Burning the candle at both ends

Yesterday morning we got up at 6:30 AM to make our way by train to Versailles in time for our prebooked 10:00 AM entrance time. The Palace of Versailles was the principal royal residence of France from 1682, under Louis XIV, until the start of the French Revolution in 1789, under Louis XVI. The incredible opulence of the place, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is quite overwhelming! Is it any wonder that the populace rebelled when their royal family were living in such luxury while they struggled to get by?

At this time of year, visiting Versailles on a Tuesday has its pros and cons. It’s definitely one of the busiest days of the week due to the fact that the Musical Fountain Show in the palace garden takes place only on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. That’s one of the reasons that we chose to go yesterday.

Before we even entered the Palace, we were blown away by the grandiose exterior.

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Inside was no different. After spending some time in the first section which focused on the history of the palace, we moved on to the royal apartments. Many of these rooms are now a gallery of portraits and paintings, but we also caught glimpses of how the royal residents lived. We could only peer through the doorway of the two storey royal chapel, but imagine having this in your house!

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Of course, as king and queen, your bedrooms would also be extremely lavish.

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By far the most amazing room is the incredibly ostentatious Hall of Mirrors, clearly a place meant to impress visitors to the royal residence.

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After making our way through the extemely crowded halls of the palace, it was lovely to exit into the gardens, but again, we were amazed by the extravagance. Imagine that this was your backyard and that it extended well beyond what you can see here.

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In addition to the palace and the gardens, we also visited the Queen’s Hamlet, a quaint and rustic little village retreat commissioned by Queen Marie Antoinette as a place for her to get away from life at the palace. Apparently she would stroll around her perfect little world in simple peasant garb accompanied by her children totally out of touch with how the rest of the world lived.

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Nearby there’s also the Grand Trianon, a pink marble palace built as a retreat for King Louis XIV and his mistress.

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After spending most of the day at Versailles, we returned to our hotel and rested awhile before taking an after dark boat cruise on the Seine to see the city lights. Most remarkable was the Eiffel Tower. It sparkles for five minutes on the hour every hour so that was happening as our boat pulled away from the dock at 10:00 PM and again as our cruise ended an hour later. Definitely magical! Even when it’s not sparkling though, it’s something to behold all lit up at night.

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A day at the Louvre

We thought the Uffizi Gallery in Florence was big, but then we visited the Louvre in Paris! In addition to paintings and sculptures, the Louvre also displays historical objects and archeological finds. It contains more than 380 000 objects and 35 000 works of art. Assuming that I’ve done my math correctly, if a person spent one minute looking at each item on display, it would take 24 hours a day for more than nine months to see everything! We were there for five hours. Clearly it was necessary to plan ahead and choose the things we most wanted to see.

Of course, we had to see the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting in the world, but so did everyone else in the Louvre that day! We literally had to fight our way through the crowd of selfie takers to get a glimpse. It was impossible to get a good photo, but you probably already know what it looks like. Like many others, I really wonder what all the fuss is about. There were certainly paintings that I liked better.

Of all the paintings that we saw, the one that impressed me the most didn’t appear on any of the “must see” in the Louvre lists that I saw.

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At first glance, I saw an old man snoozing while a rooster crowed in the background, but then I read the description. I was looking at The Penitent Saint Peter, or The Tears of Saint Peter, painted in the 1620s by Flemish artist, Gerard Seghers, and based on the scriptural account of Peter denying Christ three times before the rooster crowed. I like the simplicity of it, but also the detail. Look at the way Seghers captured the softness of an old man’s hair. And then there are those hands!

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The Venus de Milo is considered one of history’s most significant sculptures. Again, I’m not really sure why.

My favourite sculpture was the highly acclaimed Winged Victory of Samothrace which was created in ancient Greece in about the second century BC. The flowing drapery conveys a sense of motion as the goddess, Nike, descends onto the prow of a ship in honour of a sea battle won.

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I also liked the Sleeping Faun carved by Edme Bouchardon in the 1700s.

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This is just a tiny sampling of what we saw in the Louvre on Monday, but it must also be said that the building itself, a former royal palace, is a work of art.

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My neck is getting stiff from craning to see all the amazing ceilings in the various churches, galleries, and museums we’ve been visiting!

After ensuring that we’d seen everything on my “must see” list, we strolled the length of the Avenue de l’Opera from the Louvre to the Palais Garnier stopping along the way to sip a glass of wine at a sidewalk cafe.

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Oh yes, we are definitely enjoying Paris!