Strasbourg

And finally reaching the end of our holiday in France, we only had one more full day, and we decided to make the most of it.

The day dawned bright and hot and sunny, and we made our way to the boat dock to reserve a trip for the afternoon [recommended action by the tourist office- it gets very crowded!] And then we decided to split up to use the Museum Entry part of our Strasbourg Pass- I went to the Archaeological Museum, and Ruth went to a Decorative Arts museum. She later changed her mind and came to wander around the Archaeological Museum too- she said that I’d made the right choice! It certainly was very interesting. It was very thoroughly set out, with everything from pottery to bones to jewelry, daring from Pre-Historic times to the Romans. I was most interested in the section on the Pagan religions and worshiping practices in the area.

Remains

Remains

Sadly,no Eowyn.

Sadly,no Eowyn.

Graves in the floor.

Graves in the floor.

ooooh

ooooh

At quarter to twelve we went to queue up at the cathedral to see the astronomical clock. This is the third astronomical clock installed in the cathedral, and this one dates from 1843. Us and over fifty other people stood in darkness and watched a short video detailing some of the things that we could expect to see when the five minute show started. The clock was very, very big and incredibly detailed with everything from angels and the 12 disciples to an 18 inch statue of Christ and a life size rooster model that crows three times at half past midday. I think that last one was my favorite part, to be perfectly honest. It was very realistic! But the whole thing was very well done and it’s amazing to think that it still works.

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After that we went to buy a picnic lunch and then to hire bikes! That was another included offer as part of our ever-giving Strasbourg Passes. We decided to bike to the Orangerie Park. We stopped first to eat our lunch in the glaring but nonetheless welcome sun, before biking to the miniature zoo/farm. There were a lot of birds, peacocks and stocks and parrots and flamingos, as well as monkeys, goats and snakes. I was so delighted by the flamingos [they matched my boots!!] that I took about fifty photos of them. Still not sure how I feel about the captivity and living situations of all these animals and birds. As far as captivities go, they seemed like very livable conditions, but I feel like I don’t know enough to judge. I’d rather leave that to someone with more knowledge/experience with animals.

colours!

colours!

Chalet Josephine

Chalet Josephine

FLOWERS

FLOWERS

love hearts.

love hearts.

storks!

storks!

The park was absolutely beautiful, and the trees and flowers were all in bloom, and spring was in the air. Next we cycled to the European Parliment buildings, past the lines of flags, and then back along another leafy track into the city center.

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European Parliment.

European Parliment.

Next item on the agenda was ice cream- of course! I didn’t even have to think about what flavour I would get…peach and raspberry, thank you!

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Ruth opted for a similar colour scheme.

Ruth opted for a similar colour scheme.

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let's stop and admire these flowers.

let’s stop and admire these flowers.

And then it was time for our hour long boat ride, mostly around the area of Petite France and the old town. It was lovely sitting back in a boat, listening to an English [I would have been prepared for German, just saying] audio guide recounting snippets of history as we drifted past old buildings. Actually, the audio guides were very good- they had a wide range of languages including Esperanto! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto

Ruth was very impressed.

The boat was a canal boat, and at one point [two actually- when we came back!] we went through a lock. For those of you who know even less about boats that I do, it’s when the boat goes into a closed area on the river, more water is pushed in, thus raising the level of the water and the boat, and then the boat sails- drives? swims?- forward onto the next, higher level of water. If anyone can explain this better than I can, please do! It was quite exciting as we felt ourselves slowly getting higher, and some of the kids aboard got high fives from passer-byers on the bridge next to us as we got up to their level.

In the lock.

In the lock.

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Views...

Views…

From the boat...

From the boat…

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After the boat ride wandered around the shops a little, mostly window shopping as they were closing. Then it was time for dinner in a Turkish restaurant [apparently we were the latest in a long line of customers to say ‘merhaba’ that night] and a rather [on my behalf] tired walk back to the B&B.

On Friday we had only the morning to wander around, so we did just that. We saw a market with some goats [Important Fact!! goats are very cute!!] and a fish market and it was Good Friday, of course, so people were out buying fish despite the weather being grey and cold and wet. Rather glad it came that day and not the previous one!

Seen in Strasbourg one rainy Friday morning...

Seen in Strasbourg one rainy Friday morning…

Goats!

Goats!

And then it was time to say goodbye to both Ruth and France, and I got on my train back to Switzerland and that was the end of quite possibly the best holiday I’ve ever had. Thank you Ruth for being such a wonderful traveling companion, and putting up with all my selfies! I would love to go back to France- it seems the more that I travel the longer my list of places to travel get! Oh well…

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Last Day in Paris + Strasbourg!

Remember when I thought I was going to write all my France blog posts in the week after I got back? Yeah….

Skipping past the backlog of blog posts that I need to write, let’s go straight to our last day in Paris.

Our train didn’t leave until just after lunch, so we decided to spend the morning at Bibliotheque Nationale. Intended to be the repository of everything published in France, the library’s current building was consecrated in 1996, but it’s origins date back to the Royal Library of Charles X in 1368, in the Louvre Palace.

In the main entrance there were two giant globes, based on designs of  Vincenzo Coronelli from 1681-1683. One was a terrestrial globe, and showed the countries of the earth, albeit in a rather decorative fashion.  No named New Zealand on the map, as it had been discovered at the time but not yet named so. If I remember correctly, Australia was marked ‘inconnu’. The second globe was a celestial one, with illustrations of the heavens and the stars. A lot of mythological stuff, you know.

Globes...

Globes…

We didn’t have a huge amount of time to wander around- I went to watch a video about the installation of the globes, and Ruth wandered around an exhibition about WWI. We both looked at an installation about “Peace”, with the same word written in all the different languages of the world.

"Peace"

“Peace”

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In the courtyard of the library, there was a miniature forest of ancient pine trees, imported from the countryside and planted here, amid their own ecosystem of bugs and insects and other forest plants and greenery. Some of the trees were hundreds of years old!

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Ancient trees in the courtyard of a modern library...

Ancient trees in the courtyard of a modern library…

After the library we went to catch our train, and after waving goodbye to Paris and a several hour train ride, we were in Strasbourg. Ruth had suggested visiting the town, which I didn’t know very much about beforehand. Fun fact- it’s the official seat of the European Parliment! In Eastern France, and very close [fifteen minutes with bike, apparently] to the German border.

We only had one and a half days to explore Strasbourg, so we made our way straight to our bed and breakfast to drop our bags and get started. After a quick trip to the information center, where we each purchased the “Strasbourg Pass”, which just includes tickets to all the major attractions in the town. I have to say, I absolutely love being under 18 and traveling in Europe- so so so many cool things are free to do, and my Strasbourg Pass was automatically worth it just by taking one boat trip.

But that and more we planned to do the next day- that day we just climbed up the cathedral! And I have to say, the view was so spectacular, and it was so very windy, that I can’t tell you very much about the cathedral itself, only that it was old and beautiful, with lots and lots of stairs to get to the top, and very much worth visiting.

 

The cathedral...amazingly Gothic.

The cathedral…amazingly Gothic.

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View from the top

View from the top

Looking down during a break in the seemingly millions of stairs.

Looking down during a break in the seemingly millions of stairs.

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After that we wandered through the area of Strasbourg known as Petite France- the oldest and most famous/touristy part of the town. It was getting dark around then, but we still managed to see a lot of the very picturesque cottages, looking like they’d jumped straight off a biscuit tin.

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Petite France...all the restaurants in that area were very expensive!

Petite France…all the restaurants in that area were very expensive!

And that was Day 1 in Strasbourg!

 

 

Paris: Day 6- All About Skeletons.

Before the late 18th century, there were a plethora of cemeteries in the middle of Paris. The burial ground of Les Innocents was one of the most popular, due to it’s central location and the close proximity of the Saints Innocents church.  However, by the end of the 19th century, Les Innocents had become a two metre high mound of earth full of centuries of Parisian dead- famine, disease, war and the remains from nearby hospitals and morgues. Apparently it was impossible to keep milk in any of the nearby houses- it would go sour within hours. Levels of sickness rose in the neighborhood. Other parishes in Paris had their own cemeteries, of course, but the condition of Les Innocents was really very awful.

A large amount of Paris is built from limestone, and a lot of that limestone was mined in uninhabited areas of Paris. Once they had been rather haphazardly [and often illicitly] depleted, these mines were left abandoned and uncharted. Thus, as the city built new suburbs, both new residents and the authorities were unaware of the fact that there were mines right under them. Around the early 17th century architects began to discover these mines, but it wasn’t until a series of mine cave-ins, beginning in 1774, that Louis XIV ordered a commission to investigate the Paris underground. And so the Inspection of Mines service began.

In the 30th May 1780, the basement of a building adjoining Les Innocents collapsed from the weight of the mass grave on the other side of it. This hastened the decision to get rid of Les Innocents. Now only the problem remained- what to do with all the dead?

The cemetery closure and the mine collapses were both problems under the jurisdiction of the Police Prefect, Police Lieutenant-General Alexandre Lenoir, and since he had played a part of the creation of the mine inspection service, he supported the idea of moving all the bones and human remains to the subterranean passageways and tunnels, newly renovated and made safer with stone walls and pillars. in 1885 the idea took action, and after an opening ceremony on the 7th April, black clothed wagons would transport millions of Paris dead every night. It two years to empty most of the cemeteries in Paris- all parish cemeteries within the city limits were now condemned. 

The mines, now the ‘Tombe-Issoire’, were at first just a jumbled depository for bones, but in 1810 Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, head of the Paris mine inspection at the time, began renovations that would turn the caverns into a visitable mausoleum. As well as stacking bones into the shapes and formations still seen today, he added pieces of decoration e.g. pillars and carvings, and inscriptions on the archways and entrances to different ‘rooms’ of the Catacombs. He also created a room dedicated to the different kinds of minerals found under Paris, and one to the deformed skeletons found among the estimated six million dead transported there. 

The Catacombs were definitely a must see for me, and I’m glad that Ruth wanted to go as well. We got up relatively early to travel there, but apparently not early enough- the queue to get in wrapped around the entire block! This was due to the fact that they didn’t let many people in at a time- I think it was maybe only two hundred allowed in the entire 2km long area at a time.

So we decided to wait. We waited for maybe three hours, taking turns to go for coffee, and pop off for a picnic lunch. It was a really lovely sunny day, so we didn’t mind waiting too much. It was after noon by the time we got in, but it was definitely, definitely worth it.

At the beginning of the Catacombs, they had a couple of extra spaces set up vis-a-vis the early 1800’s. However, instead of deformed skeletons, these rooms were showcasing the very early prehistoric history of the area. It was actually very interesting, learning how the land had changed, how the sea had moved in and effected the mineral deposits found, and the fossils found whilst renovating the underground passages.

One of the fossils on display.

One of the fossils on display.

But anyway, onto the macabre business of the day. The caverns were quite cool, a constant 14°, but it got colder the further we went in. The air was quite clear, with a faint, dusty smell- it actually reminded me of the underground city we visited in Turkey. 

At first there was just a series of empty little passages, interspersed with informative signs on the history of the mining and original collapses. We walked along, listening to our audio guides. When we got to the skeletal part of the caverns, there was a carving over the archway- ‘Watch out! You are entering Death’s realm’.

Photo courtesy of Ruth.

Photo courtesy of Ruth.

After that we wandered through rows and columns of bones, arranged quite decoratively, the skulls leering at you from their pedestal of larger bones- I didn’t see any phalanges or carpals hanging around! I guess it’s all the little bones that get lost when skeletons move house.

It’s very hard to describe the feeling of being in that space, and photos don’t do it any justice. Although I did take a few very blurry ones- no flash allowed. It’s one of the most truly gothic places that I’ve ever been, and I have to admit, there were a few shivers running down my spine at some points. Despite all the other visitors, we very rarely bumped into anyone, and only occasionally did we hear echoes of other voices from another passageway. As we walked through the Catacombs, we saw hundreds of other paths branching off from our own, closed off with gates. These were deemed too unstable, or simply too uncharted for visitors. It made me realize just how big these catacombs were, to see all these bone-lined tunnels stretching out into darkness.

Ruth's photo...in one of the slightly higher-roofed passages!

Ruth’s photo…in one of the slightly higher-roofed passages!

A miner carved this...he was an ex-convict who spent years down here, and ended up dying here as well, saving a colleague from a rockfall.

A miner carved this…he was an ex-convict who spent years down here, and ended up dying here as well, saving a colleague from a rockfall.

More of his carving.

More of his carving.

 

 

*2spooky*

*2spooky*

There were some very strict signs...no touching!

There were some very strict signs…no touching!

Many signs with religious quotes, or quotes about death.

Many signs with religious quotes, or quotes about death.

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Apparently Robespierre's bones are down here somewhere...

Apparently Robespierre’s bones are down here somewhere…

Literal wall of bones.

Literal wall of bones.

A circular pillar of bones.

A circular pillar of bones.

We reached the end, and climbed out into the early afternoon sunshine. After a brief visit to the souvenir shop [of course!] we asked ourselves ‘have we had our fill of death for the day? no?’ and navigated our way to Pere Lachaise.

We got there only half an hour before it closed. It was a lovely half an hour though, just wandering among the sunsoaked graves, reading the names and wondering about the people whose names we didn’t know. It sounds strange, but it was very idyllic. There were spring flowers sprawling over the grass, and in the late afternoon sun shadows slowly grew longer. I wish we’d had longer, but I’m determined to go back one day.

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He was the leader of a cult....

He was the leader of a cult….

It wasn’t dinner time yet, so next we went to Sacre Coeur. Now, I’m afraid I don’t know a lot of the history or stories behind this place- we were the last people allowed to climb up the dome, having arrived just as it was closing, and after that I was more interested in watching the sun sink down towards the Paris skyline. The view from the top of Sacre Coeur is really, really good. Like, in the Top Views From Places Olympics, it would probably get a silver medal.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

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I was also interested by the mass graffiti covering the walls, benches and roof of the dome. It was the only kind of architectural monument we’d visited that had had so much defacement just let left there.

Covered in writing.

Covered in writing.

good luck, i guess.

good luck, i guess.

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actually related pretty strongly to this particular piece of art.

actually related pretty strongly to this particular piece of art.

VIEWS

VIEWS

From low down.

From low down.

And then hunger got the best of us, and we climbed down and wandered through the streets spread out from Sacre Coeur, like a great big skirt of stalls and restaurants and those artists clamouring to sketch your portrait. We ended up eating outdoors, which was surprisingly chilly after such a nice day- that’s just spring, I guess!

 

Napoleon, on bike, date + artist unknown.

Napoleon, on bike, date + artist unknown.

 

 

Paris: Day 5- The Eiffel Tower

Day five we arrived at The Eiffel Tower early [ish] in the morning to find it bathed in sunlight. After some debate about which corner of the tower to queue up at, we managed to get into a very orderly line, just in front of a group of about thirty students from Argentina. I’m not sure how many of their pictures I was lurking in the background of, but sorry, I guess.

The first of many pictures of the Eiffel Tower that you're going to see here.

The first of many pictures of the Eiffel Tower that you’re going to see here.

Oh look, hey, here's another one.

Oh look, hey, here’s another one.

and another...

and another…

We queued for about an hour, an hour and a half, taking turns to go off and wander around. Once we had out tickets, it wasn’t long until we got into the first lift, to take us up to the second level. When we stepped out, a cold wind hit me in the face like a slap, and although we walked around and took lots of lovely pictures and admired the view, I think the thing that I’ll remember the most of is shivering and cursing my astounding ability of not being able to pack a scarf.

Views la la la

Views la la la

A cold selfie.

A cold selfie.

Viewsssss

Viewsssss

Looking up...gulp!

Looking up…gulp!

And then we queued for another hour and half to get the life up to the third floor. I have and always will be a shameless people watcher- in my defense, it’s fascinating, and a good way to pass the time. When we finally got into the lift, and it started to go, we realized that it was more than a little nerve wracking. Being right by the window didn’t help, as we rose up, seemingly directly into mid air, to the slimmest reachable point of the Tower. There was a bit of nervous mumbling at how fast we were going, and I was relieved to finally reach the top.

The view really was amazing, and it was a lot of fun to get a really good viewpoint of the lay of Paris. I was disappointed at the lack of opportunities to encourage consumerism from tourists- only one little bar selling champagne! Tsk tsk. [We didn’t buy any.] There were also a few padlocks with names written on them attached to the railings. I wonder how often these are taken off?

I think this large scale graffiti was anti-Nazi? Either way, the authorities weren't happy about it.

I think this large scale graffiti was anti-Nazi? Either way, the authorities weren’t happy about it.

Romantic

Romantic

...etc etc etc

…etc etc etc

VIEWS

VIEWS

High up!

High up!

Aaaaaaand that's it. For now.

Aaaaaaand that’s it. For now.

If you can see, there's a [fake] person sitting on the back of that little cart- in the olden days there used to be an actual one!

Looking back from the lift.

Views...there are a lot of these.

Views…there are a lot of these.

Views from the street.

Views from the street.

We didn’t have to queue very long to get down, and then we decided to buy a picnic lunch and go to the gardens of the Louvre. I actually fell asleep in the sun, but Ruth, eager to go and see a bit more art, soon suggested that we go inside.

The Lion Gate- best little known entrance to the Louvre!

The Lion Gate- best little known entrance to the Louvre!

The courtyard of the Louvre.

The courtyard of the Louvre.

It was such a lovely day!

It was such a lovely day!

The most efficient course of action seemed to be to split up, and so Ruth looked around a collection of art from Holland, while I went to look at the Ancient Middle Eastern area. It was really incredible to just have this little window into a time so long ago, and even on my way out, past the Egyptian area and scurrying a bit to make our rendezvous point in time,  I was still in awe. I definitely want to go back one day with a bit more knowledge of the history and culture from then.

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This painted apparently loved florals as much as I do...just kidding, NOBODY loves florals as much as I do.

This painted apparently loved florals as much as I do… [not from Ancient Egypt].

I also managed to walk around the old moat of the Louvre- dating from medieval times. Pretty impressive- rather blank and imposing. I didn’t stop to take pictures, but it’s worth a visit!

And that was Day 5! A very lovely sunny [but not warm in some of the higher parts!] day.

Paris: Day 4- Famous Ladies

Day four dawned grey and cloudy, but we bundled up and headed out to Notre Dame, where we were meeting for the start of our bike tour. Mum had recommended these guys for us – http://www.bikeabouttours.com/.

Under the greenish statue of Charlemagne we met, and were divided into groups. After walking a short distance [“the only walking in the whole tour, I promise!” joked our lovely tour guide Kim] we arrived at the garage where the custom green bikes were held.

Me w. Charlemagne...

Me w. Charlemagne…

Charlemagne + Notre Dame

Charlemagne + Notre Dame

Birds being totally chill.

Birds being totally chill.

After a quick reminder about Paris road rules, and promises of flat but cobbled paths, we set off. Now, I can’t promise to remember everything we did on the bike tour, or even the order of things, because it was a very long [over three hours] tour. But here are some things that stuck out.

One of our first stops was by an old house that had been one of the unfortunate victims of the July Revolution [took place over three days].  But unlike most victims of cannonball shots, it was still standing- albeit with an unseemly black spot embedded in it’s face! Kim suggested that the cannon shooter [is that the right word?] could have been aiming for a nearby window- but was drunk on a little something more than revolutionary spirit!

The cannonball is right in the middle above the tall window.

The cannonball is right in the middle above the top tall window- barely noticeable! 

We paused by a part of the old wall that used to surround the city. It was interesting to see something a little older than usual. I believe that it was the wall built by Charles V and his son and successor Charles VI during 1356 to 1383. But I could be wrong- there have been quite a few walls built around Paris in it’s time! The wall was right next to a sports field, and there were a group of kids kicking a ball around. It was really amazing to think that kids could have been playing by and off this wall for hundreds and hundreds of years. We also saw a school named after Charlemagne, and heard a bit about him. There are quite a few schools and educational facilities named after him- he was passionate about education and learning, and is thought to be one of the catalysts for pulling Europe out of the Dark Ages. Not only did he abandon the gold standard currency and put all of Europe on the same silver currency [thus regulating it/simplifying trade] but he actually passed a few laws that made it easier for the lower classes to have some agency. He personally never learnt to write [although he tried right up until he was on his deathbed] and whether or not he could read is a hazy matter.

The old wall.

The old wall.

Kids kicking a ball right next to an ancient wall.

Kids kicking a ball right next to an ancient wall…makes you think! [I don’t know what about…something historical??]

Around the same area we stopped and peered into a market set up into a little courtyard. We browsed among the little stalls [mostly second hand, clothes and bric-a-brac]. There were very few people there at a time, but more came when others left. Our little group then moved on.

We stopped by the house that Jim Morrison had lived in in Paris- the one where his body was found. There used to be a little plague there, saying that it was his house, but of course these days it’s still just an ordinary flat, and the residents got tired of people leaving tributes or trying to break in, and so it was removed.

Notre Dame- prime photo spot!

Notre Dame- prime photo spot!

One of our stops was a little alleyway, down which was a cafe called Cafe Procope. It’s the oldest cafe/restaurant in Paris still in continuous operation. Host of famous guests such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Robespierre, it was used as a meeting place by the latter and his friends to discuss ideas of social change [well, probably- they did a lot of that, and they met in this cafe a lot…]. It was refurbished in the 18th century, and apparently the waiters all wear quasi-revolutionary outfits.

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We then stopped for a quick lunch [not in Procope!] After that, we cycled through the Louvre [the exterior!] getting a nice overview and story of it. It seemed like every monarch wanted to add his own little piece to the ex-home to the royal family, and that kind of explains the size of the place!

The Louvre

The Louvre

The pyramid

The pyramid

Afterwards we cycled back to the garage. Our lovely tour guides gave us a list of the best restaurants/cafes in Paris, all their own personal recommendations, and then after Richard left to catch his train, Ruth and I sat and decided what to do next. We decided that the Louvre was the obvious next stop, and made our way there.

Because the Louvre really is ridiculously large and crowded and just a lot in general, we decided to give ourselves two goals- the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, and then just see where we went from there. Because Ruth already had a ticket [the Paris Museum Pass] and I was free, we could go straight in. The Lion’s Gate is a little known gate, and there were zero queues when we went there in the late afternoon. You do have to already have tickets though! It’s marked by two green lion statues, on the Quai des Tuileries. Fortunately, this gate is very close to the Mona Lisa, and we got there in roughly five minutes.

Ruth elected to stay at the back of room while I politely elbowed my way to the front. Actually no, that’s a little unfair of me- there was a surprisingly small crowd! I didn’t have to push [not that I would have, ahem], and everybody was very polite and let others go to the front when they had taken their pictures. There were two guards just in case, and large signs warning about pickpockets- I was paranoid about this my whole time in Paris, and kept my backpack clutched tight to my front. Let me tell you folks, paranoia works! Not one thing stolen…

Anyway, it was one of those slightly heady moments when you are actually seeing something so famous in real life for the first time and it’s kind of unbelievable and unreal but you just gotta take your selfie and then peel off to the side of the crowd.

There's a similar picture but instead of smiling calmly I look like I'm screaming.

There’s a similar picture but instead of smiling calmly I look like I’m screaming.

V. famous lady.

V. famous lady.

After that we wandered through the rows of paintings until we reached the darling Venus de Milo, who was actually one of my favorite pieces of art in the whole museum. Not that I got to see everything, but then again, I doubt many people do!

Fave.

Fave.

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We visited a few more places after that, but when the museum fatigue hit we decided it was time to move onto our next port of call- Victor Hugo!

I have to admit I didn’t really know a lot about him- the Notre Dame/Les Mis guy, right? But after visiting his rather eccentric yet well laid out house it was easy to garner a few facts.

Although really, the decor just overshadowed everything else. The most garish, patterned clashing carpets and curtains, the appropriative and definitely not accurate “Chinese” art in the living room, his dark red Gothic bedroom, and the writing desk he had made, embedded with the quills and letters from some famous writer friends of his, to sell and raise money for charity- but nobody wanted it!

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His overbearing bedroom.

His overbearing bedroom.

A writing desk he had made, with letters from and the inkwells of his writer pals.

A writing desk he had made, with letters from and the inkwells of his writer pals.

Probably not an authentic Chinese design.

Probably not an authentic Chinese design.

It was a lot more ridiculous in real life, I promise.

It was a lot more ridiculous in real life, I promise.

Victor Hugo's birth certificate.

Victor Hugo’s birth certificate.

We left just as the house was closing, and sat in the little park just outside while we decided where to go for dinner. We perused the list we had been given, and in the end decided to visit Chartier, which Ruth had previously suggested we visit. Probably best described as a real true Paris establishment, this rather humble restaurant had a queue and a red velvet rope to get in, but because we were rather luckily a group of two, we got in after about ten minutes. We were shown to a table with four chairs, and soon after two more people joined us. The waiter took our orders, writing them on the paper tablecloth, and then popping back to bring up bread and check what he had written. The food was very cheap for Paris, but delicious. Chartier had a very cool atmosphere- there were old drawers for the regular’s napkins and cutlery [I don’t think they’re still used!] and shelves for hats and coats. After the meal the waiter did the bill on the trusty old tablecloth, and I could just see Charlie working there some day.

At Chartier they write the orders on the tablecloth.

At Chartier they write the orders on the tablecloth.

There was a queue to get in to Chartier!

There was a queue to get in to Chartier!

...and the bill!

…and the bill!

It has a very atmospheric interior.

It has a very atmospheric interior.

If you ever get the chance to go I definitely recommend it!

And that was Sunday! We got a surprisingly early night, because the next day we planned to visit the most highly anticipated tourist trap of them all- la Tour Eiffel!

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!