16.08.2010 - 18.08.2010
Bonjour tous! I have so many things to tell you about these last few days that I'll probably have to split it up into a couple of posts. I've been noticing that my rants are getting longer and longer, so I hope that I'm not boring you all to death. On Monday, I voyaged to the Champs-Elysees specifically to go to the Nike store to hunt for an Arsenal sweatshirt for Joe (this is the gift that I actually was able to get, but only by following specific directions from him). Since I'd made the trip up there, I considered going to the top of the Arc de Triomphe since I'd never done it before, but after finding out it costs 9 euros (!?!?!?!?!?) to do so, I passed and decided a little stroll was more in my price range...
A big thanks to the guy working on the basement floor of the Nike store for answering my millions of questions about the sweatshirt (specifically, which ones are for the Arsenal team...I had no idea). Joe is very excited about his present.
I have been holding out for weeks, trying to find the perect day to make the voyage out of Paris to Versailles to see the chateau. I figured, I'm in Paris for 5 weeks; I can wait for the day with the most perfect weather, when it is sunny and a bit cooler and ideal for a stroll through the massive gardens. I waited and waited...and then waited some more. Finally, I decided that Tuesday was the day. I'd been studying the weather for weeks, and Tuesday was to be partly cloudy with a high of 22. I woke up very early on Tuesday to check the weather again- partly cloudy, high of 22. I took a shower and then checked again...no change. Yes! I am victorious! The last time I was at Versailles, it was cold and rainy, and everytime that I took a step, the mud that had caked on my flipflops splattered up on the backside of my black capri pants. I got back to the hotel looking like I had literally rolled around in the mud. But not this time...it was going to be perfect.
Being the ever cautious traveler, I packed my bag with a light coat, a scarf, and an umbrella just in case. If I bring them I won't need them, right? We stepped outside, there were more clouds than not, but I thought, "hey, it's early. This could burn off." Diana was in need of making another one of her famous videos, so we stopped at a bakery on our way, grabbed some breakfast, and filmed the morning Parisians picking up their bread for the day. These videos really are adorable. After we'd been well-caffeinated, we hopped on the train to Versailles, which is a short 30 minute or so ride outside of Paris. The train was crowded with tourists, people from the tourist office trying to get travlers to buy their tickets ahead of time (a good plan, but they also up the price if you do this...), and one very ambitious accordion player, setting the mood for Paris with a lively version of Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock".
Arriving in Versailles, we were herded like cattle through the village to the chateau, which never ceases to amaze me. I've never gone to Versaille independently like this; I've always gone in a tour group on a bus...and now I know why.
As we approached the palace, the immense line for the tickets appeared before us. It felt like Disney World but without the mouse shaped balloons and awesome ice cream treats. We took our places and began the wait...and we waited 30 minutes (is it getting colder, or is it just me?)...one hour (I feel rain drops)...an hour and a half (man I've got to go to the bathroom, shoot- another line...)...two hours, when we finally reached the coveted ticket windows (of which there were only four). We had a mini-celebration with the French family in front of us, bought our 25 euros day-passes, and proceeded to the entrance where there was, of course, ANOTHER LINE. And there was an added bonus- those weren't just rain drops (no, not bird poop); they were an indication of the rain shower that was coming. A half an hour after that and were were in.
I love visiting Versailles, mostly because I love the history that goes along with this massive palace. I'm the nerd who just keep repeating "Marie-Antoinette slept here. Marie-Antoinette walked through these gardens. Marie-Antoinette was dragged FROM THIS SPOT by a mob of angry peasants back to Paris where she lost her head."
I was incredibly impressed that the bedspread on her bed was actually the one she used and not a reproduction like many of the things in Versailles. Since most objects belonging to the royal family were sold or destroyed during the Revolution, having something original is just extraordinary.
However, I do have some gripes about just how much of a tourist trap Versailles is becoming. There are no longer well-detailed maps handed out when you buy your overly priced ticket. When I've gone before, there were nice descriptions of each room, what it was used for, who lived there, etc. along with placards along the way explaining the art and decorations. This is all gone. They want you to spend another 6 euros on the audio guide or buy a book to carry around with you from the gift shop. That would be a no, but tons of people were doing this. So, instead of actually looking at the rooms, furniture and art, they had their heads buried in books or their hands full with a portable radio and headphones (having headphones on, consequently, does not allow you to hear other people who may be asking you to move aside or alerting you to the fact that you stepped on their toe). You are shuffled through tiny passages as quickly as possible, again, like cattle.
The highlight of the castle tour came while I was admiring the aforementioned bedspread on Marie-Antoinette's bed. I patiently waited for my turn to get up to the front of the room so I could take a picture and admire the relic of history we are so lucky to have. I was up against the railing, being pushed from behind like I was in the front row of a rock concert and about to get trampled when all of a sudden here comes one of the famed independent tour guides (happened to be a group of Asian tourists, but I'm not trying to support the stereotype) screaming "AVANCEZ! AVANCEZ!" (Move on!), but only to me. One of the things about these tour guides is that they are not supposed to stop and give their tours in the tiny, crowded rooms like this one. She did not seem to care; she pushed her group up there, leading the way with her umbrella raised into the air. I politely, and in french, asked Madame where she would like to "avancez" to, seeing as how no one could move an inch. I suspect that the only word of french she knew was "avancez", because her response was to hit me in the face with her umbrella, probably with the hopes that if she could knock me down (I, at 5'4'' towered over her by at least a foot), she could get her group to stand on me and thus have a better view. The umbrella swat was not a good plan for her, because I let out a rant about five minutes long that went something along the lines of, "Oh yeah; that's just great. Whack me in the face with your umbrella and then climb over the railing to escape from me (oh yeah, I forgot to tell you she did that) so I can't hit you back. That's the problem with Asian tourists. They think they have a right more than anyone else (I was once pushed over by an Asian man at the Louvre when I was 17; I was trying to take a picture of the Venus de Milo and he literally shoved me out the way so he could take his own picture.)... you 'putain de' tour guides (sorry, no good translation...but it's not a nice word) just make it worse for everyone." And then I stared her down and let two people who were behing me (Germans, I think) take my place at the front instead of people from her group.
Once I explained to Diana what had happened, her first question was "Did you get a picture for your blog?" Oh shoot-that would've been the best! If I'd have turned to leave and just stuck my camera in her face and snapped a picture!
We eventually escaped the inside of the palace, had a mediocre lunch in the gardens, under an umbrella since it was still raining, and then made the trek out to the Domaine de Marie-Antoinette, which includes two smaller palaces I've never visited and le Hameau, a small replica Austrian village that M-A had constructed along with a working farm.
The Hameau is unarguably my favorite part of visiting Versailles. I love being out in the fields of flowers, along the little lake, and amongst all the farm animals. I can see why the Queen and her entourage wanted to escape the actual castle for something "simpler". It also makes you think about the little girl of 13 who was ripped from her country and basically sold to France to solidify an alliance and be married at 14 years old. When she left Austria, she never went back and never saw her mother again. I think one can understand Marie-Antoinette's longing for the country she lost and the childhood she never had.
One thing that was disappointing was the actual state of the interiors of the buildings. You cannot enter the actual buildings, but you can attempt to sneak a peek through the windows (if you're lucky enough to find a window that is not caked with centuries of dirt). I was able to look inside one or two of them: the walls were crumbling, the stairs were bowing, and one room just had trash in it. Really, France? One of the most treasured places from the 18th century is falling apart and you're doing nothing to conserve it? The exteriors are gorgeous (except for one staircase I saw that the wood was completely rotted through) with immaculate gardens and clean pathways. The building have been painted and kept clean; so why the neglect on the interiors? I would love to know what is going on, because it is a travesty. This would be like keeping the grounds of Mt. Vernon pristine and perfect, but shutting up the interior and letting Time destroy one of our treasured American landmarks. Wake Up Sarko!
My last stop at Versailles was to visit M-A's theater that she had built right next to her Petit Trianon; she adored the theater, singing, and ballet and often put on performances for the King and the court here. I'd never seen it before, and even though they said no pictures, I took one anyway (for you, my adoring readers).
By the end of the day, the sun finally poked it's head out and said hello, so I guess that meteo.fr was 100% lying about the sunshine; they were just off by a few hours We returned to Paris a bit exhausted, but definitely glad to have made the trip.
Wednesday was one of the late-nights at the Louvre, and this time I was determined not to miss it. Much like the evening at Musee d'Orsay, the Louvre was not crowded and there were no long lines (althought it is still the Louvre, so there were a lot of people). I made myself visit areas of the Louvre that I had never been before, since I'm notorious for wanting to see and do the same things over and over again. I started in the fortress area underneath the museum in Sully wing, and while this is an area I have visited it leads to others I haven't.
18th century French painting was my next stop; I wanted to see some of the works that Bernadette Fort talked about in the class I took this Spring.
This is a close up of one of the Vigee le Brun's that I love. I also spent some time with Georges de la Tour and Greuze.
In the Richelieu wing, I visited Napoleon IIIs apartments that, decoratively speaking, put Versailles to shame. There is an impressive collection of objet d'art from every century known to man in this wing as well. I wandered around for a good two hours there.
After over two hours of Restoration splendour, I was ready to leave; but, against my better judgement, I braved the last of the crowds to run and see the Mona Lisa...that really zapped my energy. I got there, however, and here is my proof. There's no major change to her...
As nighttime arrived and the lights of the city came on, I headed back to the apartment. I will say again that visiting the major museums during their late nights is the best way to save some cash and save a lot of your sanity.
I'll update the rest of the week later on! Thanks for reading