Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Paris Finale Post: Luxembourg Palace, Roland Garros and More Eiffel Tower

Spending a week and a half in Paris was such a great (and perhaps once in a lifetime) opportunity to soak up the history, architecture and atmosphere of the "City of Light."

Toward the end of the trip I made a list of the key attractions I had visited, some by myself but most with Alesia and our two boys and Joseph's girlfriend.
My list came to 16, many of which I have documented in the posts preceding this one.
This final Paris post will cover some sites not previously covered and also will include street scenes such as this one. The domed building is part of the College of Sorbonne, which was founded way back in 1253 as a theological institution. The chapel, built in the baroque style, dates to 1635.

I was impressed by the number of parks and the amount of green space around Paris, which has a city population of more than 2.2 million.

Factor in the surrounding suburban areas, and the population is more than 10.5 million, making Paris the largest urban center in the European Union.

We visited Luxembourg Palace and found it a bustling place where hundreds of people were enjoying a pleasant spring day on the grounds and parks that are part of this important historic landmark.
Luxembourg Palace has an interesting history and remains a vital part of the French government to this day. Since 1958 it has been the seat of the French Senate.
Louis XIII had the palace built to be the home of his mother. Construction took place from 1615-1645.
Luxembourg Palace, in the mid 17th century, was a museum before The Louvre became Paris' center for art.

It has served many other purposes over the years including that of a prison.  Nice digs for the prisoners back then!
During World War II the Germans used the palace as headquarters for its air force, the Luftwaffe.

The palace is only open to visitors one day a year, on Heritage Day in September.
But the grounds outside the palace are open year round. It was neat seeing such a beautiful and historic place being accessible and enjoyed by the public.
The palace pond was busy with remote control sailboats. Some Mallards were also enjoying the water.
The Luxembourg Garden (Jardin du Luxembourg), covering some 55 acres, is the largest park in Paris.

There are many parts to the park such as this neat little nook called the Medici Fountain, which dates to 1630.
The small waterway is home to this Mallard mom and her offspring.
The gardens boast 106 statues and sculptures.
Amid the statues, flowers and waters of the Luxembourg Gardens are numerous seating areas, some playgrounds and even public tennis courts.
Public ping pong?  Yes, Paris offers that too. A few table tennis games are available at another park area near the Luxembourg Palace and Gardens.
Being an avid tennis player and fan of the professionals, I knew I wanted to see Roland Garros, site of annual French Open tournament, one of the sports four majors.

My visit was just a week after the tournament ended with my favorite current player, Rafael Nadal, winning his 10th French Open men's singles title.
I plotted the Metro train route and made my way to the famed tennis facility.
Unfortunately, but not surprising, Roland Garros was closed. There was a lot of construction and maintenance activities going on around the grounds. I hoped a gift or souvenir shop, at least, might be open, but that was not the case.

Another American tennis fan showed up at the gate the same time I did and we were both told the bad news by a security person.
The best I was able to do and see was from the outside looking in.

Stade Roland Garros' old stadium court complex has the names of past winners. That was neat to see the names of so many legendary players and the years these men and women won singles championships.
This was also cool to see- signs showing the distance to tennis' three other Grand Slam events around the world.
It was a little disappointing to find Roland Garros closed. I thought there may be a souvenir shop or two nearby off the premises, but that wasn't the case.

But I can still say I have been to the French Open!
While walking from the Metro stop to Roland Garros I passed this large park and gardens.
Jardin des serres d'Auteuil is a botanical garden that is maintained by the city of Paris.
The gardens were created in 1761 during the reign of Louis XV.  It features the plants and flowers of France, but also many from around the world.
This small bird aviary was a nice surprise.

I rounded a corner and started to hear birds chirping.
Then, wow! Here were dozens of small, colorful and exotic birds.
The rainbow of colors these birds possess was amazing!
This chart indicates the birds come from Africa, Australia and other parts of the world.
The Painted Bunting, seen around my home in coastal South Carolina would fit in nicely here.
Avid birder that I am, this aviary was a such a treat to find.
During our time in Paris, I was alert to local birds but didn't see many, other than Pigeons, Ravens and one Magpie.

When I was in Amsterdam with Alesia in December I photographed a number of birds I had never seen before.  See my "Birds of Amsterdam" in this post.
On another day, we visited an architecture museum in Paris called La Cite de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine.

Along with architecture, it is a museum of monumental sculpture.  This was a chance to see scale models of famous Paris buildings, like the Arc de Triomphe and learn about what went into the elaborate designs and details for which French architecture is known.

This was a place to study and admire the masterful artistry of the craftsmen from hundreds of years ago.

And to think that all this beauty was created with hammers, chisels and other tools we today would consider crude.
Room after room offers visitors "some 1,000 years of architectural creations...a journey through through the rich architectural heritage of France, from the Middle Ages to the present day," according to a Paris Tourist Office website. 
This exhibit of gargoyles was one of my favorite parts of this museum.
At Notre Dame Cathedral, earlier during our Paris visit, we learned of the Gothic heritage and religious symbolism (ward off evil spirits!) of these bizarre sculptures.
The gargoyles also served a practical function by having open mouths that serves as drainage filters for rain water.
It was interesting to see, up close, works like this that are often hundreds of feet away atop doors or high up on walls and buildings in the many old churches, palaces and other structures around Paris.
When we visited the architecture museum Paris was enduring an unseasonably hot period with temperatures in the mid-90s. The large building had no air conditioning and it was extremely warm inside.
I wouldn't learn until much later (actually now!) that this museum is housed inside the Palais de Chaillot, which is not as old as the name may suggest.  It was built in 1937 for the Universal Exhibition.
The design of the Palais de Chaillot includes an expansive terrace that has one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower.  We saw this after our tour of the architecture museum.
This shot highlights just how massive the Eiffel Tower is.
The terrace is a popular place for pictures and we were sure to get some of us!
The terrace outside the architecture museum also offered an excellent view of two domed churches, the golden Napoleon's tomb cathedral and the chapel at the College of Sorbonne.
The one time I felt "cultural overload" was the day I visited Napoleon's Tomb and the French Army Museum at Les Invalides.  See my earlier post.

Maybe the very warm weather contributed to a bit of fatigue that day. But after spending a few hours at The Invalides, I walked to this bridge that had caught my eye earlier on my way to the military museum and Napoleon's Tomb.
At the time I didn't know the name of this bridge or that it is world famous. Alesia had mentioned a bridge in Paris that we should see and it turned out that this is the one.

Our group would see this site on another day.
The Pont Alexandre III Bridge is distinctive in many ways, particularly for its large golden sculptures atop the four corner columns. These are gilt-bronze statues depicting scenes from ancient mythology.
This site calls the Pont Alexandre III bridge over the Seine River an open air museum that is Paris' "most elegant, grandiose and sumptuous bridge."

That description is spot on!
The bridge is functional certainly, but is so ornate and "bedazzled" with many sculptures.
Nymphs and cherubs adorn the bridge, installed as tributes to the Franco-Russian Alliance, according to Wikipedia.
Named for Russia's Tsar Alexandre III, the bridge was built from 1896-1900.
It was built in the Beaux-Arts architecture style, popular at that time. Napoleon's Tomb is in the large gold-domed cathedral seen here.
The bridge, with its Eiffel Tower backdrop, is a frequent location for engagement, wedding and other special occasion photographs.
Parallel to the Seine River near the bridge is a sidewalk that has many more statues and historical monuments.
This is a heroic statue of the French General Marquis de Lafayette.
Lafayette was a aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolution. He was a friend of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
Helping America win its independence from Britain, Lafayette would return to Paris and later become a key figure in the French Revolution.
Simon Bolivar is also honored along Pont Alexandre III.
Bolivar, it is said, was present at Notre Dame in Paris when Napoleon Bonaparte was coronated.  The event inspired Bolivar who would return to his native Venezuela and become a key figure in helping several South American countries gain independence from Spain.

The statue was a gift from several South America countries to France.
Another notable statue in this area is that of Winston Churchill, Britain's prime minister during World War II.
The statue is on the grounds of the Petite Palais, which is the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts.

The sculpture depicts Churchill as he walked down the Champs Elysees with French Gen. Charles de Gaulle in 1944 when France was liberated from Germany.
We would visit the Eiffel Tower again, this time at night when it is lighted.
There's non-stop activity around the tower.  It is very approachable and accessible. There are acres of green space on one side of it where people can relax on blankets and enjoy picnics.  Wine and beer are sold by peddlers and it's OK to drink such alcohol on the grounds here.
It is fun around Paris to see from different locations, settings and elevations the 1,000 foot tall Eiffel Tower.
 Parisians are so used to seeing the tower that they may take it for granted. To me, seeing it from a Metro train was pretty cool, and made for an offbeat photo.
The train experience, for all of us, was good overall.  We had the miscues getting Versailles, as noted in my previous post about that palace visit.

There are workers at each stop who are friendly and helpful. For what I felt was a modest fee of 5.60 euros you can buy round trip Metro tickets for the day.

Maps are widely available and are also in each train car too. You can see part of one behind this musician, who was one of a few that we saw performing in hopes of getting some coins from passengers.
I was happy to give these buskers some change, appreciating their boldness and initiative.
Our Marriott Hotel was very nice. It is close to a Metro stop so that made it easy to get to and from the places we wanted to see.

Other than 2-3 days of excessively warm temperatures (for Paris in June), the weather was ideal.
The only rain came on the day we left Paris, so we were very fortunate.
We enjoyed our immersion into Parisian and French culture and history.  World Music Day on June 21 was widely celebrated in France. I had never heard of this event. I don't think the U.S. embraces World Music Day as does France.
Alesia and I returned home with a modest collection of souvenirs.
We did our share of Parisian cafes, wining and dining.
I owe many, many thanks to Alesia for all she did to make this dream trip a reality.
I know I am a better person for this experience, with this new Parisian and French perspective on history, art, culture, cuisine and life overall.
I commented to my family that in Paris even the street trashcans have an artistic quality.
Thank you again sweetie for Paris 2017!
Au revoir!
I hope to return to Paris one day!
Forgot- until now- to add this photo of Alesia near the street named for her (OK, not really). It is located near the hotel where we stayed and we just came Rue D'Alesia when walking back one day.

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