Frankreich – Paris – Paläste

Today in Paris I opted to venture out largely on my own. Most of my fellow travelers had early flights back, and the few who did not decided they’d rather sleep in than join me for a full day of sightseeing. But Paris has a lot to see, so I decided to wake up early. Today I planned to hit two of the big sights in Paris – Versailles and the Louvre.

With no companions to travel with, I opted to take the shuttle provided by our hostel to get to Versailles. There may have been a slightly cheaper way to travel there, but given the convenience of the service I was fine with paying the small fee, especially considering that my EU-residency and age get me into the palace for free. We rode for about an hour in near silence – I took the time to listen to some audioguides for the sights I had seen over the past two days. We got to the palace and our driver explained the pickup time to us, and insisted on taking the following awkward picture of us:

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The three strangers I rode in a van with. That was the happiest the girl next to me looked in any of them.

We ran to the relatively short entry line and before long we were inside the palace. The grounds are massive, and without my audioguide I could see how easy it would be to get lost. Once you are inside the route is pretty well marked and restricted, but finding where to start took me a little while.

The Versailles Palace is the definition of luxury and opulence. Louis XIV wanted to consolidate power by showing his great wealth and status, attempting to elevate himself to godlike status. He branded himself the Sun-King, and the theme echoes throughout the decoration all around the Palace. The clock shown here is decorated like the sun, as are the gilded gates. I have to be choosy with what I show you here, lest this blog post go on forever. The palace was beautiful – I recommend it if you have a chance to visit Paris.

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The center of the palace was an old hunting lodge, later expanded with the wings shown here.
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The Palace chapel, where Louis sat in the balcony lording over his nobility.
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Louis fancied himself as a Roman emperor

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A bust of the king
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Me with all my friends in my future home 😀

I had to be pretty careful when taking pictures, as the walk-able areas were packed with tourists. Not to stereotype here, but I noticed a majority of the palace’s visitors were Asian. I found it curious that they made up the bulk of the visitors, but then again none of my American friends wanted to come with me to the palace, so maybe that says something.

Gold leaf seemed to line every nook and cranny, Fine art pieces laid out a theme for each room, usually with mythical or classical symbolism. War, diplomacy, plenty; each room had a purpose and a carefully crafted theme designed to send a clear message to anyone Louis was hosting.

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One of the “madam’s chambers” for a lady of the court. Someone liked music.
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The world-famous hall of mirrors.

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I ended up taking two “laps” of the main visitor route. I used the first one to listen to my audio-guide, and spent a little more time appreciating details the second time around. When I stepped outside back into the courtyard for the second time I noticed the entry line was at least 3-4x as long, which made me glad I had decided to aim for morning. Satisfied with the decadent interior, I turned towards the vast expanse of gardens behind the palace and went for a stroll. Louis used these gardens much like his palace, as a show of wealth and abundance as he entertained guests.

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The view of the palace from a large gathering area. The Hall of Mirrors lies centered on the second floor.
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The vast gardens seem to stretch forever
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The Colonnade is reminiscent of Roman structures

The garden’s centerpiece was a large fountain of Apollo. It’s fitting that the king chose the sun god as his depiction of himself, consistent with the rest of the imagery in the palace. Unfortunately, none of the fountains were running, and most of the plants were not in bloom, but nonetheless I was able to get a sense of what it must have been like as a hopeful noble, jockeying for favor in court and trading gossip. The gardens featured lots of carefully crafted Roman imitations – I suppose the king wanted to draw on the glory of Rome. After some exploration I made my way back to meet my ride, and around lunchtime I was headed back towards the hostel.

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The Fountain of Apollo, at the base of the hill, faces the palace

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At the hostel, I quickly assessed how much time I had before my train and decided a trip to the Louvre would not be a waste. Conveniently, I was near a metro stop on one line (7) that would take me to both the Louvre and to my train station when it was time for me to leave.

The Louvre was also a former palace, and was converted to a museum due to the French revolution. I had heard it was one of the largest art museums in the world, but seeing the wings of the palace sprawled before me was impressive, even if I had just come from Versailles. The Louvre is set up as 3 distinct wings, each of which could take me more time than I had. So without skipping a beat I set out for the Denon wing.

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The entrances to the wings of the museum are underground, lit by sunlight
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The crown jewels of France – pictured here, the Regent Diamond, at 140 Karats it is worth approximately $60,000,000
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Arguably the most famous classical Greek statue, the “Venus de Milo”

I was hurried, but managed to stop and appreciate some of the museum’s most famous works. I started with a tour of classical Greek sculpture, worked my way through Italian Renaissance, and also got a sampling of important French pieces. I won’t include all of the pictures here, most of the famous art has been photographed far better than I’d be able to capture.

I did go see the Mona Lisa, though I was more interested in the massive crowd of visitors around it than the piece itself. I feel like sometimes when something becomes sufficiently famous people want to go see it regardless of whether they appreciate it much. Seeing the painting, it was clearly a good work, but I’m not convinced it deserves all of the hype it gets.

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Her eyes follow you. Not pictured – hundreds of confused tourists
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“Lady Liberty” raises the French flag in this depiction of the Revolution.
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The oldest piece at the Louvre – estimated to be 9000 years old!

With that mentality, I left Denon and headed over to see some near-eastern art. It was far less crowded, and it was refreshing to see such an extensive collection of non-European pieces. By this point though, I was pretty tired, so I left a bit earlier than I needed to to wait for my train at the station, where I caught my high-speed return to Stuttgart and some needed rest.

Until next time – best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

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