When Bill said that he wanted to buy a museum pass for our trip to Nancy in northeastern France, I got pretty excited. We’d used these in other European cities where we saved money on individual tickets and time waiting in entrance lines. My enthusiasm plummeted when the name of the first museum that we could visit popped up on the tourism website promoting the pass: L’Ecole de Nancy or directly translated, “The School of Nancy”. While historic one-room school houses can be interesting (even Carcassonne has one) to view life as it once was, it’s not what I had envisioned as something you’d typically visit in a city where the word “elegant” often appeared in its description. Then I turned the name around to The Nancy School (think, Venetian, Florentine, or Ashcan School) and suddenly I knew that we were in for a treat. We’d spent hours at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris admiring entire rooms filled with furniture and decorative art pieces designed in the early 20th century with the long, sinuous lines characteristic of Art Nouveau. We were now in this school of art’s hometown for a week with a pass!
Since the direct train from Carcassonne arrives daily in Nancy right after lunch, we had plenty of time on our first day there to explore the area immediately surrounding the 19th century mansion where we were staying. Out the front door was the city’s largest park, Pepinère, and on the back, the huge Place Stanislas where we went in search of an afternoon beverage. That was easy to find since sidewalk cafés abound, overshadowed by towering palaces with gilded fountains on every corner. Drifting from the open windows of one of those giant ballrooms classical music and applause appropriately welcomed us into the grandeur of the 18th century.
Literally only steps from there we visited our first museum of this trip, Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts) that has been welcoming visitors since 1793. European painters such as Rubens and Delacroix and certainly sculptor Rodin were familiar to me but the highlight for Bill was the Daum collection of Art Deco glass housed in the vibration-resistant lower level of the building where the sturdy 15th century stone foundations are visible.
On the way to our next destination we passed through the Arc de Triomphe that honors Louis XV who helped bring to the city some of the splendour of his 1710 birthplace, the Château of Versailles. The arc opens onto the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Place de la Carrière that is lined with palaces and perfectly groomed trees that remind you of the area’s regal past. It was only then that we learned that the Duke’s Palace and its church, Eglise des Corbieres, so named because the monks in the 1500s were required to wear cords around their waist, are undergoing extensive renovation for at least 2 more years. Oh well, just another reason to return, as if we needed one.
Since we were already in old town, it made sense to wander the narrow cobbled streets and have a look at the two city gates that date from the 14th and the 17th centuries. It’s definitely a lively area with lots of shops, restaurants, and cafés. At one corner I counted 3 bakeries, 2 butchers and a fruits and vegetables market all within sight.
In the same neighborhood we had hoped to have more than a peek inside the 19th century Basilica of Saint Epvre since I’d read that paving from the Roman Appian Way was part of the choir floor but that too will have to wait for a future visit. Like much of the city, extensive renovation works are underway to ensure that history will be preserved for upcoming generations.
Although we couldn’t go inside the Duke’s Palace, we had easy access to what had once been his own gardens at the Pépinère Park, literally out the front door of where we were staying. The park includes some very colorful characters or not-so like this white peacock that followed us for much of our stroll under the trees.
End of Part 1. Read Part 2 next Sunday