Art Talk: Musée du Louvre

When you spend a week in Paris with a couple of art students, it’s inevitable that you end up spending much of that week in the city’s art museums.

And when you choose to visit the world’s largest and most-visited art museum, it’s inevitable that you end up spending a considerable amount of time in line waiting your turn to enter.

That art museum would be the Musée du Louvre.

Rebellious Slave by Michelangelo

The line was long. Very long. And here’s a pro tip: if you neglect to ensure you’re in the correct line before you begin your wait, you may well end up having to go to the back of yet another line, thus doubling your wait time.

Which is what happened to us.

Here’s another pro tip: do not try to see the entire museum in one go. It is physically impossible. The Louvre used to be a royal palace, and the result is a confusing layout that is more maze than museum. If you were to walk through every one of its 403 galleries and down every one of its corridors, you’d cover 14.5 km and 15 acres containing more than 38,000 objects and pieces of art dating from ancient civilizations to the mid-nineteenth century.

I’m exhausted just from typing out that last sentence.

Dying Slave by Michelangelo

My nieces and I started in the sculpture galleries and the girls were both awestruck by what they saw and overwhelmed by the crowds around pieces such as the Venus de Milo. Because we knew we had to pace ourselves, we stopped to have a bite to eat in one of the Louvre’s many cafés, intending to tackle the Italian Renaissance paintings after our break.

But fate intervened, and an announcement over the PA system in French and English that the Louvre had to be evacuated due to a “security incident” thwarted our plans. We never did find out what the incident was — I suspect it may have been due to the record-breaking rain storm earlier that morning — but when I told the story to a friend who had been in Paris a year earlier, she recounted her experience of being evacuated from Versailles for what they eventually discovered was a thermos inadvertently left unattended.

We had waited more than two hours to spend scarcely an hour inside the Louvre. But we also wanted to be safe, and these days, in Paris, you cannot blame the museum or the police for being overanxious and overcautious.

Venus de Milo

We never did go back to the Louvre — we had other museums to visit and the girls decided they had seen as much of the Louvre as they needed to see. For myself, I’m glad we didn’t make it as far as da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. That gallery is a bit of a gong show and unless you’re small enough to squeeze to the front of the crowd or tall enough to see over the selfie sticks, you will walk away disappointed. At least my nieces were spared that.

The Louvre as seen from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

Dishing: Bouillon Chartier

So, the all-important question is: when you have less than a week in Paris to impress your nieces with all you know about the City of Light, where do you take them to eat?

In my case, I took them to Bouillon Chartier, which was recommended to me by my Parisian friend. He described it as “an authentic French brasserie” that offered cheap but tasty food and had servers that were rude as … well, I can’t repeat what he wrote on a family blog such as this, but when I read his text to my niece, she raised her eyebrows and said, “Um …”

Needless to say, by this point in her European travels, she was more than a little homesick for polite Canadians.

But we went to Bouillon Chartier anyways. And when we arrived, I recognized the entrance from a travel article I had read some time ago. Bouillon Chartier was a Parisian restaurant I had always wanted to try.

We walked in through the revolving doors and were quickly seated. The décor looked like something out of a Belle Époque movie set, with coat racks set high above a cavernous room lined with mirrored walls and filled with endless rows of tables lit by giant globe light fixtures.

Soon our black-vested, white-aproned waiter came to take our order, which he scribbled down on the paper tablecloth. He was polite, friendly, and extremely patient as I gave him our order in my poorly enunciated French. As soon as he walked away, my nieces turned to me in shock.

“He wasn’t rude!” they exclaimed.

So far, so good. I was hopeful.

But then our food arrived within minutes. “Uh oh,” I thought. “What’s going on here?” We wolfed down every bit of it, however — we were hungry — and some of it was very good, and some of it, well, was not so good.

The girls were keen to try the escargot — they were in France, after all — which were served à la Bourguignonne (in the Burgundy style) with heaps of parsley and garlic butter. They went fast, and we used the most excellent bread to mop up every last bit of butter that remained.

I had confit de canard (duck), which I have to say was a bit tough. My pasta-loving niece ordered spaghetti bolognaise, which she told me later had been cold, and my oldest niece ordered poulet fermier rôti avec frites (roasted chicken with fries), which apparently was unseasoned.

So much for impressing my nieces with excellent French cuisine. However, as I already said, we all of us cleaned our plates and you can never go wrong with French bread and wine. We decided not to have dessert as our next destination was a pâtisserie. Our waiter added up our bill on the paper tablecloth, and that was that.

Bouillon Chartier, I’ve learned, is indeed a Parisian institution, as my Parisian friend promised me it was. Parisians and tourists alike flock here, and when we left, there was a line leading out of the courtyard all the way to the boulevard. I’m told the line moves fast, and given how quickly we were served, I believe it.

Bouillon means “broth” and was first served in 1855 by a butcher who wanted to provide cheap food for the workers at Les Halles, the original French fresh food market that was moved to the suburbs in the 1970s. The word came to mean the establishment serving the broth, and by 1900, there were more than 250 of these types of restaurants. Only a handful remain today. One of those is Bouillon Chartier, which was opened in 1896 by two brothers named Frédéric and Camille Chartier. Over its lifetime, it has had only a handful of owners. The food hasn’t changed in a hundred years and it is still cheap — the three of us ate for much less than we would have at our neighbourhood brasserie.

I expect I will give Bouillon Chartier another try the next time I am in Paris. My nieces have a lifetime of travelling ahead of them, and I have no doubt one day they will taste French cuisine as only the French can prepare it.

But I also know they will never forget their lunch at Bouillon Chartier in Paris.

Through My Lens: Jardin du Luxembourg

It’s been more than six years since I was in Paris and although it felt like I had never been away, one of the hardest things for me to get my head around this time was the weather.

On my last visit, I struggled to keep warm during a snowy winter that felt far too cold for my thin Vancouver blood.

This time, we were immersed in heat and humidity. Although we were spared the experience of one of Paris’s infamous heat waves, I did wonder which is worse when travelling: being too hot or too cold? I don’t know the answer, but the question is a reminder that weather always plays a factor when forming an impression of a place.

However, this I do know: a definite bonus about visiting Paris in the summertime is being able to see the gardens in full bloom. One of my favourites is the Jardin du Luxembourg, or Luxembourg Gardens. Located in the 6e arrondissement, they were built for Marie de’ Medici, widow of King Henry IV, to go with her new palace, called, appropriately, the Luxembourg Palace. That’s it in the photo. These days, it’s where the French Senate meets.

Through My Lens: Paris Beaubourg

The problem with spending a week in Paris is this: how do you choose which photos to post to your blog?

I mean, seriously.

Remembering Jane Austen

I could not let today’s date go by without acknowledging the bicentennial of Jane Austen’s death. She died 200 years ago today at the age of 41. Bibliophiles around the world are celebrating her legacy and the new British £10 note featuring her image will come into circulation later this year.

Jane Austen lived in Bath between 1801 and 1806 — which is where I took this photo — and two of her novels are set there. I went to Bath because I’m a Jane Austen fan, but the city is well worth a visit regardless of your reading preferences.

Through My Lens: La Tour Eiffel

I’ve been in Europe for almost two weeks, and you can be sure I have a few photos to post. But until I get myself organized, this one will have to do.

A week ago today, I left Amsterdam with my two nieces by train and three hours later we were in Paris. But until they were standing next to the Eiffel Tower, they didn’t quite believe where they were.

I took this photo the night of our arrival.

Through My Lens: Bloemgracht

I’ve arrived in Amsterdam, where I am going to be hanging out for a couple of months thanks to my latest home exchange. Here is a taste of what I’ve seen in the past few days. This is Bloemgracht, a small canal in the centre of Amsterdam, very close to where I’m living. Bloem is Dutch for “flower” and gracht means “canal.”

Happy Canada Day!

Here we are, finally. It’s Canada’s 150th birthday.

Except it’s not.

But you all know that, right?

This land we call Canada has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years by the Indigenous peoples, and then by European settlers who came long before 1867. So 1867 wasn’t the start of anything, really, because Canada is much, much older than 150.

What did happen on July 1, 1867, was simply that a piece of legislation came into effect. A piece of legislation passed by the British government and given royal assent by Queen Victoria.

Known as the British North America Act of 1867, that legislation united three British colonies (the Province of Canada and the colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) into the dominion of Canada, and created four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.

Sir John A. Macdonald — or Sir John A., as I like to call him — became our first prime minister. That’s him below.

The name “Canada” comes from the Indigenous word kanata, which means “village.” As we celebrate Canada today, let’s make sure we celebrate all of our origins.

Canada 150: Thunder Bay

After Neepawa, the next bit of excitement for my sister and me while on leg one of my cross-Canada road trip was reaching the Manitoba–Ontario border. Our destination was Toronto and so, after passing the “Welcome to Ontario” sign, I turned to my sister and said, “Almost there!”

Ha. Not so much. I had no idea. Turns out it takes just as long to drive across the province of Ontario as it does to drive across the three Prairie provinces. (Funny how it takes actual travel to make distances seem real.)

The first major centre you come to in Ontario is Thunder Bay. And on the other side of Thunder Bay is the Terry Fox Monument. The bronze statue commemorates where Terry Fox had to stop his cross-Canada run after 143 days and 5373 kilometres due to the recurrence of his cancer. That was on September 1, 1980.

Terry Fox died on June 28, 1981. He was 22.

Through My Lens: Sunset at Sunset Beach

And … boom.

No sooner is it officially summer and we’re in the middle of our first heat wave. Heat waves in Vancouver are rare, which means few homes have air conditioning.

Which means I’m awfully warm.

Some friends surprised me with a picnic at Sunset Beach this evening, and instantly I was able to cool down. There’s often a breeze that comes in off the bay, but it also helped that the clouds moved in to block the sun’s heat from us as we enjoyed our meal.

Which means I didn’t take this photo tonight.

But you get the idea. There’s nothing like a picnic on the beach while watching the sun set.