It's quite nice to be here.... up until a couple of years ago, it had only been a distant "it'd be cool, but I'll probably never go there" type of place (pretty much like everywhere else I've been to on this trip-but Paris is always special)
Written on July 26…
I have a ton of pics, so I’ll simply post them and comment along.
Let’s begin with the last few pics from Tours…
Le Château de Tours...
This is now a museum (free entrance! yay!), originally built by a rich bourgeois, and now a fascinating place with artefacts all the way to prehistoric times! Very instructive on this region of France (and how France became France - got the name from a family that ran the region for a period, called Francs).
Ah, le Loire river (fleuve en français), the only fleuve that's never been made "boatable" (too shallow) left in France.
I left Tours with Ze-Bus, a service that I strongly reccomend, very cool way to discover France, for all ages (leaving Tours I was with 2 girls a bit younger than me, but getting there, there were 2 old ladies, at least in their sixties, as well as people in their 50'ies). Anyway, we stopped at the Grandes Caves de St Roch (!!!, funny coincidence, as my father was named after this Saint). This is a wine houses that produces mainly bubbly, exactly as per the traditional method (aka Champagne). The Champagne name has been trademarked so harshly, that no one else can use it at all, thus having to call their champagne "bubbly-as per the traditional method). (Apparently even the Chanel had to recall a perfume they had called Champagne!!) This place is quite remarkable, as it is almost entirely underground, in caves created when they were digging for rocks to build the castles of the region! The result, is a vast network of chambers, over 3km long (!), 30m underground, at a constant temperature of 12celcius.
For 2E, we got a guided tour of the premises, where they ferment the wine (2 fermentations, the 1st in a big tank for 30 days, the second in individual bottles for 1-2 years). They produce approx 1million bottles a year, and the tour obvisouly ended with a degustation! hehehe. Anyway, the tour was further enhanced as they recreated a bit of history to show visitors how the blocks of rock were orgiginally cut and taken out the cave (they took "carrotte" samples to find where the best rock was, then would carve around, we're talking activities over centuries, so tools changed over time, but compared to our standards, remained very basic. For example, they could dig around a certain block, then insert pieces of wood on the side, then wet the wood so it would swell, thus separating the block of rock from the rest! They would then cut it into smaller pieces and roll these out fo the cave - thus why the floor of the cave is always at a slight angle down toward the exit.
After the castle building phase, the caves were abandonned, and people discovered that the environment was ideal for mushroom growing, thus that became a new use of the space. Some smaller caves were also given to workers, who used them as homes (many are still occupied today). Eventually, someone though of the caves for wine making, so tanks were built inside the caves to hold the wine, etc.
This cave also had the following area, dedicated to Saint Roch
This is a statue of the saint in question, who was a pilgrim, known to cure diseases (plague) in people. He was called to the region when the vines got a disease that threatened to kill the entire industry and miracuously cured the vines, thus re-establishing the wine industry in the Loire valley. He is facing away as he is a pilgrim, always turning his back to the world and moving toward a sacred space. I thought it was a nice story!
Moving on, we went to the Chateau Chambord, which is known to be one of the most extravagant castle of France, built over 20 years by the king. Leonardo Da Vinci designed a special set of stairs, with 2 stairwells built side by side, but in a way that one can never see anyone going up or down the other stairwell...pretty cool. The castle has an enormous number of everything: fireplaces, chemines, window, balconies, etc. For some reason, the king only stayed there 42 days (!!!) before deciding to move to a town nearby and (obviously) build another castle there. I am not aware of an official explanation of such a short stay at the castle, but I think it's because The Chateau de Chambord is located so far from everything (in fact there was nothing there when the location was chosen. A little village was built to serve the needs of the castle! Talk about extravagance ) that is was too difficult for guests to get there, aka got boring...I don't know, just a guess. To this day the area is all farming, except for this massive tourist attraction.
A few of pics
I really like this pic... I find it so peaceful...
While leaving, we saw this
hehehe, the new castles of France! Funny timing, as I had heard on the news a bit of controversy surrounding the fact that many nuclear powerplants in France may not really meet the reglementation regarding resistance to earthquakes....hmmm, there are reactors like this one spread throughtout France.
We then arrived in Paris, where the driver of Ze-Bus (her name is Nadege, she's the founder of this small co)took us for a litle drive around town and I took the following pics.
It was such a good intro to Paris, with the gorgeous sunset!!
The first tow pics are obviously the Arc de Triomphe, and this last one is a menisque offered by some Egyptian "high guy" to Napoleon...I don't have much info yet, but I plan on going walking around there today, so I should know more soon.
I then met up with Julien, my super host here. He has a great place, a very comfy couch, a super friendly roomate and just overall such hospitality! A great place to stay! (not to mention internet access..which I why I'm still here at 13:53, updating the blog when I should be out!-but it’s ok, I have enough time to see everything I want)
Yesterday was my first day in town and it's indeed very very nice. It's undeniable a big city, but as I had heard, it's big and it's not. There are a bazillion metro lines, whiwh means that one can get anywhere and everywhere quickly and, really for a tourist, the landmarks are quite easy to find and there aren't THAT many (well, there ARE, but one can eqsily decide the palces that he/she most wants to see)
So yesterday I walked around, visited the Eglise St-Germain des Prés
and the Louvres. Many many people had told me not to bother with the Louvres for various reasons, but I didn't think I could reasonnably come to Paris and not go there, so I waited until 6pm (reduced rate to 6E) and am totally happy to have visited. It's true that it's only a museum like any other, but at the same time, it's really not! For one, it has 60,000sqft...not exaclty a standard size museum, and it was the Royal Palace for thousands of years!!! It therefore has a great history behind it, which is highlighted by a couple of exhibitions ( unfortunately, the "History of the Louvre" exhibition was closed - to my great dismay), but the "Louvre Médiéval" was opened, where they show original sections of the building, with the donjon, other sections. Very cool!
The sheer size of the building and number of different rooms made orientation sometimes a bit difficult (kinda like a treasure hunt I felt! hehehe) Anyway, as a result, anyone "on the move" had their nose solid in the map of the museum (me included). It was funny to see!
I also visited the VERY extravagant Appartements de Napoléon.
I used to be annoyed at the Catholic church for being so rich (all the gold, precious stones; etc), but seeing the castles and reading about habits of the Monarchy....I think it's outrageous the life of opulence they lived while the people often was so poor! This sentiment will probably only be re-inforced by my visit of the Chateau de Versaille tomorrow! No wonder there was a revolution and hte Monarchy never made it's way back in France!
Let's begin with pics of the outside of the building, which is absolutely massive and entirely coverely in fine carved details...for some reason, I focused on the glass pyramids more than the rest...
Then some "must see" once inside (it’s very great that we were allowed to takes pics for most of the exhibitions!!):
Venus de Milo, from an unknown sculptor, she has become a chef c’œuvre because of the unusual angles of her body (semi twist, as well as the drape almost falling from her hips).
La Joconde, I was pleasantly surprised by this one, as everyone kept telling me it's small, and not that nice....they're wrong! It's a normal size (I had come to expect something like 1x1sq feet-that's why I post this pic, to show you the size) and it is actually quite mesmerizing (despite the crowds constantly around it)...some people say that it's really a man, etc....I don't think so, in real life, there's something that pictures don't capture...a sort of feminity....not to mention the frame, which is gorgerous, seems like fine carved wood...
This is called Les Noces de Cana....but I wonder if it's not was we have come to know as The last supper.....At first glance, I giggled, as Jesus (or the guy in the middle), from the angle I initially saw it, had a face, quite comical, that said "oh fuck, what have I put my self into this time!" hehehe, from other angles he looks peaceful or sad....
Les Joyaux de la Couronne....more opulence! There's a diamond there that 640 carats!!!! and a broche (approx 10cm in diameter!!!)with thousands of diamonds given by a king to his son....who the F needs that!!! (well, clearly, need was not an issue here!)
There was also a great exhibition of an Egyptian medical parchemin written on papyrus recently retrieved from a private collector (one of 7 known in the world), dating back more than 4000 years!!! Pictures were not allowed, but there was a ton of information on the medical profession in ancient Egypt, and we could feel the excitement of the archeologists through the various descriptions, explanations and translations of the document. Very cool.
This concludes my visit of the Louvres. I obviously didn't see everything (it's impossible), but picked what I think are the best bits and therefore was very happy with my choice. There was a lot of people, but it never felt too crowded, which was also great.
Last pic, I was on my way to the tallest building of Paris, so see the town at night, but at the same time I didn't really want to go (the 9.5E to get up is outrageous - in my opinion) as it would have put me badly over budget. As I got off the bus, I got this great view of the Eiffel tower (the main thing I wanted to see at night, so I took this pic for free! yay!). Anyway, I'll see Paris from the top the the tower (my 5E rule is kinda out the window here in Paris) today.
Last adventure of yesterday -but not least- has to do with the metro. I was told that I should get a "Carte Orange" which, for 16.20E/week, gives unlimited access to all metro and buses for a certain period of time. I was also told to bring a picture, as the card has your pic on it...alright, I still have some left from Thailand. I go to the counter and ask for a carte orange....the guy tells me "it's only good till Sunday", I leave on Sat night, so I said ok. He gives me a little coupon....I'm like..hmmm, no card, no pic...the system must have changed.... so I take my little coupon and use it all day to get access to the metro. Toward the end of the day, I get to a random control station, where they ask for proof of access. I show my little coupon, and the woman asks me for my Carte Orange...I point to the little coupon and say it's there...she starts explaining that this is the coupon, but to use it I must have the carte orange, with the pic and all...I play dumb and ask why the guy at the counter didn't tell me this, bla bla bla, I'm only a tourist here for 4 days, etc. She says I should have known, and the fee is 40E (!!!!) payable on the spot, cash, credit or bank card (!). In my head I decide there's no way I'll pay that, and luckily, I only had 2E left on me (and my bank card hidden in my purse, but I didn't tell her that), and no ID (as I left that stuff hidden at Julien's), so I keep gently but firmly arguying with her, until she called her supervisor, we talk a little more, repeated the same story, and he let's me get away with it (hehehe).
So anyway, I quickly added my pic to the card she gave me and am now fully compliant (except that the Carte Orange is not for tourists, that's something else she kept repeating), as we should know that we must buy a more expensive card (F that!). I'll probalby be able to get away with it if it becomes an issue, but I think it'll be fine....hehehe freaking French and their stupid rules! I had often head about their stupid/overwhelming bureaucracy and got my first glimps there! Hehehe
Well, off to visit more of Paris!