More photos here
The trip is guided, the company is Art Pursuits. I've been on four trips with them before, but they were recently sold to a company called Arena, whose background involves trips for bridge players and fans of Queen and Elvis. Added to which this trip has only 7 participants, where 12 is the usual minimum. So omens and hopes are mixed, but we're feeling positive. Jane is coming on this one - a first! - as art nouveau is more her thing. Meeting lecturer Justine Hopkins and tour manager Julie Kirkup at St Pancras to catch the 11.31 Eurostar to Paris, getting through the ticket machines and security, analogue passport checking... all went smooth, if slow. Paris was hot, the coach transfer from Gare du Nord to Gare de L'Est was hitchless, and the cinnamon bun from Starbucks nice enough to make up for their dishwater coffee. The train to Nancy was air conditioned and on time. At Nancy Station there was a bit of a delay waiting for the minibus and then some farcical fun as the driver got lost and soon we were back where we'd started. But eventually we were driven to our hotel, the Grand Hôtel de la Reine, and given rooms to collapse in for a half hour. My room seems fine and quiet and well provided with a long bathroom. The style can best be described as faded glory with a lick of white paint and some snazzy modern light fittings.
Our first-night dinner was in the hotel restaurant. Their promised vegetarian options were the set meal choices with the dead animals or fish removed, but were fine. The company was convivial too, and the evening balmy.
Having been pointed in the direction of the Mirabelle Tarte de Nancy by a site follower I was happy to notice the mirabelle jam available at breakfast, and the bowl of mirabelles in syrup. Also a sliced tart which turned out to be... All were very toothsome. We were all a bit too knackered for the planned introductory walk last night so we did Place Stanislas, which our hotel is part of, and around about a bit. The Hôtel de Ville is having work done inside so we only looked at the outside. After a beverage break we went into the Musée de Beaux Arts and were impressed, initially by its staircase (see right). We started with a Rubens but where soon happy discovering new names Laura Leroux-Ravault (see right) and Emile Friant, and an actual painting by Dore. Then some glass and furniture by Daum which we might have missed due to the flooded basement, but which was luckily largely in a temporary exhibition. Our lunch was a sophisticated but light three courses, at a swish joint just off the Place Stanislas called La Maison dans le Parc, and then Justine took us on a walking tour of the business district to admire many fine Art Nouveau facades.
Tonight's dinner was independent, so after a stroll around, through various crowds listening to all shades of live music, and in some cases even dancing to it, we made for the Michelangelo Pizzeria in the Place Stanislas, and under an awesomely inauthentic mock-Michelangelo painted ceiling with extravagant baroque gilded plaster framing we ate a pair of surprisingly authentic and tasty pizzas.
A coach this morning to look at the Rue Félix-Faure facades. They being a street of Art Nouveau houses for more modest, if not exactly low, incomes. And very fine facades they are too. Then into the Museum de l'Ecole de Nancy, an almost overwhelming feast of furniture and glass, in the former home of Eugene Corbin - shop owner and patron/supporter of the Ecole de Nancy - with a weird and special AN aquarium in the gardens, which we got to go inside. Lunch was taken in a superior establishment in the Parc Sainte-Marie, and was followed by a walk to the Quartier Saurupt, a gated estate for AN mansions which didn't really happen, but still left behind some spectacular houses, including a tastefully weathered example (see right). A brief walk and break for juice and madeleines, before a visit to the Maison Bergeret, now part of the university, but lovingly preserved, and used, and lovely with it (see right). Minibuses brought us back to the hotel for a well-earned collapse.
This evening's dinner was independent again, so after a wander in the medieval old town, which is very much as described, and impressively reminiscent of similar areas in Paris, we returned to the Michelangelo for a couple more fine pizzas. The gelato, eaten sitting and soaking up the atmosphere in Place Stanislas, was pear sorbet and coconut.
Today we began with a walk through the old town to admire the streets, Saint-Epvre, the carving of the embracing mermen and the Ducal Palace. After a coffee stop, with an added computer-aided intro to this afternoon's visit, we admired the Porte de la Craffe and some more art nouveau houses. Coming from a country with next to no art nouveau architecture to such a feast in one smallish city is a treat. For our indie lunch Jane and I tucked into tasty custom-made focaccia at an excellent panini place called Biscotto, and then had a walk in the park, taking in Rodin's statue of Claude, the impressive bandstand, and the children's zoo with its peacocks, monkeys and goats. Then (minus Jane) the group met back at the hotel to catch coaches to the Villa Majorelle to which access is limited, so we were limited to a tour of the exterior (see below right) and the ground floor with a local guide, in French! But the architecture outside and glass and fittings inside made it all worthwhile. The villa is gradually becoming restored and more accessible, so full access and an English-speaking guide cannot be far off. (It was here, admiring the exterior at some length, that I believe I 'caught the sun' on my face, and later noticed a certain hotness about the centre of my male-pattern thinning hair. Which suggested a need for another (summer) hat, to complement my seminal first-ever hat bought at the xmas market in Cologne. A straw Panama is being contemplated.) We then made for the Cimitière de Préville, to visit the graves of some names from the trip - Corbin's and Gallé's graves were found (spectacular and modest respectively) but the Majorelle family tomb less so.
Our final dinner together was at the ritzy Brasserie Excelsior, and they had a vegetarian set menu! With a choice of two things for each course! And the conversation was tasty too!
A last walk through Parc de la Pépinière to admire Rodon's sculpture of Claude Lorrain again. We then had a couple of free hours before minibuses took us to the station, so the pair of us had a more lingering time in the Musée de Beaux Arts, and most of the rest of our group seemed to have the same idea. Getting us to Gare Nancy and then on the train to Gare de l'Est and on the minibuses to Gare du Nord all went well and to plan. But then we found out that Eurostar had had power and security problems, had cancelled a train, and that all was now delays and scrum-like queues. The stress was minimised by Julie and Justine coping and directing calmly, but not helped by some cliché entitled American mothers loudly fussing about our party of exhausted pensioners making better progress than them by taking to the groups line and pushing in front of us. I tried to politely introduce the concept of respect for elders but to no avail, one of them saying that they had issues too, and they sure did! We got back to London an hour and half late - a much better result than being stranded in Paris with a hungry cat at home waiting for his dinner, I'm sure you'll agree.