48 Hours in Paris: The Museum-a-Day Tour

 

Chez Pesme-Theyolere, Corbeil-Essonnes

Chez Pesme-Theyolere, Corbeil-Essonnes

Our friend Maggie in her yard in Corbeil-Essonnes, with (giant resin) ants on a (living) log.

Our friend Maggie in her yard in Corbeil-Essonnes, with (giant resin) ants on a (living) log.

We are fortunate to have friends who live just outside of Paris, in a town called Corbeil Essonnes. It’s about a 40-minute ride on the RER, the commuter train. Dave and I went into the city on Thursday and Friday.
 Our first stop Thursday was Sainte Chappelle, a 13th-century gothic chapel that Dave has been itching to see for years.

Inside Sainte Chapelle

Inside Sainte Chapelle

It is basically all stained glass windows, and it’s quite overwhelming – the windows stretch all the way to the ceiling, which is about three stories high, so there’s no way you can actually see the detail.

That’s a shame because if you’re like me and like Bible stories, it would be interesting to see them played out in stained glass. I craned my neck to try to make out the action on the series of windows depicting the Esther story, but I couldn’t tell who was Esther and who was Mordechai, and after a while my neck started to hurt. The Megilla text will have to suffice.

Dave was a little disappointed because the Rose Window, which is supposed to be one of the most amazing displays of stained glass in the world, was obscured by tarps, as it is being restored. Oh well. Next time we visit, it should be sparkling clean. 

From the chapel we continued with our major-religions-of-the-world theme by hiking to the Marais, the Jewish district, where we visited the Museum of Jewish Art and History. 

It was excellent; not only did we learn about the history of French Jewry, the museum had exhibits dedicated to Jewish life in the Netherlands, Eastern Europe, and the Sephardic world – mostly North Africa.

There were nearly a dozen models of shetel synagogues – they were a little bit Lincoln-Log-ish, but quite compelling. I couldn’t help but imagining my ancestors worshipping in the full-sized versions of these places.

Another interesting exhibit featured Gracia Nasi, a Portuguese-born Marrano Jew who was one of the wealthiest women in Renaissance Europe. Her husband was a banker and spice importer, and she used their money to save fellow Marranos from the Spanish inquisition.

I was especially interested in Gracia because I am reading Naomi Ragen’s novel, “The Ghost of Hannah Mendes,” which is inspired by and is partly about Gracia.

I took the book from my sister’s house in February and finally got around to starting it before leaving on this trip. I’d never heard of Gracia Nasi or Hannah Mendes until last week, and then there she was, in the Museum of Jewish History in Paris!

 (As for the book, it goes back and forth between Gracia’s time and late-20th-century New York and Europe. The prose is very romance-novel-ish – even Gracia’s diary entries read as if they were penned by a 15th-century version of Judith Krantz. If it weren’t for the historical aspect I’d probably have abandoned the novel after about 30 pages but I’m hooked enough to stick with it.)

On Friday, Dave and I visited Montmartre. This time we skipped the religious theme (Sacre Couer looked far too crowded).

Sacre Couer

Sacre Couer

Instead, we visited another museum, one dedicated to the history of the neighborhood and the artists who once lived there, among them Picasso, Toulousse-Latrec, and Renoir.

museumandvines

The museum is in the oldest house in Montmartre, and the gardens – there are three – are beautiful. There’s also a vineyard whose grapes yield 800 bottles of wine a year. The wine is auctioned off every fall to raise money for the museum.

 mmmgardenandvines

The roses in the gardens at the museum were lovely

The roses in the gardens at the museum were lovely

We stopped for lunch at a Boulangerie and ate (salad, quiche, and pretty pastries) on a bench on a busy street. Then we explored a little more of the funky neighborhood, where we saw some rather interesting sights. 

This is either D.E. Inghelbrecht (a composer) or Marcel Ayme, coming out from a wall in Montmartre

This is either D.E. Inghelbrecht (a composer) or Marcel Ayme, coming out from a wall in Montmartre

Okay, this (see bread standing on top of bakery counter) wasn't in Montmartre, but it's more what you'd expect to find in the funky arts neighborhood than in the Jewish neighborhood, no?

Okay, this (see bread standing on top of bakery counter) wasn’t in Montmartre. It was in the Marais. But it’s more what you’d expect to find in the funky arts neighborhood than in the Jewish neighborhood, no?

 

 

Eventually, we took the Metro back to Gare de Lyon, picked up our luggage from the oversized luggage locker we’d rented, and headed to Orly Airport.

We were supposed to be flying on a budget airline, Transavia, which I’d never heard of and feared might turn out to be an internet hoax. However, the tickets were so cheap – €30,50 ­— I couldn’t pass up the deal.

As it turned out, we wound up flying on an Air France Airbus 330 – the Transavia jet “wasn’t available.” Fortunately, the Transavia folks get along well enough with their friends at Air France that, in a pinch, they can borrow a plane.

Generally when you fly a discount airline, you’re lucky to get a seat. We had multiple seats (I think the Air France jet was bigger than the originally scheduled Transavia plane) AND we were given sandwiches and drinks.

That food-and-drink proved fortuitous. We landed as scheduled shortly after 8 in Pisa, but owing to a bunch of complications we never made it into our room until 11 p.m., by which time we were too tired to go out for dinner. That’s when sandwiches came in handy.

Here is our view from the room where we spent our second night at the Royal Victoria Hotel in Pisa.


View from one direction

View out our Pisa window

View out our Pisa window

View in the other direction

I didn’t take a picture of the room where we spent the first night at the Royal Victoria Hotel because it was too dark — both outside (it was raining) and inside (we had no electricity) (more on that later).

 I will not take a picture of where we spent our third night at the Royal Victoria Hotel in Pisa because there was no third night: on Sunday we moved on to the Principina Terra a Grosetto where it appears things are running smoothly enough that we will have only one room for our five-night stay.

I had hoped we would have only one room for our two-night stay in Pisa but that didn’t exactly work out.

We chose the Royal Victoria because Dave has stayed there several times since first coming to Italy in 1999. He initially chose it because he rightly assumed that the English-sounding name meant that the folks at the hotel would speak English.

What he failed to take into account was the relationship between the hotel’s name and the furnishings, plumbing, electricity, and parking, none of which have been updated much, if at all, since the late 19th century.

We arrived at 10 p.m. Friday night, sleepy and ready for bed, only to discover that one has to book parking along with a room. We had not booked parking, and so we had to drive around for nearly a half hour, finally finding a space 1 km from the hotel.

Then we returned to the desk and I remembered that I had booked us a room with a shared bathroom, which was no longer remotely appealing. The upgrade would cost us another €30 a night.

Because we were so exhausted, however, we would have paid anything at that point to be in a room where we didn’t have to dress up to go down the hall to perform our nightly ablutions.

 I just wanted to get into the room and hunker down with my computer and find out what my children were up to, home alone in Canada.

“We are having trouble with the internet,” the desk clerk explained. “It might be working tomorrow.”

It did not work tomorrow. It did not work on Sunday, either. 

 However, the internet problems paled compared to the overall electricity issue. I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, though, a description of the room itself: 20-foot-high ceilings; ornate wood furniture, a massive bed with a carved headboard, tile floors, a bathroom that was bigger than most bedrooms in our neighborhood back home.

Marble-topped night tables were posted on either side of the bed, each with a lamp. I unplugged my lamp for a few minutes to free the outlet for my computer. (Outlets were not plentiful during the Victorian era, and so are not plentiful in the 21st century at the Royal Victoria Hotel.)

I plugged in my computer, but before falling asleep I thought it best to have the lamp plugged in, in case I needed light in the middle of the night. And so I unplugged the computer and plugged the lamp back into the wall. This forethought on my part proved fortuitous.

The room had two windows which overlooked a back alley. The back alley was filled with bars. In through the windows leaked the noise of the revelers below. And let me tell you, they were reveling. Friday was the start of a long weekend in Italy and these people were happy. They talked, they drank and they sang drinking songs, frequently. And loudly. In Italian.

Dave and I fell asleep after 1 a.m. Four hours later we were jolted awake by the sound of the TV, which turned on for no apparent reason (other than to disturb us). Once I deduced the source of the noise and light, I turned on the lamp, made my way across the room, and pulled the plug. Then I staggered back to the bed and fell asleep.

When I awoke three hours later, I unplugged the lamp next to my bed and plugged my computer back in to continue recharging the battery. Sparks flew out of the adapter and the power cord. Then all the lights in the room went out.

I opened the window, hoping to let in some light, but it was pouring rain and very dark outside.

By 10 a.m., the powers-that-be at the Royal Victoria had not managed to turn the lights back on in our room. Instead of hanging around waiting for the electrician, Dave and I fled Pisa, a town cursed with ancient wiring and substandard internet access.

We visited two places we’ve been before: Volterra and San Gimignano. Both are walled cities. Each has a Museum of Torture. Dave and I are not positive, but we suspect that every walled city in Italy has a Museum of Torture.

San Gimignano by day

San Gimignano by day

Sunset over San Gimignano

Sunset over San Gimignano

sangimidoor1

Volterra, Door No. 1

Doors of Volterra

Because we’d been tortured enough, what with the midnight revelers, the 5 a.m. TV wakeup call, and my near-electrocution, we skipped both museums. Instead, I tortured Dave by forcing him to shop for purses…

The End (for now: it has taken me four days to post this, owing to the general lousiness of Italian hotel internet access. We are in a much more modern hotel now, the Fattoria La Principina, but the internet is spotty, at best. I have been trying to upload this post since arriving here two days ago. I think I may have finally succeeded.)

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2 Responses

  1. So much more fun to read when it’s a bumpy ride.

  2. Hey there, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog site in Ie, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has
    some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, great blog!

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