A week of strolling in the Paris sunshine - Stress-free Cycling the French Countryside - CycleBlaze

August 19, 2019 to August 26, 2019

A week of strolling in the Paris sunshine

I was fortunate enough live and work  in Paris for six months in 2015.  I'd spent all of my life in the suburbs and small towns of the US, and I was unsure how I would adjust to the crowds, noise, and bustle of a big city.  I found that I loved it!  At least, I love Paris.  As a consequence, I try to book-end my bike trips to Europe with a couple of weeks in Paris, each time returning to my old neighborhood in the 15th arrondissement.  I did not venture far from home during the first few days here, still a bit weak from shingles.  The exception was a trip to Notre Dame.

I fell in love with the Notre Dame during my first trip to Paris in the early 90's.  While the Gothic towers on the west face may be the most iconic image of the great cathedral, it was the the flying buttresses at the rear of the church that really captured me. I've visited Notre Dame countless times over the last four years.  Often it was just to stroll around, alone or the with friends and family - visits to the church's interior were usually limited to those occasions when the lines were short or non-existent.  

My last time inside the Cathedral was to attend mass, the Gregorian Mass that was held every Sunday morning.  Raised Catholic, I attended parochial school for most of K-12, save a stint in public junior high.  I abandoned the church during college, but sometimes accompanied my mother to Mass during visits to Arizona in her later years. Thus, I was well acquainted with the Church's liturgy, and followed closely along with the songs and readings during the Gregorian Mass.  But I was not there as a participant, rather an observer marveling at the beauty in sound and setting.  I was totally unprepared and shocked when I burst into tears during the consecration of the Eucharist, the holiest of moments in the Mass.  All I could think of was my Mother, and how much it would have meant to have shared a communion that was so meaningful to her. 

The emotional connection to Notre Dame within me, within France, and within many who have visited her was evident in the overwhelming response to last spring's fire that nearly destroyed the Cathedral. I was anxious to see first hand what survived, and so my first outing was to Île de la Cité.  In all, I was struck my how much was saved, including the two towers and the main foundation. Below are photos taken before and after the fire. Work shoring up the structure is underway and plans to restore the roof were approved by the French Parliament in July - the design of a new steeple remains controversial.

Notre Dame Cathedral on an autumn afternoon. I particularly like this vantage point, in which the beauty of the flying buttresses can be readily appreciated.
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Scaffolding along the south side of the Cathedral - you can also see how the buttresses have been reinforced
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Reinforced buttress along the south side of the Cathedral
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Pre-fire photo of North and South towers on the west facade. A portion of the roof and spire, both now destroyed, are visible between the towers
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The North and South Towers of Notre Dame survived the fire, as did the three Rose Windows.
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My first weekend in Paris was cool and rainy, and I spent both days puttering around, assembling the bike and devouring CB journals for interesting places to ride in France.  Monday dawned clear and sunny, with highs expected in the high 60s and low 70s.  An excellent day to relax and read in Luxembourg Gardens.  After a short metro ride, I found a shady spot near the Grand Basin. The basin was ringed with youngsters of all ages, gender and nationally pushing the small vintage sailboats around the water, an activity aided by a light breeze and, occasionally, a watchful parent. As it was a lovely day, I decided to forgo the Metro and walk home. It was not biking, but it was the most my legs had moved in more than a month!

Leaving the Garden, I passed a bronze replica of the Statue of Liberty, one of three replicas in Paris. These are in addition to the Flame of Liberty which, due to it's location above the Pont de l'Alma tunnel, has become a memorial to Princess Diana.  I spotted another replica in Bordeaux during last year's bike tour - according to Wikipedia, there are hundreds of Statue of Liberty replicas throughout the world, including more than a dozen in France. 

Luxembourg Gardens is the home of of Luxembourg Palace, the seat of the French senate. Vintage wooden sailboats zip around the Grand Basin, aided by a strong push from delighted children
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A boy and his boat
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Boats fly flags of varying nations. Here a young man of seemingly Asian heritage has commandeered a Japanese sailboat
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Dads, or moms, are often there to help if needed.
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My Tuesday outing was to the Picasso Museum, where a special Calder-Picasso exhibit was in it's final days.  I had purchased an online ticket for  the earliest time slot available, and arrived just as the museum was opening.  I've visited the Picasso Museum a number of times, and was passingly familiar with the works of Calder - mostly his mobiles. However, it was remarkable to see the artists works juxtaposed in a way that emphasized their similarities and differences in the use of form and space. Of course I was especially delighted that the exhibit included one of my favorite works by Picasso, Bull's Head, which is created soley from a bicycle seat and handlebars.  Afterwards, I wandered a bit around the 3rd arrondissement, enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a sidewalk cafe and headed back to my Paris home for rest and relaxation.

Online booking for the opening time slot guarantees short lines at the museum
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The piece on the left is an early work by Calder entitled Whale and Shark; that on the right is a woman's figure by Picasso's, whose title I've forgotten
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Picasso's "Bull Head" flanked by two works by of Calder
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A Calder mobile hangs from the high ceilings of the Picasso Museum
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The string of blue sky days continued throughout the week, although the temperatures were inching higher with each passing day.  I continued my "one outing/day" routine for the rest of the week.  These trips were primarily on foot, although I did manage a short ride to a bike shop for a minor adjustment to my front disc brake. One of my favorite routes from home is a leisurely stroll through the tree-lined streets of the 7th arrondissement to the Eiffel Tower. I always stop for ice cream and eat it while sitting on the quai along the Seine, watching tourists get on and off the cruise boats.  I then cross over to the right back, heading back toward the Louvre along the edge of the river.  On foot, I turn south towards home whenever the legs weary or the heat becomes too much. Another outing was to the Rodin Museum, a wonderful venue in which to take in sculpted human forms amidst a grove of trees.  As a casual fan of sculpture, I am always thrilled when hard substances such bronze and marble are transformed into human figures that possess a graceful beauty and/or convey an emotion that makes me stop in my tracks.  I experienced many such moments this week at the Rodin Museum.

A tradition - ice cream and the Eiffel Tower
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View from the right bank of the Seine
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Another replica of Statue of Liberty, this one adorning a houseboat along the Seine. For some reason, I don't think this replica is acknowledged by Wikipedia
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Thoughts, deep thoughts.
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The Burghers of Calais depicts six leaders of Calais who are presumably facing their death at the hands of the Brittish during the Hundred Years War. Rodin’s design, which depicted the six leaders as ordinary citizens full of "pain, anguish and fatalism” was considered controversial by those who felt that sculptures of public leaders should include "overtly heroic antique references”. Each of the figures is also displayed individually in the sculpture garden
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Betsy WestThese photos reminded us how much we enjoyed this museum.
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The "grim determination" of Jacques de Wissant, one of the Burghers of Calais
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The anguished fatalism of Jean de Fiennes, another of the Burghers of Calais
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My final outing was in search of the Paris Plage - a pop-up beach that occurs each summer along the Seine, complete with sand, umbrellas and tropical drinks.  Unfortunately, I did not really investigate where the 2019 beaches were located, and spent much of the day vainly wandering up and down the banks of the Seine looking for sand.  I initially managed to find some shade in the Tuileries Garden. There were plenty of people enjoying the gardens on this lazy, hot Sunday in late August, a day where even talking exerted too much energy. The air was heavy with a silence broken only occasionally by the delighted screams of children clearly enjoying the nearby carnival rides. I eventually dragged myself up from my spot in the shade, wandering through the flower gardens until I reached the courtyard of the Louvre.  Then is was time for another seat in the shade and a long drink from a tepid bottle of water.  Eventually, I found my way back to Île de la Cité.   A crescendo of songbirds attracted me to the rows of florists on the North side of Notre Dame, where colorful and/or smartly coiffured birds were for sale.  I tried vainly to get some good photos, but clearly need to spend a bit more time exploring the myriad features of my camera.  I had a nice smallish salad and a cold Schweppes for lunch on Île Saint-Louis then headed back toward home via Rue de Bac, another one of my favorite streets. I made it as far as Boulevard St. Germain before crying uncle and taking the Metro the last few miles to home. Then, I promptly put on my pjs and collapsed in a heap.  

I wandered up and down the Seine in a vain quest for sand and beach umbrellas
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One of the more thrilling rides festooned with the French flag. And there is also the ferris wheel.
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The Tuileries Garden juxtaposes views of the historic with the modern
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A variety of Cosmos? I like the way it drinks up the sunlight
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The diversity of cultures - both artistic and human - in the courtyard of the Louvre Museum. The IM Pei pyramid was hugely controversial when it opened in 1989, being called "an architectural joke". Now, 30 years later, it is said to have brought the Louvre Museum into the modern age, helping to make it the most visited museum in the world. Despite all the time I've spent in Paris, I've not been inside the Louvre. That will change when I return to Paris after my bike tour - a special Da Vinci exhibit is opening this fall. Who could miss that!
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Bird identification is not my strong suit - but I like the pretty colors.
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Somewhere in Paris, there is a spot for everyone that will feel like home - a shout-out to CBers from The North
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I could have saved myself all that strolling about and seen 50 Paris monuments in 90 minutes - OR NOT!
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Tomorrow I'll be heading down to Burgundy to visit my friends Christine and Christiane for a few days.  I'm taking the bike, and am so looking forward to getting back on the saddle, even if only for a few miles.

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