Monday, 27 June 2011

A Ride through Cycling History

Postponing this exhibition until my fellow bicycle fanatic friend Helen arrived, I was not disappointed.
This exhibition called Voyages a Vélo, is located in the heart of the Marais and is not very obvious to the public being located up a small side street in a generally unremarkable building.
After a quick snack of excellent falafel and a coffee, we felt the time was right to go for a spin into check out these bicycles. The exhibition costs €3-€6, and after asking for the “tariff reduit” we quickly viewed the small section upstairs before making our way down to the main exhibition space downstairs.
I took one photo without any flash before being told that all photography was forbidden. However you can still take more in secret without the flash as there are not too many security people.
The exhibition chronicles the development of the bicycle through time, and starts out appropriately enough with the “hobby horse” style bicycle before starting to explain the popularity of this type of transport as well as its development. While the exhibition is all in French some of the funniest parts were the posters and articles in English from England which clearly demonstrates the type of stuffy upper middle class people that would have been able to afford a bicycle at the time.

The exhibition is overall interesting enough and has a great selection of bicycles as well as bicycle paraphernalia from different eras. Having read up a little on the history of the bicycle before going I especially enjoyed seeing the development of ladies and cycling. Originally the ladies bicycle was a giant cumbersome beast of a contraption kinda like a giant 3 wheeled tricycle, the ladies eventually  saw how pointless these were and instead of developing the bicycle decided to develop their clothing to be more suited to riding “men's” bicycles. Hence ladies trousers or “bloomers” were born and women started to develop “rational dress” . All joking aside the bicycle was credited to have greatly effected the women's rights movement and this can clearly be seen in the fact that most of the posters in the exhibition have a woman in the foreground. Including the poster for the exhibition itself.

What was also really impressive to see was how organised cyclists were back then and you could view old cycle lane maps for around the greater Paris area as well as leaflets telling you how to defend your rights on the road as a cyclist.

Overall the exhibition takes a look at the development of bicycles and bicycles as a hobby and I really enjoyed it. The Exhibition also has a great book that accompanies it but it sadly costs €20 and is only in French. If you have any interest in bicycles get on your bicycle and head over to this before it ends. Ironically though its central location on a small street in the Marais means that bicycle parking is not easily available and you will have to walk a bit to get there.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Anish Kapoor - inside the Leviathan

So after many an unfruitful attempt at visiting this exhibition I finally managed to gain entry to the inside the belly of the Leviathan.
The day we went happened to be one of the most unpredictable days weather wise I have ever experienced. One moment the sun is shining down, and the next, usually when you have finally decided to brave the concept of going outside the heavens open up and release a deluge that seem to suggest that god himself is angry with you. 

However this did result in a smaller than usual queue at the exhibition, but this didn't matter as I had already booked and printed out our tickets from on-line
Visiting this time with 2 friends from Ireland, we proceeded to take photos in the spirit of the exhibition.

After a quick stroll around we  entered into the belly of the beast with absolutely no wait, apparently there had been a performance on in the space last time I visited and this resulted in the large slow moving queue. Entering the dark space through a rotating black door you instantly notice your ears popping as a result of the change in air pressure required to keep the large structure inflated. The sound of people tapping and banging the outside skin is also far more interesting from the inside as the noise echo's and reverberates remarkably. 

While I had previously been cursing our fowl luck with the ever changing weather I was now enraptured with what seemed like a veritable performance from the sky, one moment the sky being cloudy leaving the Leviathan dull and dark

and the next the sunlight piercing through the clouds creating dramatic cast shadows and a series of ooohs and ahhs from the enveloped crowds. 

After enjoying the internal experience of the Leviathan as well as the now obligatory posing we proceeded to go back out to the rest of the exhibit have a further look around the beast.
speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil

A browse through the book shop was required in order to escape the fresh shower that had just started, but after another series of funny poses we were more than satisfied and happily on our way. 
For those of you still interested in going the exhibition finished on the 23rd of June. Sorry

Friday, 24 June 2011

Rock and stroll - Cité de la Musique

With only 2 days left before my 26th birthday I finally managed to get out to the visit the Cité de la Musique. This Museum is not as central as the rest and is located in the 19th Arrondisment in the Park de la Villette, this however is a bonus as it allows me to take my favourite route along the canal to get to the museum.
Arriving to the the museum the entrance is clearly posted and is actually incorporated into one of Bernard Tschumi's  red “folly's”. When you enter the space you are instantly impressed by the size of the space. 

After getting my free ticket I proceeded through the music shop to the start of the exhibition. Clearly a question that had come to my mind before attending the museum was how do they exhibit something visually, that can really only really be experienced by listening, without having a series of clashing speakers blaring out random sounds in an effort to compete with each other. Well the solution was actually easier than I imagined. This museum provides every one with a audio guide, this guide has headphones and allows you to key in a number beside displays, screens and instruments. This allows you to synchronise up to the relevant TV screen and listen to the opera being performed, the historical background of the instrument, interviews and you can even listen to individual instruments being played.

The museum itself has a large collection of very ornate and old instruments and as you slowly wind your way up to though the different ages it becomes very interesting to learn when and how new instruments that we now take for granted were invented and introduced to the public, as well as seeing instruments that are now nearly obsolete.
triple guitars?

The day we were there was very quiet but there was still a live demonstration by a very talented man on the trombone. He explained the instrument how it worked and how he created the different sounds, as well as playing some very good music.

Arriving into the final space is the most impressive as this is housed in the topmost roof space.

This space also starts to chronicle the development of modern recording and mixing techniques, and has a good selection of early mixing desks which now seem so large and cumbersome that its funny. However the museum does only have a limited amount of stuff about the development of modern music, as it seems to concentrate mainly on the classical side, which is a shame as it hardly acknowledges the development of rock punk techno. But then I suppose you would need an entire other museum to properly chronicle the development of music in the last 100 years. 

The final displays deal with instruments from different cultures such as India Africa and China, these sections are quite small though but still impressive.
Only after exiting the museum  did I see the sectional model and realise that there is actually a entire theatre music space located just beside the museum, and that is why the entire building is called the Cité de la Musique. Next time I visit I plan on seeing a performance.
the museum is the small narrow part on the left of the auditorium

Otherwise the museum was very enjoyable even for someone who has no grounding in music and does not play any instruments it was very basically and easily explained. The museum is also much larger than I thought and as a result my audio guide ran out of battery in the last portion of the museum. With lots of bicycle parking located in the park de la Villette right outside I would recommend going for a picnic with some friends before heading in.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The power of words at the The museum of Letters and Manuscripts

Having recently limited my visits of museums to ones solely located in the museum pass guide, it was nice to go to a much smaller museum off the beaten path. Brought to my attention by a friend who is always bringing me to new places when she visits me in Paris. The museum of letters and manuscripts is located on the Boulevard Saint Germain and is indeed something I would have never visited by myself as the museum is surprising larger than the modest doorway is is located through.

This museum is not part of the free for under 26s category but I only had to pay a mere €5 to get in. The current temporary exhibition is about the impressionist artists and features many letters from the most famous impressionist to each other. 

As an anglophone it is slightly disappointing but yet understandable that this small museum does not have the explanatory texts translated into English. Most of the letters collected by the museum are by French people who seem to have possibly the worst handwriting ever. This however is compensated by the some of the other sections of the museum which are divided into some interesting categories, such as music - Beethoven,  science - Einstein,  writers - Victor Hugo and political leaders such as JFK. Most interesting for me was seeing some famous writers letters such as Oscar Wilde and Hemingway. Also on show was Thomas Edison sketches showing how the light bulb was invented(most likely drawn during the day). 

This small museum is definitely worth a visit and since it is not one of the mainstream museums there are no queues and you will find yourself in a calm tourist free atmosphere where you can enjoy most of the exhibition spaces alone. There was plenty of bicycle parking available across the road and the area is also quite central and its easy to find lots of nice little restaurants for lunch or dinner after.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Time and Error at the Decorative Arts museum

Once again my in ability to schedule correctly has left me with what I would describe as a partial visit to a gallery or exhibition, this time to the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, or decorative Arts museum to you and me. 
After recently discovering that this museum is in fact located in the North Western wing of the Louvre I was quite eager to go check it out. However arriving a mere 1 hour before the closing of the museum is not recommended as the museum is much larger than I predicted and spread out over 9 floors the top one of which is actually located in the tower at the very end of the Louvre. 

After having a quick wander through the animals and design section, where we views crocodile tables, dog chairs, and leopard skin coats, we wandered over to the tower which chronicled the development of design from the 40s to the 2000s. Getting the lift to the 9th floor was quite exciting and when you enter the space you can instantly recognise that you are in the tower part of the Louvre. 

After trying to quickly make my way through the decades I got as far as the chairs in the 60s and 70s before getting completely distracted  and spending all my time sitting in the hanging transparent egg chair watching clips from 60/70s films with chairs in them. Boom time to go.

After rushing out I was very disappointed that I did not get to see more of the museum especially the section on  toys, art deco, and fashion and textiles. However the good news is that I will be able to visit again, just that I will have to pay the price (€9) of being a 25 year old who can’t get up early.

Monday, 13 June 2011

3rd time lucky for visiting Anish Kapoor

The name of this series of exhibitions at the Grand Palais is called “Monumenta” and despite first impressions this does not make direct reference to the size of the queue at the door
So after trying to go to this exhibition 2 times previously I finally bit the bullet at bought the tickets on-line before going as time was running short. The effort and extra €1 of having bought the tickets on-line was definitely worth it as we swanned directly with no hassle and more importantly no queue.

For people that have never been to the Grand Palais before lets make one thing clear. Its a one trick pony. That trick being one giant space with a 200meter long Nave and a 45 meters beneath its central dome and the pony being the Epic (capital E) building that it is.

Entering the space I was at once hit by the sheer size of the work of art. Its HUGE. After a quick wander around though I noticed another queue. That's right there is a second queue inside the exhibition to enter into the space of the “leviathan”. Yup, another queue. And this one was also quite long and to top it off seemed to be moving slower than your average snail.
this photo was taken from our position in the queue (see left)

After queueing for 15minutes, we realised that this was a pointless effort as we had planned to meet friends for drinks soon. And decided to enjoy the rest of the exhibition. The rest of the exhibition was really good, in so far as we just walked around the giant object and were constantly impressed by its sheer size.

When we did finally manage to meet our friend for drinks, I was disappointed to hear that the best part of the exhibition is indeed getting inside the object. Still I did enjoy the exhibition and will definitely be going again soon to see the interior.

Here are some tips given to me by my friend who has already been.
  • Try and go first thing when it opens in the morning
  • Buy your tickets on-line
  • Go on a sunny day as apparently the shadows of the roof structure of the Grand Palais on the inside of the leviathan space is quite striking.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Park Life - La Villette

One of cycling in Paris's most hidden gems is definitely the canal, this Thursday being a public holiday and also one of the most beautiful days so far this year, I had the luck to be invited up to Parc de la Villette in the 19th for a general hang out in the sun.
So in order to benefit of this fantastic day I had completely off work I headed off. 

The trip to the park was nearly as nice as the park itself. The canal is one of Paris's most underrated public spaces and feels like an authentic slice of parisian life as there are hundreds of people sitting by the canal chatting or playing games and not a tourist to be seen. There are also lots of great little bars and bistros that line the canal and these were full of people, the most popular with a queue to buy drinks a snacks for the all the people sitting out along the canal.

Another great thing about cycling along the canal is the dedicated bicycle lanes, so apart from a few large junctions you wont have to even think about where you going or watch the traffic, you just simply go with the flow. Here is the route I followed.

One thing most new people to Paris don’t realise is the value and importance of these public parks and spaces in Paris. While for example everyone in Ireland strives to have a semi-detached house with a front and back garden, parking place and 2 hour commute to work, the approach here in Paris is different. Space is at a premium and living within the Peripherique is seen as a lucky privilege that you will sacrifice a lot for including
  • A significant percentage of your wage,
  • the option of not having more than 3 people(including yourself) visiting in your 10sqm “chambre de bonne”
  • standing room in your sleeping area
  • cooking facilities
  • a toilet in your apartment,
  • a washing machine
  • your own room
  • sleeping in the living room
  • any options of having pets larger than a gerbil,
while to a lot of my Irish friends might seem horrified at the thought of the circumstances mentioned above, most of my Parisian friends will sympathise that these are some or all the things that you will compromise on in order to benefit of the glory of living in a city where real-estate is counted in meters squared and not how many bedrooms.

So while people do sacrifice allot in terms of their living standards this is compensated for by the fact that we live in Paris, one of the greatest city's in the world, and since the option of comfortably accommodating friends in your living quarters is often not an option this is why things like, meeting a friend for a coffee during the day, going for a quiet demi in the evening and meeting friends far a picnic in a park is so popular in Paris.
  • The restaurant is your kitchen and dining room
  • The café's and bars are your living room
  • The public park is your back garden
  • Your apartment is your bedroom
Parks in Paris act like everyone's shared back gardens, on a sunny day you will see literally hundreds of people of all different ages, races, social classes and  occupations appearing in their droves to benefit or some sunshine and open space. Where as parks and playgrounds in Ireland can be a realm left to mainly bums and drunken teenagers, in Paris they become very much a family affair with lots of children actually playing in them, teenagers and adults practising their dancing, fitness enthusiasts doing yoga and capoera, people juggling,  musicians strumming guitars, people reading and sunbathing  and friends picnicking. 
photo was taken when leaving around 9 so many people had left
Parc de la Villette was very busy when I arrived but still had acres of space compared to the nearly shoulder to shoulder experience you can get in some other parks. It is a great park mainly due it its large size and variety of spaces, also it seemed to be lacking many of the unsavoury characters which are usually present in more central parks and spaces that are more frequented by RER lines and tourists.

If you are living or even just visiting Paris I would recommend taking some time out and check out the canal for a walk and lunch and then go for a relax in the park de la Villette or one of Paris's many other parks. With the weather only set to improve it is definitely time to get your picnic blanket washed, buy a set of plastic dish ware and “en profitez”.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Going Postal in Paris' Post Office Museum

Continuing with my pre birthday theme of museums, I decided to finally take a trip to the L’adress Musée de la Poste or in English: the post office museum. This museum is a little further out than the other museums I have visited recently but I enjoyed my now quite regular route along the south bank of the seine.  The museum is located right beside the Gare Montparnasse, and there was plenty of places for me to park my bicycle within a minutes walk.

Arriving in I quickly got a ticket and was informed to take the lift on the right to the 5th floor. No problem. This is one of the few museums I have visited that has been located in a modern building, as a result sometimes the spaces can feel a bit clinical and the exit out of the exhibition was a maze of fire exits reminiscent of leaving the cinema.

Anyway,  moving along I arrived up into the museum into a small entrance space filled with children...... not good, for those of you who don't know me I’m not a big fan of one child, multiply that by 20 and add a guide from the museum who was encouraging  them to get involved in the exhibitions by making more noise than a bag of cats fighting.
While the kids looked like they were having loads of fun I on the other hand was not, and i often has to double back into previous rooms that I had escaped earlier, as well being at one point chased by a congo line of the brats making choo choo train sounds, as directed by the “animatrice”.

For the most part the exhibition itself is quite good. It is dispersed over 15 different rooms on varying levels, each with a different theme in chronological order  which slowly bring you down to the ground floor. The exhibition started in chronological order and explained the start and development of the postal system in France, including some really interesting old maps that showed the routes the letter's followed, old carrages and the pinnacle of mail delivery bicycles!!

One of the best sections by far(once the brats were gone) was the one about the development of airmail. At the time this was a major advancement in postal delivery, and perhaps the most moving thing is reading about the crashes the pilots survived and more regrettably the ones they didn’t survive. Moving stuff.
French stamps featured in style have a dedicated room to themselves, chronicling their development and showcasing all the different designs and how they are made, pretty interesting I suppose if your into that sort of thing.

Afterwards I breezed through the modern and temporary section, which was not so interesting, and left via the confusing maze of doors and corridors. Would I go again? Ya I suppose but it would have to be with a friend who like stamps.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A late start with the Gustave Moreau Museum

After a late start to that day I decided not to be discouraged by the time and  take a quick spin to check out the Musée Gustave Moreau. The museum is located up a quiet sub-street around the Galeries la Fayette, Trinité district in the 9th and thanks to my handy map book was it okay to find, but not great for bicycle parking. 

For the record this museum is the house where the artist worked and lived and he apparently made all the modifications himself to allow him to turn the very large house into apartments and a workshop.

When getting my ticket in the ticket lady informed me that the museum rooms were going to be shutting in 20min, however I was none the less discouraged and proceeded with my visit.

The first part of the house is pretty boring especially if you are not a Moreau fan and don't really know any of his work or any of the family's history, but it is an authentic snap shot into what a house of this era was like and to sum it up in one word - cluttered. I suppose the best thing for me was the old school toilet. The fittings were pretty awesome, and probably used by the artist himself! 

Anyway after leaving the apartment part of the house by moving up  the next flight of stairs I was impressed, the space was massive and covered wall to wall with giant paintings, all of which are reminiscent of the pre-impressionist glory days of the academic salon. 

Sketches and smaller scale paintings were also on show but being so numerous they were housed in cleverly hidden and organised wall units or boxes with sliding panels in the centre of the floor.

After going up the impressive winding staircase finding myself in another large room full of paintings, it was similar to the last one, but I decided to stop and read some of the information sheets and learn a bit about some of the more famous paintings.

Shortly after I left overall feeling contented but not impressed. Once again the museum is impressive and a true snap shot into the life and works of this amazing and significant artist. The only problem for me personally though is that I don’t really have any previous knowledge of the artist and found it hard to be enthusiastic about paintings or the house, especially as a basic guide to the museum was not provided to me.

My advice bring someone who knows about Gustave Moreau and can help fill you in on what your supposed to be appreciating, otherwise you can technically visit everything in 20 minutes.


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