Today was a busy day for me in Paris. I had insomnia last night and only got three or four hours sleep. I woke up at 7:00 AM and had a continental breakfast at my hotel. Then I went to the hotel next door, the Mercure hotel, to wait for the Trafalgar bus ride to Versailles. I almost got on the wrong tour bus because I followed a group that was going to Paris Disneyland. Fortunately, I realized that something wasn’t right before it was too late.
We had a different tour guide for this excursion although the previous guide made an appearance. She gave a lecture on the kings of France as the tour bus drove to the south west of Paris to the city of Versailles. When we arrived at the Palace of Versailles she told us to memorize the license plate of our bus because we had to be back there by 11:30 AM. She waited for a man with some headsets but he did not turn up (later learned he was sick) so we proceeded through the gates. We were given 15 minutes to take photos before going inside.
The Palace of Versailles was extraordinarily grand with gold leaf on the roof, classical statuary in the architecture, and a gold gate; real gold mind you. The first thing I noticed was the motto “À Toutes les gloires de la France” which translates as “To all the glories of France”. I’m assuming this was added after the palace became a museum. There was a vast cobblestone courtyard that we climbed to get to the entrance on the right wing.
Our tour guide had to get permission to lecture and she held up her umbrella so we could more easily follow her. We were allowed to take photos as long as we did not use a flash. The rooms were crowded and the lighting was bad so many of my photos did not turn out well.
Many of the rooms had marble busts of classical figures, chandeliers, paintings of the French kings (which would be Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI), beds, clocks, and other furniture. The highlights of the tour were the famous Hall of Mirrors and another copy of the painting “The Consecration of Emperor Napoleon” by Jaques-Lois David (a second canvas painted by the original artist).
At the end of the tour we got to explore the gardens. The gardens were enormous so if you wandered too far or got lost, nobody from the tour would have been able to find you. I walked past the Pièce d’eau des Suisses and looked back at the facade of the palace. Then I walked past the Latona Fountain and went all the way to the Apollo Fountain before heading back. That was quite a distance. There were many Greek statues around the garden and I spent some time looking at a few. The only one I recognized was a copy of Laocoön. According to Wikipedia, the original is in the Vatican but I saw a life sized copy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I found a refreshment stand hidden in the gardens where I bought a coke. This was probably my most successful exchange in French since all I had to say was “Coca Cola sil vous plait” and “merci”.
I was worried about being left behind because I was far from the palace so I quickly found my way back. I was the first person back on the bus. I listened to the bus driver and the tour guide conversing in French. I did not understand their conversation but it was quite clear.
When the bus returned to Paris we were dropped off at the Bateaux-Mouches pier on the Port de la Conference. I’m glad I was able to follow the other tourists in our group because we had some slight trouble finding where to board the boat. The public address system on the boat announced each site in several different languages as we approached them. It was a bright sunny day and I did not have sunglasses so my eyes hurt from the glare. Then my camera batteries started to die so I had to conserve shots. But it was still pretty awe inspiring. I especially liked the Pont Alexandre III bridge because it was used in the film Angel-A. It is the Pont Alexandre III from which Angela and André jump into the Seine.
After the boat returned to the pier I crossed the Seine and returned to my hotel near the Eiffel Tower. After freshening up I struck out for the Musée d’Orsay to make good use of my 2 day museum pass. I arrived at the museum at 3:00 PM and it closed at 6 so I only had three hours.
I had thought the Musée d’Orsay was actually quite small and only contained impressionist paintings but in actuality it is enormous and contains some truly extraordinary works of art. It totally blew my mind!
First I bought a guide book in English. You could buy them in various languages. Then I wandered around the upper level looking at various statues. At the end of this level I saw Auguste Rodin’s Balzac and The Gates of Hell. One of the most breathtaking paintings I saw there was “The Knight with the Flowers” by Georges Antoine Rochegrosse. This has got to be the loveliest image I have ever seen! It is an awe inspiring fantasy. I’m amazed that this painting isn’t better known. I’ve never seen it before, not even in my art books. It is the only painting that has really and truly stunned me. I’ll have to buy a poster of it when I get home.
I also saw many paintings by Vincent Van Gogh including his Self-Portrait. I think I’ve seen this before on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City because they had a special exhibit when I visited.
But for me the highlight of my visit was seeing Henri Fantin-Latour’s painting, “Corner of the Table” also known as “Around the Table (Writers), 1872” which is one of the most famous paintings related to French literature because the writers in the painting include Rimbaud and Verlaine. I’ve seen this painting in many of my books on Rimbaud. A detail image of just Rimbaud from the painting is used on the cover of many Rimbaud biographies such as the one written by Enid Starkie. I have 104 books on Rimbaud. It could be the largest collection of Rimbaud books in America outside of an university library, i.e. a private collection. So of course it was a huge thrill to actually stand before this painting. I took a few photos of it and spent extra time looking at it. To be perfectly honest, I did not do my homework before leaving and was expecting to find this painting in the Louvre. I also found the painting “Homage to Delacroix, 1864” with Baudelaire portrayed in the group, by the same artist. My trip has been a glorious success!
After the museum closed I walked back to my hotel but first I had a glass of kronenbourg beer at O’Brien’s Irish Pub, one of the landmarks I navigate by. This was a mistake because that made me slightly drunk. Then I finally braved a Paris cafe and had steak and frites (french fries) at Le Dome on Rue St. Dominique. I had a glass of wine with that meal which didn’t help my slight dizziness. I was going to finally get in line for the Eiffel Tower but I fell asleep when I got back to my room.