This blog is about my travels. At home in New Zealand, in other parts of Oceania, North, Central and South America and in Europe.
The Musée de Cluny is a medieval museum located on the site of an old roman bath house. In Medieval times it was owned by the monks of Cluny who kept it as a hotel.
One of the famous artworks in the Cluny museum are the unicorn tapestries. They are shrouded in mystery, but are believed to have been created around 1500. Five of the tapestries represent the five senses.
Most of the other art works were religious, gilded altarpieces or bejeweled bibles owned by monasteries. Some of the art works were for the nobility and these are the ones that contain scenes of courtly romances.
Down a flight of stairs to the lower floor are the remains of the roman baths. It was built in around 300AD, and the 1,700 year old ruins are of a massive underground complex. They had hot, warm and cold water baths, and an attached gym.
It was obviously a popular spot, one of the roman emperors, Julian the Apostate is believed to have been crowned here in 380AD.
Being in Paris I just had to go to the Louvre, the biggest art gallery in the world. Located in a former royal palace, the building itself is stunning. The entrance is through the glass pyramid you can see in the photo. The pyramid was built in 1989 and mighty controversial at the time!
One of the first things I saw was a series of famous French historical paintings. My favourite was the famous 'Liberty leading the People' by Eugene Delacroix - painted to commemorate the French Revolution. My other favourites included the 2,200 year old masterpiece 'Winged Victory of Samothrace', the sculpture was originally from the Island of Samothrace in the Aegean ocean, and was devoted to the Goddess Nike. The neoclassical sculpture 'Psyche revived by Cupid's kiss' is also super beautiful.
Any trip to the Louvre would not be complete without seeing the Mona Lisa of course. There were little signs pointing the way there. The sight of the crowds of people looking at/taking photos of/getting selfies with the Mona Lisa is just as noteworthy as the painting itself! It has it's own room, it's own special guards, bullet proof glass. Sure, its a nice painting, and an early example of atmospheric perspective (where the hills in the background grow bluer as they recede into the distance), but there are plenty of other great paintings nearby that don't get a tenth of the attention. Such is fame I suppose!
The history of art is a pretty clear depiction of who was powerful at the time. Artworks from the middle ages are nearly all religious due to the wealth of the church, Kings and Queens were also depicted, but later on so were wealthy merchants. Some of my favourites were the paintings of actual people. I would love to be able to time travel, but as that is impossible, the next best thing is history, and these paintings are a way at peeping back at the past.
If you get a chance, visit the Louvre. There is room after room of incredible art works from all parts of the world. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes!
From Paris, I took the train out to Versailles to see the famous palace. I wasn't the only one headed there either! It sure it mighty popular, and even with a pre-booked ticket, there is a long queue to get in. But get in I (eventually) did. I once read a book about the life of Marie Antoinette, the most famous resident of the palace. She was born in Austria and married to Louis XVI of France when she was only a young teenager.
Life at the court was accompanied by countless rituals and protocol. It was wildly extravagant. Marie Antoinette was under pressure to produce an heir, something that took seven years to achieve. In the meantime there were countless entertainments to be had at the Court. Marie Antoinette was a patron of the arts (particularly music), she was also patron to female painters, (including Elisabeth Louise Vigee-Brun), she started lots of fashion trends and even had a replica peasant village built in the gardens of Versailles (so the court could dress up as peasants for fun). Meanwhile, thunderclouds were brewing on the horizon. Most of the population lived in terrible poverty. Taxes kept rising, and the wild spending of the court was well publicized in the popular press. The French coffers were under further strain when the King decided to support the war of Independence in America.
The decadent opulence of the palace is almost overwhelming, as well as disturbing considering it was paid for out of taxation and the level of terrible poverty that most of the French population lived in at the time. At the time the church and the nobility (who owned most of the property) were not taxed at all, it was all the other people, the workers who were taxed. The aristocracy were certainly very out of touch, palace life was all the King and Queen had ever known. And yet they did encounter poverty, at least on occasion, for instance, the King and Queen did participate in an ancient ritual of washing the feet of beggars. Although the King had the majority of the political power, the Austrian born Queen became the focus of the general anger towards the aristocracy, and one tax increase after another (which flowed up to the richest). The King and Queen were in many ways clueless about the wider state of things in France, and not really suited to rule. They lived in a bubble, and were not sufficiently engaged in the welfare of their subjects to either rule well or see the danger they were themselves in. Whether or not Marie Antoinette did make the famous statement 'let them eat cake' when told that the people were starving, is not really clear. But the outrage of the general population at the extravagance of the aristocracy eventually boiled over and it ended in violence. On the 5th of October 1789, an angry horde made it's way to Versailles, the royal family were imprisoned and later executed by guillotine.
I went to Sainte-Chapelle, just a sort distance from Notre Dame. This chapel was built in 1248 to house King Saint- Louis' collection of relics. The stained glass is some of the most beautiful in the world. Outside the chapel is covered in gargoles to keep evil spirits at bay. To get in to the chapel you first have to go to a lower chapel and then up a winding set of steps to the upper chapel. You pop out into the amazing upper chapel, where you are surrounded by the coloured stained glass windows. It really is absolutely beautiful!
Off I headed for the day to one of the landmarks of Paris, the famous Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral. Built in 1163, this cathedral has withstood countless events in history (revolutions, the bombings in world wars) for the most part of 1,000 years. So many legends surround it. Saint Denis, the patron saint of Paris is said to have been decapitated by pagans at the top of Montmartre. He walked with his head to the site of Notre Dame where he finally collapsed. The spot (just in front of the Cathedral steps) is considered to be the heart of Paris. It took a long time to queue to get in! But I was glad I did, it was full of ancient artworks, and the soaring gothic beams and the beautiful rose glass windows were so atmospheric. To top it off it was Palm Sunday so there was incense floating through the air and the swirls of it were catching in the coloured beams of light coming through the windows. My only regret was that I couldn't go up to the towers (because it was palm Sunday). I decided to go up them another day.
The next day I did head back to Notre Dame, I had planned to go up to the top of the towers that day, but the queue was long, and instead I took some photos of the gargoyles on the outside of the building. It was a hot and sunny day, so I decided to head to the Sainte-Chapelle nearby, so that I could see the famous stained glass windows there when they looked their best. I went to see some more sights in the afternoon. I got back to my accommodation in the evening, and found out the shocking news that a fire had broken out in the tower at Notre Dame! It's pretty scary to think that a building you had been in just the day before (and walked around on the same day) was on fire, but even worse when it's such a beautiful and historic one!!! It was all very sad, and even a bit scary. If I had of gone in and gone up the towers, maybe the fire had started even then(?). It had been a hot day, so I could see how a small spark could have set it off.
The day after I had booked a ticket to see Versailles, but the day after that, the fire had been put out and I went to see what had happened to the Cathedral. There were crowds of people craning to see what had happened. The whole area on the Island was fenced off by the police. I saw some sleek black limousines get waved through the barricade, maybe they were the people offering to donate large amounts of money for the Cathedral's repair?! There were news crews everywhere broadcasting the news about the fire in the famous Cathedral. The good news was that the stone part of the building was okay, and that also a lot of the treasures that are usually kept inside had been put elsewhere so they were safe. So despite all the damage, beautiful Notre Dame cathedral will be able to be repaired to it's former glory! It sounds like it will take a while though, so I feel very lucky that I was able to see it when I did!
How amazing to arrive in Paris! I couldn't wait to see this famously beautiful city. There are so many sights to see, but you can really see a lot just wandering along the Seine. There is so much beautiful architecture, and the blossom trees were in flower. There were also these little cotton tufts that would float off the trees and catch in the breeze. Tres jolie!
It's easy to get an idealistic sense of what life for Parisians is like, but even beautiful Paris isn't perfect. When I was there, I wandered past stores that had just been vandalised (smashed windows and graffiti) in the weekly protests by the yellow jackets (gilets jaunes), who were protesting the high cost of living for workers.
Just outside of Paris is Monet's famous garden. It is a beautiful serene place, and of course the scene of his famous paintings of waterlilies.
From London, my friend and I traveled down to Dover in the train. We visited Dover Castle, which is an amazing Norman fortress. The inside has also been done up amazingly to represent the time period in which it was first built.
From Dover we took the ferry to Calais. You can see the famous white cliffs of Dover as the ferry departs. The ferry crosses this short stretch of water pretty quickly. For so many periods in history this short stretch of water was what separated warring regimes, the Allies vs. the Nazis, as well as the long periods of fighting between England and France!
Arriving on French soil in Calais we traveled through the beautiful countryside of Normandy, and towards the town of Bayeaux. On the way we drove through the Somme. This sleepy stretch of countryside was the sight of the most awful, bloodiest battles in human history. Now there are just filled with tilled soil where enormous numbers lost their lives.
The town of Bayeaux is just gorgeous. We visited the Bayeaux museum to see the famous Bayeaux tapestry. The light is kept dim, and photography is strictly prohibited. This ancient, nearly one thousand year old tapestry has miraculously survived. It tells the story of the brutal conquest of Britain by the Normans.
From there we also visited the surreal monastery of Mont-St-Micheal. It really is unusual to see a turreted monastery rising out of an island in the sea.
From London I traveled up to Stoke-On-Trent to visit a friend. While we were there we went to see a Tudor manor house called Little Moreton Hall. It was built in 1504. Because it is made of wood and was built hundreds of years ago, it has some delightfully wonky angles, but it is structurally sound!
The house was owned by the Moreton family for nearly 450 years. They were wealthy landowners, but their fortunes declined after they supported the royalists during the English Civil war and their house was requisitioned. They did get it back but at great cost. It is now owned by the National Trust.
The house has lots of glass in it, a sign of great wealth for the time. It is run by the national trust, and they have done a good job of making it feel like a home of the time. There are replicas of the kinds of food that were eaten in tudor times, the national trust staff dress up in Tudor costumes, there are tudor customes that you can try on yourself and the gardens are done in the style of Tudor times.
One place I really loved on my visit to London was the National Portrait Gallery. It really is like stepping back in time and locking eyes of some of the most influential people in history.
I really liked the room with Tudor portraits. After reading 'Wolf Hall' by Hillary Mantel, it really is interesting to see the portraits from the people from the power grabbing, dangerous world of the Tudor court. There are amazing details in the portraits, many of the portraits of Elizabeth I show symbols of the exploration that was going on at the time, and seeing the portraits of her and her mother, Anne Boleyn, you can see the same canny brown eyes!
The rooms containing portraits from the Enlightenment were interesting. Times were really changing, and so much of it was fueled by radical new ideas about equality, liberty the separation of church and state and so on. I made a beeline for the portraits of Mary and Percy Shelley.
I had wanted to find see the portrait of Jane Austen, and I had some difficulty in finding it, it is absolutely tiny! At first I couldn't find it in the room it was supposed to be in, and had to get detailed instructions from one of the gallery attendants. It is one of the only images of her, drawn by her sister Cassandra.
There were also the 19th century rooms with all sorts of interesting people, including Charles Darwin!
I am a traveller from New Zealand. My blog is to inform friends and family about my adventures. I hope you enjoy it!