A little piece of Paris

LogoEverywhere we went when we were in Paris in May, I saw people wearing berets. Most of them were women, but I did see at least one man sporting one. I hadn’t worn a beret since a pastel green one I had in high school, but before long, I decided that I needed to bring one home with me. It was easy to do as there were inexpensive ones available in almost every souvenir shop. My only dilemma was deciding what colour to buy. I finally settled on navy blue, but now that winter has arrived and I’m seeing more and more berets being worn here in Canada, I wish I’d bought more than one!

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Wearing pins or brooches on knit caps (or toques as we call them here in Canada) is a trend this year, so when image consultant and fashion blogger, Brenda Kinsel, suggested adding them to berets, I decided to give it a try. I don’t often wear pins, but I knew that there were a few hiding in the back of one of my drawers. Here, I’ve added a silver rose to my little piece of Paris.

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There are several ways to style a beret. It can be worn as I’m wearing mine or tilted to one side or the other. Every beret has a brim that fits snug to the head and holds it in place. Though I’ve seen them worn with the brim to the outside, the “correct” way is to tuck it inside.

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Final day in Paris

After two very intensive days visiting the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles, we wanted our final day in Paris to be more laid back and relaxed; a day of exploring a couple of interesting parts of the city and soaking up the ambiance. We had the pleasure of doing some of that with one of my former students who’s been living in Paris for the past five years!

We met Crystal midmorning to tour Montmartre, one of her favourite areas of the city. In the 1870s, Montmartre became a centre of bohemian life inhabited by impoverished artists and poets and visited by Parisians who came for its cabarets, cafes, and dance halls. Today it is officially designated as a historic district with limited development allowed in order to maintain its historic character.

Crystal told us the stories behind a number of the district’s best known establishments like the cabaret, Moulin Rouge, and the little pink restaurant, La Maison Rose, that has been immortalized by many painters over the years.

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She told us Marcel Aymé’s tale about the man who could walk through walls. You can read an English translation here.

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We climbed the steep, narrow cobblestoned streets up the hill that is Montmartre to the beautiful Sacré-Cœur Basilica at the top. Visible from almost anywhere in Paris, it is one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

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Though there was a service going on inside, tourists were allowed to enter and walk around inside as long as we remained silent and didn’t disturb the worshippers!

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After leaving the church, we enjoyed a lovely lunch at a sidewalk cafe in nearby Place du Tertre, a large open market area where artists worked on portraits, caricatures, and paintings of Paris’ most famous landmarks.

On our way back down the hill, we enjoyed beautiful views of the city like this one from below the Bascilica.

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After saying good-bye to Crystal, we took the metro to the Latin Quarter, centre of university life and home to many bookshops and cafes. There we walked to the Luxembourg Gardens where we spent awhile simply sitting in the sunshine. The Luxembourg Palace overlooking the gardens was built between 1615 and 1645 as a royal residence for the mother of King Louis XIII. Today, it houses the French Senate.

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Before returning to our hotel to begin preparing for today’s departure, we stopped briefly at the Pantheon, the final resting place of some of France’s “great men” including Voltaire, Rousseau, and Victor Hugo.

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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!

Second day in Paris

Located on the Île de la Cité, just a stone’s throw from Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, the Conciergerie served as a royal residence in medieval times and later a prison. That’s where we started our day yesterday.

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I was enthralled by the vast Salle des Gens d”Armes (Hall of the Soldiers). Constructed in 1302, it’s a great example of Gothic architecture.

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During the French Revolution of the late 1700s and the Reign of Terror that followed, part of the old royal palace held prisoners including Marie Antoinette whose prison cell was later converted into a small chapel in her memory.

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This painting shows the queen ascending the steps from the Conciergerie to the courtyard where she would be transferred to an open cart pulled by horses that would take her to the guillotine located in the Place de la Revolution, now Place de la Concorde.

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Looking serene today, this was the women’s courtyard. Surrounded by two floors of cramped cells, it was used by the female prisoners to take daytime walks.

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Our visit included Sainte Chapelle, the church built within the palace walls. I thought by now we might be getting tired of churches, but not so. I continue to be amazed by each one that we step into.

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Absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the sight that greeted me when I reached to top of the narrow winding staircase to the upper chapel.

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If you read my post about our afternoon in Milan, you’ll know that I love stained glass windows. Never in my life could I ever have imagined something like this though! Photos simply can’t capture the magnitude of what surrounded us.

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Later in the day, after eating crepes from a street vendor and treats at a nearby bakery then taking an elevator to the observation deck of the 56 storey Montparnasse Tower for panoramic views of the city, we made our way to Place de la Concorde.

 

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It was here that the guillotine stood; here that Marie Antoinette, King Louis XVI, and many others lost their heads. From there, we strolled 2.3 km up the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe enjoying the Sunday afternoon crowds.

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First glimpses of Paris

We spent most of Friday on the train traveling from Milan to Paris with a quick stop to change trains in Zurich. Yes, we were in Switzerland, but not for long! It was difficult to get decent photos from the window of the train, but here are a couple that turned out well.

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By the time we arrived in Paris and found our way to our hotel via the metro, the day was nearly over and we were tired. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at a little restaurant just down the block from our hotel, but our first real glimpses of Paris would wait until we’d had a good night’s sleep!

We spent most of the day yesterday getting an overview of the city and seeing some of its most famous sights via the Big Bus Hop On, Hop Off tour. The commentary was excellent and gave us lots of interesting background information.

We first hopped off close to Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s inaccessible, of course, as a result of the devastating fire of April 15th that left the city in shock. Though it isn’t what it once was and it will likely be several years before restoration is complete and it’s open to the public again, it’s still a very impressive structure.

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We managed to get ourselves a bit lost and ended up on the wrong side of the river to hop back on our bus, but getting lost just means you have to find yourself again and you might just see something unexpected and interesting along the way! Parisians are friendly and helpful, so it didn’t take long for us to get our bearings and find our way back to the bus stop.

We hopped off again at the Arc de Triomphe, another one of Paris’ most famous monuments and took the obligatory photographs.

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At the Trocadero, just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, we left the bus again. After taking in the view we enjoyed lunch at a nearby sidewalk cafe before rejoining the bus tour and continuing on.

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Of course, we had to get off the bus again for more photos closer to the tower!

The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair. When it was inaugurated, it was the tallest building in the world. Amazingly, the original plan was to allow it to stand for 20 years and then tear it down! Only the fact that it could be used as a telecommunications tower saved it from destruction. Apparently two and a half million rivets were used in its construction. That’s not at all difficult to believe when you take a close look at it!

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I took the next photo of the church at Les Invalides, Napoleon Bonaparte’s final resting place, from the bus. Its glittering golden dome is an unmissable landmark in the Parisian landscape. I love the sky in this shot!

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We next hopped off the bus at the Palais Garnier, probably the most famous opera house in the world and the setting of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, The Phantom of the Opera.

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Our bus route was altered somewhat yesterday and we were unable to visit a couple of the areas that are usually included because of the “yellow jacket” protesters, so called because of the fluorescent vests that they wear. Yesterday marked six months of weekly protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s policies. We didn’t see any of the protesters or the destruction that they have caused, but we certainly saw a strong police presence when we got close to the parts of the city where they were gathered. For the most part though, Paris seems to be going on with life as usual. Apparently, tourism is down, but there were certainly lots of us hopping off and on the Big Buses yesterday!