Monday, August 06, 2007

I'll always have Paris

Statues in the portal of Chartres Cathedral. I love that one's just randomly looking in the wrong direction. It irritates me that people think medieval people were just all sombre and focussed on God exclusively - they DID have a sense of humour, read the literature! Or just look at this photo and realise that they were real, live people just like you and me, and the culture was different but they were still human beings in the end! Do me a favour and go pick up Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale" - in translation, if you must, and see if you don't laugh. Sorry, rant over...

Looking down the - apse? nave? - towards the West Window

Our Lady of the Pillar, Chartres Cathedral

Supposedly a fragment of the Virgin Mary's veil - I may not believe that, but it still has an impressive provenance

Windows in Chartres Cathedral

The Window of the Blue Virgin

Close-up on one of the Rose Windows

One of the Rose Windows in Chartres

The South (North?) Rose Window

The North (South?) Rose Window

The West (,) Rose Window at Chartres, with the 12th C Jerusalem Windows below

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral from a distance

At least one of the fountains was (partially) working at Versailles

I like how I look super sneaky here - just the effect of looking at the camera's viewfinder rather than straight ahead, 'fraid I'm not raelly being naughty

Here I am in the Petit or Grand Trianon, can't for the life of me remember which

Mirrors: useful tools for the solo traveller

I mise myself en scène in the Grand (or possibly Petit) Trianon

The prospect from the back steps

A big hall in Versailles - the paintings are all of famous French military victories (obviously pre-20th C then, ha ha)

The ceiling in the Hall of Mirrors

In the Hall of Mirrors - see how the statues fade into reflections towards the back

In the Hall of Mirrors

Heading into the Hall of Mirrors

A view out of one of the palace windows

A room in Versailles, complete with hordes of tourists - for authenticity

One of the magnifique ceilings at Versailles

The not-particularly-impressive façade at Versailles, complete with the nasty dust/gravel so beloved to the French

The gates of Versailles

The Tour after it commenced twinkling away - it's reflected in a big pond, looks really nice but unfortunately all attempts at capturing the effect in a photo failed miserably

Me and my hostel buddies

Me by the Eiffel Tower - making friends results in images that say "I've been there" rather than "I possibly stole this off the net", score

The Eiffel Tower by night - well pleased with the crispness of that image

A random grave in Père Lachaise

Mr. Morrison

Since I was meant to be leaving the chateau shortly, I had booked several days of holidays to use up my leave, and so it was off to Paris with me last Wednesday.

I checked into the hostel, which was pretty central, right by the Place de la République, and set off straight downtown to chercher some English books at the big Forum des Halles shopping centre. That done, I thought I'd head off to check out Sainte Chappelle cathedral (on Tiana's recommendation), but upon being greeted by a long line I changed my mind and walked back to the hostel instead.

The hostel, as I found out upon arrival, was very conveniently located for one of Gwan's favourite activities - necrotourism. I don't know if any future grave-snuffling excursions can top the embalmed corpse of Moscow, but as cemetourism sites go, the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris is definitely right up there with the world's finest. People hawk maps outside, but I chose to cunningly take digital photos of the maps and grave guides displayed at the entrance, and then tried to navigate my way around the giant cemetery. I must say, a cemetery complete with its own roundabouts is a real achievement! Finding my first port of call, the grave of one James Douglas Morrison, was pretty easy - once you got in the vicinity it was only a matter of following the crowd. Last I heard, the cemetery was having all sorts of problems with rowdy Doors fans drinking and desecrating surrounding graves and so forth - this has apparently been dealt with in the form of a fence around the grave and what appeared to be a full-time guard. In fact, when I was there some middle-aged long-haired guy in a Doors t-shirt was having an argument with the guard. I couldn't quite catch what he was saying, but I felt free to imagine an exchange something along the lines of "I'm not going to let the man stop me honouring Jim's memory however I want dude! Fascist peeeeg" [Neil from The Young Ones stylees] - or whatever the French hippie stoner equivalent may be. The grave itself was pretty small and non-descript, although it did have a poster of Jim on it - someone slipped past the guard, perhaps? Finding the other dead celebrities was more tricky - well, as it happens, in fact impossible. I next went in search of Oscar Wilde, but the map only gave you the section they were buried in, with a blob to indicate approximate location. I was all alone in this portion of the graveyard, so perhaps old Oscar isn't very sought after these days. After a lot of fruitless pacing up and down between the rows, I gave up and went to look for Heloise and Abelard - mostly because in my head they're pretty much fictional characters, so it would be interesting to see their graves and go "wow, they really were real people after all". Sadly, although I located Heloise and Abelard Lane, their grave eluded me as well. Perhaps I should have bought one of the graveyard maps outside, they might have been more informative. By this time I was worn out with all the walking in the hot sun, so retired to the hostel for my customary afternoon nap.

After my nap and dining alone, I returned to the room to find it freshly occupied by my roommates, an Australian and two Argentinian sisters. We got chatting, and as they were just about to head out to see the Eiffel Tower by night, I decided to accompany them. And very pretty it was, too. Just as we were about to leave they started it a-twinkling away, twas lovely. They were all nice girls as well, although none of them spoke French and hence they all chatted away in English at about 200 decibels, which made me cringe quite a lot. I always try to do my best to Frenchify myself and not look obviously like a tourist. I gave some punky looking girl on the street 2 € mostly because she asked me for it in rapid-fire French instead of assuming I wouldn't understand and going for the English option. Frankly she probably has more money than I do, but meh.

On the metro on the way to the Eiffel Tower I was hit on quite assiduously by the guy sitting across the aisle from me. Once again, I started chatting to him just for the opportunity to speak French, and because he repeatedly complimented me on how well I spoke. Unfortunately, he rapidly turned super creepy, including secretly filming us on his mobile phone (seriously, mobile phone cameras need to be banned!) After numerous attempts to avoid exchanging phone numbers ("I have no cellphone", "It's too expensive to call you from NZ" [no way was I admitting I lived in France], "I don't have a pen" and just plain "No, stop asking") I eventually took his phone number, after he borrowed a pen from what appeared to be a homeless man, in a strange turn of events. (What does a homeless man want a pen for?) He gave me, in fact, not only his phone number but his address - what does he think, I'm going to turn up on his doorstep? Strange man. Needless to say, I won't be calling him.

On the next day, along with the excitement of roller cops, there was also the excitement of Versailles. Versailles, I must say, is not particularly impressive from the outside - not as pretty as the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo or the Schoenbrunn Palace, certainly (ah, travelling gives you so many opportunities to make these pretentious little asides, eh). I had plenty of time to look at it, too, since it took about half an hour in the queue for tickets. The main issue in the queue was that the queueing area was very wide, so constant vigilance was required to prevent queue encroachment. Queue encroachment is a much more subtle crime than plain queue jumping - it's when there's an ill-defined queueing space and the people behind you attempt to gradually pull up beside you and then in front of you. Airport check-in queues are notorious for this sort of queue behaviour, I find. Plus the French are rubbish at queues, although I don't know how many of my fellow queuers were, in fact, of the français persuasion.

Once inside, it was certainly very pretty. The Hall of Mirrors was not quite as mirrory as might be imagined - although they have been recently (and still are partially being) restored, so they are a lot nicer than I've heard they were in the past - not all clouded and so forth now. I suppose if it was just floor-to-ceiling mirrors the effect would be more 'aerobics room' than 'royal palace' anyway. I think I took too many photos and stuff - I feel taking photos can actually prevent you from really looking where you are - you're just so busy snapping away that you're only paying attention to the tiny little screen on your camera and not the real room in front of you. But still, I always feel compelled to capture it for posterity. Don't know why, since I'm sure the internet is full of identical pics these days, but there you go. The rest of the grounds and smaller palaces and buildings were nice as well, although the fountains only work on weekends, which is a real crock if you ask me. Marie Antoinette's little estate, which comprised a sort of Disney-style farm and village was cute, but I can imagine if I were a marauding peasant I would be well pissed off to see her clean neat little mini play farm when I was up to my elbows in dirt and hard work every day. I can't actually remember if marauding peasants were a big feature of the French Revolution - despite the fact that I did a whole university paper on it, d'oh. After a record 6 hours at Versailles, it was back to the hostel and I went out with the girls in my room for dinner again before falling in to bed.

The next day, the Argentinians had to get up at 5 to catch their bus on to Amsterdam. Fair enough, these things happen in a hostel - but I question whether it's actually necessary to turn on the light and converse in Spanish for half an hour if you're getting up at that hour in the morning. Grrrr! I got up at 6.45, having asked the Australian to wake me up on her way out. I was hoping to get away to Chartres early in the morning, but I wound up missing the 8.15 train out by a few minutes and having to hang around the gare for another hour for the next one. However, it was well worth it because Chartres cathedral is just as amazing as you might imagine. I had imagined it in the middle of a field for some reason - probably because I read some sort of "Building a Medieval Cathedral" as a geeky child and it was in fact out in the middle of nowhere at one point. Still, it's the inside of the cathedral that is the really impressive part. Acres of original stained glass, some dating back as far as the 12th century, with the 3 amazing rose windows and dozens of other windows. And they're all so gorgeously medieval, it's great. There's also a fantastic carved choir screen and the outside porches are covered with stone carvings and statues as well. But, at the risk of being repetitive, it is really all about those windows. Photos to follow, but I fear they're going to be mostly grainy/blurry and crap and can't really convey how pretty they are, you'll just have to all visit for yourselves...

Anyway, that was that for my trip away. Friday night we had drinks back here, Saturday night went out to a club. I had Saturday off as well, very pleasant day spent lying around in the sun here at the chateau until the others had finished work, then in the late afternoon we went out to Dunkerque (Dunkirk) for a sunbathe and a paddle on the famous beach. Can't imagine it packed with boats and soldiers and so on - with the tide in, as it was, there's a very narrow strip of beach for the amount of people who must have been there. Probably picked up all sorts of diseases merely from dipping my feet in the Channel, but it was nice, the water was fairly warm and there was not a single cloud in the sky, lovely.

Tonight is our staff party, so everyone's planning a pretty full-on night, followed by a day off for everyone tomorrow, so hangovers dependant, we might go out for a proper excursion somewhere tomorrow. Unfortunately the weather has turned cold and rainy again, typical since we're meant to be having a barbeque in the nature!


  1. man you should have perservered with Oscar Wilde's grave, it's quite a treat - lotsa lipstick kisses all over it. I latched on to an old couple who knew the cemetery inside and out, would have been lost without them. Chopin's grave was also coo.

  2. jo , havent been able to read about your good fortune in getting the new job , our old comp; gave up the ghost , we now have a new one , it will take some getting used to . anyway i am so happy for you , luv , tallest auntie xxx


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