November 24, 2014

Paris: Part Two

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After the three months I've had, finishing our trip report has been the last thing on my mind. But now that Thanksgiving Break is here, and I have a little free time on my hands, it's time to wrap things up. So...on to Paris: Part Two.
I have to admit something. 
It took me a while to fall in Love with Paris. 
I know, I know...what kind of person isn't enchanted with Paris from the get go? 
Well, this girl, to be quite frank. 
I know that sounds blasphemous, but my relationship with Paris had a rocky, "I don't know if I like you" kind of beginning. Kind of like how the relationship with my husband started (for the record, it was him that didn't like me. I had to win him over. But I can be pretty charming, so it didn't take too long). But, like the liaison with my husband, a rough start does not have to lead to a rough ending. 
By day three, Paris had ensnared my heart. 

On the agenda for today?

The reason I wanted to come to Paris. I have a weird fascination with French history. There's just something about blood and guillotines that will draw a girl in. Call me crazy, but since the first moment that I delved into the deliciousness of the French Revolution, I was hooked. And Versailles? It was the perfect backdrop for such a juicy tale. 
Versailles was built well before the tragic demise of Louis XVI and his misunderstood dauphine under the direction of the Sun King himself, Louis XIV. At its inception, it was a humble hunting lodge (well, as humble as a royal hunting lodge can be) twenty miles outside of Paris. But Louis XIV, wanting to escape the civil unrest of Paris proper, moved the seat of government to Versailles and built himself an empire there. Nobles flocked to the self-contained city which gave Louis XIV the added benefit of keeping an eye on any potential usurpers to his power. 
We spent the first part of the day touring the palace, and dealing with the throngs of people. We knew that going to Europe in July would equal massive amounts of tourists. We had prepared ourselves, and so were pleasantly surprised when the crowds didn't prove overwhelming in each of the cities we visited. 
This was not the case at Versailles. 
It. was. packed.
My poor husband, who doesn't do well with crowds on the best of days, was jumping out of his skin with the press of bodies. But he knew it was my dream, and so he persevered. And boy did it deliver. You have never seen such ostentatious displays of wealth as you would at Versailles. Here's a taste.

My favorite part of the palace tour was, of course, the famous Hall of Mirrors. At a time when glass and mirrors were exorbitantly expensive, the Hall of Mirrors was constructed to display France's vast wealth, and several hundred years later, it still impresses. The rest of the palace provided examples of jaw-dropping murals, lush tapestries, intricate furniture and so on. The rooms went on and on, and we found ourselves overwhelmed by the whole experience. 

After sweating through the "palace shuffle," we were ready to go outside and enjoy our daily picnic in the gardens of Versailles. It was, in a word, magical.

Then, we headed to the part of the Versailles complex that I had been anxiously anticipating for months: Marie Antoinette's Garden, the late dauphine's private sanctuary on the outskirts of the massive estate where she raised animals, tended crops, and sought to live the life of a common "peasant."  It was absolutely delightful, and I pranced through the whole thing with a giddy smile plastered on my face. Then we strolled back through the various paths leading us back to the palace, and out the gates.

The crush of the palace left us a bit disappointed, but the gardens made up for the whole experience and we left more than satisfied. It began to sprinkle on our way back to the train station and the cooling rain was a welcome relief at the end of a hot day. 

On the agenda for today?
Notre Dame
The Louvre
A nighttime stroll through the city

Notre Dame:
Tradition has it that Notre Dame's first stone was laid in 1163. Two centuries later, it was completed. 
We had seen the beautiful Notre Dame on our stroll through the Il de la Cite a couple of days before, but because of the lines, decided to come back another day for the full experience. So, we got up bright and early to beat the crowds, and were in line for the "top" of the cathedral by 9 am. While not as arduous as the ascent to the top of St. Paul's, Notre Dame is still quite the trek. Stair after stair brought us to the top and revealed beautiful displays of Paris. The most memorable part of the experience, was that the bells decided to ring while we were on top. It was lovely and a moment I won't soon forget. 

 The Louvre:
Little known fact: the Louvre was first constructed as a military fortress in the 12th century. Then, for several centuries after, it served, off and on, as a royal residence. It has been demolished and reconstructed many times throughout its long history, and little remains of the medieval structure. Then, in 1793 it was converted into a museum, and except for brief periods of time, it has remained one ever since. Today it holds the coveted title of "largest museum in the world."
The Louvre is overwhelming, to put it simply. Its never-ending halls of antiquities could keep a person busy for weeks. So, we attacked it with a game plan: we would stick to only a few sections and call it good. First, we ventured into the Greek, Etruscan and Roman wing. The highlights for me  were the breathtaking Venus de Milo, The Parthenon Frieze, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, all pictured below. Another highlight was the Italian Renaissance wing, where we of course had to visit Mona Lisa and see her mysterious smirk.

A nighttime stroll through Paris:
These spontaneous "strolls" of ours were some of my favorite memories from our trip. We did it in each city, and it was a wonderful way to relax and see the unexpected treasures of Europe. One such experience was stumbling upon the "love lock bridge," where we of course had to jump on the tourist bandwagon and leave a lock behind. We had a delicious dinner followed by macaroons and chocolate. Then, our final stroll took us back into the Il de la Cite for a lovely view of the Notre Dame at night, as well as a small sliver of the Eiffel Tower.

Although we had a rocky start, my love affair with Paris still remains constant. It's hard for me to dislike a place that has SUCH delicious food, and the husband and I still talk about the cheese. But Rome was calling, and she was hard to ignore...
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