Monday, May 4, 2009

Versailles, Orangerie, Orsay, Dr. Suess, Fancy Dinner, Louvre…..

Yes – we did do ALL that in one day!

mini_DSC07996mini_DSC07998We rose early on Wednesday to beat the legendary crowds at Versailles.  We have been wanting to see a ‘real’ castle (i.e. not a ruin) for a long time.  The elevator in our building deserves a quick mention. It was the smallest elevator I have ever seen, obviously retrofitted to the building to fit inside an existing spiral staircase. Adults literally had to turn sideways in order to squeeze in – and no backpack or purse sticking out either.  The kids loved it but it took 3 trips to get the 7 of us down in it.  So some of the adults would usually take the 6 flights up or down to save time.  Then we were off to the metro.  Paris Metro is amazing, goes everywhere and is fast, fast, fast. I don’t think we ever waited longer than 5 minutes for a train or connection. Griffin, the most mellow of our crowd, is also the one least interested in the content of the museums, churches etc….  So we count on things like taking the bus or train to keep him happy. Well, this vacation Mr. Train Lover has decided he doesn’t like underground trains (which would mean subways, the primary way we get around this town).  He cries and needs to be held on each one.  He insists that he only likes the ones that go above the ground.  Luckily, for us, after a short underground ride we were able to switch to the RER train to Versailles.  The ride is about 1/2 hour away in a train that mostly travels above ground – and it was also a double decker train. Of course, we sat on the top.

Versailles – the palace of the Sun King

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 mini_P1020065Here we are standing in front of Versailles.  The place is so immense, it must cover a mini_DSC08007couple of acres. We walked in and walked through the palace.  Man, Louis XIV, was really, really, really into himself.  This place is just coated in his image, sculptures, paintings, I bet the toilet paper had his face on it as well.    This bed was NOT his bed – but the head board had his face on it anyway.  Guess he was watching even while you slept. The sun king – he wanted to rule everywhere the sun shone.  It was a very crowded place and not very friendly to visit.  There were no brochures in English explaining the history of the place and no signs on the walls either except for very brief ones that captioned the theme of the room we were looking at – i.e. so and so’s bedroom, the portraits of the royal P1020076artists etc….  There were audio guides – but the line to get one was about an hour long. So we just wandered on through. I really wanted to see the famous hall of mirrors.  I stood near a souvenir stand and skimmed the Versailles For Kids book they had on sale (hey, you’ve got to do what you can).  I learned that the hall of mirrors was originally designed  as a terrace. Apparently, the sun king was very sensitive to actual breezes offending his sacred skin.  So, he ordered the terrace enclosed and large mirrors placed in there to reflect the sunlight at all times.  These were the largest mirrors yet to be made – the first recorded full length ones.  Here we are standing in it.  Zander was P1020085really annoyed by this thing – he thought the whole thing would be mirrors.  I mean really, why do they call it a hall of mirrors when one whole side is windows?  And there are marble columns and paintings on the ceilings, chandeliers, sculptures, chairs.  When you think mini_DSC08018about it, there aren’t hardly any mirrors at all.  It reminded us of when we went to Bermuda, famed land of pink sand, to find that the sand was 99% beige, like our sand, with little tiny pieces of pink coral scattered in it. What a rip-off!   As we wandered, Grandma and Grandpa, who (Can you imagine?) actually wanted to look closely at the castle, fell further and further behind our impatient trio.  We took the steps down at the end of the tour to wait for them.  Apparently, these steps were very dangerous.  In French you are told “Attention, Marches glissantes”, which means, Careful, slippery stairs!  In English we are told “Be Careful, Sliding steps” and in Spanish “Cuidado, con el escalon resbaladijo” which means “Careful with the sliding stairs” (I think a better Spanish translation would be something like “Cuidado, escaleras resbaladizas” but I’m not sure.  I don’t know how all the Asian visitors navigated these without falling to their death since there were no warnings for them.  However, we somehow made it and waited patiently at the bottom for the arrival of the grandparents.  Then we headed out to the gardens. I had been peeking at them through the windows all along. Versailles is famous for its gardens and I was excited to see them.

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Well, folks, I discovered something about myself.  I am not a fan of formal gardens. I did enjoy looking at the sculptures and I do realize the hours and hours of time and effort that must have gone into making these elaborate miniature hedges but, frankly, I think they are boring. Where is the spontaneity?  Where are the colors?  Where, by golly, are the flowers??!  And what is up with the fountain in the center of the hedgie thing?  I realize they have a ‘musical fountain’ show on the weekends and this must be for that – but couldn’t they have designed something a bit more attractive?  Well, Debbie, who takes 10 pictures for every one I shoot (and, as you can tell, I’m not shy about taking pictures) was determined to get a family shot. Zander did not want to participate and had been avoiding this for the past 5 days.  So, desperate, I dug deep into my parenting arsenal and pulled out…. bribery!  That’s right, kids who smile for the camera will get a treat.  Zander did not cooperate until the very last shot when Griffin, tired of smiling, was looking away and he refused to try again – so no candy!  This caused Mr. Z to throw a giant fit, almost jetting his glasses over the terrace and trying to beat me up.  When Daddie carried him away to calm down, his 2 special souvenir coins fell out of his pocket and, I’m sure, some lucky passer-by scooped them up.  This was very very traumatic for him.  He wanted us to get him new ones (no) or give him the extra money to replace them (no) or else he would steal them from Callie and Griffin or throw theirs away etc… etc…

We had seen all that we could see and decided to head back to Paris.  When we left, the lines P1020108were stretching DSC08023all the way across the courtyard and to the other gate.  So glad we got there early.  We ate on the train and Debbie and Dave decided to split off from us again (wonder why) to spend the rest of the day in the Louvre.  Here’s a shot of Dave in one of the galleries.  They walked almost the entire museum that afternoon.  How about us?  Well, we avoid spending entire days in museums with the kids (unless it is the Please Touch Museum) – they just can’t handle it. Grandma and Grandpa did offer to help by taking Callie, but we had mini_DSC08025planned to go home for a bit of a rest for part of the afternoon and thought that she would need it too.  So, we headed off to the Musee d’Orangerie, famous for Monet’s Water Lilies.  It was a great little museum, right inmini_DSC08028 the middle of the Tulieres Gardens.  We walked there from Pont  Alexandre III. It is a beautiful bridge covered in elaborate sculptures. Callie liked this one of a little girl. In the foreground you can see a Metro ticket, being held in front of the camera by a still irate Zander.   We passed by the Royal Palace and this great statue of Winston Churchill.  French really like Winston Churchill, you see quotes from him and statues and art inspired by him all over the place.  I guess it’s because of how he supported De Gaulle  and the French Resistance during WWII.

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mini_DSC08036We ran into this fountain in the gardens along the way – these were more like the gardens I enjoy.  Full of flower beds, flowering trees and flowing water from beautiful sculptures.  The kids, although tired, enjoyed running around in this area.  Then we hit on another plaza dominated by a giant Egyptian obelisk.  Callie and I headed toward the mermaid fountain.  She wanted to try taking some pictures and took all the ones below. When we reconvened I asked Zander about the obelisk.  Here is his version of the story…..

M: So, why do they have that Egyptian thing?

Z: You see, Mom, Paris fought with Egypt and Paris won – and then they said “If you don’t give us all your stuff we will kill everybody here.” So the Egypt people gave them their stuff.   And they just, like, took this giant thing, and it was one of the Egypt peoples favorite things, and that’s just not fair Mom! Is it?

M: Well you know, Zander, some people say “Might makes right”, what do you think that means?

Z: It means if you are bigger and stronger, you get to make up the rules?

M: That’s right – but is that fair?

Z: No way, that thing is theirs, they shouldn’t be allowed to just take it! That’s mean!  They should give that back to Egypt, shouldn’t they?

M: Yeah, I think they should, and some people in Egypt think so to, even though it’s been here a hundred years. But Paris is still bigger and stronger than Egypt even today. You know what this is like?  It’s kind of like how you say you are going to take Callie and Griffin’s money or how you hurt them sometimes – you can do it because you are bigger and stronger – but that’s not fair, is it?

Z: No….

(His attitude improved after this exchange – who says they aren’t getting anything out of all this touring?)

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mini_DSC08050The Monet museum was really fun. There were lots of other artists feamini_DSC08052tured, mostly impressionists, which was a surprise but I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the works by this one artist – Andre’ something or another – it’s the one pictured left.   Andre’ and I took turns looking around while Callie and Griffin napped on a handy bench.  The highlight was the absolutely enormous Water Lilies –the entire museum had been rebuilt around these gorgeous paintings which line the sides of two huge oval shaped rooms.  It took him DSC080538 years to paint DSC08058these panels.  I think it is amazing how something that just looks like a scribble scrabble up close can be such a beautiful painting in the end.    Zander was very interested in looking at the art in this place and was relieved we were able to purchase coins here to restart his collection.

Then we popped over to the Musee d’Orsay – someplace I’d love to spend a day if we ever return to Paris.  The kids were beat, so we made a deal with them to only stay half an hour (and get them a coin if they were good).  The museum collection picks up where the Louvre ends and goes until about 1914.  The first shot is my favorite sculpture – the man reading the scroll. Wish I could get a miniature of that one for my house.

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We headed home and the kids watched a Dr. Suess video Grandma brought as a gift while Daddie and I had a nap.  Then we went to meet Grandma and Grandpa for dinner at La Sourdiere.

mini_DSC08077We had reservations for 7pm but got there 5 minutes early – that meant, of course, it wasn’t even open yet!  No restaurants in France open before 7pm – making it difficult to eat out with the kids. We spent time drooling over the giant chocolate fountain in the window of a store nearmini_DSC08078by and popped in the church across the street. I found this memorial very moving.  It was put up by the church to memorialize all those killed in the concentration camps during WWII and called them martyrs.  I thought it was interesting that a Christian church was recognizing that the Jews who died in the camps were martyrs, dying to defend their faith – but, at the same time, I wasn’t sure why it featured a giant cross in the center – wouldn’t a star of David have been more appropriate?

Then it was dinner time. This was to be our ‘good’ dinner in Paris – I found it highly recommended as delicious, reasonable (for Paris) and kid friendly.  It was definitely not as kid friendly as the place we visited the night before, but they were friendly- they split a plate between Zander and Callie and got something special for Griffin without as much as a blink of an eye.  I would say, if you are with your family and looking for a ‘real’ restaurant, it was about as child friendly as you would find.  Also they had these interesting LED fake candles that kept the kids entertained for about 1/2 an hour. And the food was delicious.  Dave had escargot and Andre’ and I had french onion soup followed by some scallops and some amazing duck and a delicious creme brulee, creme pistache, creme cafe trio.  The problem is, I’m a food snob.  It was good – but I really wanted it to be the best meal I’ve ever eaten.  The reviews raved about this place and I wanted something incredible.  I am blessed with a family of great cooks and my standards are extremely high.  My mother’s french onion soup is better and the spinach accompanying the duck was overdone (French, in my experience, don’t do veggies well). But I still think it was a good value for the money – and the kids DID get to have some of that chocolate, in the end!

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mini_P1020128Finally, we visited the Louvre.  It is open until 10pm on Wednesdays.  We walked past the Tuilieres again just to get over there – the sun was setting – another chance for that elusive family mini_DSC08097photo!  As you can see, Zander is cooperating but Griffin looks like he just ate a lemon!  It is so hard to capture sunsets with photos – rest assured it was a lovely night.  I love the shot Andre’ got of the kids hugging me with the Champs d’Elysees behind us including the Arc de Triumph and Egyptian obelisk.  We got in about 9pm and made it over mini_DSC08102to the Mona Lisa, passing Winged Victory (plus lots of other great stuff, of course) along the way.  I can’t recommend this highly enough – visiting Wednesday evening is perfect!  The last time we were in the Louvre, we could barely see the Mona Lisa through the crowds – this time there was almost no one there. I could sit and look at her for several minutes.  I don’t think the kids were particularly impressed but I maintain that this is a special work of art.  She just seems so real.  I want to sit down and chat with this woman.  This feeling is lost in photographic translation, of course.  You can see the Mona Callie posing in front of her!  Is Callie smiling for the same reason or not?

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We did try to go to the Egyptian section as well, but, in typical French fashion, it was impossible to go into any other sections of the museum once 9:30 hit.  In France, when you say something is closing at 10pm it means that the people who work in the Louvre are leaving at 10pm – not that they are letting people in the door until 9:58 like in the US.  We weren’t even able to get the kids a Louvre souvenir coin because they wouldn’t let anyone else in the gift shop by the time we got there (at around 9:45). The kids were so disappointed, but they seemed to understand it wasn’t our fault! On the way out, we even got lucky to catch a peek of the Eiffel Tower lighting up in the distance as a bonus.  What a full day!!!!  So far we are sticking to our overly ambitious agenda – we’ll see how tomorrow goes…..

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