Paris, France December 2005  
For the first weekend of December '05 we went on a last minute jolly to Paris. Hooray!

This was our third visit to the French capital. (Our previous trips were in 1991 and 2000.)

So having already scaled the Eiffel Tower, strolled down Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe, spluttered "how small?!" to Mona hanging in the Louvre, and stood mouth agog by the stunning Sacre Couer, we had no strong desire to revisit any of them.

In fact the closest we got to the Eiffel Tower this time was a quick glimpse of it from the steps of the Trocadero, and the closest we got to the Sacre Couer was a distant view from the roof top terrace of Musee D'Orsay!

At least it gave an opportunity for us to take Paris at a more leisurely pace.

The plan was that we could take in a museum in the morning, pop to the shops after lunch, then take in a cemetery in the afternoon, ending the evening amongst the cafe bars of the Latin Quarter. Perfect!
We stuck to the plan fairly well, but Paris is such a huge city that despite using the Metro where ever possible we still ended up walking for miles and miles! We were absolutely knackered by the end of the day.
Musee Guimet
Official Web Page
The first museum we visited was Musee Guimet. In fact this was a major factor in us choosing a return to Paris above anywhere else in Europe.

It was twelve months ago, almost to the day when we were walking amongst the phenomenal temples of Angkor, Cambodia.

We visited the National Museum in Phnom Penh where we discovered that many of the significant items were actually housed here in Paris!

Monsieur Emile Etienne Guimet founded the museum in 1879 and most of the Khmer art was collected during the exploration of Angkor by Delaporte and Harmand in 1881.

The Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient, an institute for the study of Asian societies and a major contributor to the restoration of Angkor also sent items to the collection up until 1936.

As we walked around these incredible treasures we couldn't help but be saddened by their presence here, thousands of miles away from their home. We were of the opinion that the decapitated heads should be reunited with the shoulders from which they were lopped !

But such is the situation of all museums. They can't exist without removing the artefacts from their place of origin.

I guess one view is that it was an honest attempt by the colonial masters to bring the wonderful world back home to its people and not just an abuse of its power. And also if they hadn't collected these items they may have been lost to Tomb Raiders and now been hidden in private collections.

On the side of justification, I remember how truly thrilled I was when I visited the British Museum and placed my hands on one of those enigmatic Rapa Nui statues.

Whilst I may never be fortunate enough to make the journey over to Easter Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean I have at least seen and touched a real Moai.

But when we saw a piece of the "giants causeway" taken from Preah Khan, in Angkor, our thoughts swayed back to wishing they were returned to their rightful place.

Obviously we had an affinity with the Khmer art as we had been extremely privileged to have stood where these sculptures once proudly stood.

When we walked around the Indian, or Tibetan art we noticeably viewed them more as "museum pieces". We had no relation with them.

The question of whether all museums should be made to return national treasures back to the countries from where they were taken is a complex and emotive subject that I don't know enough about. But the heart says "give them back" !

Anyway, back to the museum. It apparently houses the largest collection of Asian arts in the world, outside of Asia. Whilst the Angkorian pieces were the "piece de resistance", it was also home for arts from all over Asia with Thailand, Laos, India, Pakistan, Afganistan, Nepal, Tibet, China, Japan and Korea all well represented.

One room that was itself a museum piece was the library. It was fantastic. You could quite easily imagine the French scholars studying their freshly looted artefacts from Asia!

Cimeterie du Pere Lachaise
Official Web Page

I've always wanted to visit this cemetery. I suppose the prime attraction for me was the final resting place of Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors.

But once within its walls we soon became fascinated by the incredible tombs, irrespective of whose they were. Many were works of art in their own right.

We could have just wandered around for hours but I did really want to find Jim Morrison's grave. But that was easier said than done however, especially without a map!

Thankfully we were fortunate to overhear a young couple ask for directions, so we followed them!

It was very tucked away, and we would never have found it, even with a map. In fact we walked past it twice without noticing it.

I must admit that I was expecting something more substantial because I seem to recall a photo of a large bronze bust but that must have now been stolen.

After satisfying my curiosity we walked down towards the main entrance. Stopping every now and then to read the epitaphs. It sounds so morbid, but they were quite compelling.

We were shocked when on one gravestone we saw two names with their birth year but with the year of death left blank!? Were they still alive, waiting to die?

We somehow found an administrative building and picked up an official map. We had intended to seek out Oscar Wilde's plot but he was at the very far end of the cemetery.

This place was massive. It was like the City of the Dead. It even had street names, and district numbers. We decided that he was way too far away.

So instead we went in search of the famous Polish composer Frederic Chopin, to find where he was now decomposing!

The map was very poor, and it wasn't at all easy to find, but we did eventually stumble across his grave, touchingly engulfed by floral tributes.

A little further up the same path we came across the exquisite grave of Louis Sebastian Gourlot, where a forlorn figure rests on his tombstone.

Its rust orange colour made it stand out so vividly from the grey.

It was so stunning it gave me the goosebumps.

Musee D'Orsay
Official Web Page

We had not previously visited the D'Orsay. When we had visited Paris in the past we couldn't care less about art. In fact the Mona Lisa was probably the only painting we knew! Since then however we've developed quite an interest.

It's probably an age thing! The older we get the more we appreciate things!

Anyway, our maturing minds had decided that during this trip the Musee D'Orsay was our first choice art gallery to visit.

This beautiful building was originally built in 1900 as a railway station.

At the time the painter Edouard remarked that it was "superb and looked like a Palace of Beautiful Arts". In 1986 it became one!

It houses mostly work by French impressionists Monet, Renoir, Pissaro, Degas, Seurat and post-impressionist painters such as Gauguin, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh.

I must admit that I'm fascinated by the paintings and the tales of Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh.

NOT the carved wooden frame of Gauguin's love hut!

The pair lived together for a brief but intensely productive period in 1888 in the "yellow house" in Arles. It came to an end spectacularly as Van Gogh cut off his ear following an argument with Gauguin. Two years later Van Gogh committed suicide, and then Gauguin left France for the South Pacific where he eventually drank himself to death on the Green Fairy, Absinthe!

The D'Orsay had on display the carved wooden frame of Gauguin's Tahitian love hut (Maison du Jouir - the house of sensual delight) in which he spent his last months. He died in 1903 of a heart attack at Atuona, on Hiva Oa, part of the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia.

We stopped for a pot of tea at the museum's cafe which had for a dramatic focal point a massive clock face.

Then, whilst enjoying our tea Julie was convinced she saw Vanessa Redgrave at a table behind me. We both had a good gawp and she certainly looked like her. She does live in Paris which adds to the likelihood of it being her.

Onwards we continued through countless masterpieces, from Renoir, Monet, Toulousse-Lautrec, and all the others. It was like viewing the Greatest Hits of French Impressionism.

We left the top floor by what felt like the fire escape route and stumbled across a collection of chairs !?

The period furniture theme continued as we were left a little disappointed when one wing, which should have housed a ?, was instead completely filled with boring furniture. Perhaps our appreciation of furnishings has yet to mature!

On our way out we came across a young artist practicing his skills by reproducing a portrait. He was achieving an incredible likeness.

We thoroughly enjoyed Musee D'Orsay. It wasn't cheap to get into but with such a vast selection of classic masterpieces on display it was certainly good value for money.

Notre Dame

On the Sunday, as we were leaving Paris, we spent our last few hours in the French capital walking around Notre Dame.

We have visited this stunning cathedral before on each of our previous visits but it still drew us back for another viewing.

The beautiful rose windows, the incredible intricate carvings, and the powerful gothic architecture.

We also hadn't climbed the towers before to see the gargoyles up close.

And we still haven't because the queues were far too long!

As it was a Sunday morning it felt a bit strange milling around with hundreds of other shuffling tourists whilst in the middle the assembled congregation were trying to go about their mass in peace.

It did add to a fantastic reverent atmosphere but we felt a bit disrespectful going about our touristic motions whilst some people were trying their best to worship.

On the way out I always stop and photograph these four statues, always asking the same question. Who is the one holding his head in his hands?

After coming home and doing an internet search I've discovered he is St.Denis. He was an early Bishop of Paris who was beheaded by the Romans but miraculously picked up his head and walked off! (Yeah, right !)

Paris Shopping

With only three weeks until Christmas the department stores were beautifully decorated but also extremely busy!

Despite the crowds we still fought our way to the kids toy department!

We simply had to buy Rory, (our grandson), a gift and also Lucy, (our goddaughter), a first birthday present.

Au Printemps had a series of great window displays involving puppets that were attracting crowds of children and adults alike. Whilst Galleries Lafayette ace card was a huge Christmas tree as its central display.

The beautiful central glass dome of Galleries Lafayette is well worth a view at any time of the year.

Parisian Nightlife

The Parisian Nightlife was a new experience for us because on our other two visits we didn't venture out after dark!!

This time our hotel, (Hotel Bel Ami), was in a great location in the heart of St. Germain des Pres. We were within walking distance of plenty of cafes and bars of the Latin Quarter, and we certainly took advantage of this bonus!

The church of Saint Germain was just around the corner from our hotel and looked beautiful all lit up for the evening. It was quite a transformation from the grey building of the day.

We stood in the square for quite a while watching a TV cooking programme being filmed amidst a mock Xmas market, complete with fake snow!

On the first evening we walked along the Seine, past the Institut du France, momentarily walking down to the riverside and beneath the famous Pont Neuf.

It was bitterly cold yet we were happy to walk on to find this vegetarian restaurant in the shadow of the Notre Dame, Le Grenier De Notre Dame. We had good memories from our last visit.

We ate here in 2000 and enjoyed the most delicious bowl of garlic pasta ever.

Sadly we should have left our memories alone as this time the garlic pasta resembled Chinese Noodles in veg oil, with no garlic, and no cheese. So I won't be recommending this restaurant on that performance!

Armed with the Time Out guide to Paris we went on a pub crawl of the Latin Quarter.

Being a vegetarian in Paris is thirsty work!

Julie was being tempted by all the best bistros in town but none of them had a suitable dish for the carnivorously challenged. It was torture for her to have to be denied a delicious supper because I didn't like the thought of a mushroom omlette!

We walked for miles looking for somewhere acceptable to eat. Our only option was to turn to foreign cuisine.

We went all Moroccan at Chez Omar eating some lovely cous cous, and we went Indian at the Old Kashmir where I enjoyed a comforting cup of deliciously sweet Punjabi tea!

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