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Janis and I had the pleasure of spending a week in Paris in 2011 to mark our thirtieth anniversary and we loved it. One of the truly fabulous cities in the world. I’ve written about a number of our experiences there but never got around to writing about Notre Dame. We visited that grand piece of history on our fourth day.
Construction on the cathedral started in 1160 and was completed one hundred years later. Although many of its religious icons were destroyed by the anti-clerical French Revolution, the interest sparked by Hugo’s great novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, led to a major restoration project in 1844. It has undergone various renovations ever since and was undergoing one when it caught fire on April 15th, 2019.
The front facade shows its two bell towers, perhaps its most iconic feature which featured significantly in Victor Hugo’s novel. But before ascending the towers, we took a look inside with its vaulted ceilings and magnificent stained glass windows. Regrettably, I had a piece of crap camera back in the day which doesn’t really do it justice.
The stained glass features were made possible through the use of flying buttresses. These graceful arches on the outside of the building support the outward pressure of the walls, permitting the walls to be thinner and higher because of the reduction in mass.
But the pièce de resistance for us was the bell towers. There was a bit of a line-up as they can only be accessed by a long narrow staircase. But it was worth the wait. Only one tower, the South one, was open to the public at the time. A narrow walkway surrounds the tower.
The towers are sixty-nine meters high (226 feet) and were the tallest structures in Paris until the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The view is panoramic. The photo below shows the Pantheon to the South.
One of the interesting features of Notre Dame are its gargoyles, chimeras and Strixes. Gargoyles are the many rain spouts sticking out from the walls at intervals. Chimeras are statues of mythical creatures with the body of a lion and the head of a goat. And Strixes are flesh-eating creatures resembling an owl or bat.
We entered the bell tower and checked out the massive bells. The largest bell, known as the bourdon, survived the French Revolution intact. Many of the other bells were melted down by the revolutionaries. All the bells have names.
Looking up towards the skylight at the top, you can see that much of the superstructure is made of wood. Wooden construction makes it vulnerable to fire like the one that destroyed the Eastern part of the cathedral.
After visiting the bells we took a stroll around the outer walkway which gives you some excellent vantage pints for seeing the rest of the cathedral. The picture below is a composite of two mismatched photos which I fixed up a bit with Photoshop, but the bottom left and upper right were created by autofill and are a bit distorted. But it captures mot of the back end of the church which was destroyed in the fire.
Below is a view of some of the flying buttresses as seen from the tower.
Walking around the parapet we enjoyed spectacular views of the entire city. We also could see the North Bell Tower. Each tower also has a small turret off to the side and is covered by a skylight.
The plaza below the front facade of the church is a popular spot for Parisians to have lunch or just sit and enjoy the sunshine. The photo below shows a riverboat going by as well as many visitors to the plaza.
We leave our tour with a view of the spire or flèche which collapsed in the fire. After the picture you’ll find a link to an additional photo gallery.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Notre Dame and are much saddened by the fire that destroyed so much of it. It was an important piece of history and a fabulous work of art. We are grateful that we had an opportunity to visit it eight years ago. Below is a link to a photo gallery.
Besides being the capital of the province of Saskatchewan, Regina is also the home of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Academy, also known as Depot Division. Every Mountie in Canada is trained at this facility which covers several acres. Mounties have been trained there since 1885 and the place is steeped in history.
In 2007, the RCMP Heritage Centre was opened (shown at top). This 70,000 square foot building which sits on the front lawn of Depot Division was designed by noted architect Arthur Erickson. It is a museum featuring many artifacts relating to the history of the RCMP and the Canadian West.
We visited the Centre, located on Dewdney Avenue on Regina’s west side, in June 2018. We were in town to visit our son who had just moved there. The three of us arrived around 11:30 AM and discovered we were in time to take in the Sergeant-Major’s Parade. The tram left at 12:15 so we registered and spent a half hour checking out the museum before departure.
The tram does a complete circuit of the training facility, giving you good idea of the size and scope of the place. We first passed the Dufferin Building where new Mountie recruits live during their six months sojourn at the academy. Later in the museum, we would see a mock-up of some of the barracks to see how these new recruits lived.
After a short while, the tram pulled up beside a very large drill ground. We all clambered out to wait for the Sergeant-Major’s Parade. This takes place five days a week from Monday through Friday at 12:30 PM.
While waiting we checked out a Beechcraft dating from 1946 on display. The RCMP has used aircraft since 1937 as its mandate includes patrolling some of the more remote areas of Canada.
Then from our left, the parade started. This drill has the troops marching onto the parade ground and lining up for roll call and inspection. New recruits have to earn the right to wear the uniform and this right is granted in stages as they progress through training. New recruits, for example, wear running shoes instead of the dress black shoes of the uniform and they have to run rather than walk while on parade. Even the stripes on the Mounties pants have to be earned. The parade is led by a marching band made up of volunteers. The newer recruits bring up the rear. The video below shows the troops marching off the field after inspection.
After the parade we checked out the chapel nearby. This is the oldest remaining building in Regina, built as a mess hall in 1883. It was converted into a canteen and reading room in 1889. It was partially damaged by fire in March 1895 and reopened as a chapel in December that year. It was extended and had a steeple added in 1939.
The interior is amazing – lush woodwork all around with stained glass windows along the sides and in the back. The windows in the back show two Mounties, one with head bowed mourning a fallen comrade, and the other playing reveille on a bugle.
Our guide told us that much of the work on extending the chapel was financed by a $30 million bequest from a wealthy British woman. She had never been to Canada and never actually met a Mountie. But she became enamored of the Mounties after seeing a Hollywood movie about them.
We got back in the tram which toured us around the facility. We were asked not to take pictures of Mounties actually training. We did see one group practicing a take-down.
One of the classic old buildings is the Drill Hall. Built in 1929, it first served as a riding school. But horses were replaced by cars eventually and today the hall is used for foot drill and crowd control training. It also hosts the Mountie Graduation ceremonies and the occasional Regimental Ball.
We passed a shooting range and a driver training track as well.
Our trip brought us back to the Heritage Centre where we continued our tour. Saskatchewan became a province in 1905. Before that it was part of the Northwest Territories. The Mounties originated as the Royal Northwest Mounted Police.
Recently the rather left-wing mayor of Victoria, British Columbia decided to remove a statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, from in front of city hall. She argued that Macdonald was the architect of Canada’s residential school system for indigenous children, a system that continued until 1996. The residential schools have been widely condemned for separating native children from their parents and for abuses.
There are, however, two sides to Macdonald. The museum notes that the Royal Northwest Mounted Police was established by Macdonald as a response to a massacre of native Indians by white hunters.
The Mounties were patterned after the Royal Irish Constabulary and one of its mandates was to foster friendly relations with indigenous peoples. After the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, Chief Sitting Bull and 5000 of his Lakota tribesmen fled to Canada seeking the protection of the British crown.
Sitting Bull became good friends with NWMP Superintendent James Walsh. Walsh established a fort at Cypress Hills and was instrumental in developing some of the first treaties with native peoples.
However, Walsh’s replacement Lief Crozier was not as friendly, cutting off the Lakota’s food supply and forcing them to return to the United States.
Taming the wild frontier included keeping peace and order as the Canadian Pacific Railway was built and ensuring order in the gold rush days in Dawson City. One of the legendary Mounties of the day was Sam Steele who oversaw law and order among the 4000 workers on the railway and kept peace in Dawson.
Other displays include a machine gun brought in to help control the border between the Yukon and Alaska.
And there is a display of vehicles used over the history of the Mounties. These range from dogsled to snowmobile to the automobile. One classic car, a 1957 Meteor Rideau 500 is among the displayed vehicles.
And, of course, there is a section on the famous RCMP Musical Ride. I was surprised to learn how old the ride is. One display notes that the ride was a staple of agricultural fairs across the prairies by 1904. Discontinued during WWI, it was re-established after the war. Below is a picture of the ride in 1921.
One of the side displays is a virtual Musical Ride. You mount a saddle wearing a pair of virtual reality goggles and you find yourself jogging along with Mounties ahead of you and behind you. Lots of fun!
The Mounties are a storied part of Canadian history, a history that is well-told in this museum. There are historical artifacts galore accompanied by information boards. For gun buffs, you’ll find lots of antique weapons and what every gun enthusiast will love, a handgun lamp given to a Mountie who was a WWI veteran as a wedding gift!
You’ll find a display detailing the solving of a murder from beginning to end. There’s information on the St. Roch, the RCMP vessel that was the first ship to circumnavigate North America. The actual St. Roch is on permanent display at Vancouver’s Maritime Museum.
We spent several hours on our visit and enjoyed every minute of it. Below are some additional links including a Photo Gallery with additional pictures.
When our son accepted a transfer to Regina to help open a new store we were flummoxed. Sure it was a good career move, but why would anyone want to live in Regina? Nevertheless, I joined him to share the driving a few months ago as we embarked on the two day and a half journey from Vancouver.
His company put him up in a hotel until he could find permanent digs. We quickly discovered one of the benefits of Regina. Within a week he had sold his one bedroom and den apartment in suburban Vancouver and bought a two bedroom townhouse with finished basement and detached garage in Regina. The price differential was enough for him to knock $15,000 off his mortgage, pay off his car, buy new furniture and still have money left over.
Regina is a small town compared to Greater Vancouver with a population of 236,481 for the metropolitan area. Our son’s house is in a development in the farthest western area of the city, just a 25 minute drive to his work in the farthest eastern part of the city.
While the downtown is usually considered the heart of most cities, that is not the case in Regina.
My wife and I drove out to visit in June. We spent one afternoon while our son was working checking out the real heart of Regina – the magnificent Wascana Centre and the neighbouring legislature building. Regina is the capital of the province and the legislature is its most impressive building, the vision of the first premier of Saskatchewan, Walter Scott (not the author!)
The city had already served as the capital of the Northwest Territories before Saskatchewan became a province in 1905. The lieutenant-governor of the territory rejected other more favorable locations for a piece of scrub land actually known as Pile-of-Bones (Wascana in Cree) “distinguished only by collections of bison bones near a small spring run-off creek”. The LG, a fellow named Dewdney, had bought property there adjacent to where the planned CP Railway line was to go. The obvious graft caused a scandal, but there was no legislature. Dewdney was a virtual dictator and could do what he liked.
But despite its barrenness – nothing but flat prairie as far a the eye can see, visionary planners dammed Wascana Creek with a weir (it’s adjacent to the current Albert Street Bridge) resulting in the formation of Wascana Lake.
The first premier of the new province, Walter Scott, had a vision of a legislature building on the shore of Wascana Lake, then a wilderness a few kilometers from the downtown area. A design competition was launched and the winning design by Montreal architects, the Maxwell Brothers, was chosen.
Construction began in 1908 and was completed in 1912 at a cost of $1.75 million. That’s about $800 million today. It remains the largest of the provincial legislatures in Canada.
My wife and I took a walk around the shore of the lake across the bridge to the other side and back before touring the legislature itself. Tours are free. Immediately upon entering the building one is impressed by the richness of the entrance.
Our guide took us up the steps to the rotunda which features marble from around the world. The rotunda also features two murals high above. And it features the busts of three Saskatchewan political icons – each from a different political party.
From there we were given a look into the legislative chamber. Scott and his fellow politicians had a much bolder vision for Saskatchewan than eventually transpired and the legislature was built to accommodate 125 members. In fact, the population has not grown as expected and the number of representatives currently stands at 58.
From the floor of the legislature we went down a flight of stairs to the legislature’s library. There was someone using it at the time so I couldn’t take a picture, but I did get a photo of an historic Canadian artifact housed there – the conference table used at the Quebec Conference in 1864 when the Fathers of Confederation were negotiating Canada’s independence.
Whether this is the actual Confederation Table is speculative. What is known is that it was used by the Privy Council in Ottawa in 1865 after being moved with other furnishings from Quebec. And it was the right size to have been the original table.
Lieutenant-Governor Dewdney brought the table to Regina sometime between 1883 and 1892. The sixteen foot table wouldn’t fit in the room assigned for it and six feet were lopped off in the middle. That part of the table was discarded. Eventually the shortened table was brought to the legislature library where it now resides.
Continuing our tour we visited two galleries. Saskatchewan has had a long history of cordial relations with indigenous peoples and in 1909, the government commissioned noted portrait painter Edmund Morris to do portraits of fifteen native chiefs. Those pictures hang in the Assiniboine Gallery.
Morris was the son of Alexander Morris, the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba who was responsible for negotiating many treaties with indigenous peoples. He had previously been commissioned by the Government of Ontario to do portraits of the Ojibway in the north of that province. He also did similar work for the Government of Alberta. His paintings are considered historically significant records of native history in Canada.
The other gallery featured portraits of the premiers of Saskatchewan.
We ended our tour at another gallery, the Cumberland Gallery. Displays vary but when we were there it featured some works from the Saskatchewan Arts Board which has been promoting art in Saskatchewan since 1948. They have over 3000 works in their permanent collection.
There were some striking works on display. One of the more intriguing was by Zhong-Yang Huang called Two Dream Walkers by Zhen Fei Well. It was striking because it seemed almost out of place among the more traditional works on display.
There is a story behind the painting, of course. Huang was born in China and showed an aptitude for art from age four. This talent was stifled by the Cultural Revolution which discouraged individual creativity. The fifteen year old Huang was forced to work as a laborer.
After the Cultural Revolution, Huang continued his studies, earning a Masters Degree in art. In 1984 he traveled to Canada and earned a second Masters at the University of Regina.
Two Dream Walkers by Zhen Fei Well was part of a solo exhibition in 2011 called The Shadow of Mao. It shows Chairman Mao having a smoke while Liu Shaoqui, Chairman of State and the second most powerful man in China at the time, looks down the Zhen Fei Well.
During the Qing Dynasty, the Dowager Empress had Zhen Fei, one of her husband’s concubines, thrown down the well. The information sheet beside the painting adds “Mao later had Liu removed from office and executed. A seemingly peaceful night scene taking on a more ominous tone within the historical context.”
Let’s return briefly to Wescana Centre. The hub of the city revolves around Wescana Lake. In 1962, the University of Regina needed to expand. It needed a site for that expansion and decided on an area south-east of the lake. In conjunction with the province and the city, the Wescana Centre Authority was formed to create a multi-use oasis in the centre of the city. The result was a 930 hectare (2300 acre) area surrounding the 120 hectare (300 acre) lake. This green space includes the legislature as well as the university, and also includes two art galleries, a performing arts centre, a science centre, a museum and lots of parkland.
By the late 1990s, however, silt had built up enough in the lake that it started to turn into a swamp. A major project dubbed The Big Dig was undertaken in 2003. A large part of the lake was dredged to a depth of five and a half metres, a depth at which weeds cannot root. One area was dredged to seven and a half metres so that northern pike and perch could survive Regina’s cold winter. Boardwalks and other amenities were added.
Today Wescana Centre is the rejuvenated heart of the city. An oasis in a flat prairie of wheat fields.
You’ll find more pictures on the following photo gallery.
The City of Fremantle in Western Australia teems with history. Founded by Swan River colonists in 1829, it officially became a city a century later. Indeed, much of the architecture in downtown Fremantle dates from the 19th century. The Esplanade Hotel shown above, for example, was originally used to house convicts while the Fremantle Prison was built. In 1892 it became a hotel. It underwent numerous renovations and expansions over the years including 1985 for the America’s Cup. It now has 300 rooms and is designated as a heritage site.
Fremantle is a quaint little city of just 27,000, but it is a bustling one. Located at the mouth of the Swan River, it serves as the seaport for the metropolis of Perth about 18 kilometers upriver.
Downtown Fremantle is compact with all major venues within walking distance. In the map below, for example, the distance from Fremantle Prison to the WA Maritime Museum is just two kilometers or a 25 minute walk.
In a previous post I related our night time tour of the Fremantle Prison which served as a maximum security penitentiary until 1991. But there is much more than the prison to see here.
On our first visit, we parked near the Fremantle Oval and visited the Fremantle Markets. Founded in 1897, these public markets feature farm fresh produce, a variety of artisans and crafts, restaurants featuring Aussie cuisine, and, of course, buskers. We were much amused by a young woman on stilts in an emu costume that day.
One of the fast food joints called itself the Bush Food Cafe and featured roo dogs, croc dogs and a sample stick containing roo, croc and emu!
On our first visit we saw a busker playing a lively rag on the piano and on another visit we saw a seven year old guitar prodigy.
Outside there were a variety of street entertainers and promoters of various causes, including the Falun Gong.
On leaving the markets we walked down a street of wall-to-wall restaurants towards the waterfront. We passed through Esplanade Park across from the hotel on the way. A permanent Ferris wheel is tucked into a corner of the park.
A number of craft breweries lined the shore road (Mews Road) and we ate at one of them that first visit. Passing between a couple of them brings you to the wooden boardwalk that goes around the inner harbor. This is a popular venue for its many fine restaurants. One notable eatery is Kailis Fish Market Café, serving “award-winning fish & chips” since 1928.
We were surprised to find a statue of Bon Scott, the lead singer of AC/DC who passed away in 1980. The base of the statue hails the singer as “the greatest frontman of all time” as noted in the magazine Classic Rock. Although born in Scotland, Scott moved to Australia with his family at age six and grew up in Fremantle.
On our second visit to Fremantle, Janis and I had taken the train to Perth and then a cruise down the Swan River to Fremantle. Not far from the railroad station is Bathers Beach. Atop a bluff beside the beach you’ll find the Round House.
Built in 1830, the Round House was the first permanent structure in the Swan River Colony. It was built as a small prison with eight cells and a jailer’s residence.
Those of a philosophical bent will be interested to note its design was based on the Panopticon, a blueprint for an ideal prison designed by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The cells are arranged in a semi-circle so one jailer can observe all prisoners at once. Bentham theorized that since the prisoner never knew if he was being watched, he self-regulated his behaviour.
Inside you can see the cells as well as a stocks. A placard indicates the offenses that could land you in the Round House as well as remarking that only one prisoner was ever hanged at the Round House – sadly the condemned was only fifteen at the time.
The detailed information sign for the stocks tells you that the prisoner was held immobile by the hand holds and leg-irons. Sometimes the subject’s ears were nailed to the frame so he could not move to avoid rotten tomatoes and other debris thrown at him by the jeering crowd.
We walked on through the town taking in a variety of city sights. We passed the University of Notre Dame and its beautiful red brick buildings, past shops and iconic hotels like Rosie O’Grady’s which was undergoing some renovations.
We ended up at Fremantle Oval, home of the Fremantle Dockers football (soccer) team. One of Janis’s friends from work was a huge Dockers fan so we thought we’d get a souvenir for her. When we got there, a few players were on the field being interviewed by a television news reporter.
While Janis was busy buying the souvenir, I popped out and noticed the players coming off the field. I approached them and explained that my wife’s friend was a Dockers fan in Canada and asked if I could get a picture of them with my wife. They kindly agreed. I quickly got Janis and the picture.
Needless to say, her friend loved the picture and had it blown up and posted it on the store’s bulletin board.
Fremantle is an old city which has managed to maintain its colonial charm. No buildings are more than a few stories in height and many sport period architecture, including some with sweeping second floor balconies. There are a lot of restaurants, several craft breweries, a marvelous waterfront, historic prisons and a fair amount of public art. You can easily spend a day or two exploring the old town.
You’ll find a couple of photo galleries linked after this article, but I leave you with one final iconic building – the Norfolk Hotel. The building is pretty non-descript but is notable for the haunting mural on its side – the face of woman.
Built in 1887 as the Oddfellow Hotel, the building was refurbished and re-opened as the Norfolk 100 years later in preparation for the America’s Cup. It has a long history as one of Fremantle’s favorite watering holes. Indeed, for over fifty years it was owned by the Swan Brewery.
After a succession of owners, the hotel is now owned by a noted hotel company and the lease has been held since 1989 by the partner in another brewery. The mural is actually a bas relief sculpture by Portuguese sculptor Vhils of Australia’s first female senator, Dorothy Tangney.
Below are some additional links, including two photo galleries. If you are on the front page of this website, you just have to scroll down to see the photo galleries.
Australia is a biologically distinct continent with many species of both plant and animal life that live nowhere else in the world. These include, of course, the kangaroo, the wallaby, the koala, the Tasmanian devil, the emu, and a wide variety of snakes and insects.
Some of these flora and fauna are particularly limited in their range. One of these is the quokka, a small marsupial about the size of a large cat that looks something like a miniature kangaroo. The quokka is found only in Western Australia, and only in a limited range in the southwest of the state.
The largest population group, estimated to be between 8,000-12,000 is on Rottnest Island. A smaller group of up to 1000 live on Bald Island near Albany. And about 4000 live on the mainland in scattered colonies in the Margaret River region.
Rottnest got its name because in 1696 the Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh, thought the creatures were rats and called the island Rotte Nest (rat’s nest). Its native name is Wadjemup.
Today Rottnest Island is a nature preserve with about 100 permanent residents, but it is one of the most popular destinations for tourists with around 500,000 visitors annually. It can be reached by high speed passenger ferries from downtown Perth, Fremantle, North Fremantle and Hillarys Boat Harbour. Visitors are not restricted to day visits as there is a hotel on the island as well as cabins for rent.
The island lies 18 kilometres off the coast from Fremantle. The nineteen square kilometre island has three plant species endemic to the island including the Rottnest Island Pine. The only predators that prey on quokkas on Rottnest are snakes, including the poisonous dugite. The mainland population was decimated with the introduction of dogs, cats and foxes.
The fast ferries land at a pier in Thomson Bay. On shore you’ll find the visitor center and a small collection of shops and restaurants. You can walk to many of the sites popular with visitors or you can book a bus tour of the island. You can also rent Segways, take guided walking tours and even board a small train.
On both of our visits we opted to walk around taking in the scenery before embarking on a bus trip to the other end of the island.
Our first priority was to see a quokka and we did not have to wait long. They are everywhere. They are not afraid of people and it is easy to approach them, though feeding them is prohibited. Local businesses sometimes find them a nuisance and one shop featured a sign with a stylized picture of a quokka with a “No” slash across it.
Not far from the town is the Bathhurst Lighthouse, one of two on the island. The lighthouse overlooks a spectacular beach and the shoreline is a beautiful melange of sea and wind sculpted rock.
The island has a varied history. It was at one time a penal colony, a military installation, and an internment camp for enemy prisoners during both World Wars. The island also has several salt lakes and was, at one time, the largest producer of salt in Western Australia.
The penal colony was used to house Aboriginal prisoners and closed in 1902. About 3700 prisoners aged from eight to seventy had been housed there over the lifetime of the colony. 369 died there including five who were hanged.
After exploring the area between the dock and the lighthouse, we hopped on the bus that takes you around the island. It’s a hop on, hop off affair with a number of stops along the way. We were only there for a day each time so we got off at the far end of the island near Cape Vlamingh.
This is a spectacular venue where you easily spend a couple of hours enjoying the scenery and wildlife. There are two sites to visit here. One is Cathedral Rocks. These are a series of small rocky islands just offshore that are home to a colony of New Zealand fur seals.
These playful creatures love to frolic in the water, often swimming on their backs with their flippers in the air, doing rolls and otherwise cavorting in the waves. We also saw a king’s skink on one occasion.
A few hundred yards away is Cape Vlamingh. A wooden boardwalk leads to a lookout that commands a spectacular view of Fish Hook Bay as well as the open ocean at the west end of the island. The surf is strong here with rolling breakers crashing on the reefs and pounding through various nooks and fissures carved into the shoreline.
After catching the next bus back, we headed along the north shore of the island, passing the Wadjemup Lighthouse and the salt lakes before arriving back at the town.
In town we passed the old salt house, once a center of commerce on the island. And we passed the Rottnest Island Hotel, which used to be the summer home of the Governor of Western Australia.
We decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants on the island on our first trip. The cafe had netting surrounding the large patio to keep quokkas out. While we were eating, the little fellahs would poke their noses up to the netting at our feet begging for handouts. One managed to get through the netting at one end and a waitress spent some time chasing the critter around trying to shoo him out. I asked her why she didn’t just pick the animal up and carry him out since they were relatively tame. She replied that it’s best not to touch them as they can carry salmonella. Oops – we had petted one earlier. Good thing we washed our hands!
On our second trip to Rottnest we encountered a special treat along the shore of Thomson Bay. Lots of boats tie up here, and the beach is popular with tourists. We saw a bit of a commotion nearby and went to check it out. It seems a stingray had swum right up to the shore, which amused a crowd of onlookers.
There is a lot more to see and do on Rottnest and one could easily spend a week or two here checking it out. There are, in fact, 37 beaches on Rottnest. There are two military installations with fortifications and big guns at Oliver Hill and Bickley Point, both open to visitors. There is a golf course and a wind turbine. And there are lots of cabins as well as campgrounds and the hotel for visitors wanting to stay longer. It even has an airport if you’d rather fly in.
A wildlife refuge and a summer playground, as well as a step back into history, Rottnest is a terrific venue for the explorer. Check out the additional photo galleries linked below as well as the official Rottnest Island website. You can just scroll down to the photo galleries if you are on the front page.
My last post covered our visit to le Château de Versailles. That grand old palace, built by Louis XIV, and now a museum is certainly amazing. But equally extraordinary are the surrounding grounds and gardens. The entire estate covers over 800 hectares or almost 2000 acres.
That’s about twice the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park or Perth’s King’s Park. It’s also larger than San Diego’s Balboa Park (1200 acres) or New York’s Central Park (843 acres).
Louis the XIV commissioned the brilliant landscape architect André Le Nôtre to design the gardens and work began simultaneously with the Château. It took forty years to complete. The picture at the top of this article is an aerial view taken from a drone flown by ToucanWings and available through the Creative Commons. Below is an earth view Wikipedia map of the site so you can navigate around it.
The gardens are in the classic French design – sculptured and symmetrical with many paths and flower beds. There are also a great many fountains as well as Greco-Roman sculptures.
This tremendous undertaking is described at the Versailles website: “Creating the gardens was a monumental task. Large amounts of soil had to be shifted to level the ground, create parterres, build the Orangery and dig out the fountains and Canal in places previously occupied solely by meadows and marshes. Trees were brought in from different regions of France. Thousands of men, sometimes even entire regiments, took part in this immense project.”
We caught our first glimpse of the gardens as we were exploring the north wing of the Château.
The photo doesn’t do it justice. We saw more of the gardens as we continued our tour of the Château and from the fabulous Hall of Mirrors, we could see the whole landscape laid out before us.
After completing the Château tour we exited near the North Parterre and started to explore. Behind the Château are two large pools on a plaza and directly behind that is the Latone Fountain, one of many to be seen here.
While the gardens cover a large area, an even larger parkland lies beyond, transected by the Grand Canal, a large man-made waterway in the shape of a crucifix.
We’ll come back to the gardens flanking the Château and plaza, the parterres, later. But first let’s wander through the gardens below and see some of the sights.
Flowers abound, set in symmetrical beds surrounded by paths and manicured lawns. A blaze of color.
We strolled leisurely down the Allée Royale, two wide paths with a lawn between them and flanked by groves on either side, to the large lake and fountain that separates the chateau’s gardens from the Grand Canal and its surrounding woodlands. This fountain is truly spectacular. It shows Apollo driving a chariot pulled by mighty horses emerging from the water. Circumnavigating the fountain we get a spectacular view looking back at the Château.
Below is a video of the fountain in action.
After grabbing lunch at one of the two restaurants at this end of the Grand Canal, we strolled back up the Allée Royale and over to the Collonade Grove. It features a circle of thirty-two marble pillars surrounding a statue at its center. The circle of columns has a diameter of forty feet. Built in 1685 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, it replaced the original Spring Grove built by Le Nôtre.
The marble statue was created in 1696 by master sculptor François Girardon. It depicts famous scene from Roman mythology, The Abduction of Proserpine by Pluto.
The story of Proserpine explains the changing of the seasons in Greek and Roman mythology. Her mother was Ceres (Demeter in Greek), the goddess of agriculture. Cupid’s arrow inspired Pluto to come out of Mt. Etna with four black horses to abduct Proserpine and take her to Hades to be his bride. Jupiter, Pluto’s brother, sent Mercury as an envoy to order him to release Proserpine. Pluto complied, but not before he had fed her some pomegranate seeds. These compelled her to stay six months of the year in Hades. So she apent the summer months with her mother who made the world fruitful. Then she returned to Hades for six months and her mother withheld her bounty from the earth.
The paths through the various groves are almost maze-like with high hedges enclosing various spaces. We were wandering through the groves to the South of the Allée Royale when we came across the Bacchus Fountain. There are four such fountains representing the four seasons, Bacchus represents Autumn. They’re located at crossroads within the groves.
As we walked along we noticed a crowd had gathered to watch some dancing waters. The place was the Bassin du Miroir or Mirror Fountain, actually a good size lake. We got closer and watched as the waters danced in time to the music coming from nearby speakers.
We made our way back to the Latone Fountain and the flower beds nearby. Then we wended our way to the South Parterre.
The South Parterre sits above a large building called the Orangery or Orangerie. I’d never seen or heard of the idea until our trip to Europe where Orangeries sprang up in the 17th to 19th Centuries. They are large conservatories where ornamental shrubs, trees and plants imported from warmer climates could be housed during the winter. We saw an Orangery beside the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.
Wandering to the edge of the South Parterre we come to an overlook and some magnificent gardens below. These gardens are the Orangery Parterre. The lake beyond is the Lake of the Swiss Guards.
From there we went back across the plaza of the Water Parterre to the North Parterre. Our schedule showed that the daily display at the Neptune Fountain was soon to begin. The Neptune Fountain is a large fountain found at the end of a broad path down the center of the Parterre.
Te Neptune Fountain is huge. Like all the major fountains, the water show is set to music.
Although we spent most of the day at Versailles, we only saw a small fraction of the sights to be seen, both in the Château and on the grounds. We did not venture far up the Grand Canal and we did not see the Grand Trianon, which lies part way up the canal. It is a large estate that includes the Petit Trianon, a smaller residence that was used by Marie Antoinette as an escape from courtly life – a private sanctuary.
The Château and grounds are also illuminated at night. So when we return to Paris, hopefully in the next year or two, we will definitely see Versailles again. It is truly one of the wonders of the modern world.
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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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Many fine pieces of sculpture line the hall and it is flanked on both sides by giant candleabras.
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.
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.
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.
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.