Mulhouse’s position near the borders with Germany and Switzerland, as well as the richness of the surrounding area makes it perfectly situated for day trips. I’ve already taken advantage of this by going to Strasbourg and Colmar (blog coming soon!) for a day each but my next day trip was a bit further afield, to the City of Lights – Paris!
A few weeks ago, the head of my department at the university asked me if I would be interested in a space that had become available on a day trip to Paris that she was running for the students on the English research masters. It was the day before I left for Spain, at the start of my week off, but that only made me hesitate for a second. It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
The plan was to head to Paris and see two art exhibitions but to fit everything in we needed to leave early. I’m talking 5.30 in the morning early. We took a train to Strasbourg which is about an hour away and had enough time to grab a coffee and a pastry in the station before our train to Paris. We were in first class which was very comfortable and I think everyone slept most of the hour and a half of the TVG (high speed train) ride there.
The head of department, Jen, used to live in Paris for 15 years so all day she was able to navigate through the back roads and cut down little streets. For example on our way to the Centre Pompidou for our first art exhibition we passed by Victor Hugo’s house on the Place des Vosges (ironically the Vosges are a mountain range in Alsace, visible from Mulhouse). We had a bit of time to kill so we took the long way to the Pompidou Centre past part of the old city walls. We also walked past Hôtel de Ville where you can just see the roof of Notre-Dame (and all the scaffolding) peeking out from across the river.
Our first exhibition was the work of the American artist Georgia O’Keefe. I didn’t really know what to expect from her having never heard of her before but I was presently surprised. She is known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, landscapes around her chosen home of New Mexico and the skyscrapers of New York. She was known during the 20th century as the ‘mother of American modernism’. As I said to my sister afterwards, I don’t know much about art but I can appreciate and enjoy a pretty picture. That’s definitely a massive oversimplification of anybody’s art, especially Georgia O’Keefe’s but it’s the best I’ve got for you. One thing I was impressed with was the variety in her paintings. There were nudes, there were the massive close ups of flowers, very minimalist designs, landscapes, bright colours and dark monochrome.
I enjoyed the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition a lot but honestly the best part of the Pompidou Centre was the view across Paris. To get to the top floor, you go up escalators on the outside of the building and you get the most amazing panorama (photo above), from Sacre Coeur looking over the city on the right and the Eiffel Tower peeking out on the left.
Our next exhibit was at the Palais de Tokyo over by the Eiffel Tower. We had to get the metro but we walked over a couple of stops to get to a less complicated station, passing by Les Halles which is a big marketplace with some interesting architecture that makes it look almost like a stingray. After we got off the metro we passed by the Flame of Liberty which is a memorial for Princess Diana as it’s on the bridge over the tunnel where she died.
We were at the Palais de Tokyo for the Anne Imhof ‘Natures Mortes’ exhibit. It was… interesting is probably the nicest way I can put it. It was one of these more spatial, abstract, experiential exhibits and I just didn’t get it. I don’t really know how to explain it but there definitely weren’t any pretty pictures in this one. At this point everyone was very tired and I think we were all confused and frustrated by the fact we were confused. Maybe the artist’s intention was to make us think and question what we were seeing and if that was the case, mission accomplished.
It was back to Gare de l’Est for our return journey next. It was pretty much the inverse of the morning journey, a brief stop in Strasbourg again but with a Burger King instead of a pastry this time. I got back to my flat at about 11pm, so all in all not that late but after doing more than 23,000 steps I was exhausted!