Two days in Paris and I no longer sound like a rube from Purgatory Ontario. Not bad for a guy with two weeks of grade nine French. Don't get me wrong. I wanted to learn French in high school but my basketball coach told me, "you have to keep your grade average up and that Dike fails all the jocks in her French class." Just because she was Dutch was no reason to slander her. Nevertheless I left the French lessons behind to my everlasting regret.
Now when I enthusiastically greet people in Paris they don't look at me as a poor Angles, they look upon me more as the village idiot from Gaston. I'm moving up.
Our first stop of the day was the Rodin Museum, it was just around the corner and only six kilometres from the hotel - so we walked. We could have take the tube from the hotel door and got out at the gate to the museum but it was pouring rain so we walked. Once inside we picked up a floor map rented the audio guides and headed off. The museum started life as the Hotel Biron. After falling on hard times it was taken over by nuns who operated it as a school. Judging by the way they stripped the building of all its paintings it must have been a rather bleak school. Next it became an artist community headed up by Rodin himself and finally if evolved into the museum it is today.
As this was an evolutionary process there are some quirky things going on. For instance the floor map is conveniently numbered as is the audio guide. Unfortunately the exhibits and floor map numbering system are not entirely related to the audio guide. I believe this is done as a test to humble the casual tourists. Just as you begin to see what Rodin was doing to the face of that poor gargoyle you realize you are actually facing the wrong way and the audio guide is talking about the piece behind you. These French artist enjoy a clever joke as much as the rest of us.
Rodin was of course a genius. He worked on the Gates of Hell for 30 years making changes trying to get it just right. Interestingly his mistress went crazy and had to be confined for the last 30 years of her life. Hmmmm! According to my long suffering wife I too have been working towards the Gates of Hell and will have no trouble passing through them.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of the tour is the stroll through the gardens. Here the scale of the sculptures are displayed to their perfect glory. Late spring would be an ideal time to visit when the trees, shrubs and beds are in full bloom. Of course, "The Thinker," is very prominent. You come across it just before you enter the main museum. The Gates of Hell are off to the right but the sculpture that I found most intriguing was that of the Burgers of Calais. If you walk through the gardens counter clockwise it'll be the last one you see before you exit the property.
After leaving the Rodin museum we headed to the Musee d'Orsay. This is a converted railway station right along the south bank of the Seine. It is an impressive museum, very grand in it's scale. It contains works from Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh and countless others. With it's soaring ceiling this is a very impressive site and would be worthy of an extended multi day visit, but we were running short of time so we had to skip out with only a couple of Monet,s and a Cezanne under our coats.
Leaping backward from Rodin to the the Palace of Versailles we disembark from the metro and walk 500 meters turn the corner and there's the Palace. On this cold wind swept day it does not immediately overwhelm. But as we approach the gates the sun breaks free of the clouds and the gates ignite in a wild display of golden light, just as quickly the sun retreats leaving us with only a hint of what awaits inside.
If you have an Internet ticket go to the stone outpost to the right of the gate and exchange your electronic ticket for a proper pass. Don't go directly to the main entrance without the pass. You'll end up going back for it. Do get an audio guide, again they can be quirky but with thousands of people jostling for position they're ideal - just stick the speaker to your hear and ignore the throngs.
Opulence is not a grand enough word to describe Versailles. From its beginning as a hunting lodge Louis XIV created what is one of the worlds leading heritage sites. The Hall of Mirrors, the grand canal and fountains are astounding. For me the Grand and Petite Trianon's were fascinating. Being almost a mile from the main Palace in the Marie-Antoinette's estate they were largely empty of the crowds in the Palace. Ironically that was exactly why they were built sort of a retreat from the main court and all the intrigue around the Royals.
If you go heed the advice go on less busy days and get there early. Take the metro.