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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 8th, 2013, 07:36 PM
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Thanks so much, kelsey22. Each of these gifted artists produced moving works, but I agree. Van Gogh's work is just in another category. His use of color, the energy conveyed in each brush stroke, and his masterful control over line and composition are all extraordinary. There's a spiritual dimension to the work.

KL467 -- I appreciate your comments. Yes, I loved seeing Dance at Le Moulin. It's such a surreal experience to turn a corner in this museum and find yet another textbook masterpiece on the wall.
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Old Oct 9th, 2013, 09:32 AM
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Day 5: Sept 12-- One must-see place on my list for Thursday was Polish Library Chopin room (from what I read, only open Thursday afternoons). The library is located on Ile Saint Louis, and since others had mentioned having difficulty finding it, I looked it up on Google maps before I left. I knew exactly where to find it.

Again, it was a drizzly morning, so I put on my layers (and my lovely invaluable trench coat) and set out for the Marais. I had no particular sight here in mind; I just wanted to experience the neighborhoods of the Marais and maybe stop at a Cafe (which I ended up not doing). I walked for what seemed like miles. My driver on Tuesday night had said explore the neighborhood of St. Paul, which I did. I enjoyed window shopping, but for some reason, just wasn't in the mood to buy or try on. (Later in the trip, my shopping instinct kicked in but only briefly). I just walked, observed, took pictures. Before I knew it (and unintentionally), I was at Place des Vosges. I recognized it immediately from my 2005 trip to Paris. And since my blistered foot was really hurting, I sat on a park bench and observed passers by and the grand architecture of the Place. I knew about the museum where Victor Hugo had once lived, but alas, I had to limit my visit to the park bench. Otherwise, I might not be able to visit the library, or make it back to my hotel. Next trip.

By noon, I had made it over to the Ile Saint Louis, which I missed on my last trip. My impression of the place was mixed. While the architecture is beautiful and quite upscale, the tourist shops selling little Eiffel Tower trinkets and the like, and just the preponderance of Americans there (as compared to the Marais) had me not wishing to return. I did stop for something to eat there. The restaurant I first picked was full, so I found a little crepe place run by two young Indian men. It was a good meal. Afterwards, I set off to find the famed Berthillon ice cream place. It turns out there are at least two Berthillon shops on the main street (one much smaller than the other). I asked the young woman which flavor was popular with locals. She said salted caramel, so I tried that, along with strawberry. I didn't care for the salty caramel, but was wowed by the strawberry. (a side note: Later in Arles, I would have blueberry ice cream that was equally good).

I made it to the Polish library at 1:45, but the sign on the door said open at 2:15. So I wandered some more (it was cold out) and came back to the library at 2:05. Someone saw me and let me in. He pointed to a staircase for the Chopin room. Lost on the landing, I found someone to ask where I could find the Chopin room. She led me to a little room with two tables, and I sat. She said the person in charge would arrive soon. It was an odd little arrangement. Finally, a young woman appeared, gave me some printouts in English regarding the exhibition, and said, "it's 6 Euro please." She unlocked the door to the room, and turned on the piped in speaker system of Chopin piano music.

The exhibition is quite small. It's in a room about the size of a child's bedroom. In the first case was a death mask, and my immediate impression was he was more beautiful and elegant than I had imagined. Also in the case was a drawing sketched by someone who had been in the room at his death.

After the first case, there was a chair belonging to the composer. It was a carved mahogany with red patterned upholstery. Since there were wheels on the bottom of the chair, I guessed it had been his desk chair. I longed to touch it, but didn't. Above the chair hung a very sad notice to the public regarding an upcoming sale of his furnishings just after his death. I would be interested to know who had purchased or kept this chair before the library acquired it.

The next case held a lock of Chopin's hair: He was blond! I was very surprised to see that. There was also a Playel piano in the room, said to have been played by Chopin (but it was not his piano).

Photography was forbidden here, as it was in just about every museum I visited in France. Things have really changed. Non-flash photography was allowed at the Orsay in 2005. I guess too many people who don't know how to turn the flash off on their cameras (or who don't care) made it necessary to move to the "no photography" policy.

After my visit here, I walked "home" to my hotel to rest my aching feet. I stopped at the boulangerie just up the street to purchase a sandwich and raspberry tart (which I would have later). It was times like this that I was glad I had a comfortable room. I could open the windows, hear the street noise below, and still feel "a part of it."
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Old Oct 9th, 2013, 09:53 AM
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LateDayTraveler: I knew about the Delacroix Museum, and now wish I had put it on my list of places to see. I just knew my list was already long, but that would have been a very nice substitute (given my foot situation) for places that were further away. Delacroix and Chopin were very good friends. Chopin relied on him quite a bit. Delacroix painted Chopin and Sand together on one canvas, but the painting was mysteriously torn in two. The Chopin half now hangs in the Louvre. He also used Chopin's face as a model for in painting on the ceiling of the Palace du Luxembourg. It was Delacroix who didn't have a good word to say about Sand after the Chopin-Sand relationship was over.

I did some research. Delacroix had lived in that house in his later years, so Chopin, who died at 39, would not have visited there.
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Old Oct 9th, 2013, 10:19 AM
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Great report - reading along.

I'll be in Paris again in December. After your comments about cold in September I wonder how I'll manage in December.
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Old Oct 9th, 2013, 10:58 AM
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Thanks, margo_oz. It was unseasonably cold in Paris (starting my first full day there, Sept 11). I would highly recommend silk long sleeved thermal underwear from WinterSilks. I bought two and ended up sleeping in one with a long sleeved sleep top over it. Just too cold. The other one kept me warm on the coldest days, with a cashmere v neck over that (or cardigan) and sometimes an added lightweight fleece over all that and then the trench coat. Just bring lots of layers, plus gloves and a warm hat.

It was even colder and rainier in the Loire Valley. Many of the locals said, "if only you had been here a week ago" or "September is usually warm here."
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Old Oct 9th, 2013, 04:16 PM
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Day 6: Sept 13 -- I had long planned to do the Friday Hemingway walk with Paris Walks (thanks again to LateDayTraveler for recommending it), and that day had finally arrived. I remember LDT saying that it's just 3 metro stops away. I asked Adrien at the front desk if he recommend I take the Metro to or just walk to Cardinal Lemoine. He said it would be about a 20 minute walk, or a short Metro ride. He printed a map and highlighted the route I should take, should I decide to walk. I had never used the Metro before, and after some of the articles I read just before leaving home about pickpockets in Metro stations, I wasn't sure I wanted to try it on my own. But when I saw the Odeon station (very close to the hotel), I decided to toss my fears. I descended quite a few steps, only to find out that entrance was for ticket holders only. When I came back up, I saw the entry for non-ticket holders, and people lined up at machines below. But I just didn't feel like descending/ climbing more steps, so I walked.

It turned out to be a very manageable walk to Cardinal Lemoine station. A group of people holding umbrellas had assembled and legendary Chris, the British Paris Walks guide was taking names and the 12 E fee for the walk. It was a large group, so one of his colleagues, an American fellow, appeared and he took half the group away to do the walk separately (in a different order) but I managed to stay with Chris, and so glad; he was outstanding (and also funny).

LateDayTraveler has given a detailed (and wonderful) account of this walk, and I can't really add to that except to say it exceeded my expectations.

I'll attempt a brief summary: We were admitted into the private courtyard and residential complex where James Joyce wrote Ulysses (security code needed for entry). Stories of Joyce, Hemingway and Sylvia Beach abounded. It was wonderful. We stopped at the shooting location of Midnight in Paris, where Gil sits on the church steps and is soon whisked away in a vintage Peugeot. Soon after, we were taken to the apartment complex where Hemingway lived with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, who is the narrator of the popular novel, Paris Wife. The tour ended near Rue Mouffetard market street, where we took a short walk (and where I ventured for a while after the tour, despite the rain). I have pictures of all these sites in my photo gallery (link above).

After the walk was over, I had worked up an appetite. It was about 1:00 as I strolled Rue Mouffetard. Stands selling food items abounded. I finally bought a small quiche, but it was not warm. I kept walking. I found the Luxembourg Gardens and decided to take a detour through it. There, at the entryway, were some Roma women with petitions. I didn't fall for it; When they spoke to me, I politely shook my head and kept walking. Soon, I was in an area with chairs overlooking the palace and grounds. Most of them were wet from the rain. I found one that was okay, so I sat for 10 minutes or so to rest my feet. I took one bite of the quiche, but put it away. It wasn't what I wanted. Remembering one of the restaurants I had wanted to try is close to Luxembourg Gardens, I pulled out my phone to check my CityMaps2Go App. I was very close to La Cuisine de Phillipe. I found the cute little restaurant on a narrow street just across from the north border of the gardens, and I was delighted that they were still serving lunch (though it was almost 2 PM. Madame indicated I would need to order quickly, but that it was okay. She seated me with a smile.

Stopping at this little gem of a restaurant for lunch was one of the best decisions I made this trip; and the meal is the best one I've had in years (certainly above and beyond anything else I had this entire trip!). I know they have at least one Michelin star because before I left home, I saw it listed in a Michelin guide (written in French, so I didn't buy).

Madame held the menu and explained the items (though she doesn't speak much English). She's just a lovely person. She runs the front while husband, chef Philippe, is the master of his kitchen. The food was outstanding. Since they specialize in soufflés I decided to start with the Mushroom soufflé followed by a main course of white fish, with asparagus, thin green beans, whipped white potatoes. For desert I ordered the chocolate soufflé. The meal, including one glass of red wine, was 27.50 E. What a find!

After that incredible culinary experience, and after snapping a few photos of the restaurant, I was on my way. It was just a seemingly short walk back to Rue Dauphine and my hotel. I was "done" for the day. I opened one window, propped up my feet and enjoyed British CNN after emailing my friends about my incredible "walk" and dining experience. Another successful day (despite the blister).
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Old Oct 9th, 2013, 06:22 PM
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I just realized we stayed in the same hotel. Wasn't it a great location? I adored it!
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Old Oct 9th, 2013, 07:07 PM
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Hi Kelsey, yes, really liked the both the location and French charm of Hotel Dauphine.
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Old Oct 9th, 2013, 09:18 PM
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It is so nice to treat oneself when on a solo vacation. You hotel sounds perfect for that, especially when you were worn out from heavy-duty sightseeing!
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Old Oct 9th, 2013, 09:45 PM
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Leely2 -- My hotel room was cozy and lovely with the wallpaper and matching drapes. I felt very comfortable relaxing there when I needed a break from walking. Also, the guys at the front desk were helpful and welcoming whenever I returned.
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Old Oct 9th, 2013, 09:46 PM
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I meant to add, Leely2, thanks for your comment!
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Old Oct 10th, 2013, 01:15 AM
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Susan001,

I am really enjoying tagging along on your Paris visit. Wow, you really got around. Sorry about your foot though. I am sure you were tired after doing both the Orangerie and Orsay in one day, which I also did but in reverse. Liked your practical advice about the vest. I had considered one myself but dismissed it.

I did not know that Delacroix and Chopin were friends, interesting. Delacroix’s house/museum is not far from the Dauphine as you observed. But we can never do it all!

So happy that you were not disappointed with the HEMINGWAY WALK by Paris Walks. Good for you, sticking by Chris. Again, because of MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, the walk is so popular. I hear what you are saying about the Metro – not easy! So by walking from the hotel to the Cardinal Lemonie stop where the tour started really made a long trek, eh? But well worth it. Sounds like a great lunch too.

So happy that both you and Kelsey22 were pleased with the Hotel Dauphine. I agree, just love a centrally located hotel to drop by and decompress in the course of the day.

Susan, obviously you did a great deal of preparation for this trip which certainly paid off. Really enjoying your descriptions and reflexions – merci….
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Old Oct 10th, 2013, 08:43 AM
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LateDayTraveler -- Thank you for the kind words. I always enjoy hearing from you. Walking to the starting point of the Hemingway Walk was probably not the wisest thing I've done, but it seemed like a short walk, and I'll admit to being a bit Metro phobic (plus, all those stairs!! I also have a bit of knee pain). In the end, all worked out well. During the walk, we had a sit down stop inside the church. I sat again at Luxembourg, and then at the restaurant.

Yes, I did quite a bit of planning for this trip, but as we both remarked before my trip, it's hard to actually fulfill every plan. Weather, timing, blistered foot, and other things sometimes get in the way. I didn't get to the Rodin or Pere Lachase (two places I definitely planned to see) although I did visit the Rodin in '05, and some renovation is currently underway there.

Had I not gone on a day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise, I could have done everything planned, but so glad I went to the trouble to see Van Gogh's last town! More in my next post on that!
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Old Oct 10th, 2013, 09:36 AM
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Glad to find this TR, susan001. Nice photos and TR.

More, please!
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Old Oct 10th, 2013, 12:12 PM
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Thanks so much, TDudette! I'll be posting Day 7 later today.
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Old Oct 10th, 2013, 12:31 PM
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We went to Auvers-sur-Oise last week and really enjoyed our short day there. It took us a while to find the correct place to purchase our tickets at Gare St Lazare so had to wait longer for the train then had a 25 minute wait in Pontoise. I'd like to go again as we didn't get to see everything we wanted to see...would definitely leave earlier in the morning.
We were fortunate to be the only people at the cemetery when we walked up there.
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Old Oct 10th, 2013, 01:20 PM
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Just discovered your report, and so glad I did! You travel very much the same way I do, like the same kinds of things, and have the same mishaps (like the blister!). I also would ALWAYS get the single supplement while on a tour! I don't even want to room with family members or best friends. But I haven't had to cross that bridge yet, as I've succeeded so far in keeping my trips to Europe (mostly to France)solo, and mostly these have been independent trips. I love wandering on my own, and even driving in the various parts of France alone.

I'm looking forward to reading about the Rick Steves part of your trip. I'm afraid I might be getting too old now for my driving trips (and France is the only country I feel comfortable driving in, since I've done that a lot). Many years ago I did a Maupintour tour of Great Britain and one in Switzerland. Enjoyed them, but prefer being on my own, to stay in places longer, and see sites at my own pace.

Well, looking forward to your next installments.

Another Susan
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Old Oct 10th, 2013, 01:53 PM
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Day 7: September 14 -- I woke up to pouring rain (again), but decided to pursue my plan to get up to Square d'Orleans. It's not a tourist site, and most are not familiar with it. My Paris Authentic night tour guide on Tuesday had said it's always locked, and that I would have to wait for a car to come through to gain entry (and then, I thought, how do I get out?).

I dressed warmly in layers, and set out to find a taxi stand. I had a map with me with all of them marked. I got to the first one, which was supposed to be across pont neuf on the right bank, but it was nowhere to be found (maybe due to construction going on), so I kept walking. My blistered foot was killing me, and the other foot wasn't feeling much better. I made it to a main boulevard, and decided to walk in the direction of the Louvre, to look for another taxi stand. It was pouring. My feet were in pain. I stopped. I looked at my map again, and remembering that Chris said there would be a Marais Walk (with Paris Walks) at 10:30 Saturday morning, I did an about-face and started walking toward the Marais. I was suddenly feeling the need for a guided walk (the scheduled guide was not Chris, but I assumed it would be a good tour at any rate). After walking about a block (still pouring rain, umbrella overhead), I stopped in my tracks. I thought to myself, "I've already walked all over the Marais, and while a tour would be informative, I really wanted to see Chopin's apartment at Square d'Orleans, and I'd had a tip it might be open on Saturday."

I turned around and walked in the direction of the Louvre. The other so-called taxi stand was only a bus stop. But I saw a taxi, then another, then another, and decided to follow the direction they were headed. YAY! I could see the taxi stand. Getting in the first one, I handed the driver the address (I came prepared): 80 rue Tailbout, in the 9th.

Before long, the taxi was pulling up to Square d'Orleans: THE DOUBLE DOORS WERE OPEN!! I was thrilled. I paid the driver (6.50 E -- worth every penny), and walked across the narrow street and through the portal. After I passed through the initial tunneled passageway, I entered a small open courtyard. Then I turned left to find an enclosed passageway, with a door on the left side, and a plaque to the left of the door. In French, "Frederic Chopin lived in this house from 1842 to 1849." I was transported back in time. My imagination took over as I could invasion a carriage pulling up under the elegant passageway (with sculpted facade above), and an elegantly dressed Chopin descending from the carriage, while keeping dry in the covered passageway, from carriage to front door. I was mesmerized. This had been a first-rate apartment in it's day.

I stood quietly, leaning against the wall opposite his apartment. I brought to mind his Nocturne #15 in F minor, which I've been playing, and let it play in my mind. I imagined him inside the unit, composing, playing, teaching, and exiting and entering this doorway. After snapping various photos of the apartment, I decided to venture out into the main square with fountain, in search of George Sand's apartment (her real name was Aurore Dupin Dudevant; George was her pen name).

Chopin and Sand lived separately in Paris to avoid scandal (even when they decided to leave for Malorca, off the coast of Spain, they traveled in separate carriages at different times to avoid gossip). Sand's apartment was in another covered passageway, across the square from Chopin's. Quite a convenient arrangement, I would say. They would have meals together in the evening, often joined by Delacroix and other writers, musicians, and artists.

I walked back across the square, past the fountain to the Chopin apartment. Someone -- a young woman in her 20s -- walked up to the door and pressed the intercom to one of the apartments. She was allowed access. I've watched just enough spy thrillers to want to sneak in behind her, but decided against that. I stood for awhile. In a few minutes, the young woman and another young woman descended through a different exit, and walked toward the main gate. I followed. At the gate, they stopped to exchange goodbyes, and after the first departed I said (to the woman who apparently lived there), "Excuse Moi. Parlez-vous Anglais?" "Yes," she said.

She was a young woman, perhaps age 26. I asked her if she knew anything about the original apartment. She indicated that the entire inside had been remodeled and reconfigured (I'm guessing more than once), and that no one really knows which area was Chopin's (I'm guessing he had the whole thing). "It's all different now," she explained, and she went on to say, "Many artist lived in this area." As I studied her face, I understood that she didn't really know much about Chopin, his background, his music. Nor did she seem to care. But she was nice enough. I said to her, "Listen to the Nocturnes; they are so beautiful." And, we parted ways. Did the thought of asking her if I could go into the building cross my mind? Yes, it did. But I could see that she was on her way to some destination, and decided to leave it at that.

The trash men were outside dumping the contents of the trash receptacles in their trucks, and putting the emptied bins just inside the entryway. And that's why the doors were open.

After taking a few photos of the exterior entry, I walked away, fully satisfied that I had experienced a little slice of a bygone era with one of the creative geniuses of the 19th century.

I started walking in the direction of St. Lazare train station. I had already printed a schedule for a trip to Auvers-sur-Oise. The Chopin visit had been a success; I was ready to go visit Van Gogh's bedroom and grave.

To be continued....
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Old Oct 10th, 2013, 02:02 PM
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Hi Judy, I managed to see most of what I had wanted to see in Auvers; Getting there and back... was a PAIN. More in my next post on that! Thanks so much for commenting. I agree with you that it's a worthwhile place to visit.

Hi Sue4, Thanks for your kind words. I'm gearing up for car rental! After this trip, and the last one, I'm realizing that driving alone can't be as bad as schlepping bags on and off trains, or climbing flights of stairs to get to the platform. I love France, and in the rural portions, driving shouldn't be a problem, especially with a GPS. My next trip may be to UK, and I'm not sure about driving on the other side as a solo traveler. But I'm considering it. I agree wholeheartedly about the pace of tours not matching my own.
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Old Oct 10th, 2013, 05:21 PM
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Susan001, what a great description of your experience at the Chopin residence. You really were transported. And that was wise of you to have the address written down en francaise for the taxi driver.

Very well done, looking forward to more...
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