208 Photos - Nov 9, 2013
Photo: The first day in Paris has the usual round of provisioning for my studio apartment, as well as some wandering to be sure that the city is in as good condition as I last left it! My travels by chance take me to the Square Boucicaut, names after Aristide Boucicaut, the founder of the famous Bon Marché department store (just across the street), which in the 1870’s introduced the then novel ideas of fixed prices and the ability to return and exchange goods, among others. An unexpected surprise in this small but very green park: palm trees in Paris? Kind of a taste of home, even though it’s less than 4 months since the move to Florida.Photo: A quick stop in the Luxembourg Gardens always serves as a touchstone of Paris as a whole, even in an unassuming picture like this one.Photo: A Saturday trip to Senlis is by train north to Chantilly, then a bus to the architecturally interesting Senlis station - but that is in name only, as there are no longer even remnants of tracks in the area. The station was built in 1922 following the destruction of an earlier one in WW I. It now serves as the home of the town’s employment office.Photo: Right across the street is a small war memorial park.Photo: There is of course the usual monument, emphasizing the WW I dead, but others from later conflicts noted as well.Photo: Now wandering into town, and coming on the Eglise St Pierre, dating back to the 12th century (but bell tower from the 16th).Photo: Lots of construction underway in the closed church. The sign on the fence notes that restoration started just a few months ago, and is due for completion in 2015.Photo: Here, the church’s main entrance - again, not very accessible due to the work underway.Photo: The town’s main attraction is the Cathedrale Notre Dame, one of the very earliest Gothic structures in France. This approach is from the rear.Photo: Construction began in 1151, just 12 years before its more famous relation in Paris.Photo: The cathedral is significantly smaller than its Parisian cousin, but still quite striking.Photo: The interior has the typical look and feel of Gothic churches.Photo: This church plaque marks the 500th anniversary of the battle between the forces of Joan of Arc and the Duke of Bedford on the Senlis plain.Photo: This doorway shows Mary’s coronation after her Assumption into heaven.Photo: Now entering the park of the royal castle, the center of the medieval city.Photo: There are remains of structures from many eras, back to Gallo-Roman times.Photo: The oldest (from 1168) church in Senlis, the Eglise St Frambourg, is now a concert venue.Photo: A typical view in the old town.Photo: And another.Photo: The City Hall building dates from 1495.Photo: This medieval tower stands alone.Photo: At the edge of town is a Roman arena still under restoration, and so not accessible to the public.Photo: The are attractive views on the walking paths in this part of town.Photo: The Nonette river passes the edge of town here.Photo: An example of a “false door” in the town’s fortifications.Photo: Although not extensive, there are some ramparts to be walked along the Nonette.Photo: The post-rampart walk continues through a pleasant section of town.Photo: There are some good sized homes along the river here.Photo: I’m pretty sure we’re in the high rent district here.Photo: The ancient abbey in town was founded in 1060 by the wife of Henri I, and is now a school.Photo: The church, from the 12th century, is the oldest structure surviving from the original monastery.Photo: The abbey cloister is from the 17th century.Photo: And a final view of some stately Senlis buildings completes the day.Photo: Sunday brings a train ride of close to an hour to La Ferte-Milon - a quiet town not often visited by foreign tourists - and its simple station.Photo: One of the first sights in town is the 15th century St Nicolas Church, at which I arrive just as Sunday Mass is ending - so no visit today.Photo: Nice traditional Town Hall here.Photo: There’s a lively flea market today, including this outdoor food court.Photo: The Ourcq River passes through town, thus the now decorative water wheel, which has the seemingly mandatory flowers planted on the side.Photo: Jean Racine - acknowledged as France’s greatest playwright - was born here in 1639. The house where he is raised is now a museum.Photo: Retirement Home - hmm ... I think I’ll stick to where I am in the US!Photo: This elegant footbridge (“passerelle”) over the Ourcq was designed and built by a young engineer named Gustav Eiffel. I hear he later built some other stuff in a bigger city ...Photo: This solid stone tower sits at one end of the footbridge.Photo: The small island in the river is completely covered by the Sunday flea market, which is every bit as curious/tacky/homespun as anything you would find in the US.Photo: On the way up to the Notre Dame Church is this greenery-rich home facade.Photo: This statue of the town’s most famous son (as a young man) sits on the church square.Photo: This sign on the Church notes that because of all the bird damage here, Sunday Mass is at the St Nicolas Church.Photo: And the bird noise from the tower makes it clear that the damage is ongoing!Photo: So the church cannot be visited, but is said in any case to be more interesting architecturally for its exterior, not its interior.Photo: Continuing up from the church, one can see some remains of the town’s fortifications.Photo: The town’s main attraction is the remains of a great castle facade. The late 14th century castle was in fact never completed (following the assassination of its owner, the Duke of Orleans, in 1407), and all but the facade was razed late in the 16th century.Photo: The remaining structure is 650 feet long, and 125 feet high.Photo: We are of course on high ground here above the town.Photo: On the other side is a grassy rise which once contained the castle’s moat.Photo: Now headed out of town on the canal-side path to the neighboring village of  Mareuil-sur-Ourcq.Photo: This is a navigable canal, and so has the same informational signs as would be seen on any roadway.Photo: Lots of details here on where you can go, and how long it will take.Photo: It’s a very pleasant walk, and a mostly solitary one, on a lovely afternoon. However, I do pass a few dog walkers, cyclists, and even one woman on horseback. This is small town France, and all have a smile, nod, and a soft “bonjour” for this lone traveler. Just try that in Paris!Photo: The first location of note is the hamlet of Marolles.Photo: The canal splits slightly around a tiny island, to accommodate the first of several locks on the walk.Photo: Here’s the lock gate at one end.Photo: And here, a larger view.Photo: Farther down is another lock at the Queue d’Ham, and this building of uncertain occupancy watching over it.Photo: On the other side of the canal, the vegetation has been either beaten down, or covered with straw - not sure which, or why.Photo: Near the end of the almost 4-1/2 mile walk, the village of Mareuil-sur-Ourcq comes into view.Photo: It’s pretty hard to miss, with its 13th century St Martin Church dominating the skyline.Photo: Now off the canal path, on the bridge into town, and looking back from where I came.Photo: The Town Hall here is pretty nondescript, and the town is shuttered up tight early on this Sunday afternoon. so I hop right back on the train to Paris.Photo: An always pleasant Sunday stop is the Invalides Esplanade, with soccer, boules, and general lounging around all popular on a sunny afternoon.Photo: There’s some special event along the Seine, which is not uncommon, although I suspect that tepees are.Photo: One of the attractions is a giant chalkboard which children can draw on, and which is periodically wiped down to make room for more artwork.Photo: There’s also a large world map right on the quay.Photo: And some impressive murals on the opposite bank.Photo: Next is a visit to the town of Ramboulllet, first passing the 19th century Gothic St Lubin Church.Photo: Here, the bas relief facade of City Hall.Photo: The main attraction in town is this chateau. The information plaque notes that this 14th century castle (where Francois I died in 1547) was bought in 1706 by the Count of Toulouse, son of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan.The Count extended the château and installed the apartments. His son, the Duke of Penthievre, took over the gardens and created the Shell Cottage In 1783, Louis XVI, a hunting enthusiast, bought the estate from his cousin and had the Queen's Dairy built for Marie-Antoinette. In the early 19th century, Napoleon I added apartments to the dairy. Since 1886, the château has been an official summer residence for the French President.Photo: Heritage Days 2013 is coming up this weekend, and attractions like this are being spruced up all over France.Photo: The rear of the chateau overlooks one of the canals on the grounds.Photo: The grounds’ gardens are somewhat informal, but well maintained.Photo: This longest stretch of canal is almost 3/4 miles long.Photo: Here, the chateau, as seen from across the canal.Photo: The use of the grounds for hunting (a practice discontinued less than 50 years ago) is echoed in sculptures such as this one.Photo: Now walking the back grounds, and coming up to the Shell Cottage (built for a friend of Marie Antoinette) in the naturally landscaped English Garden.Photo: The rustic cottage exterior.conceals an elegant interior decor of mother of pearl and marble.Photo: The final stop on the grounds is the small dairy “playhouse” built for Marie Antoinette in 1785.Photo: Small town France can be full of interesting bits of history: the plaque on this building notes that it was here that Generals De Gaulle and Leclerc met in August 1944 to plan for the final liberation of Paris.Photo: The two mile walk from the train station to the town of Montfort-l’Amaury is along this quiet road which originated in Roman times.Photo: It’s quite rural on the outskirts of town.Photo: But a little further on, the town begins to appear, with trees pruned in the typical French style.Photo: There are traditional homes along the route, such as this one with a thatched roof.Photo: And here’s the ever-present Town Hall picture.Photo: As usual, you don’t have to look hard to find evidence of the town’s medieval fortifications.Photo: In medieval times, these statues in building walls were intended to provide special protection for those inside.Photo: The Eglise de St Pierre et St Paul was founded in the 11th century, but most of the structure here is from the 15th.Photo: War memorials inside churches are a common feature in many French towns.Photo: There is impressive stained glass in the church.Photo: A sign in the sacristy notes the restoration of some of the stained glass is now underway.Photo: The church interior is cathedral-like in its openness and lightness.Photo: Here, the entrance to the town’s unusual walled cemetery.Photo: A not uncommon sign in French cemeteries: You who pass here, pray for those who have passed; what you are, they once were; what they are, you will be.Photo: And here is the walled cemetery itself, dating back to the 16th century.Photo: The Porte Badoul was once the gateway to the hilltop castle.Photo: From the top of the hill is a nice view of the surrounding countryside.Photo: Little remains of the hilltop castle except these fragments of its walls.Photo: Lunch at a nice little local place on Monfort’s central square, the Place Robert Brault, serves as a reminder of how food works in small town France. Lunches in places the locals eat have to be good - or they would quickly go out of business, since there is not enough tourist trade to sustain them. (In Paris, with a tourist-rich location, you may get by that way without much local trade.) So, like today, even a hamburger comes with a certain refinement and presentation. And after a hearty "bon appetit!", no one returns to ask you how things are. They know how things are, since they are patronized by the locals, they know the food is good, and they know that you know - so no more words needed!Photo: A typical street in the old part of town.Photo: There is a walking path along the town’s ramparts.Photo: The ramparts come to an end at this small pond.Photo: There is some old half-timbered architecture remaining in town.Photo: It was in this home on the Rue de la Treille that Victor Hugo stayed while writing an ode to Montfort’s castle ruins.Photo: And one more look at one of the stately homes on the road back to the train station.Photo: The final day of out-of-Paris touring is a low-key visit to Noisel, starting with a walk to the Parc de Noisel along the tree-lined Allee de Bois.Photo: A plaque at the park entrance notes that the park and the castle date back to the 18th century. Around 1800, the Duke of Lévis inherited the lands and created an English-style park. In 1825, the property was divided, and in 1879, Emile Menier bought the Noisel portion of the estate. The Meniers retained the landscaping style of the park and added rare species. Enhancing the entrance area are the luxurious main gate and guard house built in 1888. Today the gate (protected since 1986) is the only reminder of a no longer existing chateau.Photo: Now on the wooden bridge leading across the Marne river.Photo: This area of the river is dominated by the buildings of the Menier factory (no longer operating) for chocolate processing.Photo: Much of the factory - including buildings such as this one decorated in tiles of the cocoa flower -  is actually on a small island in the Marne.Photo: There are tall hedges around much of the property, and so good vantage points are hard to find.Photo: This main building is known as The Cathedral.Photo: The small dam across the Marne here has little drop, but a very satisfying sound of rushing water.Photo: And a final look back at the factory complex, which the Menier family sold in 1959, and chocolate production continued until 1992. The site does continue to be the headquarters of Nestle France.Photo: The Menier family built homes for their workers (rent was one franc a year!) and included pensions in their benefits - so no surprise that a Menier was mayor of Noisel as long as the family owned the company.Photo: This odd looking structure is not some prehistoric monument or alien artifact, but a concrete water tower covered in chain link to minimize debris on the adjoining road.Photo: All the visits to Paris, and not once inside the Opera Garnier - until today. There are a number of exhibits of costumes used here.Photo: Some of the ceiling detail in the main entry areaPhoto: The interior contains elaborate multicolored marble friezes, columns, and lavish statuary, many of which portray deities of Greek mythology.Photo: The Grand Staircase is typical of the Beaux Arts opulence of the interior.Photo: The Palais Garnier was designed as part of the great Paris reconstruction during the Second Empire (Emperor Napoleon III). In 1858 the Emperor authorized Baron Haussmann to clear 130,000 square feet of land to build a second theatre for the world-renowned Parisian Opera and Ballet companies.Photo: The 1861 architectural design competition was won by the architect Charles Garnier (1825–1898). The judges admired in particular Garnier's design for the plan’s clarity: an exceptional example of the beaux-arts design methods in which both he and they were well versed.Photo: This was the primary home of the Paris Opera and its associated Paris Opera Ballet until 1989, when the Opéra Bastille opened. The Paris Opera now mainly uses the Palais Garnier for ballet.Photo: Thus. a number of the exhibits are ballet centric.Photo: Here a view of the Grand Staircase from an upper level.Photo: Some of the elaborate friezes in the main area.Photo: Foundation work began in 1862, and work continued sporadically for more than a decade. The theatre was formally inaugurated on 5 January 1875 with a lavish performance which included musical, operatic, and ballet selections. The Grand Foyer shown here (restored in 2004) is a particularly impressive room.Photo: A recent restoration (1994-2007) included modernizing the stage machinery and electrical facilities, while restoring and preserving the opulent décor, as well as strengthening the building’s structure and foundation.Photo: Every corner of the structure is well appointed.Photo: Now on the uppermost level of the main area, looking down.Photo: And the ceiling, from not far away. These upper reaches had an important role in the setting for Gaston Leroux's 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera.Photo: Now in the main theater, and some of its 1,979 seats.Photo: The 7-ton bronze and crystal chandelier was designed by Garnier then cast and chased by Lacarière, Delatour & Cie. The use of a central chandelier aroused controversy: it was criticized for obstructing stage views from the fourth level boxes, and views of the ceiling painted by Eugène Lenepveu.Photo: The upper level seats seem rather narrow.Photo: Here, a bit of the aforementioned ceiling painting.Photo: The main stage has held up to 450 performers.Photo: The ceiling area surrounding the chandelier contains a 1964 painting by Marc Chagall depicting scenes from operas by 14 composers.Photo: Heritage Weekend 2013 brings us to the Hotel de Ville, where a building housing the city’s government has stood since 1357.Photo: Here, one of the marble staircases leading to the main chambers.Photo: I believe that a light-bearing statue such as this is called a torchiere.Photo: The Puvis de Chavannes passage room contains two large paintings, the first: SummerPhoto: And here the second: Winter.Photo: The stained glass in the hallway consists of various administrative seals and emblems.Photo: The Room of Arcades is divided into three parts devoted to Arts (in the center), Sciences (in the east) and Literature (in the west).Photo: A large panel of artists contributed to the decoration of this room. The most famous were entrusted with the decoration of the ceilings.Photo: The works of various contemporary artisans are on display today - here, some hand-crafted ornate door fixtures.Photo: Here is an elaborate carved mantel piece.Photo: One of the room’s large paintings - a Seine river scene.Photo: From the information card:  “Louis XVI is received at the Hotel de Ville by the Paris Municipality, July 17, 1789.” Three days after the storming of the Bastille, Louis XVI went from Versailles to City Hall, where he was welcomed by Jean-Sylvain Bailly, renowned astronomer who yesterday was elected the mayor of Paris, and La Fayette commander of the National Guard. The king received the new tricolor, (associating the white color of the Bourbons with the blue and red of Paris) and attached it to his hat.Photo: There are well-received music recitals throughout the day.Photo: The George Bertrand room is a tribute to rural France in the 191h century. There are six marble sculptures represent the Harvest, the Wine Harvest, Fishing, Hunting, the Toast, and the Song.Photo: Photo: This sculpture is pretty obviously the one for the Wine Harvest.Photo: On the ceiling and above the doors, the artist, Georges Bertrand, has depicted scenes of country life as well as the work in the fields.Photo: From the information card: The imposing dimensions of the Banquet Hall, as well as the magnificent decoration : mirrors, baccarat crystal chandeliers, gold leaf, silk curtains turn this room into "a Republican halt of mirrors". The motto of the Republic "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" is written in gold letters on the ceiling, between paintings that represent Dance, Music, and Flowers and Perfumes. At both ends of the room, the coat of arms of the City of Paris: against the red background, the boat was the symbol of the water merchants who held the monopoly on transport on the Seine. The motto "Fluctuat Nec Mergitur" means that the boat is tossed about but never sinks.Photo: The ornate ceiling of the Banquet Hall.Photo: Some interesting art here - but, really, Coke cans?Photo: This gilt bronze clock was presented at the 1889 Universal Exposition by Barbedienne, one of the principal 19th century producers of bronze art objects.Photo: The building’s library. The collection includes more than 600,000 volumes, focusing on administration, law, economics, and the social sciences.Photo: Now in the working administration area, and a typical office.Photo: The Council Room, whose 163 members of the Paris Council (elected from the 20 arrondissements) elect the Mayor, who then presides over the Council. The wall tapestries were commissioned in 1865 for the Second Empire throne room.Photo: A Council Room desk.Photo: More of the stained glass found in the hallways.Photo: The desk in the Mayor’s Office.Photo: And here, the adjacent sitting area.Photo: Not sure what to make of this chair back cover.Photo: Visit over, and now on to the Pantheon - another often passed but never visited Paris landmark.  Originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve and to house her relics, but after many changes, it now functions as a “secular temple” containing the remains of distinguished French citizens.Photo: The inscription above the entrance reads AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE ( "To the great men, the grateful homeland"). By burying them in the Panthéon, the Nation acknowledges the honour it received from its greatest men. As such, interment here is severely restricted and is allowed only by a parliamentary act for "National Heroes".Photo: Among those buried in the necropolis are Voltaire, Rousseau,Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean Moulin, Marie Curie, Louis Braille, Jean Jaurès, and Soufflot, the architect of the Pantheon (commissioned in 1755, with work beginning two years later, but not completed until 1790)..Photo: An example of the building’s massive monuments.Photo: And massive paintings as well.Photo: In 1851, the physicist Léon Foucault demonstrated the earth’s rotation by constructing a 220 foot pendulum here beneath the central dome, where it has remained ever since. The pendulum will now be absent for several years, however, during repair work on the dome.Photo: On the Place de la Concorde this final morning is a Ferrari get together which attracts a lot of interest.Photo: Today’s tour will be the National Assembly complex. The building was completed in 1728, but the classical portico was not added until 1808, by order of Napoleon.Photo: We enter by way of the Hotel de Lassay, a mansion completed in 1730, and now home of the President of the National Assembly.Photo: Some of the building’s statuary.Photo: We enter by way of the well-appointed Grand Salon.Photo: Here, the elegant Salon des Saisons.Photo: Some of the elaborate ceiling work in the room.Photo: The Salon des Jeux (Game Room) appears to have been converted into a conference room.Photo: The Vestibule has especially ornate decor.Photo: And the walls are very ornate as well.Photo: The Dining Room set up for its intended use.Photo: This room has the elaborately decorated walls characteristic of the mansion.Photo: A centerpiece from the table. An information sign notes that exquisite objects such as this (typically from the 19th century) are used rarely - typically only for State dinners.Photo: Now crossing into a small sitting chamber on the way to the Festival Room.Photo: Some nice fireplace detail here.Photo: The Festival Room is the largest in the mansion.Photo: Now in a connecting gallery to the adjacent National Assembly building, officially the Palais Bourbon.Photo: We enter by way of the Room of the Four Columns, which also has some nice bas relief art.Photo: And also some free standing statuary. This room as used as a meeting place for assembly members and journalists.Photo: Now in the main assembly chamber.Photo: The chamber holds 577 members, who are elected for a term of 5 years.Photo: There are also special benches reserved for government ministers involved in the Assembly’s deliberations.Photo: The presiding seat of the Assembly’s President, elected by its members, and considered the country’s fourth ranking government figure.Photo: Now in the Conference Room, which serves as both a meeting place and reading room for Assembly members.Photo: The library holds over 700,000 volumes, including historical documents such as the proceedings of Joan of Arc’s trial.Photo: The Room of the Mariannes contains a collection of this French national symbol.Photo: The Casimir-Perrier Room is renowned for its bas relief sculpture depicting the June 23, 1789 meeting of the original National Assembly.Photo: A principal feature of the Main Courtyard is the Sphere of Human Rights (Walter de Maria, 1989). The semicircular backdrop is engraved with the 17 Articles of the Declaration of Human Rights.Photo: The main columned entrance of the Courtyard.Photo: And one final look at the Courtyard grounds.Photo: My final evening is spent wandering, as usual, here on the promenade in front of Sacre Coeur. There is a mime performing, which sounds very corny, but he is very good, and holds the crowd’s complete attention (and mine!) for 30 minutes. This is thus Paris (and France): full of pleasures both expected and unexpected, and both large and small - and so it will always be.