Friday, July 3, 2015

France Day 14: Kings, Queens and Guillotines

Of the many French/about France movies we watched before coming here, Marie Antoinette was our favorite. Not only is it really good, but it also was actually filmed at Versailles. So we were excited to get up early and drive 45 minutes to the palace (above).

On our way, we saw this vintage French hot air balloon taking off!

Versailles was home of French Kings for about 100 years. Louis XIV spent 50% of the tax income from the people of France (!!!) to build it and outfit it with some of the finest art in the world. Then his son and grandson (Marie Antoinette’s hubby) spent similar amounts to expand it and re-decorate it. This spending led to the French Revolution in 1789, when the people of France were like “eff you, royal family!”

After we passed through the golden gate topped with crowns and 100,000 gold leaves, we entered the chateau. It is ridiculously lavish, and was insanely crowded, stuffy and hot. We rushed through and saw many of the rooms. Our favorites were the:

Chapel where Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette were wed:

Queen’s Bedchamber where Marie slept, had “relations” with Louis, and gave birth to her children – all of which were witnessed by the court, to make sure everything was legit:

The Hall of Mirrors where royal balls were held:

And tons of rooms with endless paintings and gold leaf:

As we walked, I asked M which side of the Revolution she would have been on. She said she “definitely would have been BFFs with Marie Antoinette -- hanging out, trying on gowns, eating cakes, getting our hair done.” We both agreed that I would have been a revolutionary. M didn’t even hesitate to say, “Mom, you would have been one of the people outside screaming ‘BURN IT DOWN’!” Smart kid.

Speaking of cake, we were tired and hungry so we went to Angelina inside the palace and had a rose shaped pastry. M spent a long time contemplating what made it so red. 


The best part of Angelina was the bathrooms sign. Ha!

Next we walked outside to see the gardens. And holy crap are they HUGE. It would easily take an hour to walk the length of the garden to the grand canal. We walked around for a bit, but got so overheated that we decided to spend $13 to take the Petit Train to the back of the property to see Marie Antoinette’s Trianon Palace and her hamlet. Even the train ride was hot. I spent the whole time mumbling, “stupid king! Why did your property have to be so gigantic?!  Was this really necessary?!” M kept laughing at her mother, the revolutionary.

We arrived at the Trianon Palace, where Marie retreated to avoid the hustle bustle of the main chateau. It is much smaller in scale, yet still pretty swanky.

Here is M with Marie:

I told them both that if I had lived then, and had to put up with this kind of heat, in those kind of clothes, with no AC or ice – I would pray for the guillotine!

Here is Marie’s bedroom in the Trianon, which you should scroll up and compare to her bedroom in the palace – because it really is quite normal by comparison. 

She craved a much simpler life. Which is why she had the hamlet constructed:

Marie longed for simple country pleasures, so she ordered that her servants build this adorable little farm village, where she could relax and get away from the fast pace of the palace.

M and I feel sorry for Marie. She was only 14 when she was forced to marry Louis XVI. She never made any choices about her own life – it was all forced upon her. The French blamed her for the excesses and spending of the royals, but that all started generations before she was queen. She really longed to be a peasant girl, not France’s last queen.  Yet she lost her head on a public square in Paris, in front of cheering crowds. Even though I would have been a revolutionary – that still doesn’t seem right. And it appears that France has forgiven her as well, and made her a bit of a folk hero.

Because we kind of love her, M bought a Marie Antoinette iPhone case, and we headed back to Paris.

Tomorrow: Last day in France!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

France Day 13: We see dead people

This morning, we walked across the street to this adorable patisserie, just steps outside our door, to grab breakfast. This is why I love Paris. These are on nearly every street corner!

Then we picked up tickets for the L’Open Bus and headed for the catacombs. (This bus truly is the best way to get around Paris. For $32, you get a full day of hop-on, hop-off privileges, and there are 5 different lines that go all over the city. You can ride on the open top, which looks dorky, but allows you to see way more than you would on the Metro. They provide a free audio guide to what you are seeing as you pass it.)

Now, let me rewind 6 months to share the great Catacombs debate.  When planning this trip, I told M the one thing I want to see is the Catacombs. She said, “no way, not happening, nope, nada, NON!”  She told me that she didn’t want to see dead bodies. I told her I would leave her in the hotel and go alone if I had to. We had this conversation about once a week, for 6 months. Today was finally the day. She went, but wasn’t happy about it.

Neither was I once I saw the line. We arrived early, but still had to wait 2.5 hours in the hot sun. I don’t think I’ve ever even waited in line at Disneyland for 2.5 hours! M and I took turns standing in line, while the other sat nearby in the park.  When we finally entered, we had to go down a really skinny spiral staircase that appeared to go close to the center of the earth. It was dark, damp and cold – only 53 degrees! As we walked through the narrow corridors, M said to me, “Grandma is going to be SO MAD at you!” I guess Grandma was team No Catacombs!

"Stop! This is the empire of the dead!"

The Catacombs are awesome because they are totally unique to Paris. In the late 1700s, the cemeteries here were positively overflowing, and causing a public health hazard. Officials decided to dig up all the bodies in Paris’ cemeteries and move the bones to abandoned rock quarries underneath the city. 

They stacked them in sections, marked with a sign designating which cemetery they had come from. 

There are more than 5 million skeletons in the Catacombs! You have to walk for 2km underground to see them all (and to get out).  

When it was over, M said, “I am glad we did that. It was cool.”  Yes!! Moms love vindication.

As we climbed 100 steps back to the surface, she said, “Mom, if you don’t get me food soon, they are going have to add my bones to the pile.” So dramatic!

So we grabbed lunch at a café, then hopped back on the bus to go to the Louvre. Last time we were in Paris, we didn’t do the Louvre. It looked exhausting and M prefers shopping, while I prefer more macabre sightseeing ventures, and food.  But this time, we decided it was a must. So we descended into the pyramid and followed the hoards to the Mona Lisa. Ok, it’s pretty cool that she is 500 years old. But other than that – meh. 

I was much more impressed by the actual building (which used to be a palace) and its beautiful ceilings. We saw the 2200 year old Winged Victory sculpture, the Venus de Milo, and a million paintings. My feet hurt – a pain that could only be cured by Laduree.

I mentioned previously that we LOVE the macarons from Laduree – so we trekked over and bought a box. Since we were in the neighborhood, we hit the giant and incredibly glamorous Galleries Lafayette department store to try to find new light dresses to wear in tomorrow’s heat. But we were broke from our Laduree spending spree, so we moved over to H&M instead, and each bought the airiest dress we could find.

We then decided to take the full circuit on the bus tour to see the Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, and other beloved landmarks – because it had finally cooled down and the breeze felt nice atop the bus. Just as we neared our hotel, a bird flew overhead and pooped on M’s arm! I told her that meant we would have good luck for the rest of the trip.  She was not impressed.

For dinner we walked to a Brasserie and ate chicken, mashed potatoes, salad and chocolate mousse. We watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle from our hotel room window, and hit the hay.

Tomorrow: Versailles!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

France Day 12: It's Getting Hot in Here!

We started our day walking to a café in Strasbourg, where we had croissants shaped like pretzels (seemed appropriate since we were near the German border in France!).  Then we had a 5-hour road trip to Paris. 

I will do a separate post after we return home about how AMAZING the French highways and rest stops are. 5 hours sounds tedious, but when the speed limit is equal to 87mph and every rest stop is an a amazing adventure – it’s not that bad!

As we neared Paris, the freeway signs read, “Fortes chaleurs! Hydratez-vous!” (Hot weather! Hydrate!)  I looked at the car thermometer and it read 41.5 degrees, which Siri informed me is equal to 106 degrees Farenheit! Wait, WHAT?! That can’t be right. I turned on the radio and thought I heard them say (my French is good, but not perfect) that "this is a record-breaking heat wave, and that it hasn’t been this hot since 2003 since all those people died.” That couldn’t be right…I needed English. So I Googled “Paris heat wave” on my phone. Turns out it actually hasn’t been this hot in Paris on any day in July since 1947. NINETEEN FORTY-SEVEN. And it chose to be that hot again on the 3 days that we are here. Fantastic.

We found the parking garage I had pre-reserved and dragged our luggage 3 blocks to the hotel. Did I mention it was 106-degrees? Fortunately, when we arrived, I realized I am mildly obsessed with Hotel Thoumieux. I will do a separate post on it too, because it deserves stand-alone attention. It is PERFECT. I can open our window, lean out, look left, and see the Eiffel Tower!

We started wandering, and went right to the Seine. We decided to hope on one of the Bateaux Mouches that tour the river, thinking that at least a moving boat would create some breeze, and we wouldn’t have to walk. These boats are usually packed. Today – not so much.

We saw the Eiffel Tower, Musee d’Orsay, Louvre, tons of gorgeous bridges, the Grand Palais, tons of people “beaching” along the Seine, and the fancy prison where Marie Antoinette was held before losing her head (below).

We put a “love lock” on the famous love locks bridge (Pont Des Arts) 2 years ago, so we’ve been following the story of how the city removed the locks because the weight was starting to make the bridge collapse. We saw how it is now boarded up, so people can no longer put on locks. 

But the funny and unexpected part of the cruise was that there are now locks EVERYWHERE on EVERYTHING else! LOL! Almost every other bridge now has them. You can’t keep the people down, France! If they want to express love by writing their names on a lock, placing it on something, and throwing the key into the river – damn it – they are going to do it! Here are 2 different bridges, now both completely covered with locks!...

We left the boat and walked to the Pont D’Alma tunnel where Princess Diana died. It is coincidentally the same spot where there is an exact replica of the Statue of Liberty’s flame. We had no idea, but today was Diana’s birthday! So a small memorial had popped up. (Also note the love locks! Haha!)

We ate dinner at the restaurant where President Obama and Michelle ate when they visited Paris (yes, that is how I picked places!). It was 9pm and still 96 degrees. We ate outside on the sidewalk and drank roughly 200 gallons of water.

Then we walked over to the Parc du Champs de Mars, under the Eiffel Tower. We sat on the grass, took tons of pictures, and waited for the light show on the tower at 11pm. Spectacular! M looked at me and said, “this is my favorite thing EVER.”

Sweaty and tired, we walked back hand in hand, talking about some day moving to Paris for a summer because we love it so much.
Tomorrow: The great Catacombs debate of 2015