Sunday, July 21, 2013


We investigated only two castles on our Make-A-Wish trip to Paris.  Le Grand Palais was closed for the season, and we never tripped across the Petit Palais while stumbling through the city, so we limited ourselves to Versailles and the Louvre.  (Although both the Petit and Grand Palais are not truly castles - both were built for the World Fair of 1900 along with the Eiffel Tower).

We took a guided tour of Versailles.  There were eight in our group, and our guide met up with another group tour, I think to facilitate getting our small group in.  Four million people visit Versailles each year.  Most of them were there in the palace with us, I think. 

Don't get me wrong - the castle, the architecture, the artwork - all beyond anything I've ever seen. Contrasting the opulent lifestyle of the royalty with the struggles of the common people was eye-opening.  But we were JAMMED into those lovely, lovely spaces with so very many other people!  It was hard to get a clear photo, or sometimes even a clear idea of what type of space we were standing in.  We had radio contact with our guide via earbuds, but frequently I couldn't actually see him.  It was very overwhelming.  Babygirl loves real estate and historical buildings.  Many of her pictures show very small details, parts of tapestries, doorknobs and so on.  But she was having a headache day at Versailles, her only true 'sick day' of the trip.  The heat, the crush, and everybody's flashbulbs took a big toll on her.  By the time we were out of the castle and into the 250-acre gardens she was done.  We had very little time to appreciate the gardens anyway.  Citygirl went off on her own to explore a little and came back with what she called "Alice in Wonderland" photos of the area.  If we had had more time I would have loaded Babygirl and Hubby into the little tram for a ride around the gardens, or hired one of the many golf-cart taxis available. 

I wasn't having a great day either.  Having food allergies and not being able to speak the language led to a sudden severe bout of itching that started in the tour bus on the way into Versailles.  I took some benedryl, and then later couldn't figure out for the life of me why I felt so exhausted!  Caring for Babygirl's headaches distracted me so much I forgot.

We had a much better time at our second castle, the Louvre. 

Everyone I know traditionally thinks of the Louvre as an art museum.  I forgot (if I ever knew) that it was originally home to the royal family, before the Sun King decided to expand Versailles and make that the center of government. 

We began with a tour of Napoleon Bonaparte's family quarters.  Versailles did not appeal to Bonaparte, apparently, perhaps because it had been looted after the revolution.  The opulence of the furniture and art beggars description, and they had far more of the original furnishing than were available at Versailles.  The dining table was set for 50 people with far more elbow room available than at our Thanksgiving meals! 

There is no good way to see all that the Louvre has to offer.  they display only about 10% of their total collection at one time, around 35,000 items out for public view.  There are six miles of corridors in the museum altogether.  Getting lost is not only inevitable, it increases one's odds of stumbling across something unexpectedly delightful.  We were lost in Egypt and Greece for a couple of hours, and wandered past The Winged Victory 3 times before we found our way to the big prize:  The Mona Lisa.  She is lovely.  I decided taking her picture was a waste of time and just drank it in.  But my favorite portrait was in the room with her:  and elderly man with so much character in his face that I stared at him for a long time.  We then got lost among the romance painters of the 19th century.  Our favorite by far was La Jeune Martyre by Paul Delaroche.  The ability to paint what you see through water on a dark moonlit night...gripping.  Both of the girls also loved period portraits of noblewomen, especially those that detailed the lovely clothing.

We did the Louvre without a tour guide, all on our own.  We enjoyed lunch in one of the restaurants and afternoon drinks at the other.  But the security line almost did us in - there was a 2 1/2 HOUR line in the 85 degree sun to clear security.  Hubby was still using his cane, and Citygirl sought out the handicapped entrance.  Apparently, in France, one can obtain a card stating that one is handicapped, which we obviously did not have.  There was no way for her to translate "kidney transplant" or "Make-A-Wish", but "appendectomy" sounds about the same in any romance language, and it did the trick.  They let us in and even offered a wheelchair (nice thought but utterly impractical in that massive ancient building!).  Although the Louvre has 8 million visitors annually it did not feel nearly so crushingly full as Versailles, likely because there is so much more space open to the public.

If I were to go again, I'd skip the interior of Versailles and tour the gardens there.  But I'd go to the Louvre again and again and again.


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