On Saturday, I went with a group of 24 people from AVF on a tour of the Chocolaterie du Drakkar in Bayeux. The chocolaterie not only has its own boutique for selling goods but a large, informative museum upstairs concerning the history of chocolate and how the tasty sweets are prepared in their own factory. Some of the displays had interesting facts including this one that says cacao butter was once used in the preparation of suppositories. The Spanish explorers were so enamored with the flavor of chocolate that they took it back to Spain where it became the official drink of Kings throughout Europe. Around the end of the 18th century (1780 - 1800), Europeans started preparing chocolate with milk and sugar to create what we know today as hot chocolate. In fact the drink became so popular many of the leading European porcelain manufactures such as Limoges in France began making specialized pots and cups just to serve chocolate. There was a huge display of these chocolate pots and cups from all over the world. After watching some short videos about chocolate preparation and seeing all of the old machines and moulds used to make French chocolate, we were able to purchase items from the boutique downstairs. I bought a box of their specialty Mousse Pralines and Meringue. Created in 1960 this praline-flavoured meringue is specially named “Le Drakkar” in memory of the Vikings who had conquered Normandy. I also got a box of chocolate covered candies filled with Calvados liqueur called “Le Duc Guillaume.” Of course, it is easy to go crazy in a chocolate store and I ended up purchasing over 83 Euros worth of chocolates and nougat—and I’m not even a huge fan of chocolate. I’d much prefer peanut butter on a spoon any day ! After our morning at the chocolaterie, we then drove to L’Ambiance Restaurant in St-Lô where we had our lunch. Some people had ham as their main course while others, like myself, had the roasted chicken with green beans and potatoes. For dessert I had the chocolate mousse while my friends Dianna and Martine had tarte aux pomme and vanilla ice cream. Thanks to everyone at AVF for making this trip possible especially Jinette who was our driver. I had a wonderful day. My article about Les Haras nationaux à St-Lô – the national stud farm for horses (where we visited after lunch), will be posted later in the week.
Je me souviens encore d’une plante qui m’avait émerveillé pendant mon enfance. Cette plante fleurissait au moment de Noël dans le salon de ma grand-mère paternelle, aujourd’hui décédée. Elle avait de nombreuses tiges retombantes et l’extrémité de chaque tige s’ornait à cette période de l’année d’une ou deux fleurs d’une couleur rose. C’étaient vraiment de belles fleurs à une saison où elles se font si rares. Ma grand-mère m’avait dit : «c’est un cactus de Noël». Il y a environ un mois, Jocelyne, mon professeur de français, m'a donné quelques boutures de son cactus de Pâques, qui se cultive comme un cactus de Noël. Je les ai mises dans l'eau. J'ai attendu que les racines se développent. Aujourd'hui, je les ai plantées dans un joli pot et les a mises devant ma fenêtre. Au bout d’un an, je devrais avoir des fleurs, tout comme la plante de ma grand-mère. Merci à Jocelyne pour les boutures ! Merci aussi pour les camélias. Les fleurs sont très jolies !
The next day I drove my brother to the Calvados Department where the temperatures were almost freezing! The strong winds did not make things any better and so we had to bundle up like Eskimo babies just to keep warm. Our first stop was Arromanches-les-Bains, a modest seaside resort which owes its fame to the gigantic landing operation which took place in June 1944. In the roadstead of the little port are the remains of a Mulberry harbor, the most extraordinary industrial and maritime achievement of the war. Arromanches harbor was chosen as the landing point for Mulberry B for British troops, while Mulberry A for the Americans was taken to Omaha Beach. More about Arromanches can be read here at my posting from 21 NOVEMBER 2009. The establishment of these artificial ports meant the laying of 146 Phoenix caissons, representing 500,000 tons of concrete (each one was 7 meters long, 20 meters high and 15 meters wide; 33 jetties and 16km of floating “roads”. Mulberry B at Arromanches, later known as Port Winston, enabled 9,000 tons of material to be landed each day. Several Phoenix caissons are still there today. Nearby is the Musée du Débarquement. It contains a collection of models, photographs, dioramas, arms and equipment of the Allied forces. Sadly, it was closed when we arrived because it was still so early in the morning. Our next stop took us directly to Bayeux, the first French town to be liberated (7 June 1944) and was fortunate not to have been damaged during the war. Along the Quai de l’Aure one has a fine view of the river, the water mill in what was once the tanning district. The arched bridge, the old fish market and the towers of the cathedral in the background. Notre-Dame Cathedral still keeps watch over this charming, old-fashioned town and the Bayeux Tapestry presents its unique record of the events of 1066 to the visitor. The Bayeux Tapestry is displayed in the Centre Guillaume le Conquerant in an impressive 18th century building, which was a seminary until 1970. It is displayed under glass around the walls of the specially designed Harold Room. The origins of the tapestry are unknown. It was probably commissioned in England soon after the conquest from a group of Saxon embroiderers by Odo of Conteville, Count of Kent and Bishop of Bayeux, to adorn the cathedral he had just had built. It appears in the cathedral’s Treasury Inventory for 1476. In the 18th century it was wrongly attributed to Queen Matilda. The embroidery is in colored wool on a piece of linen 50cm high by 70 meters long. Click HERE to see the tapestry in its entirety. The work is the most accurate and lively document to survive from the Middle Ages and provides detailed information on the clothes, ships, arms and general lifestyle of the period. The illustrations give a very realistic account of the events of 1066. From the initial rivalry between Harold and William to the conquest and final Norman victory the story is told in 58 detailed scenes. The English are distinguished by their moustaches and long hair, the Normans by their short hairstyles, the clergy by their tonsures and the women (three in all) by their flowing garments and veiled heads. Here are several photos I took with scene descriptions.
--Here Guy brings Harold to William, Duke of the Normans.
--Here Duke William and his army come to Mont-Saint-Michel and cross the river Couesnon. Duke Harold gives proof of his courage and strength by rescuing two Normans from some quicksand; he carries one on his back and drags the other to safety with his right hand.
--Here Duke William’s soldiers do battle with the men of Dinan. Two soldiers with torches are trying to set fire to the fortress. Above right is Conan; on the tip of his lance hang the keys to the city, which William receives on the tip of his own weapon.
--The appearance of Halley’s Comet (in the upper border) causes great consternation among all who see it. It was visible in England from February 1066 onwards, reaching its maximum brightness at the end of April. This comet was regarded as an ill omen and it inspired terror. The presentation of Harold to his people is thus directly followed by the suggestion that his coronation took place beneath an ‘evil star’. The new King is clearly also perturbed by the comet. Harold sits listening, head to one side, as a man addresses him. The Tapestry seems to imply that they are talking about the impending invasion by a Norman fleet, for beneath the King’s feet we see ghostly ships in skeletal outline.
--Here Duke William crosses the sea in a great ship and arrives in Pevensey. After a delay of two weeks, the ships crossed the Channel on the night of 27/28 September. The bulk of the army was Norman, though Bretons, Flemings, Frenchmen and Italians also took part. The ‘great ship’ is the Norman flagship, the Mora, with a wooden human figure mounted on her sternpost.
--The Tapestry shows the Anglo-Saxons forming a shield-wall and repulsing a cavalry attack on two sides. We thus see Harold’s troops for the first time; they are armed and armored in the same way as their opponents, but they fight only on foot. The lower border now fills with casualties.
--Duke William tips back his helmet to show his face. The man riding ahead of the Duke is possibly Count Eustace of Boulogne. A long line of archers in the lower margin accompanies the renewed cavalry charge.
Notre-Dame Cathedral is a fine Norman Gothic building. Only the towers and the crypt remain from the original church, which was completed in 1077 by Odo of Conteville, King William’s turbulent companion in arms whom he eventually had to restrain. The portal of the south transept is pure in style; the tympanum over the door shows the story of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was assassinated in his cathedral on the orders of Henry II. The well-lit nave is a blend of Romanesque and Gothic dating from the 13th century. The St-Pierre chapel in the north side contains this beautiful altarpiece called a retable depicting the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are some chapels along the south side of the cathedral that still contain 15th century frescoes. Beneath the chancel is the 11th century crypt, which is divided into three small chambers, each of which contains six bays of groined vaulting. Above the decorated foliage of the capitals are 15th century frescoes (restored) of angel musicians. Just outside the cathedral is the rue Bienvenu with a beautiful timber-framed house decorated with wooden carvings inspired by religion and legend. Across the street we decided to have a typical Normandy lunch at the Au Louis d'Or Crêperie. Each of us chose something different and which we then shared while downing bowls of apple cider. Unfortunately we did not have time to wander the streets of Old Bayeux because we were in a hurry to get to the American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. After visiting the brand new Visitor’s Center and Museum, we walked down to Omaha Beach along a small path, which winds down the cliffside. After making it back to the top again we explored the vast cemetery with its 9,385 Carrara marble crosses. I’ve written about this place before in blog postings from 18 JAN 2010 to 22 MAY 2010. Check them out for more photos and a better understanding of what can be found in the cemetery. The American Battle Monuments Commission has a great site with even more information. This final picture is of the monument erected just outside of the cemetery to the US 1st Infantry Division. Running out of daylight, we hurried on to La pointe du Hoc. The Jurassic limestone plateau ends in a tall cliff (over 30 meters) dominating the lower rocky shoreline at Grandcamp. The Germans heavily defended la pointe du Hoc; their observation post covered all that sector of the sea where the American invasion fleet appeared on the morning of 6 June 1944. As the troops landing on Omaha Beach would have been particularly vulnerable to attack from this battery the American commander ordered a naval bombardment in which the Texas fired 600 salvoes of 14-inch shells. The 2nd Battalion of specially trained Rangers captured the position by assault at dawn on 6 June scaling the cliffs with ropes and extendable ladders but not without heavy losses – 135 Rangers out of 225. It took the full force of the commandos of the 116th Regiment of the US infantry, assisted by tanks, to subdue the German defences. You can read more at my blog posting from 3 JANUARY 2010. The gaping craters and battered blockhouses give some idea of the intensity of the fighting. A slim granite column on the edge of the cliff commemorates the battle. Our last stop for the day was in La Cambe. This is the final resting place for over 21,500 German soldiers who fell in the fighting of 1944. You can read more about it on my previous posting from 22 MAY 2010. The only photo I took on my brother’s final day was this one in my living room. That morning I had to get up very early to take him to Caen to catch a Brittany Ferry for Portsmouth. We had a fantastic time together and I can’t wait for him to visit again.
My brother and I arrived by train at the Gare de Cherbourg in the evening. After breakfast the next day, I thought we would be able to see many sights but I underestimated the amount of time it would take driving from place to place. Still, I think he got a nice look at my neck of the woods. On the first day in Querqueville, I drove him around many places in La Hague. I was glad that he got to see where I go to church on Sundays: Notre-Dame de l’Assomption (18th century) and beside it, the Chapelle St-Germain (10th century), the oldest religious building of the Cotentin area and perhaps of Western France. They stand at the top of the hill overlooking the village. Here you can see a picture of us in front of the Querqueville War Memorial. We jumped back in the car and headed past Urville-Nacqueville to the lookout from Landemer. All along our beach are remains of the German Atlantic Wall. In some areas, old concrete batteries have fallen into the sea. After Landemer, the road rises in the Habilland Ravine and soon a beautiful perspective opens up from the Cap Lévi lighthouse to the Pointe Jardeheu. Sadly, visibility was poor and we were only able to grab some photos of the cliffs and footpaths among the bracken. These coastal cliffs have marked paths for anyone wishing to hike around the peninsula. We ventured onward toward Gréville-Hague. Here, the small squat church served as a model for the painter Jean-François Millet in his works of Norman landscapes. The artist’s statue can bee seen at the crossroads of the town and the house where he was born in Gruchy is open to the public in the summer. Taking the chance that the Manoir du Tourp might be open this time of year, we parked the car and walked to the gate. Sadly, it too was closed. The Manoir du Tourp, an 16th century manor house and farm typical of those in La Hague, serves as a focal point for tourists wishing to explore the rich cultural heritage of this region. It has spaces for temporary exhibitions, a restaurant, library and media center. The road rising toward St-Germain-des-Vaux affords views of the tiny hamlet of Port-Racine, thought to be one of France’s smallest ports, named after Captain Racine, who set up his naval base there under Napoleon I. Further on, past the small village of Auderville, the view to the Goury lighthouse opens up in the distance. It sits at “World’s End” along the Raz Blanchard, which takes its name from the whiteness of the waves and strong currents caused by shoals between the Cap de la Hague and Alderney. These currents can reach speeds of 10 knots and make navigation very difficult. In 1823 alone, 27 ships were sunk in the vicinity. The small harbor is a refuge for boats caught in a storm. There is even an octagonal rescue station that houses the lifeboat “Mona Rigolet”, which swivels around a revolving turntable that enables it to be launched from two slipways—either towards the port at high tide or towards the open sea at low tide. The lighthouse was built between 1834 and 1837 of granite and is 48 meters high with a lantern with a range of 25 km. Along the western coast of La Hague lies the Baie d’Écalgrain, a desolate beach of smooth stones backed by heath land. It is one of the area’s wild but imposing beauty spots. Further south lies the Nez de Jobourg. The long, rocky and barren promontory, surrounded by reefs, is the most impressive cape of the wild La Hague coast. All around are spectacular views of farmland and hedgerows. If you look closely, you can see AREVA, the nuclear reprocessing center which provides many jobs to people in this area. On clear days, one can see as far as the Channel Islands, Alderney being the nearest, Sark, Guernsey and Jersey. A moment of luck came our way when a patch of sunlight peeked out from some clouds in the distance lighting up the sea. Our last stop before heading into Cherbourg for lunch was the small town of Biville. The village is set on a plateau overlooking the desolate shoreline of Vauville Bay. Locals make pilgrimages to the church, where the glass coffin of the Blessed Thomas Hélye (1187 – 1257), a native of Biville, who was a priest and missionary in the diocese of Coutances, is enclosed in a marble sarcophagus in the 13th century chancel, adorned with small 15th century low-relief sculptures. On the left of this photo stands the carved marble slab, which covered the original tomb. The arrival of the Allies and the liberation of the region are commemorated in a stained glass window by artist Louis Barillet (1944). By now we were very hungry and headed into Cherbourg for lunch. We had a pleasant meal at La Pointe du Jour just in front of the Caligny dry-docks. I forced my brother to have his photo taken in front of the actual façade used in “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” a famous French film by Jacques Demy, which helped make the town famous for its umbrellas. I would like my mother to loan my brother and his wife a copy of the film so that when my brother visits again, he will have a better appreciation. Another landmark in Cherbourg is the bronze statue of the emperor Napoleon I by Armand Le Veel. Napoleon’s right hand points toward England (the enemy). Across the street is the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, a Flamboyant Gothic church built between the 15th century and early 19th century. The high altar features Christ’s baptism by John and the descent of the Holy Spirit. The rest of the day was spent driving along the Val de Saire toward the Cap Levi lighthouse that was built in 1947 and stands 36 meters tall. Father on is a more interesting lighthouse built between 1828 and 1835 in the small village of Gatteville. It is the second largest lighthouse in Europe standing 74.85 meters tall with a staircase of 365 steps lit by 52 windows. Behind the lighthouse is the old sémaphore. The last part of the day we drove past Barfleur to Saint-Vaast-la-Houge and stopped to take pictures of the Vauban tower (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and fort which retains some of the German blockhouses built during World War II. I had a treat in store for my brother at dinnertime. I made cassoulet and we ate a traditional Galette de Rois of frangipane along with a healthy glass of Normandy cider for dessert. My brother found the fève and was crowned King for the rest of the evening. The next day I was hoping we could go to Mont-St-Michel but the weather was biting cold and we were still exhausted from our travels the day before. I think we made the right decison to stay indoors and do nothing but watch television and get caught up with one another. For dinner that night I made Magret de Canard (duck steaks) and potatoes. For dessert we had the leftover Galette des Rois.
Getting to Château de Versailles is not difficult but you MUST know which RER train to take. Since we were staying at the Hôtel de Reims, we took Metro line 14 to Bibliothèque-François Mitterrand and then took RER commuter train C5 directly to Versailles-Rive Gauche. A round-trip ticket only costs 6,10 Euro and the entire trip lasts about 30 minutes. If you don’t watch the monitors at the RER station for which train is going to Versailles-Rive Gauche, you may end up very far from the Château entrance. After exiting the train station, take a right on Avenue du Général de Gaulle until you come to Avenue de Paris. Make a left and voila! You’re there! Be wise and book your ticket in advance online at the Versailles website. This way you can avoid unnecessary lines and begin your tour immediately. My brother and I arrived just before the gates opened and had an opportunity to take photos of the façade moving ever closer from the Great Courtyard toward the Royal Courtyard and finally, the Marble Courtyard. After entering, we began our tour by visiting the Royal Galleries. Louis-Philippe, King of the French from 1830 to 1848, transformed Versailles into a museum dedicated to the glories of France. Through his desire to reconcile the different regimes, the Citizen King succeeded in creating the first museum of the history of France. He transformed the apartments of the princes and courtiers into vast galleries, in which the ancient paintings and sculptures were brought together in evocative retrospectives. The galleries devoted to the 17th century are a good introduction to the tour of the royal apartments located on the first floor of the central body of the château. I found the images of Versailles in the 17th and 18th centuries the most interesting, particularly this work of Pierre-Denis Martin called “Le Château de Versailles en 1722”. The first stop after the Galleries is the Chapel Drawing Room. To attend Mass the King had to cross this room, which links the Royal Gallery to the State Apartment. Its decoration is therefore related to that of the Chapel. It is here one receives an audio guide which allows you to explore the château at your own pace. Following the tradition of the Palatine chapels, the Royal Chapel has two storeys. The galleries were reserved for the King, the royal family and important members of the Court, while the rest of the congregation occupied the ground floor. Consecrated in 1710, and dedicated to Saint-Louis, ancestor and patron saint of the royal family, the chapel was the last building to be constructed at Versailles under the reign of Louis XIV. The decoration of the ceiling depicts the continuity between Old and New Testaments. Upon entering the State Apartment one passes by several statues located in the North wing. Of course, one day is not enough to see everything at Versailles. There are many rooms within the palace we did not get to see. Of the ones we did see, I can only tell you about some of them. One of the first rooms on our tour was the Diana Drawing Room. Louis XIV, who was an excellent billiard-player, had a large table set up here, covered when not in use with a crimson velvet cloth, its edges fringed with gold. The ladies followed the game from benches set up on platforms, which gave them a good view and allowed them to applaud the King’s successes. The whole of the decoration of this room refers to the legend of the goddess Diana. Above the fireplace is Charles de Lafosse’s “Sacrifice of Iphigenia,” and opposite is “Diana Watching Over the Sleeping Endymion” (1672) by Gabriel Blanchard. The bust of Louis XIV is the work of Bernini. Another room was called the Apollo Drawing Room, which was used for formal audiences since Versailles was the first royal château to have a throne room. The silver throne, standing as high as eight foot, was melted down in 1689 and was replaced much later, under Louis XV, by a gilt wood throne. On the ceiling is painted the image of Apollo in his Sun Chariot surrounded in the corners by allegoric representations of four continents. The famous portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud hung in this room until the Revolution (this one is a copy while the original hangs in the Louvre). The War Drawing Room, the Hall of Mirrors and the Peace Drawing Room form an ensemble whose décor is devoted to the military victories and political successes of Louis XIV. In 1678, architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart presented the King with plans for the construction of the present Hall of Mirrors. Work began immediately, and was completed in 1686. It served as passageway giving access to the King’s Apartment. Here gathered the courtiers who hoped to see the monarch on his way to the Royal Chapel. Grand celebrations were also held here, such as full-dress balls, or the masked ball given on the occasion of princely marriages. In the 19th century, at the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War, the Prussian king, Bismarck and the victorious German princes and lords declared William I, German emperor—thus establishing the Second German Empire—on 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors. This was seen as a victory with heavy symbolism for the Germans and a stinging insult for the defeated French. French Prime Minister Clemenceau chose the Hall of Mirrors to sign the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I on 28 June 1919. In 2007, three years of restorations to the hall were completed, including the replacement of 48 of the 357 antique mercury mirrors by Vincent Guerre. One exits the Hall of Mirrors into the Peace Drawing Room. As its name suggests, the decoration of this drawing room is dedicated to peace. Above the fireplace is a painting by Francois Lemoine (1729), showing “Louis XV Offering Europe an Olive Branch”. This room was also connected to the Queen’s Apartment, to be used as the Games Room. Here every Sunday, under the reign of Louis XV, the Queen Maria Leczinska gave concerts of sacred and secular music, which played an important role in the musical life of Versailles. After the death of Queen Maria-Theresa, the King’s Bedchamber was attached to the Kings Apartment and became generally known as “the room in which the King dresses.” At that time it was called the State Drawing Room. In 1701, Louis XIV decided to turn the room into his bedchamber. It was here that the Sun King would die on September 1, 1715. After him, both Louis XV and Louis XVI would continue to use it for the ceremonies of the “lever” and the “coucher”. It was on the balcony, on October 6, 1789, that Louis XVI, the Queen and the Dauphin appeared before the crowd as the royal family was forced to leave Versailles for Paris. The former State Cabinet of Louis XIV and the King’s Wig Cabinet were joined together in 1755 to form the present Council Chamber where one can observe in the panelling medallions evoking the work of the King. The Council of State met here on Sundays and Wednesdays, and occasionally on Mondays, while the Council of Finances met on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Once or twice a month there would be Extraordinary Councils, such as the Council of Dispatches. The King would be seated in an armchair and the ministers on folding chairs. Also during the reign of Louis XIV and his successors, the King would summon his family here for certain ceremonies such as the signing of the registers during princely marriages. It was also here that, in 1700, Louis XIV accepted the Spanish crown for his grandson the Duc d’Anjou from whom Juan Carlos, the current King of Spain, descends. It was in this room, the Queen’s Bedchamber, that the Queen gave birth to the heirs to the throne to a public audience. In her Memoirs, Madame Campan, who was Marie Antoinette’s First Woman of the Bedchamber, described what such a birth could be like: “the moment that Vermond the accoucheur announced ‘The Queen is about to give birth’, the crowds of spectators who rushed into her room were so numerous and disorderly that one thought the Queen would perish…. Two Savoyards got up on the furniture the more easily to see the Queen, who was facing the fireplace on a bed got ready for her labour.” In the Salon des Nobles, the Queen of France held official audiences, and the ladies newly admitted to Court were presented to her. Certain elements of the décor, the ceiling in particular which portrays an allegory of Mercury, recall the fact that originally the Queen’s Apartment was symmetrical with the King’s. The furniture and green damask walls of fabric were designed specially for Marie-Antoinette in 1785. In Queen Maria-Theresa’s day, the Antechamber of the Grand Couvert was known as the Room of the Queen’s Guard, hence the ceiling decorated with warlike themes. Visitors who had obtained an audience with the Queen would have to wait here before entering the Salon des Nobles or the Bedchamber. This room was also used for concerts and theatrical performances. The name Grand Couvert comes from that of the ceremonial requiring that the King and Queen eat certain meals in public. One of the most noteworthy was the meal that Louis XV and Maria Leczinska took here in the company of the young Mozart on January 1, 1764. Out of the paintings hung in the Grand Couvert, the most famous is the large painting by Élisabeth Virgée-Lebrun exhibited in the 1787 Drawing Room. This State Portrait of Marie Antoinette and her children Marie Therese, Louis Charles (on her lap), and Louis Joseph, was meant to help her reputation by depicting her as a mother in simple, yet stately attire. The Dauphin, Louis Charles, points to an empty cradle, which should have held Madame Sophie, who died at a very young age before the painting was completed. The Salle du Sacre was originally the site of the château’s third chapel. When in 1682 the Court and Government were officially established at Versailles, it served as the common guardroom of the King’s and Queen’s guards. Permanently cluttered with the sedan chairs of the ladies of the Court, benches, screens and arms racks, and hung with painted canvas, courtiers nicknamed this room the “magasin” or storeroom. Here, every Holy Thursday, the King would wash the feet of thirteen poor children. Its present appearance and name date from the reign of Louis-Philippe who installed the painting by Jacques-Louis David, depicting the coronation of Napoleon I on December 2, 1804. Situated in the South Wing (or Princes’ Wing), covering the first floor and the attic on the park side, the Hall of Battles took the place of the apartments reserved for the members of the royal family. The architects Nepveu and Fontaine designed the hall of Battles as a setting for the vast paintings dedicated to the great French victories, from Tolbiac, won by Clovis in 497, to Wagram, a victory for Napoleon in 1809. It was Louis-Philippe’s express desire for the busts of the great officers and princes of royal blood who died for France to be exhibeted in the Hall of Battles, along with the commemorative plaques bearing their names and dates. A complement to the Hall of Mirrors, it leads to the 1830 room created to honor Louis-Philippe’s accession to the throne and the new constitutional monarchy born out of the 1830 Revolution. Before heading to the Versailles Gardens, be sure to stop at the souvenir shop and prepare to be completely OVERWHELMED with books and keepsakes of your visit. I ended up purchasing a large book for my brother’s wife as well as a small tapestry and some magnets for their regrigerator magnet collection. Outside, beyond the château to the west stretch the gardens and the park, laid out around a main east-west axis, perpendicular to the chateau, and a secondary axis from north to south running along the façades. At the foot of the buildings, landscape artist André Le Nôtre created the parterres, designed to be viewed from the terraces. They were also intended to set off the château’s architecture. The two perfeclty horizontal ponds of the Water Parterre, mirrors reflecting the façades, which were dug considerably later (towards 1685), demonstrate this concept pushed to the extreme. Statues of stone, marble, lead and bronze populate the gardens with people and animals, often derived from mythology or allegories. Le Nôtre made sure that the sculptures emphasised rather than interfered with the lines of the garden. Openness and scope characterise the work of Le Nôtre. Before him, the gardens were closed and relatively modest in size. They now open onto the surrounding countryside and have changed scale. Le Nôtre also gives greater importance to the central axis, around which all of the other parts of the garden have been arranged. Starting from the terrace of the château, the Grand Perspective draws the eye to the horizon. As it moves further away, it crosses the parterres, descends through groves, follows the canal between the forests of the park, gently rising through the countryside towards the sky. The Grand Canal is 1,650 meters in length! The Fountain of Apollo owes its décor, which deals with the major theme of the mythological, symbolical and political concepts developed throughout the gardens, to its prime position. Just as Louis XIV is identified with the sun god, Phœbus Apollo, similarly, Apollo rising above the waves denotes the rising of the sun and the dawning of a promising reign. The weather was nice but cold. It was made worse by the strong winds. Before reaching the Grand Trianon, we stopped at La Petite Venise Restaurant within the park to eat lunch. The Italian fare was delicious and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the gardens to spend some quality time here when they need a rest or when they are hungry. You won’t be disappointed. After eating our fill of ravioli and fettuccine we headed out again to the Grand Trianon. In 1668, Louis XIV bought a village named Trianon, which he joined to the Versailles estate and demolished. A pavilion decorated with blue and white tiles, which became known as the Porcelain Trianon, was built here in 1670. In 1687, the King decided to replace it with a larger building, the work of Jules Hardouin-Mansart, which became known as the Marble Trianon from the way in which it was decorated. From then on until the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, the Trianon was constantly inhabited, apart from during the Revolution. However, it is mainly the installations commissioned by Napoleon I and Louis-Philippe that still remain in this dwelling, fully restored in 1965 by order of General de Gaulle. In 1761, Ange-Jacques Gabriel, by the order of Louis XV, designed the Petit Trianon for Madame de Pompadour. It was constructed between 1762 and 1768 but four years before its completion Madame de Pompadour died. It was then occupied by her successor, Madame du Barry. When Louis XVI ascended the throne in 1774, he gave the château to Marie Antoinette for her exclusive enjoyment. Of note are the beautiful French Pavilion and French Garden. Later, the queen had the garden transformed and asked the architect Richard Mique and the painter Hubert Robert to design an English Garden in its place: hence the appearance of small brooks, picturesque views and lawns. Nearby is the Belvedere Pavilion which dominates the landscape of the English Garden. This small, classical pavilion is not open to visitors and its facades, roofing and interior are scheduled for restoration by the World Monuments Fund. Visible from the Queen’s bedroom is the Temple de l’Amour, the setting for many of Marie-Antoinette’s fêtes. Completed in 1778, this classic dome is often used in films. During our visit, there was a film crew on site with actors dressed in 18th century garb. Marie-Antoinette disliked Versailles and spent much of her time at the Petit Trianon, as far away from Court intrigue as she could get. She enjoyed playing the role of a peasant milk maid or shepherdess and had her architect Richard Mique design what is known as The Queen’s Hamlet. The houses were modelled on the style of Normandy cottages yet were, in fact, quite elegant inside. Between 1783 and 1785, Mique built twelve houses, of which ten still stand, among them the Queen’s Cottage, the Billiard Room, the Mill, the Boudoir and the Pigeon Loft. Our day at Versailles came an end around 14h00, just in time to make it back to our hotel, pick up our luggage and get to Gare Saint-Lazare for our train to Cherbourg. For those of you who read the previous articles, my brother and I DID make it back to the banks of the Seine when we briefly stopped at Metro Station St-Michel – Notre-Dame in order to buy those three prints for five Euros. What a deal !
After a good night’s sleep, we woke early the next morning and went downstairs to breakfast in the hotel. Perhaps I was over ambitious but we took on the trip to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis, a place of pilgrimage and the burial place of French kings and queens. Nearly every king from the 10th to 18th centuries is buried here as well as many from the previous centuries. It was founded in the 7th century by Dagobert I on the burial place of Saint-Denis, a patron saint of France. The Basilica is often referred to as the “royal necropolis of France” and contains some fine examples of cadaver tombs with the effigies of many of the kings and queens. For me this is a very special place. As someone who enjoys religious architecture, Saint-Denis draws from a number of sources its structural and decorative features that make it the first truly Gothic building. It provided an architectural model for cathedrals and abbeys of northern France, England and other countries. Most of the interments that can be found here include 46 kings, 36 queens, 63 princes and princesses and countless other members of French nobility. Marie-Antoinette (1793AD) Louis XVI (1774-93AD) Tomb of Louis, Duke of Orleans (1407AD), his duchess, Valentine Visconte (1408AD), their sons, Charles the Poet (1465AD) and Philip (1420AD) Clovis I (511AD) and Childebert I (558AD) Philip V le Long (1316-22AD), Jeanne d'Evreux (1371AD), Charles IV le Bel (1322-28AD) Louis XII (1498-1515AD) and Anne de Bretagne (1514AD) The central portal of the basilica is quite striking with its tympanum of Christ in Majesty surrounded by the instruments of the Passion. Elements of Christ’s Passion can also be found on the huge bronze doors flanked by statues in niches of the wise and foolish virgins. The other portals are decorated with intricate relief sculptures. The basilica retains stained glass windows from many different periods including several 12th century medieval originals. The best way around Paris is to take the Metro or RER trains. In just minutes, one can be in front of the Fontaine St-Michel built between 1855-1860 and minutes later at the foot of another famous Parisian landmark, Sacré-Cœur Basilica located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. It was built between 1875 and 1914 and is dedicated to the 58,000 who lost their lives during the Franco-Prussian War and the ensuing uprising of the Paris Commune of 1870-71. Some interesting facts about the basilica: it is built entirely out of travertine stone quarried from the Seine-et-Marne Department. This stone constantly exudes calcite, which ensures that the basilica remains white even with weathering and pollution. The foundations of the basilica are deeper than the Egyptian pyramids. The mosaic in the apse, entitled “Christ in Majesty”, is among the largest in the world. Since 1885 (before construction had been completed), the Blessed Sacrament (a consecrated host which has been turned into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ during Mass) has been continually on display in a monstrance above the high altar. Perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has continued uninterrupted in the Basilica since 1885. Some say the basilica looks like a huge, white cake but whatever your taste, it has one of the best views of Paris. If you don’t want to take the 500 plus stairs to the top, hop aboard the funicular at the bottom of the hill using an ordinary Metro ticket. We took the stairs down after our visit but we had to be careful to dodge those pesky street peddlers trying to make friendship bracelets for us. They tell you it’s free but once the string is on your wrist, be ready to cough up 5 to 10 Euros! These guys can be quite aggressive. We were very hungry by the time lunch rolled around and we were fortunate enough to find an excellent street café at the foot of the basilica where we ate sandwiches and watched the people go by. I grabbed this shot from Google Maps. After eating, we headed for the Metro again and exited at the Place de la Concorde. It was here during the French Revolution that the statue of Louis XV of France was torn down and the area renamed “Place de la Revolution”. The new revolutionary government erected the guillotine in the square, and it was here that King Louis XVI was executed on January 21, 1793. Other important figures guillotined on the site, often in front of cheering crowds, were Queen Marie Antoinette, Princess Elisabeth of France, Madame du Barry, Georges Danton, Maximilien Robespierre and Charlotte Corday. Today, at the center of the Place is a giant Egyptian obelisk decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramses II. It once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple but was given to the French in 1829 by Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, Mehmet Ali. It arrived in Paris on December 21, 1833 and three years later was placed in the center where the guillotine stood during the Revolution. From here, my brother and I chose to do some walking. From Place de la Concorde we entered the Jardin des Tuileries, a public garden created by Catherine de Medicis as the garden of the Tuileries Palace in 1564. It was first opened to the public in 1667. Trees, flowerbeds, fountains and sculptures decorate the long pathways which lead directly to the Louvre Museum. One first has to pass by the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel built between 1806 and 1808 to serve as an entrance of honor at the Tuileries and to commemorate Napoleon’s military victories. It literally takes days to see everything inside the Louvre so we opted to save its treasures for another day and spent our time admiring the façade and the large glass and metal pyramid (designed by the architect I.M. Pei), surrounded by three smaller pyramids, in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon). The large pyramid serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum. It was completed in 1989 and has become a landmark of the city. We left the wonders of the Louvre behind us as we exited from the Cour Carée and followed the Seine onward passing the Church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois and stopping again to view the Pont-Neuf. Despite its name, it is the oldest standing bridge across the Seine in Paris. The bridge is composed of two separate spans, one of five arches joining the left bank to the Île de la Cité, another seven joining the island to the right bank. Its first stone was laid by King Henry III in 1578 and was completed in 1607. A major restoration of the Pont-Neuf was begun in 1994 and was completed in 2007, the year of its 400th anniversary. In 1991, along with actors Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant, the bridge was featured in the Leos Carax film “Les Amants du Pont-Neuf”. Go out now and rent it. One of the most beautiful places in Paris is La Sainte-Chapelle, a Gothic chapel built sometime between 1239 and completed in 1248. It was built to house precious relics: Christ’s crown of thorns, the Image of Edessa and thirty other relics of Christ that had been in the possession of Louis IX. What stands out the most to everyone who visits are the tall stained glass windows of the upper chapel, nearly two-thirds are authentic and date as far back as the 12th century. A statue to Saint-Louis can be found in the beautifully painted lower chapel dedicated to the Virgin. In the upper chapel, the rose window represents the Apocalypse while the other stained glass windows represent stories from the Old and New Testaments. Just like the Basilica of Saint-Denis, it is a masterpiece of Gothic design. As part of our ticket price we had entry to La Conciergerie, a formal royal palace and prison. It is part of the larger complex known as the Palais de Justice. It was here that hundreds of prisoners during the French Revolution were kept before taken to be executed on the guillotine at a number of locations around Paris. Built as a palace in the 13th and 14th century it eventually became a prison in 1391. The Hall of the Guards is one of the largest surviving medieval parts of the Conciergerie and often plays the role of exhibition center. During our visit, there was a special exhibit about French Monuments in Film. Some of the more eerie parts of the Conciergerie can still be visited such as the prison cells and the Marie Antoinette room. In the courtyard, one can still see the bell which tolled her final hours before being loaded into a tumbrel and led to Place de la Concorde to be guillotined. What visit would be complete without a visit to the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral. Featured heavily in Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”, it is widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in France and in Europe. Its construction spanned the entire Gothic period with groundbreaking in 1163 and its completion in 1345. It was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress. The transept portals are richly embellished with sculpture; the south portal features scenes from the lives of Saint-Stephen and of various local saints, while the north portal features the infancy of Christ and the story of Theophilus in the tympanum. The western façade has three portals, the portal of the Virgin, the portal of the Last Judgement and the portal of Ste-Anne. After being completely looted during the Revolution, in 1845 it underwent a 25-year restoration under the guidance of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. In 1991, a major program of maintenance and restoration was initiated, which was intended to last ten years, but is still in progress, the cleaning and restoration of old sculptures and gargoyles being an exceedingly delicate matter. Sadly, we were unable to fit in any more sights as the sun began to set. My brother found a person selling souvenir prints at three for 5 Euros but we promised ourselves we would return the next day and buy them. What a nightmare that decision turned out to be as you will read in my next article. All in all, it was a fantastic way to end an afternoon of sightseeing. We had our dinner at an Italian restaurant along rue de Charenton near the hotel and went to bed. We had to get our sleep since we had to get up early the next day in order to get to the Palace of Versailles.
Paris is so much nicer when you visit with a family member ! Last week, my brother visited me from the United States and I took him to see some of my favorite places in and around Île de la Cité. Of course, a three-day vacation in Paris is difficult to do especially when there is so much to see. Perhaps when he comes again with his wife, we will have the chance to visit many of the extraordinary sights that we missed like the Catacombs, Père-Lachaise, Le Grand Palais, Musée d’Orsay and perhaps make it to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Can you believe it ? In all of my visits to the city of lights, I’ve never been to the top ! After meeting up with him at Charles de Gaulle Airport, we took the Roissy Bus to Opéra Garnier and then the RER and Metro to our hotel L’Hôtel de Reims in the 12th Arrondissement near the Gare de Lyon. It is a cozy, handsome, newly renovated retreat along the quiet Rue Hector Malot, not far from Metro Station 14. An added bonus included the incredible shopping and restaurants featured underneath the Arches du viaduc des Arts (a quiet promenade) that follows the nearby Avenue Daumesnil. Sadly, I did not take any photos of this wonderful place but I grabbed some screen shots from Google Maps. The day before my brother arrived, I spent over an hour walking along the promenade, planted with gardens of all types and sizes. Our first destination was a leisurely stroll through the Jardin des Plantes that radiates outward toward the Seine from the Muséum national d’Histoire. From there we passed by the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont and Lycée Henri-IV before reaching our intended objective, Le Panthéon, an enormous national monument that functions as a secular mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens. Some of the tombs include those of Victor Hugo, Louis Braille, Marie and Pierre Curie, Voltaire, Rousseau, Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas and the heart of Léon Gambetta. Underneath the central dome is a 67-meter pendulum initially installed by Léon Foucalt in 1851 to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. After a short walk to the Metro, passing by the prestigious Sorbonne University, we emerged at Place Charles de Gaulle at the western extreme of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées to visit l’Arc de Triomphe. This monument to was commissioned in 1806 by Emperor Napoleon after the victory at Austerlitz and honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. Panoramic views from the top are spectacular as one can see all of Paris and the grand avenues that radiate from it. Our next stop was the great icon of France, the Eiffel Tower, built in 1889 for l’Exposition universelle de Paris by engineer Gustave Eiffel. The best way to view the city’s most popular monument is to arrive by Metro at the Palais du Trocadéro, walk down the stairs toward the base of the tower and finally have a casual stroll through the Champ-de-Mars gardens. If you are interested in military history or wish to visit the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, make your way to l’Hotel national des Invalides. This impressive structure initiated by Louis XIV in 1670 houses the Musée de l’Armee, Musée des Plans-Reliefs, Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine and is crowned by the gold-gilt Église du Dôme.Underneath this magnificent dome is the final resting place for some of France’s war heroes, notably Napoleon Bonaparte. His remains were placed here in 1861. No expense was spared for the tomb and his body lies within six separate coffins. They are made of iron, mahogany, two of lead, ebony and the outer one is red porphyry. The tomb sits on a green granite pedestal surrounded by 12 pillars of victory. In my opinion, there is no better way to unwind after a long day of sightseeing than to take in the show at the Bal du Moulin Rouge located in the Pigalle district. The cabaret built in 1889 by Joseph Oller is famous for being the spiritual birthplace of the modern can-can. Artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec contributed to its popularity by painting numerous scenes and posters of nightlife at the Moulin Rouge. The current revue is named “Féerie”. It contains four main scenes with a total of 69 songs. Multiple acts are performed by a total of 100 artists including Doriss girls (showing their breasts), dancers, acrobats, magicians and clowns. Traditionally each revue runs for 10 to 12 years and costs 7 to 9 million Euros to create. We made our booking in advance and had the “Belle Époque” dinner before the show began. I can’t say anything more about this experience than WOW!!! It is definitely worth the 180 Euros per person and shouldn’t be missed. I first saw “Féerie” in 2001 and I am still enchanted !