Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Palais Garnier

I didn't intend to but I accidentally left 'the best for last' by making the Paris Opera House my last stop in Paris.  It was fantastic!  Designed for a contest by Charles Garnier in the 1860s and finished in 1875, this building has all the French opulence that anyone could want as well as some great stories to go with it.  Because the English tour was sold out, I toured with the audio guide which turned out good as it was the only good audio guide I've used in the whole city.  It gave me a comprehensive explanation of each area as I walked through and provided extra information if I wanted it.  It also included interesting tidbits of historical events at the opera. 

The grand staircase was designed to show off the ladies' dresses to their best. 

It's a dramatic entrance made up of more than 9 different marbles and decorative lines on every surface.  Above it are balconies which people can stand and watch who's coming and going.

Then you go through the dramatic entrance to the box seats, lined with red velvet 'to flatter and bring out the youth in ladies faces' according to Garnier.


In 1964, the Opera House commission the famous Chagall painting on the ceiling, which was actually the only thing I didn't like in the place.  It looked, to me, a bit like a 10 year old had done it with crayons.

Between the acts, the audience could enjoy the salon and some drinks or food.   Elaborate tapestries adorn the walls showing what was available.
There were also busts of famous actors, including this one of the most famous French actress who played Gisele, which after seeing a million Madonnas in the museums, was a breath of fresh air.

Then, the piece de la resistance, the grand salon.

This place was built so the women would sit safely in the boxes and the other rooms were for the men only but on the opening night, the Queen of Spain couldn't contain her curiosity and wandered all over the place, making it acceptable for women to mingle with the men for the first time in history.

If you have one day in Paris, go here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The most horrendous tourist trap in the world

Can you guess what I'm talking about?

Versailles, of course.

This was the only really unpleasant day I've had here.  I came early by metro to avoid the line and they weren't really too bad with about a 30 minute total to get in and get my audio guide.  As I was leaving, the line had to be at least 3 hours long if not longer so it was worth coming early.

The unpleasantness started as soon as I started the tour.  There were so many people stuffed into the rooms that you couldn't turn around in some of them.  I was pushed, shoved and elbowed repeatedly.  In addition, the audio guide was really limited with almost no information.  This has been the case with almost all of the audio guides I've gotten here so I'm guessing that they just don't know how to do it well.

In addition, due to the revolution, there is almost nothing authentic left in the Palace.  It's all reproductions and guesswork and there isn't very much of that either...bare rooms with elaborate gilt and painted ceilings.  Don't get me wrong, the ceilings are amazing but not worth 3 hours in line.

I'm also going to have a little rant about Asian tour companies here.  I don't blame Asians for wanting to see the sights like the rest of the world but I do blame the Asian tour companies for running groups of 30+ people through these places at high speed and forcing everyone else to get out of their way.  It's been an issue at almost all of the Parisian sites I've been to but Versailles was completely out of control.  I can't imagine that the poor tourists are really getting anything out of it at the speed they're being rushed through and the rest of us weren't impressed either.

That being said, here are a few images.


The gardens really were worth seeing but, unfortunately, I picked the first day of wintery weather and I couldn't stay outside for more than 30 minutes.  Oddly, they had covered most of the statuary and turned off all the fountains so it wasn't at it's full potential but the place is massive at 240 acres so it's impressive enough without the extras.


One of the oldest department stores in the world...very nice!  I bought some souvenirs here as they had a good selection at not bad prices.

Musee D'Orsay vs. The Louvre

I wish I had started my trip here with a guided tour of the Musee D'Orsay.  It is a much better experience than the Louvre and deals mainly with French painting from 1850 onwards.  The guide was excellent and explained the history of French painting so that I now get why Van Gogh and Manet were supposedly brilliant compared to their predecessors.  There aren't any photos allowed of the museum or art but I did get a couple of the cafes inside the converted train station/museum.

Another great aspect of this museum is that it's laid out in a chronological order with special rooms for certain artists of the period.  Very logical and easy to understand.  You can start on one side and finish on the other.  There were nicely placed signs in English to explain about the different art movements and how they came about.  Well done!

This Renoir was my favorite fact, I think it's my favorite of all the paintings I've seen in Paris.

I also went back to the Louvre to explore the paintings. 

I have two complaints about the Louvre (besides the massive tour groups pushing and shoving their way around).  The first is the lack of cohesiveness about the exhibits. Turn a corner and you're surrounded by entirely different type of art with no real connection.  Also, you spend a lot of time retracing your steps due to one-way corridors and dead ends which is tiresome. 

My second complaint is that the Louvre doesn't really have that great of a collection outside of the French artists.  Sure, they've got the tiny Mona Lisa and two of Michelangelo's statues but all of my favorite Italian and Dutch painters were poorly represented with second-rate paintings.  After seeing the best work in their countries of origin, I could have easily skipped the majority of the Louvre.  There is also the issue that, being Catholic, the majority of work collected by the museum seems to be religious in nature.

That being said, I did enjoy seeing some of the French art.


and I discovered Thomas Gainsborough who I had heard of but had never seen.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rodin and Napolean

It was a decent day so I decided to go for an outdoor museum experience and headed to the Rodin Museum.  The museum is located at Rodin's last address, the Hotel Biron which he saved from demolition by donating his sculptures.  The large pieces are out in the gardens and some of the smaller casts and marbles are inside the hotel.   It was only 6 euros to get in as it's the only non-state run museum in the city.  Most of the others are costing between 9 and 12 euros for the basic ticket.

Of course, there was the famous 'Thinker' with the Eiffel tower to his back.

Also, I had seen The Kiss outside of the Museum Orangeries and they had the marble here in the museum.  Apparently he made over 300 versions of The Kiss.  He would draw an image or sculpt it in marble or clay and then eventually make a bronze. 

It was worth the visit and a nice walk through the gardens.  I even saw a cute little bunny hoping around.

As the tomb of Napoleon is located next door, I wandered over to have a look.  Unfortunately, you can only visit by buying a ticket to the Army Museum which was as dreadful as I had feared.  Room after room of armor, swords and canons.  


 The tomb is as overdone and ornate as they come...bringing to mind pharaohs and roman emperors.

I really wouldn't advise wasting your time here unless you have some obsession with military history or medieval knight's clothing.

I did see a military funeral taking place in the main courtyard so the place is obviously still in use by the army.  I was rather horrified to see tourists filming the funeral and taking photos and I have to wonder how lacking in common compassion people have become that they could blithely take vacation snaps of some family's grief.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sharon's last day

Sadly, Sharon's husband would like her back so I've had to say good-bye.  We had a great visit and enjoyed hanging out in Paris. 

Our favorite vacation pastime...eating.  Oh, who am I kidding, this is our favorite pastime anywhere.

Here we are on the Eiffel Tower.  It was very windy but it only took us 15 minutes of lining up to get to the second floor so it was worth it.  A bit of a grey day for the view but it really gives you a good idea of the city's layout.  I would recommend buying your tickets online and printing them to skip the lines...that goes for everything in Paris.

Here I am walking away from the Eiffel tower which I seem to be grumpy about.

We also went to the Pompidou Museum of Modern Art.  Here is a wall of globes with duct tape protuberants representing the violence in that part of the world.  I liked some of the art, like this one, but some just completely escaped me. 

I wish it wasn't going to be so long until we see each other again but at least we'll always have Paris...and Malta...and Athens...and Dubai :)

More interesting things you see in Paris

I've come to the conclusion that all the nasty things people say about Parisians are just not true or not true anymore.   I've been here for three weeks now and the worst that's happened to me have been two incidents of  'Sorry, I don't speak English' polite shakes of the head.  Almost everyone in the tourist industry, including the door men at all the museums, speak enough English to help and they've been wonderful.  The ladies at my local patisserie are very patient with my pathetic attempts to order things in French and the grocery clerks smiled indulgently when I take a few moments to count out my unfamiliar coins.  Even the much maligned waiters have been friendly.

I've also come to the conclusion that Parisian women are much better looking and better dressers than their male counterparts. This was pointed out to me by my brother-in-law, Mark and I've been paying attention since then.  He was right.  The men mostly seem to have thrown on what ever clothing was laying on the floor that morning while the women really put some work into it. 

Here's an excellent example...check out the heels and the color co-ordination with the scooter!

Here's a bizarre thing that I keep seeing; brides walking around getting their photos wedding photos taken.

Of course in the 'city of love' I guess some brides should be expected...especially on those love-lock bridges.  They'd better hurry up for those photos because the city is replacing the chain fences on the bridges with glass to stop the heavy locks from dragging the bridges into the river.

Speaking of the river, there are a ton of house boats on the river.  They're actually real boats though, not houses that float.  Here's one with a float car on board. 

I don't think I would like to live on these houseboats.  In the summer, there are a ton of tourists taking pictures of you and in the winter, it would be damp and cold.    They are very romantic looking though.

Not so romantic are the self-cleaning toilets around the city.  I guess it's better than peeing on the street!

Back to the romantic with lovely sculpture around the for all to enjoy.  Here is Rodin's 'Kiss' just sitting in a park.


Or if you prefer, there are street performers and odd people everywhere.

 If you look closely at this picture, you can see that there are a lot of people sitting on the stairs just beyond the bubbles.  Sharon and I joined them and got a free show from four dancer/comedians.  We did donate to the tip collection at the end but they were worth it.

Here's an oddity that I just couldn't resist taking a picture of.  Everyone knows how the rats spread disease in Paris during the black death of the middle ages and I guess they've continued to be a problem for the city.  Here's a company that brags about their contribution to the demise of these pests in very literal way.

Some of these rats hanging in the window were huge...glad I didn't see any in person. 

Another odd thing that I've noticed about Paris is that the homeless people all have animals.  At least one if not more.  The animals all seem well cared for and healthy.  I guess they're great company and a lot of people stop to pet them when they put money in the cups/hats provided.  I was surprised by the amount of people who seem homeless.  A lot of them seem older so I wonder if there is a problem with French pensions or if it's a case of mental health issues not being met.  I can't imagine what they do when it gets cold.