Wednesday, July 8, 2015

My Trip to France 2015, part 3

Day 4:

Quelle canicule?  There was no heat wave in Paris while we were there.  People were wearing jackets and scarves.  It was fabulously cool!

At our rendez-vous point:

We headed to the Catacombs in the 14th arrondissement this morning.  When we descended the train, I found a gorgeous field of lavender waiting for me.  Who needs Provence now?

Incident #2 where I wish I had my SLR--visiting the Catacombs.  My iPhone did a fair job of capturing the eerie atmosphere here, but the quotes are a bit hard to read.  Hopefully you can still enjoy these photos.

The Catacombs are an ossuary located in a former quarry in a labyrinth of underground tunnels, twenty meters beneath the Parisian streets.  The quarries were made in order to get the stone to construct the buildings in Paris.  The skulls and bones of around 6 million people were relocated here in the late 18th century through the middle of the 19th century because the existing graveyards at that time posed a public health risk.

What I find fascinating about the Catacombs is the collection of quotes and sayings that focus on one's mortality.  As you enter the ossuary, this quote greets you above the doorway:  "Halt!  Here is the empire of death."

Un coeur de crânes:

"Thus everything ends on Earth. Spirit, beauty, grace, talent.  Such is a fleeting flower blown down by the slightest breeze."

"Believe that each day for you is the last."

"Come, people of the world, come into these silent dwellings and your peaceful soul will be struck by the voice that rises from inside: 'It is here that the grandest of masters, the Tomb, holds its school of truth.'"

"Each mortal appears, disappears without returning, but by illustrious acts lives in our memory.  This is the reward and the right of glory."

I do not condone this, but someone drew eyebrows on this skull.  Ne fais pas la tête, mon vieux!

They say the Catacombs covers 200 miles, but only a small portion of that is open to tourists.  Well, we worked up our appetite and needed to find some bouffe.  Luckily, we found Paul, a chain of bakeries in Paris.  Here is a link to their website.

I love the quote above the counter:  "A house without bread is a house without joy."  So true, so true.  I am quite sad now that I can't have an authentic French baguette any time I want.  The grocery store loaves just don't measure up.  #FirstWorldProblem

Quoi choisir?  What to choose?

I chose the tomato and mozzarella, and I think it had pesto sauce.  Tellement délicieux!

After the catacombs and lunch, we had an appointment at the Musée d’Orsay, which is home to the finest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist artwork in the world.  It also houses art from the Realism, Symbolism, and Art Nouveau movements.  The art here dates from 1848-1914.  The Musée d’Orsay is a former train station that came close to being torn down in the 1970's to make way for a modern hotel.  Luckily, the structure was saved at the last minute and was transformed into the museum we see today.   This link takes you to the M'O website where you will find a compelling slideshow about its history.

The trains that left this station headed to the western part of France.  The names of the cities are still engraved on the side of the building.  Nantes and Angers are two of my favorites!

 Inside, the architecture and light are enough to make the space engrossing.  That was good because today was the only day during my entire trip where I didn't feel well.  And the Musée d’Orsay visit marked the worst part of my brief illness.  There were so many people there that day, I didn't feel well enough to fight the crowds to see the Van Gogh and Monet paintings that I wished to see.  I have seen them before, so don't be sad for me.

I did briefly make it up to the terrace, which I had never seen before.  This is a view of a Louvre from the Musée d’Orsay.  It's almost as if the ghosts of the celebrated artists float in the air above the Seine between these two great structures. How can you not love Paris when you think thoughts like that?  

We met as a big group outside the museum, where you can find six statues representing the six continents.  I was still feeling kind of icky, so I only took a photo of the statue representing North America.  Très jolie, non?

There's no rest for the wicked, so after taking a bit of a breather in front of the museum, we got back up and began heading along the Seine toward Les Invalides.  I had already passed by the statue below when my fellow teacher Annette made me aware of it.  Hey, it's Thomas Jefferson!  TJ is my husband's favorite historical figure, so of course I had to take a picture.  There is a good reason I didn't know this statue was here, and that is because it wasn't here the last time I was in Paris.  It was erected on July 4, 2006, on the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Jefferson was Minister to France from 1785-1789, and he was an ardent supporter of the French Revolution.

We also walked by the National Assembly...

... and the Pont Alexandre III... we approached Les Invalides.

 Don't play ball here.

Inside the dome of Les Invalides, you will find the tomb of Napoléon Bonaparte, military genius and eventual emperor of France from 1804-1815. You can see his tomb from up above...

...and from down below.  Les Invalides is quite intriguing to students of history.  You can find more information here.

Napoléon can be a controversial figure, but one thing I very much admire about him was his desire to make education free to the public.  Of course, he didn't include girls in his decree, but it was a step in the right direction to educate the masses.

***WARNING:  This is a complaint.***

***It's too bad Napoléon  didn't issue a decree about public toilets in Paris.  They are so incredibly hard to find!  I went through a near meltdown after Les Invalides because it was there that I realized that there aren't enough public toilets in Paris for all the tourists it receives every year.  On this trip, we walked and walked, and we were conscious of keeping ourselves well hyrdrated.  Unfortunately, toilets are scarce unless you are willing to go into a café and purchase something to eat or drink (I don't need any more drinks, merci beaucoup!)  I won't talk about this issue again on this blog because it seems ridiculous to people who have easy access to toilets, but I have half a mind to write an article of complaint for the French Huffington Post!  OK, enough said.  Ça suffit!  ***

After Les Invalides, we needed to find some food for a picnic on the Champs de Mars.  I found these lovely lavender plants at a market.  I would have loved to take them home with me.

We ended up eating a crêpe with jambon et fromage, a bit of a change from the sandwich jambon fromage!

More pretty flowers.  De belles fleurs.

And all was well in the world again because we were having a picnic on the Champs de Mars, the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower.  This was Friday evening, and a large number of people were relaxing and enjoying the mild weather.  I sat and ate dinner with my group of six students.  I was shocked because probably every four or five minutes, a man would walk up to us and say, "Vin, champagne, vodka?"  They were selling alcohol to random groups of people out in the open.  That in and of itself was startling, but they were selling to anyone of any age without checking identification.  This just would not do back where I live, at least as far as I know.  Whenever someone came by, we would each smile and decline with a polite, "Non, merci."   These underage kids were not drinking alcohol on my watch!

A quick video as we walked back toward the Seine:

I had to snap a picture of my favorite automobile of all time, la Dodoche, the nickname for the Citroën 2 CV, or deux chevaux.  It has a whopping two horsepower engine, just my style!

You might think we were finally finished for the day, but non, ce n'est pas vrai.  We still had a two-hour bateau mouche ride along the Seine to experience!

The photos aren't the best quality, but here are some of them:

The banks of the Seine were lined with thousands of people who were relaxing on a Friday night.  They were drinking, eating, dancing, singing, you name it.  One hilarious event we got to witness was a choreographed dance of two young men who ended their performance by mooning our boat.  It was priceless and I truly wish I'd recorded it.  The funny thing is the very same thing happened years and years ago when I went on my first bateau mouche ride.  Perhaps it's not a coincidence, perhaps it is performance art that thrills foreign visitors.  In any case, if you go for a boat ride along the Seine, be on the lookout for the moon!

I hope you are enjoying these blog posts.  Thank you for reading!  Vous êtes vraiment gentils!




                                                                 Bateau mouche!

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