1st – 4th March 2017 – Paris part 2 and Versailles   Leave a comment

In the last post I described the first three days of our trip to Paris which involved both sightseeing and a visit to my friend John at nearby L’Isle Adam, whom I have known since 1969.

This post covers the remaining three days with more visits to Paris and to the Palace of Versailles.

 

On 1st March John drove us to the Palace of Versailles about an hour’s drive to the south-west of L’Isle Adam. These golden gates were torn down during the French Revolution and have only recently been restored.

 

Once past the golden gates we could clearly see imposing facade of Louis XIV’s famous palace. From Wikipedia: The Palace of Versailles, Château de Versailles, or simply Versailles is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. When the château was built, Versailles was a small village dating from the 11th century; today, however, it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, some 20 kilometres (12 miles) southwest of the centre of the French capital (point zero at square in front of Notre Dame). Versailles was the seat of political power in the Kingdom of France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved the royal court from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789, within three months after the beginning of the French Revolution. Versailles is therefore famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.

 

We expected rain to arrive in the afternoon so planned to visit the extensive gardens first. However the rain had already started by the time we got there so our time in the gardens was fairly short.

 

Not only was cold and wet with very low light levels but as it was still winter little was in leaf or in bloom ….

 

…. even so the statues, lakes and ornamental gardens exuded grandeur.

 

However grandeur takes on a whole new meaning once you enter the Château and see the chapel ….

 

…. and that theme continues when you enter the state rooms with their majestic murals and ….

 

…. wonderfully decorative ceilings.

 

I took so many pictures of these extraordinary rooms that it is difficult to know which to use.

 

One of the most celebrated rooms is the King’s bedchamber. In the highly stylised ceremonial traditions of the Ancien Régime’s absolute monarchy, Louis XIV just about ran the country from his bedroom.

 

Imagine waking up to this on your ceiling!

 

But the most famous room of all, perhaps the most famous room in any palace anywhere in the world, is the Hall of Mirrors.

 

From Wikipedia: the principal feature of this hall is the seventeen mirror-clad arches that reflect the seventeen arcaded windows that overlook the gardens. Each arch contains twenty-one mirrors with a total complement of 357 used in the decoration of the galerie des glaces. The arches themselves are fixed between marble pilasters whose capitals depict the symbols of France. These gilded bronze capitals include the fleur-de-lys and the Gallic cockerel or rooster. Many of the other attributes of the Hall of Mirrors were lost to war for financial purposes, such as the silver table pieces and guéridons, which were melted by order of Louis XIV in 1689 to finance the War of the League of Augsburg.

 

Used mainly for ceremonial reasons this hall is simply stunning.

 

Another impressive room was the 120m long Gallery of Battles intended to glorify French military history from the Battle of Tolbiac c496 to the Battle of Wagram in 1809.Gallery of Battles, with its 30+ panels (but no panels depicting Waterloo or WW1 or WW2!).

 

From Wikipedia: The Battle of Wagram (5–6 July 1809) was a military engagement of the Napoleonic Wars that ended in a decisive victory for Emperor Napoleon I’s French and allied army against the Austrian army under the command of Archduke Charles of Austria-Teschen. Try as I might, it is very difficult to photograph a painting when other members of the public are milling around it and get all the angles perfectly straight.

 

After three days of rather wet weather, Thursday 2nd was warm and sunny and we took the opportunity to see the obligatory tourist highlights.  We took the Metro to the Trocadero but low sun spoilt the view of the Eiffel Tower.

 

However by crossing the Seine to the Champ de Mars we had great views. However Margaret, who suffers from vertigo, didn’t fancy a trip to the top (or even to the first stage) and as I’ve been to the top several times we gave it a miss.

 

From Wikipedia: The Eiffel Tower is a wrought iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. Constructed from 1887–89 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticized by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it has become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world; 6.91 million people ascended it in 2015. The tower is 324 metres tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building, and the tallest structure in Paris. Its base is square, measuring 125 metres on each side. During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in New York City was finished in 1930. Due to the addition of a broadcasting aerial at the top of the tower in 1957, it is now taller than the Chrysler Building by 5.2 metres. Excluding transmitters, the Eiffel Tower is the second-tallest structure in France after the Millau Viaduct. The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second levels. The top level’s upper platform is 276 m above the ground – the highest observation deck accessible to the public in the European Union. Tickets can be purchased to ascend by stairs or lift to the first and second levels. The climb from ground level to the first level is over 300 steps, as is the climb from the first level to the second. Although there is a staircase to the top level, it is usually only accessible by lift.

 

From underneath, looking up at the restaurant on the first stage.

 

From the Champ de Mars we crossed the Seine and could look back at the museums of the Trocadero.

 

Soon we reached the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. This is the view to the east looking towards the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre ….

 

And this is the view to the west towards the Arc du Triomphe.

 

TheArc du Triomphe stands in the centre of Place Charles de Gaule and commemorates those who fought and died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Twelve avenues radiate out from the Place, however again Margaret didn’t want to go to the top to see the view.

 

We caught the Metro to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmartre. By now we were pretty foot sore, here Margaret stops to rest her feet and admire a pigeon.

 

From Wikipedia: The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris commonly known as simply Sacré-Cœur is a Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Paris. A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Sacré-Cœur is a double monument, political and cultural, both a national penance for the defeat of France in the 1871 Franco-Prussian War and the socialist Paris Commune of 1871 crowning its most rebellious neighbourhood, and an embodiment of conservative moral order, publicly dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was an increasingly popular vision of a loving and sympathetic Christ. The Sacré-Cœur Basilica was designed by Paul Abadie. Construction began in 1875 and was finished in 1914. It was consecrated after the end of World War I in 1919.

The church is on the highest point of the City of Paris and the view is excellent.

 

The narrow streets and courtyards of Montmartre are well known for their quaint shops and picturesque appearance ….

 

…. none more so than the Place du Tertre which is packed with artists trying sell their wares to the tourists.

 

Once the centre of Paris’s modern art movement, now you are accosted at every step by an artist who wants to paint your portrait or caricature. One told Margaret he could make her look like the Mona Lisa.

 

Descending the hill we arrived at Place Pigale, famous for its many nightclubs, none more so than the Moulin Rouge ….

 

…. although some of the clubs we passed looked rather more seedy.

 

John had agreed to meet up with a couple of his old friends from work and had come into Paris to meet them. we met up with him at the Gare du Lyons and from there he showed us another part of Paris where he once lived (and where I twice visited him in the 70s). We entered the enormous Printemps store, not because we wanted to buy anything ….

 

…. but because John wanted to show us the wonderful stain glass dome on the top floor.

 

We met up with John’s friends Quan (centre right) and Lily (right) in an Irish bar and then went to another place to eat, it was a very pleasant evening with most enjoyable company.

 

On the way back we passed the Opera House and La Madeleine (above), a church built to celebrate the glory of Napoleon’s Army. Unfortunately one side was covered for renovation.

 

On Friday 3rd we caught the Metro to the east end of the CH and walked across the Seine to Les Invalides.

 

From Wikipedia: Les Invalides commonly known as Hôtel national des Invalides, is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building’s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the Dôme des Invalides, a large church with the burial site for some of France’s war heroes, most notably Napoleon Bonaparte.

 

Louis XIV had this royal chapel with its beautiful dome built in 1708. Beyond the crucifix and the glass panel is the much plainer chapel (as apparently ‘fits their status’) built for the war veterans.

 

Below the dome now rests the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon died and was buried on St Helena in 1821 where he had been exiled by the British. In 1840 permission was granted for his remains to be returned to Paris where a state funeral was held.

 

We visited Napoleon’s original burial site on St Helena as part of our Atlantic Odyssey in April 2016. There can’t be that many people who have been to both of his burial-places within 12 months! Interesting this site along with Longwood House where Napoleon lived have been declared French sovereign territory meaning that there has to be an honorary French consul on the islands to administer them!

 

We didn’t have enough time to look at all the French military museums so waked across the imposing courtyard and back to the north bank of the Seine. Interestingly one facade was covered for renovation but the coverings were a fabric printed with an image of the original building, so from a distance the grandeur of the place was maintained.

 

Place de La Concorde is the largest public square in Paris. Constructed in 1755 to honour Louis XV it was renamed Place de la Révolution in the French Revolution. The new revolutionary government erected the guillotine in the square, and it was here that King Louis XVI and many others were executed.

 

We also paid a visit to the nearby Musée de l’Orangerie to see more impressionist and post impressionist paintings. This is Renoir’s ‘Portrait de deux fillettes’.

 

But the main attraction and the reason we had come was to see the eight panels of water lilies painted by Monet. These are housed in two oval shaped rooms each containing two long and shorter panels. Here art students practice their Monet technique with varying degrees of success.

 

Close to the painting just look a mess of colour but seen from a distance they are a delight.

 

Another painting we saw, not that day but earlier in the week at the Musee d’Orsay was van Gogh’s wonderful ‘The Church at Auvers’ ….

 

…. after we returned from Paris John picked us up and took us to the nearby village of Auvers where we saw the church the painting was based on. Using a wide-angle setting has meant that the verticals in my photo as are almost as wobbly as in van Gogh’s rendition.

 

In the village we visited the simple grave site where Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theodore are buried. Surprisingly no ornate tomb in Cimetière du Père Lachaise for one of the world’s best ever artists.

 

All that was left to do on the 4th was to get the train back to Gare du Nord and get the Eurostar to London and the bus home to Poole.

 

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It had been a very enjoyable week and quite a change from the usual birdwatching trips. Margaret very much enjoyed her first visit to Paris and I was able to visit a few places for the first time and see many wonderful sites once more. It was also great to meet up with John and Florence once again and we thank them for their hospitality.

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