Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 19, 2011: Paris - Versailles, Giverny, Musée d'Orsay

Today was our big tour day - fitting in both Versailles and Giverny. Sure, it seemed crazy, but I figured we could only handle so much of a grand palace like Versailles, and that the smaller scale of Monet's gardens at Giverny would be a good contrast. Plus, the extra time on the bus would give us a chance to rest up and conserve our energy for a late night visit to the Musée d'Orsay, the only museum open late on a Thursday evening.

So we started off at 8am. We had scouted out our departure point the night before, so had no problem finding the bus. At Versailles we entered quickly, with little time spent in line (a bonus in going with a tour). We were given audio guide headsets in English, and left to our own devices for the next four hours. We preferred this to the guided tours we saw, where all the participants had to keep pace with their guide. Many of the rooms were crowded, so it was nice to speed through those and spend more time in the less crowded rooms, catching up on what we'd sped through by listening to the information on the audio guide. As we moved on to the less grand (but still impressive) Dauphin's apartments the space emptied out considerably, and we enjoyed listening to the details of what life was like living in the palace.

After visiting the palace we went outside and took the Petit Train around the grounds. The gardens are truly enormous, and it would have taken forever to walk the distance that we covered by train. In addition to the picnic lunch that we brought with us we also ate a delicious baked potato from a baked potato stand. Then we hopped back on the train to see some of the fountains (only turned on Saturdays - unfortunate) and then returned to the front to await our bus. We met some of our fellow tour participants (who recognized me by my red dress) - Americans on their second visit to Paris.

The bus was late arriving, which was unfortunate, as it cut into our time to visit Giverny. Also unfortunate was that the air conditioning on the bus had stopped working, making for a hot ride whenever traffic slowed down the wind. But Giverny was lovely - it was quite surreal to walk around in the setting of so many familiar paintings. And the garden was in full bloom - it is marvellous that this place that Monet worked so long on creating has been preserved and opened to the public. It's also a real contrast to Versailles, which was all trimmed and regimented greenery - Giverny is unbridled colour spilling over everywhere. There's a long underground tunnel to reach it from the parking lot; in the past there were problems with tourists dashing across the train tracks. I was also able to impress our new American friends with my ability to order ice cream in French.

In the evening we had another quick dinner at a brasserie, then a short visit to the Musée d'Orsay. Although we had less than half the time that we had at the Louvre, it was a better visit - the museum wasn't as exhaustingly large, and Mom enjoyed the more modern art collection. I also managed to sneak a surreptitious photo - they aren't allowed, but the beautiful interior (a former railway station, converted into the gallery) really deserved to be remembered.

The famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

Mom poses in front of one of the mirrors

A statue of Napoleon I

I love the checkerboard flooring - it emphasizes the immense distances

An enormous hall of paintings

Politicians' chairs (not thrones, although they're not far off)

A ceiling painting under restoration ends up with a pixelated effect

An amazing globe, with an exterior map of the world, interior map of the heavens, and a topographical relief representation of the world on an inner globe

A study with beautiful lacquer decoration on the walls
A view of the Palace of Versailles from across the enormous lawns

A fountain, beautiful even without the water in action

A swan had made itself a nest on one of the docks

A view through one of the ornate gates

 Rooftop decoration

A majestic alley of trees

A sheep herd huddles under a tree - Versailles still has aspects of a country farming estate 

Monet's house at Giverny

Fantastic peonies in bloom

Mom poses on one of the famous Japanese-style bridges

A close-up of a fantastic purple flower (I have no idea what it is)

Iconic view of waterlilies and a bridge (if only there weren't so many tourists in it...)

A rhinoceros sculpture by Alfred Jacquemart outside the Musée d'Orsay

My secret photo of the interior of the Musée d'Orsay

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