And a "warm embrace" from Anica's grandparents!
04.21.2008 14 °C
I never knew the charm of spring
I never met it face to face
I never knew my heart could sing
I never missed a warm embrace
'Till April in Paris, chesnuts in blossom
Holiday tables, under the trees
April in Paris.."
A family "triomphe." Out with Anica's grandparents in Paris, April 24
There it is!
But first, Vimy Ridge: the battleground where Canada came of age. Today we visited this place on our way to Paris. It turned out to be even more impressive and interesting than I imagined. At first, the cold wind was such that Anica barely wanted to walk from the parking lot to the monument. But it died down somewhat, thankfully, and we began to enjoy ourselves.
It was weird being on "Canadian soil," with the Canadian flag flying, and the familiar Government of Canada logos on signs. Quite an introduction to France! It was more poignant than usual because we've been out of our mother country for over eight months now.
Not constantly poignant, though. We had comic relief from an English school-tour group. They were answering worksheets. We overheard: "That's because this is Canadian soil, you #*&!@^%." And, our favourite exchange: "Look at that statue of the assassin." "That's not a bleeding assassin, it's the Virgin Mary, you wanker!" Ah, the learning moment. How beautiful.
Detail from the Vimy Ridge monument (note: she's not an "assassin")
In World War I, 91 years ago this month, Canada's four divisions fought together, under Canadian command, for the first time. They took the Vimy Ridge, something the French and English hadn't been able to do in two years. Although it was a futile few kilometers of gained ground, the world took notice. Although we won the battle, we paid the price of close to 3,000 lives. The striking, clefted, white-stone monument was designed in the 1920s and has just been restored. It is an awesome sight.
What surprised us is the visitor's centre, which is also expanded, and staffed with Canadian university students. Outside it are a series of reconstructed trenches, and hundreds of mounds and bomb craters. Electric fences still carry a warning of undetonated charges - almost a century later!
We got a special treat, just because we asked. For five of us, they opened up the "subway" and gave a tour. There are many miles of underground tunnels - much safer and more secretive than the equally extensive trenches, and a huge section has been made safe for visiting. We couldn't help compare to the Cu Chi Tunnels we crawled through in Vietnam. These are much bigger, and better made. Even in 1917 there was electricity in most of them. There was a (literal) underground railroad. More money and resources still meant building tunnels and waging war...just better tunnels.
Part of the underground war at Vimy Ridge
Seeing Vimy Ridge and Tyne Cot brought the history of the Great War alive to me more than I've ever done for my students. I hope I can take back to my classroom a fraction of the spine-tingling respect and sorrow I've felt these past few days.
Later in the afternoon we arrived at Croissy-Sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris, where we'll be staying for a week. The apartment is kind of "seventies," but the town's nice. And it's close to Paris. And it's Spring!
Paris! What a city. And what a first day we had in it. We exhausted ourselves, especially Anica. We've written on the blog about her legendary stamina, but today it reached its limit and she was just looking for the next place to sit down by the afternoon. Still, very little whining though, and no tantrum of any sort.
Anyway, it was the fault of the Museum Pass and our enthusiasm. The Museum Pass is something I'd strongly recommend if you're going to Paris. We got the 2-day one (it also comes in 4 and 6). It's 30 Euros each, and then all sorts of places are free after that. And the best part is you go straight in; no waiting in line. That really helped us today.
We bought our passes at the Arc D'Triomphe. We'd successfully found our way into the centre of Paris by RER and Metro. When we came up the stairs, the Arc appeared - the very first thing we'd laid eyes on in Paris. It is the most massive example of this kind of arch or gateway - bigger than Berlin or Rome, for instance. Twelve streets radiate out from it. The original "unknown soldier" with eternal flame is there. La Defense is visible down one of them. The Eiffel Tower is partially visible. I'll never forget Anica's exclamation: "Is that Eiffel Tower? It is!" She sounded so excited!
With our pass, we were able to climb to the top (here the exhaustion factor begins). Then we walked down the Champs D'Elysee. Exhilarating, but exhausting, of course. We window-shopped luxury items, and shopped for more realistically-priced goods. A CD at Virgin Megastore, and at the Peugeot store, a miniature version of our own silver Peugeot 207. Can't take the real one home! We had lunch at Place de Concorde, lunch being "hot dog fromage," yummy and (relatively) cheap. We just ate sitting out on the square.
Then we crossed the Seine to the Musee D'Orsay, the art gallery best known for its Impressionist collection. The Museum Pass worked its magic and we waltzed in past a huge line. So many of the paintings in the Orsay I use in my European history course, either to make a point, or just to teach the art history itself. Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin - they're all here. They also have "Whistler's Mother," which we know is a copy because Mr. Bean ruined the original (she's a "mad old cow"). Anica liked the Degas sculpture of the little ballerina girl. And the Van Gogh work still is mesmerizing. The Renoirs really shine: "Country Dance," and "Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette"
A Renoir we all loved - the original shimmers with light
Anica was able to appreciate the difference of the Impressionist art, because we've seen so much Classical and Renaissance art. On the ground floor, I was really glad to see the everyday life scene of Millet's "Angelus," and Daumier's "The Laundress," among others.
That was the big stop for today, but, since they were so nearby...we also went to the Rodin Museum and Napoleon's Tomb. We only did the outdoor garden part of the Rodin, and the sun had come out. The draw there is "The Thinker."
Anica says he's thinking: "where are my clothes?"
Then Napoleon's Tomb - he himself would love it. His coffin is the largest I've ever seen and is visible from above the crypt as you stand under the huge "Hotel de Invalides" dome that shines in gold leaf outside. After seeing that, we had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe Paris (partly to reward Anica for her patience) and took the trains back "home."
Napoleon compensates for his size even in death!
The Louvre was our day today. No lining up; thank-you Museum Pass. We got Anica this book called "Discover The Louvre - Together" where there's picture cards for her as an "Adventurer," added info for the parent to read/share, and then an activity section for Anica afterward. It was a big hit, and got us to the far reaches of the Louvre. We saw the archaeological foundations of the old medieval castle in the basement (these were just excavated in 1984), Assyrian and Egyptian galleries, the Mona Lisa, and more. We spent some extra time with the paintings, particularly the big French masterpieces ("The Raft of the Medusa" by Gericault, "Liberty Leading the People" by Delacroix, etc.).
Anica begins her Louvre "adventurer" quest
And of course the Mona Lisa. It was like being in a mosh pit, really. And everyone was taking pictures, many with flashes, despite the warnings. Anica got a closer look than anyone else, because we knew to request the children's spot, but she was too self-conscious to stare at it for long because about 200 people were standing behind her at the railing. On the positive side, Jenn said be sure and tell people that it's not that small a painting; that it was actually larger than she thought from all she's heard. As for me, I thought the colours were stronger and the background landscape more distinct than I'd seen in any reproduction.
Mosh Pit de Mona Lisa
The Louvre has 30,000 objects on display, so, while we did see the "Venus de Milo" and Michaelangelo's "Dying Slave," there were many other things we didn't see. Even I ran out of energy and enthusiasm eventually. You can't even see all the paintings in one day, let alone every gallery. When we went outside, the sun had come out and the temperature around 20 degrees (about the same as Toronto, we hear!) and we enjoyed seeing the Pei Pyramid, fountains and the Caroussel arch.
Pei and the sky
We've developed a saying on this trip, almost a family motto (our previous one was: I love you anyway...): "You can't think all the time." (apologies to Descartes). Today, we must have taken the whole day off from thinking. No great consequence, just much inconvenience. Today we went to Versailles. We didn't get full directions (so a 10 km drive became 30 on the way home), we didn't get advance tickets (so instead of waltzing in, we waited in line for 90 minutes), we didn't check out the parking options (so instead of an expected 5 Euros, it was 11). Versailles will be remembered in our family for waiting in line and walking great distances.
It's hard to say, then, if our consensus that Vienna's Schonbrunn was better is all that objective. What I liked best about Versailles was that we had great weather, and the time we spent in Marie Antoniette's "domain" really helped us understand her escapist fantasies. They've preserved her play village perfectly, and Anica thought it was hilarious that she played at being a milkmaid there. It's pretty, quaint, and so obviously "fake" that it has a unique look.
The first view of the gardens and Grand Canal is overwhelming. Some things are even bigger than you imagine. It's actually 3.5 km to the back of the canal. We walked all the way to Marie Antoniette's domain and back, so that's several kilometres.
Looking from the gardens down the Grand Canal
The Palace itself, though impressive, was quite crowded and not served well by the uninspired audio guide. The Hall of Mirrors, for example - perhaps they should have mentioned the Treaty of Versailles, 1919? The audio guide even ended before the mammoth Napoleon coronation painting, so we learned nothing new about it.
We're exploring our own town, Croissy-sur-Seine, as well. It's where the Impressionist painters did a lot of there, and is not far from Giverny, Monet's favoured spot. Along the Seine, across the street from us, is a long pathway. There are display boards of impressionist work (i.e. here's where Renoir painted the...). There's a church that dates to the 12th century. Anica was amazed that it's as old as Angkor Wat, and has not been ruined nor abandoned through all these centuries. Cherry blossoms are everywhere in the grounds of our building. There's a "biblioteque" next door, which we peeked in just before closing today (hey, we never pass up a library or bookstore, do we?). We're very happy with the location, and although the apartment wasn't clean when we arrived, the owners have since made up for it. They apologized, and will fire their cleaners (we were horrified at that, but apparently it wasn't the first complaint), and even brought us flowers.
Front lawn of our apartment building in Croissy-sur-Seine
Somewhere in Paris...are my parents. We won't see them until tomorrow, though, as they need a day to recuperate from overnight flight jet lag. It's weird to think we could have run into them today!
We'll think of this as our Eiffel Tower day. It is one of those experiences that lives up to the hype. There's a line-up to buy tickets, a line-up for the first elevator (like a funicular, really), and a line-up for the second elevator. But as soon as I got on that second elevator, all the touristy hassles were forgotten. Looking out the window of that elevator, it's like you're outside - there's no building - just a few steel beams. Over a hundred years after it was built, it's still a unique experience.
The views were great, 1000 feet up on the third level, and on the inside deck Anica enjoyed the signs pointing to different places on the globe, as in Singapore this way, 10 405 km, etc. So many places we've been to this year!
Jenn and I both thought: it's brown. The Eiffel Tower is brown, not black. Why does it always look black? It's not even a particularly dark brown.
Looking up Eiffel
We walked down from the second level to the ground, 400 feet. Standing under the legs helps you realize how huge it is. Then we crossed the Seine and looked at the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero park.
Earlier in the day, we'd toured Notre Dame Cathedral, the Ile de Saint Louis, along the Seine and through the Latin Quarter. We loved Shakespeare and Co. Books, the most eccentric bookstore we've ever seen (and English-language too).
Almost nine months since we left home, we rendez-voused (that's French) with my parents today in Paris. We were glad they made it, and glad for that matter we made it, too. We met them at their hotel, near Pont Neuf. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we had a lot of catching up to do, so naturally we headed for the Catabombs?!? Actually, it was our idea; something none of had seen. It sure was creepy - hundreds of thousands of bones and skulls. It's a huge walk under the streets of Paris. When we emerged, we were nowhere near the Metro station we'd started at. The rest of the day was spent in restaurants and walking the streets - Champs d'Elysees again, the other side, this time.
A few of the bones in the Catacombs
What I missed most from home was seeing my parents, and it was so exciting to be able to share our experiences on this trip in person. And to create new ones! All of us were energized by meeting up with them. Next we drive and they take the train to the Dordogne region where we'll spend a week together.
Today we went to Paris. On the way we stopped at Vimmy Ridge. We saw the Canadian War Memorial which is a huge sturctchere with a lot of barenaked peple and two sides: one represinting France the other: Canada. I coulden't believe that we were on Canadian owned ground! It just seems so cool! Then we went to the trenches and tunnels. But before that we went to the visitors informatin center where after watching a movie and looking at the informatin about: the trenches, the tunnels and the monument, the lady at the desk gave me a bag with two newspapers, two pins, a flag, a boo mark and two pamphlet guides. We went on the tour after we saw the huge trenches and the bomb craters. This tour apart from the more-than-one-day ones, was my favrite one on the trip. Our guide was great, the underground was amazing and the whole thing amazing! We had lunch at a petrol statin, arrived, got grocieries, went home, had dinner, G.N.!
Today we went to Paris. We went by train from our station Chateu-Croissy to Charles De Gule. Half of the stops were outside, half like a metro. When we got to Charles de Gule we went to the arc de triomphe which translates into: Arch of triumph. It is so big! Plus where we are standing at the side of the arch I suddenly go: oh-my-gosh is that the Eifell Tower! Yes! It is so big! We got museum cards and went to the top of the arch where we had even better views of the tower! We then walked down the Champs Elysay where I bought a miniature Pegout 207 and a Pink (rock band) CD. We saw the Tuleries (just by going right in front of the gate not even going in) before having a lunch of fromage hot dogs! Went to the Musee D'Orsay where my favrite paintings were: hmmm I'm thinking I don't really have one. I diden't like the Musee D'Orsay that much! One I might have liked was a not-Egyptian Isis pouring fire from her brests. Hmmm. Godess of Beauty or Godess of fire dropping from your breast? Went to the statue garden at the Rodin, saw Napoleon the first's tomb, had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe Paris, went home, G.N.!
"The Louvre...and the (not) postage stamp sized Mona Lisa"
Today we went to the Louvre. It was not that busy, though! It might of been because we had museum passes. Or just luck, But, boy, it was still busy! First we saw a area called Khorsabad Court which had these weird god like animal/human things called Lamasuu. And King Sargon was the one they were protecting. And the king's so strong he can strangle a lion! We saw a statue of Charlemagne on his horse. We also saw: his crown, sword, spurs and sceptor. After that, we saw Napoleon the 3rd's apartments. It was very interesting and looked very royal. After the dining room we then saw "victory of Samothrae" which was a o-my-gosh-she-is-not-barenaked statue. Then we saw the gallery of Apollo which translates into Greek God of sun or Louis XIV gallery. In the middle there's a picture of Apollo killing the snake Python. Then we saw the world famus Mona Lisa! I was so lucky for children (the adults were roped off) could go in front but 300 flashed behind me. I got out! Did you know someone stole the Mona Lisa? On August 22, 1911 the Mona Lisa was stolen by three Italians disgused as maintenance men. The public flocked to see the empty spot and they even left flowers. The Mona Lisa could not be found for two years! The thief Vincenzo Perugia had kept the painting in his tiny room near the Louvre. When he took the painting to Italy to try and sell it, he was captured in Florence. Wow! Had lunch, and saw lots more stuff, went home, had dinner, G.N.!
Today we went to Versailles. When we got there we had to stand in a lineup to buy tickets. Then we went on a walk to Marie-Antoinette's estate. On the way we had a lunch of sausage and fries and sandwiches. The gardens go forever! It took us 50 minutes to an hour including lunch to get to the Marie-Antoinette's estate. There we saw: the Petit Trianon, the temple of love (which turned out to be temple of hunting, war, death - the point is: anything exept love...) and lots more! We also saw Canadian looking geese, ducks and 100 or less/more fish! Walked back to the palace got two free I included audio guides and I gave up mine because it was so more boring than the Schonbrun! People are big meanies! A woman boofed (pushed) me with her big, fat purse, a woman pushes in front of everyone, people take flashes when no flash signs, men stop me from getting to Mom and Dad, etc etc...too busy! We went home, had dinner, G.N.!
Today we went to Paris. We first went to Notre Dame. What a big church! I really liked the stained glass! Big red windows! And everybody kept on taking pictures with flas when huge tapestry sizd posters say no flash! Then we went to a playground behind Notre Dame. It had a big circle thing, a swing, that's it. I really liked the big circle thing which you spin around. You get to the top and start going really fast! Only kids 7 and up could go on it so (luckily) I
A spinning Anica
After we found out we could not go to one of the memorials to the Jews, so we looked for lunch. I ended up having a ham omelette while they ate crepes. Then we went to the Eiffel Tower! Big! We took the elevator/funicular up and viewed Paris! Toronto was six thousand kilometres away! Went up to the outside part and saw very far away! Then we went down to the second floor and walked down (very fun), went back, had dinner, G.N.!
Today we met Nana and Grandpa! We met them at there hotel. Then after we met them we went to the Catacombs which went on forever, before we saw a big fancy tomb and went into another tunnel which beside you were skulls and bones of over 8 million people! It was a bit too long! Then we went to lunch. For lunch we had two croque monsieurs, two croque madames, and one contry ham sandwhich. Yum! Yum! and Yum! Then we went to the Champs Elysayss and had hiagon-das. Then we walked through the Tulreis garden, went pee in the Louvre. We had dinner, went home, G.N.! P.S. in the Tulires garden I played in the children's park