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Chopin's Paris and Van Gogh's France: a September journey

Chopin's Paris and Van Gogh's France: a September journey

Old Oct 7th, 2013, 04:38 PM
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Day 2: Sept. 9 -- My first full day of the trip, and it was raining. I came prepared with my new black Burberry Brit trench coat, rain hat and umbrella. Due to the blister, I decided to find the boat tour first thing to get an overview of the city before wandering. It was Monday so the museums were closed; I was okay with this, as I knew the church holding the Michelangelo sculpture would be open, and beyond that, I intended to just wander and enjoy the architectural wonders.

After waiting at the boat for at least 30 minutes, I finally boarded with other tourists who had been waiting, and while the commentary is just okay, I wasn't disappointed. What a beautiful city!

After the boat ride I wandered around looking for a decent cafe or brasserie, found one and enjoyed a very good sandwich with Belgian beer. The single woman from Washington DC seated just next to me struck up a conversation and we compared notes. Both of us felt that while beautiful, the city was overly touristic -- too aware of itself as a tourist mecca to feel comfortable. I don't mind tourists, as of course I am one myself, but when nearly every street corner has a horse and carriage, trinkets for sale, and BUSLOADS of tourists disembarking, then it becomes a zoo, and not a relaxing place to visit. I have no plans to return.

After lunch, I found the Church of Our Lady, and paid an entrance fee to view the Michelangelo sculpture of Mary holding a toddler Jesus. I was surprised that they had it roped off in a way that I could not get within 30 feet of it. I understand their concerns about protecting it, but it seems protective glass might be a better option, as it was hard to see from that far away. I used the zoom on my camera, and cropped the image a bit for my photo gallery.

I enjoyed an hour or two of wandering around some of the back streets before returning to my B & B, needing to get off my sore foot.

_______________

Day 3: Sept. 10 -- I arranged with the b & b for a taxi to take me to the station. I had purchased a first class TGV ticket from Brussels to Paris Nord (a decision that proved to be a wise one) on the Thalys site a few months before the trip. To my surprise, the ticket included my first class transfer to Brussels Midi, where my high speed train would whisk me off to Paris. A small error: I got off at Brussels Central, thinking that's where the TGV station would be; After consulting with some staff at the central station, I had to hop on a train in the direction from which I had just come, disembark at Midi, and then find my platform.

The train car was like something out of a movie: the most luxurious car I'd ever been on. I had requested a single seat at the time of booking, and that's what I had. The seats were a plush red, while the carpeting and accents were eggplant (purple-toned). It was a welcomed experience. Within moments of departure, an attendant came by with a warm wet towel and menu. Lunch with wine was included, and it was fairly good, as I recall.

It seemed within a short time I was at Paris Nord. I had decided in advance to get a taxi (with my luggage and handbags) just to simplify life. Within moments of waiting at the taxi stand just outside the station, I was on my way to Rue Dauphine, and my quaint hotel. There was something going on (political rally, or talks) which caused several of the main streets to be shut down, so it turned out to be an expensive taxi ride, due to the detour, but I didn't care. I just wanted to arrive safely at my hotel with the least trouble possible (a reward to myself for all the train hassles in Belgium).

The desk staff at the hotel couldn't have been nicer. I had requested a street side room, and was given a charming wallpapered room (with matching drapes and chair) on the 5th floor, with a view of the Pantheon and the street below. I was charmed by the whole setting. The weather was even sunny for the cab ride and my first view out the window.

I took a little walk, hoping to find Place Vendome (where Chopin had died). I must have taken a wrong turn, as I got lost and had to ask several people for directions. My foot was killing me, so I stopped in a pharmacy. Fortunately the pharmacist spoke English. She gave me a sterile syringe to remove the fluid and sold me something (in French) called second skin. That was helpful, but my foot didn't fully recover for another week!

Finally making it back to the hotel, I decided to rest my foot and have a sandwich I had picked up in my room, while watching British CNN and BCC news.

About a week before leaving home, I had booked an evening excursion with a company called Paris Authentic. At 8:30 PM prompt I was picked up at my hotel, and chauffeured all over the city (including Montmartre) in a Duex Chaveux (a vintage Citroen, that looks a little like a VW bug). That was a memorable night tour, and the student guide was well educated and informative. I told him about trying to get to Place Vendome that afternoon, so he included a stop there. All the evening photos in my gallery were shot during this private tour. It wasn't cheap (160 E for 2 hours), but so worth it (especially given that my sore foot was going to limit the amount of miles I could put on it each day).

Again, here are my photos of Paris:
http://www.pbase.com/scbowen/paris_2013
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 04:38 PM
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"I would always book a supplement, as my privacy is just too important. I'm not willing to share with someone I've just met, and I value my alone time."

Susan, on this point, I heartily agree. Even when I have traveled with close friends in the past, we each have our own room. I have found that the single supplement in Europe is less than that in the US. One area where I save when traveling is SHOPPING - not that interested except for fun things for my two grandchildren.
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 05:11 PM
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It's no fun to have sore feet - been there done that. Re: "sterile syringe" - I just use a needle and some tissues. (I always carry a tiny sewing kit.)
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 05:36 PM
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Still enjoying your great trip report. Now that I have re-married, I prefer independent travel for many places. However, my daughter and I have been on four Rick Steves tours and absolutely loved them. Being on a tour gave us a chance to spend some time apart (she was really moody as a young teenager), but we made lifelong memories that we talk about on a regular basis.
2007 - Best of France (The best trip EVER). Guide: Patrick Vidal
2008 - England, Scotland, Wales
2009 - Germany, Switzerland, Austria
2011 - Sweden, Denmark, Norway
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 06:18 PM
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Hi latedaytraveler -- glad you understand my need to have my own room! Just very important. I didn't shop at all this trip, except a quick buy at an outdoor market in Chinon, and a couple shops in Les Baux. I had the time there, and after about 2 and 1/2 weeks was feeling the need to indulge in just a few minutes of shopping pleasure.

thursdaysd -- no fun at all! I'm just glad it eventually got better.

KL 467 -- Wow. You've done quite a few RS tours. I was hoping for Patrick, because he's practically legendary, then I was informed my guide would be Rolinka (who is Dutch) and then rather last minute, they let all participants know that due to an emergency with a guide from another tour, Rolinka had been called to cover for him, so we had a different American guide for the first half, and Rolinka for the second half. They were both good guides.
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 06:35 PM
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I had never heard of Patrick at that time, and it was such a treat to get to know him as a guide. He is the quintessential French man. I sometimes hear Patrick's voice on the "Travel with Rick Steves" podcast, and I am suddenly a million miles away remembering my first trip to France.
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 08:51 PM
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KL 467: I heard one of those podcasts.
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 08:52 PM
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Great photos! Thanks for your report. Looking forward to more.
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Old Oct 7th, 2013, 09:04 PM
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Thanks so much, Leely2.
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Old Oct 8th, 2013, 07:21 AM
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Day 3 -- Private evening excursion with Paris Authentic: Just a few more words about this. First of all I would like to correct the spelling of the car: Deux Chevaux (also known as 2CV. Citroen stopped making these in the 1980s. When we got to Place Vendome there were about a half dozen tourists looking at the sculptures on display there. I walked straight to #12, which had been Chopin's last apartment in Paris and the place in which he died. Unfortunately #12 was covered in scaffolding for repairs. I returned to the car, and Francois, my guide and driver said, "Did you see the plaque?" "No," I replied. So he walked over with me to point out a plaque (hidden underneath the scaffolding) that read (in French) The Polish composer, Frederic Chopin (b. 1810), died in this house on October 17, 1849." He was 39. My guide was well educated and a law student, but he was unfamiliar with Chopin. As he read the plaque, he uttered the words, "Polish... and he was young." I recommended Chopin's Nocturnes to him. He pondered this. Later, at another residence, I would be recommending them to another Parisian.
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Old Oct 8th, 2013, 10:04 AM
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nice report. I remember your planning as I play the piano, also, and love Chopin, so mentioned a few things.

As for the square d'Orleans apartment becoming a museum -- it isn't necessarily anything special inside, it would take a lot of work probably to renovate it and furnish it with anything that was authentic. And that isn't the only place he lived in Paris, he moved around a lot and lived in 6-10 different places, I believe, so it isn't necessarily of that much significance. I just don't think it will happen, as there are people who live in that place, you can't just take over their apartment building. I have enjoyed visiting some composer's residences that have been restored and operating as a museum, but usually they are bigger or an entire house. There are several Mozart residences, for example, and I've visited Haydn's and Ravel's and Bach's and Schubert's and Dvorak's(as well as a couple of Mozart's). But when I visited Vienna, for example, they haven't done anything about Mozart's last residence there, either (it is now a dept store). That was where he died. And there are no apartments of Brahms in Vienna that you can see as a museum, either, and he lived in 6 different ones.

They do have some rooms Chopin and Sand lived in when in Majorca on display as a museum. And of course, lots in Warsaw, but he didn't live there as an adult. And you can visit Sand's house in Nohant where he lived a while. In fact, he may have lived there longer than in square d'Orleans.
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Old Oct 8th, 2013, 10:43 AM
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Christine -- thanks for your feedback. Yes, I'm aware that he lived in several Apartments in Paris, and I believe I saw the most significant ones, plus the Polish Library (more about that later). I've been to Beethovenhaus in Bonn, Germany, and both Mozart houses in Salzburg, and yes, I've read that there are no Brahams museums in Vienna, but I do know of one near Baden Baden in Germany where he lived as a younger man. After seeing Beethovenhaus (a house he left at age 3), I guess I was wishing for something similar in Paris. I'm also aware of the residence at Nohant which I didn't get to this trip. That will require some extra planning as it's not conveniently located; and a visit there may satisfiy my need to see a museum-like residence where the composer actually lived.

I must disagree about Square d'Orleans. I think it is quite significant in that Chopin and Sand both lived there in separate units from 1842 to 1849, the year he died. According to the biography, Chopin in Paris, the composer gave lessons there, and some of his famous salon recitals were held at Square d'Orleans.

I had an enchanting experience there, just wandering around the outside of the apartments within the secluded square. Of course, realistically, I understand that people live there now, and business also operate there, so it's not likely it will ever be a museum. Just some wishful thinking on my part.

Also, a novelist is the one who gave me the tip about the square being open on Saturday. I had read her blog and had written to her before my trip. She's just completing a novel about a composer, where George Sand figures as a character. She went to Paris during the research period and writing of the early drafts. She had been there several times to find the doors closed and locked. A local told her it's sometimes open on Saturdays. Even my Deux Chevaux driver said Square d'Orleans is usually closed to the public. I wrote to the novelist, thanking her for the information, and she just replied, saying she was glad she could play a "small role" in my seeing the square.
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Old Oct 8th, 2013, 10:49 AM
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I'm really enjoying reading about your trip.
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Old Oct 8th, 2013, 12:51 PM
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KTtravel -- thank you so much! I'll post another day or two of the trip later on today.
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Old Oct 8th, 2013, 03:17 PM
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I am bookmarking this report. I am so interested in how you chose the theme and went with it. I can't wait to read through it.
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Old Oct 8th, 2013, 03:27 PM
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kelsey22 -- Thank you! I read Ted Szulc's Chopin in Paris about a year ago, and had been wanting to visit some of the places mentioned. Fascinating read. I'm currently reading Van Gogh: The life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith -- quite a lengthy treatise, but fascinating, as well. I tried best I could to see as many of these places this trip as possible. But I also saw much much more than places associated with these two artists. It did seem a fitting title for the report, but I'll be discussing other sights as well.
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Old Oct 8th, 2013, 04:33 PM
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Day 4: Sept 11 -- I awakened to rainy weather on this significant day. I decided to hit the museums, and l"Orangerie and Musee d'Orsay were at the top of my list. I had visited the Orsay in '05, but l"Orangerie had been closed that year for renovations. I arrived on sore foot, though it's not a long distance from the hotel, and the minute I stepped inside the main gallery with the large water lily canvases, a chill came over me. I wasn't expecting to be so instantly moved by what I saw. Just phenomenal paintings. Later, after soaking up the water lily reverie, I made my way down to other galleries and the works of other painters, most notably, Modigliani. Wow. One masterpiece after another. I saw some other wonderful works there by Renoir and others, but those large water lily canvases and the works of Modigliani had staying power.

Then I walked across the Seine to the Orsay. If anyone reading is planning a trip to Paris, I have one piece of advice: Musee d'Orsay is my favorite museum and houses one masterpiece after another. But it was extremely crowded, probably due to the rain and the fact that I arrived in the afternoon. I would highly recommend arriving right at opening time, as it's less likely to be crowded at that time.

The entire museum had been rearranged since my last visit in 2005. I was lost! I saw that impressionism was now mostly on the 5th floor (with post impressionism in separate salons on the 2nd floor). I started at the top, and worked my way down.

Before I proceed I must mention some of the gear I brought to outsmart pickpockets. As it turns out, a ring of pickpockets had been arrested at the Musee d'Orsay the week I was there! So who knows? I bought a Scottevest, a vest for female travelers, with lots of secret zippered pockets inside: a pocket for phone, iPad, wallet, you name it. I thought it was great at the airport and on the plane to protect my valuables, but at a museum? Not so great. I got hot for one thing. There were A LOT of people in the museum, and due to the cold weather, I had on silk underwear, a cashmere sweater over that, the Scottevest, and my black Burberry. I peeled off layer after layer, even taking off the vest (which had cash in it -- I had credit cards and larger cash in my money belt). I think that was the last day I wore the vest. I realized it just didn't work for me. I also brought a Pacsafe purse with locking zipper (that held my camera when not in use) and that worked perfectly for me (plus the money belt). No thefts!

I think it's possible to see too much art in one day -- sort of like eating too many chocolates in one sitting. I was feeling overwhelmed by the time I got to the Van Gogh's on the second floor (and had trouble finding the right salon). But the paintings I remember most are Renoir's Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, Manet's Luncheon on the Grass, various works by Toulouse-Latrec, Vuillard, and of course, Van Gogh. I can only comment than an art lover would need several visits to this museum to even begin to take it all in. The fact that I had visited the Orangerie earlier in the day added to a bit of art overindulgence. It would perhaps be better to visit them on separate days. I bought a combined ticket for both museums (but didn't have to visit the same day).

I decided against trying to get out to Marmottan-Monet due to the fact that 40 of his significant paintings were on loan to a museum in Australia at the time I was there. All or most of the tapestries at the Cluny were on loan to Japan, so I didn't bother going there, either. And the Rodin is under renovation, and I believe large portions of the house are closed, while the gardens are open. Since I had visited the Rodin in 2005, as well as St. Chapelle, I decided neither was a priority this trip.

I also noticed that a few Van Goghs that I recall seeing in '05 at Orsay were not on display. I'm guessing they were either on loan to another museum or being restored.

The whole Orsay experience would have been more wonderful had there been fewer people.

After several hours of art reverie, all the while standing on my blistered foot, I decided to hobble back to the hotel. I got happily lost on some back streets getting there, but always had at least 2 maps with me plus a map on my iPhone. I found the Streetwise map to be invaluable, and I brought several.

After resting my sore and tired feet at the hotel for a couple hours, I decided to venture out in the neighborhood to find a decent dinner. I came prepared with many recommended places saved on my CityMap2Go, but ironically my foot made it impractical to seek out most of them. The sites I most wanted to see were the priority over the better restaurants. I found a brasserie just up the street and around a corner from my hotel. Some Americans passing by said they liked their meal there the night before, so I stepped in. At this point, I was hungry, not fussy. I had a very good 3 course meal of French onion soup, salmon, and chocolate mouse. All served with a half-bottle of really good red wine. The soup and salmon were great, while the mouse was just average. But I had wonderful company on either side: an American couple, roughly my age, from Washington DC, and a young Italian couple from Milan who spoke English. All in all: a successful meal, and only a short stroll from my hotel. I felt the day was largely a success!
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Old Oct 8th, 2013, 04:44 PM
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Christina -- I'm sorry I called you Christine. I was typing earlier from my iPad mini. Very difficult to see fine print sometimes!
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Old Oct 8th, 2013, 05:45 PM
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Susan001 - I came back to find you had written up your day at the L'Orangerie and d'Orsay. I planned a full day of these two wonderful and captivating museums. I will never forget the sensation of being surrounded by the water lilies. I actually went to the Orsay and came back to take another look.

Every time I see have seen a Van Gogh, I am astonished how deeply his work affects me. I will take your recommendation nd pick up those titles next time I hit the book store.

Looking forward to your next installment.
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Old Oct 8th, 2013, 06:20 PM
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Can't wait to hear more! Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette is my favorite.
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