Thursday, 30 June 2011

Avignon Museums

Avignon has a lot of museums for a small city.  We were able to hit four of them in one afternoon, thanks to the very walkable distances in the old town and a well-planned route. The Angladon Museum,  housed in an 18th century house, has paintings from the collection of collector Jacques Doucet, including works by Degas, Picasso, Cezanne, and Modigliani's famous Lady in the Pink Blouse below.  There happened to be a special exhibit of photos by Degas, Bonnard and Vuillard when we were there - most unusual as we never think of these artists as photographers.

The staircase in the Angladon

Nice case of Orientalia, including the two in the mirror
Just across the Place from the Angladon, is the Municipal Library housed in a section of the 14th century Ceccano Palace.  I was a little confused as the History Plaque indicated this is a Bibliotheque but the sign on the door says Mediatheque and there are no books to be seen.  I had to ask a lady coming out of another door marked Jeunesse with her young son whether this is indeed the Bibliotheque.  She confirmed that it is indeed the Bibliotheque but that one side is the Mediatheque and the other the Children's library.  For her, that is the library.  

The Calvet Museum is also in an 18th century museum.  See the beautiful entrance and the staircase below.

One of the more memorable works for me is the portrait of his mother by Georges Desvallieres.  He had captured all the loneliness of age in her eyes and expression.

Ah, a break at a cafe for some glace in the afternoon.  Trust the French to serve up even a few Euros' worth of ice cream in style.

The Vauland Museum we visited was disappointing and was remembered more as a break from the afternoon heat than for its contents.  Our last stop was the Petit Palais Museum just beside the Papal Palace.  The collection was housed in the bishop's palace where the first two popes stayed before the Papal Palace was constructed.  It was a rich collection of religious art and there were again many madonnas, not all of them noteworthy but the Botticelli below definitely stood out.

As usual I was distracted by the architecture and here is another spiral staircase.  One of my future posts will include all the spiral staircases I was able to collect on this trip - and there were many.

A panorama of Avignon from the Palace Garden - the Rhone and modern Avignon in the distance

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


Taking the TGV (Train a Grand Vitesse) to Avignon was quite an experience.  No security check, no ticket check, no bureaucratic hassle - it truly lived up to its name.  Avignon was three and a half hours south and 10 degrees warmer.  Our host Francis picked us up at the station and walked us the long way round to the modern apartment in the 17th century house where we would be staying for the next two days.  The detour was to show us the Papal palace, practically our next door neighbour.  I was worried the wheels on our luggage would break on the cobbled streets but they survived.  You see below the house and the street leading up to the Palace.

5 Rue du Gal

The Papal Palace was vast and awesome, particularly when you think of the history of the popes associated with this era of chicanery and intrigue - the stuff of great historical fiction, which came back to me as I drifted through the medieval hallways and secret passages.  There also happened to be an outstanding exhibition of contemporary paintings on bridges in the great chapel.  The French are very supportive of the arts this way - many historical sites have art exhibitions installed, giving the artists a lot of exposure and bringing art to the masses.  But for the architecture photographer, not so great.

Support for the artist was also outside the Palace - musicians rotated through the Place and we were pleasantly surprised by this excellent guitarist playing all our favourites, including the classic Romance.  What a backdrop!

The famous Pont d'Avignon
The local story has it that while the dancing was "Sur le pont" the action was actually all "sous le pont".  Here we found a couple not quite making out, but sitting quietly enjoying the view.

View of the Rhone and that other bridge from the chapel below the bridge

What seems like an affluent residential section of Avignon with walled gardens and courtyards

The lush green wall of Les Halles, the daily market

Inside Les Halles, your choice of spices and shrimps (I have never seen so many varieties).  But when asked, the honest fish lady told me they were previously frozen; so we bought Mediterranean fish instead.  The "loup" was outstanding!

The old town was enclosed by this great wall 

Avignon at sunset - you can still take pictures at 9 pm!

The next post - Avignon Museums

Monday, 27 June 2011

Serious Dining

Thai food in Paris??!   The name of the restaurant is Gastronomie Thailandaise, which gives fair indication of what to expect.  It was a nice surprise for us, certainly fancier than any Thai restaurant we have encountered in Toronto.  But then again, it's Paris. 

Chicken wrapped in palm leaves
Soft-shell crab

Prawns in crepe pouch
Curried chicken steeped in coconut

Thanks to our hosts for the evening, my cousin Laurent and his family
Monday in Paris, meant that many restaurants were closed.  We were lucky our friend Tim referred us to L'Ambassade d'Auvergne, just north of the Georges Pompidou Centre.  
The chilled asparagus entree, served with a warm vinaigrette, was refreshing with the contrast in textures and temperature.  The roast duck breast, served in 3 big chunks instead of slices, meant the skin remained crispy, pink and juicy inside - it was the best duck we have tasted anywhere.  The other interesting element was the "aligot" it came with - mashed potatoes made with cheese - a traditional dish from the province of Auvergne.  The waiter  put up a performance, pulling the mixture out of the heated pan with a spoon so that it is in strands.

We realized after we left Paris, that the 3 course "Formule" menu turned out to be the best deal ever, compared to restaurants in Provence.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

More serious sightseeing

The National Museum of the Middle Ages was the highlight of our Paris visit.  It is housed in the 15th century Hotel de Cluny which was constructed over Roman Baths.  Here is the neat entrance into the walled courtyard.

As expected, religious themes pervaded.  There were multiple madonna and child images.  But I love this one of the madonna with an exceptionally cheerful expression on her face - how unusual! 

I was also impressed by a beautifully carved crucifix - look at Christ's "loin cloth"!

When we visited, there was a special exhibit of swords in the Roman baths area .  There were swords from different eras and countries.                                              

Here is one that supposedly belonged to Joan of Arc, if you would believe it.  But I liked the style of the handle anyway. 

The elaborate vault of the Gothic chapel on the second floor of the Abbey is very impressive!
The highlight of the exhibits for me was of course the tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn, all six hung on the walls of a dimly lit room.  It was a challenge to photograph but I am quite pleased with the results.
A short distance south from the Museum is the Luxembourg Gardens.  It's massive as you can see, covering 22 hectares, with treed and open areas and many sculptures.  

The playful figure of Pan posed a backlit challenge but it adds to the effect.

The Medici Fountain

Closeup of the beautiful Aces and Galatea sculpture

Tomorrow:  Food!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Serious Sightseeing

Enough of this nonsense!  Better get into some serious sightseeing before I lose my audience!  
The main destination of our short stayover in Paris was the Musee Cluny - or the Musee du Moyen Age near the Sorbonne.   But on our way there, we bumped into a couple of unexpected "sights" - Le College des Bernardins, recently restored after seven centuries of obscurity.  We went in there to ask for directions to the Cluny and ended up literally gawking at the splendid nave we found ourselves in.  To read more about the locale, go to

Vault detail

In our three trips to Paris, we never thought of going to the Pantheon, and this time, only stumbled upon it because I looked up a side street and wondered what was the huge dome yonder?  As it turned out, I found the main floor quite unremarkable, although Foucault's pendulum was interesting.  But the crypt was stunning!

Foucault's Pendulum at noon

This photo took me at least 20 minutes because I have to wait for the long corridor to clear!  but it gave me time to figure out the lighting...

Love these curves...


And I'm not the only one who wanted to embrace circular shapes...

The curved front of the Faculty of Law across from the Pantheon
What struck me, from our very first day, was the abundance of "librairies" throughout the city.  There is literally a bookstore at every corner, and on the left bank, near the Sorbonne, it's not unusual to find two or three on one street!  There is free wi-fi throughout France - but print is still everywhere.   Remarkable!

And voila, even the homeless passes his time reading -