Saturday, February 23, 2019

A Trip to Paris and London

 (Above:  Notre Dame and a tourist boat on the Seine River.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Steve cashed in our frequent flier miles and hotel points for an amazing five days in Paris, a chunnel ride to London, and a trip to Warner Brothers' Harry Potter Studio tour.  We worried about the weather.  Would it be cold and rainy?  Well ... only on the first day was there any drizzling moisture and high winds.  But, it actually added to the atmosphere.  There's nothing quite like walking out of the rail station to the peeling bells of Notre Dame.  Who cares if it was sprinkling!
 (Above:  View from the Notre Dame bell tower.)

By the time we climbed to the top of the Notre Dame bell tower, the rain had cleared but the wind was howling.  It seemed fitting for a place so closely associated with a Hunchback!

 (Above:  Saint Chappel.)

From there, we walked the short distance to Saint Chappel.  Tourists enter in the lower church area.  Steve thought it was grand ... but I shook my head and said, "If you think this is grand, wait until you get upstairs!"  To our amazement, the sun even managed to shine through the stained glass.  It was magical.
 (Above:  An art history class at the Center Pompidou.)

That evening we spent in the Center Pompidou.  It's open late almost every night.  There were hundreds of people and several school groups.  I took so many pictures that it is impossible for me to really share the experience.

 (Above:  Installation by Maya Dunietz.)

Yet, I did have a favorite installation.  This is an amazing, suspended sculpture made from hundreds of ear buds. Indiscernible sound was piped through the ear buds creating an audio environment that seemed at once human and cosmic.  The shadows on the floor gave the feeling of an organic forest.  This work is absolutely BRILLIANT.

(Above:  The entrance to the Louvre.)

If I can't determine an adequate selection of images to represent Center Pompidou ... well ... trying to share a day at the Louvre is totally impossible!

Of course there are the major masterpieces that grace tour books and sell hundreds of postcards ... like Michelangelo's Dying and Rebellious Slaves, Venus de Milo, The Winged Victory of Samothrace, etc. ...  and I took photos of all of them.  Yet, there is no way I can capture a truly great image, especially of artwork that is so fabulously well known, part of our collective consciousness of world art.

(Cimabue's late 13th century crucifix.)

The fact of the matter is that Steve and I spent the entire day inside the Louvre and missed entire sections.  The place is gigantic.  There is no earthly way for anyone to really cover all the rooms without being overwhelmed.  The work spans just about every century of man's existence.  There are things as diverse at Cimabue's late 13th century crucifix ...

... to early 20th century African fetish creatures ...

... to porcelains from all the world's greatest factories ...

... to entire interiors with the most lavish ornamentation available when produced ...

... and then there's the Mona Lisa.

Once upon a time (approximately 1974), my family went to the Louvre.  My mother had a green Michelin tour guide and we made sure to see all the highlights listed.  We also wandered around as a family as well as on our own.  (My sister Wanda and I found Jacques-Louis David's Intervention of the Sabine Women (aka "Rape of the Sabine Women")  and seriously wondered by any man would venture into battle naked.)  We all knew when and where to meet again ... and were sad to leave when so many rooms hadn't been discovered.  The only disappointment was the fact that the Mona Lisa was not on view.  Later (approximately 1977), I returned to the Louvre during a very quick layover at Charles de Gaul airport.  I was the first person in line that day.  I went to see just one thing ... The Mona Lisa.  I was alone in the room and not more than a foot away from a single sheet of bullet proof glass.  It was a perfect, quiet, contemplative moment ... just da Vinci and me.  I am so very glad that I have this story ... because this is how she is displayed today!

Cell phones are everywhere ... selfies are commonplace ... and it was Steve who looked at this sculpture and said, "He was way ahead of his time!"

(Above:  The spiral staircase inside the Arc d' Triomphe.)

Steve and I left the Louvre and walked through the Tuilleries Gardens before catching a metro to the Arc d' Triomphe.  We climbed the staircase for an amazing view.

(Above:  View from the top of the Arc d' Triomphe.)

Watching the traffic was so much fun!  We never saw an accident ... which was shocking.  European drivers seem to understand the concept of "alternate merge" perfectly ... even when giant buses, mopeds, and foreign drivers are thrown into the mix.

(Above:  Interior view of the Museum d' Orsay.)

The next couple days included a fabulous time in the Museum d' Orsay.  This converted rail station is a masterpiece of architecture.  The collections are vast and beautifully presented.  I took hundreds of photos just because the juxtaposition of ancient/old/new/futuristic was so captivating.

The lighting was also spectacular!

Amazingly, the place was both filled with visitors and free from crowds.  Steve and I did manage to walk through almost every room!

Still ... there were plenty of people aiming their cameras at the artwork!  It was almost funny to notice the masterpieces on both sides of any focal point!

(Above:  The Basilica of St. Denis.)

Because Steve researched our travel arrangements so well, we went from place to place as if locals.  We left the airport with weekly metro-rail cards ... complete with our passport quality photos attached.  This meant we could easily maneuver outside the old city to places like the Basilica of St. Denis, a ritual place of royal burials.
(Above:  St. Denis.)

The sunlight cast all sorts of colors on the elaborately carved burial chambers.

(Above:  Sacre Coeur.)

We also went to Sacre Coeur, a church with a commanding view over the city.  This area has been know as an artists' hangout for generations.

(Above: The Rodin Museum)

In another part of Paris is the Rodin Museum.  It includes a special, temporary exhibition of sketches and collages.  Most of the building showed various stages of sculptural production or the ways rooms were used when Rodin occupied them.

There were plaster casts, finished pieces, tools, and artwork by Rodin's contemporaries ... pieces for which he traded a sculpture in order to own.  It was an experience.

It was also a way to see how important light and space and gardens and high ceiling were to an artistic life.

(Above:  Paris Catacombs.)

Yet life isn't the only thing Steve and I explored while in Paris.  We also stood in line for well over an hour in order to descend into the Parisian catacombs.  These underground chambers have inspired all sorts of artists ... including Victor Hartmann, friend of Modest Mussorgsky.  The eighth section of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is based on a painting Hartmann drew of his subterranean experience in the Parisian catacombs.  (This fact wasn't mention during the audio-guided tour but is one I know very, very well!)

With my fascination on death, epitaphs, and burial customs, going to the catacombs was a Parisian MUST DO!  Yet, I wasn't really ready for the sheer number of bones.  Two femurs per adult ... piled up to heights over five feet ... times kilometers of passageways ... is really something to thing about.

(Above:  Steve and me at the Eiffel Tower.)

Although Steve and I love climbing spiral staircases and through small shafts of steps to reach spectacular views, we did not opt to ascend the Eiffel Tower.  For us, it is just too expensive, too crowded, and offered too similar a view to the ones we enjoyed atop Notre Dame and the Arc di Triomphe.  Besides, we had places to go ... like ...

(Above:  Steve and me reflected in an ornate mirror at the Decorative Arts Museum.)

... the Decorative Arts Museum.  Again, there were too many precious objects for me to share in a blog post.  So, I'll just say that the collection included ....

... beautiful stained glass windows ....

... lavishly appointed interiors, glass, ceramics, jewelry, fashions, metalwork, etc.!

(Above:  Versailles ... from the front.)

Of course, lavish interiors are not restricted to isolated museum rooms!  Not when one can hop a train to nearby Versailles!

(Above:  Steve and lots of other tourists in the Hall of Mirrors.)

For the most part, it is impossible to take a semi-decent photo of any room in Versailles without a wide angle lens.  My point-and-shoot camera can't even accommodate a wide angle lens.  Plus, I was too stunned by the ornamentation (often in high relief), the over-sized curtain tassels, the hundreds of prisms on the chandeliers, and all the other lavish treatments to every square inch of every room to manage to attempt photographs.  For the most part, I just gawked.

Much of the palace is very crowded with tour groups ... but other areas, like the Queen's Staircase, were totally void of people!    Steve and I went through all the rooms, walked the gardens, visited the outer buildings, and enjoyed the fountains (which weren't going but were still quite magnificent.)

To be honest, I've never seen quite so much "white-and-gold" mixed with every sort of marble ... EVER!  And, I've been to a lot of castles, palaces, and aristocratic estates!

Maybe one day we will return to see the gardens in their full splendor; but even if we don't, we got the idea!

(Above:  Paris Opera.)

To conclude a day at Versailles, we went directly to Paris Opera for a ballet triple bill.

(Above:  Paris Opera, interior.)

Although I've been to many high-class performances, until Paris Opera, I had never sat in one of those red velvet theater boxes.  It felt like we stepped into a movie set.

(Above:  Paris Opera)

Everything inside the Paris Opera House is GORGEOUS.  The dancing was first-rate too!

(Above:  The British Museum.)

From Paris, Steve and I rode the chunnel to London.  Now ... we've been to London before.  Our intentions weren't to visit the old city sights (even though we had an afternoon at the British Museum!) but to ....

(Above:  Steve wearing the head sets at the Warner Brother Harry Potter Studios.)

... go to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studios!  Steve had been there before.  He insisted that I would love it (although it was never on my list of "must see" places in the London area!)

(Above:  Detail of Luna Lovegood's dress worn to a Christmas party ... in one of the Harry Potter books.)

In order to convince me that Harry Potter World was WONDERFUL, he booked a special "Behind the Seams" costume tour.   It really was informative, fun, and worth the trip.  One of the costumes we saw was worn by the character Luna Lovegood.  The design board showed the the basic shape for this holiday party dress was based on a layered Christmas tree.  The silver embellishments included real Christmas tree tinsel!  Who knew?

(Above:  Steve and me wearing magical school robes from the House of Ravenclaw ... originally worn by extras in the real movies.)

The highlight of the special tour was the opportunity to wear robes that were originally worn by extras in the movies!  We opted for the Ravenclaw House with blue interior hoods.

Harry Potter World really is great.  I was amazed at the details one cannot possibly see in the film.  Yet, it is these things that truly make the films amazing.  Full sets were on view ...

... including information as to how a circular, snake embellished door moved ....

... how underwater creatures were created ...

... how a complete castle was built and painted in minute detail in order to achieve backgrounds to flying scenes (and I thought it was all "computer" manipulations!)...

... and how elevations, shifting scales, and unique lighting created seemingly endless worlds of magic.

So ... I went to the Warner Brother Harry Potter Studios ... thinking it was insane!  If you go, "You're just as sane as I am!"


Christine said...

What a wonderful trip you have had! Thank you for sharing it with us. I didn't go to Paris last year and it looks like we won't be going this year so I have thoroughly immersed myself in your photos. One thing that puzzles me is the great big 'thing' at the side of the Versailles Palace.... we used to cut through from the village just there (back in the day of course!) and it wasn't there on our last visit four years ago. Curiouser and curiouser.
We could follow you round the city, once again taking coffee in the cafe at the foot of the Sacre Coeur.....etc.
Thanks again.

Shasta Matova said...

Wow that looks like a great trip! You did so many fabulous things!

Julie said...

I know how much you can pack in to a day first hand but this trip is phenomenal! :-D It brought back great memories for me of my 3 months' stay in Paris back in 1972. There are places you have seen that I have yet to see but I, too, was able to see the Mona Lisa at very close quarters. It would almost hardly seem worth the trip these days if you have to be so far away. A real shame for the modern world. Thank you for sharing your fantastic experiences and reviving old memories for me.

Linda Laird said...

Dear Susan,
Thanks for sharing your travels--we will be going on 2 Rick Steves' tours this summer: Paris and Northern France, and Belgium and the Netherlands! We will have 2 interim days in Paris, so you gave us some great ideas of what to do.
Linda Laird

Shirlee Fassell said...

What a wonderful trip makes me wat to get on a plane and go! Thanks for sharing your great pictures.