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Nice to Paris: on not taking it easy in Eastern France

Nice to Paris: on not taking it easy in Eastern France

May 16th, 2009, 11:54 AM
  #21  
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Cool, yk! Nice to know someone's still reading!

Aside from Grenoble, I'd recommend all these places for a visit - at the right time of year, that is! Plus, consider Lyon, Annecy and Chamonix (again, at the right time of year). I visited Lyon and Annecy in '05 - no trip report because right afterwards I fell and broke my wrist in Switzerland and had to come home, but both are worthwhile.

I thought there was some question about the attribution for the altarpiece, so I left it vague. I did a "greatest hits" tour of the Louvre back in the 90s, and haven't braved the crowds since. I'm really more of a decorative arts than a fine arts person - my rainy day retreat in London is the Victoria and Albert, not the National Gallery.

I have lots of photos... Once I get them culled, I'll post a link here.
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May 16th, 2009, 02:11 PM
  #22  
yk
 
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May I ask what time of year would you consider the "right time" of year? I had briefly gone thru Annecy almost 10 years ago, on the way to Meribel for a ski trip.
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May 16th, 2009, 02:23 PM
  #23  
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Well, I don't ski, and I don't like crowds. So for me the best time for Annecy would be spring or fall, but since I wouldn't want to be in Chamonix until after the snow melted, probably summer or fall. So, if I were doing both, fall.
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May 16th, 2009, 03:30 PM
  #24  
 
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I too am enjoying this delightful report -- thanks.
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May 16th, 2009, 03:54 PM
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Me three. ;-) I got into it after you mentioned Pret - one of my faves - there are many now in NYC - the first one opened near Wall Street downtown when I was working nearby - I used to go there 3 times a day....unfortunately they never served the crayfish sandwich for any length of time. I also took a trip to the French Riviera and stayed in Nice in November of 2001. I took the train to Entrevaux but I made it up to the citadel on top before I turned around and went back to the city. So your report brought back some good memories. Thanks for sharing and am looking forward to your photos.
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May 16th, 2009, 04:12 PM
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Interesting trip report, thanks!
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May 17th, 2009, 06:31 AM
  #27  
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Thanks people! Mara - I know you lucky people in NYC have Pret (I looked up the US operation), but none down here in North Carolina, alas.

April 20th - 23rd - Nancy: a Stunning Square

I’m not at all sure I had heard of Nancy, until I read in a Fodor’s guidebook that it was the home of French Art Nouveau. Now, while there’s some stiff competition when it comes to architecture, when you add in furniture and jewelry, Art Nouveau may well be my favorite European style ever. I’ve even been known to go to Washington just to see a relevant exhibition. So, once I read that, there was no question but that I would be going to Nancy.

It is possible that scheduling three nights was overdoing it, but this was supposed to be a slow trip. Turns out that for those in a hurry Nancy would make an excellent day trip from Paris, or, even better, an overnight trip. Those making an overnight trip could stay in my second hotel, the lovely Hotel des Prelats (www.hoteldesprelats.com/english/index.html ).

Second hotel? Yes, my first, Les Portes d’Or (www.hotel-lesportesdor.com ), did not live up to its website. And perhaps I was in need of a small splurge? For not a whole lot more than I was paying for an utterly charmless, somewhat noisy, and distinctly tired room at Les Portes d’Or, I had a quiet room overlooking the Hotel des Prelats’ garden (I was asked whether I wanted to face the courtyard, the garden, or the street), with a four-poster bed and a luxurious bathroom. Plus, it was right across from a tram stop, and next door to the cathedral instead of what looked like a pub. (Although this was the only hotel with flaky wi-fi!)

Although I saw quite a lot of Art Nouveau, in two museums and by following the T.I.’s map of significant buildings, I have to say that the most mesmerizing sight in Nancy was actually the 18th century Place Stanislas (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Place_Stanislas ). Just as I sat down at a café to gaze at Strasbourg cathedral, here I sat down multiple times to take in the full glory of the square. I still did a lot of walking around, don’t imagine I was really taking it easy, but two afternoons running I chilled out on the east side with a cold glass of lemonade-and-raspberry, and my last morning I ate breakfast on the west side.

I switched sides because of the sun. The northeast and northwest corners are home to rococo fountains, backed by gilded ironwork, and they look best in full sun. The square emerged from a complete renovation in 2005 with all its ironwork beautifully gilded, and all its buildings gleaming. While it’s perhaps too formal and symmetrical to compete for “most beautiful square in Europe” it’s a prime contender for “most magnificent”.

At the Musee Lorrain I learned that the Stanislas in question, whose statue stands in the center of the square, and who was responsible for its construction, was the last Duke of Lorraine. He had been the King of Poland-Lithuania, twice (don’t ask), but in a diplomatic reshuffle in 1736 wound up in Lorraine instead. I hope his new subjects were properly grateful for their square.

Part of the east side of Place Stanislas is occupied by the Musee des Beaux-Arts. Now, I went through the upstairs kind of fast, but downstairs in the basement I lingered, because down there is a wonderful collection of Daum glassware, much of it from the Art Nouveau period. I’m not sure why it’s hidden in the basement, along with the remains of some 16th century walls and a remarkable modern tapestry, but it is hidden, you have to know to go look for it. And the museum’s web site has a picture of one of the Daum cases, but no explanation!

The other must-see museum for Art Nouveau fans is the Ecole de Nancy. Now, I found myself a little disappointed with this museum. Possibly the fact that there was nowhere secure to leave my daypack, and it weighed a bit more than usual, had something to do with it. But it was also smaller than I expected. It’s a not very big house, with the rooms decorated with Art Nouveau furniture, stained glass, paintings, etc. All the pieces were excellent, but there weren’t that many of them.

Out on the streets, I visited all the main clusters of Art Nouveau buildings, and took lots of photos, although I noticed that some of them are in serious need of TLC. Besides these buildings, and the Place Stanislas, Nancy also has some other elegant squares and streets, and several good parks, notably the very big Place de la Pepiniere, northeast of the main square. Centering on a big fountain, this housed everything from a children’s zoo to soccer practice, and finished close to a canal.

Every town I had visited to this point had a carousel for the kids, but Nancy outdid the others. It was hosting a big funfair, complete with dodgem cars, haunted houses, a hall of mirrors, a huge Ferris wheel, a not-so-huge roller-coaster, and lots and lots of other rides and side shows and snack food. My feet were complaining a little by the time I found the funfair, so I didn’t spend all that much time there, but I could see the Ferris wheel peeking over the buildings from several places in town.

Some of the Art Nouveau buildings in Nancy were built as private residences, but some were commercial. One of these, the Brasserie Excelsior, is still a café and restaurant. Of course, I ate dinner there, so I could properly admire the interior. In fact, I was so busy admiring the interior that I don’t actually remember what I ate, except that was quite good, and it wasn’t seafood, which was ruinously expensive. It might even have included foie gras…
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May 17th, 2009, 06:43 AM
  #28  
 
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Bookmarking! Can't wait to get into this TR.
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May 17th, 2009, 06:46 AM
  #29  
yk
 
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Can you believe that I immediately bookmarked Hotel des Prelats? I can't wait to go back to Paris and do an overnight trip to Nancy.
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May 17th, 2009, 07:02 AM
  #30  
 
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We took a day trip to Nancy from Colmar. Had lunch at the Excelsoir. Purchased lots of postcards to mail to my sister Nancy.

We're big Art Nouveau fans too.

Great trip report.

Stu Dudley
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May 17th, 2009, 08:03 AM
  #31  
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Mea culpa - I just realized that I moved the Musee des Beaux Arts to the wrong side of the square...

yk - goodie - another yk TR in the offing! You can take the tram from the station right to the hotel (although my room wasn't available until 3:00 pm), and you can buy a two day transport pass, you'll need it to get to some of the houses and the Ecole de Nancy. Start at the TI on the south-west corner of the square.

Stu " Purchased lots of postcards to mail to my sister Nancy." - lol! Although I discovered (listening to an audio guide) that it isn't pronounced the way I thought - that's a long "A". May explain some puzzled looks from French people earlier in the trip - but no-one corrected me.
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May 18th, 2009, 03:54 PM
  #32  
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April 23rd - 27th - Nothing Could be Finer - Paris

Late last year I spent four nights in Paris, and even with thermals and a fleece I shivered. I spent my time in museums, instead of outdoors, as I had hoped. This time, I had two cool, grey days (although not fleece and thermals cool), and one and a half days of glorious sunshine. I spent an afternoon following my guidebook’s walk along the Seine, and I bought a Batobus pass for the full day, so I could cruise up and down the river.

Both days, I found the refrain: “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina” kept running through my head. I thought the full quote was “...Carolina in the springtime”, but I checked, and it’s “...Carolina in the morning”. Since I’m not a morning person I prefer the former. Now, I live in North Carolina, and I have to tell you that Carolina in the springtime, before the humidity sets in, with the dogwoods, and the azaleas, and the wisteria, and mountain laurel and rhododendrons up in the Appalachians, is hard to beat. But Paris just might be finer.

Besides all the time I spent beside the river, I finally made it to the Père Lachaise Cemetery. This may sound like heresy, and perhaps it was the grey day, or perhaps the sheer size, but it didn’t displace Lviv’s Łyczakowski as my favorite European cemetery. I did enjoy a few individual tombs - Oscar Wilde’s for instance, although Jim Morrison’s was much tamer than I expected - and I was moved by the memorials at the back, but overall I was bit disappointed.

Besides the walking tour of the quays, which included a pleasant detour into the shady Place Dauphine for coffee, I followed another walking tour, on my iPod, through the Latin Quarter. On both tours I was tempted to stop off at Sainte-Chapelle for a return visit, but both times the line for admission deterred me. I did walk through Notre-Dame, something I hadn't done for a while, but it didn't displace Strasbourg Cathedral in my affections - and it was much more crowded!

I also spent a little time among the crowds in the Tuileries. Resting up at the start, near the Louvre, I people-watched. I was chatting with one guy with a cardboard cutout he used for photographs, when all of a sudden he took off. The young boy and the woman begging, and the African vendors, all followed him. A couple of minutes later, a police car drove slowly past. And a few minutes after that, they all came back.

I did visit another couple of museums. I've been to Paris enough times now that I don't feel obligated to revisit the Louvre or the Orsay, and I'm working my way through lesser known places. This time I was eager to take a look at the new Musee Branly. Since it's over by the Eiffel Tower, the Batobus delivered me to a quay quite close. While it's true that the building is definitely different, I didn't enjoy the collection as much as I expected. All the labels were in French - OK, this museum is in France. But the English audio guide left me almost completely in the dark - few of the exhibits had English commentary. Add in the fact that the museum was literally on the dark side, and distinctly crowded, and eventually I switched to my second museum speed - real fast - and whisked through and out. I'd suggest visiting on a rainy day in the middle of the week, provided you can read French.

I had much more fun at the second museum, although again I finished at speed, but that was because closing time was closing in. Readers who have noted my preference for arts and crafts rather than fine arts will be unsurprised to learn that this was the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, housed in the Palais Royal at the north-west end of the Louvre complex. Art Nouveau fans take note - there's a nice Art Nouveau collection here. Plenty from other periods too: I spent so much time in the medieval and Renaissance sections that I had to sprint through the second half of the 20th century.

I tried to visit a third museum, but the permanent collection at the Galerie de Minerologie et de Geologie was closed, and I didn't feel like paying for the special exhibition of New World gold. Instead I explored the Jardin des Plantes. I had walked through the formal gardens to reach the Galerie, but now I found a winding path up a small hill (mislabeled as a labyrinth), a small zoo (which I skipped), and a nice alpine garden.

For the second time I stayed at the Hotel le Sevigne (www.le-sevigne.com/ang_accueil.htm ), just steps from the St. Paul metro in the Marais. The single rooms were all booked, and I had to pay extra for a double, but I thought it worth it. If you're looking for charm, go elsewhere, but this place is a solid value in a great location. I also revisited La Tartine on the Rue Rivoli, for lunch and dinner this time, and ate twice at the Cafe des Musees. Nothing really expensive or gourmet, but good food at good prices. My fourth dinner came with rather too much cigarette smoke for my taste - now the smokers have been banished outside, you have to be careful that you actually eat inside if you don't like smoke - the place I had picked didn't really have an inside downstairs.
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May 18th, 2009, 04:28 PM
  #33  
yk
 
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thursdaysd - I'm so sad that your TR is coming to the end... I was traveling vicariously through you! Even though I have been to Paris several times, there are still so many places I have yet been to, including the Museum of decorative arts. Guess what, I have bookmarked your hotel in Marais too. The rates are really good IMO.
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May 18th, 2009, 09:10 PM
  #34  
 
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This is just so good and so literate, I'm absolutely loving every word of it. You've raised the bar for trip reports.
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May 19th, 2009, 07:52 AM
  #35  
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Thanks people [blush]. There will be one more piece on London, after which I'll spend some time culling the photos - I'll post a link here when they're done.

And then I can start planning the next trip, yeah!

yk - yes, I think those are good rates for Paris. Although the Sevigne is short on charm, it has everything you actually need, plus heated towel rails and a good view from mini-balconies down the Rue Rivoli. You know about the Jacquemart-Andre and Nissim de Camondo and the Arab and Jewish museums, right? (I visited those last year.)
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May 19th, 2009, 08:09 AM
  #36  
yk
 
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Where are you going next, thursdaysd? BTW, last Nov we overlapped in London for one day - I think you were on your way to Portugal. Should have tried to meet up with you in London.

When did you go to Lviv? I looked at your profile but didn't see any trip report on that. I was watching the Stalin: Behind Closed Doors series on PBS, which has quite a few scene shots of Lviv (Lwow) and shows a very beautiful (mostly Baroque) town. I'm just curious as to why (and how) you went there.

Yes, I know about all those museums in Paris. Somehow, it only took me 3 trips to Paris to finally see everything I wanted to see at the Louvre, so I had little time for anything else except for Marmottan, Orsay and Orangerie for the Impressionists. Now that I feel I've done the biggies, I can s-l-o-w-l-y visit the rest.

I am not interested in decorative arts until very recently... these interests of mine seem to come in phases; or perhaps, it just means that it takes time for me to learn to appreciate certain categories of art.
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May 19th, 2009, 08:23 AM
  #37  
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yk - where next? Well, I just got a brochure with good rates and no single supplement on the Hurtigruten Norwegian cruises. But I'm trying to resist that temptation - I'm really thinking of eastern Turkey - Georgia - Armenia - Azerbaijan - possibly Iran or Syria - Jordan.

I was in Lviv in 2006 - that TR is on my website - www.wilhelmswords.com. I liked Lviv and western Ukraine very much. It was part of a longer trip that started in Greece and went north and west. Oh, and my pix for that and some other trips are at kwilhelm.smugmug.com/Travel.
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May 19th, 2009, 01:56 PM
  #38  
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April 27th - 29th - A Taste of London

I’m generally a big fan of train travel (I keep telling people on the Asia board they should take the train in India!), but somehow the Eurostar has failed to please me. True, it’s quicker than trekking out to the airport two hours early, but you do have to get there at least 30 minutes ahead of time and hope you find a seat for the wait. True, I don’t have to take my shoes off or worry about liquids, but all my luggage still has to go through an X-ray machine. True there’s scenery, except when you’re in the tunnel, but it’s not very exciting scenery. And then the train is so long it’s a route march to reach my carriage.

This was my third trip, and my lack of enthusiasm was partly due to the second trip, when instead of the seat I had reserved I was reassigned to the back of the train, to a facing seat with minimal leg room. (I think some team or other was on board, as enthusiastic crowds met the train at St. Pancras.) This time I just had to dispossess the person already sitting in the seat I had picked.

I was sustained by the fact that I was headed for London, probably my favorite big city. Perhaps I should mention that although I’ve lived in North Carolina for longer than I now choose to admit, I was born and grew up in England, I still have family there, and I once lived in London for two years. This time my niece (G) met me at St. Pancras. A recent graduate, she now had a job close to the British Museum, and shared a flat in Mortlake where I’d be spending the next two nights.

After lunch at a Pret conveniently located in the station (had to get my crayfish and rocket fix) G took my big pack off to her office, and I took a look at the rain outside and headed underground. My rainy day retreat in London is the Victoria and Albert, and last time I was there I had discovered a new jewelry gallery on the top floor. I still haven’t admired all of the jewelry, as I was distracted on the way by another new gallery, this one on China. And later by the need for a cup of coffee. The V&A’s cafeteria also provided a large scone with jam and clotted cream, which I ate in the Gamble room, a museum exhibit itself (www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/26472-popup.html - but without the fun modern chandeliers and the tables and chairs!).

After reuniting with G, and sharing her commute out to Mortlake, I enjoyed a family evening. G’s mother and brother came over and we went out for some pretty good tapas and wine nearby. Since a couple had just moved out of the flat, I had my own room, and managed a good night’s sleep despite the lack of curtains.

I got a slow start the next day, and after I had breakfasted, and caught a bus to Hammersmith, much of the morning was gone. The day had looked so pretty when I started out, that I had decided to head for Hampstead and revisit the Rembrandt and Vermeer at Kenwood house (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/s...show/nav.12783). This took rather longer than I had expected, as a section of the Piccadilly line wasn’t operating, and I had to detour on the District line via Embankment. Then I wandered around enjoying Hampstead for a while before heading to Kenwood. By the time I got there the weather had turned.

I had a nice time in the house, and a not so nice time eating pea soup outside for lunch, as the inside dining room was booked for a private party. Then I hightailed it back to town - by bus this time. I finished the afternoon at the British Library, engrossed in their special exhibition on Henry VIII. Highly recommended, although I did wonder why the materials on Henry’s last three wives were so sparse.

The evening followed a pattern that was becoming familiar, now that G worked in London. A glass of good red wine at the Truckles Wine Bar in Pied Bull Yard, followed by a thali and gin and tonic at Marsala Zone in Covent Garden. Only this time I went back to Mortlake instead of a B&B on Gower Street.

Staying in Mortlake made reaching Heathrow a little more nerve-racking than usual, as I had to take the bus to Hammersmith to reach the Piccadilly line, and the day before we had spent rather a long time stuck on Hammersmith Bridge. But aside from becoming completely packed with commuters, the only problem with the bus turned out to be my Oyster card. I thought I had loaded enough money for the whole trip when I arrived in London, but I was short. Plus, I didn’t have any change, and neither, apparently, did the driver. He kindly let me ride for free.

I survived the flight to Kennedy, and the four hour wait for my connection that became five hours, and the long queue to take off, and the flight to RDU. But I certainly didn’t enjoy them. Then, at RDU, I walked into baggage claim to be met by a blast of humidity. It appeared that summer had already arrived in North Carolina, and it wasn’t quite May.
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May 19th, 2009, 02:07 PM
  #39  
yk
 
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thursdaysd - you write so well that you put my trip reports to shame!

Now i'm really interested in going to London to see all the Henry VIII's exhibit! So tempting... Did you prebook a ticket for the British Library exhibition? Was it crowded?

Can you believe that I also had pea soup at the Kenwood House cafe?
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May 19th, 2009, 02:23 PM
  #40  
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yk - how cool is that? Didn't you love the art?

No, I didn't pre-book for Henry VIII - I just wandered in, no problem.

Have you stayed in the LSE student residences in London? If you can time it right, they can be a good deal - www.lsevacations.co.uk. It's hard to think there's going to be a better time to go to Europe than now, with the fares down and the dollar up.
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