Friday, September 23, 2011

Adventures in Paris, Day 5: Just Keeps Getting Better

Husband and I began the fifth day of our vacation in Paris like every other day: with winding staircases and really old buildings.

This was in our hotel, looking down from the top floor.

On our way to Sainte-Chapelle, the last surviving building of the Capetian palace, we passed the one-of-a-kind Notre Dame and realized we hadn’t gotten a picture of US with the church.  We stopped a young tourist and asked her to snap a picture of us.  We were hoping for something like THIS,

But with, you know, US in front of it.  Instead she took THIS:

Ah, well.  We know where we were. :-)

Here is Sainte-Chapelle, a beautiful chapel built by Louis IX to house his collection of relics (remains of saints and pieces of such Christian artifacts as the crown of thorns and the Cross). 

We entered on the lower level:

And then climbed (what else) a winding staircase to reach the main room of the chapel. 

I realize that at this point I should probably consider changing the title of this blog to “Joy Eilene, Photographing-Gorgeous-Churches Machine,” but seriously?  Europe has a lot of churches.  And I love churches.  And I have a digital camera.  So I hope you enjoy them (or at least, you don’t mind), and I promise when I get home, I’ll go back to being a WRITING machine on this site!

(In the meantime, though, you better just settle in, because we saw Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s in London.  MERCY.)

Also, you know what European churches come with?  Gargoyles!!!

After a quick street-food lunch on the bank of the Seine – complete with gratuitous photo-ops:

I really don't know why I'm looking so sultry in this picture.  The crepe wasn't THAT good.

We were ready to move on to the Musée d’Orsay, an art museum installed in a former train station that houses many famous Impressionist works.

We took that photo from the main entrance before realizing that we were not permitted to take photos inside.  Shh!  But we saw several works of Seurat (including study pieces for his famous Sunday Afternoon in the Park), Gauguin, and one of my favorites, Vincent van Gogh.  It’s amazing that these famous, priceless works of art are just on the walls, not behind any glass.  You can see the brush strokes, and air-trace the signatures in the corners.  You could even touch them, if you were cool with probably being body-slammed by a security guard before you could say sacré-bleu.

We didn’t stay too long in the Musée, though, because we had to hop the train to get moving to the pièce de resistance of our stay in Paris…


This chateau is honestly one of the most incredible places I have ever been.  You can’t imagine the size and scale of it until you’re there, not to mention the unbelievable opulence.  EVERYTHING is gilded, trimmed, polished, carved, or painted within an inch of its life.  Here is the palace’s chapel, for starters:

Note the domed ceiling with scenes painted on it, and that crazy-cool organ.  Here is Husband playing Where’s Waldo in the Salon de la Guerre (War Room).

And here’s me in the Salon de la Paix (Peace Room), across the hall from the other salon.

In between those two rooms, though – the “across the hall” – is the most famous spot in Versailles: the Hall of Mirrors.

It’s stunning: an expanse of arcaded mirrors on one side, and matching windows on the other, with arched ceiling in between.  The ceiling is covered with allegorical paintings of Louis XIV, the “Sun King” who built Versailles, in various victories and triumphs.  Beneath the ceiling are chandeliers and fine furniture aplenty, including statues like this:

I learned in a French class project that the furniture in the Hall of Mirrors was originally constructed of solid (yes, SOLID) silver.  When the crown needed to finance a war, though, the silver furniture was melted down and replaced with gilded re-creations.  Personally, I think the gold suits the room much better – I’ll definitely keep it in mind when I’m building my own Hall of Mirrors down the line.

At the center of the ceiling, the very heart of the palace, the inscription “Le Roi gouverne par lui-même” is painted.  That means “The King rules alone.”  Louis XIV saw himself as a god among men, second only to the Almighty, and it is surely reflected in every inch of his royal residence.

Here are the King’s and Queen’s bedrooms:

How could they even sleep in those rooms?  I would feel suffocated by all the patterns on the walls and curtains on the bed and feathers and carpets and –

Okay, I’m sure I could manage, given the chance.  But the very idea of sleeping in a room like this is ridiculously intimidating, never more so than when you’re standing in the middle of it.

Apparently, Marie Antoinette agreed with me, because she designed her own retreat on a corner of the castle grounds, Le Petit Trianon, in order to escape the pressures of palace life.  Petit is a bit of a misnomer, but it’s definitely smaller than Versailles, at least.  The Trianon was a hunting lodge of sorts that Marie Antoinette converted into a charming mini-castle and grounds, set up to look like a Romantic hamlet in the French countryside.  Husband and I walked the long (LONG) road from the main castle to see it.

We just kept walking toward the light!  When we got there, we first saw this giant tree trunk, left in place permanently because of its status as Marie Antoinette’s oak.

MY turn to play Where's Waldo! 

The Queen also had a music room in the Petit Trianon, which I greatly admired:

Several follies, or mini-pseudo-ancient-temples, were built around the Trianon.  This one’s known as the Temple of Love:

By this time, we were too tired and hungry to continue our trek all the way through the Queen’s Hamlet, but the little village looked curiously like Epcot from afar:

Can’t you just picture Belle strolling through there, wishing everyone a “Bonjour” on her way to the bookshop?  She got a much happier ending than Marie Antoinette, though…

Just to wrap up: after we hiked and hiked our way past the fields of sheep and castle grounds to the town of Versailles, Husband and I enjoyed perhaps our best dinner yet in a café near the Chateau.  Our server eagerly spoke English to us, with a bit of southern twang even.  Turned out that she had spent three years living in Tennessee, of all places!  It’s a small world after all – right, Belle?

We stopped for one more photo at the gate on our way back to the train, after the chateau had closed for the day and was rather deserted.  It made for a much better photo than the earlier one - with hundreds and hundreds of tourists.

And that’s Day Five!  Coming up next, on exciting day six… LONDON!

But for now…

Paris, je t’aime! 

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