With the exorbitant number of vacation days available to working Germans, a typical summer vacation lasts three weeks and is spent outside of the country. The second part is fairly easy to accomplish given Germany’s central location in western Europe. The duration, however, is another story. I haven’t fully wrapped my head around being gone that long. (Even China this year was a two-weeker.) And so it was with two friends in Paris for a wedding and three more from internships or working in the past that I could meet the second condition but stuck to what I was familiar with on the first: an extended weekend vacation. With rain nearly every day, it didn’t quite turn out photographically as I would have liked, but one night — the last night I was in Paris, incidentally, and of course one I didn’t have my tripod with me — the skies cleared.
That morning, I had my tripod with me when I planned to catch the sunrise. I rented a Vélib and took off toward the Seine, but clouds dissuaded any color from appearing. The remainder of the day turned out to be spectacular, which made for a very warm and very crowded Chateau de Versailles. The last time I was there was in 2002, so my only familiar memory of the place was the lines and the waiting.
Once inside, I couldn’t keep track of the extravagance. This, the Empress’ chamber, originally started out as a room intended for Louis XIV, but in the 19th century transferred to Napolean’s mother and to further matriarchs. The preservation of the furniture in all the buildings of the sprawling grounds was remarkable.
One hallway — whose name I can’t find at the moment (edit: it’s the Galerie de Pierres!) — was startlingly free of visitors, but only because it was blocked off. The light here must be terrific in the early morning; by noon, it’s a little harsher.
What was not free of visitors was the Hall of Mirrors. I didn’t bother trying to get a clear shot, but the popularity of the room doesn’t detract from its magnificence or grandeur.
Even the ceiling, arguably not the focus of the room, is exquisite.
The gardens of the palace are just as stunning. I was hot and hungry and my attempts at shooting the waterfalls didn’t make the cut, but the inviting shade of a grove of trees to the southeast of the main axis of the palace attracted my attention.
Where my last full day was spent largely outdoors trekking around the castle grounds, Saturday started mostly indoors. Permanent exhibits at the Musée Carnavalet are free and the museum isn’t overrun, so after misreading its opening time and wandering around the 3e and 10e arrondissements after breakfast, I made my way inside.
The museum is subtitled “Histoire de Paris,” “History of Paris,” and inside is a massive collection of art and artifacts detailing exactly that. It used to be a hotel and received its current name over 400 years ago. Within its walls are multiple courtyards, with one containing a statue of Louis XIV.
In the afternoon, I sought out one of the highest points in Paris — the very impressive Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19e. It reminds me of Singapore’s Botanical Gardens with less flora. Paris isn’t quite as flat as Charleston, though, and from the park’s Temple de la Sybille it’s possible to see Montmartre and even the Eiffel Tower (though just its top).
Seeing the clouds turn darker and darker, I decided to duck the impending storm (success!) by heading back to town in the metro and scope out Trocadéro for a potential future sunrise. Unfortunately, the construction work going on there still obscured half the view, so my unsuccessful color chasing on Sunday wasn’t going to be there; I’ll have to live with the colors I saw in 2011 for now. On the metro ride back, I saw an advertisement for presumably a cologne in one of the stations on which someone had appended a question: “Is this it, the ideal male?” Reasonable question.
The day I left, I had lunch with a former manager before boarding the TGV back to Germany. In the morning, I visited the terrific Musée de l’Orangerie, which among other works houses in chief Monet’s Water Lilies. I’m not much of an art student, but I quickly learned I did not leave enough time to explore the entire museum; I probably could have spent an morning just looking at the Monet work. Few works have touched me as much as Water Lilies, with the other notable one being Michelangelo’s David.
Paris is a delightful city for me. It helps that I speak (or spoke, given that German is doing its best to push out what French I can still speak) the language, but the culture, the mass transit, and the history of the place continue to attract my attention. It’s the only European city I’ve visited both before living in Europe and while living here, and I’m sure with the right travel plan I’ll go there again. This trip was largely a return to see friends — one from Charleston on Friday, one from Toronto on Saturday, friends from the States on Sunday, and a former manager on Monday — but there’s always more to explore and more to take in. While the rest of Europe is still calling, Paris will permanently be on speed dial.