Un week-end à Paris

After having travelled the past 3 weekends in a row, it was nice to finally spend a relaxing weekend in Paris. With so many excellent travel locations throughout France, it is tempting to schedule a new region for every weekend. Luckily the first weekend of the month offers free museums in Paris, so my nearly empty pocketbook was easily persuaded to stay.

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We are finally having some sunshine, although it is still chilly, so outdoor activities have become number one priority. Saturday afternoon, we headed towards the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood for some free jazz concerts. I don’t think I have ever been to this neighborhood without hearing jazz musicians pounding the pavement in front of the iconic church, but this time it was for an actual organized event. Consecrated in 558 by the bishop of Paris, this small village built around an abbey of the same name was originally outside Paris city limits. The abbey and church have been renovated many, many times over the years, but the original portions give it the title of oldest church in Paris.

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The Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood has been the haunt of intellectuals since the 17th century. Writers and artists made it an important place to be throughout the first half of the 20th century. You will remember that Hemingway and his friends hung out in Les Deux Magots in the main square. Subsequently, jazz is very popular in this neighborhood. They are hosting a jazz festival that runs for more than 2 weeks, offering many free concerts. It’s not the typical music of my choice, but jazz and Paris go together very well and free is always a plus!

After the jazz concert and a picnic lunch in the park, Megan and I headed towards the 16th arrondissement on the far west side of the city. Our destination: Roland Garros. Although I am not particularly a huge tennis fan, I am a fan of sports in general and I am a HUGE fan of attending sporting events, no matter what they might be. It was disappointing to realize that I wouldn’t be here for the Tour de France, but the French Open is a huge deal and I wanted to take full advantage of it! Unfortunately, tickets went on sale a while ago and have been sold out for some time. The solution to this is to purchase an evening pass that will get you into the grounds from 5:00pm on. They begin selling these passes just 24 hours in advance.

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The pass is inexpensive and will get you into the outer courts to watch any matches you want. If you want to get into one of the three main courts, you can wait in line to purchase an additional ticket for these courts. Visitors are allowed to line up starting at 3:00pm. Well we, like everyone else, originally wanted to see the Centre Court where Nadal was playing his match against Fognini and later Djokovic was playing against Dimitrov. However, even after they began selling tickets for this court at 5:00, it was evident that things were moving incredibly slow and there was NO WAY we were going to wait another 2 hours in line. So instead, we jumped in the shortest line for a show court, which was the Court Suzanne Leglan.

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It was a good move to purchase a show court ticket, because once inside we realized that the outer courts all had lines to go inside as well! What is it with this place and the lines? You simply wait in line to wait in line just to wait in another line. Does anyone ever actually get anywhere? The match that was in progress when we first arrived was Frenchman Richard Gasquet versus Russian Nikolay Davydenko. Although they aren’t the most famous players in tennis, it was awesome to watch a Frenchman win his match in front of the home crowd. They were going wild (well as wild as people go in a tennis match, which isn’t really that wild come to think of it). Because he won in straight sets and the match was already in progress, we didn’t get to see much, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

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The stadium seemed to clear before the final match of the evening and I thought surely people were just leaving for a refreshment and restroom break. But actually, hardly anyone came back. The final match was between Serbian Jelena Jankovic and Aussie Samantha Stosur. I know that a lot of people left because it was getting late and the final match were women, but we had a blast watching them. It was an intense match, going back and forth several times. The crowd started out heavily favoring Jankovic (we are guessing because she was a fellow Euro?) but we rooted for Stosur. This choice came about primarily because we met some nice Aussies while in the line for 2 hours and enjoyed having a long chat with them. In the end, the crowd rooted heavily for Stosur to come back, but it wasn’t enough.

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The most impressive part about the French Open in person for us was the fact that the line judges have balls flying at them at 100+mph and they never even flinch! That takes some talent (and guts). Also, I was very interested in the clay courts and how they manage to keep the lines in tact. Megan commented on my obsession with the grounds crew several times!

Sunday was another beautiful day but despite the sunshine, I had to take advantage of the free museums. I decided last minute, after a night of not enough sleep, to abandon my plans of starting bright and early at the Musée d’Orsay. I knew that the line would be ridiculous and fighting the crowds was not on my agenda. I guess that will be another museum that I have to pay for. After a lazy morning, I arrived at the Musée Rodin around noon. The museum is located in the Hôtel Biron, a jewel of Parisian rocaille architecture surrounded by splendid gardens. The collection was obtained in 1916, thanks to Auguste Rodin’s donation of his works and his collections to the French State, the museum opened in 1919.

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I enjoyed a quick stroll through the mansion, enjoying the architecture as much as the artwork (so very typical of me). But the crowded interior and the sunshine were beckoning me outside. The gardens were a great way to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon. In the rose garden, they even have auditory artwork to go along with the Rodin statues. This means that sounds are broadcast throughout the rose garden, many of women singing or humming. It was very calming. I could have stayed in the gardens forever but, alas, it was time for me to meet Megan at my second museum of the day.

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The Centre Pompidou is a strange looking building that stands out from all other Parisian architecture. The Centre was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and British architect Richard Rogers. It came in response to Paris’ desire for a proper contemporary art museum and new library. Finished in 1977, this building literally turned the world of architecture upside-down. Or maybe better described as inside-out, since that is what the concept of the Pompidou is. The escalators, plumbing, electrical etc. systems are used as a design piece on the outside of the building. Different colors are used for different systems, creating a decorative exterior: blue for circulating air; yellow for circulating electricity; green for circulating water; red for circulating people (escalators and elevators). Thus, the interior spaces are very open and although appear to have structural framework, most of it is just for aesthetic purposes.

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I find the Centre Pompidou incredibly strange and intriguing at the same time. I’m not usually a contemporary design person, but it is definitely a fitting place for a contemporary art museum. With over 60,000 pieces, it holds the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe. The two floors of museum space that I saw were organized into Modern Art (1905-1960) and Contemporary Art (1960-present). There were a lot of strange items, a lot of naked women pictures, and a lot of pieces by famous artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Pollack and Warhol. I have no idea what these pieces are, but here are a few of my favorites.

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Perhaps my favorite part of the Centre Pompidou were the views it offers from glass-enclosed spaces on the top floors. I got to feel safe and secure while getting free and yet priceless photo moments of my beloved skyline.

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A sunny Sunday in Paris would not be complete without pastries and a bottle of wine at one of the famous Parisian sites. Our location of choice is usually Quai de la Tournelle on the left bank of the Seine. Stunning views of Notre Dame and Île Saint Louis make for a lovely backdrop while passing boats create a tidal wave of river water splashing on our shoes. It never fails, we try to get passengers on every passing boat to wave, and are highly unsuccessful. Groups of French men attempt to play catch with an American football and we gawk and laugh at their impossible technique. If this place had restrooms, we might never leave…

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