After my recent post about my residency at VCCA France in Auvillar, there wasn’t much more to say. I was writing in my studio every day, occasionally taking a break to visit the village or go to the farmers’ market to shop for groceries. I also had a couple of excursions that I quite enjoyed—one to the Cloisters at Moissac and another to a winery that specializes in Armagnac one to an exquisite restaurant in a neighboring village—but for the most part, my four weeks spent in Auvillar was all about the work. (More about that in a future post.)
But the residency came to an end, as they all must, and it was time to depart. The last time I was at VCCA France, my departure involved a train to Toulouse—just an hour away—and a flight home via Frankfurt. This time, I boarded the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse or High Speed Train) to Paris. The French do trains very well. The ride was about three hours and was very comfortable. We arrived in Paris at about 4 PM and I walked to my hotel just a few minutes away.
The hotel was not the best part of my Paris visit. I had booked it through Expedia, and while the process of booking was easy, I made the mistake of going for the cheapest hotel possible, when I didn’t really need to. So my room was tiny, with loose doorknobs and burned out lights, a shower stall in which I could barely turn around (what would a larger person do?), and nowhere to sit other than the bed itself. At least the bed—which the hotel informed me was new—was comfortable. And the location wasn’t bad. Next time, I’ll splurge on a nicer place.
My main goal for the Paris visit was to walk around the city, which like most people I find fascinating, visit some museums (research for my work in progress!) and historic sites, and connect with friends. In fact, on the day I arrived, I needed to quickly refamiliarize myself with the Metro because I was going to see some friends in another part of the city. I love the Paris Metro.
On my first full day in the city, Saturday, I walked. First, as I explored my neighborhood near the Montparnasse train station, I had breakfast (double espresso, orange juice, tartine and a croissant) at a nearby café (I would repeat this every morning during my stay, but at different cafes) and then found a wonderful market—except without a refrigerator in my room there wasn’t much I could buy. I walked all the way down to the Seine to basically just look at the buildings and the people. It was cold and damp, but I found relief at a small Christmas market near Notre Dame where they were selling hot mulled wine for 4 €. That warmed me up nicely.
The only museum I went to that first day was the small Musée Delacroix, which was interesting to me mostly because the building was Eugene Delacroix’s residence and studio for a time. On another day I visited the nearby Musée du Cluny, which focuses on the Middle Ages, including some amazing Gothic artifacts. (It’s currently being renovated, but large parts of it are still open to visitors.) A highlight of that visit was seeing the remarkable Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.
On Sunday I headed directly to the Musée d’Orsay, which is my favorite Paris museum (and I know I share that sentiment with a lot of other people). Arriving shortly after it opened for the day, I didn’t have to wait too long to enter the museum and proceeded directly to the top floor to see the Impressionism and Neo-impressionism exhibit. The museum is known for its Impressionism collection, but it was fascinating to see an exhibit that focused on the evolution of the style. I spent close to five hours in the museum, including my final stop at the special exhibit: Picasso, Bleu et rose. Exhausted, I stopped for a late lunch in a nearby bistro, and then went to a store not far away that had been recommended to me. Deyrolle is unlike any place I’ve ever seen (although I later walked by another store that also had taxidermied animals for sale). Click on the link to see what I’m talking about.
On Monday I planned just to walk around the Marais district, but as I came close to the Centre Pompidou, I saw that there was a special exhibit on Cubism, so I decided to go in. I’m so glad I did, because it was fascinating, and it was wonderful to expand my understanding of Cubism beyond Picasso. In addition to this wonderful exhibition, I spent a lot of time with the regular 20th Century collection (although I breezed through the more contemporary stuff). This was another very long museum visit, so was too tired to do much else. I did wander around the Marais some, but that was about all I could do.
Tuesday I had thought I’d visit the famous Catacombs, which weren’t too far from my hotel. Because it was still early, I walked through Cimitière du Montparnasse—stopped at the grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir—and found the entrance. There was already a long line, people talked about having already purchased their tickets, which I had not done, and I decided to bag it. Instead, I crossed the street, hopped on the Metro, and went to the Musée Marmottan to see their fabulous Monet collection. Although I don’t remember it clearly, I think I first went to this museum in 1983 on my first trip to Paris. (While in the galleries, I flashed back to sitting in front of a large Monet water lilies painting, and I think it must have been here.) I took a different Metro line back into the center of the city and landed again in the Marais, so this time I stopped in the old Jewish Quarter at a falafel restaurant. Tasty, and a new cultural experience besides.
On Wednesday I was meeting a friend for lunch, but I had time in the morning to visit the Petit Palais, another museum I had not seen before. The building itself is part of the attraction, but there’s also some wonderful art to see there. But I skipped the temporary exhibit—I realized I’d reached my museum limit, and that’s without even attempting the Louvre, which I’ve been to a couple of times on previous trips—and strolled up the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. It was a pretty day for a walk—more walking!—but also I wanted to see if there was evidence of the recent anti-government demonstrations that have been in the news. No demonstrators were present, but I did spot some of the damage from the recent “manifestation.” I met my friend at his office and we took the Metro a couple of stops to one of his favorite restaurants, where he is known well. It was a wonderful meal, worthy of its own post (and I wish I had taken photographs of every course). But then he had to get back to work—not sure I could do that after all the wine we drank—and I slowly made my way back to my hotel.
Thursday was my travel day. After more than five weeks, I was headed home. I had booked Le Bus Direct from Gare Montparnasse to Charles de Gaulle Airport and got to CDG in plenty of time. I was given access to priority lanes for immigration and security, so that was nice, but the airport staff were nowhere to be seen, so neither the priority lane nor the regular lane was moving. I never found out if this was some kind of a labor action (there had been trouble at airports the previous weekend, I understood), or if something else was going on. United Airlines later sent me a notice that the French authorities had blocked flights from departing—no explanation of why—so they weren’t letting people into the departure gate area.
Eventually, we departed 40 minutes late, which meant we arrived in Chicago 40 minutes late. As we approached Chicago, I checked my United Airlines app to see if there was any chance that I would be able to make my connection to Shenandoah Valley (as my connection was already tight). I saw that United had already rebooked me on the first flight out the next morning. Not ideal, but at least it was a solution that I could deal with. But then just as we were landing I checked again and saw that the connecting flight was delayed by almost an hour, which meant that my connection was back to being tight instead of impossible. There was still hope.
US immigration has become absurd at major airports. When did this happen? I used to travel abroad all the time for work, and I don’t remember such long lines coming home before, but this year and last it’s been awful. I tried to be patient going through the long lines, knowing that I would either make the connection or I’d have to use the backup flight the next morning, but in any event, there was nothing I could do about it. (I did envy the folks who moved fast through the Global Entry line, and I resolved to apply for that program before my next overseas trip.) Eventually (after the long line I was in front of the immigration agent for about ten seconds, no exaggeration), I made it through. My bag was waiting for me, I passed through customs, and rechecked the bag for Shenandoah.
O’Hare has a people-mover train that shuttles passengers from the International Arrivals Terminal to the domestic terminals, so I boarded that and in a few minutes was headed toward security. Fortunately, I have TSA Pre-check and was through the line very fast and on my way to the gate. I checked the departure monitors and saw that the delay for my connection was now two hours, so making it would be no problem at all (in fact, even with the delayed arrival from Paris, I was within a few minutes of being on time for the originally scheduled departure for Shenandoah), so I settled into the lounge to wait. Eventually, we left, had a smooth flight, and I was home.