Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Trains, Chateau at Fountainebleau, & A Walk in the Forest

The French rail system is quite amazing. Trains are always on time and handle many many travelers. Train stations in Paris are very busy places with thousands of travelers moving every direction, connecting to suburban trains and urban subways. It is quite efficient and a great way to travel. There is no need to have a car. A person can get anywhere they want to go.

We all went our separate ways today on a free day: some to the great gothic cathedral in Chartres, others to various sites in town. I took a train to Fountainebleau, a little shack that Henri IV put up out in the woods about 30 kilometers east of Paris. Walked around the gardens and then took a hike in the Fountainebleau forest, a favorite subject for French artists of the Barbizon school of landscape painters. It was a beautiful day as you can see.

Formal gardens with Chateau in the background.

Take a close look at the dog sculptures on this fountain featuring Diana, the huntress, and you'll see the kind of sense of humor the French have always had.

A few shots from my walk in the Fountainebleau forest.

This old overgrown cottage was back in the woods along a trail.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Portugese Parade

Some of the best things happen just by accident. We were eating lunch on Sunday near Bastille when we heard a marching band. It was some kind of Portugese special holiday parade. Several hundred costumed dancers and musicians paraded up the street playing drums, accordians, and castanettes, leading the way was a French brass marching band.

St. Eustache Eglise in the Rain

We started out the day visiting some architectural sites near the Pompidou Centre. St. Eustache has a gothic layout but classical/renaissance detailing. It rained most of the day but we didn't let that stop us! The group picture is outside of St. Eustache where a contemporary sculpture becomes a popular photo background.

Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Center

Our main destination for today was the Pompidou Centre, home of the French National Museum of Modern Art. Art from 1915 up to the present day is housed here. An amazing collection and variety of art work. Rooms dedicated to Picasso, Matisse, Alexander Calder, Man Ray, Duchamp, and on and on and on!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Orangerie: Monet's Waterlilies (Nympheas)

Luehrman reporting from Paris:
Today we visited a little gem called the Orangerie Museum. Back in the time of the "ancien regime" a pair of buildings were built in the Louvre Palace Gardens (the Tuileries) to house exotic plants, including orange trees and other citrus, during the coldest weather, thus the name "Orangerie." The Minutemaid company didn't exist back then evidently and the King wanted his orange juice squeezed fresh. Monet's penultimate works, his pair of 360 degree panoramic waterlily ensembles, are housed in this wonderful little museum, just newly remodeled and reopened last year. We had it all to ourselves this morning thanks to Chris Willey's good work scheduling our group appointments in advance before we left. The rest of the museum is filled with works from some of the great artists working in Paris during the first three decades of the 20th century, all assembled by and donated from the private collection of Juliette Walters who was married to Paul Guillaume, a Paris art dealer of that time. Many works by Renoir, Cezanne, Rousseau, Modigliani, Matisse, Picasso and others. A delightful stop on our journey!

As you can see from the pictures Chris published on here earlier, after the Orangerie, some of us visited the Chateau de Vincennes, a real castle on the edge of the old city of Paris that was one of the royal residences for the Kings of France off and on for nearly 400 years from the time of the 100 Years War (those pesky English!!) until the French revolution. The "Donjon" castle "keep" is the tallest in Europe. When the Kings weren't living there they turned it into a prison and imprisoned annoying writers in the bleak stone cells. And, speaking of annoying writers, if I don't shut up they might slap me in irons and find me a nice little stone room. I'm out!

We visited the Orangerie Museum and the Castle at the Bois de Vincennes Park on the outskirts of Paris. A rainy, cold day.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Les Invalides

Les Invalides started out in the late 1600's as Louis XIV's effort to seem like a good egg by building an old soldiers' home for all the guys he was sending off to war who were lucky enough not to get killed but unlucky enough to be crippled. He made arrangements to pay for it by taxing his current soldier salaries--so much for generosity! He had the top architects of his era work on the design. The "Hotel" for the soldiers came first (Liberal Bruant), Louie then told Hardouin Mansart to throw up a little something that matched the glory of his (remember he's the modest one who referred to himself as "the Sun King") reign. In 1706 Mansart added the Church of the Golden Dome so the Sun King would have a roof over his head when worshiping with his soldiers (although they had to sit in a separate attached chapel). In 1840 the French turned the church into a tomb for Napoleon. It is quite beautiful inside, a very inspiring space. Part of the complex is still used as a residence for old soldiers, but much of the space is used for military museum exhibits on all eras of French history--quite interesting and well designed displays.