Monday morning, I learned how to use a horodateur (parking meter), with the added
excitement that three out of every four don't seem to work, or only take special
cards you get if you live there. But it's a nice way to see the neighborhood,
hunting for the only working horodateur in the area. A little
later we drove to Fontainebleau getting to see some of the French countryside
for the first time. We found the city (of Fontainebleau) easily enough,
and then started following signs to the chateau. Somewhere right
around downtown the signs suddenly stopped, and we didn't know where it
was. Turning the car around it was right in front of us as far as the
eye could see, but not apparently if you were driving the other direction.
It was a raining a bit when we parked (uphill of course), and we started walking
around the chateau looking for the front door. It should be mentioned,
perhaps several times, that it was a very big chateau. It turned
out we parked as far from the front as was possible. But we got to
see most of the exterior in the process. The top picture is the 'front
door' above the trademark horseshoe shaped staircase. This picture,
believe it or not, was the kennel for the hordes of hunting dogs (and their
tenders) who lived at Fontainebleau.
Fontainebleau started as something between a palace and a hunting lodge. Francois
I built the central part of it in the 1500s, then a couple hundred years
later Louis XIV took over adding a few hundred more rooms, and finally
Napoleon showed up to add his personal touch of exuberance. The self
guiding tour covers about 40 rooms most of which we didn't take pictures
of. (Sorry). This is the ballroom, looking a little bit sparse
because they are restoring parts of it. This is possibly the only
room in the chateau that doesn't involve gigantic paintings of hunting
dogs. Possibly every single dog who ever lived at Fontainebleau has
his portrait painted somewhere inside (along with his/her name).
The gardens are what one might call vast. In this picture (taken with the help
of a convenient staircase) they extend as far as can be seen behind us.
In days of yore they extended right into the Forest of Fontainebleau where
the aforementioned hunting dogs would run amok in search of whatever it
was they hunted. It's a bit hard to tell this is a formal gardens,
but if one were to turn the camera around 180 degrees you'd see this next
On the way back, we stopped in the Forest of Fontainebleau, which is known for its
mountain climbing trails. It's not really mountains, but there are
huge boulders just lying about everywhere. There are several sets
of color coded trails ranging from easy ones that just go past the boulders,
to the hardest 3 or 4 which require ropes and climbing equipment.
We took a fairly easy trail which required some minor scrambling and squeezing
between boulders here and there. It was nice and empty, and other
than birds (and one slug) we didn't see any wildlife or people.
After that we returned to Paris and had lunch. Across from our hotel was
a sandwich shop which sold hot baguettes (and Orangina). After lunch,
we went to Montmartre which involved, of course, lots of steps.
But it provides a nice break from all of those gothic cathedrals, providing
instead: a Byzantine cathedral. After we wandered through the exceedingly
touristy squares, and told at least 100 people we didn't want our portraits
done we went inside Sacre Coeur (pictured here, behind Melanie).
We were lucky enough to arrive during Vespers, so we sat for a while and
listened to the singing which seemed to be mostly in French.
Montmartre historically is known for being a bit of an artists' enclave.
Toulouse-Lautrec, Utrillo and Picasso lived here, and apparently the quality
and originality of the art has been declining ever since. Now it seems to be
someplace for armchair artists to show up and paint famous Paris landmarks and sell
them to tourists who already have 20 pictures of the same thing.
The most amazing thing is how many of these artists can't draw the Eiffel
Tower properly, even though it is clearly visible in the distance.
Or Notre Dame or anything else. They also like to invent scenes that
combine major monuments in ways that are clearly not possible physically.
I suppose this is what artistic license refers to.
Here in this alley we captured on film another of Paris' idiosyncrasies.
And I'm not talking about the carousel, though they seem to be widespread
as well. The man in the foreground is selling little rubber balls
with faces on them. I'm not kidding. They're arranged on the
blanket in front of him in the hopes that passersby will shell out 10 Francs
(about $2) for one. We didn't observe anyone purchasing one the entire
time we were in Paris. The mechanical pigeons sold like hotcakes
though. (I'm not kidding about that either). Around the corner
from this scene we purchased some marrons (roasted chestnuts) and took
the Metro back to the Tuilleries which we hadn't had a chance to enjoy
The Jardins des Tuilleries are conveniently located in the middle of everything.
This picture is from inside the Tuilleries looking west towards the Place
de la Concorde (tall pointy thing) and the Arc de Triomphe (tall non-pointy
thing). The gardens themselves are in the foreground, and yes they
tend to involve more people than actual gardens. We were horribly
disappointed at first because it was mostly just a huge gravel walkway
between the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre.
As we continued to walk through them, we continued to be disappointed.
The landscaping consisted of little squares of grass that you weren't allowed
to walk on. There weren't many benches and there certainly were not
any flowers. Looking through the gardens in the opposite direction
there is yet another arch. I don't know what this one is called but
it's really not that important. Through it can be seen the Louvre.
Anyhow, at the far eastern end of the Tuilleries we finally found what
we were looking for. Some nice fountains surrounded by grass and
flowers and lots of places to sit and watch Paris go by. You weren't
allowed on that grass either but we cheated momentarily to get this next
picture, which turned out rather well.
Once it started to get dark (and a bit chilly) we headed back to the hotel and
went to our favorite restaurant (the one from last night). Okay,
so we'd only eaten at three or four places but the Brasserie next door
was still leading. We both had the special - steak with roquefort
cheese and frites. We might have avoided the frites had we known
how frite-crazy Belgium was. Frites, incidentally, are French fries,
although they apply to Belgian fries as well apparently. The only
real difference between the American and European versions is that those
in Europe were a bit thicker, they were all cooked suprisingly uniformly,
and they come by the bushel.