Sunday, May 08, 2005

PARIS Day05//12.Nov.04 - Chateau & Butte: Versailles + La Defense + Montmarte

Louis XIV
Treaty of Versailles^
Victor (S's first name)

No, it's not the letter "V". All of the above had seen light in the Palace of Versailles. And how it (the light) gave the golden inlay and filigree, abundant in the gilded halls of Versailles, its warm hue. How it teased and played with the crystal facets of the chandeliers until they sparkled brightly. But mostly, how it reflected resplendently the majesty of the Hall of Mirrors.^^
S and my reflection from the mirrors showed us wearing headsets while holding on to the portable player. We had earlier decided to take the audio-guided tour, and for €12 each we had access to all the major tourist attractions in the château through Porte C. Porte C was a portal that brought us back to the 17th-18th century lifestyle of the French royalty. Our tour had us moving from the public Grands Appartements to the private Petits Appartements that were clearly marked with numbers which corresponded with the narratives recorded in the player. It was my first time experiencing an audio-guided tour and I rather enjoyed the flexibility of the self-paced tour and self-prompted narration. Having completed our education in Louis XIV's royal indulgences, S and I deposited our audio units at the exit without much pomp and pageantary. However, His Highness' royal fancies extended to the landscape beyond the palace's walls. The natural surroundings were made less natural with the introduction of symmetrical formal gardens marked by neatly trimmed hedges, ponds, and fountains. As a tribute to the Sun King^^^, S and I took advantage of the sunny weather to capture all that admist the sapphire blue sky.

Paris - collage_Versailles

We left the classical Versailles for the modern La Defense while the noon sun was still high in the sky. At the business district around La Defense, we had a simple lunch of baguette sandwiches before approaching the monument itself. Just as simple, with clean straight lines, the monument was nonetheless imposing because of its sheer size and height. So tall was it, that it took us numerous tries to capture the monument in its entirety.* Although we did not go up 35 levels to the observation platform at the top of the building, there was one more height that we had to scale in our last (touring) day in France before we bid au revoir to Paris.

Paris - collage_La Defense

S and CC went up the hill... or butte, as they call it here in France. Actually, it was S, CC and train-loads of other tourists. Arts and commerce thrives happily on the slopes of the butte with the influx of these tourists. Banking on Montmartre honky-tonk reputation and as an artists enclave, souvenir shops here peddle just about anything, from fridge magnets to French berets. As it was our last tourist stop, S and I ducked in and out of these shops as we slowly progressed up the hill. Just about midway up the hill, we took a funicular ride to the top of Montmartre where the Sacre Coeur church was. Material souvenirs aside, S and I were definitely bringing home (the more precious) mental images of the evening sun slowly setting across the City of Light. It was a painter's dream, no wonder so many of them made Montmartre their home, and Place du Tertre, their area of business. The small square of Place du Tertre was chockful of easels, paintings, artists, and tourists. Tourist that I am, I went from one display to another, intent on finding paintings of Paris that I could bring home to frame. Ironically, in the end I was won over by colourful watercolour paintings by a Hong Kong artist, who I bargained with in Cantonese! While this was not exactly a typical French experience, there was one which we had missed out on, which was to have our portraits drawn together by an artist in Place du Tertre. S and I agreed that we will do just that during our future visit to Paris, I'll even make sure that its a bonafide Frenchman!

Paris - Montmartre

With my watercolours in a plastic bag in one hand, and the other hand clasped around S's, I was happy to start going downhill. We made one last photo stop at the Moulin Rouge to take photos of the infamous windmill rotating behind us. It was however, hunger and tiredness that helped propel us back to Montparnasse, where we had our final French dinner. I made it a point to have a typical French fare.. Salade Nicoise! While the monsieur of my vie** had Croque Monsieur.***

Paris - collage_Montmartre2

^The Treaty of Versailles of 1919 is the peace treaty created as a result of six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 which put an official end to World War I between the Allies and Central Powers. -
^^The most famous room at Versailles is the 71m-long (233 ft.) Hall of Mirrors, built to link the north and south appartements (apartments). Begun in 1678 by Mansart in the Louis XIV style, it was decorated by Le Brun and his team with 17 large arched windows matched by corresponding beveled mirrors in simulated arcades, plus amazing chandeliers and gilded lamp bearers. The vaulted ceiling is covered with paintings in classic allegorical style depicting key episodes (some of them lavishly embellished) from the life and career of Louis XIV. On June 28, 1919, the treaty ending World War I was signed in this corridor. Ironically, the German Empire was also proclaimed here in 1871. - Frommer's
^^^ Louis XIV, known as The Sun King (French: Le Roi Soleil) and as Louis the Great (French: Louis le Grand), ruled France for seventy-two years — a longer reign than any other French or other "major" European monarch. -

*You'll notice nets rigged along the Grande Arche. When pieces of Mitterrand's grand projet started falling to the ground, they were erected to catch the falling fragments. - Frommer's
** Happy VIIII Month Anniversary to the man of my life. Je t'aime!
*** The croque-monsieur, a hot ham and cheese sandwich served in the bistros and cafés of Paris. -