Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas Time in Paris! And an impromptu visit to Musée d'Orsay.

Since L’américaine is getting ready to head back to the US and Alexis is gone virtually the whole month, I thought I'd head to Paris for the weekend to see the Christmas market.

Christmas in Paris!  How could you go wrong?  Well, you could end up leaving this:

For this:
Welcome to our future if we don't limit pollution - endless gray smog

Worse, it could be not fog, but RECORD POLLUTION.  There was an anticyclone over France, which caused high smog levels in cities - higher than in the past 10 years.  I'd read it was supposed to clear out with wind over the weekend - no luck on Saturday though.  Since I was already in Paris before I knew that it hadn't improved, I headed to the Champs-Élysées market, along with half of Europe!  So many people and so many languages!  I'd say that I'm not sure if many French people go here because I heard Brits talking much more often, but that could just be because Brits (and Americans) are much louder in general!

If you think this is crowded, try coming back at night!

I've never been in France during this time of year before, so one of the first things I noticed is that soup takes over!  I will have a blog post that returns to this point later; however, the other thing that becomes abundantly clear is that there are certain foods the French eat (and drink) almost exclusively in the winter.  I kept seeing "tartiflette" listed places (along with a dish "gratin dauphinois," with the last word being similar to the word for dolphin.  Given some of the things they eat here, I was reluctant to order something that could turn out to be cheese-covered dolphin!

I saw (and smelled) something delicious though and decided it was time to try tartiflette with reblochon cheese.  It's like a potato casserole with cheese, lardon (a type of bacon) and onions.  It was good, but I'm guessing there are better versions available.  This particular stand had a chicken and salmon variation, but they didn't seem to be selling quickly.
There was an endless variety of vin chaud available at the market as well - avec épices (hot wine with spices), which I'd had before, but there was also vin chaud with fruit (oranges and sometimes lemons) and cinnamon - not all booths specified what type they were serving though!  There were also several offering vin chaud blanc (white wine), but I didn't see anyone drinking it.  I should have tried it anyway, but I decided to stick with red!  TIP: The booths closest to the metro entrances had 30 mL servings for 6 Euro (and a small serving for 4 Euro), but many booths further in had small servings for 5 Euro, which were actually 30 mL also.  A large was also 8 Euro at entrances and 7 Euro further in, so wait a few minutes and get a better price!

It has not snowed since I've been here and I could probably count on one hand the number of days it has rained (especially ALL DAY - I'm not missing Portland weather AT ALL right now), but it has hovered near freezing a lot more than it usually does in Oregon . . . so I was loving it that France will allow you to wander freely with your vin chaud!  It kept my hands toasty warm!
When I went to the small local market, I had originally expected something similar to Christmas markets at home, which tend to be filled with a lot of Christmas-themed stuff.  That isn't the case in France from what I've seen.  You will find a couple of booths with beautiful handmade ornaments or decorations, but most of it was handmade items that you might wish to give as a gift for Christmas.  My favorite thing about the offerings were the large number of brightly-colored booths!  I didn't buy it from this stand, but I have a lovely woven blue basket now, which can be used for shopping (there's no such thing as free bags at stores - you bring your own reusable bags) or a picnic.
This is all CHEESE - I'm not entirely certain how they get all of those colors!  And some of the apples below don't look edible - check out the black ones!
For more pictures of the market offerings, including my first frog legs, see my album here (no FB account required): Paris Album

I'd originally come to the markets to see all the Christmas lights, but it was a disappointment in that regard.  PB recommended that next year I should go to the Fête des Lumières in Lyon (which was this same weekend) if I want to see some really lovely lights, so that's on the agenda for early December 2017!  There were some nice lights on a nearby street, but the ones near my hotel were prettier.  It was lovely to be at the market right at the moment the lights turned on and started moving up the trees though!  I wouldn't come back to this market for the lights, but I found myself returning here three different times to look through all of the booths and to buy a couple of small gifts - certainly worth a visit just to see the variety of items on display!
I specifically reminded myself to bring my DSLR for this trip, but still forgot it!  Such a disappointment because, while the pollution had my chest feeling tight with exertion, it made for stunning photos with an eerie sky as backdrop.  Hey, if you're going to shorten your life by breathing in the polluted air, might as well make the best of it!
Fortunately, it rained overnight and it was clear blue skies on Sunday morning.

Musée d'Orsay

I decided I'd had enough market time on Saturday and I needed to decide how I wanted to spend Sunday.  The last time I was in Paris was May 2015 and I tried to go to the Musée d'Orsay, but the lines were crazy!  This time I purchased a ticket in advance on Digitick (skip the American-based sites with passes at 30+ Euro - my skip the line ticket was just 15.15 with service fee) and headed for entrance C - no line!  If you're interested in the museums of Europe, winter seems to be a great time to avoid crowds.
While the museum is known for it's impressionist paintings, I personally prefer brighter, bolder colors, so these were two of my favorites in the museum.  The museum had some great (and famous) impressionist works though and they WERE lovely; however, I think art is a very personal thing, so it is about what speaks to you personally (which can be different from day to day).
In fact, for a long time I didn't think that paintings really spoke to me at all, but then I realized that I just prefer paintings where people are not a primary focus or they're abstracted.  When it comes to depicting people, I prefer sculpture.  Although, this young lady appears to be taking an ancient selfie.
For me, I was able to visit the whole museum with starting after lunch, although I was there until closing and just barely finished the special exhibit.  I did not use the audio guide because I've learned that they just don't do it for me at art museums - I want to read the brief descriptions of what was changing in that era or why the art is remarkable, but mostly I just want to look at it and see what draws me in.  I don't want the audio guide telling me which art I should find most remarkable or all about the 5,893 brush strokes it took.  I understand that there are people who do, and for those people, the audioguides are currently 5 Euro!  Just to be contrary, I happen to love audio guides at cultural and historical museums and will listen to everything, even the bonus stuff.
I also enjoyed this edition of "translations gone wrong" - apparently, doing your laundry at the museum is now a "thing" . . . except "linge" is laundry and "langer" is changing, so NOT a laundry table after all!
I just learned today that poor Alexis dislocated his knee and won't be home until the end of January.  I'm the only person that he's become friends with who is currently in the area, so I will be making the hour trip to Poitiers to rescue his car from the train lot before it is towed!

I officially know who I'll be calling for that 2 AM ride to the hospital or "my car died in the middle of nowhere" incident now! 😈

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