Paris: Day 3- Modern Art and Old Arc.

First item on the list today was the Pompidou Center. It was still quite early, and the hawkers that so famously hawk in the square outside were still setting up.  We already had pre-booked tickets to the exhibition we were going to see, so we walked straight in.

The Pomidou Center is a modern art museum that was conceived by President Pompidou in 1969, and completed in 1978 by two architects, an Italian and an Englishman. It’s structure is basically a giant transparent box, with all the usual mechanical systems [water, electricity, elevators, ventilation] placed on the outside. The idea was to leave the interior completely empty and uncluttered, which is probably ideal for showcasing modern art. These systems were encased in giant tubes, each of which used to be painted a different colour to show which system it held, but after protests from the people who lived in the buildings around it, the pipes were [and still are] slowly painted white. Like mostly any kind of new building in Paris, it caused a bit of an uproar, being so colourful and different and, well, not old.

Pompidou Center

Pompidou Center

A bookshop in the Pompidou Center... *u*

A bookshop in the Pompidou Center… *u*

View from up top of the Center

View from up top of the Center

Views, Paris, etc.

Views, Paris, etc.

The square.

The square.

Inside.

Inside.

We were there to see an exhibition of the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French photographer who was apparently considered to be the father of photojournalism. Early on he was involved with the Surrealists in a big way, and then he went on to do more political stuff, during WWII and some stuff in Mexico [political upheavals] and Africa[humanist photographs and so on]. There were only a few photographs/films of the photographer himself, and I liked how he looked when we took photos- it was very spontaneous, very quick and instinctive- he’d dart in and out, snap a picture within a breath of a second, then go back to standing, his eyes darting around. He passed away in 2004, which was actually ten years ago, believe it or not. I’d never heard of him before we went- it’s always nice to just have these occasions of diving into the life and work of an artist.

After that we went and had a picnic lunch by a rather familiar looking fountain- ones with sculptures from my old friend Tinguely! The sculptor/artist whose museum Gabriella and I went to see in Basel. It was a very atmospheric area to eat lunch in- there was a man busking by doing very very good yoga poses [like, made of rubber much???] and a wannabe John Lennon teenage boy with longish hair and a guitar who sat and played Hey Jude before the yoga guy yelled at him in English to play something else. And there was someone doing chalk drawings and so on.

POPMidou.

POPMidou.

Yoga guy- he held this pose for like ten minutes??

Yoga guy- he held this pose for like ten minutes??

Tinguely.

Tinguely.

After that we split up- Ruth and Richard going to find a museum, and me to find an op-shop that I’d seen. I found it eventually, and was instantly drawn into clothing heaven. Tiny and old and cramped with the most beautiful clothes and shoes stuffed everywhere there was space- and cheap, too! [Compared to everywhere else, that is]. After half an hour I stumbled out with [miraculously!] only two items of clothing. A beautiful floral skirt, and a beautiful, genuine 80’s floral dress. I know my mum probably still has her clothes from the 80’s somewhere, so it’s not that long ago, but still…

After that we walked to the Garden of Luxembourg, right in the center of the luxury district of Paris. It’s quite a family parks, with playgrounds and concerts and a pond for sailing boats and things. We sat in an outdoor cafe that once featured in a painting by Renoir, and had crepes and coffee with ridiculous amounts of chantilly [whipped cream [which I’m never eating again]]. Then we strolled past kids with boats and watched an outdoor concert by a children [possibly teenagers] group from England! They’d been touring around, and this was their last show. It was very sweet, they were all wearing very colourful t-shirts and there was quite a crowd watching.

Cafe...look familiar?

Cafe…look familiar?

Ok it's not instantly recognizable, but still...

Ok it’s not instantly recognizable, but still…

Seriously, calm down with the whipped cream already.

Seriously, calm down with the whipped cream already.

Concert!

Concert!

Sailing boats...

Sailing boats…

Statue, probably old.

Statue, probably old.

 

Viva la France!

Viva la France!

After that we just walked through the gardens, watched a game of boules [I loved the little racks with hangers for the people to put their jackets on while they played], and then eventually made our way [possibly via the Metro] to the Arc d’Triomphe! We got off a stop before, so we [okay, mostly just me] could take pictures of it from the Champ d’Elysees. On our way to the Arc we walked past a jewelers, a high street brand clothing shop, and a McDonalds. I felt cheated. [There was a luxury fur shop, though.]

We wanted to climb up the Arc when it was around sunset, so we waited for a bit. We actually saw a tourist try to cross the roundabout [it’s forbidden and dangerous and really forbidden and really really dangerous!] but luckily nobody was hurt.

It was unfortunately too cloudy for a proper sunset, but we headed on up. When we reached the top [there was a lot of information on the lower levels about restoration and history and there was a gift shop, so you know, it took a while] it was dark, and then the Eiffel Tower started sparkling. It only went for five minutes, which was quite long enough. There was a crust of people all around the edge because the other half was covered in scaffolding for some restoration work, but we managed to get a good possy to look around at the shimmering streams of light that stretched out in front of us [the avenues, built by Haussmann on Napoleon’s orders, in the effort to modernize/re-structure Paris in the early 1800’s.] Despite the dark, we actually saw quite a way.

I had to wait in the middle of the street in-between traffic lights to get this picture. And it was cold and I got honked at for not realizing the light had changed. Oh, the sacrifices for the art etc etc etc

I had to wait in the middle of the street in-between traffic lights to get this picture. And it was cold and I got honked at for not realizing the light had changed. Oh, the sacrifices for the art etc etc etc

It was really cold, but also beautiful [the view, not me].

It was really cold, but also beautiful [the view, not me].

Views ayyyyy.

Views ayyyyy.

Tributes.

Tributes.

Arc d'thing.

Arc d’thing.

Ruth, she of the much better camera than I.

Ruth, she of the much better camera than I.

lights, blurry. 2014. [modern art]

lights, blurry. 2014. [modern art]

It was sparkling!!!!!!

It was sparkling!!!!!!

Now it's lit up.

Now it’s lit up. Napoleon Born-ta-party, amiright? No, okay, worth a try.

It was quite late by the time we climbed down and found our way to a restaurant in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris. This was actually the best restaurant of our entire time in Paris, I think. I had a vegetarian curry and there was a woman witting next to us drawing the most amazing things in a little notebook. And then when a regular [elderly lady with a fur coat and small dog] came in, the waiter automatically bought her a cup of tea.

And then it was home and Twitter and then into bed. [Which is a slightly more honest version of – I went home and then fell straight asleep.]

 

 

 

Paris: Day 2- VERSAILLES!

Over the last term of school, in history, we’ve been studying the French Revolution. This was perfect timing, as I’d always said to myself that I would thoroughly research the history of Versailles before I visited. As it turned out, I had to sit an exam on it. So all in all, I was very excited to go visit.

We took the train from Paris relatively early in the morning, arriving at around ten o clock. It took around 45 minutes to travel there.

When we arrived we walked from the train station, passing a group of people demonstrating on the way. Ruth told me that they were protesting low wages. I’m always interested to see how political protests etc are dealt with in other countries, but in the distance we could see a faint gold glimmer, and so we hurried past.

Already there were extremely long queues in Versailles- we already had tickets so we joined one that snaked several times up and down inside the courtyard. I have to say, the security guards were very organized about the queues, lots of moving us all to accommodate the slowly growing line, lots of ‘straight line, come closer, move forward please!’. There were also numerous hawkers, waving all the usual touristy gimmicks and souvenirs. But once we were inside the [restored] gilded gates, there were only tourists. The security check in the little hut we passed through was minimal- actually, all throughout our trip I’d noticed that even though there were usually guards who checked the bags, they were never very thorough. Even at the Eiffel Tower, only a quick glance inside.

Anyway, before I start sounding too much like my brother, let’s move onto some shiny things.

 

Long queues.

Long queues.

Versailles started out as a hunting lodge, of which the earliest mention is in 1038. It was only when Louis XIV became King that Versailles became, well, Versailles.

More than anything, I’m fascinated by what Versailles was used for by the kings. This century was one of political upheaval, so much that it ended with Louis XVI’s neck under the guillotine. But in the beginning, it was ‘renovated’ to be a symbol of the wealth and power of the monarchy. It became famous not only for it’s extravagance and luxury, but for the inequality and corruption that backed that wealth and splendor.

Louis XVI had a problem. He was facing resistance on various fronts- there were always various foreign wars going on and the aftermath of the Fronde civil war [mostly between the aristocrats and the parlements [governmental types] wasn’t helping matters. In order to stifle the mutters of the nobles, he made a radical move. He shifted the center of political power from Paris to the outlying court of Versailles, which was being done up a little, as it were. The extravagance of life at Versailles was vast- the parties and the entertainments and the banquets. It was also the most important place politically. But in order to live, or even just to spend time at Versailles, one had to loosen the purse strings a little- in order to be accepted at Versailles, nobles had to be dressed beautifully and extravagantly, they had to be able to keep up with the lifestyle, and whatsmore, they had to be right there in Versailles, under the King’s nose, following him around and pandering to him, if they wanted even the slightest bit of insight or influence into the current political situation. And so, they had no spare cash, and no time, to raise any sort of uprising against him. They were not at home, on their estates or out of the king’s reach on their lands, and so they were drawn tightly together under the king’s thumb. That’s why when the revolution happened, and King Louis the 16th was executed, they were not the ones marching on the palace. In fact, many were executed themselves. I’m struck by how effective Louis 14th was in swaying the balance of power in his direction- and then by the fact that his son was a rather ineffective king, and his grandson was executed. In fact, Versailles played a part in the monarchies downfall- of course, when people are starving in Paris, they aren’t going to love the idea of nobility stuffing their faces at banquets in a golden palace at the same time. That way, Versailles became a symbol of everything was wrong with the current system of power.

There’s been a lot of restoration work done on Versailles over the years, and one of the most effective pieces was the restoring of the gilded pieces on the main palace. In the morning it was cloudy so we didn’t see the full effect, but the sun broke out from behind the smog and clouds during the day, and when we left the sun was setting, and it really was striking.

We wandered through the stunning rooms of the main palace, clutching our audio guides among throngs of tour groups and other tourists. I only had my rubbishy 4th gen iPod camera, which in the indoor, subdued lighting didn’t take very great pictures, I can’t resist putting up a few of my absolute favorite parts.

Versailles

Versailles

Opulent would be an accurate word.

Opulent would be an accurate word.

This is a good picture of the rough layout of Versailles + gardens.

This is a good picture of an early design of Versailles- not what it is today.

i'm stuck all day watching these god damm tourists taking god damm selfies in these crusty old palace and i'm just sitting here blowing this trumpet i mean come on seriously??

i’m stuck all day watching these god damm tourists taking god damm selfies in these crusty old palace and i’m just sitting here blowing this trumpet i mean come on seriously??

IMG_4603

This is a big painting and it's quite important but I don't remember. I'm an awful tourist.

This is a big painting and it’s quite important but I don’t remember. I’m an awful tourist.

I like this picture of me in front of all the people looking at the big paintings.

I like this picture of me in front of all the people looking at the big paintings.

Wow, these kings definitely didn't have giant egos or anything.

Wow, these kings definitely didn’t have giant egos or anything.

HALL OF MIRRORS

HALL OF MIRRORS

What do you think, guys, should I get one of these installed in our house?

What do you think, guys, should I get one of these installed in our house?

this is a bedroom. a b e d  r o  o m.

this is a bedroom. a b e d r o o m.

I share a similar taste in all floral furnishings to Marie Antoinette. Is this worrying?

I share a similar taste in floral furnishings to Marie Antoinette. Is this worrying?

Part of a famous picture of Napolean's coronation. I loved these four ladies and their tiaras. There is also an identical painting at the Louvre.

Part of a famous picture of Napolean’s coronation. I loved these four ladies and their tiaras. There is also an identical painting at the Louvre.

We walked through the State Apartments, the Hall of Mirrors, the dining room, the rooms where the king met with his ministers and discussed politics. We heard how the courtiers were present at almost every part of the king’s day, from when he woke up to when he ate breakfast [the special stools around the dining table for the people he was favoring that day- not that they got to eat, just to watch!], when people watched him get dressed. I liked [possibly not the right word] how he’d turned something so mundane into something coveted. Ooooh, I’m allowed to watch the king eat his morning fry up, I’m definitely getting more politically influential!

Dining table, with stools for courtiers in the background.

Dining table, with stools for courtiers in the background.

And by then it was lunchtime, so we went outside to eat our picnic right at the start of the gardens. By then it was hot and sunny, and we couldn’t wait to get stuck into the gardens. After that we went up the the very top, right in front of the palace, and looked down at the sprawling rows and patterns and little hidden pathways and the two canals, in the shape of a cross.

After that we walked to the Petite Trianon, the relaxed and intimate little house that Louis 16th gave to his 19 year old Queen Marie Antoinette. Well, I say relaxed and intimate…compared to Versailles, maybe! We toured around, and it was really interesting. The slightly more relaxed [but still very luxurious!] furnishings and the reclusive little rooms made it easy to imagine Marie Antoinette hiding away from the restrictive court life.

Picnic time!

Picnic time!

IMG_4703

Ruth.

Ruth.

 

After that we walked to the little ‘English hamlet’ that Marie Antoinette had had constructed. Parts of the main gardens around this area were in the ‘English’ style, popular in France at that time. They were a little more relaxed, almost shambled, with lots of herbs and flowers, compared to the more formal French styles of the time, as seen in the symmetrical and stiff hedges and border gardens. Even the little secret corners were very neat and elegant.

Anyway, Marie Antoinette commissioned a pretend English farming village to be built. She became quite tired and wary of the formal, frightening, court life, and so used to go to this ‘Queen’s Hamlet’ as a sort of retreat. Apparently she used to dress up as a milkmaid and act out the chores of one! The detail put into this little part of the gardens was incredible. There were eleven little houses, in the true Norman style, clustered around a little lake. The houses were aged and made to look like old cottages, and the gardens and the farm attached were functional, providing the kitchens of the palace with food. We saw a rather large muskrat sunning itself on the shores of the lake, and later I was in raptures at the bunnies who were in residence at the farm. [Also: goats, cows, sheep, ducks and geese and a dog and some other kinds of birds].

trees!

trees!

Petite Trianon.

Petite Trianon.

Music room in the Petite Trianon.

Music room in the Petite Trianon.

"English" Gardens.

“English” Gardens.

Beautiful in springtime!

Beautiful in springtime!

English hamlet!

English hamlet!

Yep.

Yep.

IMG_4728 IMG_4730

I think this was a muskrat??

I think this was a muskrat??

Bunny!

Bunny!

Farm animals!

Farm animals!

There was a very showy offy peacock...

There was a very showy offy peacock…

And then we split up briefly [Ruth hurried to get her bag from the Petite Trianon before it closed, I went to look at a little grotto] and didn’t quite meet up as planned. I waited at the front of the Petite Trianon, she waited at the back. But thanks to some helpful guards we were united again, and because it had been a little nerve wracking for the both of us [“I was having wild imaginings about kidnappers” “What on earth would I have told your mum?] we decided quite rightfully to go get some ice cream. After that we wandered right around the whole edge of the canal, up and down the lengths and widths of the cross it formed. It took us about an hour and twenty minutes in all, and the sun was setting over Versailles when we arrived back at the palace and left.

I think that Versailles is a fantastic way to get to grips with a very interesting part of French history- it was certainly good having known a little bit before I went!

Views from the very end of the cross shaped canal, looking straight back at Versailles!

Views from the very end of the cross shaped canal, looking straight back at Versailles!

Favorite.

Favorite.

sunset!

sunset!

Gold...

Gold…

King on horse, with his gold palace in the the background.

King on horse, with his gold palace in the the background.

And then it was back to Paris…

Ruth’s son Richard was due to join us that night- he lives in France, and popped up for two nights to see Ruth. He was arriving at around ten or so, so we went to a pizza place close to our hotel while we waited for him. And then, because that particular pizza place wasn’t very nice, when he arrived him and Ruth went off to find another place so he could have dinner.

I'm sure Ollie has like five of these knives at home...is this a normal size for a pizza place??

I’m sure Ollie has like five of these knives at home…is this a normal size for a pizza place??

My yawns were by this point cracking my jaw half off, so I politely excused myself, walked back to the hotel, and collapsed into bed. I like to think I’m a sophisticated half adult who can stay up all night drinking wine in Paris restaurants, but in reality I am a sophisticated half adult who can stay up until half past ten drinking wine in Paris restaurants. Hey, I’ll get there one day!

 

 

Paris: Day 1

My final term in Switzerland has just begun- only 10 weeks to go! I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown! The spring holidays were really fantastic. I got to do a lot of traveling! I’m going to start with a couple of blogs about my time in Paris. This was over the end of the first week/beginning of the second week of out two week holiday. At the start of the first week I was on another really cool trip, one which I’ll talk about later [not very chronologically accurate of me, but then again, PARIS!!!].

Thursday, 10th of April

So I took the train from Zurich to Paris at nine thirty on Thursday morning, and arrived at one thirty. There I met up with Ruth, a friend from England and my [luckily French speaking!] travel companion. We went straight to the hotel, dumped the luggage, and went straight to Notre Dame. On the way we walked across one of the city’s many padlock bridges. Fun fact- every now and again the authorities have to give the bridges a ‘haircut’, as it were, because obviously the weight of so many little bits of metal isn’t really helping the bridges stay up. So there’s quite a big chance that if you put a padlock on a bridge in Paris it’ll end up in a governmental garbage dump. Eternal love!

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

I saw quite a few combination locks on that bridge- just in case things don't work out!

I saw quite a few combination locks on that bridge- just in case things don’t work out!

 

Anyway, Notre Dame. It was a beautiful sunny day, and there was quite a long queue, so we decided to go to the Sainte Chapelle first. This gothic chapel, right in the heart of Paris and right next to the Notre Dame, was commissioned by King Louis IX to house his collection of ‘Passions Relics’, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown_of_Thorns

The Sainte Chapelle has famous and beautiful stained glass windows, telling stories from the Old and New Testaments. When we were there around a quarter of the windows were behind scaffolding and canvas, being restored, but the ones we could see were amazing- I was very grateful for such a sunny day! There was also a video explaining the restoration work, which was quite interesting. We agreed that neither of us would have the nerve to handle such old/precious sheets of glass!

 

The roof of the lower Chapel.

The roof of the lower Chapel.

The lower chapel- we saw a lot of blue, red, gold and fleur-de-lys.

The lower chapel- we saw a lot of blue, red, gold and fleur-de-lys.

The incredible stained glass windows.

The incredible stained glass windows.

Telling stories from the Bible. There were also many themes of kingship and royalty woven throughout- just to please old Louis IX!

Telling stories from the Bible. There were also many themes of kingship and royalty woven throughout- just to please old Louis IX!

After that we went back outside and to the Notre Dame, where we decided to queue up. After only about ten minutes [not so bad!] we managed to get inside. There’s not much that I could say about it that you couldn’t find out from Google, but I was interested to learn that Victor Hugo’s book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, basically saved the cathedral. It was crumbling and old and nearly in ruins, and people were debating whether or not to get rid of it and build something else in it’s place. And then fans of Victor Hugo’s book started to visit the cathedral in such numbers that eventually the authorities decided to do it up a bit [this was in 1845].

While we were leaving, somebody started to play the organ, and a service started. I have to say, there was a lot of incense used, but it was lovely.

These robes were part of an exhibition in a chamber off the side of the main cathedral. Displaying relics, jewels, clothes both ancient and modern.

These robes were part of an exhibition in a chamber off the side of the main cathedral. Displaying relics, jewels, clothes both ancient and modern.

Rose window.

Rose window.

IMG_4561

JOAN OF ARC yessss!

JOAN OF ARC yessss!

And then, just as the sun was starting to edge towards the horizon, we walked to the Musee d’Orsay, specifically to see an Impressionist exhibition that was currently on.

One of my favorite books as a kid was the ‘Katie’ series, [ http://www.amazon.com/Katie-Meets-Impressionists-James-Mayhew/dp/0439935083 ] and specifically this book where she visits an art gallery, and ends up jumping into all these Impressionist paintings and just hanging out with the people in them. Seeing a lot of these paintings in the flesh, as it were, was amazing. I didn’t realize how strongly a lot of them were imprinted on my memory, whether from that book or from where I’d seen them of posters and postcards and calendars. It was amazing to just wander through as the sun sunk lower outside. The strangely shaped bean bag couches at the end were a relief though! We collapsed onto them just as a lady announced over the loudspeaker that the museum was closing very soon, and everybody was slowly ushered out.

One exhibition hall.

One exhibition hall.

Musee d'Orsay used to be a train station, and this clock is a rather lovely reminder of that.

Musee d’Orsay used to be a train station, and this clock is a rather lovely reminder of that.

At some point we walked through a lovely flower market- on every day except for Sunday, upon which foresaid day there is an animal market :/

At some point we walked through a lovely flower market- on every day except for Sunday, upon which foresaid day there is an animal market :/

If you want to know what my brain looks like, it looks mostly like this flower market.

If you want to know what my brain looks like, it looks mostly like this flower market.

That night we ended up eating at an Italian restaurant, inappropriately enough, but it was good enough! And then we got the first and only early night of our holiday, because the next day- we went to Versailles!