Le Château de Versailles




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Most of central Paris is within walking distance. And on the afternoon we arrived, we did just that, walked around the old city – from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysées to the Louvre, and back along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower again. Many other attractions are within easy reach.

But the next day, our first full day, we ventured out of the city center to see the fabulous Château de Versailles. This palace and its surrounding gardens are about twenty kilometres from the city center and easily reached by train.

Leaving the train station we walked a block and turned the corner and there it was.

The front of the palace features lot of gilt work.

What started out as a hunting lodge built by Louis XIII in 1624 was greatly expanded by the Sun King, Louis XIV from 1661 to 1678. It was expanded again from 1678 to 1715 when two large wings were added to flank the Royal Courtyard. This phase also saw the replacement of the west facing terrace with what is now the Hall of Mirrors, the most famous and most popular room in the palace.

Versailles became the seat of power in pre-revolutionary France when Louis XIV moved the royal court there in 1682. It wasn’t until the French Revolution of 1789 that the seat of government was moved back to Paris.

Janis and I at the Apollo Fountain with the palace in the background. All the windows facing the gardens are from the Hall of Mirrors and its flanking salons.

Louis XIV liked to do things big and Versailles is probably his crowning achievement. The palace has 2300 rooms. The cost to build it was staggering. Wikipedia gives this description:

“One of the most costly elements in the furnishing of the grands appartements during the early years of the personal reign of Louis XIV was the silver furniture, which can be taken as a standard – with other criteria – for determining a plausible cost for Versailles. The Comptes meticulously list the expenditures on the silver furniture – disbursements to artists, final payments, delivery – as well as descriptions and weight of items purchased. Entries for 1681 and 1682 concerning the silver balustrade used in the salon de Mercure serve as an example:

  • Year 1681
    II. 5 In anticipation: For the silver balustrade for the king’s bedroom: 90,000 livres
  • II. 7 18 November to Sieur du Metz, 43,475 livres 5 sols for delivery to Sr. Lois and to Sr. de Villers for payment of 142,196 livres for the silver balustrade that they are making for the king’s bedroom and 404 livres for tax: 48,861 livres 5 sol.
  • II. 15 16 June 1681 – 23 January 1682 to Sr. Lois and Sr. de Villers silversmiths on account for the silver balustrade that they are making for the king’s use (four payments): 88,457 livres 5 sols.
  • II. 111 25 March – 18 April to Sr. Lois and Sr. de Villers silversmiths who are working on a silver balustrade for the king, for continued work (two payments): 40,000 livres”

Additional figures are given for 1682. There was over a ton of silver in the balustrade alone notes Wikipedia, a “cost in excess of 560,000 livres”. And that was just the silver. All told, one estimate has the expenditures during Louis’s reign at over US $2 billion! So crippling was this expense that in 1689, Louis had all the silver in the palace sent to the mint to be melted down.

Today the palace is a museum, a grand edifice filled with art and historical artifacts.

Tourist map of the Chateau

We started our tour at the southern end of the North Wing. Walking along a vast corridor  we quickly we came across a chapel complete with marble columns, a large pipe organ and a magnificently painted ceiling mural.

The chapel in the North Wing

Continuing along the corridor, we came across numerous works of art including a statue of Joan of Arc. At the end of the wing, we ascended a staircase to the second floor and walked back again. One of the more interesting pieces of statuary was a monkey riding a goat.

Statue of a monkey riding a goat in the 17th Century Galleries at Versailles

The long corridor was flanked by various paintings and sculptures on the left and tall windows on the right. It was through these windows that we caught our first glimpse of the magnificent gardens behind the palace. The garden we saw, the North Parterre, is just a small fraction of the overall gardens.

The North Parterre seen from the North Wing of the Chateau de Versailles

At the end of the passage we came to large room, a corner room that marks the transition into the original Château. The room is called the Salon d’Hercule or Salon of Hercules. It is the first of a series of such Salons that we encounter on our way to the Hall of Mirrors. The size of the room is immense – huge vaulted ceilings all covered in elaborate and colorful murals. The pillars are solid marble. And at one end hangs a huge painting. The video below captures the sheer size and majesty of the room.

From the Hercules Salon we head west, passing through the Abundance Salon, Venus Salon, Diana Salon, Mars Salon, Mercury Salon and Apollo Salon before arriving at the Salon of War which bookends the Hall of Mirrors. These rooms are referred to as the King’s State Apartments and were antechambers to the royal residence where gatherings, parties and amusements were held. Each of these rooms is filled with art and very elaborate decorative work. And each has giant ceiling frescoes as well.

 

The Salon of Mars was originally a bedchamber.

The Hall of Mirrors is one of the main attractions at Versailles. When it was built, mirrors were an expensive commodity and Venice had the monopoly on production. Louis’s Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert lured a number of Venetian workers to Paris to work in the Royal Glass and Mirror Works. The Venetian government retaliated by sending assassins to kill these workers to protect Venice’s trade secrets.

Nevertheless, the Hall was built. The great corridor runs 239.5 feet from one end to the other and is flanked by the Salon of War and the Salon of Peace. Its width is 34.4 feet and the vaulted ceiling soars 40.4 feet above the floor.

The space occupied by the hall used to be a terrace overlooking the magnificent gardens stretching behind the château. Today large windows overlook the gardens. On the interior wall are seventeen mirror-clad arches.

The Hall of Mirrors

Many fine pieces of sculpture line the hall and it is flanked on both sides by giant candleabras.

One of the many candleabras in the Hall of Mirrors

From the Salon of Peace we made our way to the royal bed chambers. The king himself had a large canopy bed and had a separate room from the queen. Her bedroom had a larger bed than the king.

The Queen’s Bed

Near the King’s Room were several antechambers where the King and his aides could meet to discuss affairs of state. Central to them all is the Bull’s Eye Room or as it is called in French, the Salon l’Oeil de Bouef. This room had exits to the King’s bedroom, the Queen’s Apartments and the Hall of Mirrors. It also had a staircase leading to the Dauphin’s apartments below.

The large window known as the l’oiel de bouef

After passing through various other rooms including the Guard’s Room, we descended to the ground floor where staff and guests stayed, as well as the Dauphin. These guest rooms themselves were very lavish. Paintings and sculptures abound as well as a grand piano and an organ.

A pipe organ in one of the ground floor apartments

The Palace at Versailles is magnificent. It cost an unbelievable amount of money to build and included many pieces of furniture made of solid silver. Many later had to be melted down to pay some of the royal bills. But the grandeur and elegance of the period remains evident today. In my opinion, this is one of the wonders of the modern world, a must-see if you are ever in Paris.

But if you think the Palace is magnificent, prepare to be blown away by our next installment – Les Jardins de Versailles. The entire estate covers over 800 hectares or close to 2000 acres. This includes the Palace, the Gardens, the Park (which is a free public park), and the Trianon Estate (Marie Antoinette’s private estate). The gardens are a work of art – carefully landscaped and tended and abounding with sculptures and fountains, it is as much an attraction as the Palace itself.

Additional links 

Previous Posts on Paris

 




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Photo Gallery: Le Château de Versailles




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to the Palace at Versailles. These were taken with an older camera and if we should be fortunate enough to visit Paris again, I’ll replace them with better pictures taken with my newer camera.

Statue of Louis XIV at the entrance to the courtyard at the Château de Versailles
The lower corridor in the North Wing
Statue of Joan of Arc in the North Wing lower corridor
The windows in the Hercules Salon
Ceiling mural in the Hercules Salon
Another ceiling mural in one of the salons at Versailles
The North Parterre at Versailles seen from the Apollo Salon
Relief portrait of Louis XIV in the Salon of War
Ceiling art in the Hall of Mirrors which extends almost 240 feet from one end to the other.
On one side of the Hall of Mirrors are huge mirrored panels interspersed with the occasional door leading to the King’s chambers.
On the other side are large windows looking over the gardens and fountains. Giant candelabras line the hall.
Large fireplace in the Salon of Peace
The King’s Bed at Versailles
The dining table in the Antechamber Grand Couvert. This antechamber to the Queen’s apartments was where the royal family ate in public.
A large tapestry in the Antechamber Grand Couvert
Some furniture in the lower quarters where employees and guests stayed.




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Rome’s Colosseum




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The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built and a must-see highlight of any visit to Rome. We spent a day there before taking a Mediterranean cruise in 2011. After the cruise we spent another day in the city.

That first day had us take a hop on/hop off bus around the city and one of our hop off points was the Colosseum. We grabbed a light lunch and then walked around the perimeter.

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This photo is a merge of two others. It captures the immense size of the Colosseum.

It is an ancient building and in remarkably good repair considering it is almost 2000 years old. Construction started under Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD. He died in 79 AD and did not see the building completed the following year under his heir Titus. Financed by the spoils of the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, it was built with the slave labour of 100,000 Jews captured and spirited off to Rome.

Made of concrete and sand, it was large enough to accommodate 50-80,000 spectators, averaging around 65,000. Like modern stadiums, it was a venue for mass entertainment which included battling gladiators, wild animal hunts, re-enactments of famous battles, mock sea battles, dramas based on Classical mythology and public executions. Yes, Christians were fed to lions here. In fact, the Pope marks every Good Friday by a Way of the Cross procession that starts at the Colosseum to honour Christian martyrs.

The Arch of Constantine, built in 315 AD, stands near the Colosseum.
The Arch of Constantine, built in 315 AD, stands near the Colosseum.

Interestingly enough, twenty years after its construction, the poet Juvenal published his Satire X which includes the following lines:

“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

Juvenal is lamenting the practice of gaining political office by bribing the voters with free wheat and mass spectacles. It marked the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. Walking around the perimeter we were impressed by the vastness of the Colosseum and its great beauty. The two millennia since its creation have left it weathered and eroded. It underwent extensive renovations from 1993 to 2000 at a cost of 40 billion Italian lire (US$19.3 million).

End on view of the outer wall of the Colosseum
This end on view of the outer wall of the Colosseum captures its great height. The outer wall is shored up by supports built during renovations.

There were originally two walls, an outer wall and an inner wall. The inner wall remains largely intact but only a small portion of the outer wall remains. It is shored up at both ends by sloped concrete supports. But even with all the renovation, you can see cracks in the facade at various places, not to mention large stones at the base which have fallen from the structure.

Some of the stone work on the facade looks precarious but didn't seem to phase the tourists walking below.
Some of the stone work on the facade looks precarious but didn’t seem to phase the tourists walking below.

We saw some men in gladiator garb posing with tourists on our walk as well as a wedding party. It is a popular locale for wedding photos.

The Colosseum is a popular locale for wedding photos.
The Colosseum is a popular locale for wedding photos. Did you spot them in the picture of the Arch of Constantine above?

After our cruise we visited the Colosseum once again, this time paying to go inside. Well worth the money. The inside is as spectacular as the outside and well worth the visit.

As we entered we passed a recently recovered partial statue. There is continuous archeological work going on around Rome. This partial statue was probably of a horse and rider, but we were amused by it because all that remains is, how shall we put it, a horse’s ass.

The back end of a horse is all that remains of this recently discovered statue.
The back end of a horse is all that remains of this recently discovered statue.

Inside you get a terrific view of the hypogeum, a series of underground passages and rooms, and a partially reconstructed stage at one end. The staging, made of wood, covered the entire subterranean level during the Colosseum’s heyday. Many spectacles were staged that involved lifts and hoists moving animals, actors and stage props from below to the arena floor.

The interior os the Colosseum showing the hypogeum and a partial reconstruction of the arena floor.
The interior of the Colosseum showing the hypogeum and a partial reconstruction of the arena floor.

The hypogeum was a later addition to the Colosseum and in its early years, at least two mock sea battles or naumachiae were staged there. This involved filling the basin with water and bringing in ships. One was staged by Titus when the Colosseum opened in 80 AD and another by Domitian in 85 AD.

It must have been quite the spectacle. Some experts figure that water supplied by aqueducts and a series of pipes and channels could fill the basin to a depth of five feet in just 35 to 76 minutes. These battles were considerably bloodier than the gladiatorial battles often staged in the arena. They involved many more people, 3000 in the event staged by Titus. Condemned prisoners were used and they fought to the death.

Shortly after the last naumachia,  the hypogeum was built which precluded staging more of these spectacles.

Some detail of the hypogeum, the underground passages and rooms used to handle actors and props before they made their way to the stage.
Some detail of the hypogeum, the underground passages and rooms used to handle actors and props before they made their way to the stage.

Up to 80,000 people filled the stadium in its prime but  little seating remains. There are many sloped angular buttresses which held the seating at one time, but now stand alone. There is a little bit of seating extant above the renovated stage area. I’m not sure if this is original or recreated for tourists.

Flying buttresses supported the original seating area.
Flying buttresses supported the original seating area.
Some seating above the stage. Not sure if this is original or a recreation.
Some seating above the stage. Not sure if this is original or a recreation.

One of the things we noticed in the Colosseum was the large number of feral cats. We noticed them outside on our earlier visit and now again inside. Not sure what it is with ancient ruins and wild felines, but we first encountered them in the walled city of Cadiz in Spain and we later came across more of them at the ruins in Ephesus.

Feral cats keep the tourists company on a visit to the Colosseum.
Feral cats keep the tourists company on a visit to the Colosseum.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Colosseum and can only imagine how it must have been in its heyday, the scene of great and bloody spectacles. The fact that these extravaganzas were staged with real people fighting to the death or even put to death in contests with ferocious beasts gives one chills. But even today gore fests remain popular in movies and television shows, though these are non-lethal make-believe. In less civilized parts of the world, live beheadings and stonings of the condemned remain popular with the masses.

I’ve included an additional photo gallery as well as links to a couple of articles on naumachiae.

 

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Photo Gallery: The Colosseum




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to the Colosseum.

The exterior wall of the Colosseum. Only part of it remains.
The exterior wall of the Colosseum. Only part of it remains.
Cracks in the facade.
Cracks in the facade.
Actors pose with tourists for pictures
Actors pose with tourists for pictures
Interior walls supported by flying buttresses which also supported the seating.
Interior walls supported by flying buttresses which also supported the seating.
More of the interior of the Colosseum
More of the interior of the Colosseum
The long center pathway of the hypogeum
The long center pathway of the hypogeum
The recreated stage area
The recreated stage area
The colour of the sandstone can be seen in the bright sunlight. In shadow it looks quite gray.
The colour of the sandstone can be seen in the bright sunlight. In shadow it looks quite gray.
Looking down from one of the upper tiers
Looking down from one of the upper tiers
Another view from an upper tier
Another view from an upper tier
From outside you can see some of the interior through the archways, but it is still worth paying to go in.
From outside you can see some of the interior through the archways, but it is still worth paying to go in.
This end of the outer wall is of modern construction, created during extensive renovations to preserve the outer wall.
This end of the outer wall is of modern construction, created during extensive renovations to preserve the outer wall.
The Temple of Venus and Roma is just across the street from the Colosseum. In fact, much of Rome is one big archeological dig.
The Temple of Venus and Roma is just across the street from the Colosseum. In fact, much of Rome is one big archeological dig.

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An Epistle About the Ephesians




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You may recall the New Testament book called Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. The Ephesians were the people of an ancient city called Ephesus. Today its ruins have been well excavated though new excavation continues to this day. This archaeological site is about twenty kilometres from the Turkish port city of Kusadasi.

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The ancient city of Ephesus lives on through its archaeological ruins.

Built in the 10th Century BC, Ephesus was a flourishing Greek city for almost a thousand years. The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, (around 550 BC) was near here. Little of the temple remains today.

In 129 B.C. the city fell into Roman hands. In 88 BC a short-lived revolt brought self-rule to Ephesus  but two years later it was back under Roman control. There was also some Egyptian influence in the city. King Ptolemy XII Auletes retired there in 57 BC. And Mark Antony visited there with Cleopatra in 33 BC.

Ephesus was made the capital of Proconsular Asia under Caesar Augustus around 27 BC as it entered a new age of prosperity. “It was second in importance and size only to Rome,” notes Wikipedia.

The Gate of Augustus
The Gate of Augustus

In the 50s AD Christianity made a profound influence on the city as the apostle Paul lived there from 52-54 AD. The city is referenced in Paul’s epistle, the Acts of the Apostles and in the Book of Revelations.

Sacked by the Goths in 263 AD, the city was rebuilt by Constantine the Great who built the new public baths. It remained the most important city of the Byzantine Empire after Constantine.  But the city declined after an earthquake in 614 and conquests by the Arabs and later the Turks. By the 15th Century the city was completely abandoned.

Much of the archaeological site is Roman, one of the largest Roman archaeological digs in the world.

When we arrived in Kusadasi, there were lines of buses to take everyone on their excursions. Most were going to Ephesus. Our guide was a genial fellow who told us a bit about the history of modern Turkey as our bus wended its way on the twenty kilometre trek to the site.

About fifty buses were parked cheek by jowl on the pier aaiting tourists.
About fifty buses were parked cheek by jowl on the pier awaiting tourists.

Our guide was very proud of Turkey. He explained that Turkey does not have many of the troubles so common in other areas of the middle east. The reason, he explained, was because the father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, set out to recreate Turkey as a secular state, a modern, western state. He served as the first President from 1923 until his death in 1938. His reforms included recognizing the equal civil and political rights of women, taking them out from under the yoke of Islam. He abolished the caliphate and sharia courts. He reformed education introducing mandatory secular schooling. He encouraged Turks to adopt  western style clothing.

ataturk
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Ataturk’s attitude can be summarized in this excerpt from a 1925 speech: “In the face of knowledge, science, and of the whole extent of radiant civilization, I cannot accept the presence in Turkey’s civilized community of people primitive enough to seek material and spiritual benefits in the guidance of sheiks. The Turkish republic cannot be a country of sheiks, dervishes, and disciples. The best, the truest order is the order of civilization. To be a man it is enough to carry out the requirements of civilization.”

Turkey remains a democratic, westernized country though its majority religion remains Islam. Wikipedia notes that according to a Gallup poll on Religiousity, 73 percent of of Turkey’s Islam adherents are “irreligious Muslims” and only 7 to 13 percent think religion should have any influence on the law. Unfortunately, religious fundamentalists and radicals have engaged in the occasional act of terrorism in Turkey trying to swing it to an Islamic state.

In any event, our guide was most informative and very proud of Turkey’s secularism and western traditions. He also got off the bus and was our guide through the ruins of Ephesus.

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Our tour took us down this roadway to the Celsus Library.

Along the road to the landmark Celsus Library, we passed a number of other landmarks including the Temple of Hadrian. Hadrian was the Roman Emporer best known for building Hadrian’s Wall in Britain.

The Temple of Hadrian
The Temple of Hadrian

Another landmark were the baths built by Constantine the Great. Ephesus was a large and modern city and had running water. The baths were surrounded by public toilets which opened onto a channel of running water to carry the effluent away.

Public toilets near the baths.
Public toilets near the baths.

Further along we came to wide plaza in front of the famous Celsus Library. This library was built between 100 and 110 AD for the senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. Destroyed by an earthquake in 270 AD, some remnants of the facade remained and it was rebuilt between 1970 and 1978.

Our guide delighted in telling us that the city’s brothel was located near the library and many a Roman would tell his wife he was going to the library when he was really pursuing less intellectual endeavours.

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The Celsus Library – just a facade now

We passed through the Gate of Augustus beside the library and emerged onto a wide thoroughfare where we watched a recreation of the visit of Antony and Cleopatra to Ephesus in 33 BC. Here we also came to a large amphitheatre.

Janis and I in front of the Roman amphitheatre at Ephesus
Janis and I in front of the Roman amphitheatre at Ephesus
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Modern day concerts are sometimes hosted in the amphitheatre.

Ephesus is an ongoing archaeological dig and there was a huge crane near the amphitheatre when we were there, part of a continuing excavation project.

The archaeological dig continues.
The archaeological dig continues.

Soon we were finished our tour and arrived at a market where you could get camel rides and souvenirs. We laughed when we saw a shop labeled Genuine Fake Watches. But apparently the shop is so renowned it shows up on Google maps of Ephesus.

Genuine Fake Watches!
Genuine Fake Watches!

Our bus ride took us back to town where we were taken on a tour of a carpet warehouse. A woman demonstrated the ancient art of carpet weaving on a loom for us. Each row of the carpet is made by tying individual knots, then tamping them down and trimming them with a scissors.

The carpet folks brought out many magnificent carpets and spread them out before us, inviting us to touch and examine them. Some were quite pricey, especially the silk carpets. We ended up buying a small 15 inch by 26 inch decorative piece as a wall hanging for $200.

The Turks are superb salesmen. After the carpet place we had time to walk around the market stalls near the pier. We didn’t get past the first shop. A fellow standing at the entrance greeted us and invited us to come see his shop. We declined but he went into a spiel about Turkish hospitality and how his feelings would be hurt if we didn’t at least look around. We relented.

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A cluster of shops borders the cruise ship terminal.

He then took us through a maze of aisles and displays to a back room where there was a coffee table and some comfortable sofas. He invited us to sit down and we were brought some wine. Then he talked about his product – leather coats. Now neither of us had a leather coat. We always thought them to be a bit pricey and extravagant. But man, this guy was a smooth talker. He kept bringing out coat after coat, asking me if I didn’t think my wife would look lovely in this coat or that? Didn’t she deserve the best? And so on. He finally brought one my wife rather liked.

One down, he then said I also deserved a fine coat. Well I did and he found one I liked. We then dickered on price. He gave us a price. We countered with a lowball offer. He countered. We negotiated and finally came up with an agreement. And we went back two leather coats richer and around $600-$700 poorer. Benny’s Shop if you’re looking for a nice leather coat while in Kusadasi. We still have those coats and still use them today, six years later. We spent more money in Turkey than any other port we ever visited but consider it money well spent.

We very much enjoyed our visit to Turkey and to Ephesus. The Turks are a friendly people and the country is beautiful. The ruins at Ephesus were amazing.

I’ve added two photo galleries of additional pictures linked below. If you are on the front page, just scroll on down. If you are not, just click on the links.

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Photo Gallery: Ephesus # 1




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The photo above was made from several merged together in Photoshop. Below are some more pics of our visit to Ephesus and Kusadasi.

Our cruise ship in port at Kusadasi
Our cruise ship in port at Kusadasi
Some of the ancient ruins at Ephesus
These ruins at Ephesus are part of the Bath of Varius
More ancient ruins
More ancient ruins – lots of truncated pillars
Another amphitheatre - smaller than the main one
Another amphitheatre – smaller than the main one
Lots of feral cats at Ephesus - as there were in Cadiz and at Rome's Colliseum
Lots of feral cats at Ephesus – as there were in Cadiz and at Rome’s Colliseum
The road down to the library
The road down to the library
Another view of the Temple of Hadrian
Another view of the Temple of Hadrian
Carving of the goddess Nike
Carving of the goddess Nike
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The Fountain of Trajan built in 104 AD in honor of the Emperor Trajan
Roman toilets
Roman toilets
The Celsus Library
The Celsus Library with the Gate of Augustus to the right
Close up of part of the facade of the library
Close up of part of the facade of the library
A statue set into the library's facade
A statue set into the library’s facade
A broad boulevard from ancient Ephesus
A broad boulevard from ancient Ephesus
The marketplace at the end of our tour
The marketplace at the end of our tour
Camel rides anyone?
Camel rides anyone?

Continue on to our next Photo Gallery.

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Photo Gallery: Ephesus # 2




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Here are some more pics from our visit to Kusadasi and Ephesus. The picture above is of the amphitheatre. It was merged from two photos so the upper left is a bit of a blur.

Welcome to Turkey!
Welcome to Turkey!
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Domitian Square
Part of the Domitian Temple
Part of the Temple of Domitian
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Some more ancient ruins
Along the road
Along the road – you can see the Celsus Library in the distance
The Celsus Library
The Celsus Library and the Gate of Augustus
The archaeological dig continues
The archaeological dig continues
The Gate of Augustus - Celsus Library behind it.
The Gate of Augustus – Celsus Library behind it.
Carpets on display
Carpets on display

Silk carpet - it fairly shimmers in the light. Amazing!
Silk carpet – it fairly shimmers in the light. Amazing!

If you missed the rest of this series, click a link below.

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Paris: The City of Light




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Paris does not have a wild plethora of neon like Times Square in New York or the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. It’s called the City of Light because of its importance during the Age of Enlightenment and because it was one of the first European cities to get street lighting.

My wife and I spent a week in Paris to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary in 2011. We had never been there before and we were in for a treat. Paris is fabulous.

Today’s post will give you an overview. In future posts I’ll look at the Palais de Versailles, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Eiffel Tower and more. But my very next post will be a bit more risque. I call it Paris: Ooh-la-la!!! Watch for it.

In any event, we flew out in mid-September, arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport around noon on the 17th. Our hotel was on the other side of town, just south of the Bois de Boulogne in the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.

The Tim Hotel on the Place Marcel-Sembat
The Tim Hotel on the Place Marcel-Sembat

We schlepped our bags across town on Paris’s excellent rail network, changing trains at the huge Gare de Nord. The stations have no escalators so it was a bit of a haul. But finally we arrived at the Marcel-Sembat Station, which conveniently lay just below the Tim Hotel where we were staying. It overlooks Place Marcel-Sembat, one of the busiest intersections in the region with streets emanating like spokes on a wheel – eight of them.

Jet-lagged as we were, we weren’t about to throw away half a day sleeping. After a quick shower we went down and asked the concierge how to get to the Eiffel Tower. He told us to hop the Metro to the Trocadero Station.

Now Paris’s subway system is superb (despite the lack of escalators at stations). We got week-long tickets and hopped on. At the Trocadero Station we got off. Up some steps and we were at the back of the Palais de Chaillot. We hiked up some more steps to the vast Trocadero Plaza and there it was. Magnificent! Absolutely stunning! The Eiffel Tower!

The Eiffel Tower seen from the Trocadero Plaza.
The Eiffel Tower seen from the Trocadero Plaza. In this photo it looks like it is right there on the Plaza, but it is actually across the Seine River.

We walked towards it and found it was across the Seine River from the plaza. We descended the steps to street level and crossed the bridge feeling euphoric that we were actually in Paris.

We decided against going up the tower, opting to take a riverboat cruise on the Seine to give us an overview. The tour guide brought our attention to various points of interest along the way as the boat headed downstream, around Notre Dame Cathedral and back.

One of the many tour boats on the Seine.
One of the many tour boats on the Seine.
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The back of Notre Dame Cathedral with its flying buttresses.

Years ago in Vancouver I used to eat at a little restaurant on Thurlow called Le Bistro. My favorite dish was something called a Croque Monsieur. So I was pleased that food was available on the boat and Croque Monsieur was on the menu. Unfortunately, it did not hold a candle to the one at Le Bistro. In fact, I have yet to find one as good.

Le Pont Alexandre III
Le Pont Alexandre III, one of many bridges across the Seine.

After returning to our starting point we decided to walk to the Arc de Triomphe. We could see it in the distance. Paris is actually a great city for walking. All the major venues are within walking distance and we only used the Metro occasionally. The famous arch was just over two kilometres away, a half hour walk.

The Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe

The arch stands in the middle of a large traffic circle at one end of the Champs Elysees. We walked around and under it but did not go to the top. We never did get around to going up to the top – something for our next trip!

At the other end of the Champs Elysées is the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre. The Champs is a huge roadway with four lanes in each direction. We walked by shops and other sites and saw a long lineup at a place across the street. Later we learned it was a new Abercrombie and Fitch store and the lineup was job applicants.

Job seekers outside Abercrombie and Fitch on the Champs Elysees.
Job seekers outside Abercrombie and Fitch on the Champs Elysées.

Among other sites, we passed Le Grand Palais. This is a huge convention center with a massive glass roof. A variety of different trade and other shows are held there. While we were in Paris they had a an exhibition on the history of video games.

Le Grand Palais, Paris's Trade and Convention Centre
Le Grand Palais, Paris’s Trade and Convention Centre.

The Champs Elysees ends at the Place de la Concorde where the giant Luxor Obelisk stands. This is one of the original obelisks from the Luxor Temple in Egypt and was gifted to the people of France by Muhammed Ali, Khedive of Egypt in 1833. It is over 3000 years old and was moved to its current location in 1836.

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The 3000 year old Luxor Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde

But in 1793 this large square was called the Place de la Révolution. Close your eyes and visualize the square filled with throngs of rough-hewn people, milling and jostling for a view of the object in the center. On a platform – the guillotine. Tumbrils roll up carrying their victims for the day. One by one they are led up the steps of the scaffold. They are strapped to a board and tilted into place. The knife drops. The executioner draws the head out of the basket and holds it aloft to show the jeering crowd. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were among its victims. It’s enough to make the blood run cold as an icy finger traces down your spine. Hard to believe that happened here.

Paris is a city of gardens as well as famous buildings, including les Jardins Luxembourg near the Sorbonne University. Along the Champs Elysées we passed a number of beautiful gardens before arriving at the Tuileries, gardens built by Queen Catherine de Medicis in the 1564. She also had a palace built at one end (between the gardens and the Louvre). The palace served as the city residence for the royal family and was burned down by the Paris Commune in 1871.

The Louvre seen from the round pond in the Tuileries Garden
The Louvre seen from the round pond in the Tuileries Garden

The original garden measured 500 meters by 300 meters and was the largest garden in Paris at the time. (It still is.) After it became a public park, many statues were placed here and it is stunning both as a garden and a museum piece.

Staute of Theseus and the Minotaur in the Jardins des Tuileries
Statue of Theseus and the Minotaur in the Jardin des Tuileries

We passed the mini-Arc de Triomphe and headed to the Louvre. This immense art museum used to be a palace before Queen Catherine abandoned it and built the new one. The Louvre was also torched by the Communards in 1871 but miraculously survived.

In a central plaza in the nook formed by the U-shaped Louvre is the famous glass pyramid. We’ll take a closer look at the Louvre in another post.

Yours truly in front of the Louvre
Yours truly in front of the Louvre

We left the Louvre and walked down some steps to the banks of the Seine, walking along its length for a while. On the far side we saw the Musée d’Orsay, which used to be a train station. It is reminiscent of the old Gare Montparnasse shown in the Academy Award winning movie Hugo.

The Musée d'Orsay is housed in a former railroad station.
The Musée d’Orsay is housed in a former railroad station.

Soon we found ourselves back at the Eiffel Tower. We crossed over to the Palais de Challot and the Trocadero Metro station for the short hop back to the hotel. After dinner at a nearby restaurant, we hit the hay, looking forward to the rest of our time in Paris. Our appetite had been whetted and we would eat up the city with gusto.

Statue in front of the Palais de Chaillot across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The Palais is also a museum.
Statue in front of the Palais de Chaillot across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The Palais is also a museum. The top of the building directly behind the statue is the Trocadero Plaza. You can see people standing at the edge of it.

Our next post will be Paris: Ooh-la-la. It will tell an amusing story of an unexpected encounter on our first morning in Paris, as well as our visit to the Moulin Rouge on our last evening in Europe. Watch for it!

Meanwhile, check out our photo gallery of additional pictures of Paris. Click on the link below or scroll on down if you are on this website’s main page.



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Photo Gallery: Paris Overview

Here are some more picture of my overview of Paris. In later post I will be looking at specific locales in more detail.

The network of streets outside our hotel window.
The network of streets outside our hotel window. This is the Place Marcel-Sembat in the Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.
Our hotel, a triangular building wedged between tow of the streets converging on Place Marcel-Sembat, had the smallest elevator we had ever seen.
Our hotel, a triangular building wedged between tow of the streets converging on Place Marcel-Sembat, had the smallest elevator we had ever seen.
The Eiffel Tower seen from the edge of the Trocadero Plaza.
The Eiffel Tower seen from the edge of the Trocadero Plaza. The pool directly in front is part of the Trocadero Gardens. After that is the Pont d’Léna, then the Eiffel Tower. behind the tower is the Champs de Mars, another large garden space.
Looking up the Champs Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe.
Looking up the Champs Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe.
La Grand Palais
La Grand Palais
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Quadrigas, a sculpture by Georges Recipon, forms a stunning ornament for La Grand Palais.
One of several smaller gardens along the Champs Elysées
One of several smaller gardens along the Champs Elysées
The Denon wing of the Louvre seen from the Jardin des Tuileries.
The Denon wing of the Louvre seen from the Jardin des Tuileries.
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Le Centaure Nessus Enlevant Dejanire, a sculpture in Jardins des Tuileries.
Never could find out what this unusual cylindrical sculpture is. Itès at the round pool in the Jardin des Tuileries.
Never could find out what this unusual cylindrical sculpture is. It’s at the round pool in the Jardin des Tuileries.
The glass pyramid at the Louvre.
The glass pyramid at the Louvre.
The Moulin Rouge.
The Moulin Rouge.

 

Photo Gallery: La Rambla and More




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Here are some more pictures from our last day in Barcelona.

Riding the Hop On Hop Off bus
Riding the Hop On Hop Off bus
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A neat old building we passed on the tour. But I don’t know what the building is. If you know, please let me know.
Another close-up view of Casa Mila - La Pedrera
Another close-up view of Casa Mila – La Pedrera
Cable Car Tower Near the Waterfront
Cable Car Tower Near the Waterfront
A reproduction of the Ictineo II, the world's first true submarine.
A reproduction of the Ictineo II, the world’s first true submarine.
Another sculpture along Barcelona's waterfront
Another sculpture along Barcelona’s waterfront
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One of several ultra-modern buildings of the Fenosa Natural Gas Company.
The beginning of La Rambla
The beginning of La Rambla
Hedgehogs are among the exotic pets you can get on La Rambla
Hedgehogs are among the exotic pets you can get on La Rambla
Living statues on La Rambla
Living statues on La Rambla
Jack from The Nightmare Before Christmas on La Rambla
Jack from The Nightmare Before Christmas on La Rambla
Jack again
Jack again kibbitzing with a couple of teens
The Hotel Ginebra overlooking the Plaça de Catalunya
The Hotel Ginebra overlooking the Plaça de Catalunya
Another view of the Hotel Ginebra
Another view of the Hotel Ginebra




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