railway line.
We had a snack at the Place de la Bastille, then we took the métro up to La Villette with a view to arriving half an hour before the concert. After a SNAFU concerning which concert hall to go to we found the right one and got excellent seats, since it started half an hour later than we had expected.
We heard a terrific free concert, called the Prix de Direction d’Orchestre, performed by the Orchestre des Lauréats du Conservatoire, which is made up of recent Conservatory graduates. Each of the four pieces, by Sibelius, Stravinsky and Dvorak, was conducted by a different top graduate of the Conservatory’s training program for conductors. This is an annual concert that I will try to see every year I am here.
The concert didn’t finish until 11 pm so we were a bit concerned about getting dinner. There were several places in the vicinity that seemed to be closing down but we got a decent turkish meal, which we finished in good time to get the métro home. (The last train typically leaves each end of a line between 12:30 am and 1 am on weeknights, an hour later on Fridays, Saturdays and when the next day is a jour férié.)
Another sunny day so I decided it was time for a day trip. I chose a chateau with lots of history and charm – Vaux-le-Vicomte. It’s a handsome building, with huge gardens. The only disappointment was — no flowers. It was built in the mid-17th century by Nicolas Fouquet. When Louis XIV took control as king he condemned Fouquet on trumped-up charges and seized the contents of Vaux-le-Vicomte for his own palace of Versailles. There are more photos from the last two days at Paris-5
Getting to Vaux-le-Vicomte wasn’t dead easy. My credit card didn’t work in the ticket machines. This is a common issue because French cards have chips with visible metal contacts that U.S. cards don’t have; when you see a little symbol that looks like metal contacts you are usually toast. 2019 Update: Our chip cards now usually work in French ticket machines. By the time I found the human “guichet” in the cavernous station the express train had left. The slow train stopped at an astounding number of intermediate towns before finally arriving at Melun. That left me with an hour and a half to get lunch and explore the town before the next shuttle bus to the chalet. Returning I was in good time and rode back to Gare de Lyon with no stops.
True to my word I had dinner at a delightful little restaurant in my neighborhood, Le Bouï-Bouï. Roast veal, mashed potatoes, a half-carafe of white wine (.5 liters!) and an apricot tart ($53). The food was great and the decor and fellow diners could have come right out of Toulouse-Lautrec. Jason gets here on Tuesday and I will certainly propose another meal at the same place.
I forgot to mention that the day started off with a home-brew parade that came down my little street. There was a small oom-pah band and throngs of proud parents wielding cameras. When I got close enough to see, the marchers proved to be tiny kids, dressed in colorful outfits. A bystander explained that it was the “fête de l’école,” which fitted but didn’t fully explain the situation. You can see a video clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X29KRycXX5M. (Did I mention how much I love my little neighborhood? Oh, yes, about a dozen times…)