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.

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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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Paris: Ooh-la-la!

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Often the unexpected is what makes a vacation truly memorable. And sometimes the unexpected is so out of left field that it cannot be replicated. While we absolutely loved our week in Paris in 2011, one incident stands out as a story we tell over and over again. It is deliciously wicked and if we were to visit Paris twenty more times, I doubt it would ever happen again.

If we had stayed at a different hotel, it wouldn’t have happened. If we had gone down to breakfast a half hour earlier it wouldn’t have happened. But kismet – it happened.

As I recounted in my first post on Paris, we arrived around noon on Sept. 17th. We lugged our baggage onto the train and finally settled in at our hotel, the Tim Hotel at the Place Marcel-Sembat in the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.

The network of streets outside our hotel window.
The network of streets outside our hotel window.

After spending the rest of the day sightseeing to get an overview of Paris, we had a quick bite and retired for the night. After a good night’s sleep we got up, showered and planned our day – the Palais de Versailles was on our agenda.

Our hotel came with a complimentary continental breakfast so around nine AM we were ready to head downstairs from our third floor room. I was just heading to the door when there was a knock.

“Hmm,” I commented to my wife. “Must be the hotel staff wanting to clean the room. A bit early, don’t you think?” I opened the door.

There, with her hand raised for another knock, was not the maid, but a gorgeous blonde. A stunner. A knockout. Could have been a model or a movie star.

And…she was stark naked! Not a stitch. My jaw dropped. She looked at me, then over at my wife, and said, “Oh! Excusez moi. Wrong room!”

Oh…did I mention that there was a naked man standing just behind her and over to the side a bit? A naked couple. Strangers in the morning.

I closed the door and my wife exclaimed, “What the heck was that?!?!”

“Well,” I replied, “This is Paris!”

We waited a few minutes and then my wife asked if I thought it was safe to go down for breakfast. “Sure,” I said, “Let’s go.”

I opened the door and we ventured out and there, down the hall a bit, were our naked friends, conferring with each other. No doubt trying to figure out what room they were supposed to have gone to. Janis and I decided we’d just casually walk by them and go down to breakfast.

As I walked by her, the woman touched my shoulder. “Excusez-moi, monsieur. Parlez-vous français?”

“Oui. Un peu,” I replied.

“Etes-vous shockée?” she asked. “Are you shocked?”

“Oui. Un peu.”

She then turned to my wife as she put a finger to her lips. “Shhh. Secrète, s’il vous plait,” she said. Please no tell.”

We agreed and went down to breakfast, chuckling and wondering where the heck they stored their clothes. They didn’t even have a handbag. In any event, by the time we finished breakfast and returned to our room, they were nowhere to be seen.

All during our day, spent at the fabulous Palais de Versailles, Janis would ask me, “What are you grinning about?” Five years later it still brings a chuckle. My only regret is I was so stunned I didn’t have the wit to ask my wife to stand with them so I could take a picture.

Paris, of course, is known as being a center of romance and sexuality. And a few days later we visited the Montmartre district. This area in the north of the city on the Right Bank of the Seine could be called the district of the sacred and the profane. At the top of the Mont Martre is the Basilica de Sacré Coeur. The streets below are a warren of cafés, shops and the night club district. The most prominent venue is the famous Moulin Rouge.

We stopped by the Moulin Rouge to book tickets and discovered that they were sold out about a week ahead. We were heading to Rome to board a Mediterranean cruise two days later and flying back to Paris on Oct. 2nd to catch a plane back to Canada the next day, so we booked tickets for the last show on the 2nd – the 11 PM show.

The Moulin Rouge at night
The Moulin Rouge at night

We had no idea of what to expect. But we had seen the Baz Luhrmann movie starring Nicole Kidman and we expected no less. We were not disappointed.

Crowd waiting to go into the Moulin Rouge show, Féerie
Crowd waiting to go into the Moulin Rouge show, Féerie

The venue is an intimate one. Only 800 seats and all of them at tables with white table cloths and a candle in a red jar. Food and drink are available before the show starts but there is no service during the show. We bought a bottle of wine which lasted to the end of the show.

You’re not supposed to take pictures but I managed to snap one through an open door after the show.  Every seat is a good seat in this intimate venue as all the rows of tables are tiered.

The show opens with all of the cast on stage in a huge song and dance number. There are both male and female singers and dancers including the 60 fabulous Doriss Girls. I can’t remember how long the show was, but probably close to two hours. It went through several different sets and themes including a pirate theme, a circus theme and a history of the Moulin Rouge theme.

The colorful costumes are amazing in themselves. Feathers, fancy headgear and tear-away clothes. Many numbers featured the Doriss girls ripping their tops off and going topless.

Toplessness is taken as a matter of course in Paris. Children as young as six can attend a show at the Moulin Rouge and they offer a discount for children under twelve.

Indeed there is much to amuse children. The circus part of the show includes six miniature horses on the stage. And they have special guest performers. Two very talented acrobats exhibited both skill and strength and there was a comedian as well who performed in pantomime. There were also singers, sometimes with accompanying dancers, sometimes without.

One of the more spectacular parts of the show occurred about halfway through. The stage was cleared and the floor rolled back. Then up from the floor rose a huge glass tank. Inside was an anaconda.

To much fanfare a young woman was carried onto the stage in a Roman litter. She got up and climbed some steps to the top of the tank. The topless woman then dove into the tank and wrestled the snake. An unbelievable spectacle. Sure beat anything Nicole Kidman did in the movie!

The finale of the show was the can-can done up in grand style with a full chorus line of dancers in exotic costumes. My description doesn’t do it justice, nor does the five minute promotional video at the Moulin Rouge website. But it will give you a flavor, not only of the show, but of the venue itself. Janis and I would definitely see it again. It is better than any show we’ve seen in Las Vegas.

When the show ended, we had an usher take a picture of us by the doors. Then we sauntered over to the gift shop where we bought a DVD of the show as well as a couple of souvenir posters.

Janis and I at the doors to the Moulin Rouge showroom after the show. They have a dress code and all tickets are reserved seating.

The Moulin Rouge has been around for over a century and classic posters captured the changing shows. Each runs for a decade or more. The current show, Feérie, has been running since December 23, 1999. The two posters we bought were for the first show featuring the Doriss Girls in 1963 and the current how, Féerie. We have them hanging in our bedroom which has a Parisian theme. (What can I say – we just loved Paris!)

The two Moulin Rouge posters we bought now hang over our bed. We also bought an Eiffel Tower duvet cover. Yep! We ❤ Paris!

After leaving the Moulin Rouge we had to catch a cab back to our hotel near the airport since the trains  did not run that late. So we needed some cash and set out to find a cash machine. We wandered down Boulevard de Clichy and discovered wall to wall sex shops and strip clubs.

Side by side sex shops on Boulevard de Clichy just down the street from the Moulin Rouge.
Side by side sex shops on Boulevard de Clichy just down the street from the Moulin Rouge.
The Sexodrome - an adult supermarket
The Sexodrome – an adult supermarket

Needless to say, we didn’t enter any of these places. We doubled back and finally found an ATM near the Moulin Rouge. But one friend at work says he visited a strip club in the area once and the bouncers strong-arm you into buying a lap dance. He did not recommend it unless that was what you were looking for.

The next morning we flew back to Vancouver. Our last little excursion to the Moulin Rouge just hours before we left was one of the highlights of our trip. It’s a bit ironic that two of our favorite memories of that trip were our first morning, the naked strangers, and our last evening, the Moulin Rouge. Both a bit racier than our usual entertainment, but absolutely memorable.

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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.
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.

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
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.
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.