Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Trois Jours a Paris!

The last three days in Paris have been jolly good and chock-a-block and I still can’t believe I’m actually here!

Weather-wise, Monday was miserable. It was so wet and cold! We slept in ‘til almost midday anyway, because we were tired and it was dark, so when we awoke we decided to tackle the Louvre because it’s indoors and also because most museums are closed on Mondays in Paris. First things first: we headed to the closest Metro station, Saint Marcel, which is just around the corner. However we took one look at the map on the wall and could find neither Musee du Louvre or Saint Marcel, so we headed in to the closest shopping centre to invest in a couple of umbrellas. Next we wandered in to a boulangerie/patisserie for a moment I’ve been waiting a long time for: a real chocolate éclair. Our feet getting saturated after walking approximately 200 metres, we decided to attempt the Metro again, and this time we were much more successful, finding a map on the wall that had the Metro lines superimposed over a geographical map of Paris. So we went to the correct platform and started eating our baked goodies: my eclair was delicious and full of chocolate cream, but Mads seemed to have chosen a winner: called a Meringue Chocolat it is two layers of meringue covered in a thick layer of chocolate mousse with a crispy chocolate coating over the top. Wooooowww!

Madsy's Meringue Chocolat. It's probably the best cake thing ever!!

Yay! First eclair of the trip!

We managed to navigate the Metro, changing at the right stop, and made it to the Louvre, and it seemed that the whole of Paris had the same idea as us! The line to get in was tres long, but we stuck to our guns! We started in the Sully wing, which houses the foundations of the medieval castle that stood on the spot where the Louvre now stands, which was very cool, as well as a lot of very amazing ancient Egyptian artifacts, my favourites in there included a blue hippopotamus, items of furniture and a robe – the fact that a piece of clothing could be preserved for so many thousands of years is quite incredible! I didn’t think the crowds were as bad as I was expecting, but hermit Mads was freaking out a bit, so we decided to break for our afternoon meal. Mads prepared herself and took a deep breath, as we decided to face Denon, the wing that houses the Italian masters and other old, famous European works of art. We headed for La Jaconde, or the Mona Lisa as she is known to the English speakers of the world, first going up the staircase Audrey Hepburn glided down in a red dress in Funny Face (gasp! I was on the same stairs as Audrey was!), and then in to the gallery that houses Da Vinci’s most famous work. And by crikey, is she popular! There was something of a mosh pit before her, as a couple of hundred people at least jostled to get up close and get a picture with her! After a bit of patience and a few elbows in the back, we made it to the front. She is quite remarkable in real life: it really does seem as though she is looking right at you, smirking as if you share an inside joke together. 

The line for the Louvre. You can see the Inverted Pyramid in the distance...

The foundations of the medieval castle that stood on the site of the Louvre.

Ancient Egypt. We got pretty lost in here and couldn't find our way out for a while...

The stairs down which Audrey glided in Funny Face.

One of the beautiful ceilings in the Louvre. Another one of those places where it's hard to decide whether to look at the works of art or the building itself!

One of the long galleries in the Denon wing

Here we are with the Mona Lisa herself.

La Jaconde and all her friends.

Other highlights of my time in the Denon wing included a very famous, beautiful and moving painting of the execution of Lady Jane Grey in the Tower of London – I tried to get a picture of it, but naturally it’s the only picture in the whole of the Louvre you’re not allowed to photograph, as the scary guard pointed out to me (oops); and another beautiful painting by Delacroix of Liberty leading the revolution of 1830.

The final wing of the Louvre, Richelieu, we had just wandered in to before the voice came over the loudspeaker announcing something in French, and then thankfully repeating in English that the Museum would be closing in 15 minutes. So we went to the gift shop (a bit disappointing really), then headed back out into the rain. It was such a shame that we didn't see half of the wondrous things in there, but I suppose I'll have to come back for more... Because we’d entered the Louvre through the shopping centre that is attached, we toddled over to the forecourt to get a proper look at the former Palace that is now the Louvre and the famous, controversial glass pyramid. I have to say I don’t like the pyramid. It obscures the facade of the beautiful Louvre, and it doesn’t complement it in any way. But that’s my opinion, and as they say, everyone needs to make their own judgement of it.


Mads has decided she's in love with this picture of Napoleon. He's cold and needs a hug apparently.

Mads with another one of her favourites, a painting of paintings!

Another of the incredible galleries

This is as far as we got in Richelieu

The forecourt of the Louvre with the controversial glass pyramid.

We got our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower at this point, it was shrouded in mist, but it was quite exciting all the same. Back to Saint Marcel and we stopped at a bistro for dinner: steak with the most delicious potato bake, yum! Mads was pretty homesick for London: I don’t blame her, the weather really was awful and you do feel quite isolated when you don’t know the language. I know I do and she knows even less than the infinitesimally small amount I know!

First glimpse of the Eiffel Tower!

On Tuesday we took advantage of the hop-on hop-off bus tour included in our Paris Pass, starting at Notre Dame. On our way to catch the bus there were two fellows playing the piano accordion on a bridge over the Seine! I tell you I almost cried, it was just one of those moments when you think, ‘that is so cliched, but it just proves that I really, really, really am in Paris!! Paris for goodness sake!!!!’ The bus tour was good but really cold! But Paris is just so incredibly beautiful! We saw the Paris Opera House, the Place de la Concorde, the National Assembly, the Madeleine Church, The Champs Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, the Louvre, as well as bridges, cafes, and beautiful buildings everywhere! So much to take in!

A piano accordion! In PARIS!!

Assemblies Nationale

Madeleine Church

Madeleine on Rue Madeleine, on our bus tour.

The Paris Opera House

A column Napoleon had built.

The Eiffel Tower!!

The Arc de Triomphe, from the Champs Elysees

The traffic here is insane, cars actually going everywhere, in every direction. SO glad I'm not driving here.

Les Invalides, where Napoleon's tomb is.

Pont Neuf

Beautiful Parisian buildings.

We actually stopped off at the Eiffel Tower in order to climb it, and to see it rising above us in real life was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever experienced. Unfortunately only the lift in the East Pillar was working, so there was a huge line and we waited for a couple of hours before we could head up. Now, I know I’ve mentioned my fear of heights before, but I was really quite terrified at the prospect of going up in a lift to the top of this structure. Waiting for the lift, which annoyingly enough has glass all around it so you can see how high off the beautiful, lovely ground you are speeding, was getting me rather anxious. It wasn’t helped by the annoying tourist with child screaming ‘I want to go on NOW!!!’ explaining to said irritating child ‘Can you see those rails? Can you see how they go up? The lift will come down those rails, and everyone will get in, and then we’ll be going all the way up to the very top of the tower!’ Please please pleeeease stop talking! You’re just making it worse! So the lift came and up we sped, me trying very hard to control my impulse to sit down on the floor the higher we got, hug my knees and rock back and forth. Finally the lift stopped. We were so high, it was crazy. ‘This is the second floor. Everyone has to get off and change to the other elevator if you are going to the summit.’ WHAT!? I have to do that AGAIN!? And HIGHER!? How is this possibly not the highest you can go? The buildings are already like lego blocks. The people down there are like little ants!! Anyway I was brave and had a look around, trying not to envision myself being blown off the tower, or the spindly bits of metal holding us up breaking, sending me plummeting to my death. The view was nice: Paris very nice from the air and the ground. Probably nicer from the ground, I would say. We had a look in a very high shop; we had a very high hot chocolate; we watched the very high pigeons squabbling over scraps (for some reason they all seemed to have mangled feet. One of them didn’t have any feet and was waddling around on stumps which was very clever for a pigeon but also very disturbing). Then Mads said I couldn’t procrastinate any more and we had to take the second lift up to the summit. And oh how thoughtful this ridiculous lift also had walls with glass through which to look out. This lift was so much worse than the first. Up we went, rather quickly, and I had my hands covering my eyes and was kind of hyperventilating/nervously laughing/trying not to cry. Some people in the lift were even laughing at me. What a bunch of jerks. We made it to the top, and oh look everything is even smaller isn’t that lovely. Thanks goodness it was all enclosed... wait! Oh good you can go outside!! So I clutched the railing, once again trying to keep visions of the tower bending and me falling off the edge at bay. Mads thoroughly enjoyed herself watching the funny little people on the wonderful ground. I’ll admit, people do look funny from above. After long enough we went back down. Sweet, sweet down!! I LOVE down!! Down is so underrated!!

It's really the Eiffel Tower!!

This is only the second viewing platform. Soo high!

From the summit. Eek!

The Arc de Triomphe

Me at the top

Mads watching the little people. Ah, gives me the heebie jeebies just looking at this pic of her looking over the edge!

Yay, going down!!

On our way back to the bus we went on a carousel Mads was in love with. It was okay. I was interested to watch the police – there seems to be police everywhere in Paris, which is fine by me. There were also a few army dudes patrolling around with fairly heavy-duty looking machine guns. I like their hats.

Mads on the carousel at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower

We decided to go to the movies to see Dark Shadows, we found a cinema close by our hotel and wandered over there. The movie was really good. I had a little trouble buying popcorn: I’m all good until they deviate from the script! Thankfully the attendant spoke English – she wanted to know if I wanted sweet or salty popcorn (sweet popcorn, as if!).

Check it out Tarantino fans: a Royal with Cheese.

This morning we had very good intentions of getting up early. Instead we slept through the alarm. Oh well! We caught the RER train to the Palace of Versailles, which was very beautiful and completely OTT! The line to get in was very, very long again - everyone keeps talking about pre-purchasing tickets to avoid the queues at the ticket office. But honestly, since we’ve been here I have not seen a single line for the ticket office, the line is just to get in! So to avoid lines, go in a group! There were so many people in that Palace, it made it quite hard to properly see the rooms, but I can tell you that there are chandeliers and gold and decoration EVERYWHERE! The ceilings are painted and ornamented, every candle stick is decorative, there are mirrors and paintings on the walls, the furniture is covered with patterned fabric, cupboards have paintings and gold trim on them, it’s insane! So much luxury and opulence, but at the same time a bit of a scary undertone when you consider the horrible fate of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette who were captured here in the revolution and later lost their heads to that sharp female La Guillotine. But the rooms are absolutely massive, of course, and there are so many – I’d spend my life getting lost if I lived in a place like that. After we had a good look around the palace, and after we actually did get lost from each other: Mads is rather more speedy than I am, and it turns out I walked right past Mads while she was waiting and looking for me (I even have a photo of her waiting for me in the room where we both missed each other), we grabbed some lunch and sat outside the palace to eat it, looking out on the very extensive grounds. We went for a wander through the grounds next, which are so green and very beautiful and very extensive. And there are fountains everywhere! We went to the Chateaux de Trianon next, a group of smaller and slightly less grand palaces on the estate. We started with Le Petit Trianon, a very sweet little palace that would do nicely for me, I think. Le Petit Trianon is a lot more simply decorated, it’s very light, it is surrounded by pretty English-style gardens, and has a small but amazing theatre in which Marie Antoinette used to perform. You can’t take pictures, I’m afraid, but if you’re thinking a little knocked-together school hall kind of set-up, you are very much mistaken: think two tiers of seating, proper backdrops and curtains, and beautiful, ornamental decoration around the stage, including the initials MA in the centre. It’s amazing!!

The line to get in to Versailles. That box on the left is where you go in.

There is so much gold at this place. The gates to Versailles.

The palace

One of the many amazing painted ceilings

I've never seen so many chandeliers.

Marie Antoinette's bedroom. She escaped from the mob from here into the King's bedchamber, only to be captured.

I would have KILLED for one of these frocks when I was a kid. Seriously. Actually, perhaps I still would...

Yay Australia!!

Mads in a field, in the gardens at Versailles.

Sheep! We didn't get close enough to find out if they are perfumed or not...

The staircase in Le Petit Trianon

Music room, Le Petit Trianon

Le Petit Trianon. This place will do me nicely...

Exploring one of the English-style gardens at Le Petit Trianon

A pond at Le Petit Trianon

Mads, however, has decided she would like Le Grand Trianon, which is bigger than Le Petit Trianon, but still much smaller than the Palace of Versailles: it’s a single storey building, with large rooms that are very open and light, still full of chandeliers and mirrors but not quite as OTT as Versailles. Sort of a happy middle. By the time we’d finished here, the day was getting very hot and once again we were buggered. So we headed back to Versailles and the train station. It wasn’t until we were on the train that I realised we hadn’t seen the Queen’s Hamlet, the cottage and little town Marie Antoinette had built to play in. Rather disappointing, but I guess I’ll just have to come back to Paris to see it! What a shame!!

Le Grand Trianon, Mads' palace of choice

Le Grand Trianon

Boats on the Grand Canal at Versailles. I thought this couple was cute.

In the grounds at Versailles

The Palace of Versailles. I should also note it's where WWI ended. 

For dinner we went to the supermarket and got some croissants, ham, juice and nectarines, which were all delicious! I’m falling more and more in love with Paris. It is just so beautiful, and there is so much to see and we are running out of time in which to do it, so I will have to start planning my next trip here!! 

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