The Champagne Region

After our Loire Valley day, we set off for a day trip to the Champagne region. I highly recommend this to anyone visiting France. It was just lovely and very informative!

There are two main cities in the Champagne region: Reims and Épernay. Most of the big champagne producers are located in those cities. However, the entire region is completely filled with small, local champagne producers as well. In fact, while the bigger champagne houses are more well-known as brands internationally, the majority of champagne in the world comes from the thousands of local producers and is produced and consumed in France. I definitely thought that the local champagne was more delicious (hands down, it was not even a close comparison to me), and it was cheaper! But more on that later.

So we have two big cities with mostly big producers who export most of their champagne, and we have about 320 little villages with thousands of small-scale vignerons (winemakers) who, combined, produce the majority of champagne. Add in the beautiful Marne river and rolling hills covered in vineyards, and you have a picture of what the Champagne region is like. We had a car, which was advantageous because it allowed us to get off the beaten path.

We started our day in Épernay, one of the two big cities I mentioned before. Our first stop was a tour at Mercier, a very famous large champagne house. It cost €11 per person for a tour with a tasting of one glass at the end of the tour, all the way up to about €19 for a tasting of three glasses. We just had one, since we didn’t want to wast too much time, money, and effort on the big producers. The tour of Mercier was like a trip to Disneyland. Mercier was famous for his promotional gimmicks, and the company still follows that philosophy. The visit started with a very well-done video and a descent down the glass elevator with scenes about the company in the walls all the way down. Then we entered the huge beautiful caves. Wear a jacket! It’s about 10°C in the caves. We got onto Disneyland-style laser guided trams and toured around the caves, learning all about the production of champagne, the history of Mercier, and the features of the caves all along the way. Champagne is aged in caves because production requires humidity, darkness, and cool temperatures, which are all present in the caves. The caves themselves are massive, spanning 18 kilometers with high ceilings and carved chalk walls. It’s very impressive. Mercier also had a gigantic wine vat on display. It was constructed by Eugène Mercier (the founder) between 1870 and 1881 and could hold the equivalent of 200,000 bottles of champagne. He put on quite a show dragging it all the way to Paris for the World’s Fair in 1900, and according to them it was the second largest attraction of the fair (behind the Eiffel Tower).

I highly recommend at least one visit to a big producer in the region so that you’ll have a good idea of how champagne is made and you’ll get to see the huge impressive cellars. We were happy with our visit to Mercier in Épernay. I’ve also heard that Moët & Chandon and De Castellane in Épernay are good, as well as Mumm, Pommery, and especially Taittinger in Reims. Once you get the big visit out of the way, the fun and adventures can begin.

After we left Mercier, we got into the car and onto the Champagne Route (Route Touristique du Champagne). There are five routes that take you through vineyards and past rivers,  incredible views, charming villages, and beautiful churches/monasteries/chateaux. What more could you ask for? Most importantly, the champagne route takes you past local champagne producers, many of whom have their houses open to the public. You just have to look for the “point d’accueil” (welcome point) signs outside of them.

We were hardly out of Épernay, in the town of Chouilly, when we stopped at Pierre Legras (28, rue de Saint Chamand, 51530 Chouilly, France). I wandered in and asked if we could have a tour, and the owner told me of course. She spoke English, and she showed us their small modern cellar (although it can hold up to 1 million bottles!) and machinery. She also told us all about their process and gave us a much more intimate tour, answering all of our questions along the way. After the tour, we went back to the office where she and her husband gave us tastings of their champagnes and time flew by while we talked for a couple of hours. It was such a nice visit! We tried a lot of incredible champagne and had such a nice afternoon visiting with them and learning all about the lifestyle of a small champagne producer. Of course, we also learned all about their champagnes. We bought about 5 bottles of champagne from them (some of the best champagne I’ve ever had and my favorite bottle was only €15,25!). I really enjoyed the visit to the small producer; it was just so much more personalized and interesting. They even invited us back the next day to see them disgorge a batch of champagne! This is one of the final steps in the process of making champagne. It occurs after they’ve gotten all the sediment (lees = dead yeast) into the neck, and there is a lot of pressure in the bottle. They immerse the neck in a bath of -20°C liquid to freeze the sediment. They remove the cap and, because of the pressure in the bottle, the frozen part with the sediment in it pops out. Then they add the desired dose of sugar and cork it. We really wanted to come and see it, but we were too worn out to drive all the way back again the next day.

If you have the chance, I strongly recommend a visit to Pierre Legras. They were so knowledgeable and hospitable, and their champagnes were excellent.

I had a couple of other small producers on the list for us to see, namely Thierry Rodez in Ambonnay, Tornay and Beaufort in Bouzy. Another thing that sounded great (but didn’t work for the cold rainy weather) is Domi Moreau’s vineyard tours on bicycle (or minibus, for the wimps out there). However, we were at Pierre Legras for such a long time that the business day was over by the end! Oops! It was worth it though, to spend the afternoon with such a nice couple drinking their great champagnes. The rest of the stuff I’ll do another time, since I’ll definitely be back.

After we left Pierre Legras, we drove along the Champagne Route to Reims, the other big city in Champagne. It was a very cool town, with a healthy mix of old and new. The cathedral was beautiful, and although it was closed when we were there, you can take an audio-guided tour that is supposed to be great. My roommate thinks that the Reims cathedral is better than Notre-Dame de Paris. I disagree, since its pristine condition is mostly due to the fact that it’s been heavily restored after being damaged in the Hundred Years’ War and again after WWI. But the cathedral is very beautiful and historically important (in spite of the heavy restorations, it’s still a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

We had dinner in Reims and then headed home, on what turned out to be a much longer drive than any of us expected. Some roads were closed and then we got lost, and it took 4 hours to get back. But that didn’t ruin what a great day we had in Champagne region. I’d love to come back for an entire weekend when the weather is good. A picnic on the river, bicycle ride through the vineyards, and lots of visits to discover new small champagne producers in this beautiful setting sounds very romantic.

Loire Valley: Le château de Cheverny

We packed the Loire Valley into a one day trip, so after we saw the château at Blois we drove straight to the château at Cheverny. I think we all would have liked to spend more time in the Loire Valley, but France is so full of things to see and do that we had to rush through some parts. I’m sure I’ll come back here soon to see some other châteaux, do some outdoors activities, and drink wine.

The château de Cheverny is very elegant. It was very modern by comparison to the one at Blois since the original fortress from 1500 was rebuilt in 1624-1640, and not much remains from the 1500 structure. The grounds are impressive, with  vast lawns and gorgeous gardens. It’s all very stately. You can tour the grounds in electric cars and boats.  The château has been owned by the same family for more than 6 centuries (with a couple of temporary interruptions). The interesting thing about this château is that Marquis de Vibraye and his family still live in it! The public rooms are open everyday for visitors to tour, but there are private parts of the château (in the right wing) where the family still lives. Can you imagine?

The château itself is decorated beautifully. To me, the tour of the inside was

The Library

much more aesthetically pleasing than the one at Blois. It was decorated like a really lovely old home, with antique furnishings, decoration, and colors everywhere. There was a weapons room and even a bedroom covered in tapestries for the king with the bed Henri IV slept in when he visited. They even had pictures of the Marquis and his family. It felt much more like an extravagant home than the

The King's Bedchamber

colder and sparser château at Blois. The château even inspired Hergé, the author of the famous and beloved Tintin (a Franco-Belgian comic), to create Marlingspike Hall, the fictional castle in his comics. He based the castle on Cheverny.

 

The Grand Salon

The Arms Room

The Family Dining Room

Louis XVI Dressing Table

The Bridal Chamber, with the 1994 wedding dress of the Marquise de Vibraye

The Nursery, with the first rocking horses from the time of Napoleon III

The Dining Room

After we toured the house, we walked around the gardens for a while. They have fountains and an orangery, and we spotted some horses. As we were walking, we saw the Marquis drive up in a Prius! He was greeted by some people in a golf cart nearby who took the car for him. How exciting! A minor celebrity sighting (albeit at his house).

After we walked around the gardens for a while, we went over to see the hounds. They have a kennel of around a hundred dogs who are taken hunting twice a week. You can even see them feed the dogs everyday at 5pm. It was quite a scene! There were dogs everywhere and tons and tons of meat and kibble set out for them, with fountains for drinking. It was a unique sight.

This was a wonderful visit. The château at Blois was more important historically and it was older (architecture and history buffs will probably like it more), but to me this château was more enjoyable to visit just because of its sheer elegance and beauty. On a nice day, I’m sure walking the grounds is lovely.

The Main Staircase

Loire Valley: Château Royal de Blois

Ahhhh vacation. Even if you live in a place as magical as Paris, day-to-day life tends to take over and distract you and stress you out. Thank goodness for vacations when you can relax, unwind, and refocus.

We get a lot of school vacations here in France. We have 2 weeks off for Christmas break in December, then a week off in February for winter break, then 2 weeks off in April for spring break. Not bad! For spring break the maestro and my parents came to France, and we all headed out of Paris almost immediately. We had a car, which was excellent, and we set out on our first excursion to the Loire Valley and the city of Blois. I’ll write another post soon about driving around France. It was lovely, with breathtaking views of the countryside dotted with tiny villages everywhere. But I’m getting off-topic. Today I want to write about Blois. The Loire Valley is full of châteaux that wealthy people built to show off their money and power (they’re a dime-a-dozen down there!) and to be near the king. It’s also known for its wine, orchards, and historic towns.

We drove to the very old and cute city of Blois last week, and the first thing we noticed were the old timbered buildings lining the tiny streets. It was Monday, so everything was closed, and the weather was somewhat miserable. It was cold and very windy all day. Originally, the plan was to rent bikes and ride them down the Loire river, stopping at the cute towns and châteaux all along the way. Once we got there and realized how cold and windy it was, though, the thought of being on a bicycle was horrible. So we went straight to the château. If you make it down to the Loire Valley sometime when the weather is good, I highly recommend the bike trails. They seemed amazing. There are also hot air balloons, horseback riding, kayaking, and canoeing. Too bad we didn’t get to try any of these (next time…). If anyone has done any of those things, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

This was the first Loire Valley château we had ever seen, and it was impressive! It was built between the XIII and XVII centuries, and it features architectural elements from 4 different periods: gothic, flamboyant, renaissance, and classicism. Unlike other châteaux in the Loire, Blois was a royal château since several kings and queens lived here, and it was the seat of royal power during the Renaissance. Many important people lived in and visited it, including Joan of Arc when she came to the château in 1429 to be blessed before going to Orléans to drive out the English. There was even an assassination ordered by the king in the château.

Wandering through the rooms was great. It’s been nicely restored and there are historical objects all around the château.

One of the most impressive rooms is the Hall of the Estates General, which was built before 1220 as a hall of justice for the counts of Blois, and it still has its original layout. It is enormous, and even more impressive because it was used by Henri III for meetings of the Estates General in 1576 and 1588 (Remember the Estates General from the history of the French Revolution? It’s when representatives from the three estates–noblesse, clergy, third estate–all came together and met with the king.).

The view of the Loire from the side outlook is incredible, and apparently there is a sound and light show at night (but we didn’t stay for that).

Blois also has a Magic Museum that does magic shows during the day, and I read that it was fantastic, but it was sold out by the time we got there. I’ll just have to come back another time when the weather is good.

This was a great first château to visit in the Loire.

Musée national du sport

Hello everyone!

Today I’m going to do something a bit special and completely different: I am going to have a guest blogger write this post. You see, it involves a visit to the sports museum, and while I am a casual sports fan, I am definitely not a major sports fan and I’m not a fan of every sport. Fortunately, the maestro is both, and he came with me to the sports museum a few weeks ago when he was visiting. So with that, I’ll let the maestro take you through our tour of the Musée national du sport.

The Musée National du Sport was, in a word, disappointing.  I was extremely exciting upon our entry to the museum because we quickly discovered that we were the only two people there.  In my mind, this meant that that would be no long lines to see all of the awesome artifacts and read all of the informative placards.  Well… there was a serious lack of awesome things to see and read.  Now this is not to say that there was nothing cool on display.  There were several Olympic gold medals (although not from Olympics held in France), a bicycle from the turn of the century, Tony Parker’s French Olympic basketball jersey, and a pretty sweet miniature replica of a French gym from the early 1900′s.  Other than that however, and I kid you not, the vast majority of the museum was about skateboarding.  Room upon room of skateboarding paraphernalia, skateboarding videos, a “street course” set up for guests of the museum to practice their finger skateboarding skills.  Each successive room brought us another dizzying array of skateboards and skateboarding information.

When I think of French sports I think of several different things.

The most storied bicycle race in history, the Tour de France.  One display case in the museum contained a slightly battered yellow jersey from the mid 1970′s, and did not even explain it’s significance.

The French Open.  One of tennis’s four major championships.  Not once was the French Open so much as mentioned in the Musee National du Sport.

French Soccer.  One display case contained a soccer ball.  The guests are left wondering what this soccer balls means, or if it was simply placed in said display case at random.

For a country steeped in such rich athletic history and tradition as France, the Musee National du Sport falls well short of representing French sport in the way it deserves.  Ultimately, I had an enjoyable time at the museum, but almost entirely because of who I was with, and not what I got to see.

Olympic Torch

Musée du Louvre: Ancient Egyptian Collection

The Louvre.

The most visited art museum in the world. One of the world’s largest museums and a historic monument as well. At least, according to its wikipedia article. I’m not surprised. It’s . . . overwhelming. So I’ve decided to break it down and present it to you in pieces. Collection by collection. That seems much more manageable. I have a Louvre card, which gets me into the museum for free without waiting in line, so I’ll make many smaller trips every so often and report back. This will be much more pleasant for me (because to try to see it all in one day or one weekend or even one week would be insane and would result in a lot of stress, a very sore back and feet, a foggy brain overwhelmed with all of the information I’d taken in over such a short period, and a very poor idea of what to write about the millions of items I’d witnessed) and for you (because any article I wrote afterward would surely be disorganized, too long, and insufficient on all of its many subjects). So we will take baby steps. I started with my favorite: Ancient Egypt.

I have been fascinated with Ancient Egypt ever since the sixth grade when we finished the Mesopotamia unit and started learning about the pharaohs, gods, pyramids, and mummies of Ancient Egypt. It captures the imagination. It’s fascinating. Plus, they had mummies; need I say more? The maestro came to visit this month, and we went to the Louvre a couple of times. It’s the kind of place that you could go to many times and still constantly be making new discoveries.

The Louvre has over 50,000 pieces in its Ancient Egypt collection. The thing that struck me most about every single item, as obvious as it is, was its age. We saw beautifully made objects that are 5,000 years old. 5,000 years old! And they’re still so impressive. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around how old some of these objects and statues and artwork are. I am also amazed by how long Ancient Egypt existed.  As a point of reference: America has been a country for less than 250 years; Ancient Egypt lasted for almost 3,000 years.

I won’t try to catalogue all of the incredible things we saw, because they’re too numerous. I will just say that some of my favorites were the statues. Many of them were larger than life. They have statues of pharaohs and gods and animals. They have a temple you can go inside of. A giant sphinx greets you as you enter the Ancient Egypt collection. It’s amazing.

They have a lot of sarcophagi, which are stunningly detailed with many layers.

They have incredible objects from daily life as well, including jewelry and clothes and mirrors, and even musical instruments.

I’ve saved the best for last. In my opinion, the pièce de résistance in the entire collection is the mummy. Yes, you read that right. There is an actual mummy in the museum that can be viewed from 360 degrees. They even have the jars containing the organs with it. Ahhhhh! I will admit, I was delightfully freaked out by the mummy. It’s incredible. You can see the shape of the 5,000 year old face and where the nose protrudes. The person was quite short, not surprisingly. You can see every tiny finger individually bandaged. It’s all evenly and carefully wrapped and preserved. Even the ears. If, like me, you have a vivid imagination, you half expect the mummy to bolt upright and look at you with its blank bandaged face from behind the glass. I was very jumpy as I circled it and bent down to look more closely. Thank goodness the maestro was there. I made him stand between the mummy and myself while I had my back turned to read the sign on the wall. I got the chills from looking at this former person from ancient times. I was completely freaked out (though I played it mostly cool) and yet the maestro practically had to drag me away because we were late for a friend’s birthday dinner. How awesome. An actual mummy.

I am probably biased because I love Ancient Egypt so much, but you MUST visit this collection. Leave yourself plenty of time. It’s extensive, and it’s all well worth seeing. There’s a small temple you can go into, and tons of statues and objects to see. They have the book of the dead spread out on a wall. They have rows of statues, and many hieroglyphics  in stone and on papyrus. It really captures the imagination. The whole thing is impressive.

New words: décalage horaires (time change), désormais (henceforth), en tant que tel (as such), au-delà (beyond), quant à (as to), jumeaux (twins), la chute (fall), chut (hush), le fusible (the fuse), la candidature (application, like for a job)

 

 

University in France

Hello world! I’m sorry I disappeared for a while. I went back to the states for the holidays, and when I came back to France it was time to gear up for exams. I’ve just emerged from the madness and I’m back to my adventures around Paris and posting about them. It’s been very (very very) cold in the last couple of weeks, and we’ve even had some light snow. But in spite of the awful weather, I have soldiered on and done some sightseeing (mostly indoors). I should have lots of new material up here in the coming weeks, so enjoy.

Now that I’ve got a full semester under my belt, I wanted to do a post about school. First, some background. I am a law student. In the US, this means that I already graduated from a 4 year university with a bachelor’s degree and I’ve now almost completed my 3 year legal education. In France, however, it’s completely different.

French students take the Baccalaureate exam when they’re 17. Anyone who passes the “Bac” has the legal right to a university education. Practically all of the universities in France are public (There are a handful of private universities, but until recently they were considered to be of a much lower quality. Apparently that’s starting to change.). So the state provides an education to anyone who has passed the bac. Students who want to enter the grandes-écoles (the most famous and competitive schools) have to take another exam. Once students are admitted into a university, they start their legal education right away. They spend their first 3 years of university doing their License in law. After they’ve finished the License they spend one year doing the Master 1. That’s what I’m doing right now, my Master 1. There are many many students in the program, and they are all competing to get into a Master 2 program, which is the next year-long program. More on that later. After the Master 2, students can apply for a doctorate-level degree, which I believe takes 3 years. Anyone who has at least a Master 1 can become a lawyer (either a juriste or an avocat, a distinction we don’t have in the states).

So the program I am in right now is the Master 1. It’s a 2 semester program, and in a lot of ways I feel like I’ve gone back to college. The classes are huge. There are hundreds of people in each class, and they’re held in big amphitheaters where the professors sit at a desk on the stage and talk at the students for an hour and a half twice a week. Because France uses a civil law (codified) system, there isn’t much explanation or analysis or interpretation or discussion. They just tell us what the law is and we take notes (the French students type practically every word the professor says in paragraph form; they think that the way I take notes is crazy). The professors give their lectures in outline form (they will literally say “Second part, chapter 1, paragraph 1″ and the title of that paragraph before launching into the lecture). For the exam, we memorize everything in our notes, and we regurgitate all of that information for the test. That’s it. There is  no analysis because none is needed. Whatever is in the code is the law. That’s all they need to know. There is no binding case law (although case law is provided as an example and you get bonus points if you can memorize some cases the professor mentions). Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) judgments are usually about three paragraphs long. Sometimes less. Overall, it’s a much simpler system to learn, so studying it is less, well, less involved than studying US law. You just memorize laws from the code. You must have a good memory though; there’s a lot more information to memorize than in the US.

There’s also something called travaux dirigés (“TD”) which is exactly like those weekly section meetings in undergrad with a TA who is a doctorate student. They assign extra reading related to the lecture topics and give exams and things. I’m not doing TD because I’m very fortunate and got an exception because of other academic activities. My friends all have to take TD and it stresses them out.

One thing that I find amusing is the students who take handwritten notes. I would say that about 1/3 of the students take their notes by hand, and it’s crazy to watch. First, all French students have the same handwriting because they worked so hard on it in school. At first, it was hard for me to read because it’s all in cursive and it’s slightly different from how most people in the US write, but once you get used to it you can read almost anyone’s writing, because as I said they all write the same. They use booklets of crazy lined paper called Seyès Ruling paper that teaches children how to make even, proportionate letters when they’re learning how to write. The paper looks like graph paper, except there are many more horizontal lines and the vertical lines are not evenly spaced. The students are taught as children where on this “grid” each letter starts, stops, and connects, so that they write uniformly. They still all use it here at the university, and it comes in folded feuilles, so the students start with a stack of them and fill them up over the course of a lecture. Then they put them in a binder and keep adding to it all semester with new booklets of notes.

They almost all use fountain pens (which are very common here and can be found in any price range from super cheap to super expensive and everything in between). And they use different colored pens to make certain parts of the notes stand out. It’s impressive, because at the same time they’ll all put down their main pen, pick up the colored pen, write whatever they needed to write in the new colored ink, then put down the colored pen and pick back up the main pen to continue writing in one smooth motion. It all happens very quickly. Even more impressive is when they highlight. They usually have 2 different colored highlighters, and whenever they highlight anything they use a small ruler so that the line is straight. When this happens, they go through the whole process I just mentioned but add the ruler into it as well. It’s a well-choreographed process so that they don’t miss anything the professor says. I find it amusing, but they are also amused by the way I take notes, so we’re even.

Anyway, the academic environment means that the Master 1 is a lot like college in the states. Half the students never go to class. If you can buy notes (or get them from a friend), you don’t need to go, so they don’t bother. The students that do go are divided into two groups: the workers and the slackers. In the front of the classroom sit the students who are competing hard to get into a Master 2 program. They diligently type every word the professor says and they never miss a class. They work very hard all week every week. They take their studies very seriously and they read treatises about the subjects they’re studying. The slackers mystify me. They come to class, but they sit in the back and talk LOUDLY to their friends and graffiti on the desks with white out pens and generally just hang out. I do not understand why they come to class at all. I mean, if you’re not going to get anything out if it, you might as well do something fun instead and just skip it. It’s not like you get credit for being there. Once, my friend said that a girl was having a full-volume conversation on her cell phone in the middle of class….and the phone was on speaker. Crazy. They should just ditch.

The semester continues on like that for weeks and weeks. Lectures, note-taking, and TD if you have it. Then we get a week off to study for exams. Exams are given either written or orally. There is a minimum required amount of each form of exam that each student has to take, so you can’t take them all written or all oral. At first, I was terrified about the prospect of oral exams since they’re in French. They’re not actually so bad. The professor gives you a topic and you tell them everything you know about that topic. Then they thank you and you leave. The whole thing is done in 10 minutes. The written tests are much shorter than my law school exams in the states: only 2 hours. They are all hand-written and during most of them you’re allowed to use the code, so students are flipping furiously through their copies of the code.

That’s been my experience so far. Not very academically fulfilling, but fortunately I have friends in the Master 2, which is what I’ll be taking next year. Their very positive experiences in the Master 2 give me hope. The Master 2 is very selective, so there are only about 20 students in each program. This means that the classes are very small and much more student-driven. The students read articles by legal scholars and then the scholars will come and have a discussion with the students. They go on field trips to conferences. The students give presentations. They all know each other and all of the professors well. It sounds great.

So that’s school. At least, that’s my experience so far. I’ll be back to posting about cool things around Paris later this week. It’s good to be back!

Musée Marmottan Monet

This is one of my new favorite museums in Paris. A few weeks ago, my parents came to town to visit. A professor (the same one who advised me about the Sainte-Chapelle) had recommended this museum to me a couple of years ago, and I always remembered it. Both of my parents are big fans of impressionism in general and Monet in particular (as am I), so we went to this small gem of a museum together.

First, the museum is not in the center of Paris. It’s way out in the fancy-schmancy 16th arrondissement. I’ve been mostly in the center of Paris for the last several months, where the sidewalks are as tiny as the apartments bumping up against them and there is no grass. Everything feels very compact and squished and slightly dirty. We hopped on the RER C to go to the museum (it’s not too far, only about a 10 minute ride), and as soon as we stepped out into the 16th arrondissement, I felt like I had stepped out of the center of the city into a huge clean park. There are trees and grass and the sidewalks are wide and the buildings are gorgeous and clean and sturdy-looking. It was a nice change of scenery. We walked about 7 minutes to get from the metro to the museum, and it was lovely, even in winter.

The museum was started in the end of the 19th century with a collection of paintings, furniture, Renaissance sheet music, illuminated manuscripts, etc. Frankly, the original collection is not that great, and it’s all upstairs. But in 1966, Claude Monet’s second son died in a car crash and left a large bequest of his father’s work to the Académie that owns the museum. The museum has over 130 of Monet’s paintings, watercolors, pastels, and drawings. Other impressionist work is featured there as well. If you like impressionism, you must see this museum. Its collection is impressive. They even have Monet’s palette, which I thought was cool. You could also see the dialogue between the impressionists in their paintings of one another and their paintings that they made for each other. It felt like a very personal glimpse into the impressionist movement.

They have an entire hall dedicated to Monet’s paintings. They have several waterlilies, and many other works. They have some famous paintings and some less famous but no less beautiful paintings. My parents and I spent a lot of time looking at Monet’s huge paintings up close, then stepping back and admiring how the blobs of color come together to form a clear picture. Going to museums with my dad is always fun because he’s an artist at heart and always has the most interesting explanations of techniques they used to make certain effects, or he’ll notice something you never would have seen if he hadn’t pointed it out.

I really enjoyed the overall atmosphere of the museum. It is in a mansion, and seeing it felt a lot like wandering through a really rich person’s house. It still has all of the decorations you’d find in a rich art collector’s house (in my imagination, anyway).

Downstairs they have a temporary exhibit, and when we went it was a neo-impressionism exhibit. It was interesting to get to see examples from the development of impressionism upstairs, and then go downstairs and see where things went after that. But I personally prefer impressionist paintings.

If you like impressionist art, of course go see the Musée d’Orsay (watch for an upcoming post about that). But this museum should be a definite second on your list.

Marchés de Noël

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a nice holiday season. As you may have noticed, I took a break from blogging and went back to the US to be with friends and family for the holidays. It was a wonderful trip, although it was strange to be speaking so much English at first! I came back to Paris just in time for New Year’s and celebrated at the Eiffel Tower with friends (it was a bit chaotic and very anticlimactic).

This week I moved into a new apartment. I crossed the Seine into the right bank. I will miss my old neighborhood in the 6th arrondissement, but it’s just a short walk from my new apartment. Besides, I’m looking forward to exploring a new neighborhood here for a while.

Being in Paris in December was fun. All of the bars, cafés, restaurants, and shops put up garland and ornaments and lights. Many streets had lights strung up over the street between the buildings. It was pretty and festive.

One of the many things they do in Paris at Christmas is the Marchés de Noël (Christmas markets). There are many in the Paris area, but the biggest and most

Lots and lots of chocolate

famous one is on the Champs-Élysées. White wooden stalls line the streets selling gifts and treats. They have roasted chestnuts, mulled wine,  and candied nuts to snack on while you look at the chocolate, cheese, meats, toys, and scarves in other stalls. It’s fun to walk and look at all the stalls and lights while snacking.  The Champs-Élysées is chaos, but it’s worth seeing. I prefer the smaller markets though. They’re not so packed and you can easily walk through them.

Sainte-Chapelle

This is one of my favorite treasures in Paris. I have been a handful of times, and it never fails to awe me.

A year ago, I was in Paris under the pretense of an academic program (okay, so we actually did do a lot of work, but that didn’t slow down our fun). A professor suggested that I visit the Sainte-Chapelle, and I had never been. I went with a couple of friends on our first free day, and here’s what I wrote in my private blog:

First, we went right across the bridge to the Sainte-Chapelle. It’s in the Palais de la Cité (or what’s left of it), which was the royal residence and seat of power from the 10th to 14th century. Louis the IX ordered the tiny chapel to be built for the use of the royal family. He spent twice as much money on the relics (including some of the Crown of Thorns) as he did on building the chapel. We went in and walked around, and I was thinking, ‘okay, this place is nice, but it’s not that great. It’s not in great condition or anything, and the stained glass windows are not as impressive as advertised.’

I was just about to leave the chapel, thinking that my Professor had led me astray, when I saw a sign on the way out in the corner that said “Haute Chapelle” with an arrow pointing to a staircase in the corner. I thought, ‘why not’ so I went up the stairs. Wow. Oh my gosh. I stood there for a few minutes just staring up and circling. It is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Ever. Our best guess is that the chapel is at least 3 stories high with gorgeous intricate stained glass windows covering the walls. Like, 50 feet high stained  glass windows.
That was my post from over a year ago, and now that I’ve been a few more times, the stained glass still has the same effect on me. There’s just so much of it! And it’s so beautiful! There are 1,113 biblical scenes depicted on the 15 stained glass windows, and they start on the left with Genesis and go all the way around the room, finishing with a huge rose window that shows the Apocalypse. It’s breathtaking. The building and windows are from the 13th century. I was surprised to learn that about 70% of the windows are still the originals! They’ve done a lot of work to restore and preserve them.
In the lower chapel, there used to be beautiful statues, but I believe that a lot of them were victims of the revolution. However, you can go over to the Musée Cluny to see the what’s left of the original, medieval statues. They are still quite impressive!
I cannot recommend this place highly enough, even if you only have a short time in Paris. If you can come on a bright and sunny day, even better. You have to pay to enter (except on the first Sunday of the month), but the price of admission is well worth it. This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. In the summer they host concerts here. That’s on my to-do list.

Musée de la Musique

A few weeks ago, a certain Maestro came to visit me. We had a wonderful time, and one of the highlights of the visit was the best musical museum I’ve ever been to.

Cité de la Musique is not in the center of Paris. It’s way out in the 19th (which seems impossibly far, but is really only a short metro ride from the center—it’s easy to forget how small Paris really is). We trekked out specifically for the museum, and WOW! It was worth the trip.  The entire complex is situated on the Parc Villette, which is a very popular area. I’ll have to come back in the spring when it’s warmer and check out the park. Anyway, there are theaters and performance halls, and in the midst of it all is a museum dedicated to music.

You have to pay to enter the museum, but the price includes an audioguide (available in English if you ask!). The building itself is new and very modern and nice. They have instruments on display from ancient times until today from all over the world. The collection is organized by time period, and each floor houses one century, from the XVI century to XXI century.

You enter the exhibit, and you see some incredible instruments. They are beautiful, sometimes strange, and sometimes completely different from today’s instruments. You can listen to the audioguide to hear about the history of the instruments you’re looking at, but my favorite part was that each exhibit had another number you could enter to just listen to the instruments. They had recordings of many many instruments that you could listen to, and it was so great to see these interesting instruments and actually hear the music they make.

The museum also has concerts everyday for visitors. They have workshops for kids where they can conduct musicians or play many instruments. The whole museum is very kid-friendly. They have a special audioguide for kids, and books and games and things. The museum hosts master classes for musicians to work on pieces with experts. They have concerts, lessons, and all kinds of other activities.

We could have spent all day in this museum. Unfortunately, I didn’t know it would be so cool until we got there, and it closed just a couple hours after we got there. We rushed through the last half hour, and we still only got to see about half of the museum. We will definitely be coming back.