Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ah, Paree!

The last glimpses of wonderful Paris!
A feast for the eyes--detailed charm everywhere!
Sidewalk grocers!   Erin would so shop here.
However, I don't think Erin would shop here! 
What or should I say 'who' does this remind you of?
One of the original subway entrances located in the Mon Marte District...
THE famous seven story staircase to said above subway exit.  And to answer your question, yes, we climbed every last one.  Of course, Kara powered through to the top, while I took the more scenic route--enjoying the art on the walls!
I kept thinking, perhaps Marie (Antoinette), Victor (Hugo), or some historical event might have happened right here on these very cobblestones!
Charming water well.
You have to love the story of  Saint Dennis, who was the Bishop of Paris in 250 AD.  He was beheaded by the pagan priests and it is said that upon his beheading, he picked up his head and walked six miles, all the while preaching a sermon!    He is the beloved and patron saint of Paris!

You cannot go to Paris without a stop here.  This is the famous English bookstore that has seen the likes of Hemingway and Joyce.  Apparently struggling authors will work here while waiting to become famous.  Kara loved it!  I have to admit it had a lot of vintage charm.

Kara browsing--but alas, she did not find a book to buy!
A shocking orange!
 A little bit of yellow!
A shot of green!
And a splash of pink!
We cannot forget the blues!
And of course, who wouldn't want to shop at this little gem?

What a delightful city to explore.  I would go back again and again!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cathedrals--oh, My!

I was told before leaving for Paris that we should not miss seeing the Chartres Cathedral.  AND that we should not miss the tour that was given by Malcolm Miller--the resident expert on everything you wanted to know about Chartres.  It was a 50 mile train ride from Paris, but Kara and I were intrigued, so we decided to go and learn all about Chartres. 
    The town of Chartres is a mix of old and new...however, the old town is pretty much clustered around the 1000 year old cathedral. The cathedral is impressive--very much on the WOW scale of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  Our expert, Malcolm Miller could be described as a crusty old Englishman, complete with thinning white hair and a light dusting of white on his navy blazer's shoulders!  His whispers can be heard from afar, and when donning his mike for our lecture, well,  lets just say that he wasn't afraid of letting the other guides know how he really feels!  As a young man coming out of World War II, he was so taken with the Cathedral and it's history, that he decided to make studying it a life long pursuit.  For the past 45 years, he lives 10 months out of the year studying and giving lectures about the Chartres Cathedral.  He gives two lectures a day and is famous for hardly ever repeating himself!
      The cathedral is impressive.  It is huge.  It is a ancient marvel that is hard to comprehend given the implements that were available in the 1100's to construct such a massive building.
Both outside and in, it is filled with ornate sculptures that depict biblical scenes, apostles and saints.   There are stunning stained glass windows that tell biblical stories and depict the life of Christ.  Did you know that the windows and the sculptures were the means used to teach pilgrims about Christianity?  The cathedral is a living monument to Christ and the scriptures!
     To make a long story short, prior to 794 AD, there had been several cathedrals constructed on this same property...all of which were destroyed either by fire or war.  Malcolm said that when the the 794 cathedral was rebuilt, it was given an ancient relic.  (Apparently most of the famous cathedrals built in the middle ages almost always had an ancient relic to encourage pilgrim visits and was a valuable source of income for the church.)  The relic was something belonging to a saint and was believed to have the power to intercede on their behalf.  The Chartres relic was given by Charlemagne's grandson in 896 AD.  It is called the Sancta Camisia, a garment supposedly worn by Mary when she gave birth to Jesus.  This relic still exists today and has been proven by modern day science to have been woven in the 1st century AD.  What is remarkable about this relic is that it survived a major fire that destroyed most of Chartres in 1194.  The people despaired that the relic had been destroyed, but a miraculous event occurred three days after the fire.  Some priests, along with the relic emerged from the cellars of the cathedral's crypt unscathed.  It was considered a miracle and a sign from Mary that that this cathedral must be rebuilt.  Malcolm said that had the relic not survived in this manner, Chartres would have never been rebuilt! 
     The Chartres that we see today was completed in 30 years.  Thirty years?  This is unheard of--considering that the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris took over 200 years to complete.  The miracle of the Chartres's Sancta Camisia truly inspired the artisans and workmen with uncommon zeal.
     Inside the structure you are impressed with the majesty of the columns.  The inside of most Gothic cathedrals today are covered in black soot from hundreds of years use of candles and cooking fires. (Apparently when pilgrims came they would camp inside the cathedral!)  When you enter inside, you are struck by how dark and gloomy the interior is.  However, it was a thrill to witness the stunning renovation taking place at Chartres.  They are in the process of cleaning the stone, which dispels the dark and gloomy atmosphere and breathes light and life back into to structure.  It is difficult to describe the difference it makes to the majesty of the building.  (By the way, the French government have declared that they will no longer allow live candles inside the cathedral--just the electric ones, in order to preserve the restoration.)
How amazing is this restoration?
In addition to it's ancient relic, this cathedral has almost all of it's original stained glass windows.  Each individual pane of glass is about 6 feet high--and the colors are bright and intense.  An interesting fact is that in order to pay for the many windows, patrons were found from all walks of life.  Furriers, bankers, carpenters all contributed a do we know this?  In each window there is usually something put in the scene that shows who the contributor was. For example, in the Assumption Window, there is a customer being served by a shoemaker!
Chartres also has a beautiful labyrinth maze on it's floor that is still in use today.   On the day that we visited, it was covered with chairs.  Apparently, it is only uncovered on Fridays and during the summer months.  Unsure as to it's original use, many walk it today in quiet contemplation.
Chartres Cathedral was a joy to visit and certainly worth the time, travel and money to visit.  Would I go back?  Absolutely--who wouldn't want to see this beauty in all of its restored glory?

PS:  Of course we went to Notre Dame in Paris.  That is also a must see.  Kara wanted to climb up it's 387 steps to the tower and see what Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame would have seen.  (I preferred the contemplation of sitting down inside!)  Unfortunately, we arrived after after 4:30 pm and the stairway was closed.  She was really disappointed!

The flying buttresses were built to keep the cathedral from collapsing!

We also went to the Basilique du Sacré Coeur in the Mon Marte District of Paris.  It is a  young cathedral, only about 200 years old.  But it is breathtakingly beautiful inside and out...and the view is fabulous!

Can you find Kara?

Too bad the day was a little doesn't do the view justice!

We also went to Saint Chappelle.
Saint Chappelle is a small chapel, built in the 1300's to house the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ and other ancient relics attributed to Him.  It also has much of it's original stained glass and the chapel is unique in that  stained glass windows are on three sides of the chapel, allowing light to fill the room. (It should be noted that Notre Dame decided to take the Crown of Thorns relic for their own.) 

One could spend their whole time just visiting the many cathredrals in France.  Each has it's own story and charm.  Kara and I were thrilled with the few that we visited. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

It is simply not fair...

The above post title was a common refrain that I expressed again and again to my darling Kara as we toured Paris and it's countyside. "How can one country...or city for that matter, have such an abundance of charm, antiquities, treasures, momuments--etc.? It is simply not fair!"    Incredible France has it all.  It has the best of the cathredrals, museums, art galleries, architecture, language, fashion--well, you get the idea.  This city could charm the most jaded of travelers AND Kara and I were no exception--not that we were jaded, but we were charmed from the top of our heads to the tips of our toes!
Needless to say, it has been a VERY long time since I have hauled  my own luggage up and down the many flights of subway stairs; and checked maps to figure out where we need to walk to next and then walking for what seemed miles until we arrived at our destination--all the while, pulling a suitcase! 
I must say that Kara was amazing.  She figures things out in a nano second and then strides off with confidence to the appointed place.  I use the word 'stride', because she is just like her dad in that regard--one of her strides is equal to two or three of mine!  As a result, I was always trailing a wee bit behind her...until she would grab my hand, which forced me to keep up.

      Photo taken by Heidi Linton and copied from her blog!
 Had we been in Japan, we would have been the perfect couple in reverse with me (the elder) walking respectfully a few steps behind her (the younger).  (Yes, Kara, I know it was more than a few steps!)  The other amazing thing she did was to jump right in and use what little French she had to communicate with everyone. This was done with confidence and no hesitation!   I was awestruck just watching was then I became her mute companion in all things that required French!  It really was her fault for making everything seem so effortless!
Our hotel was just a few blocks from the Effiel Tower and the metro station--Thankfully!  I suppose you could say that our hotel was 'shabby chic'; but it was clean, had a lovely guest service and very importantly, our very own little bathroom--Oh, and an elevator..(which fit two americans comfortably, but 4 Frenchman with room to spare!) I was grateful we didn't have to carry our luggage up to the 4th floor.

After taking a brief rest, we decided to go and check out the Eiffel Tower.  It is the tallest structure in Paris and was built between 1887-89 as the welcoming arch for the World's Fair.  The amazing thing is that the tower was supposed to be torn down after it's 20 year permit expired, but thankfully the French realized that it would not be a good thing to take down a monument that was fast gaining world approval.  The funny thing is, when it was first built many considered it to be a eyesore and a public embarrassement.  The masses amounts of steel used to construct it was just too ugly for the elegant eye of the local Parisians.

 Guy de Maupassant, a famous French novelist was said to have hated the tower with passion--so much so that he ate there almost everyday!  When asked why, he said it was the only place he could eat where he would not have to look at look at it.  Ah, those French!
When we arrived at the tower, it was late afternoon and what  greeted us brought a smile and lots of memories.  There were limos lined up waiting for their wedding couples to have their pictures taken with the Tower as their background.  (Interestingly, the couples were from Asia.)  It reminded me of the many Japanese couples that would come to Hawaii to have their wedding pictures taken at Waioli Tea Room--same craziness!   Some things never change! 

While there, we just happened to catch the Tower while in it's sparkle mode!  Breathtaking!

Truly a momument for the ages!  

Versailles--Chateau du Marie Antoinette!

I can still remember the first time I walked from the train station and into the waiting arms of Versailles.  It was magnificent, majestic and chicken skin all rolled into one!  It was like I had time traveled to the court and intrigue of all of the famous Louis!  This time--it was still casting the same magic.  Of course, there were changes...improvements have continued to be made, making it all the more impressive.  In hindsight, Kara and I might have made an error of judgment.  Since she had visited Versailles last year, and I had toured the palace before, we decided to forego the palace visit and concentrate on Marie Antoinette's hamlet.  It was now restored and ready for visitors.  Kara didn't visit it last year because of time, and it was off limits when I was there many years ago.  IF we had an extra day, I would have loved to go back inside and relive the magic that is Versailles.
As we walked pass the palace and the incredible long line of people waiting to get in, we marveled at the detail in the landscaping.  Large trees sculpted and trimmed.  Statues by famous artists litter the grounds.  Fountains and a man made lake unfold before your wondering eyes.  It is hard to comprehend such attention to detail to create so much beauty...

This is Louis the XIV sculpted as Apollo, the sun god!  It is a glorious work of art!  Note the  prefectly retangular trees in the background.

Young Marie!
Marie Atoinette was Austrian.  Even though she married Louis XVI and became his queen, she was considered a foreigner all of her life and treated like an outcast.  As a result (and over time), she created a magical world away from the palace of Versailles (about a 30 minute walk).  She had her own little palace and it was called the Petite Trianon.  Of course, Louis also had his own home just down the street from Marie's.  His was called Le Grand Trianon--for obvious reasons! 

Kara making a memory in the backyard of Petite Trianon!

This is the front view of her  little palace.
 In order to visit Marie when she was there, you had to be invited.  Tucked away in the corner of the vast estate, her privacy was garanteed and she and her guests could relax without the prying eyes of court.  What did it look like inside?  Well, they wouldn't let us take pictures, but I found some of my favorite rooms on the internet...Check it out!
                    This is the grand salon!

                    This is the less formal salon!

 This is the intricate detailing that you see on the walls in the above picture.  A stunner!

One of my favorite rooms...her bedroom.  Apparently the King could come and visit her during the day, but he was not allowed to sleep here.  Of course, if you could see the size of this bed, it was a miracle that it actually sleeps an adult--let alone two!  Obviously. she must have been a very tiny woman.  Her favorite flower was the cornflower, intermixed with pink roses.  This is a close-up of what the above print looked like.

                                         Dainty and Sweet!
She had a Temple of Love dedicated to Cupid built on the grounds for the enjoyment of young lovers. 

She also had this lovely little theatre constructed, where she and her friends performed plays in full costume and make-up. It has the capacity to seat 100 people and yes, it is a charming as it looks!


And if that didn't provide enough entertainment, she built a grotto to be explored on hot, lazy days!

This is the panoramic view...

This is the up-close and personal view!  

 This is Kara relaxing after exploring the grotto!

But the craziness didn't end there.  Her crown jewel was a working farm and dairy hamlet.  She had fallen in love with pastoral paintings by Dutch and Flemish painters, and so she set out to create her own real version of what she loved in the paintings.  She and her friends would dress like simple milk maids and 'work' at the hamlet.  Gentle cows were chosen and kept cleaned so when they were milked by Marie and her entourage, it would be a sweet smelling and calm experience.  The milk was put in Sevres Porcelain buckets--no tin pails for the queen!  Food grown from the gardens were served at mealtimes and the whole experience fulfilled the dream of a pastoral paradise.  Only a few buildings from the hamlet survive today, and you can stroll along the paths and visualize what it must have been like at its zenith.  (Even though the buildings look charming and rural, apparently inside they were decorated with all the comforts found at the Petite Trianon.)
Come and have a look around!

Too bad we couldn't go inside!

Look at this funny old tree...I can just picture Marie and her children playing here!

What word comes to mind when viewing this?  Pastoral!

 Me, trying to be artistic in my photography!

 This is Kara's photography skill--my arms are too short to do this!

 While there, and no where else, she famously said, "Je suis moi."  I am me
Of course, you all know how her story ends.  But the irony is that Marie Antoinette, hated and considered an interloper all of her life, has made France synonomous with her name!

PS:  She never did say, "Let them eat cake!"