Saturday, June 14, 2008

Days 20-23: Paris (+ Versailles)

Note: The pictures are small to help with the load time of this page, but just click on them to enlarge them to their high resolution glory. Oh, and the normal tech news commentary will return after my vacation.

If you did not see my pictures from Italy (and from a few day trips we took from Stuttgart), then be sure to check out this post under this one for another 40 pictures. Be forewarned about this post though, I picked out a ridiculous 45 out of 419 pictures to give the bare minimum of what I liked best from what I saw in Paris (and could capture on camera, that is).

Our hotel room was a little lackluster, but the location was great: right next to Gare du Nord and only a 15 minute walk from Montmartre! We headed straight for Sacre Coeur ("Sacred Heart") Basilica at first, but it was so extremely hot and we had to get back to the hotel to move into our room (we arrived before check-in) that we came back to it later. Still, I took a picture of it because it's definitely a big Parisian icon (and with good reason):

We headed for Notre Dame Cathedral next, which I felt was much more incredible on the outside than on the inside. I had never seen gargoyles before and was amazed by how many there were adorning the church.

On the inside, the main thing to notice was definitely the stained glass:

Our next stop was the Eiffel Tower. Because I went with my parents and they didn't want to go up the tower I didn't go up the tower. I probably should've, but I felt bad making them wait there for me to stand in the long line for me to only go up and enjoy the incredible view alone. Still, I managed to get good pictures of the tower:

Our next stop was the Arc de Triumph, built by Napoleon to celebrate his military victories. It wasn't all that impressive as a structure, but still another big Parisian symbol and the statues on it were pretty interesting:

We went back to Sacre Coeur to climb the steps and take in the incredible view of Paris that we got from up top. I don't have my photo stitch software here so you'll have to deal with just one segment of the panorama:

The church was quite beautiful on the inside, but it didn't allow pictures. Right next to the church is Montmartre, so we walked around there for just a few minutes, but I came back there like 2 or 3 times later on to walk around some more.

The next day, we headed for the Tuilleries Garden, which was initially mean to be part of a palace, and it was a wonderful sight. I'm not showing any pictures of it because they can't capture how cool it really is. We also walked up to the Louvre, but didn't go in (yet).

It's probably a little hard to tell there, but the Louvre is enormous. I believe it's bigger than the Vatican Museums, which is pretty massive itself. We walked up the Champs-Elysees afterwards, which is basically lined with park area for people to lay in the grass or eat lunch on benches or just walk around. The simplest things there, to me, struck me as beautiful. I feel like such a tool saying that, but this is one example of something that I thought was so cool:

Walking along the Champs-Elysees, we eventually ran into a couple of museums and went into the Petit Palais because it was free and looked interesting. I thought it was a pretty neat museum, personally, and even discovered a new type of paintings that I enjoy: Symbolism.

I split off from my parents afterwards to head to the Musee D'Orsay, which is probably world famous for its impressive collection of Impressionist art, but it also has pre- and post-Impressionist art as well. It ended up being free, as well, because of a strike, which meant that not all of the museum was open, but the bottom floor and the Impressionist stuff was. The first exhibition there I saw that was impressive was a temporary one of Lovis Corinth, though I couldn't take pictures in there. I want to share a few of my favorites from the Impressionist section:

In that first one, standing near the painting makes it look trivial and boring, but seeing it from afar evolves it into the incredible picture you see here. I was also quite impressed with ones like the last one that were just a bunch of dots that formed a picture when put together (I know that computer printers do this, but a person actually painted that!).

My parents found the Moulin Rouge before I did, so we went there next and it's not quite as impressive as in the title movie:

Also, the area around it is quite salacious. One place was literally called P---y, and one place less than 50 meters from the Moulin Rouge had nude pictures posted right on its doors. The Moulin Rouge is the center of a plaza, of sorts, but it's quite different from the piazzas in Italy because in each direction you look, you see something like this:

That just seemed really fascinating to me, but maybe I'm just weird. Even at the Arc de Triumph you could see that in every direction. I guess it's just the Parisian style (or maybe other French cities do that as well?). I went back to Montmartre afterwards on my own for dinner (which was overpriced and not very good, I'm afraid), but it was still a great atmosphere. It didn't look quite to me like Amelie or Moulin Rouge made it look, but it still had its own charm:

The next day mostly went to Versailles, which was only a 40 minute train ride from Paris. The famed Chateau de Versailles was definitely a sight to behold. The line was long for the palace itself, so we went to the gardens and walked to Marie Antoinette's Estate. When we first entered the garden, this was what we could see:

And then, you walk further can can truly take in the sheer size of the gardens:

The pool in the back that goes into the horizon is a giant 't' shape that is truly enormous. I want to guess that it's a 1/2 mile in length, but I have no real figure on its size. Even more impressive was how well kept the gardens were:

Those aren't shrubs quite, they're trees that somehow form shrubs when planted together like that. Can you imagine how hard it must be to keep them trim to perfection like that? And details like that were everywhere across the extraordinarily large gardens.

Marie Antoinette's estate was the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon. The latter had a really peaceful, nice garden behind it with so many different types of greenery and trees. Check out this tree, that grows as if it has fallen over:

It must've been so calming for her to walk around to sights like this:

In the palace, everything was over-the-top and extravagant. Just take a look at the famed Hall of Mirrors:

What I realized when going through it was how well it served its initial task: to serve the pomp of King Louis XIV and keep him in the high regard of people centuries after his death as was obvious in the number of tourists taking pictures of his portraits and statues.

When we got back, I split off from my parents again and had a creme brulee at the cafe from Amelie:

If you don't believe me, take a look at the inside:

Even though I was there alone, I still loved being there. The ambiance was neat (great music in the background) and my waiter was such a nice guy! I think he knew I was a tourist who came to see the Amelie cafe and had probably dealt with many of them but still stayed out of the way of my shot when I took a picture of the movie poster they had in the back autographed by Audrey Tatou. Oh, and the creme brulee was excellent.

I then decided to take a night tour of Paris, on foot, by walking along the River Siene. Here comes more shots of the Eiffel Tower:

Apparently, every 15 minutes past the hour they do the thing where the whole tower sparkles. Getting a picture of that is quite difficult though:

Even more stunning was seeing the Louvre at night (it was quite a trek from the Tower). I was beside myself at how grand such a simple building looked when lit up at night:

The I.M. Pei pyramid looks especially incredible when lit up, though it was not lit up the whole time I was there so I was glad that I managed to eventually see it lit up when I got closer to it for a good shot:

I actually went into the Louvre the next day.

That cylinder in the middle of the spiral staircase is actually an open air elevator, which I thought was so cool. Anyhow, the only museum I had actually bought an audio guide at before the Louvre was the Vatican Museums, but after seeing the Louvre one I just had to rent one:

It has a freaking touch screen! It has tour tracks you can take for like Italian art or French art or whatever you're interested in and so it has a map on the device that you follow along with. This is super convenient because of how collections are spread over multiple floors so it guides you quite well and you can tap on bubbles on the map of artwork it has audio for. It was so informative and helpful that I was glad I spent the 6 euro on it. I stayed nearly 8 hours at the Louvre and still didn't see near everything! I barely scratched the surface of the French paintings, of which the Louvre has the largest collection in the world.

I want to highlight some of my favorite pieces now. I can't remember what this was one was called, but I kept looking back at it as I walked around its room because it compelled me for some reason:

I can't put my finger on what makes it so beautiful, but something does. By the way, I find it interesting how Europeans don't mind their children seeing nudity in museums like this because I ran across several groups of students (even elementary school level) there on a field trip. In America, the parents would be livid!

I had seen Michelangelo's early work in the Accademia (Florence) on the four prisoners, meant to adorn the tomb of a Pope (but was later scrapped), and I saw a couple more of what looked like the finshed product (or near-finished, at least) at the Louvre:

My favorite sculpture was this one of Cupid and Psyche, though:

You have to do a 360 of the sculpture to really appreciate the little details. The story in a nutshell goes that Psyche was deemed far too beautiful for humans, and Cupid ended up falling in love with her. He made love to her in secret so that she couldn't see him and forbade her from trying to discover his identity. Psyche was tricked by her sisters into thinking that he was hideous and would try to impregnate her and then kill her, and so she carried knife and a candle the next time she saw him and realized it was Cupid, but then the candle wax hurt him and showed him her plot so her left her angry. She tricked her sisters into killing themselves, then had to beg Cupid's mother Venus, who hated her, into getting Cupid to forgive her. So Venus sent her on these suicidal tasks, but she survived them, and when she had her get cosmetics for beauty from Prosperina, Psyche opened the box out of curiosity and fell under a sleep spell of some sort. Cupid found her, and had by then forgiven her, and awoke her in the scene that this statue depicts. It felt like the perfect representation of that moment.

This next painting from Delacroix is actually the cover of the new Coldplay album (Viva La Vida), but I actually fell in love with it before I realized how famous it was. It's just such a cool scene of liberty leading the Parisians depicted.

The Grand Gallery was enormous, and this picture probably doesn't do justice to how freaking long I had to walk to get through the entire thing:

One of the side rooms to this gallery contained the Mona Lisa, which I was personally underwhelmed by. I was more impressed by the painting across from it depicting Jesus turning water into wine, which was his first miracle:

At the end of the Gallery I found my two favorite pieces of art in the Louvre, from Pannini:

They're paintings of paintings of sights around modern and ancient Rome. I spent so long looking at each picture and remembering my trip to Rome just the previous week. I would love to get a print of at least one of them for my apartment, I really would. I may look for one once I get settled.

The layout of the museum was really interesting overall. In the Richelieu Wing there were two sculpture gardens with big transparent ceilings to let in natural light and allow those outside the museums to peep in, as well:

The Napoleon Apartments in the museum were, in my opinion, more ostentatious than many of the rooms in the Palace of Versailles. You may disagree, but just take a look at one of the rooms:

I found a small section of modern art on the top floor of that wing, and this piece definitely caught me by surprise:

His face was extremely life-like. It was creepy. My collage of Louvre pictures would not be complete without a shot of the inverted pyramid in the mall portion at the front of the ground floor of the Louvre:

I walked around a little bit after the Louvre closed and finally managed to get a nice shot of Paris along the river:

I went through the Ile St. Louis, which felt like kind of a town within Paris because it had its own island:

The last sight I headed for was the Pantheon, which I felt didn't look as impressive as the one in Rome, but looked quite wonderful in this light:

I guess that's it for now. We've been on break today and yesterday, but tomorrow we head for Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic, and some more places in Germany! I will be back again in a week with another post probably before I head back to the States on June 24. Have a great week everyone! I hope these pictures have been fun to see and not boring by their sheer number.

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