Tunnels of Bones And Tributes At Tombs

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GOING INTO THE CATACOMBS OF PARIS MAY NOT BE FOR EVERYONE

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We had only a few days left in Paris and on Tuesday we decided to crisscross the city to see a few of the locations that weren’t on the Museum Pass (which had expired anyway).  Today’s blog is devoted to two of those three sites; the Catacombs of Paris and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.    I want to put a bit of a warning on today’s blog … although there is no graphic content, some of these photos are of bones … the true remains of people who were once living and breathing.  If that bothers you, perhaps skim past to the lower section of this post, where we paid  homage at the monuments  of Pere Lachaise to some of the people who had been laid to rest in a more dignified manner.

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ARRIVING EARLY AT THE CATACOMBS IS ESSENTIAL UNLESS YOU HAVE A RESERVATION

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The Catacombs of Paris are a decidedly strange attraction.  The entrance at 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy could be easily bypassed were it not for the line which forms early in the morning.  While it is possible to go to the official web site and book tickets in advance, the cost of a reserved time is considerably more.  If you book a tour, be aware that the tour cost doesn’t include the admission fee to the Catacombs as these tours are done by an outside company.  For us, we were simply curious to see the stacked bones in traditional ornamental fashion.  We hadn’t really thought much past that.

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THIS IS OUR SPOT IN LINE ARRIVING AT 9:00 AM.  THE ENTRANCE IS AROUND THE CORNER.

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We arrived at a restaurant across the street at about 8:00 AM and had a leisurely breakfast (our first American style breakfast of our trip with bacon, sausage and eggs), and at 9:00 AM we joined the line for the opening 60 minutes later.  Even after the site opened, they only let 20 people in at a time to space out the visitors, and while that is happening, tours and people with timed tickets can go in ahead of you.  If you arrive later than 10:30, a wait of 3 to 4 hours to get in is not uncommon, so arriving early is a good strategy if you haven’t booked a reserved time. To look at the various prices, go to the official web site at http://www.catacombes.paris.fr/

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AT FIRST, HEADING DOWN INTO THE UNDERGROUND WORLD SEEMED FUN

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After going past the entrance door, we paid our admission and headed down a curved set of stairs that takes you 60 feet underground.

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THE ROOF GETS LOWER AND THE LIGHT STARTS TO GET A LITTLE DIMMER

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Once you reach the lower tunnels, you begin the walk through stone-lined paths in fairly well lit conditions, but as you continue on, the tunnels get narrower and the light gets dimmer.  The path that you take will cover 1.5 kilometres, and this is not a circle route.  In fact, when you exit the Catacombs you come out at 36 Rue Remy Dumoncel almost a half a kilometre away from where you entered .  This is useful to know so you can orient yourself to your next destination after you have left the tunnels below.

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THE TUNNELS ARE DAMP AND LONG

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After walking for about a half a kilometre, you come to the entry to the ossuary for the bones.  In the late 1700s, the cemeteries of Paris were overcrowded, and there was simply no place left to bury more people.  There is a complicated history, but the short story is that burial grounds in central Paris were condemned, and it was decided that the best solution was to exhume the bones of those buried over the past 1200 years from the six central cemeteries, and place them in an ossuary in the catacombs, stacking the bones in a ceremonial fashion.  The Catacombs Of Paris Ossuary now houses the remains of over 6 million people.  What you are about to walk through is … people … stacked side by side, on top of one another, with various bones from their bodies scattered in crypts, vaults and along passageways.

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paris-2016-1208 THIS SIGN READS YOU ARE INVITED NOT TO TOUCH ANYTHING, AND THERE IS NO SMOKING IN THE OSSUARY

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When you enter and exit the tunnels, you are searched.  Believe it or not, visitors in the past have removed a human skull to take as a souvenir.

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INITIALLY THE PATTERNS ARE AMAZING.  THE WALLS ARE PILED FROM FLOOR TO CEILING WITH BONES, THE LONG BONES STACKED SUPPORTING THE SKULLS IN ROWS

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COLUMNS OF BONES CAN BE FOUND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PATHS

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So here’s the thing about doing this walk.  After a short time, it sets in that these were real people.  The skulls show unique features through the eyes and jaws, and you realize, I paid money to stare at the bones of real people.  It starts getting a bit … macabre.

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SOME OF THE VAULTS ARE NOT SO NEATLY STACKED AND GO BACK OVER 75 FEET

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Eventually it becomes overwhelming, and you come to areas that are literally piles of bones tossed into an area.

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LONG BONES STACKED ON TOP OF ONE ANOTHER

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We started taking pictures for the first 15 minutes, and then … it just felt … wrong.  We were done with the ossuary, but it wasn’t done with us.  Remember how I said it was a one way passage?  We still had 3/4 of a kilometre to walk to get out … past the remains of millions of people.  We watched as people posed their children beside formations of skulls like it was the entrance to a Disney ride … but it wasn’t.  And now we know … we don’t ever have to go back.  For those with a morbid curiosity, you may find this site of great interest, or perhaps you are an anthropologist with an interest in how the bones were stacked and what you can learn about the individuals from their remains, but for us … we felt uncomfortable and were glad to make it out into the open air.

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AFTER A MORNING UNDERGROUND, IT WAS TIME FOR LUNCH

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We were truly in need of a bite of food and a nice glass of wine and  to make us feel better we added on dessert at this little cafe right near the Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

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THE PERE LACHAISE CEMETERY IS LIKE A SMALL CITY

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Unlike our morning adventure, the afternoon trip through the Pere Lachaise Cemetery was very pleasant.  There are walking tours that you can take, but our schedule on this day was sporadic and we decided to try and locate the various tombs and monuments of some of the people we wanted to pay tribute to on our own.  We got a map, and set out on a quest to visit a number of artists we admired.   The cemetery is filled with narrow cobbled streets and literally hundreds of thousands of monuments.   Each numbered section on the above map has anywhere between 500 and several thousand markers.

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THE GATES OF PERE LACHAISE REVEAL LITTLE OF WHAT LIES BEYOND

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IN SOME AREAS, WIDE AVENUES STRETCH OUT BETWEEN THE TOMBS

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IN OTHER AREAS SLOPING PATHWAYS TAKE YOU FROM MONUMENT TO MONUMENT

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TOMBS AND MONUMENTS ARE ALL JUMBLED TOGETHER WHICH MAKES FINDING A PARTICULAR TOMB A CHALLENGE

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We gathered chestnuts that had fallen from the trees near the entrance and vowed that at each tomb we stopped at, we would leave a chestnut as a symbol that the person we were visiting was still thought of;  a gesture of respect and gratitude for what they had contributed to the world.  Below are a few of the resting places we visited.

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SOME GRAVES ARE GROWN OVER AND THE NAME OF THE PERSON BURIED BELOW IS HARD TO DISCOVER

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OTHER MONUMENTS HAVE WORKS OF ART AS PART OF THE TRIBUTE

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CAMILLE PISSARRO THE FAMOUS PAINTER IS BURIED IN A FAMILY PLOT

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THE GREAT FRENCH WRITER MOLIERE HAS A GRANDER TOMB, BUT IS TRICKY TO FIND. MOLIERE WAS HIS STAGE NAME, BUT HIS FAMILY NAME IS JEAN-BAPTISTE POQUELIN

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THE TRIBUTE TO JIM MORRISON IS WELL VISITED

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CHOPIN’S GRAVE IS ELABORATE AND HAS THREE LEVELS

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THE GREAT ACTRESS SARAH BERNHARDT’ S TOMB IS FOUND UNDER A LOW STONE ARCH

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IN THE CENTRE OF THE TRIBUTES YOU CAN SEE ONE OF THE CHESTNUTS WE PLACED AS WE MADE OUR WAY AROUND THE CEMETERY.  THANK YOU SARAH BERNHARDT FOR SHARING YOUR GIFTS WITH THE WORLD

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THE GREAT CHANTEUSE EDITH PIAF IS BURIED WITH HER FAMILY

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THIS SIMPLE GRAVE IS THE RESTING PLACE FOR GETRUDE STEIN AND ALICE B. TOKLAS, WHO ARE BURIED TOGETHER

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THE GRAVE OF OSCAR WILDE WAS BEING DAMAGED BY VISITORS KISSING THE MONUMENT WITH LIPSTICK ON, LEAVING A PRINT.  IT IS NOW SURROUNDED BY PLEXI-GLASS AND IS THE MOST VISITED MONUMENT IN THE CEMETERY

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OTHER MONUMENTS SIMPLY DRAW ONE’S EYE.  WHAT IS THE STORY OF THE PERSON BURIED BELOW?

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SCULPTURES RISE TO THE SKY IN THE SECTION OF THE CEMETERY DEVOTED TO VICTIMS OF THE HOLOCAUST.   THIS IS A MOVING SECTION OF THE CEMETERY, WITH MANY HEART-BREAKING MONUMENTS AND INSCRIPTIONS

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THE COLUMBARIUM HOLDS THE ASHES OF HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS IN NICHES BOTH ABOVE AND BELOW THE GROUND

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THE GREAT DANCER ISADORA DUNCAN HAS HER ASHES ON THE OUTER PART OF THE COLUMBARIUM

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BELOW GROUND THERE ARE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF NICHES

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Visiting Pere Lachaise Cemetery is well worth the time. It is a place to reflect on the lives of the people who are buried here.  It is a chance to see monuments of beauty and pay tribute.  We were particularly glad to stop at Oscar Wilde’s tomb, for his story The Selfish Giant was the inspiration for our musical The Giant’s Garden and we owe him a debt of gratitude for creating that story.   If you have the interest and time and the weather is fair,  several hours at Pere Lachaise makes for a lovely afternoon.  As for us … there was one rather big item left on our agenda.

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Tomorrow … The Eiffel Tower.

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Fenton & White

Magical Mont-Saint-Michel

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THE SUN ROSE AND WE HAD A CLEAR DAY FOR OUR MONT-SAINT-MICHEL ADVENTURE

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A sunny Monday morning dawned, and we rose early to catch our 8 AM train from Montparnasse Station.  We were heading 360 kilometres from Paris, first by high-speed TGV train to Rennes, and then taking a connecting bus to Mont-Saint-Michel, an island with a 1300 year old monastery perched on a piece of rock in the middle of tidal flats off of the Normandy Coast.

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THE TRAIN STATION IS A BUSY PLACE IN THE MORNING

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We got to the train station early, purchased some pastries and coffee, as well as water and sandwiches for later in our trip and watched the sign board above to locate which track our train would roll in on.

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OUR TRAIN WAS A HIGH SPEED TRAIN THAT REACHED SPEEDS OF 260 KILOMETRES PER HOUR

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The train platforms are very long.  Our train had over 20 cars.  The sleek shape of the front of the train allows it to make good time as it reaches speeds of over 260 kilometres per hour.  As you depart from Paris, the train dives into tunnels to avoid the traffic and streets. You can feel your ears pop when it comes out in the country beyond the boundaries of the city, for the trains are pressurized to ensure that there is no drag around the doors so they run efficiently.

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THE COUNTRYSIDE ZIPS BY, AND AS YOU GET CLOSER TO THE COAST, CORN FIELDS ARE A COMMON SIGHT … ALONG WITH THE OCCASIONAL WINDMILL.

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We reached the town of Rennes in a short 2 hours and bought our bus tickets that would take us from Rennes to the Mont-Saint-Michel site and back.  The bus ride would take just over an hour, mostly because the roads have a lot of traffic circles and twists and turns in order to reach the coast.

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AT FIRST, MONT-SAINT-MICHEL JUST SEEMS LIKE A CASTLE IN THE DISTANCE

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When you reach the information centre for this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can’t really see the abbey very clearly.  But as you make your way down a graveled path towards the shore, the building rises from the surrounding countryside and you realize it is truly something unique and special.

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THE NEW BRIDGE CONNECTS THE MAINLAND TO MONT-SAINT-MICHEL

The island that houses the grand abbey and small village is reached by a 600 metre bridge.  In the olden days Mont-Saint-Michel was only accessible during low tide across the mud flats.  The tidal water levels can vary as much as 14 metres.  Crossing the mud flats when the tide was out was a pilgrimage filled with risk and peril due to the sticky mud and the distance to cross.  If the tides caught you on the mud flats, you could drown.  A causeway was created which could be crossed at low tide and mid-tide,  but it diverted the flow of waters around the island and soon, the area was stagnant as silt could not drain out of the basin properly.  In 2009 the old causeway was removed and over 4 years, a new bridge was built.  A canal was also built into the tidal basin on the mainland side with a dam.  When the tides come in, the dam holds the water behind it.  When the tides go out, the dam releases a  slow steady flow of water that slowly cleans away the silt, restoring the water flow around the island to its previous natural splendour.  It must be something to see the island entirely surrounded by water at high tide.

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THERE ARE THREE WAYS TO CROSS THE BRIDGE.

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One can walk across the bridge, which takes about 45 minutes.  One can take a horse-drawn carriage ride for 5 euros, which takes about 35 minutes, or you can ride in the free shuttle bus, which takes about 25 minutes.  We chose to walk out to the island, and utilized the shuttle bus on our return to the info centre. When the tide is high, the buses can’t get into the parking lot at the bottom of the island, and they are too long to turn on the bridge.  To accommodate this, they have a steering wheel at each end of the bus.  Instead of turning around, the bus driver gets out of one end of the bus, hops in the other end and engages the steering mechanism, (formally the back of the bus) and drives the opposite direction.  The shuttle buses run until 1 AM allowing tourists who stay in the island hotels passage to the bistros and cafes in the small town on the mainland.

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THE BRIDGE INITIALLY TRAVELS OVER SAND AND MARSH

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IN TIME, YOU START TO CROSS THE TIDAL FLATS.  WE WERE THERE DURING LOW TIDE

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AS YOU APPROACH THE ISLAND, IT FEELS SURREAL … LIKE SOMETHING FROM A FANTASY NOVEL

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The site we were about to set foot on dates back to 708 when Aubert, Bishop of Avranches had a sanctuary built on Mont-Tombe in honour of the Archangel Michael.  In the 10th century, the Benedictines settled in the abbey and a small village grew up below it.  By the 14th century, the village extended to the base of the rock.  During the Hundred Years War, the village was fortified with walls all around it.  The abbey itself is no longer in use by the monks, however there is a small order from the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem who still reside on the island … they are the permanent population of 44 that reside year-round.  For those seeking a retreat, it is possible to apply to stay on the island in secluded quarters if you wish to meditate and pray. For others that come for the novelty of the environment it is easy enough to go online and book at one of the 8 hotels available on the island.  Many of them close down during the off-season, and during the summer, it is extremely crowded.

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THIS IS THE SMALL CHAPEL IN THE VILLAGE WHERE THE MONKS STILL HOLD SERVICES FOUR TIMES PER DAY

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AFTER WALKING THROUGH THE GATES, A SINGLE STREET WINDS UP TOWARDS THE ABBEY … FILLED WITH SHOPS AND RESTAURANTS

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STAIRWAYS OFF THE FORTIFIED WALLS LEAD TO SMALL INNS WHERE YOU CAN STAY

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THE ABBEY IS AT THE TOP OF THE MONT, AND AS YOU LOOK UP FROM THE SMALL VILLAGE, YOU KNOW YOU’VE GOT A CLIMB AHEAD OF YOU

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SMALL COURTYARDS CAN BE REACHED OFF THE FORTIFIED WALLS.  THIS IS A PATIO FOR ONE OF THE INNS

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We took a casual saunter up to the fortified walls, and then got half way up the Mont before turning onto the central street which would take us to the entrance for the abbey.

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MONT-SAINT-MICHEL INVOLVES WALKING A LOT OF STAIRS

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AND MORE STAIRS

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Walking around the Mont is free of charge, but to tour the abbey, one must pay.  We had gotten our tour tickets in advance online to avoid line-ups.  It was 9 euros each. In the summer months, the site is crowded with people, but on the day we were there, it was past prime season and was relatively quiet.

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THE ROOMS IN THE ABBEY ARE AWE INSPIRING

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THIS WAS A GUEST HALL

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THIS AREA WAS A DINING HALL FOR THE MONKS … NO TALKING WAS ALLOWED

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THIS STAINED GLASS DATES BACK HUNDREDS OF YEARS

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IN THE CENTRE OF THE MONASTERY IS A CLOISTER WITH TRADITIONAL GARDEN

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THE TIDAL FLATS ARE HUNDREDS OF FEET BELOW AND STRETCH FOR MILES

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We wandered the streets and took in the abbey over the course of a few hours, but now it was time to think of food.  We had planned on eating a little earlier and discovered that most of the restaurants on the island only served lunch until 2, and it was now closer to 3.  Fortunately, we found one restaurant near the summit that offered platters of fresh moules et frites and of course, a pichet of wine.

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SCOTT ENJOYS SOME MUSSELS WITH FRIES AND WINE

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WHAT GOES UP MUST GO DOWN AND IT WAS TIME TO RETURN TO THE INFO CENTRE.  STAFF CARS ARE PARKED IN THE LOT BELOW, BUT WHEN TIDES ARE HIGH, THE PARKING LOT FLOODS

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We had left our hotel at 6:45 AM to ensure we were in plenty of time for our 8 AM train to reach Rennes at 10:15.   We caught an 11 AM bus from Rennes to Mont-Saint Michel which arrived at the info centre by 12:15.  By the time we walked out to the island and toured the village and the abbey on foot, it was 3:00 PM.  We had our lunch and then headed back down to the foot of the Mont where we took a shuttle bus that got us back to the info centre by 5:00 PM.  We picked up our 5:30 bus back to Rennes which arrived just in time for the 7:03 train, putting us back in Paris at about 9:15.  It was a long day for such an excursion, but it was truly worth it.  If our trip was longer we would have considered spending a night on the island, but there were still so many more things to see in Paris.

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WE TOOK ONE LAST GLANCE BACK AT THIS REMARKABLE PLACE.  PERHAPS SOME DAY WE WILL RETURN

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If you go to France, Mont-Saint-Michel should be on the top of your list. It is truly a magical, magical place.

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Tomorrow … The Catacombs of Paris

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Fenton & White

From Picasso to Pompidou

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GETTING AROUND BY MOTORCYCLE IS VERY POPULAR IN PARIS

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We finished our lunch and headed to the last two museums of our trip.  We were on the 5th day of our 6 day Paris Pass, but the following day was going to be a Monday which meant many museums were closed and we wanted some variety in our schedule.  It truly didn’t matter.  By the time we finished at Pompidou, we had seen 14 attractions using the pass (over 5 days) … and saved a bundle.    The afternoon plan was to do a quick browse through the National Picasso Museum, and then have a relaxing late afternoon at the Centre Pompidou looking at their contemporary art collection.    As we strolled through the Marais, we noted how many people ride motorcycles in Paris.

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THE CENTRAL STAIRS OF THE NATIONAL PICASSO MUSEUM ARE ELEGANT

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On a sunny Sunday afternoon, there was a fair line up to get into Picasso museum.  Of course there was the usual security screening, but after that, our pass put us in a line-up that alternated with patrons who had purchased timed tickets.  It took us about 30 minutes to gain access to the collections.  This museum is one of several Picasso museums around the world, and while the collections are extensive, many of the most famous pieces of work are scattered in major museums elsewhere.  In a way, it is fascinating to see some of Picasso’s lesser known work.

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SOME OF THESE WORKS ARE BY PICASSO, SOME ARE BY GIACOMMETI

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The museum featured an exhibit comparing the work of Giacometti and Picasso.  While it is true that some of the subject matter was the same, the two artists never met. The exhibit clearly identified that although they were aware of each other, it is unlikely they were an artistic influence on one another.  It was a strange exhibit, but still filled with interesting sculptures and paintings.

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PICASSO SEEMED TO HAVE A PASSION FOR GOATS

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OTHER IMAGES FEATURED BRILLIANT COLOURS IN SHAPES THAT LEAD THE EYE MANY DIRECTIONS AT ONCE

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THIS PIECE FASCINATED US … IT WAS CREDITED TO … UNKNOWN … WE’RE STILL NOT SURE WHY IT WAS IN THE PICASSO MUSEUM

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To be truthful, while the collections were interesting, our overall experience of the museum was underwhelming.  Unlike the Musee Rodin with its signature pieces, its lovely gardens and the house in its natural form, the National Picasso Museum feels much more like walking into a gallery building with a lot of white walls and a lot of art.  The labeling of the artwork was confusing and often the text connecting the works was vague and didn’t truly identify the significance of the work.  Thus … the pieces above I have left unlabeled, for we couldn’t find appropriate labels with dates to tag them.  We lasted about 60 minutes … admiring the work, but not particularly finding the building stimulating We headed back out onto the streets.  Perhaps we had reached our museum limit for the trip… or perhaps not.

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ART CAN BE FOUND IN THE STREETS AS WELL

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As we headed towards Centre Pompidou we noticed the above piece painted on a wall.  It is by the artist known only as EZK, and is part of the Art Against Poverty campaign, pairing a picture of an imporverished child against an image of a wealthy company;  in this case Vuitton.  The phrase beside it translates to “In What World Vuitton?” identifying that while companies charge huge prices for luxury items, children in other countries are often making the products for slave wages.

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A SUNDAY STROLL TO CENTRE POMPIDOU

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The weather was ideal, and we were looking forward to our late afternoon gallery stroll.  Centre Pompidou has a large square outside that is filled with buskers.  On the afternoon we were there, a didgeridoo player was entertaining the crowds and a dance troupe was asking for volunteers from the audience.  There was a long line to go through security but it was sunny and warm and the line moved quickly.  We joined the end of the line and were through the doors in 30 minutes.  The galleries were open until 9 PM and we were in no rush.

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As we entered the main foyer, we oriented ourselves to the galleries.  On the very top floor is a restaurant called Georges that charges an immense fee which is somewhat mitigated by the views and the wait staff, who to our eye, all seemed to have been hired from a modeling agency.  The 5th and 4th floors of the museum have large collections of modern art, and then there is a special collections area which on this particular day was hosting a Magritte exhibit.  We decided to take a pass on the special exhibit due to the lateness of the afternoon (and the line-ups) but decided we would pay the price and enjoy a dessert and coffee at the top of Pompidou on the outside terrace of Georges before seeing more art.

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THE INSIDE OF GEORGES IS STRANGE AND EXOTIC AND EVERY TABLE HAS A REAL LONG-STEMMED ROSE IN A VASE

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THE MALE WAITERS ARE DRESSED IN TUXEDOS AND FEMALE SERVERS IN SWEATER DRESSES … THEY ALL LOOK LIKE MODELS

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THE VIEWS OF PARIS ARE LOVELY FROM GEORGES

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For two coffees and two desserts (which were delicious, but ridiculously overpriced … and we knew it when we sat down, and treated ourselves anyway) it was 40 Euros.  There is a much cheaper cafe on the 2nd floor above the main atrium, but once in a while on holidays, you simply say … let’s do this … and now we can say we have dined at Georges.

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THIS SALVADOR DALI PIECE WAS INTRIGUING.  IT IS CALLED (IN ENGLISH) PARTIAL HALLUCINATION.  SIX IMAGES OF LENIN ON A PIANO

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We loved the collections at Centre Pompidou.  The work was varied, vibrant, encompassed sculpture, painting, mixed-media … all of it with amazing stories contained in the work.  We stayed for 3 hours but would definitely go back and explore more on another trip.

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THE SCULPTURE COURT ON THE 5TH FLOOR

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PETE LOVED THIS JEAN DUBUFFET PAINTING

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THIS WORK LOOKED LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF A TIM BURTON MOVIE

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A GIACOMETTI ON A GRAND SCALE, LIT SO THE SHADOW GIVES BODY TO THE WORK

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CREEPY VENTRILOQUIST DUMMIES OF FAMOUS PEOPLE.  YES THAT IS YOKO ONO ON THE FAR RIGHT

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THIS SONIA DELAUNAY PAINTING HAD VIBRANT COLOURS

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EVEN THE VIEWS OUT THE WINDOWS WERE LIKE LIVING ART WORKS

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I could post a lot more pictures, but it was time to make our way back to our hotel.  We were so glad we finished the museums of Paris with Centre Pompidou.  We enjoyed a slow stroll through the Marais and went home for a rest, and then enjoyed a light meal at a cafe in Montmartre.

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THE MARAIS IS FILLED WITH CLUBS AND RESTAURANTS ON NARROW STREETS

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Tomorrow … a trip on a high speed train to Mont-Saint-Michel

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Fenton & White (or in this case … White & Fenton)

Fenton & White Go To The Opera Garnier

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THE FACADE OF THE PALAIS GARNIER ONLY HINTS AT THE SPLENDOUR OF THE INSIDE

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For our Sunday morning excursion, we started with breakfast at a boulangerie with freshly baked pain au chocolat, a strong coffee and some baguette traditional with jam and butter.  Our first stop was the Palais Garnier which houses the opera house that Gaston Leroux made famous in his novel The Phantom Of The Opera.

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PETE WAITS FOR THE TOUR TO START IN THE PAVILLON DES ABONNES

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We opted to take an guided tour in English.  We learned a lot of fascinating things.  Construction began on the building in 1861 and the grand opera house was inaugurated in 1875.  It is an elaborate series of corridors, alcoves and foyers which allows large numbers of people to move freely, come and see the opera, and more importantly, be seen attending the opera.  The Pavillon des Abonnes pictured above was originally an area for subscribers to the opera to gather.  They could come directly from their carriages into the opera house and visit before ascending one of the grand staircases to the performance hall.

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IF YOU LOOK CLOSELY YOU CAN SEE THE LETTERS OF THE ARCHITECT CHARLES GARNIER IN THE SCROLL WORK ABOVE THE PAVILLON

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In December of 1860, Napoleon III put out a notice that there would be a competition to find the architect for a new opera house.  On the tour, the guide showed us drawings of several of the submissions … some grand, some more traditional, but it was Charles Garnier’s Beaux Arts design that won.  Throughout the building the name and image of the architect is cleverly woven into the sculpting and adornments of the floors, walls and ceilings.  In the above picture you can locate (sometimes in reverse) the letters of his name, as well as the year 1875 which was the year the opera house opened.

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AS ONE CLIMBS THE GRAND STAIRCASE, THERE IS A SENSE OF WALKING INTO A PLACE OF WEALTH AND POWER

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The grand foyer is approached by a stairway that features no less than 11 types of marble.  It is lit in a way that makes everything glow, and indeed the shades of marble were meant to provide a neutral enough background that the evening gowns of the women would show off to best effect, but the upper marble had tones of pink that would give warmth to the cheeks  of the attendees to make them look in good health.   Aside from getting facts and details about the space,  the tour also provides access to the orchestra level of seating with the ability to stare straight up towards a certain chandelier that was infamous in Sir Lloyd Weber’s adaptation of The Phantom Of The Opera.  In the musical the chandelier crashed to the stage at each performance.

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THE SEATS IN THE OPERA GARNIER ARE PLUSH AND COMFORTABLE

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Sitting in the opera house, you are surrounded by a sea of red velvet and gold.  Above the main level are the boxes which each have separation walls facing at an angle towards the stage.  They seat 6-8 people each, and in the late 1800s could be rented yearly.  If you rented a box you were given a key that allowed access 24 hours per day for the entire year, regardless of if a performance was happening or not.  These boxes were used for secret meetings, affairs of the heart, and of course,  for attending the opera.

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THE OPERA HOUSE SEATS 1979 PATRONS

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The unusual shape of the partitions between the boxes have resulted in a nick-name … they are known as the bath tubs, for from a distance, it appears that you could fill them with water, and recline into the rear part of the stall, like a giant old-fashioned bath.

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THE CHAGALL FRESCO ON THE CEILING IS CONTROVERSIAL

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The dome of the opera house has a remarkable fresco created by Marc Chagall.  It was unveiled in 1964 and immediately caused controversy.  Many thought it was too modern and bright. The canvas covers 2600 square feet and is in sections that are stretched on frames.  Within the vibrant painting are the names and images of many composers, actors and dancers.  The original fresco from the late 1800s still exists in the dome above the painting, but is badly damaged due to the soot from what was originally candles and then oil in the original chandeliers near the roof.

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THIS CHANDELIER WEIGHS 7 TONS

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While the Gaston Leroux story was a fiction, there were elements of the story that were inspired by true incidents.  While the chandelier has never fallen from the ceiling, in 1896, a counterweight from the chandelier fell from above the dome and through the ceiling and killed a worker.   We were assured that the chandelier is firmly anchored and will not fall.

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THE MOSAIC TILES ON THE FLOOR ARE REMARKABLE

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The artistry of the building is truly stunning.  This is a small corner of a mosaic floor in one small section of the building.  Mosaic floors are abundant, with literally millions of pieces of mosaic used throughout.  But it is when you look up that things get really amazing.

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THIS CEILING IS ENTIRELY MADE UP OF MOSAIC TILES

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One can only imagine how much work went into creating the elaborate patterns of the mosaic roofs in the various foyers of the opera house.  While many of the ceilings have paintings, others have fantastic mosaics in rich colours.

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DISPLAY CASES SHOW OFF SAMPLES OF THE BEAUTIFUL COSTUMES WORN DURING PERFORMANCES

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THIS ROOM RIVALS VERSAILLES FOR EXTRAVAGANCE

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The Grand Foyer features chandeliers, golden columns and ceilings painted by Paul Baudry.  It is a place that fills one with wonder.  The opera house is used over 200 days a year, and attending a concert here must be an extraordinary experience from the time you arrive.

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IN THE CENTRE OF THIS PICTURE (JUST BELOW THE ROOF LINE)  IS A BUST WITH A SILVERY FACE … IT IS CHARLES GARNIER.

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THE VIEW FROM THE TERRACE OUTSIDE THE GRAND FOYER IS QUITE LOVELY

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Our tour of the opera house was capped by going back into the theatre and watching a small segment of a music rehearsal for the mixed dance program that was happening that night.   It was a thrill to note that one of the choreographer/dancers on the bill for the evening was Canada’s own Crystal Pite.  We made our way out onto the streets at around 12:30 and decided it was time to go for lunch.

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ON A WEEKEND THE STREETS ARE FILLED WITH PEOPLE STROLLING CASUALLY ALONG

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We made our way to 24 Rue des Francs Bourgeois to a restaurant called Camille.  The day was warm, the ambiance was perfect with a crowded street to watch, three street performers playing jazz just down from the restaurant, and of course, a glass of wine to get us ready for our lunch.

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THE STREET ALSO HAS COLOURFUL CHARACTERS

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While we waited, this gentleman rode past, and then posed for pictures for free with families and children.

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THESE WERE ENORMOUS SNAILS

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  I ordered an amazing carpaccio dish, while Pete tried the Burgandy snails in garlic and basil butter. After a leisurely lunch it was time to stroll the streets of Paris to our next destination.

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Tomorrow … a tale of two museums.

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Fenton & White

Cruising The Sights Of Paris

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A DINNER CRUISE ON THE SEINE IS ONE OF THE SIGNATURE EXPERIENCES OF PARIS

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Prior to our trip, we had researched the many companies that offer boat cruises on the Seine.  There are ways to do this for a reasonable price (a boat tour without a meal during the daytime can cost as little as 15 Euros), or you can do a more frivolous excursion.  Since the whole point of this trip was to celebrate  Pete’s birthday and the fact that we had been side by side for 15 years, we went with a more expensive option.

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BATEAUX PARISIENS WAS THE COMPANY THAT WE CHOSE

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Bateaux Parisiens is noted for their central dock located right beside the Eiffel Tower, excellent service, modern boats and very good food.  We selected a dinner cruise of 75 minutes that would start during twilight and finish at the foot of the Eiffel Tower as the sun was setting.  The meal included an appetizer, a main course, a dessert, as well as a bottle of wine, a bottle of water and all gratuities.  The walls of the boat are glass, so you have unobstructed views both around you and above you. If you want each of you to be closest to the action, you pay a premium for a window seat.  We took the 6:15 cruise and it cost 85 euros per person.  This was truly an extravagance … but it was a special dinner and the experience lived up to the cost.  There is an even pricier cruise at 8:30 that is 90 minutes in length and includes live entertainment.  If you want to lower your cost, you can do a lunch cruise, or simply do a cruise without a meal on a boat.

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THE BOAT HAS TABLES ON THE INNER PART AND TABLES AT THE WINDOW

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Guests are asked to arrive 30 minutes prior to the departure time.  We checked in at the desk and were invited to wait in a small lounge beside the dock .  At around 5:50, the captain gave permission to board, and we were seated at our table.  Our server pulled out our chairs at our window seat and we were offered our selection of red or white wine, a fine basket of bread and a choice of appetizers, entrees and  dessert.  As we relaxed and enjoyed the gentle sway of the boat, our appetizers came out.

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 PETE HAD FINISHED HIS APPETIZER BEFORE WE LEFT THE SHORE.

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Pete started with the Beluga lentil salad with smoked salmon and a herb vinaigrette.  I chose a delicious Veloute of butternut squash, mushroom royale and toasted pumpkin seeds which is created by the waiter pouring the hot broth over top of the mousse.  It was yummy.

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THE SUN SETS ON PARIS

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The boat travels on the Seine around the Ile de la Cite, cruising past significant buildings (such as the Louvre) and under beautiful bridges.  As the scenery slides gently by, more food arrives.  Pete chose the braised steak with stewed vegetables, while I had the steak with black rice and lobster sauce.  The service was well paced and the mood entirely relaxing.

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THE SUN’S RAYS HIT THE GOLDEN WINGED HORSES ON THE PONT ALEXANDRE III

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We finished off our wine and I thoroughly enjoyed my perfectly poached pear with spiced red wine and a walnut and almond crumble topping.  Pete opted for the almond financier cake with a small jug of creme fraiche to pour over top.

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THE LIGHTS ON THE EIFFEL TOWER WERE JUST COMING ON AS WE ARRIVED BACK AT THE DOCK.

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Romance was definitely in the air as Paris cast its magic spell. Two tables down from us as the lights of the Eiffel Tower came on, a young man got down on bended knee and proposed marriage to his girlfriend.  Tables around them burst into applause.  And thankfully, she said YES.  Now that’s a proposal she will remember for a lifetime.

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THE EIFFEL TOWER AT NIGHT IS SPECTACULAR

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We got off the boat at around 7:30 and made our way to the Champs de Mars which provides a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower.   And the tower has a secret.  Every hour on the hour it puts on a light show.  The video I took of it is sideways, so I have linked to another clip that I found on youtube.  To see it live is quite extraordinary.  To see what I’m talking about go to  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTaq_MI6ey8    It is like watching fireworks and it must be something to be on the tower when it is showing off its sparkles.

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THE MOULIN ROUGE WAS LIT UP AS WE MADE OUR WAY HOME

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We arrived back to the area of our hotel around 9 PM and enjoyed walking the streets, all brightly lit up for weekend revelers.  But we didn’t stay out late.  We had another big day planned for Sunday.

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Tomorrow …  we go to the Opera Garnier

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White & Fenton

Relaxing With Rodin

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THE MUSEE RODIN WAS ONE OF OUR FAVOURITE MUSEUMS

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Filled with good food and wine, we strolled back to the 7th Arrondissement to the Hotel Biron at 79 Rue de Varenne.  This is the location of the Musee Rodin which opened in 1919 and is dedicated to the works of the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin.  This is yet another attraction with admission included on the Museum Pass.  By this time, our pass had more than paid for itself.  As with most museums there is a security line to go through, but after that the Museum Pass allows you front of the line access to enter the building and grounds.

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THIS IS ONE OF TWO BUILDINGS IN THE PARIS AREA THAT HOUSES THE RODIN COLLECTION

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There are actually two museums … the one above which is in central Paris where we were standing, and another on the outskirts of Paris at the Villa des Brillants at Meudon where Rodin actually lived and worked.  We only had time on our trip for one and chose The Hotel Biron because it is central and we had been told that the collection is very fine.

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THE ROOMS OF THE HOUSE ARE FILLED WITH AMAZINGLY DETAILED SCULPTURES

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  Each of the exhibits was located in a room of the house, which made you feel more like you were walking through a home with the furniture removed rather than going into an art gallery.  Between the two floors, there were literally hundreds of sculptures.  There were also fascinating exhibits on how Rodin carved his sculptures and a section on the influence of his lover, the sculptor Camille Claudel.

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THE THINKER IS PROBABLY ONE OF RODIN’S MOST FAMOUS WORKS

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Original sculptures are mixed with casts as well as copies based on the designs of Rodin for he was a commercial artist who sold his designs to other artists across the world.  This statue in the garden of The Thinker is the original casting in bronze.

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THE KISS IS A MAGNIFICENT EXAMPLE OF HOW RODIN SCULPTED MARBLE IN SMOOTH LINES

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The smoothness of the carvings and the accuracy of the proportions in the collection give the sculptures a life-like quality.  The artistry is truly remarkable.

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THIS PIECE SHOWS OFF THE ABILITY TO SCULPT AND CHISEL ALONG FINE EDGES

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The shawl of the above sculpture would have been a challenge to create … one wrong stroke with the hammer and chisel, and it would break.

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THE GATES OF HELL ARE CAST IN BRONZE AND FEATURE OVER 200 FIGURES

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The museum features both finished and unfinished works.  The above piece was something that Rodin was commissioned to create for a museum that never opened.  For over 37 years (around other projects) he worked on individual figures to create this master-work.  The Gates Of Hell depicts a scene from  The Inferno,  the first section of Dante Alighien’s  Divine Comedy.  Sadly, Rodin never saw the finished casting, which was created from the plaster cast he had created. He died before it could be cast in bronze.

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A ROSE GARDEN IN FALL BLOOM

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Aside from the wonders of the sculptures, the grounds are also a relaxing place to stroll.

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ONE PART OF THE GARDEN IS FORESTED WITH SCULPTURES SCATTERED AMONG THE TREES

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TALL HEDGES SURROUND A CENTRAL POND THAT MAKE FOR A LOVELY PLACE TO SIT AND RELAX

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The wonderful thing about this museum is there are lots of sculptures to look at, but the size of the museum and garden is not overwhelming.  We spent around 90 minutes strolling through the two floors of exhibits in the building and wandering slowly around the garden.  This is an excellent place to simply unwind and admire the beauty of one of the finest sculptors in the world.

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A VIEW OF THE MUSEE RODIN FROM THE HEDGES

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It was time to bid farewell to the works of Rodin and begin to make our way closer to the river.  We wanted to see Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides.

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THIS IS THE BUILDING WHICH HOUSES THE TOMB OF NAPOLEON BONAPARTE

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Napoleon’s Tomb is found in Les Invalides which is a complex of buildings that houses several exhibits which are part of an outstanding military museum.  One could spend the better part of a day exploring the whole site but our primary interest was in seeing where Napoleon Bonaparte lay.

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THE DOME INSIDE IS MAGNIFICENTLY ADORNED

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THE GLASS WALL AT THE BACK LOOKS INTO THE CHAPEL.  NAPOLEON’S TOMB IS A FLOOR BELOW IN THE CENTRE OF THE OPEN CIRCLE

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THIS IS THE CHAPEL BEHIND THE GLASS WALL

Napoleon is an interesting historical figure.  He was the Protector of the Confederation of The Rhine , The King of Italy, and eventually became the Emperor of France, a position he created.  At his coronation, although the Pope attended, Napoleon actually crowned himself to signify the separation between church and state.  He was a shrewd military strategist and created the Napoleonic code which still influences laws in countries around the world to this day.  And in case you were wondering if the rumours about his height were true … he was 5’6″.  Not particularly tall, but not a diminutive man either.  His tomb is one of the most elaborate tributes we had ever seen.

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NAPOLEON’S REMAINS ARE IN A RED QUARTZITE COFFIN IN THE CENTRE OF A LARGE CIRCULAR ROTUNDA

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On the lower level beneath the dome, aside from Napoleon’s tomb, there is a mausoleum that you can wander and see the burial places of prominent military officers.

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THE COURTYARD OF LES INVALIDES IS STILL USED FOR MILITARY EXHIBITIONS

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THE GRAND AVENUE LEADING AWAY FROM LES INVALIDES

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We walked away from Les Invalides and headed towards a familiar landmark to get our first look up close.  We had booked a cruise on the Siene that would depart  from just below the Eiffel Tower just as the sun was setting.

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OUR BOAT LAUNCH WAS JUST ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THIS FAMOUS MONUMENT

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Tomorrow …  Magical Paris At Night

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Fenton & White

 

 

Fenton & White Do The Musee d’Orsay

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IN PARIS YOU CAN RENT A CAR THAT PLUGS IN

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We had departed Toronto on a Monday night, and now it was Saturday and there was still so much to explore.  We had seen amazing  art and history, but we were really only at the mid-point of our trip.  Everywhere we turned we saw new and interesting things such as the posts for the above rental cars.  In Toronto you can rent a bike and get a magnetic card that allows you to remove the bike from the rack and take it for a spin.  In Paris, you can rent a car in a similar way … and the cars are all electric.  Pretty cool.

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For our Saturday excursion we had a full day planned.  We were going to spend the morning at the Musee d’Orsay, then relax at a famous restaurant, go to the Rodin Museum in the afternoon, take a quick visit to Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides and then walk to the left bank where we had booked a dinner cruise on the Seine at sunset.  The pace of the day was set at stroll.    We took the Metro and arrived at the first museum around 10 AM.

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THE MUSEE D’ORSAY WAS ONCE A GRAND TRAIN STATION

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The Musee d’Orsay is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a decommissioned train station.  It houses work that was created between 1848 to 1914 with a large collection of sculpture, impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.

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LOOKING AT THE MUSEUM FROM ONE OF THE CATWALKS AT THE END OF THE BUILDING

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The central corridor of the main level is a wondrous sculpture gallery filled with fine works of art.  On each side there are rooms devoted to a particular part of the collection.  The main floor has over 25 rooms to explore.  The second floor over 30 small galleries and then you go to the 5th floor which contains a smaller number of rooms and a restaurant.  The 3rd and 4th levels are offices which are on the perimeter of the building on the far end. While there were many fine paintings in the classical style, it was the portraits that interested us most.

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THIS PORTRAIT OF THE FAMOUS ACTRESS SARAH BERNHARDT BY  CLAIRIN GEORGES JULES VICTOR WAS PAINTED SOMEWHERE BETWEEN 1884 AND 1902

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THIS PORTRAIT WAS PAINTED BY LOUIS WELDON HAWKIN IN 1895

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At the end of the main level, there were also several scale models of famous buildings, and indeed, a scale model of the central part of Paris itself.

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AT THE FAR END OF THE MAIN FLOOR YOU CAN LOOK DOWN ON A SCALE MODEL OF CENTRAL PARIS THROUGH A GLASS FLOOR

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THIS IS A SCALE MODEL OF THE BUILDING THAT HOUSES THE OPERA GARNIER

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On the second floor, we loved the colour and texture found in many of the works of art.

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SOMETIMES IT WAS THE COLOUR OF THE IMAGE THAT DREW OUR EYE, SUCH AS THIS SPECTACULAR PAINTING BY JAMES TISSOT CALLED EVENING

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THERE WAS SOMETHING REMARKABLE ABOUT HOW THIS IMAGE EVOKED SO MANY EMOTIONS.  WOULD THIS MAN GET BETTER, OR WERE THESE HIS LAST DAYS ON EARTH? THE PAINTING IS BY CAROLUS-DURAN AND IS CALLED LE CONVALESCENT

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We wandered the two lower floors over the course of about 2 hours, and then paused for a coffee break at the cafe before heading into the upstairs area where the impressionist and post-impressionist exhibits are housed.

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THE GLASS CLOCK FACE AT THE TOP OF THE MUSEUM IS POPULAR WITH VISITORS

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THIS OCTOPUS SHAPED LOUNGER SEEMED LIKE AN IDEAL SPOT TO TAKE A REST

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The restaurant at the top of the museum has a terrific ambiance. It was still a little early for lunch so we walked past but took a picture of the decor and thought … perhaps on another trip.

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THE RESTAURANT AT THE MUSEE D’ORSAY HAS A WONDERFUL ATMOSPHERE

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We continued our journey through many paintings from the late 19th century and came upon some lovely work by Vincent van Gogh

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THIS VAN GOGH IS KNOWN IN ENGLISH AS THE CHURCH AT AUVERS  THE BRUSH STROKES ON THE CANVAS ARE TRULY REMARKABLE

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THIS IS ONE OF MANY SELF-PORTRAITS BY VAN GOGH

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SOME OF THE ARTWORK IS FRIGHTENING AND LIFELIKE, SUCH AS THIS MEDUSA BY ARNOLD BOCKLIN

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We were about to leave the top floor but a small hallway caught our attention with a series of what appeared to be stark black stick puppets.  To our delight, we had discovered an exhibit about Le Theatre d’ombres du Chat noir.

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MANY PEOPLE ARE FAMILIAR WITH THIS IMAGE CREATED BY TOULOUSE-LAUTREC

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Le Theatre d’ombres du Chat noir, or the Black Cat Cabaret was founded in Montmartre in 1881 and became known for its  free-flowing wine on the lower floor and the second floor entertainment known as the theatre of shadows.

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THESE TIN AND LEAD METAL CUT-OUTS FORMED THE SETS FOR THE SHADOW PLAYS PRESENTED LE CHAT NOIR

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AS A NARRATOR SPOKE, A PUPPETEER WOULD BRING THE IMAGES IN FRONT OF A LIGHT CASTING A SHADOW ON A SCREEN

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THE NARRATIVES WERE OFTEN POLITICAL PARODIES MEANT TO COMMENT ON THE WEALTHY.

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This exhibit is an amazing display of the artistry of the cut-out puppets.  They are exquisitely detailed, and well worth a visit of 15 to 30 minutes.  Le Chat Noir still exists on the Boulevard de Clichy just down the street from the Moulin Rouge, but now it is more of a bar and restaurant.  We spent close to 3 hours total in the Musee d’Orsay and then strolled a fair distance to the Saint-Germaine area of Paris to dine at a famous restaurant called Les Deux Magots.

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WE WERE FORTUNATE TO GET A TABLE ON THE BOULEVARD

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Les Deux Magots was known as a hang-out for the intellectuals of Paris and writers of the early 19th century.  Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso were regulars.  But what about that name?  Does it stand for the two maggots?  The answer is clearly … NO.  The name was borrowed from a fabric and novelty shop that found its way into a popular play  in the 1800s called Les Deux Magots de la Chine.  The play involved two Chinese magicians, and the term “magot” translates to “stocky figurine from the Far East”.  Inside the cafe, you can see the two figurines  of the mystics which sit on pillars watching over the cafe.

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THESE ARE LES DEUX MAGOTS

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As we took our seats outside, we were amused to discover that the chairs were set on a small groove in the paving stones.  We assume they are there to allow the servers in the morning to set the chairs out in the right line and also ensure that patrons didn’t slide the chairs too far into the boulevard.

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GROOVES IN THE PAVING STONES ENSURE YOUR CHAIR STAYS IN LINE ON THE BOULEVARD.

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The waiters are in tuxedos and we knew the prices were going to be steep, but we ordered a light lunch including a fine fois gras, cheeses, a light salad along with a pichet (a small jug) of wine and of course … a chocolate eclaire from the pastry tray.  The afternoon was sunny, and I struck up a conversation with a gentleman sitting beside us from Athens.  I learned he was an architect that designed the interiors for Chanel stores across the world.  It was a delight to fumble through a 20 minute conversation entirely in French.  We talked about the weather, our work, and the cost of living in Paris.  Pete chimed in from time to time, and we had a wonderful visit.

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LES DEUX MAGOTS WAS A DELIGHTFUL WAY TO RELAX ON A SUNNY AFTERNOON

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 It was good food, highly priced, but we both felt that the experience had been worth it.   We bid adieu to the restaurant and began walking towards our afternoon stop … The Rodin Museum.

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 Fenton & White (or in this case … White & Fenton)