Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Islands in the Seine - Ile de la Cite & Ile St. Louis

One of two small islands in the Seine River, Ile de la Cite contains many sights -- Notre Dame, Saint Chappelle, The Conciergerie (where Marie Antionette and others were imprisoned), Palais de Justice and a flower market.  As you can imagine, it was a busy place with lots of people, boat tours, etc.  It's smaller neighbor, Ile St. Louis is a residential island with a nice shopping street and small alleys. 

Per Kate's plan, we arrived early at Notre Dame and walked right into the Cathedral.  No waiting.  As European Cathedrals go, the interior is nice but it's not on the top of the list.  The real beauty is the outside with the flying buttresses, stone gargoyles and views of Paris from the top of the South Tower. 

This guy is enjoying the view

Notre Dame was begun in 1163, finished in 1345, plundered during the Revolution (it was renamed the Temple of Reason) and then restored in the mid 1800's.  It was one of the first cathedrals to use flying buttresses, external supports that took some of the weight of the roof off of the walls, thus allowing larger windows.  Napoleon was crowned Emperor of France here in 1804 (with the blessing of Pope Pius VII per the Cathedral's information pamphlet). 

The flying buttresses provide external support to the walls. This new construction technique resulted in some people wondering whether the builders had forgotten to remove some scaffolding from along the walls

We did end up waiting an hour or so to go up in the towers, but the rest prepared us for the 387 step climb.  It was all worth it:  the views of the city were great and being able to see the external structures and gargoyles up close was even better.

We didn't eat here. 

Rose Window, 40 ft diameter, depicts Virgin Mary encircled by Old Testament figures

Front view of Notre Dame

Ile de la Cite is the original Paris.  Point Zero, located in the front courtyard of Notre Dame, is the point from which all distances are measured in France. 

Looking pretty happy going up the stairs to the Bell Towers.  Must have been around step 10 or 20 (out of 387)

Some of the stone detail on the exterior

View of the courtyard from the Bell Tower.  People down the center are in line to enter the Cathedral.  Tent at the top of the courtyard is Red Cross rally.  Don't depend on them to set up a tent in an took them 3/4 of a day to get this one up. 

Looking at the Eiffel Tower

The different angles on these two shots make it look like they turned their heads. 

The structure holding the bell is made of wood.  If it was stone it would crack from the bell's vibrations.  The picture doesn't do justice to the beams; they were huge. 

Kate and Doug in front of the Emmanuel Bell

Lori doing her Marilyn Monroe impression at the top of the tower.  Needless to say it was very windy. 

Doug fit right into our family -- checking the guidebook for the next stop. 

Doesn't the lead guy look like he's skateboarding down the roof?

The Virgin Mary surrounded by kings and saints

Some of the 29 Kings of Judah that look down on the courtyard.

Sainte-Chapelle, or Holy Chapel, was built in the 1200's by Louis IX, later canonized as St. Louis.  He built the cathedral to house Christ's Crown of Thorns which he had recently acquired from the Emporer of Constantinople.  Saint-Chapelle is not as grand as Notre Dame.  Rather its beauty is the 6500 square feet of stained glass that literally surround the chapel.  The windows are over 50 feet tall and portray over 1000 religous scenes.   Amazingly over 70% of the windows are original.  The best time to see the chapel is on a bright sunny morning.  We got the morning part of that right, but the weatherman didn't cooperate with the "bright sunny".  It was still beautiful.   By the way, the crown of thorns now resides at Notre Dame. 

All four walls were essentially stained glass showpieces.  There was almost no solid wall space. 

Amazingly detailed stonework. 

The Palace of Justice

External view of Sainte-Chapelle.  The tower on the right includes a Crown of Thorns design near the top. 

Gates to the Palace of Justice.

Ile St. Louis provided a nice break from the crowds.  And it is the location of the home store of Berthillon, a family run luxury ice cream store.  Each day they offer 30 flavors that rotate depending on what's in season and customer demand.  We had rhubarb -- it was delicious.  However, don't go there the first two weeks of August; that's when they go on holiday. 

Today's flavor board.  Rhubarb is top right.

The fence on this bridge across the Seine contains thousands of locks.  Couple buy a lock with two keys, put the lock on the bridge and then each person throws their key into the water to seal their love. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


King Louis XIV hated Paris, so he tore down his Father's hunting lodge in the town of Versailles and built one of the grandest palaces ever -- 380 million francs, 36000 laborers and enough paintings to stretch 7 miles if they were put end to end.  He and the next two kings ruled France from Versailles where they, and the up to 10,000 courtiers who also lived there, could escape the drudgeries of Paris and enjoy life.  Unfortunately, they enjoyed life a little too much and forgot about all those Parisians.  In October, 1789 the revoluationary mob arrived at the Palace gates, demanded the King and marched him back to Paris.  He and Marie Antoinette were both guillotined three years later. 

Unlike many palaces, this one is sparsely furnished.  During the period of the Revolution, much of the furnishings were auctioned to raise funds for the government.  Today as items come available the Museum tries to buy them back. 

The Royal Courtyard and Palace

The building on the right is the chapel.  The King attended daily mass where his choir sang a newly composed song each day. 

Another view of the Royal Courtyard

The rear view of the Palace. 

The line to enter Versaille at mid day.  With Kate's well-planned itinerary we were there early in the morning and didn't wait in line. 

Doug gets in on the family tradition of plotting a tour route. 

Lori loves pots and this one's a classic.

The tourists in the 250 acres of gardens. 

Dr. Seuss must have been one of the gardeners

A couple was taking their wedding pictures in the gardens.  I'm not sure what this shot is suppsed to symbolize. 

Inside the Royal Chapel

The ceiling of the Royal Chapel

The altar

Louis XV's roll-top desk

Kate outside the Petit Trianon, located on the far corner of the estate.  Here Marie Antionette could escape the formalities of Palace life. 

The grounds were huge so there was a lot of walking involved.  Kate and Lori thought these cycles looked like great, but Doug and I weren't so keen on the idea. 

The King's bed.  He led a public life; people were around him all day.  The railing provided separation for the 100 or so people that would gather to watch him arise each day. 

The Queen's bedchamber.  As the revolutionaries stormed the palace, Marie Antionette escaped to the King's bedroom through the door on the left.  As with the King, people gathered to watch her arise....and they also watched her give birth.  Everything was attended by close friends and courtiers.   

The top of the Queen's bed. 

Large art work is being displayed near the palace entrance.  This one looks like giant french fries. 

The Hall of Mirrors.  240 ft long.  The 17 gigantic mirrors on the left echo the windows on the right.  The Treaty of Versailles was signed here in 1919 to end WWI. 

A huge canvas showing Napoleon's coronation.  Another copy hangs in the Louvre.  In the painting Napoleon's mother is in attendance.  In real life she refused to attend.  The early days of Photoshop. 

Mark and Lori by the lake

Hallway in the Palace