April 7, 2008

Museum Pass, Day 2: The Sun King and waterlilies

Posted in Exploring, Food, Travel, Visitors tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:00 pm by Lauren

I woke in the posh Marriott Champs-Elysees on the morning of Thursday, March 13. We determined that starting from the same spot would be useful in getting us to Versailles and back before my tutoring. We took the RER C, which was a logistical disaster, since we didn’t see the one helpful sign that shows which train to take for the possible five termini of this particular “line.” However, we were happy to save a buck by not taking a guided tour as we had in the past, and we located the palace very easily from the RER station.

We found the coupe-file entrance (museum passes let you skip the line) and entered, with a bit of confusion about where the tour began. Eventually we found the booth to rent audioguides and equipped ourselves. We started our tour in the chapel, then wound through the state rooms, admiring the details of the palace.

We lingered in the famed Hall of Mirrors, imagining the opulence of lining a room with mirrors at the time the hall was constructed.

Next we wound through the public bedrooms and the Dauphin’s (crown prince’s) wing, admiring luxurious fabrics, gilt molding, and fabulous objets d’art.

 

 

After touring the palace of Versailles, my parents and I emerged into the gardens. We bought tickets for the mini-train that ran down to the Trianons. Though I’d been to Versailles twice before, I’d never visited the Trianons or Marie Antoinette’s little village.

We wandered into Marie Antoinette’s hameau (hamlet) – Dad with slightly more urgency than Mom and I, as he was looking for a bathroom. In some ways, the little buildings reminded me of Popeye’s Village in Malta. Think about it. Both were built purely for entertainment. And like Popeye’s Village, Marie Antoinette’s collection of farm buildings seemed to be a caricature of what it was meant to represent. Hollywood had a rival in Her Frivolous Majesty.

We all enjoyed it. See the smile on Dad’s face? (Why is Bob smiling? You’ll have to ask him.)

No peasant’s hamlet would be complete without an assortment of wildlife, and we saw swans, bunnies, hens, a funny little goat, a sow with her belly low to the ground, more goats (some eating pine trees), and donkeys. What a little menagerie.

Afterwards, we visited the Grand Trianon. Normally there is an extra charge for the visit, but it too was included in our Museum Pass. It was much smaller, more manageable example of a decorative arts museum. To me, that meant, “Take lots of pictures of the curtain tassels.”

Our train ride back to the palace included small French children singing La Marseillaise (the national anthem) when they weren’t misbehaving.

We ate sandwiches on the RER back into the city, and we decided that I had time to run through Musee de l’Orangerie before tutoring. Monet donated two immense waterlily panels to the French state with very specific instructions on how to display them. Did he ever have the right idea! The Musee de l’Orangerie holds the two series in circular rooms, where they stretch along the circumference, illuminated by natural light from above. I could imagine sitting in those rooms throughout the course of a day, discovering new patterns and nuances in the colors.

But we only had 25 minutes before school let out (and I had to be there!), so we walked quickly downstairs. The lower level held the private collection of a couple of art collectors, with groups of paintings by some well-known artists (Utrillo, Degas, Cezanne). Though 25 minutes in a museum isn’t enough for true museum lovers, it is perfect for me. I am the type of person who likes to drift through a museum letting each object pull me along. When my mind or my eyes begin to wander too much, it’s time to go. I like to soak it in, rather than to soak in it.

At the metro, we parted ways. I went to tutoring and showed Mom and Dad which station to take to visit the Musee Rodin. They wandered the gardens until they were kicked out. At the very last, the groundskeeper stood himself between Dad and the Gates of Hell as Dad tried to take a picture. I’m guessing the groundskeeper didn’t see the humor in that. Then my parents moved on to the Musee d’Orsay, which has extended hours on Thursdays. (Because the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay stay open until 9:45 pm on Wednesday and Thursday respectively, these are the best two days for the consecutive two-day Paris museum pass.)

I met my parents at Musee d’Orsay after tutoring. We scrapped plans to go to the Eiffel Tower that night because it was raining. Instead, we opted for dinner. Do not let it be said that we don’t appreciate our food. (Actually, this particularly implicates me.) The restaurant of choice for the night was AOC, where we spent the last of our money. (I’m kidding. Sort of.) For an appetizer, we shared an order of white asperagus, and Mom and I sipped the house aperitif. For our main courses, Mom and I had scallops (Saint Jacques), Allen had the suckling pig, and Dad had the assiette rotisseur. That restaurant is certainly a treat. And with that, we ended the night before my parents’ last day in Paris.

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