Day 2: We stumble about Paris, dazed and confused.

OK, it wasn’t quite that bad – however, we were very tired after just a couple hours of sleep, and not completely on top of things.

As we passed the Harley Davidson store and made our way toward the Place des Vosges, we passed some interesting things, like the patisserie Gerard Mulot, which we’d previously read about on Paris by Mouth and were glad to see in person (And from which we had breakfast on a later day – best croissants of the trip, and we ate them every day – highly recommended!), and a shop with a 44-piece matrushka doll in the window.  This is obviously not a great photo of it, but you get the idea.  Whoa.

(Or would that technically be 87 pieces?)

When we reached the square, we strolled around it, taking in the art shops and the park.

I found some nice Parisian moss, and snapped a photo:

It’s right by this statue of Louis XIII, which was fun to see; I’ve been reading the D’Artagnan trilogy and he is the king in The Three Musketeers.  The way he’s presented in the book is quite different from the statue….

(Speaking of The Three Musketeers and Louis XIII – I found out from the wikipedia article just now that evidently Cardinal Richelieu lived in this square when the events of that book take place – back when it was called the Place Royale.  Cool.)

In the Southwest corner of the square, there’s a little passage that opens to a small courtyard, with a bookstore and some building that’s under reconstruction but (I think) will eventually be open to the public.  We enjoyed the early-blooming flowers and marveled at the intricate detailing on the buildings.

This seems to be a pretty out-of-the-way place.  Probably not too many people come by and look at this façade – but someone went to a lot of effort to make it beautiful.  Here’s the ceiling inside the passageway that leads from the courtyard to the next street.

We ate at a cafe halfway down the square from the Victor Hugo museum; I ordered a Croque Monsieur, an item from my list of top to-eat items in Paris.  Check!  No photo, though – we were hungry and I forgot about my camera until we finished eating.

We were about to get up and leave when the couple at the table behind John ordered hot chocolate, and we couldn’t resist – although we one-upped them and got Chocolat Viennoise instead – hot chocolate with a giant pile of whipped cream on top.  During our four days there, I conducted a set of experiments on hot chocolate in Paris and discovered that it comes in two varieties: a thick, sweet pudding-like concoction, and a normal, liquid-y, not-so-sweet type.  I definitely prefer the latter, which this was, and enjoyed it immensely.

While we sipped our drinks, it began to rain a little.  The sky had been overcast before, but we hadn’t gotten wet while walking around, thankfully, and it was very nice to watch the rain come down from under the shelter of the covered sidewalk and within the warmth of heat lamps.  (Does anyone else call restaurant patio heaters “turtle lamps,” or is it just me?)  It was perfect.  As Audrey Hepburn says in Sabrina, as Sabrina: “Never an umbrella in Paris, and under all circumstances, rain the very first day.”  Check and check!

After lunch, we went down the street to visit the Victor Hugo museum (Maison de Victor Hugo).  He lived in this building on the corner, between John’s shoulder and the gate, on the “second floor” – i.e. 3rd floor for us Americans.

The entrance is very pretty; these galleries cover the sidewalk all the way around the square.

We spent a couple of hours at the museum, and learned that Hugo was Not Human.  I have read Les Miserables (the whole thing, every single word, even the boring-to-me battles) and Hunchback (or, Notre Dame de Paris, to be accurate) and Toilers of the Sea, and already knew that he was a writing genius.  But did you know he was well-versed in math and physics…

and an artist?

I do not know how he could possibly have been so talented in so many ways.  We saw a whole special exhibit that showed his art – paintings, drawings, and photographs, all done by Hugo.  (He was really into painting castles.  Every, or almost every, painting of his included one somewhere.)

We also saw the pens he used to write Les Mis (whoa) …

and many works from other artists that depict scenes from or were inspired by his books.

The next floor up in the building was the actual set of rooms he rented and lived in, and they were decorated according to how he lived at different stages of his life.  The various rooms were an entrance hall, a drawing room, and a set of bedrooms and private sitting rooms; but the entrance hall and drawing room, for instance, were decorated the way they actually would have been when he lived in that particular apartment; the next bedroom was decorated the way it would have been at a different home, when he was in exile; and so on.  I was a little out of it so I didn’t capture the exact life stage that each room represents, but here is a sampling of the apartment.

The entrance hall:

The view out his window over the square:

We learned in the special exhibit that Hugo was not the happiest and most cheerful of men; one might call his world view dark and depressing.  When we went upstairs to his apartments, the question presented itself: does a black view of the world cause one to cover their walls and ceiling in matching wallpaper, and the floor with an equally busy carpet?  Or does such a style of decorating lead to the depression?

Of course I am joking, and I do not mean to make light of anyone’s unhappiness, but – those rooms did feel extremely oppressive and confining, and we were only there for a few moments.

This was maybe the coolest thing, other than the “plumes des miserables” and being in the rooms themselves: Hugo’s actual desk, where he actually wrote.  The room was very dark and I did not have a flash, so I didn’t get a great shot – but at a 1/8 second shutter speed, I’m impressed that it’s as not-blurry as it is.  There was no chair or stool by the desk, and it was quite high.  I wonder if he stood, or had a tall chair…

All in all, I’m glad we saw the home and museum, but we might have gotten a little more out of the experience if we’d had more sleep the night before.  It was near the hotel, though, and a good way to spend the afternoon.

On the way out I snapped a photo of the actual stairs that Victor Hugo actually walked up:

and we headed back to the hotel to take a very short nap and search for a dinner restaurant.

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