We knew we were kind of biting off more than a big chunk of tourism to schedule both the Chateau du Versailles AND the Louvre in the same day. But we were set to conquer it and we were excited.
When I talked to the company we were doing our Louvre tour with, the woman on the line gave me fair warning that she wouldn't recommend doing both in the same day. Little did she know that since we missed the Musee D'Orsay the day before we were actually adding that in as well.
Oh boy. (this is a spoiler for those who might be stressed out at that prospect...it turned out to be the best day)
We got up bright and early and headed to VERSAILLES.
...and I must add just a little about our journey to get there because it was a little tricky.
Because of the recent flooding, the metro that usually runs to the Versailles train was closed. We thought, in talking to multiple public transportation officials with hand gestures to help with the language barrier, that we had figured it out.
But as we marched through to our connection from one metro line to the next thinking we were good to go, we came to an abrupt stop at some bars and a sign in French that apparently said, "sorry, you're out of luck." Ha!
Eventually we figured out we needed to go to a different station and take a different train even from the original alternate route we thought we figured out, BUT we made it, still relatively early on a gorgeous summer morning.
As we walked up, Dave asked the kids how they would like to have a driveway this big:
That place is pretty impressive I tell you!
There is SO much history woven into it all which is so fascinating.
I wish I could write all we learned here (there was such a great audio tour and our Rick Steve's guide came through again with all kinds of details), but here's my quick version:
Versailles was originally built by King Louis XIII as a hunting lodge in 1623. Louis XIV moved on in years later and added all kinds of things which created quite a palace. He moved the whole royal court out to Versailles (about 20 kilometers from city center, marked by Notre Dame) to create his own little utopia.
We learned so much about Louis XIV who named himself the "Sun King" (he felt he was the direct representative of God for France) and who ruled for 72 years, helping France become quite powerful and issued in a "golden age" there.
Versailles was a great symbol of his opulent power. Louis XIV used it to develop love and loyalty in his nobility and to entertain foreign dignitaries.
And also just to have a pretty great time :)
Here we are listening to our audio tours in the Hall of Mirrors...
There's a detailed story about that so google it (and everything about this place) if you want more...because I'm just barely skimming the surface here.
The gardens, of course, are just as famous and about as fancy as the castle.
In order to save our energy for our afternoon-of-art coming up, Dave and the little girls took a golf cart to explore them.
Next up was MUSEE D'ORSAY.
I love this museum. Here are some of our favorite works:
Isn't the glass on that one up there amazing?
We saw a lot of Monet:
...which I always love, but Dave and I both reconfirmed that our very favorite is Van Gogh.
I mean, come on, that guy sure let some serious character shine through in his work and I love it!
Here's what it's really trying to show, up close and personal:
This next picture is a take-out of a video so it's blurry as can be, but I just want to remember this moment:
We stopped at one of my mom's favorite paintings on the way out...gave me a good chance to sneak in one more great one:)
I will admit, at this point we were TIRED.
We headed to JARDIN DES TUILERIES to rest for a bit before our Louvre tour.
Oh my, that place is gorgeous.
We had to get some gelato to tide us over and sat in the green chairs that line the pathways in that park and enjoyed the most beautiful fountain and view.
Then we decided we better have dinner too, so we found this great little outdoor cafe in the park and got rejuvenated.
Then something or other made us laugh our heads off again. I think being tired made us a little loopy:)
And then, there we were at THE LOUVRE.
Now, I must preface this part with a little background. I know that usually Musee D'Orsay is a little more kid-friendly. I have always preferred that museum to the vast expanses of more ancient art you can so easily get lost in at the Louvre. But in my desire to open up these kids' minds to adore art, we found a tour company that got hundreds of 5-star reviews on trip advisor and my sister's friend said it was the best thing she did with her kids in Europe. Now that's a pretty great endorsement. So we decided to go for it.
The only problem was that they wouldn't take more than five people, no matter how we tried to work it. And we had six. You've got to be kidding, right? Dave and I debated on which of us should go with the kids. He claimed I'd enjoy it more, but I claimed he needed it more ;) In the end I went with the kids and Dave got himself an audio tour and claimed he was pleased as punch for some alone time. But boy we missed him.
That little tour was worth it's weight in gold. We all learned so much and it made our visit fascinating.
Also, as long as we're taking a little detour on background, we were all a little surprised to see this big black and white photograph covering up the pyramid we were so excited to see:
But our great guide Chloe told us there are always rotating exhibits in the pyramid and this was the newest one. It is made so that if you stand in the perfect spot, it lines up perfectly with the older building behind it.
Elle snagged this picture on the way out a little later which I thought was pretty cool:
Our tour guide, Chloe, explained all about this cool glass pyramid right at the beginning. I loved re-learning all about I.M. Pei's idea for the modern glass with the old French architecture background, and how in the beginning it was quite controversial, especially since he was an American architect, not French.
But it has become quite a symbol in France and I think everyone has become quite enamored with it over the years.
Something about blending the old and new is so beautiful to me.
It is called The Four Captives and was sculpted by a Dutch sculptor named Martin Van Den Bogaert.
I loved the background story since it involved Louis XIV who we had just learned all about that morning. Originally these four captives surrounded a large statue of Louis XIV. They symbolize the four nations that were defeated during his rule: Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, Holland and Brandenburg. I wish I had taken up-close pictures of their expressions because they were so cool. The missing statue of the king was melted down during the revolution, but the captives were symbols of the victims and were kept, and the chains that originally bonded to each of their arms were broken and done away with.
Oh I love how art can make you think!
In the Ancient Mesopotamia wing Chloe told us all about The Code of Hammurabi.
...and explained these awesome creatures that decorated entire expansive royal dwellings way back then.
We saw the famous Venus de Milo:
Got all kinds of "clues." One of them was this Arago Medallion (there are 135 of them in Paris...find out more about them HERE).
We saw Winged Victory:
I loved this part too:
And finally we got the the piece de resistance: the Mona Lisa:
1) She was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci who was famous in his own time. He worked on her for 30 years. When he was fianlly done, the King immediately bought the painting. No one got to see it because it was in the palace. It remained there for hundreds of years...until the revolution, then it was displayed among other paintings at the Louvre.
2) In 1911 it was stolen. A man from Italy believed it belonged in Italy so he stole it and took it there. It was missing for three years. In that much time it was all over the newspapers of the time. Because there were pictures of it in the newspaper, people recognized it as "the greatest treasure of the Louvre" and the world became increasingly interested. It was an international news story.
When the man who stole it tried to sell to a museum in Italy, he was caught immediately.
By then it was, of course, even more famous. It couldn't be put in the middle of lots of other paintings, Mona Lisa had to have a wall of her own. Crowds attract more crowds.
So it looks like this when you visit her:
3) There really is something special about her eyes that follow you.
Lucy wanted to be SURE we got a picture with Chloe at the end.
This is the hair of a girl who fit all that in in one day:
These kids were glowing with excitement about all that they had learned.
And they were excited to share it all with their dad:
Of course we had to stay to bask in the sunset before we headed back to our apartment.
It was a pretty great way to end our Paris adventure.
The next morning we packed up our beloved Paris apartment and headed out on another train to LONDON.
This time, no train strike.