Paris Adventure: Day Three Part Two- The Louvre

So last we left off: Two bone-soaked Americans on a metro returning from Versailles by the songs of French accordianists.

We arrived at Rue de Rivoli and spent several minutes walking up and down the street looking for the entrance to the Virgin mobile store where we were supposed to pick up our Louvre tickets. (Turns out it’s underground…who knew?) Stopped for some bangin’ lasagna and coffee to recharge (more on the food in a later post!) and headed to that gem of a museum: the Louvre!

Here’s the inverted pyramid that the Da Vinci Code alleges is the Holy Grail:

By the time we had finally found our tickets, we only had 2.5 hours until the Louvre closed-not at all enough time to fully appreciate any one wing, but we had to make do with the time we had and decided to prioritize.

Here’s what we chose to see:

Denon Wing: Spanish paintings, Italian paintings, Italian sculptures, Greek/Etruscan/Roman Antiquities

Richelieu Wing: French sculptures, French paintings

With the lack of time, we had to skip the Sully wing completely, which was a disappointment. But just another reason to return to Paris, eh? πŸ™‚

In a word, the Louvre was incredible! It was amazing to be able to see so many of the sculptures and paintings that I had studied in Art History! I was completely in awe of being in the presence of such inspiring works of art. What creative genius!

Fortunately, the Louvre is really relaxed about its photography policy; we could take photos of nearly everything! So here are a few of our favorites!

*Disclaimer: I tried to be really good about taking pictures of the plaques that went with each sculpture/painting so that I would know the name of the piece and the artist. When I looked back, though, a lot are hard to read…if anyone (ahem, Lauren πŸ™‚ ) recognizes the pieces and would like to comment on their origins, we would greatly appreciate it!

Sculptures:

The first thing to greet us here at the entrance to the Denon Wing was Nike: This is an incredible piece of work called Winged Victory

Here she is up close:

My absolute favorite sculpture is Psyche and Cupid. It’s so sensual and evocative and beautiful:

And then there’s Michelangelo’s Slave. This piece makes me so uncomfortable because the slave cannot break out of the block of marble; there is so much anguish and struggle visible in the sculpture. I think Michelangelo succeeded in capturing the essence of eternal bondage:

And here are a few that I can’t read the plaques for but that we really enjoyed:

This one seemed to actually be a handle; there were two of these snuggly-looking heads at either end of the plinth of a sculpture. Fancy, huh?:


Look at the details of her lace! This is done in marble!:

And there is a replica of this at Maymont in Richmond!

Paintings:

The size of some of the paintings was absolutely incredible! It is so amazing that the artists could create such massive works and to such perfect proportion! I can’t imagine how long it must have taken to complete some of these pieces:

The one above features Joan of Arc, I believe.

And this is The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David. We really enjoyed his painting style:

And here is the ever-famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. She’s kept behind glass and you can’t get very close to her. (Side note, I giggled as I added this photo to the post because the example that WordPress gives for a photo title is ‘Mona Lisa’ and I actually was titling this photo ‘Mona Lisa’. It’s the small things.) :

And here is Madonna of the Rocks by Da Vinci which was, of course, made famous recently in the Da Vinci Code:

Beautiful, right?

How incredible are these works? We were completely overwhelmed (in a good way!) by the museum and all its treasures. We highly recommend going if you get the chance…and make sure you have more than a couple of hours to enjoy it!

After our Louvre adventure, we relaxed with a bottle of vin at a little cafe. It was so fun to people watch in Paris. And we really loved the open-air sidewalk cafes everywhere. Such a great way to enjoy a summer evening!

So what was your favorite sculpture or painting? Any that we didn’t mention?

PSST- I came up with a really fun idea for a project while at the Louvre! I’ll post details on that soon, but it involves a super-chic dressing room and some photos that we took…

Day 3 of Paris Adventure: Part One- Versailles

Day Three of our Paris Adventure was jam packed!

We started early (ish) with a metro ride out to Versailles. WOW! What a place palace! (Yeah, that’s a golden gate…)

Here’s a brief history of the complex: It began as a hunting retreat for Louis XIII (father of The Sun King, Louis XIV.) When Louis XIV came to power, he transformed the hunting retreat into the grandiose palace complex that it is today. He hired Andre LeNotre to design the grounds (LeNotre also designed Le Jardin des Tuileries.) The construction of the complex took nearly 40 years; once it was inhabitable, Louis XIV moved the seat of the French government out to Versailles. As a result of the French Revolution, the government did move back to Paris and Versailles became a museum for the history of France.

Which brings us to present. We started our tour of Versailles in the palace. This was against my better judgment as the sky looked like it was about to open (and sure enough it did right when we got to the gardens) but we asked around and it seemed like the only way to see the palace and the gardens was to start in the palace.

So to the palace! The best way I can describe Versailles is opulent. The scale of the grounds, the scale of the palace, the decor, the accessories, the garden design, the materials used in construction- everything was so riche.

My favorite part of the palace was the first floor. The decor on the first floor was a bit more understated than the rest of the palace. There was a lot of white marble, fine gold details, and natural light.

Versailles Chapel from the First Floor

I loved the floor-to-ceiling windows/doors that opened into the grounds. (These floor-to-ceiling windows/doors were pretty common in France and I truly fell in love with them. If we ever become wealthy, we will definitely have some of these in the home we custom build πŸ˜‰ )

(Apparently I didn’t take any photos of these beauties…epic fail.)

I also really enjoyed the hardware here- you can see that the knobs on the window/doors were custom designed.

There was also a really beautiful hall of statues on the first floor- the whole hall was just white marble, gold details, and windows. Very beautiful.

Ben liked the second floor better than the first. There was definitely a lot more going on upstairs! Each room was so extravagant! The colored marble on the walls and floors, the hardwood flooring patterns, the artwork, the furniture, the fabrics…you can’t help but appreciate the beauty of each element:

And of course there is the famous hall of mirrors:

After our tour of the palace, we made our way to the grounds. As I mentioned above, it started to rain as soon as we got outside. Major bummer. But, as we had gotten all the way to France, and made it to Versailles, I refused to miss the garden tour! So we threw our jackets over our heads, wrapped my pashmina around the camera, and started our very wet, whirl-wind tour of the grounds of Versailles! (Disclaimer: due to the rain, some of the photos are blurry. It did clear up, though, by the end so some of the photos are clear!)

We started in the highly manicured, ornate Parterre gardens:

Isn’t the boxwood hedge ornament amazing!? Can you imagine maintaining this!?

I loved the marble and stone structural elements and ornaments throughout the garden. Just beautiful!

And this is the Orangerie:

Another common practice in French public gardens (as you can also see here) is to grow citrus and tropical trees and shrubs in these large green containers. My assumption is that the maintenance team forklifts these containers to a conservatory of some sort during the cold months and the containers are then brought out and arranged in the garden when it gets warm. If you have the conservatory space, it’s a great way to enjoy citrus trees, no?

This is the view of the city beyond Versailles when standing above the Orangerie:

After the Orangerie, we saw the Bacchus ornamental lake

Some beautiful hedge rows:

The Saturn ornamental lake:

The King’s garden:

Check out these annual beds in the King’s Garden!These were planted with annuals/succulents that grow at home in Richmond! Red and Pink Begonia, sedums, etc.

The Apollo Ornamental Lake:

And my favorite part: Latone Ornamental Lakes area:

There were some beautiful sculptures and perennial borders around this area:

Escargo?

And the roses smelled so wonderfully!

Despite all that we saw, we only toured a small portion of the grounds! You could easily spend a whole day in the Versailles gardens and not see everything (or at least you would need a horse to gallop you around if you wanted to see it all…)

After the garden tour we were soaked and freezing, but it was so worth it! We hopped on the train back to Paris proper to change and then headed to the Louvre–jam-packed day, right!? We’ll be back in the next post to share our Louvre experience!

A tout a l’heure!

Paris Adventure Day 2: French Breakfast and The Isles!

I’d love to say that we popped out of bed on our first morning in Paris and hit the tourist schedule at the crack of dawn but that would be a lie so I’ll tell you, instead, that we slept in hard core before heading out for our first French breakfast.

First to note, this was a super-packed day! Consequently this is a really long post with lots of words and pics. Grab a bottle of Bordeaux and start playing some accordion tunes ‘cuz we’re about to take you to the heart of Paris!

Second to note, our late-rising selves seemed to fit right in; from what we gathered the working French appear to start their mornings a bit later than the Americans. Things were a lot less hectic over there. (More on that later in a ‘Joie de Vivre’ post!)

Third to note, French breakfast was one of the top 10 things I was looking forward to doing in Paris. (I’m not sure what that says about me, but after having tried real French breakfast, I would keep it in the top 10 things to look forward to!)

Anyway, we finally left the hotel and set off to breakfast which, in short, was delicious! I’ll be brief here because food-critic Ben will definitely be sharing deets on this meal later, but here we are in a quaint cafe munching brunch:

Ben's First French Breakfast

I’ll take a minute to note the atmosphere of this place, though. It was precious! Very rustic with rough-hewn tables, exposed bulb lighting, and metallic accessories. Definitely stored away some inspiration ideas from this place!

Once we were properly nourished, we set off to explore Les Iles.

Brief explanation for anyone who is not overly familiar with Paris’s geography:

Long ago the city of Paris began on those two little islands you can see in the Seine. As the city grew it spread to both banks of the Seine (Le rive droite and le rive gauche.) Some of the oldest histories and structures of Paris can be found on these iles, so of course my history-loving self wanted to stop there first- the heart of Paris!

On the way, we stopped by the Tour St. Jacques. To be completely honest, I can’t remember the importance of this tower, but since this blog is as much a documentation of our lives for us to look back on as it is entertainment for you, I thought I’d note that we stopped by; you never know when I’ll have to say whether or not I’ve been to the Tour St. Jacques! Anyway, it was a lovely structure with a quaint little garden around it. Also seemed to be the place of choice for the homeless population.

*Apparently we took no photos of this; either that or I can’t find any… sorry!

Anyway, so on to L’ile de la cite! Here’s a brief history of the place: l’Ile de la Cite was founded by a Celtic tribe (called the Parisii- namesake, we assume) around 300 B.C. which thrived until the Romans stopped in to build a palace-fortress at the western end of the island around 52 BC. Along about the 10th century, Frankish kings improved this Roman palace, and what remains of this exceptional compound today is Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie prison. (Photos and details on those gems below.) The first place we stopped L’Ile de la Cite was:

Pont Neuf: To get onto L’ile de la Cite, we had to cross the Pont Neuf. This bridge was built in 1607 and was the first of Paris’s bridge to be built of stone (as opposed to wood.) It is Paris’s oldest remaining bridge and it connects the western tip of L’ile de la Cite to both banks. Here she is:

Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf up close

Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf

La Cathedrale Notre-Dame: One of the most amazing features of Notre-Dame is her flying buttresses. It is truly incredible how massive these structures are, particularly when you know that the cathedral was constructed between 1160 and 1345. How in the world did people achieve these architectural feats without modern day technology and equipment!? Anyway, Notre-Dame was designed in the Gothic style and was actually one of the first examples of a Gothic cathedral in Northern France. Here are some pics of her:

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame- look at the buttresses

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame ceilings

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame ceilings

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame Rose Window

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame Rose Window


La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame Entrance

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame Entrance; look at the sculpting

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame Entrance

La Cathedrale de Notre-Dame Entrance; what excellent craftsmanship!

Crypte Archeologique: so, this place was really cool! Apparently, before the construction of the existing Cathedrale de Notre Dame, there was an original cathedral built in this site, along with an even older city! And what is even cooler is that you can see the archeological remains of the ancient city and cathedral! Of course we stopped in to check it out. Beneath the ground level in front of the existing Notre-Dame is a permanent archeological site that is open to the public. You can see the foundations of structures from medieval times and some that date back to as long ago as the Gallo-Roman times!

*Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos of the site; sorry we talked about how cool it was and can’t show you anything…

Le Conciergerie-This is one of the structures that remain from that Frankish palace we mentioned above. This prison is Paris’s oldest Prison. In fact, Marie-Antoinette and other Revolutionary figures were incarcerated here during the Revolution (most of which were later executed…) Despite the tragic history of the building, it was truly beautiful and absolutely fascinating. Actually, the exact notes that I wrote on Le Conciergerie in our travel notebook are “Beautiful gothic architecture; tragic history.” Take a peak:

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall Fireplace

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall Fireplace

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall Fireplace Closeup- Seriously, we could both stand in this side by side with space to spare; it was huge!

Le Conciergerie Banquet Hall Fireplace Closeup- Seriously, we could both stand in this side by side with space to spare; it was huge!

Le Conciergerie- green square where prisoners would gather just before their executions

Le Conciergerie- green square where prisoners would gather just before their executions...

Le Conciergerie- execution bell?

Le Conciergerie- execution bell?

Le Conciergerie- water fountain

Le Conciergerie- water fountain

Sainte-Chappelle-OK this place was “Breath-taking; absolutely stunning” (words from our travel journal.) Also a vestige of the Frankish palace compound, this cathedral was absolutely stunning. The ground level cathedral was rumored to have housed holy relics like Christ’s crown of thorns and pieces of the cross on which Christ died. None of those relics are there currently, but the real treat is the second floor chapel. WOW. 3 of the 4 walls of the upstairs room are made of stained glass. And each panel of glass tells the story of the Bible. In fact, if you read the windows beginning in the North, you can read the stories from Genesis through the Passion of Christ, to Revelations. Aside from the stained glass, all surfaces are intricately painted or tiled; the whole effect is just beyond words:

* Some of the interior shots are blurry

St- Chapelle entrance carvings

St- Chapelle entrance carvings

St- Chapelle ceiling

St- Chapelle ceiling

St- Chapelle ceiling

St- Chapelle ceiling

St- Chapelle wall

St- Chapelle wall

St- Chapelle statue

St- Chapelle statue

St- Chapelle floor

St- Chapelle floor

St- Chapelle altar and stained glass

St- Chapelle altar and stained glass

St- Chapelle stained glass

St- Chapelle stained glass

Place Dauphin: after visiting all the beautiful architecture we mentioned above, we thought we’d hit up some green spaces.

Square du Vert-Galant: Named for Henri IV and his lusty trysts, this square can be found at the NW end of the island. It is apparently a popular hang out for lovers.

L’Ile St. Louis: After all the fantastic (but exhausting) sight-seeing on L’Ile de la Cite, we headed over to L’Ile St. Louis. Oh my stars. We are so glad we made it to this island. My notes were: “Adorable! Great architecture, much less crowded, boutique shops & restaurants-Can’t miss this.” This island was so quaint; beautiful window boxes, tree-lined streets, fabulous architecture. Just beautiful. See what you think:

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Window

L'Ile St-Louis Sign- Ben's Favorite

L'Ile St-Louis Sign- Ben's Favorite

L'Ile St-Louis Cafe

L'Ile St-Louis Cafe

Phew! At this point in the day, we were getting exhausted. So we hopped back to the hotel to kick up our feet for a minute before heading to a restaurant that our dear friend Mackenzie recommended: Chez Francais. And for the record, Mackenzie was SO right! When night fell, we got all dolled up for a date night and took the metro over to Chez Francais, which happens to boast a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower. We enjoyed the view, which included a slightly spastic light show, over creme brulee, chocolate cake and wine. There really is nothing like sitting in an open air cafe sipping wine and sharing a beautiful view with your best friend:-) Especially when you’re in Paris!

Eiffel Tower from Chez Francais

Eiffel Tower from Chez Francais

Date Night at Chez Francais

Date Night at Chez Francais-

End of second day a Paris.

Has anyone ever been to Chez Francais? Or how about L’ile St. Louis? What about the window boxes? We would love to hear about your favorites from the Isles of Paris!

Paris Adventure Day One: The Arrival

Paris-bound!

I don’t have any pictures from the trip over, so this first part will be a lot of words, but we left Richmond late morning and flew to Boston and then to Iceland, landing in Paris around 1:15 PM- funny how that time-difference thing works!

Brief note about the trip over: fly Iceland Air! It was fantastic; the seats were comfortable and spacious (important when your combined height as a couple pushes 11’11”), the stewardesses were fantastic (and, oddly enough, all dressed the same and wore their hair the same way), the Iceland airport was so neat (super mod and streamlined despite the fact that there was next to nowhere to sit) and Iceland is so interesting to fly over! We decided that next time we fly through we’ll stick around for a day or so!

Anyway, so we landed at Charles de Gaulle airport travel-worn but so excited for our adventure! After practicing our French on the signs around the airport (and by ‘our’ I mean my; Ben took several years of Spanish and the only thing he can say in French is ‘oui oui, bon bon- a phrase that he concocted…), we made it to a train station and figured out how to get from the airport, which is about 20 minutes outside Paris proper, into the city. Let me pause here to say that Ben absolutely adores figuring out public transportation. (Lucky for me since I am far from gifted in that department.) Despite the language barrier, he thoroughly enjoyed triumphantly arriving in Paris after his mad navigating. All the while, I couldn’t help singing ‘I love Paris in the Springtime’…

Once in Paris we thought it would be fun to walk to our hotel so that we could site see a bit on the way. We had both done a great job of packing lightly and it really wasn’t difficult to stroll around the city toting our rolley luggage. Ben, with help from our Pocket Rough Guide Paris travel guide, successfully steered us to our hotel.

Our walk took us from the Gare du Nord southwest toward the city. We walked through a few ‘gritty’ areas near the train station, but on the whole the walk was fabulous (and a foreshadowing of all the dozens of miles we would walk in the next 6 days!)

Our hotel was great. It was the Hotel Aida Opera (actually, a Best Western!) and the concierge was fantastic. He spoke so many languages! The two less-than-ideal tidbits about our lodging was that it was a 10-15 minute walk from the metro station (but really, that helped us to keep off those pain au chocolat pounds!) and that the sidewalk in front of the hotel was under construction (no need for an alarm clock when the jack hammer starts bright and early every morning!) We decided not to let either of those tidbits bother us though; we knew where the hotel was located when we booked it and we didn’t spend much time in the room anyways!

I found the shower curtain in our tiny shower really comical

So we got to the hotel, showered off the airplane smell, and headed out to sight see. Even though we had been up for several hours at this point, the experts say the best way to fight jet lag is to follow the sleeping schedule of the place you are visiting. Seeing as it was late afternoon by the time we had cleaned up, we decided to hit the streets!

Let me just say, I was stunned by the beauty and the age of the architecture of Paris. (Consider this a warning; by the end of this adventure, you will see many, many pictures of buildings, door knobs, windows, street signs…I fell in love with the details of Paris!) Our 20 minute walk to the Louvre was absolutely beautiful. The sun was shining, the weather was warm, there was a slight breeze- absolument parfait! This actually turned out the be the best weather we had in Paris; the other days were much chillier with scattered sprinkles.

Anyway, so we spent the afternoon basking in the awesome scale of the Louvre, the beautiful plantings of the Jardin des Tuileries, and the serenity of the Seine.

Despite the pained expression on my face, I was super excited to be there!!!

Yeah, our jet-lagged selves totally set up the public chairs as foot rests...


Lime trees!

Boxwood and Lavender- two things I love!

A pont (bridge) over the Seine

(In the picture above you can see the ‘boat hitching posts’ that I thought were hysterical!)

We stopped for dinner at a sidewalk cafe we stumbled upon (this is actually how we ate most of our meals- we wanted to be all French-like and eat at the everyday cafes we encountered) and tasted a Beaujolais wine for the first time! Delish! We plan to do a more detailed post about the wines we tried for those of you win-o’s out there! Stay tuned for that in a few weeks! Also, I’ll let Ben thrill you with a report of all of the fabulous food we ate in a few weeks, too!

Cafe table and chairs- they were all woven all over the city!

Right now I’ll tell you that the dining experience was so cool! The cafe seating was smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk (not uncommon!) and it was so strangely intriguing to be sitting down to a late dinner in the middle of the bustling city. Great for people watching which is a fantastic pastime in Paris. I didn’t have the nerve to take many pictures of people, but let me just say we saw a lotΒ  of roller bladers. We even made a ‘you know you’re in Paris when…’ list that we’ll share later, too!

Anyway, once we finished dinner, we called it a night…Happy day one of our Paris adventure is complete!

By trolley!

Hi all!

I’m back with a stroll through the Garden District of New Orleans!

I’m gonna try to keep it short and show mostly photos!

I got to the Garden District by streetcar which was the most fantastic way to travel!

My new preferred method of transportation

The little wooden seats with their shaded windows were so precious! They also flipped up and turned over for the return trip in the opposite direction so that passengers are always facing forward– Turn-of-the-century genius!

Little bare light bulbs lit the street car:

And on the way I noticed that the telephone lines were covered in Mardi Gras beads! (At home in Richmond kids throw shoes all over the telephone lines…the beads are much cooler!)

When I arrived in the Garden Districts I decided to just make my way around the neighborhood to enjoy the homes and gardens (with help from my Fodor’s map, of course!) The following pictures are what I got to see:

I thought this marble carriage step was so fun!

Because of how low ground level is in New Orleans, the cemeteries are full of mausoleums:

Aren’t the houses and gardens so beautiful!? I had such a great time walking around the shaded neighborhood on such a beautiful September day.

I highly recommend taking time to do this when you go to New Orleans- there are so many historic homes to discover… enjoy!