Since being in chateaux land, I haven’t had time to talk about my Paris experience – I’ve been too busy shoving different dairy products and pain du chocolat in my mouth.
So my first impressions of Paris and France: there isn’t a desperation to be on-trend here. Everything has a reason and a history behind it. The food is traditional and often quite simple, but always good quality and delicious. The fashion doesn’t demand a pack mentality like it does in Melbourne, where there is almost a desperation to be trendy and wear what everyone else is wearing. No one tries to look like an exact copy of a styled outfit in a Gorman lookbook here; everyone weaves what’s in season into their own style and the end result is striking and beautiful. Also, there is no mania or panic to get somewhere, just an acute sense of being in the moment that you just don’t get back home.
So if you are travelling to Paris, I would highly recommend the following things (albeit some of them touristy):
If you’re an opera fan, a trip to Opera Garnier, the primary opera house in Paris, is necessary. It’s quite expensive (800 euro for the four of us to go), but so very worth it.
We saw Hippolyte et Aricie. I won’t go into the plot because it’s based on a Greek tragedy where person A is in love with person B, but person C is in love with person A who is person B’s aunt’s father’s cat’s dog’s wife etcetera. It was all in French so don’t expect an English translation, but the quality of the opera was above and beyond anything I’ve experienced before.
All of the vocalists had beautiful voices – bar one tenor, but he was a bit part anyway – as opposed to the one or two standouts as often occurs in operas back home. The choreography was was amazing and the dancing was out of this world – apparently to be in the Paris opera you have to be able to dance as well as sing. The sets were genius and complemented the equally genius costumes perfectly. I know I’m raving, but every aspect was considered to the Nth degree in a stunning opera house and the aesthetic appeal is just surreal as a result. In all my years as an opera student, and in all the operas I’ve seen around Europe and Melbourne, this blew them all out of the water.
If you’re a symbolist and impressionist buff, this is a good place to visit. Lautrec, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh and Cezanne feature heavily and the building is a converted old train station. Very cool.
This place is the shiz. The main event here is Monet’s Lillies – great huge paintings on long canvasses that stretch all around the white, oval-shaped rooms of the gallery. I could have sat there for hours. Also not to be sneezed at are the Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne and Modigliani collections.
This is the second time I’ve been to the Louvre so maybe I wasn’t as excited as I could have been. Obviously it’s an incredible space steeped in history – the Bourbons (Louis and Marie Antoinette and those before them) and Napoleon inhabited it at different times – and Napoleon’s apartments were especially worth seeing, in all their chandelier-y grandeur. You have to see the Mona Lisa and the Delacroix paintings and artifact collections, but there’s just so much of it that it gets overwhelming. I would suggest that you figure out what you want to see beforehand, because there is no way you’re going to be able to see it all in a decade, let alone one visit.
I’m fascinated by Marie Antoinette and her narrow-minded stupidity and mind blowing obsession with the aesthetically pleasing, so this was a non-negotiable experience for me while in Paris. The sheer scale and beauty of the place is jaw-dropping (I realize i’ve been overdoing it with the use of “mind blowing” and “amazing” descriptions here, but there’s no other way to describe it). The palace itself – the Hall of Mirrors, the Chapel – are all opulent in the extreme, adorned with muralled ceilings, gold leaf, crystal, marble.
For me, the gardens were really memorable. Think nymphs carved out of marble in vast fountains, hedges and roses everywhere, cobblestone paths, and the smaller houses out in the gardens where Marie Antoinette and Louis entertained their lovers were my favorite.
All the opulence and absolute decadence by French royalty observed with the bittersweet notion that the upkeep of the place was largely due to the rest of the country’s income being taxed at an alarming rate. People were starving in Paris, so the Bourbons could have 20 chandeliers in every room. Difficult to feel sympathy for them and their gory end.
ANGELINA’S AT VERSAILLES
I know this is a terribly long post, but Angelina’s restaurant at Versailles was worth it simply because I can now say I’ve eaten soupe de l’oignion gratinee at the place of Marie Antoinette’s residence.
The soup was as it should be – delicious cheesy bread soaked in onion broth – but the dessert is what you come here for. I had a dessert called the choc Africain, which was layers of chocolate biscuit mousse and zabaglione. Rich and delicious, and just the right size, like everything else served to me in Paris. Dad had the mille fuielle, with pastry caramelised to crunchy perfection and my brother had the choc mont blanc – meringue covered in thinly piped chocolate mousse and chestnut cream. They were all delicious, consumed with white wine in historical surroundings. Doesn’t get much better than that…
Except maybe hanging out at this amazing chateau. But that’s for another blog post.