Paris – Part 1
Sunday 11 September
At Gare Paris Bercy we stand in a long line waiting for a taxi. A woman says something to us in French and points to a sign at the head of the queue. I hear “priority”. Queue jumping with my wheelchair! (why doesn’t this happen in NZ????). It’s early Sunday morning, no traffic. On the way to our hotel, we see Notre Dame! (magnifique!) The Louvre! Pont Neuf, and Les Invalides and more.
We’re too early to check in at the hotel so we cross the road to one of many cafes for breakfast. My first French croissant – superb! We wheel/walk to the Eiffel Tower, which is about 1.5 km from the Splendid Hotel, and arrive to a grand welcome! A brass band is playing the canta from Offenbach’s opera, otherwise known as the tune to the can-can. Alas, it is not for us, but for the participants in a women’s running race. Even so, it makes my heart sing to hear this fun music as we arrive.
Better still, when we try and find out where to buy tickets to ascend the Eiffel Tower, I am taken to an area to wait while an official takes Peter straight through a long snaking queue to get the tickets. Not only do we skip the queues to get tickets AND to the lift, but we also get a discount because I am disabled!
As we take the lift up to the second level we see the most amazing views. It is beginning to rain and it is cold, but we are in Paris! We see Montmartre in the distance, the Seine, the Louvre, Les Invalides with its gold dome, and the gardens below. We can see our hotel.
We are still dressed in our clothes from Rome where the temperature had been around 35 degrees. It is probably twenty degrees cooler here and we are getting cold in the wind and rain. We hope that our hotel room is ready for us so that we can warm up and change into more appropriate clothes.
An afternoon siesta is in order, then we can decide our next outing.
Apparently the easiest way to get around Paris if you’re disabled is by bus. There’s a bus stop across the road so we decide to go where it does. Peter works out it will stop near the Arc de Triomphe … Perfect! The rain has stopped, there are patches of blue sky and I’m thrilled to be standing on the Champs Elyssee watching traffic mayhem round the Arc de Triomphe. Every fourth or fifth car has scratches down the side. It’s not crazy like the Italians, but it seems you have to know the rules of the roundabout, otherwise you’re dead meat.
I want to get to the top of the Arc de Triomphe but there seems to be a ceremony about to get underway. We think it is to honour the French who died in the twin towers on Sepember 11 2001. There is a lot of security so we are not surprised to hear that the French President has arrived. We’d rather get to the top than see the president so we’re off, up to the top. We take the lift, then climb the final 46 steps. Others can climb all 212 steps.
The view is stunning. Sunlight is passing over the top of Montmartre, and we have a great view over the rest of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower. I love the architecture of central Paris with the seeminglu uniform white walls, sloping gables and black flat rooves, and black wrought iron railings. And Paris is clean!
Buses are definitely the way to get around so it’s Peter’s job to work out to how get where we want to go. A big day tomorrow – Paris!
Monday 12 September
We’re going to catch the bus to Notre Dame. I’m using crutches because it seems the bus stops near the cathedral.
I am impressed. Notre Dame was built in the twelfth century so must be one of Paris’ oldest buildings. It’s very gothic with all the gargoyles and decorations shown in the film versions of Victor Hugo’s book. The front door is huge and surrounded by statues and stone carvings that are extremely detailed when you are able to look closely.
Inside, my first impression is that here is a simple, if large, church intended for worshipping god rather than as an edifice to the rich and powerful. However, the religious and secular intertwining is here … There are statues on either side of the pieta. They are of the two successive kings that built the cathedral, and the paintings that sit in the side chapels were gifted by various guilds.
Aside from any political or secular influence, the stained glass windows are truly magnificent. I notice the windows above the side chapels first, they’re long and narrow and no two are the same. The window above the high altar is round and more colourful. Peter suggests I turn and look back at the window above the organ. It is glorious. Ten metres in diameter, reds and purples and other rich colours are used to depict Mary and child in the centre, (symbol of this cathedral) and many gospel stories. The detail is amazing. But still more is to come. Nearer the altar, opposite each other, are the rose windows. Thirteen metres in diameter they are just as wonderful and detailed as the window behind the organ. The one to north has stories from the old testament, the one to the south has stories from the new testament. It is impossible to overstate how beautiful these windows are.
Apart from their artistic beauty, the windows are an engineering feat. They have no structural strength and are enormously heavy. One of the reasons cathedrals had been so dark was because inserting windows weakened the structure. The Notre Dame uses a system of buttressing outside to support the building. The buttreses are themselves beautiful – they look like wings partly folded round the rear of the building.
It is remarkable that these windows have remained intact for over eight hundred years.
There are so many artistically beautiful and technically difficult features here. The organ is imposing (it has 7800 pipes) yet somehow complements the window above and behind it. Perhaps because, although the stained glass window is delicate in its detail, the colours are sptrong and bright.
The choir chairs are even more elaborately carved than others I have seen. They are made in a dark wood and depict biblical scenes in fine detail. A feature of European churches seems to be that people can walk around the side and behind the high altar where there are chapels and more decorative features. Behind and attached to the back of the carved chairs of the choir are three dimensional murals depicting scenes from the new testament. They are fascinating to look at I can see why so many artworks from churches end up in art galleries and musepums.
In one of the side chapels immediately behind the high altar is what looks like an enormous metal chandelier, probably made of copper. It is apparently a “crown of light” designed to hold many candles which would be reflected on the copper, radiating light.
It is lying on the ground and is covered in what looks like dirt and dust. I lean over and wipe my finger across the top of one of the baubles. It is filthy. The dust and dirt is accumulating not just on the crown of light, but also on the mural carvings and the choir. The stone column and walls are darkening because of dirt, and the inside of the cathedral is said to be darker now because of this. What happens if the dirt icontinues to accumulate? What happens if an attempt is made to clean it? In Italy preservation is continuous, and cleaning methods carefully researched and tested. I wonder what will happen to Notre Dame eventually …
There is a simplicity to the interior with its plain stone walls, bricked vaults, no friezes. The richness lies in the stained glass windows and the technology and design that allowed their use. Light was to have been the glory of Notre Dame. I hope that one day this is restored.
We read that the cathedral has a feature specifically called “The Red Door”, an exit that leads to a large decorative North door. The “Red Door” is being renovated so we walk/wheel around the outside looking for the North Door. It is worth looking for. Far more elaborate than the front doors, it is intricately carved with scenes from the Bilble and has Mary as its centerpiece. At one time the North door opened to cloisters where priests lived.
Continuing behind the cathedral we find the open buttresses that strengthened the walls so that the many large stained glass windows could be inserted. They are actually quite beautiful and I think are an architectural feature in themselves. While we are here we sit in the square dedicated to John 23rd. It’s a small garden, surprisingly quiet and peaceful.
We decide to walk to the Louvre simply to know where it is and how to find it. I need to use a toilet before we go. These things matter when you’re disabled, older or have a child.
Unfortunately only monuments, galleries and museums have toilets, Notre Dame, like other churches, has none. It is isolated from other landmarks and thousands of tourists visit. Paris has free public toilets in tphe street, but there are only two nearby. I wait thirty minutes to use one before we leave.
It’s an interesting walk to the Louvre. We pass the Hotel de Ville, the town hall, with the inscripption, “liberte, equalite and fraternite”. We pass the green boxes on the right bank of the Seine where vendors keep their goods – second hand books, art. Only a few are open but even so they give the area character.
Less attractive are the beggars, scammers and pickpockets. We’ve seen beggars in Berlin, more in Vienna and Venice. We’re told they’re gypsies. In Paris, as well as the beggars we encounter the scammers. They work in groups and have developed scenarios that are almost believable. One appeals to the altruistic … Young girls pretend to be mute and ask tourists to sign a petition for the deaf and mute, but the purpose is unclear. We realise it’s a scam when they want a minimum of ten euro and get angry when we don’t open our wallets. We see others doing the same thing and we try to ignore them.
Peter goes ahead to the Louvre to check the entrances. When he refuses the scammers’ requests, they move in close. Peter gets away. A group of australians call to him that the little boy in the group unzipped a pocket in the backpack. There was nothing for him to take.
The other scam appeals to the greedy. A man in front of us stops to pick up a gold wedding ring, turns to us and offers to sell it for small change, just two euro. We see this scam again and again over the next few hundred metres
The Louvre is massive, but it’s impossible to miss the main entrance in the glass pyramid. It’s an hour to closing but as I get in free and so does Peter we go in specifically to see Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.
My expectations of Mona Lisa are high. The crowd in front of her is at least seven or eight deep. We come in from the side and the guard allows us to move along the front of the barrier (usually the guard mkes people go to the back and make there way forward – queue jumping for them!). She is covered by glass and we can get no closer than about 1.5 metres. The painting is smaller than I expected, and darker. Much has been made of her expression, so I am disappointed that I do not see the mystery in her eyes. I see a beautiful painting that I wish I could look at with fresh eyes … without the myths and perceptions of others. The portrait is wonderful, but I don’t think it is one of da Vinci’s best paintings. The sketches we saw in the Gallerie del Accademia in Florence moved me more.
In the same room are paintings by Titian and Veronase, some of their best work, yet everyone was ignoring them! Astonishing!
The Louvre is a maze. Art is grouped together according to period and origin, and each collection is in a separate pavilion. Sounds simple? NO. Getting from one pavilion to another involves going up and down stairs, round corners … It’s easy to get lost.
We discover that the Louvre was the city palace of the french kings, until Louis fourteenth moved to Versailles. Building began in 1202 as the Louvre Castle, in 1546 it became the louvre palace. Additions continued through the centuries. It is vast.
We are determined to see Venus de Milo before the Louvre closes, but we can’t find her in the labyrinth of Greek statues. Finally, we see a sign and follow it. She is spectacular. No reproduction or photo could do her justice. Her lines are graceful and sensual, yet there is an innocence to her. From cold, hard marble, the artist has pulled soft femininity and beauty, curves that can be admired from every angle. I love this art work. I cannot call her a statue because that implies something static. Her garment flows from her hips, her stance is relaxed yet ready to move. This reminds me of Michaelangelo’s David.
We will see her again, when we return to see more of the Italian artists, the impressionists, and Michaelagelo’s statues.
Even though I’m wearing my rain jacket most of the time and it’s cold and drizzly. I’m loving Paris. All the French people I encounter suggest they speak only a little English but are helpful and cheerful. Bus drivers are considerate and helpful. They see me waiting near the bus stop and acknowledge me. This assures me they will put the ramp out for me. They always pull up with the ramp access (in the middle of the bus) in front of me. Besides, I bought another scarf!
Tuesday 13 September
I’m not sure, but I think we’ve passed the half way point. It’s too soon! Every time I discard packaging from my meds I have mixed feelings – I have more space, great; there are fewer days left, sad.
We headed to Musee Rodin by walking through Les Invalides, a very old building that was a hospital for injured soldiers. Old canons are lined up in front of Les Invalides. It looks impressive. Napoleon built a chapel there. The facade is beautiful, and it has a large gold and black dome than can be seen from much of central Paris.
We arrive at Musse Rodin fifteen minutes before it opens and there is already a queue. But as seems usual in Paris, I get to jump it, and Peter and I get free entry. Rodin’s monumental works are in garden … The Thinker, Gates of Hell, Burghers of Calais. The Shades. They are fantastic and we spend a lot of time in the garden before we even get to go inside. The house was Rodin’s town residence and the rooms are a superb backdrop for his work. The absolute highlight for me is “The Hand of God” … If Michaelangelo’s “pieta” moved me to tears, this moved me to joy. I couldn’t stop grinning as I swiveled the artwork through 360 deg. It’s as if I’m seeing it emerge from the marble. I’ve never experienced such a happy response to art before.
From here to Musee D’Orsay is too much without a break so we stay for lunch in Rodin’s garden. It’s sunny and warm, peaceful and quiet.
Once again, at Musee D’Orsay there is a queue, a very long one. We ask the guard where entry for the disabled is. He drops the barrier, we go straight in. We ask for a printed guide for the disabled that will show where the lifts are and we ask about a discount for me. We are shown straight through, no charge!
D’orsay has french art from the fourteenth to twentieth cemnturies. It’s too much to see in an afternoon, besides, I think that the best of French art is impressionist and post impressionist. There is a room of Manet. Room of Sisley. Room of Renoir! Room of Degas! And his sculptures! Room of Monet …. Wow! Room of Toulouse-Latrec… I’ve never seen a real one before. They are truly exceptional, especially one of woman dancing the cancan in front of men. It’s a huge square canvas. Few brush strokes but so vital, and so telling.
We head to post impressionists, desperate to see Gauguin and Van Gogh. There are two rooms of van Gogh. Looking at his later (and best) work is like bathing in colour and vibrancy. I’ve seen prints but they only suggest the utter genius of his work.
The day is spectacularly successful. “Hand of god”, and van Gogh’s art …
It’s the first day we’ve been here that the sun has come out for more than a few minutes, and it hasn’t rained.
We stop to watch the buskers. A clarinet player is accompanying an orchestral recording, with his offsider gracefully rollerblading through a slalem course, ballet style. Entertaining, talented and clever.
We catch a bus to the Pantheon but miss the last entry by three minutes. Gutted! But timing turns out well after all … We wheel/walk along left bank of the Seine, cross the Ponte des’Arte, enjoying last rays of sun. On the way we notice a church, Saint Savern. It has the open buttresses similar to notre dame, and was built soon after in the same style so there are big stained glass windows. It is smaller and less decorative, but has identical ribbed vaulted ceilings,and some of the original windows. It feels good to recognise architectural features that not long ago would have had absolutely no significance … The more you learn, the less you know …
The sun is low, casting a golden glow as we approach the Eiffel tower. We travel everywhere by bus because of accessability. Metro is faster and more efficient but we have seen no stations with lifts, and when we ask, nobody recalls seeing lifts. The benefit of travelling by bus is that we can see more of Paris as we move around.
We grab some take out Asian food so we can picnic while we watch the sun set behind the Eiffel tower. The night lights come on, and become more and more visible as night settles. At 9 the light show begins and for five minutes the night is even more magical. Everyone on the lawn claps as the show begins and then as it ends. There are twenty thousand lights, all twinkling.
On the way back to the hotel, just a short walk/wheel, I stop to buy a small bar of chocolate. It’s expensive. Peter notices that a bottle of bordeaux dry white wine, sold in the same shop, is only a few euro more. Wine is cheap.
Paris with it’s fairy tale buildings, many parks, great works of art, the River Seine, and now the Eiffel tower at night, is a city of wonder.
Wednesday 14 September
We’re going to the Louvre! I’m so excited! We can take our time, no rushing. It’s open til 9.45 pm tonight. The louvre has thousands of exhibits and I’ve heard that it is the greatest art museum in the world. Because it’s so vast, and is a maze of hallways in and out of buildings, we have made a list of our priorities. First call is the hall of Greek statues. We are going to see Venus de Milo again. I love looking at her from the front, and underneath her in my wheelchair. Her expression is marvelous, her stance is relaxed yet slightly sensual. Her body is perfect, I barely register that bits of her are missing!
Walking through the greek sculptures I almost miss the statue that is thought to be the first female nude, and set the style for centuries. She isn’t Venus de Milo, but she is fabulous.
Next, we want to see the Italian sculptures. They include Michaelangelo’s work – the two slaves. We had seen first attempts emerging from marble while we were visiting the Galleria del Accademia in Florence. It is superb to see them finished here. One of them has a back like an ox. The muscles are taut and flexed under the marble. Michaelangelo always carved from one solid piece of marble and was a perfectionist. I wonder what he saw and didn’t like in his first attempt … The “Pieta” is the only work he signed, so maybe the only one he was completely happy with.
Before getting to the slaves though, we pass a marvelous bronze statue of Cupid. He seems to be in flight. I’ve seen pictures of this, but the original has life and fluidity. Fantastic. I’d recommend seeing this statue.
I want to see the Mona Lisa again. Not because I especially like the painting (it’s great, but doesn’t make my heart sing) but because I can wheel right in front of her, in front of the barrier, in front of everyone else. The crowd is maybe eight or nine people deep. And I am in front of all those people who have waited for a very long time to stand even four back. Peter is with me. The French treat people with disabilities with great respect and give us priority in many situations. I will never have this sort of opportunity again. So I sit in the very front, looking closely at Mona Lisa!
I actually prefer the paintings by Titian and Veranaze that are nearby and are being ignored by the throngs who want to see Mona Lisa because that’s why you come to the louvre. Yet I have seen much better work by Da Vinci than Mona Lisa. I wonder what he thought about the painting. He was commissioned to paint the young woman, but had an argument with the person who commissioned him. He took years to complete the painting away from her. Some say he painted her from memory (although this is unlikely as other paintings suggest a different likeness), others say he used his lover, Franscesco, as a model. He used this this young man as the model for John the Baptist, and other subjects.
Titian’s “Breaking Bread with Ameus” is superb. The detail in the foreground is extraordinary, especially the plain white tablecloth – appropriate because it reinforces the simplicity of the meal, and the importance of this ceremony to the church.
We have two other areas we want to visit. Delacroix’s work in the French eighteenth century rooms, and something I have only ever seen a picture of in the louvre information booklet, a statue, “The Winged Victory of Samothrace.””
The louvre is impossible to get around, especially using lifts instead of stairs. We seem to always be going up to come down. So we ask a guard who explains how to get to the statue. He adds that because we will be arriving from the lift, we will see it from from the angle it was intended to be looked at from. The ancient Greek statue, “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” was found in a ruined temple (it is headless) and it is believed that the right side was against a wall because it has little detail, and the left side offers such a remarkable profile. It’s another must see. On the way we two Boticellis. They are friezes taken from a villa and have no religious theme, just ordinary people in domestic scenes. Fantastic! At times like this I have to pinch myself – I really am in Paris, in the Louvre!
Before we leave the louvre I want to take with me one final image of Venus de Milo. I’m happy!
We lunch on the lawn among the statues of Le jardin de touillieries. It’s name comes from its origininal life as a tilery … In front of us we can see the Arc de Triomphe; slightly to the left is the Eiffel Tower, then Museum D’Orsay, then the Louvre and back in front is La Place de Concorde. (A square that has an ancient Egyptian obelisk in the centre, on either side is a fountain finished in gold, and at each corner is a marble column) Who would believe such an outlook possible?!
I’m wearing the Odstock fes today. My skin seems fine and so I’m trying it again. I walk the length of le jardin de touillieries, from the arc de Triomphe du carousel to la place de Concorde. I’m slow, but the sun is out, it’s warm, and it’s lovely … And it’s Paris!
With a few more hours left in the day, we head off to the Pantheon. It is on first look an impressive building, with an imposing yet lovely interior. However, I think it is little more than a tomb, honouring some very well known and popular people. The crypt is weird, with room for dozens more tombs and urns. Especially weird are the two brick lined rooms on either side at the very end. Each room has armchairs and are actually information centres. They look like living rooms in which someone is watching TV. It’s surreal.
It seems that the best use of the building is to hang a heavy pendulum from the large dome. This was originally done as an experiment to show that the earth rotates. It still hangs there, appearing to swing, when it is in fact the earth moving under it.
While waiting for a bus back to the hotel we wander through part of le jardin de Luxembourg. It’s a beautiful park with lawns, trees, fountains, paths, flower beds, areas for shade in the heat of summer and plenty of seating.
It’s autumn now. The leaves are falling and the trees are changing colour.
Thursday 15 September
We’re going to visit Sacre coeur today. When I look up at the Montmartre skyline the cathedral shines white and in bold relief.
It’s a long bus ride across central Paris to Montmartre … and another world. On the way up the hill we find a boulangerie that sells grain bread. We don’t expect anyone there to speak English and the young girl serving us looks at us in amazement when I ask “Parlez vous Anglais?” it’s not a problem though, I laugh and point to the loaf we want, say “pardon, mademoiselle” and I hold up one finger. Now she knows what we want she’s ok.
The bread is warm! And we buy a pastry to share. I can’t wait and as soon as we’re out of the shop i bite into it. If I lived in Paris I would soon get fat eating pastries …
Across the road is a fruit and vege shop. We buy “grape tomatoes”, a banana, (I’m braving another one, the first was bland and the texture soft – this one is the same. Bananas and apples are not good here), black grapes, nectarines and … Raspberries! We eat them on the street. They are the best raspberries I’ve eaten since I went berry picking with the kids years ago.
We approach Sacre Coeur from the back and pass a small park with gardens and lawn. It’s lovely. We might come back to it later and sit in the sun. The domes and towers of the basilica are wonderful.
Sacre Coeur sits on top of the hill and overlooks Paris. It’s difficult to recognise any landmarks from here, everything is so small. Inside the church mass is being celebrated, but is nearly finished. The mass is sung. It is followed by the Angelus, a midday prayer, and is sung by a dozen or so nuns. The acoustics are amazing. I feel like I am watching a movie set, maybe from the fifties.
The basilica is made of limestone that lightens as it ages, so this is why it looks so white and glowing when I look up at it from central Paris. Inside it has the plain ribbed vaults so favoured in French architecture. Here they are white because of the limestone blocks, and they look beautiful in their simplicity. Each side chapel has a stained glass window dedicated to a saint.
We picnic on the front steps of the church and look out over Paris. There are the usual beggars, scammers and hawkers. Near the church is the so-called “village of Montmarte”. It’s full of souvenir shops, pubs (including an Irish Pub, which are found almost everywhere in Paris), cafes, and portrait painters aggressively selling their services. They are not very good. We stop for drinks in a cafe where later we witness the proprietor send the artists away – good.
It’s a sunny day so we lie in the park behind the church and read. It’s almost empty. If tourists turned right instead of left toward the “village” they’d find the park. Fortunately, only a few do. It’s quiet and peaceful. Birds sing, and as long as we stay out of the shade, it’s warm.
Walking back down the hill we buy some more bread from the boulangerie. I’m sure I saw a Fromagerie from the bus, and we walk til we find it. The smell is wonderful, and the woman serving tells us about some of the cheeses. The Brie is so creamy we can spread it on the bread. The other cheese we bought on her recommendation is supposedly the most popular cheese in France. The milk is from the mountains. Superb. Peter wants some ham, and she recommends the boucherie a few metres back up the hill. The only useful word I know is “jambon”. The boucher brings out three hams from the back and another from the window. It’s easy to decide on appearance. As in Italy, he slices it very, very thinly. When we tell him we are from Nouvelle Zealande he is very happy and brings out a carry bag with the name of his shop on it. Peter is delighted. He has a carry bag that says Montmartre. Negotiating without a common language, in the bohemian area of Montmartre is just about the highlight of our day!
We take the bus to where it intersects with the Champs Élysées. It feels great to be walking down this boulevard, and when we come to a pedestrian crossing we stop halfway and take a photo of the Arc de Triomphe in one direction and the Place de Concorde in the other. There’s a path through some gardens beside the road. While we are wheel/walking along it we see police on horses. They pass right by us. Now we’ve seen police on horse back, bicycles, motor bikes, small cars, big cars, and paddy wagons. (the previous evening on our way home, near the hotel we heard chanting and saw lots of people from Gabon who had been protesting about something, gesticulating and animated and yelling at each other. A few minutes later we see four police vans with prisoners in, presumably from the protest.)
We cross over the place de Concorde to the Jardin de touillieries, and walk through in the last of the afternoon sun.
It’s fresh bread, cheese, ham and tomatoes for dinner.
Friday 16 September
From the streets of Montmartre to the Palace of Versailles!
We are picked up from our hotel by a tour guide who is taking a small group to Versailles. Sophie is lively and organised. She speaks English with a delightful French accent with a strong American twang. It turns out that we are to visit the “homes” built in the village of Triannon, very near Versailles, by some of the kings and queens of France, to escape the formalities of the Palace.
She explains that Louis fourteenth had been invited to dinner at a hunting lodge in Versailles and was so jealous that he imprisoned the owner and confiscated his lodge and land. The hunting lodge became the main part of the palace to which he added two enormous wings.
We arrive at the palace and Peter and I enter through a back door lift, while the others walk up the main staircase. No loss because the staircase had been rebuilt in the 1980s. The first room we see is the chapel – two floors high with a white and gold organ that rises the fullheight. I can’t recall any details of the room because the organ is so magnificent. If this is representative of the palace I am going to be very impressed. The Hall of Mirrors is fabulous especially with it’s garden outlook. Proportionally, it’s very long and narrow, with many huge glass chandeliers, gilded walls and ceilings, and everything designed to capture and reflect light. It faces west and must have been blinding with light and amazing at sunset. I can only imagine the light reflected from the mirrors and the glass of the chandeliers. The hall is a wall of people, shoulder to shoulder, yet the chandeliers, high above them, and the mirrored walls can still be seen.
During the Revolution much of the art and all the furniture was removed and sold. The French artist, Charles Lebrun, designed themes for the painted ceilings of the rooms, based on roman gods, but the painting was done by others. The “hundred year” war required that France put all its resources into the military, leaving little opportunity for the development of art. The lack of artistic talent in France at the time means that the ceilings are very mediocre, as is most of the art from this time, particularly compared to that of Italy where the renaissance was beginning.
Some of the original furniture was donated by private collectors and returned to the Palace. Consequently, the furnishings are mainly from napoleons time. Originally the wall coverings were changed twice a year – silk in summer, velvet in winter, and some of the silk wall covering has been restored.
Many of the paintings are now in the Louvre, but there is one original Veronaze and one poor copy. The rest of the paintings in the palace are by French artists of the seventeenth and eighteenth century and are fairly mediocre.
The gardens comprise a wonderful eight hundred hectares, although originally there were eight thousand hectares. It’s French layout is geometric. The gardens include magnificent fountains and a grand canal that was used for gondolas. The garden is overlooked by many rooms. King Louis fourteenth loved the garden and took visiting dignitaries on tours, as well as writing a book about it.
I love the fountains, especially the Apollo fountain with Apollo rising from the water with horses. Superb! The Grand canal is also a stunning feature. I would love to spend more time in the gardens, but not only must the tour group move on, but there is a thunder and lightning storm and there is a terrific downfall of rain. We consider coming back here on our own next week, but there is so much to see and do in Paris …
Next stop is the Grand Triannon, built by Louis the Fourteenth as a bolt hole for himself and his mistress who eventually became his wife. I really liked the style of what seemed more like a grand country home than a king’s castle. Pink marble on the outside of this single level palace is from France, the only marble that does. Inside are simple white painted high walls with few decorations. It is the opposite of the Palace Versailles, built as the grandest palace.
It is very light and airy, with tall ceilings and many tall windows that overlook a beautiful garden – not as grand as at Versailles, but Louis the Fourteenth loved gardens.
There were few servants here and their quarters were on one side of the palace where a corridor ran down the entire length, so servants could come go without being seen. The corridor was itself tall, wide, light airy and could easily have been part of the Triannon.
Napoleon chose to live in Grand Triannon. (The palace of Versailles was too closely associated with the royalty). Consequently, the furniture here is from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is elaborate and ornate, mainly ebony and gold, with egyptian themes that Napoleon admired. There are tables made from elm which is rare. Both types of furniture are priceless.
The wall furnishings surprise me. There are strong colours, bright pink in Napoleon’s bedroom, bright yellow in the war room!
Marie Antoinette liked Triannon, so decided to build her own place to escape to, from the Palace. Petit Triannon has three stories. We entered through the servants’ area. It has a beautiful brown curving stone entry, and this brown stone is used throughout the servants rooms. They are lovely, airy, roomy, and have good proportions.
The third floor was the apartment of Louis the sixteenth. It is closed to the public.
The second floor was used by Marie Antoinette. I am impressed by the original parquet floor of oak, the original chandeliers which are magnificent, the original marble fireplaces, and iron fretwork with golden letters, MA, intertwined within. But most of all I am impressed by a fabulous portrait of Marie Antoinette. Until now, I have not seen anything approaching the genius of the great Italian painters. This painting is luminous. This is easily the best painting I have seen done by French artist. Not until the late nineteenth century will we see this sort of talent from France. The artist is Elizabeth Louise Vegee-Le Brun, and as so often happens she did not get the accolades she deserves until much later. Marie Antoinette had commissioned many artists to paint her, but this is the only portrait she liked. Five of Vegee-Le Brun’s paintings hang in the Louvre. Later I make a point of finding her art there. Wonderful!
Marie Antoinette also built a small hamlet where she could take her children. Although her house was the largest there, it had only a dining and a sitting room. She never slept in the house she built but took her children there to play. The reproduction of the hamlet seems a little cheesy, but is apparently true to the original plans.
I find it thoroughly interesting to see the Palace, grand Trianon, Petit Triannon and hamlet together in context, given the history of the French kings and the French revolution. It is sobering to recall that over the centuries that these, and other chateaux, were built, people were starving while the aristocracy taxed them to pay for their lavish lifestyles. Yet without this disregard for humanity, we would not have this art and architecture to admire. Are we complicity in their disregard?
The tour group arrives back in Paris late afternoon and we have plenty of time to go out to walk along beside the Seine looking at the vendors working out of their green boxes, selling mostly second hand books. We stand at the end of vert-galant, the park on ile de cite, as the sun sets behind Eiffel tower. It is warm, families are out having picnics here, and it is a peaceful way to finish a busy day.
However, it isn’t yet the end of this eventful day. Walking to the bus stop we see police on roller blades, pulling up a motor cyclist! We are not the only ones taking photos! These policemen are experts on their rollerblades. Shortly afterwards we see another pair of patrolmen on rollerblades.
Finally, the evening ends as I break the bus! After I board using the ramp the driver can’t seem to get the access ramp into the bus sufficiently to start up. So the driver orders everyone off and we have to board the next bus. I am sure that everyone is giving me evil looks for using the ramp, but I ignore them, and sail onto the next bus in the same way. No problems this time …
Notes on Accessibility
People with disabilities get into all French state museums and art galleries free. So does their guest. State museums include the Louvre, Musee D’Osay, Musee Rodin, Versailles Palace, L’Orangerie, Musee Marmotot Monet, and others. Private museums offer discounts.
People with disabilities get priority at taxi ranks, toilets, entry to museums … No queueing!
Buses have access ramps in and out of the middle doors. Bus drivers will often ask where you are disembarking so they can put the ramp out before opening the middle door. Just put your arm out to signal the driver as the bus approaches and the driver will make sure that the middle doors open in front of you.
Pavements have good curb crossings, and are reasonably smooth for easy wheeling.
People are unerringly polite and helpful. Even if someone claims to speak only a little English, chances are they speak English well.
The metro is easy and efficient, unfortunately I never found a station with a lift down to it, so I stuck with buses and the occasional taxi.
Hotels often claim to have a lift, but it will not fit a wheelchair in.
Paris treats people with disabilities well, and the city is worth any inconveniences!