Saturday, July 19, 2008

Europe 2008, Paris Continued.

In the last post about my recent trip to Europe we were in Paris a city filled with so many sights as to take more than one post to adequately describe my impressions. Travel around Paris as noted in every travel guide is by the efficient Metro, combination subway and intercity rail service and the city spanning RER light rail service. One morning, we traveled the Paris Métro, and the RER to Versaillies-Rive Gauche the town surrounding the Versailles Palace built by King Louis XIV. The carriages were crowed with people heading off to work. For the French, the average office hours begin from 8:30 to 9:30 AM, in contrast to workers in the US who start at least an hour earlier. The RER train rapidly emptied with each stop so that by the time we reached our destination, only tourists remained.

A short walk through a town, laid out much like Washington D.C., whose design was taken from Versailles, led to a broad grass boulevard that inclined toward the palace gates. The palace lies on a gentle hill and the grounds facing the town is devoid of gardens and presents a picture of regal efficiency.
A special note, one of the best bargains while in Paris is investing in a Paris Museum Pass Official website. It is only 30 Euros for a two day pass for access to 60 museums and attractions. A quick flash of the pass and we whisked by the long quay of tourist waiting for entrance.

The Chateau itself is laid out in a large U shape with projecting wings off to each side. The royal apartments, are opulent as expected for someone who believed in the concept of Absolute monarchy in France. As one tramps through the corridors and bedrooms of those who when alive, believed that they were the most important and powerful souls on the earth. Any whim and desire, was fulfilled, every lust and craving sustained. The end of their regime took place on October 6 1789 when a mob broke in, and by morning had seized Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette of Austria. No evidence of this final calamity remains. The palace and the grounds are kept as a reminder of when France for a short time, was the most powerful nation in the Western World.
Walking around the grounds gives a person the scope of its immensity, 250 acres of gardens, pools, fountains, groves of exotic plants and two smaller palaces. In an ironic way it was the largest public works project in Europe at the time, employing 30,000 workers in construction and housing 20,000, just to maintain the seat of government. One can not help thinking about the mindset of anyone who lived and worked in this environment. From King to nave, they were better off that most of their countrymen and believed themselves to be superior to almost everyone else in the world. That narcissistic view eventually led to their downfall and the spasm of hatred for privilege, the ended in the Guillotines basket for many.
Traveling back to Paris we continued our visit to take in sights that are best seen at night. The Arc de Triomphe built as a tribute to Napoleon's army after the victory of the Battle of Austerlitz. The arc is at the center of twelve avenues that radiate out in perfect symmetry. The view from the roof, after climbing 284 steps up a narrow circular staircase, is spectacular as one looks down the tree lined avenues and soaks in all that is Paris. Later as the sun set, the arc took on a golden hue that drew thousands to it's base. A monument build to honor a battle that was an attempt to make all Europe part of France has turned into a thing of silent beauty that remains a national tombstone, to honor the loyalty of those whom served two centuries ago.
Our visit to Paris left me with a feeling of awe for the achievements in architecture and the collections of individual expression that are housed in scores of museums. As I commented in the previous post, Paris is challenged with trying to assimilate thousands of new residents who for reasons of culture, resist change. The challenge for France is one that affects many countries in Europe and even North America. Amid the columns of the past, are streets, where the night belongs to those who stand in the shadows. Looking at the way France found a way to preserve it's heritage, I hope they find the fortitude to retain the magic that has drawn millions to her wide boulevards and culinary delights.
Next stop, Munich, Germany

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