Paris has some amazing markets; food, flea and flowers stretching as far as the eye can see. But there was one market that had always captured my imagination, Marché aux Oiseaux, the bird market. It takes place every Sunday just round the corner from Notre Dame and if you are worried about getting lost, you hear this market well before you see it.
On a cold rainy Sunday morning (I know, summer…sigh) I followed the original tweets to the street of birds. I guess it was what I expected, lots of small birds in tiny cages all crying out for attention. They were colourful little jewels on a grey day that were lovely to see (especially for a pet free expat). But that being said Marché aux Oiseaux didn’t really live up to my imagination.
In my head I was expecting the riot of colour like a flower market, a visual feast. However because cruelty to animals is so 100 years ago, there weren’t the amount of birds to consider it remarkable.
My verdict is that if you are in the area on a Sunday it is well worth checking out, but its not worth making a special trip for.
So after the rant of yesterday, let me tell you about the secret hidden spots in the Louvre.
1. The moat room
The Louvre has a moat. Yeah I know, an ex-palace art gallery with a moat but just go with me on this one. Most people manage to find their way to the outer moat, but there is a doorway off to the side where you can find your way into the inner circle. This place is cool, calm and completely devoid of tourists. The perfect spot for a breather.
2. The side entrance
Instead of queuing with the unwashed at the divisive glass pyramid, head over to the Porte de Lions side entrance which hardly anyone uses. It is the quickest way I have found to get in and you can always exit through the pyramid if you want to see inside. FYI it is half way down the long arm of the building on the river side.
3. Les Galerie d’Apollon
Ok this one does not exactly fit the ‘quiet spot’ definition, but it is something that a lot of people miss in the mad dash to the Mona Lisa. Les Galerie d’Apollon is a long room with one of the most beautiful ceilings possible, in this room you have my full permission to ignore the art. Just go and sit in a corner and stare at the sky.
4. The Greek Vase rooms
For some reason the rooms displaying the Greek vases are completely off the radar of Louvre visitors. There was not a single person in the long chain of rooms when I was there, so I was able to drink in thousands of years of myth and creativity by myself.
5. Islamic Art gallery
This is a relatively new Louvre creation, it is a gallery dedicated to Islamic Art in a spare courtyard. The room has a crazy fish scale type roof which lets in oodles of light, and gives some relief from the normal overly busy galleries.
6. Napoleons Apartments
In one of the corners of the Louvre is where Napoleon lived while the building was still a palace. Whoever designed these rooms was a massive fan of gold and never saw a chandelier that he didn’t like – well worth a look just to see how over the top they are.
7. Musée national Eugène Delacroix
This one was a surprise for me. Turns out when you buy a Louvre entrance ticket you also get entry on the same day to the Musée national Eugène Delacroix which is just on the other side of the river. It is the house where Delacroix lived and died and is a must visit for anyone who likes his paintings.
One of my main dreams about going back to Paris was to spend more time at the Louvre. I had been a couple of times before and had done the mad dash just to see the highlights. This time I wanted to take my time and breath it all in, I wanted to enjoy and appreciate the art not just see it, and most of all I wanted to discover some of the hidden gems that I had missed before.
Turns out this dream was an unachievable nightmare.
With the amount of people in the Louvre there is no way I could even start to appreciate the art. I was jostled, pushed, barked at and that wasn’t even in front of anything famous. So here is what a visit that was meant to be the highlight of my trip actually looked like:
The only good thing about the visit was that it made me think about why we all go and take pictures of the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the statue of Cupid and Psyche. Most of the people crowding in front of these beauties will have never studied art, hell they may have never been to a gallery before. They are in the Louvre because it is their first time in Paris and its just what you do.
They have two hours off before they have to get back on the bus and so they visit the art landmarks as set out by the thousands of visitors before them. But why oh why do they ignore all the other art on the walls in favour of the famous ones?
My theory is that is grounds the participant in history just for a moment. There is too much art for the casual viewer to understand or enjoy, but they want for a moment for time to freeze and to be linked to this ancient painty history. So they go to the Mona Lisa and take a picture; and in that moment they are linked in a way that is enough to satisfy them.
So I guess in that they Louvre satisfies a need. It is perfect for the visitor with two hours to spare who just wants to see some famous stuff. But woe betide anyone who actually wants to enjoy any of the other art on the walls because you will have the history seekers to contend with.
I didn’t set out to find French toast in Paris. To be honest I thought it was one of those things like French fries, they somehow got the moniker but it actually had nothing to do with the country. But when I saw French toast on the Ladurée breakfast menu, I had to order it just for irony’s sake.
I went to Ladurée for a couple of reasons. First was because it was super close to the Louvre and secondly because I wanted to stock up on snacks for the day (macrons are an important part of a balanced diet). When I saw the dining room itself (a crazy oriental painted affair with peacocks on the walls and the feeling of opulence hanging in the air) I knew I had made a good life choice.
My French toast arrived and I was a little disappointed, I couldn’t see any sign of syrup and there weren’t any of the normal extras that kiwis throw on the plate (bacon, berries, banana et al). But then I took a bite. Wow.
It was like eating pure caramel in bread format. I don’t even understand how they managed to get it to taste like that. I wolfed down the entire thing with a liberal helping of cream on top and then sat back in a daze. It was just so damn good.
To revive myself from this French toast heaven I downed two espressos and then made my way merrily to the Louvre. Thank god I am the sort of person to order food based on irony alone.