Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Daydreamer in Paris: Day 6


I let myself sleep in a little and slowly packed my suitcase to go home.  I said goodbye to my charming little hotel room and upon checking out, exchanged a few nice words with the man behind the desk. 

Wanting to soak up every ounce of Paris I could before I left, I returned to the Ille de St. Louise, eating a long, leisurely breakfast at the cafe next to the one I had eaten at the night before.  

Still having a half hour before I had to make my way to the train station, I took my suitcase out onto the Pont Louis Philippe where I had been seduced by the city just 12 hours prior.  I simply stood there, looking out over the city, a light breeze playing through my hair, sun warm on my back. 

Shadow Me...

 I knew I would return.  I already had a list for my next visit and while I could never live there (my love of Munich would never allow me, even if I could), I knew whenever I wanted to run away somewhere, it would be there.  The time finally drawing near, I made my way back to the Gare d’l Est, bidding farewell to the enchanting city that had swept me off my feet.

I may not have gotten the spark of genius for my great masterpiece, I may not have found the love of my life.  But at the very least, the experience of this trip made me...

The train carries me swiftly eastbound, my head still swimming with all that I have seen, smelled, tasted, heard, and felt.  The experience not only of a vibrant city of history, culture, and splendor, but that of doing it alone. I reflect on the delicious sensation of pure solitude and independence.  The feeling that the world belongs to you and only you because in that moment, your heart opens itself up and receives all that is good, giving back to the world all that is good in you.  Your thoughts and opinions on all that surrounds you are yours, uninfluenced by any around you.  You find yourself in the company of the real you. Not the you that you shape yourself into for the benefit of others, but pure, undiluted, untainted you.  And with delight, you find that that you is someone you actually like very much.  The trick now is to make her more present in your daily life.  There, she is most certainly welcome along for the ride.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Daydreamer in Paris: Day 5

Versailles and All is Full of Light

When I looked out of my window the next day, the sun was still a hint of orange paintbrush strokes on a broad canvas of pale blue.  Unsure as to how long the train out of the city to the Palace of Versailles would take, I gave myself an hour to make the journey.  As I handed in my room key for the day, the concierge from the night before quizzed me again on my room number and started a conversation with me in French.  It didn’t go horribly and he commented to his colleague how good my French was.  And who says the French aren’t kind?

Actually getting to the train to Versailles was a bit more complicated; once again, Parisian signage or lack there of at fault.  I eventually found my way on to the RER platform and managed to decipher the information on the screen (“VICKY” train to Versailles Rive Gauche).  Further down the platform, I noticed a girl and a guy speaking English and uncertainly consulting their map and the screen.  When I came closer to them, the girl attempted to speak French to me and looked like she wanted to hug me when she found out I spoke English.  Using our joint information, we confirmed we had the correct train and when it came, boarded together.  Ch and Br were from Vancouver, Br in IT, Ch in marketing.  I picked her brain a little about social network marketing....No working on while on vacation. I know.  Br had the Rick Steves book for Paris and read off some tips on getting around.  Br and Ch couldn’t stay long as they had other plans later in the day (“Rick would not approve.” quipped Br wryly).  Their trip had first taken them to London where they attended a friend’s Pakistani wedding, evidence on Ch’s hands where two beautiful henna tattoo could be seen, and decided to hop over to Paris for a couple days, staying at a friend’s apartment.

They had already booked a tour of Versailles for 9am which from our 9:05am arrival time at the station and a 5 minute walk to the palace didn’t seem too likely to happen.  As per Rick’s suggestion, we “followed the crowd” down the street, turned a corner and there in astounding splendor was the Palace of Versailles.

Ch, a wild Marie Antoinette fan, exclaimed enthusiastically about the locations where the “recent” movie was shot.  We got our pictures in front, and I made sure to get a picture of the Sun King himself.

Being that booking tickets beforehand was a frequent internet recommendation, the line for tickets was practically nonexistent, but that to the main entrance already snaked out in front of the golden palace gates.  But it moved quickly and soon we found ourselves inside.

Ch and Br wanted to see what had happened with their tour and I wanted a map of the place so we all fought our way to the Information desk.  The woman was very nice, suggesting a route through the grounds to the smaller palaces and even tipping me off to a bus that would pick me up on the grounds and bring me directly to the train station. In the middle of this, Ch and Br had waved to me and disappeared.  Since they were nowhere to be found when I finished at the info desk, I assume a tour had been found for them.

Picking up my audio guide, I began the tour of the Grand Palace at the chapel: a beautiful two story place with an organ at the back.

The hills alone were impressive and as I passed through the rooms, each was named for a Greek god, sculptures and paintings lining the walls.

Huge, painted murals adorned the ceilings, ornate gold and marble fireplaces, the morning sun shining softly through the windows.

Scattered throughout the palace and even on some of the grounds were sculptures by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos.  While modern, the pieces themselves were interesting and always a colorful surprise upon entering another room of royal finery.

But it was the Hall of Mirrors that really excited me.  A place I had only seen in text books, and as a teenager, wondering what it would be like to walk through such ornate halls.  The mirrors in particular were quite a wonder.  I had the suspicion that they made the object reflected appear much taller and thinner than in reality.

JUST like in my textbooks!

Taller and skinnier...don't you think?

At the end of the hall was another of Vasconcelos’ works.  This in particular was an interesting piece for the reasoning be hind it.  It was entitled Marilyn after the icon and was a pair of high heeled shoes made entirely of pots and pans.  A symbol of the dual stereotypical roles of women throughout the years.

After the Grand Palace, I took a little look at the quarters of the Dauphin and Dauphine.  One of the most interesting objects here was a  globe within a globe, a star chart engraved into the inside.

I love books...oh the dorkyness...

It's pretty cool, right?

The colors in this room were great!

This building thoroughly explored, I stepped onto the grounds to take a turn in the “Musical Gardens”.  Every Tuesday, one can walk the grounds to piped in music.  I didn’t know what to expect, fearing a rather kitschy experience, but was pleasantly surprised to find my stroll through the palace grounds accompanied by some very mood setting Renaissance and Baroque music.  One could almost picture themselves in a period film. 

The grounds were separated into 28 smaller gardens and fountains with 5 main central attractions leading up to the outer grounds, now a public park.

In order to save my poor abused feet and legs, I opted to prioritize and see the fountain attractions that looked particularly interesting.  These included a descending row of fountains, large pools of water with brass dragons and fish, charming grated archways, as well as the same in a white stone variety.  Immediate grounds sufficiently explored, I stopped at a cafe for a sandwich and Sauvignon Blanc (I always forget how much I like that variety of wine...)

Apollo: God of Music
Fed, watered, and rested, I continued on to the Grand Trianon, one of the smaller residences of Versailles.  This too came with ornate rooms and extensive grounds.

 The Petit Trianon, while smaller in itself, possessed a multitude of smaller structures on its grounds including Greek style temples, Garden houses, and small salons surrounded by stone piles simulating grottos.

But probably the most impressive feature of these grounds were Marie Antoinette’s “Hamlet”, a quaint constructed village complete with a working farm.  The houses looked like something out of a fairy tale with straw roofs, quaint chimneys, and stone siding.  Nearly each house had a functioning garden.  I couldn’t resist photographing the stunning rows of lettuce, herbs, artichokes, and real pumpkins!

Like something out of a fairy tale!

It's like a Harry Potter pumpkin!

Who knew artichokes could be so pretty?


Venturing still further, I came upon the animals.  Rabbits, roosters, chickes, cows, goats, even a heard of donkeys with one...very excited male who seemed intent on seducing one of the smaller females...and she was having none of it, kicking back at him, more often than not, landing one square in his face.  Seeing the persistent male simply not getting the hint, I uttered an “I feel ya, girl” under my breath in her direction and continued on.

These goats have the right was hot!

Poor donkey...

Around there I met a family from Australia who was currently living in Erlangen, Germany.  I spoke a bit of German with the father, who was trying to ignore his childrens’ pleas to leave.  “Paris is a hard place for kids.” his wife explained.   I had to agree, but said it was a shame the farm, which normally would be a bit more kid friendly, was located so far out into the grounds.

Actually making it inside the Petit Trianon, I toured the various rooms that once belonged to Marie Antoinette.

The kitchen.

Music room!

Marie's bedroom.
Marie and the Billiard room.

By this time, my entire body was crying out for a rest, but when I checked the times of the bus that should have taken me back to the station, I found it not coming for another 45 minutes.  Not fancying to simply wait around, I set off back in the direction of the palace. With 5 minutes before the bus would have even made it to that point on the grounds, I had dragged my exhausted self onto the train back to Paris, falling asleep almost immediately.

Somewhat refreshed from the nap on the train, I decided to take it a stop further, getting off at the Notre Dame once again to search for the other location of that ice cream parlor I couldn’t find the day before. My exhaustion and previous failed attempts had me feeling a bit dubious, but the sudden landing of a good luck ladybug on my sunglasses gave me the bit of hope I needed to press on.

After a bit of searching, I found myself on the Isle of St. Louis, an island on the Seine somewhat hidden by the splendor of Notre Dame.  There, I found the recommended ice cream and got a scoop of organic pear, salted caramel, and the most to die for chocolate I had ever tasted.  Finding the weather so pleasant, I took a seat on the ledge overlooking the Seine where I could also hear some light guitar playing from the bridge. The cafes across the street also looked like some good prospects for dinner, but for the moment, I contented myself with my ice cream, enjoying the flair of my surroundings.

Ice cream finished and a real hunger taking over, I decided on a cafe with a lovely view from its outdoor seating and some nice looking prix fixe menus that I had been meaning to try.  I ordered a carafe of Merlot and took my time before going all out and selecting a three course menu of foie gras, lamb chops with Provincial herbs, and a Tarte Tartine (fruit tart) for dessert.  For being so inhumane, I found the foie gras rich and delicious.  As I enjoyed it, I overheard the conversation of the english speaking couple sitting next to me.
    “I don’t know if I should have more wine.” said the woman.
    “Well, I will. There’s no harm in it.” said he.
    “Hey, it’s Paris.  I say go for it.” I interjected with a smile. 

A and C were from California and would spend a month in Paris.  They had become almost regulars at the cafe we were at and had a good relationship with the friendly staff.  C was a former teacher and now retired, was finally able to enjoy having the time to travel.  They both seemed very ready and willing to just enjoy life which I found so wonderful.  I got C’s email address to let her and A know about this blog, so if you guys are reading, Hi!  It was so great meeting you!

I was already full after the delicious lamb chops and au gratin potatoes, but I had wanted to go the extra mile and the Tarte Tatin turned out to be large apple halves soaked in some sort of brandy, caramelized by a flame, all on top of a dense pastry.  Ignoring the fullness of my belly, I finished it off, relishing every bite.  I ordered another glass of wine to watch the sunset by, basking in the beauty of the evening, marveling at where I was and feeling wonderfully content.

Foie gras...

Lamb chops...

Tarte Tatin...

Sunset over Paris...

I paid my hefty bill and sine the sun had gone down, decided to walk along the river to admire the city’s lights.  As I did, I saw droves of people picnicking on the banks of the Seine.  It certainly didn’t look as cozy as a picnic on the Isar, but there was a certain romance to it.

Strolling leisurely along, I crossed a bridge back to the Notre Dame where an electric guitar was playing a wistful, yet optimistic tune. It accompanied my walk under Paris lamplight perfectly.  The lights danced, a pair of lovers shared a kiss, the guitar played on....

Sure on this shining night, I weep for wonder
Wand’ring far alone with shadows on the stars.
-James Agee

Taking these thoughts with me, drinking in the stunning atmosphere around me, I headed back for my last sleep in Paris.