Thursday, July 21, 2011

Do We Love Paris? OUI!

Don't blame me if I dance a jig upon publishing this post. Blogger has been obstinate but, lucky for you, I'm MORE obstinate and I wouldn't give up 'til the post was complete!

The girls are standing in front of a really cool mural which is in a large courtyard next to the Pompidou Center in Paris.

We saw soldiers all over Paris. They always worked in teams of three. This group is unusual in that one of the soldiers is a woman. Apparently they take the threat of terrorism seriously and I'm glad.

The Centre Georges Pompidou built in 1977 is one of the world's most famous pieces of architecture. The building is turned "inside out" with brightly colored utility pipes of different colors on the outside of the building: bright green for water, yellow for electricity, blue for air conditioning. One of the building's most striking features is the external escalator which climbs the front of the building in a plexiglass tube. It's a pretty amazing ride!

The girls inside the plexiglass tube at the Pompidou Center. The view was fun both inside and out! Unfortunately cameras are not allowed to be used inside the museum. Some the artwork was just plain weird, some fascinating and there were plenty of masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse, Dali and more.

On our way back through the plaza, we spotted this humongous chalk portrait. Very cool!

Moving on to another museum, this is an ancient church altar carving, about a thousand years old! We saw this at the Cluny Museum, a museum of the middle ages that was only five minutes away from our apartment.

Ancient stained glass portrait of the disciples. Preserved through all the wars. Some ancient stained glass was discovered in an old barn! Apparently the villagers took the windows out of their churches and hid them during WWII in an effort to save the ancient artwork.

I loved this old carving of Jesus. There are a lot of likenesses of Christ, but not many crafted of wood that still survive. It's very large, maybe even lifesize. Beautiful.

Giant doors at the Pantheon, a gorgeous old building which is the resting place of the nation's great figures. It was originally built as a church but became a public building in 1885. Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Louis Braille and Joan of Arc rest within the Pantheon, among other historical figures.

We couldn't resist having a little fun in the giant rooms of the Pantheon.

Leah's not a midget. The building is enormous!

Me, surrounded by splendor, looking small.

Another day, another museum... Rodin's "The Thinker". It seems that every time you turn around in Paris, there's another masterpiece waiting to be savored and enjoyed.

You can't go to Paris and not bump into this guy. In case you don't recognize him, it's Napoleon Bonaparte at the Hotel des Invalides, an enormous old hotel built for wounded soldiers that is now a large museum. Actually, a handful of old soldiers still do live here.

Napoleon's tomb. It was his final wish to be situated on the banks of the River Siene and so his body was moved nineteen years after his death to this final resting place, the Hotel des Invalides, not far from the Siene.

Ooh La La! The most famous icon of France, the Eiffel Tower! The girls and I were struck by the beauty of this gorgeous structure. It didn't matter whether you were down below looking up, or...

at the second level looking out on the wonderful view. We're hardy Wisconsinites and so we did not take the elevator but used the stairs. There are 720 steps in all. They thoughtfully mark them off, ten at a time, so you can see the progress you're making as you ascend and descend.

That's the Sacre Coeur you see on the hill in the distance. The basilica was built as a memorial to the 58,000 French soldiers killed during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) and took 46 years to build, finally completed in 1923 for 40 million francs! Priests still pray for the souls of the dead there 24 hours a day.

One of our favorite museums was L'Orangerie. It is a small museum but it houses Monet's eight huge Water Lilies canvases. They're placed on curving walls and are so huge that when you stand or sit in the middle of the room, the gorgeous artwork surrounds you. It's like you're right there in Monet's gardens.

So beautiful! It was hard to choose a favorite scene to stand by...

Also in L'Orangerie are select impressionist artworks by the masters. I loved this still life by Renoir. Wouldn't you like to pick up one of these peaches and take a bite?

After our tour at L'Orangerie, we moved on to the grandaddy of museums in Paris... The Louvre!We thought Daniel would appreciate this ancient Easter Island head after seeing a likeness in "Night at the Museum".

Sigh... No words necessary. Will you think I'm a total geek if I confess to getting choked up when I saw the Mona Lisa for the first time? It was just one of those moments. I truly never thought I'd actually have the privilege of seeing the Mona Lisa in person. Such an iconic painting... Even though we weren't allowed to get close, it was still a special moment for me.

Another gallery, another masterpiece at the Louvre. This is the Venus de Milo, believed to represent the goddess Aphrodite from the second century BC discovered on the Greek island of Milos in 1820. Isn't she beautiful?

Walking home from the Louvre, we crossed this bridge, the Rue Dauphine, which is literally covered with padlocks! Apparently when lovers come to Paris, they put a lock on this fence to signify their never-ending love. Trust me, Paris is full of lovers!

Believe it or not, when we went to the Cluny Museum the first time, we missed the star attraction: The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries! I read about them in our guidebook and I talked the girls into returning with me so that I could see them in person. There are six huge tapestries in all and they each represent one of the senses. This is the sixth tapestry in the series and is titled, "My Only Desire". The tapestries are gorgeous and remarkably well preserved, given that they are estimated to be over 600 years old.

Okay, I begged the girls to go to the Louvre twice because I knew we couldn't do it all in one day. We didn't even come close. I hope to return someday, but even if I don't, I'll never forget the priceless works of art we were able to see. The girls and Mona. You can see that they don't allow people to get close to her anymore after she'd been stolen and attacked in the past.

A close up from The Coronation of Napoleon, a huge canvas measuring over 20 feet by 32 feet by Jacques-Louis David from 1805-1807. It's enormous and not many museums could properly display such a grand piece of art, but the Louvre does it with style. I could have stood staring at it for hours, there's so much going on in it. A fascinating view of history of the coronation of Napoleon at the Notre Dame, but not entirely accurate.

They were working on the ceiling in this gallery, hence the cloth hanging from it. Even the display areas are gorgeous! Notice the gilding, the ornate wainscoting, the beautifully painted walls. It almost distracts from the artwork and ancient artifacts within the room! The Louvre was built originally to be the fortress of King Philippe-Augustine in 1190 and was turned into the home of King Charles V. Napoleon renovated the Louvre as a museum at the end of the 18th century and what a museum it is, filled with 35,000 priceless objects!

Another painting I have long admired, "The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds" by Georges de La Tour. The young man on the right is being plied with women and wine and will lose his fortune before the night is over!

We saw this statue on one of our many walks. I'm not sure what happened here but it probably has something to do with the protests we witnessed earlier in our stay. Apparently this is nothing new, as anti-war vandals have also painted a bronze statue of Winston Churchill's hands red, signifying his role in WWII. I'm a big fan of Winston Churchill and in my opinion, he didn't have much of a choice about entering WWII. They'd be better off going after Hitler, but I doubt there are many statues of him in Europe.

Our final evening found us relaxing in the Luxembourg Gardens in the sun...

Such gorgeous gardens! Lovely! We soaked it all in because the next day...

That's right, there we are, packed and waiting for the Eurostar train to bring us back to England.

The Eurostar is a very comfortable train to travel on. In about two hours we were back in England after traveling under the English Channel. We hated to say goodbye to Paris as we had so much fun there. I only hope to be able to return someday but I'm grateful for the wonderful time the girls and I had and the memories we created.

Au Revoir!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ooh La La - Paris!

After two weeks in England, the girls and I travelled to Paris, France for a week at the end of June. What a magical, beautiful, elegant city! I wondered if we'd find enough to do to keep us busy for a week but that wasn't a problem.

On our first night there, we stopped by Shakespeare & Company. Paris's favorite bookstore which was a two minute walk from our apartment. They were celebrating a store anniversary and had free wine and music for all their customers. It was a lovely evening, completely unplanned.

The next day, the girls and I took a walking tour and strolled along the River Seine with a guide and four other people. We spent the day exploring the city by foot while Erin told us fun facts and stories, showing us the sights.

Interesting looking gargoyle on a church. Did you know that gargoyles are used to disperse rainwater of the roof of the church?I didn't, but now I do.

Same sweet church, interior view.

The girls and I in front of the Louvre. The Louvre is huge, U-shaped and confusing to get around in but honestly, I could spend a week in there! It's full of the most incredible masterpieces.

The glass pyramid entry is an interesting juxtaposition to the rest of the older, classic architecture.

Our guide told us they had a contest to come with a creative metro (underground subway) entrance and this was a winning entry. Isn't it fun?

Leah standing on an interactive sculpture artwork piece. The entire plaza is full of these black and white circular projections, all at varying heights. Very cool effect.

Lavender garden within Tuileries Garden, a beautiful, enormous park.

Bicycle taxis waiting for passengers outside Tuileries Gardens.

The Arc de Triumph, the largest triumphal arch built in Paris was ordered by Napoleon. That's him, in the "Triumph of Napoleon" on the left, celebrating the Treaty of Vienna in 1810, when his empire was in its heyday. The Arc de Triumph wasn't actually finished until 1836. Four years later Napoleon's funeral procession passed beneath it on his way to his burial in Les Invalides, his final resting place.

The Arc de Triumph is in the middle of an enormous roundabout without any lane markers! The cars travel around it at a great speed and somehow manage to avoid hitting each other. Seeing the people standing beneath it shows just how huge it is. If you look closely, you can see flowers marking the tomb of the unknown solder.

Walking back from the Arc de Triumph on the Champs-Elysees we stopped in at the Swarovski store. The girls and I loved the sparkly stairs full of Swarovski crystals!

The obelisk on Place de la Concorde with its glittering gold cap. It was erected on this site 150 years ago but is actually over 3,000 years old; a gift from Egypt. At one time, this was a central location in the French Revolution and the site of the guillotine where Louis XVI, Marie-Antionette and more than 1,000 others were beheaded.

On a lighter note, we saw darling little fruit and produce stands on many corners in the city.

Mmmm... Very tempting!

Formal gardens outside the Carnavalet Museum, devoted to the history of Paris.

The girls relaxing on a bench in the lovely gardens.

On our way through the plaza in front of Notre Dame, we witnessed a protest. You can't see the protestors in the center but they are protected by the French police in full riot gear. I wanted to stay and see what happened but my girls thought it better to move along.

The girls were (almost) always happy to pose for me in front of yet another monument.

When we went to the Luxembourg Gardens we were blessed to happen upon this glorious outdoor concert, grand piano included! There was plenty of outdoor seating, so we rested a spell and simply enjoyed the beautiful music. (Bonus: no translation necessary!)

I watched a sweet father/son duo taking in the music. The son was too short to get a good view so his father gave him a lift.

After the concert we walked over to a pool and saw a little sailboat being enjoyed by a family with young boys.

Until it landed, that is. There was a slight squabble over who got to pull it out!

Aren't the gardens beautiful? The city of Paris must employ a lot of gardeners.

This is the first apartment we stayed in while in Paris. We have the distinction of staying in the "Narrowest Building in Paris". In fact, while we were there, a tour group walked by and snapped some photos of our building from the street. The girls happened to be at the windows and had fun leaning out and waving to the photographers below!

Such angelic faces... such sweet smiles.

Sharing a laugh at the windows with lovely geranium flower boxes.

The statue of Charlemaigne at the Notre Dame Cathedral. We were so close to the Notre Dame that we could sometimes hear the bells tolling from our apartment. What a magnificent building. So much history has taken place here!

This spot marks the point from where distances all over France to Paris are measured. It's right in front of the Notre Dame.

Beautiful stone work on the front of the Notre Dame. The craftsman who worked on these Cathedrals were amazingly gifted.

This is a banner left over from the protest we walked by the day before. I wish I could read French so I could see what the protest was about.

Sainte Chapelle, the Gothic masterpiece built by Louis IX, completed in 1248. Considered the most beautiful church in all of Paris and I would have to agree. It has gorgeous stained glass windows that soar 50 feet! Truly amazing.

Another photo of Sainte Chapelle. I'm afraid that photos do not do this beautiful chapel justice. The chapel was originally built to house the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus when he was crucified, or so the story goes. Louis IX was a devout King who also acquired pieces from the cross Jesus was crucified on, nails from the crucifixion and a few drops of Christ's blood, paying almost three times more for them than the construction of the Sainte Chapelle itself. The relics now reside at Notre Dame but we were not able to see them as they are only shown once a month which, unfortunately, was not when we were visiting.

I hope you enjoyed the first half of our Paris visit.

Stay tuned for yet more Parisian adventures!