Lost In Limoges

From the sheep-dotted pastures of France's underpopulated Southwest, Limoges rises in all its grey glory. The city's claim to fame: fine porcelain. The half-timbered houses of the Medieval center are surrounded by strip malls and McDo. Land-hungry Brits descend with flailing pocketbooks (thanks, RyanAir). The weather is remarkably cool year-round. Sure, I live on rue de Nice, but this is NOT the Cote d'Azur. Welcome to Limoges, "the middle of nowhere"-- or as Pierre says "everywhere"-- France.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Study in Contrasts: The Ile de la Cité

You can blame Haussmann for the administrative feel to the Ile de la Cité, the larger of the two islands anchored in the Seine. The architect is viewed as both a hero and a crook; the modernizing urban planner ushered in a new era for the city in the 1860s, but he did so by ruthlessly leveling so many treasures, gutting the deteriorating medieval buildings, paving grand boulevards and erecting big blocks of buildings. But this island is the birthplace of Paris, where the tribe of Parisii settled in the 3rd century BC.

For over two thousand years, the Ile de la Cité was the base of Parisian power. After the Parisii, the Romans took over and built an ancient temple to Jupiter where Notre-Dame now stands. The island is home to the Palais de Justice and the Police Prefecture, along with Notre-Dame, the iconic masterpiece of French Gothic architecture, and the Conciergerie (where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before going to the guillotine).

Walk the pedestrian bridge from the Ile St-Louis, an unassuming approach to the flying buttresses, gargoyles, and soaring tower of Notre-Dame. This is by far the best way to discover the cathedral. It's quieter, too, stepping through the gardens before hitting the crowds lining up to go inside.

Stroll along the Seine to the Pont des Arts, the iron bridge that connects to the Louvre (right bank) and the Institut de France (left bank). From here, the island's tip appears like the prow of a ship in the middle of the Seine. My uncle discovered the best little hotel, an economical bargain in the heart of the city, in the tranquil gardens of the Place Dauphine at this very spot.


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