After a scenic bus trip from Menaggio along the shoreline of Lake Como, we boarded a train in Como for Milan and a six-hour trip to Paris to spend our last four days before returning to North America.
After almost four months on the road, we were getting a little travel weary. We had been in Paris in August ’09 after Bill and Valerie’s wedding, so we were going to forgo the frenzy of playing tourist. We were more interested in exploring parts of the city we hadn’t been before, but at a slow pace. Our first morning we strolled through the national botanic gardens, admiring color coordinated flower gardens and bench sitting to observe tourists and families enjoying the good weather and beautiful setting.
We continued walking along the River Seine, crossed a bridge to Ile Saint-Louie, to Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Tuileries Gardens that stretch from the Louvre to Place de la Concorde. We had a charming lunch in an old French cafe on Ile Saint-Louis with 19th century period furniture, posters, plaques, and table ware. Very charming and Old World.
We did want to return to Musee d’Orsay where we’d spent most of a day back in 2009, having lunch on a drizzly afternoon in an upstairs dining room looking over the banks of the River Seine. The view through low clouds, people walking below huddled under umbrellas, dodging puddles and misting rain looked like an Impressionist painting.
Musee d’ Orsay was undergoing a renovation and many of the galleries we had visited in 2009 were closed. The Impressionist collection had been shoehorned into three crowded galleries. But we wove through crowds to see works by Picasso, Degas, Monet, Pissarro, and Gauguin Cezanne, and others.
We ate lunch in an ornate dining room, decorated will filigree, voluptuous sculpture, ceiling murals, and hanging chandeliers.
The next day we took the metro to see Sacre Coeur basilica on the Butte, the highest point in the city and the famous bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre, where artists, poets, and writers in earlier centuries worked in studios and met in quaint cafes in the narrow cobblestone streets.
The lines to enter Sacre Coeur were long, but we used the time to admire the view, see the Seine winding through the city, and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Pictures weren’t allowed in Sacre Coeur. We were a little uncomfortable by all the souvenirs, medallions, and postcards being sold at each of the chapels around the church.
We strolled through Montmartre, enchanted by street artists and cafes with outdoor seating where we people watched and felt slightly ‘bohemian.’ As it turned out, the cafe where we had lunch, Le Bonne Franquette, was a popular destination. Several tour guides stood in front, speaking German, Italian, and French, pointing to a sign above our table. Then the guide led his tour inside, which was surprising since the cafe looked to be cozy, without room for crowds.
The sign above Le Bonne Franquette and the Le Consulat cafe across the way announced Van Gogh, Pissarro, Sisley, Picasso, Degas, Monet, and Cezanne had met there during Paris’s Golden Age of Impressionism.
I was intrigued to see the interior of our ‘intimate’ cafe to see where the crowds were going. As it turned out, the cafe had a few tables tucked into corners, but at the rear was a banquet room where reproductions of the Impressionist artists who had gathered there a hundred years ago.
After lunch, we strolled around Montmartre to soak up atmosphere and see the street artists peddling their wares. It was a fun day, with the sort of surprises and delights you’d expect in the City of Lights.
P.S. We noticed an unusual display of padlocks on a bridge over the River Seine. We were puzzled and wonder if anyone knows the significance of the collection. It made for an interesting example of urban art, nevertheless.
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Next posting: Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’
In addition to writing this travel blog, I write fiction — thrillers, mysteries, and suspense novels. I’m currently writing a thriller series based in Milan featuring the anti-terrorism police, DIGOS, as they track down domestic and international terrorists.
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