Paris Day 3 - Tuesday June 20, 2015
The Seine and Chateau de Vaux Le Vicomte
It’s hot in Paris - well into the 90s today. Not a cloud in the sky but an occasional breeze to cool things off a bit. But that didn’t stop us.
We walked this morning from the hotel along the river and across to the right bank with stops along the way where Caroline told us stories of the bridges and in particular about Henry IV. Henry is a popular king to the French people. He was jovial, liked children and allowed for freedom of religion. When it came time to be king the Church pointed out that he really should convert back to Catholicism if he wanted to be a legitimate king. “Sure, why not?” he replied. Unfortunately one of his subjects doubted his sincerity and assassinated him by sword. Caroline gave a high level description of various execution techniques from the Middle Ages, starting with beheading (reserved for nobility) down to drawing and quartering, which was the fate of the assassin. Tastefully done and captured the kids’ imaginations for sure.
We also saw the Love Bridge, so called because over the past ten years more than 500,000 couples attached locks to the bridge and threw their keys into the Seine. Two problems: the bridge started to collapse from the weight of the locks and the river was becoming polluted by the keys. The Love Bridge is now decorated with modern art with no places to attach locks.
We stopped in the courtyard of the Louvre and of course saw the famous 20th Century pyramid. A great photo op with kids holding up the pyramid and jumping as a group, etc.
Then back to the river for a one-hour boat ride to the Eiffel Tower, back past Notre Dame and beyond before returning. We of course were on the open air top deck and soaked up more than our share of rays.
Another 20 minute walk to lunch and then on the bus for a one hour ride to Chateau de Vaux Le Vicomte. This chateau was built by Nicolas Fouquet, a key figure in the administration of Louis XIV, who assisted his mother acting as regent until Louis XIV came of age. At that point Louis XIV arrested him, having been convinced by Colbert that he was a crook (which he wasn’t but, oh well). This chateau became the prototype for the much bigger and grander Versailles, which Louis had constructed in stages throughout his life.
Another one hour bus ride brought us to a family’s backyard for a “home visit.” Where we were I know not, but suspect we were south of the city. The father, a man in his 50s, spoke excellent English but his wife not so much. We tried out our few phrases of French but that went only so far. A very fine magician (a web site developer for a mortgage company by day) performed for kids and adults throughout the evening and the lady of the house, an artist, had crafts for the kids to work on.
Because we had a long day today we don’t have report for work until 9:30 AM, at which time we head off for Notre Dame and the Louvre.
Love to all,
Jon, Judy and Reagan
Leaping at the Louvre
Chateau de Vaux Le Vicomte
Home Visit Magic
Paris Day 4 - Wednesday July 1, 2015
Hot, Hot Hot
It’s hot here. About 98 today and forecast to be the same for the rest of our time here. But it’s not terribly humid and occasionally there is a slight breeze. But it’s hot.
Most of the day was walking, first down to Ile de la Citi to see Notre Dame. A mass was underway while we were there so we didn’t bother to go inside. We’ll try again another day, Caroline tells us. But we stood outside and learned a bit of the history, including Napoleon’s coronation, which he did himself, just as we’d learned while visiting Versailles.
She had the kids form a gothic cathedral, with four of them making up the main body of the cathedral and four others the flying buttresses. Passerby’s stopped to watch. I learned a lot about gothic architecture.
A real treat was Caroline’s explanation of the carved stone figures over the main entrance. Just above Jesus is a Saint I-forget-who with a set of scales in his hand, weighing the soul of a recently departed man. Imps can be seen trying to influence the results of the weigh-in to send the poor soul to Hell. Those that pass the test go to Heaven (to the left in the picture). The others go to the right and to Hell, suffering all sorts of indignities, depicted in graphic detail in a way that found resonance with Fourteenth Century believers and 21st Century 12-year-olds.
Next a stop at Louis IX's chapel and castle. Sainte-Chappelle was built upon the order of Louis in the mid 1200s to house the passion relics that Louis had accumulated, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns. When the chapel was consecrated he left on the first of two crusades (he did not survive the second). His accomplishments earned him sainthood even though he had persecuted and executed many Christians who didn’t follow the exact dictates of the Pope. Today the chapel has a truly fine display of stained glass. The crown of thorns is housed at Notre Dame and is brought out on the first Friday of each month and on Good Friday. Unfortunately the crown no longer has any thorns since they were given away one at a time to visiting dignitaries.
Louis’s castle, the Conciergerie as it’s known today, is connected to the Chapel. Later it was converted into a prison and at the time of the revolution it was used by Robespierre and the Committee of Safety. Marie Antoinette, the most famous inmate, was housed here for 76 days before her beheading. Her husband, Louis XVI, was held in his palace until his beheading.
We lunched at a craperia, having galletes (buckwheat pancakes stuffed with meat, cream sauce, cheese and whatnot) and sweet crapes for desert. And lots of water to combat the heat.
Then, off to the Louvre. I don’t know about you but when I visit a major art museum I wander from room to room, observing one masterpiece after another. I leave at the end of the day awe inspired by all that I saw but tired and unable to recall in any detail virtually anything about any work of art that I saw. This visit was different. The kids were sent on a scavenger hunt to find a half dozen or so works, including the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, the Winged Victor of Samothrace, the Four Seasons, Michelangelo’s Two Slaves and the same depiction of Napoleon crowning himself Emperor that we saw at Versialles. At each work they had to answer several questions and make a photograph of themselves mimicking the work’s subject. At the end of the two-hour visit we were tired, inspired and able to remember all of the works quite well. The only frustration was passing by room after room of fantastic art without even taking a quick peek.
Back to the hotel where, after a quick cool down in our air conditioned room, the three of us went out to find poor Nana a new pair of shoes (she has as many blisters as Louis XIV had girl friends) and a hat that I had promised her. (“Oh quit looking for that hat. I’ll buy you a new one in Paris.” The chickens have come home to roost.) Then dinner at a sidewalk bistro where we all had salads. Reagan and I went for ice cream down the street and got Nana a banana.
It’s an 8:15 AM bus call tomorrow, off to Monet’s gardens at Giverny and then the Musee D’Orsay to see impressionist works. Should be a fun day for Reagan the Impressionist fan.
Love to all,
Jon, Judy and Reagan
Gothic Architecture at Notre Dame
Marie Antoinette’s (recreated) Cell
Empress Reagan Crowns Herself
Paris Day 5 - Thursday July 2, 2015
On the Impressionists' Trail
Not so hot today - weather that is, with a high of only 92, versus 103 reported in some parts of Paris yesterday. But another fine day touring-wise. Forecast for tomorrow is 99.
Today was focused on Claude Monet and the Impressionists, but not to the exclusion of other late 19th/early 20th Century painters and sculpture artists. We started with a bus ride of almost two hours to Giverny, Monet’s country home where he did his famous water lily studies at the end of his career. Water lilies, day lilies and countless other flowers were in nice bloom and we had a pleasant morning wandering through the gardens, touring the house and having a nice salad lunch.
Back on the bus for our return to Paris following the A13 toll highway, the same one we took into Paris last Sunday. It was nice to let someone else navigate Paris traffic. We were dropped at the Place de la Concorde. That’s where, you may recall, Louis XVI and his wifey Marie Antoinette, and more than a thousand others, met their demise by way of the guillotine.
We had a couple of hours’ free time that we used to tour the nearby Musee de l’Orangarie. This is a collection of Impressionist and other works of the late 19th century established by the Paris art dealer Paul Guillaume who had supported numerous artists of the time by buying their work for resale, thereby providing a source of income to them. His widow gave the collection to Paris in 1958,
The major work at the Orangerie is Monet’s series of 8 panels depicting the water lilies at Giverny. The panels are curved and cover the walls of two oblong rooms on the top floor of the museum.
After the Orangerie Reagan and I took a stroll through the Tuileries Gardens that stretch from Place de la Concorde to the Louvre. An amusement park has been established on the north side of the park as part of the upcoming July 14 celebration. Incidentally, July 14 is celebrated here as July 14, the day on which all levels of French society agreed on the principles of the revolution: king, nobles, clergy, bourgeoisie and commoners alike. That was fine except that Louise XVI and Marie Antoinette got scared, lost their heads and made a run for the Austrian border (Marie hailed from Austria you may recall). They got caught and really did lose their heads. July 14 happens to also be the date that the Bastille was stormed by the revolutionaries, but that’s not recognized as part of the July 14 holiday.
Next we walked down the river and crossed over to the Left Bank and the old train station from 1900 that is now the Musee d’Orsay. The train station was built for the 1900 World’s Fair, being one of the first stations in Europe to provide train service to the city center. That was fine but unfortunately it proved to be too small for the longer trains popular soon after it was opened. One thing led to another and it was converted into its current purpose in 1978 as a museum for Impressionist and post impressionist artists, generally active during the Industrial Revolution from 1948 to 1915. The station itself is a work of architectural art and has been largely preserved as part of the museum.
Our guide Caroline challenged her flock to examine a work by Edouard Manet, a nude fashioned after classical depictions of Venus and other Greek goddesses. Naked goddesses were OK by 19th Century standards but Manet replaced the classical Venus with a prostitute of the 1890s, one clearly recognizable by contemporary viewers and whose eyes seem to follower the viewer wherever he or she might stand. It created a first-class scandal. Manet’s intent was to depict the reality of French society at the time. Caroline led the discussion with grace and tact that provided a first class lesson in art appreciation.
Finally, dinner in the museum in a beautiful dining room that was part of the original train station design.
We took a bus along Rue St Germaine to within a few blocks of our hotel and were in the room shortly before 9:30 PM. We’re going to kick the dust off our shoes (and in Reagan’s sandal-clad case, her feet) and get to bed.
Tomorrow we are on the tour at 8:30 and go the the Eiffel Tower, have a picnic lunch, learn how to make French Bread and prepare for the evening’s activities, which include dinner and the ballet. Other than that we’ll just kick back and relax around the pool in our free time. But wait, there is no pool and there is no free time.
Love to all,
Jon, Judy and Reagan
Tuileries Gardens and Cone Sculpture
Paris Day 6 - Friday July 3, 2015
Eiffel Tower and the Ballet
Just when we thought we’d be winding down with only two more touring days on the schedule, the program kept its usual pace with some pretty neat experiences.
Getting to the Eiffel Tower involved taking the RER metro train service (the C line) rather than our accustomed Metro trains. The C line actually runs to Versailles on the western side of town.
The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1900 World’s Fair (the one after the 1890 fair that brought yesterday’s train station cum Musee d’Orsay). Gustaf Eiffel won a competition with what, at the time, was viewed as a mechanical monstrosity. It was deemed so ugly that the city fathers agreed to tear it down after 20 years. Eiffel insisted on at least 20 years so that he could recoup his investment with visitor and restaurant revenues. Eiffel, it turns out, didn’t design the structure; his engineers did that. He merely put up the money. After 20 years radio antennae had been installed on top of the tower and no one wanted to lose reception so it stayed in place.
Like most tourist attractions the first thing you notice is the line upon line that you stand in to get into the thing in the first place. Actually our guide Louis greased the skids a bit for us but it still took an hour or more to get to the lifts that took us first to the second level and then to the topmost third level. As you can imagine the views of Paris are spectacular, even on a sunny and hazy day like today.
From the top you must take the lift down one level to 2. From there you can walk down to Level 1 and the ground Level 0. The walkway is enclosed with wire mesh so it’s not too scary even though the stairs go down the legs of the four towers. It takes about 15 minutes or so to descend two levels on foot.
When we all were down we walked a few meters away to a shady spot on the grass for a nice picnic lunch: tuna fish salad and fruit cup and of course bread. A glass of wine was available for those qualified to appreciate it.
Next we walked to a Metro stop and took the train somewhere to the west of where we were to a bakery shop. There the kids went down to the basement where a chef taught them how to make French bread (baguettes) and all sorts of pastries. It was a hot place to be on a hot day, believe me. While the kids baked the grandma/pas went next door for a cool drink. All except me. I was appointed the photographer so I stayed down below and shot like I was at a wedding reception: about 200 shots in an hour. Hot, but fun and the kids had a good time. And the bread and pastries? Magnifique!
We Metroed back to the hotel, arriving by 3:30 so that we could prepare for the evening’s dinner and ballet performance. The girls and ladies all dressed up in their finest and I put on a coat and tie, thereby making me one of perhaps six men in Paris so dressed. But hey, how many times does a guy get to go out with a gaggle of pretty girls to dinner and ballet in Paris? (If it were just the ladies I would have worn shorts and a tee shirt.)
Dinner was OK but the ballet? Really magnifique! The Ballet de l’Opera Company, performing at the Opera National de Paris, danced La Fille Mal Gardee (The Wayward Daughter or The Girl Who Needed Guarding). The original version was performed on July 1, 1789, just days before the storming of the Bastille. Who knows, maybe Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were in the audience! La Fille Mal Gardee broke new ground, spurred on by Enlightenment thinking. This ballet didn’t follow classical traditions and espoused the idea that ballet should be capable of narration: expressing ideas and stories through dance, just as the spoken word in a play can.
Incidentally, this is the “Phantom of the Opera” building. The guy who wrote Phantom (I forget who and am too lazy to google it) actually to a boat ride beneath the structure; the builder had decided to leave the water for firefighting rather than pumping it dry. No fancy furniture and candelabra down there, though.
Today’s performance was choreographed by Fredrick Ashton and first performed in London in 1960. It’s the old “girl loves boy but mamma favors another richer boy” story. And indeed, the kids (and adults) were able to “get it” without any trouble. The dancing was really fine (although I’m no student of the subject), the orchestra and music were superb and the house was sold out. A splendid evening.
We returned by a 12-stop bus route that left me medium rare on the way to well done even though I’d ditched my coat and tie by then.
Tomorrow we’re not due on deck until 9:30 AM. We’re going to some Saturday markets and then, optionally, a tour of a cemetery where famous and infamous people are buried. Reagan wants to go so she can hear more of Caroline’s stories (me too) but we’ll see if that happens or not. We have free time in the afternoon followed by the farewell dinner and then a trip to the top of the Arch d’Triumph to say goodbye to Paris.
Love to all,
Jon, Judy and Reagan
Eiffel Tower Supporters
Ballet at the Opera House
Paris Day 7 - Saturday July 4, 2015
Market, Arc de Triomphe and Farewell
When you’re on a trip like this you always have in the back of your mind the end game: the day on which touring ends and going home begins and “normal” life resumes. Today we’re there. Tomorrow we go home. It’s sad in many ways but after 10 pretty intense days of touring with virtually no down time we’re ready. If we were staying longer we’d need a day off to recharge the batteries.
We didn’t slack off today, putting in a full day from 9:30 AM until 11:30 PM. Please wait a minute, I’ll be right back: “Reagan, put down that iPhone book, get your jammies on and brush your teeth. It’s after midnight! What would your mother say?” There, I’m back.
Actually Judy and I started at 8:30 with a nice visit with Bill Smolen, our friend from New York City (and Kevin and Rebecca’s college friend). He walked over to see us before he headed out for the weekend with friends in the country side to escape the Paris heat. Bill is here with his cousin who has just recently graduated from high school in Illinois. Bill had promised him a trip to Paris if he took French and achieved honors in the subject. He did and here they are. That’s one lucky cousin since Bill knows Paris very well; he’s been here 17 times in the past 15 years or so.
The day started with an expedition to an open-air shopping market just east of the Bastille monument (the Bastille itself got torn down quite some time ago). It’s a pretty typical market: lots of locals buying fruits and vegetables from interesting looking vendors. There was a flea market as well and we bought a number of doo-dads and whatnots; scarves seemed to be the most popular item. We had extra time so we found a sidewalk cafe and enjoyed lemonade in the shade. Did I mention it was hot today? No need; it’s been hot every day.
The optional tour of the Lachaise cemetery, the largest and most famous in Paris didn’t happen. It involved 40 minutes of walking each way (did I mention it was hot today?). Reagan said, “Caroline, why don’t you just tell us the stories right here in the market?” Within minutes six of us were seated at another street side cafe having (our second) lemonade.
Originally city planners wanted to eliminate the myriad of small cemeteries within Paris to make room for urban growth. Initially human bones were removed and dumped (OK, stacked neatly) in the catacombs. Then in 1804 Lachaise and other cemeteries outside the city limits were opened but no one wanted to be buried there - too far from downtown, not blessed by the Church, etc. Someone had the bright idea to move Moliare, the playwright and Jean de la Fontaine, the poet, to Lachaise and after that everyone was dying to get in (couldn’t resist). And yes, this is where Jim Morrison of the Doors is buried along with a thousand or more other celebrities, dignitaries and plain old rich people.
Then, gasp, we were on our own. We walked down the hill to the Bastille monument and through the Marais district, one of the swankier sections of Paris. That’s were Bill stays when he’s in Paris. We had two objectives: shopping for souvenirs for the folks back home and visiting the interior of Notre Dame (finding ice cream isn’t an objective, it’s a fait accompli before we get out of bed every morning).
The line for Notre Dame was long but the wait wasn’t much more than 20 minutes - it’s a big place and most people just walk through in the horseshoe track around the main portion of the cathedral. A mass was being said (this was Saturday afternoon) with three cardinals doing the mass, organ music and great singing. We sat for a while and took it all in until the mass ended.
And then, surprise, surprise, we found a plethora of gift shops just over the river from Notre Dame on the Left Bank. We improved France’s balance of payments vis-a-vis the U.S.A.
We got back to the hotel by 5:30, which gave us plenty of time for a nap and cleanup before heading out at 6:45 for the farewell dinner just two blocks from the hotel. Nice meal, by tour standards. Then on foot across the Ile de la Cite, past Notre Dame and to the Hotel d’Ville square where we caught the good old Metro Line 1 to the Arc de Triomphe.
That Napoleon, he sure did have an ego. He had it built starting in 1806 to celebrate his most important military victory at Australitze. It wasn’t finished until the mid 1800s under Louis-Phillipe. When Napoleon brought his (second) bride home from Austria he had a wooden superstructure constructed so he could bring her into Paris through the Arc. Today is a monument to those who lost their lives in the revolution and the two world wars. Whatever his original motive, this is one project of Napoleon’s that worked out well.
The kids, Caroline and I climbed the 284 steps to the top (the oldsters took the elevator). The 284 steps weren’t too bad, I thought, until I realized I would be following a bunch of 12-year-olds (give or take) and their 30-something guide.
At 10 PM the Eiffel Tower became illuminated by flashing lights - her prom dress some call it. That lasted about 15 minutes. We then descended, took the train home and said our goodbyes at the hotel.
Tomorrow we don’t have to leave for the airport until 1 PM so we’ll have time to explore the local scene. We may go up the hill from the hotel to the Pantheon and the Luxembourg Gardens to see what’s up there.
Love to all,
Jon, Judy and Reagan
Arc De Triomphe
Final Story from Caroline