The Lavish Palace of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles is located in Versailles, France, which is located approximately 20 kilometers southwest of Paris. The Palace was initially constructed as a hunting lodge and private retreat for Louis XIII. Under Louis XIV, the Palace was transformed into a complex that was intended to glorify the King.

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This was my second visit to Versailles. The first time I visited this showcase, I neglected to purchase tickets ahead of time and I went during the height of the tourist season. The result was that I encountered lines that were two to three hours long in the blazing sun. I briefly considered standing in line, but instead I took a couple pictures of the Palace exterior.

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This time, I arranged for a tour and purchased tickets well in advance. We also arrived fifteen minutes before the Palace opened. These preparations ensured that we were able to thoroughly explore the palace and the beautiful grounds. We rented a golf cart to explore the gardens, although you are more than welcome to walk if you so desire.

Construction on the famous Hall of Mirrors began in 1678. The Hall is flanked by the Salon of Peace and the Salon of War. During diplomatic receptions, the king would sit on a throne at the end of the Hall, in front of the Salon of Peace. Diplomatic leaders would walk down the hallway with courtiers on either side until they reached the king. This ostentatious display must have been awe inspiring. Walking down the Hall of Mirrors with other tourists was overwhelming.

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Paris in the Summer – Day 5

Our first stop this morning was Laduree on the Champs Elysees. I read that Laduree is known for macaroons. I love macaroons. The exterior of the location on the Champs Elysees coupled with the gorgeous interior makes this an opulent tea room/shop experience. Having missed breakfast, we enjoyed a delectable brunch. I felt like a member of royalty dining at this tea room. Be aware that the prices for dining at this beautiful establishment on the Champs Elysees comes with a steep price tag. After brunch, I purchased a couple boxes of delectable macaroons.

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Next on our list was the Musee D’Orsay which is located in the center of Paris on the banks of the Seine. The museum was installed in the former Orsay railway station. It was built for the International Exposition of 1900. The building itself can be viewed as the first work of art.

The national museum of the Museum D’Orsay opened on December 9, 1986. This museum features art primarily from 1848 to 1914. Artists such as Degas, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Courbet and Bazille, among others, can be viewed.

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We spent approximately three hours exploring this museum. We were able to see everything without feeling rushed. I highly recommend purchasing tickets ahead online, unless you relish standing in line.

 

The Meaning of Being Thankful

The older I get, the faster time seems to pass. Yesterday was Thanksgiving and reflecting on past holidays made me nostalgic. As I googled definitions for the word ‘thankful,’ the definition that I felt a special affinity for was from the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “conscious of benefit(s) received.”

The frantic pace of everyday life often makes us forgetful of what is really important. Every Thanksgiving is memorable because I was fortunate enough to spend it with people I love. One of my favorite memories of Thanksgivings’ past was spent exploring Golden Gate Park with my husband, my kids and my mom.

This might not be many people’s vision of the traditional Thanksgiving, but we had a wonderful day filled with special memories. We spent the morning at the Academy of Sciences, ate hot dogs in the park and relaxed at the Japanese Tea Garden with afternoon tea.

Thanksgiving in the Park, as I’ve since referred to that day, is also special because it was one of the last outings where my mom felt well enough to explore the park and enjoy the day with us. For that day, and many others, I am truly thankful.

 

Paris in the Summer – Day 4

Today, our destination is the Place de la Concorde. The Place de la Concorde is one of the major public squares in Paris.  During the French Revolution it was the site of many notable public executions of royalty.

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After taking numerous photos of the area, we walked to the musee de l’Orangerie. This museum is famous for being the permanent home of eight water lilies panels by Claude Monet. The museum also houses works by Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Pierre-August Renoir, among others.

I’m not a huge art fan, however, I’ve always loved the images I’ve seen of Claude Monet’s works. The museum, located in the Place de la Concorde, is large enough to house beautiful impressionistic masterpieces, without being overwhelming.  You do not need GPS to explore this gem.

In the afternoon, we took a hop-on hop off bus to Sacre-Coeur. Sacre-Coeur is located in Montmartre at the highest point in the city. Montmartre, the name derived from “Mount of Martyrs” has long been known as a place for worship. Construction on the present edifice was begun in 1875 and finished in 1914. It was consecrated in 1919. The beauty of the church and the surrounding vista are sites that should not be missed when visiting Paris. Beware of pick pockets and aggressive peddlers when frequenting this and other popular tourist destinations.

 

Paris in the Summer – Day 3

Day three and it was time to explore the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, Arc de Triomphe and the Hotel des Invalides. The Champs-Elysees is known for its shops, restaurants and theaters. While we were there, I had to pop into the Disney store. I do love all things Disney. Some of the more high end stores include Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Longchamps and Tiffany. Stores I frequent such as Sephora and Zara are also located along this prestigious avenue. My favorite dessert/breakfast place, Laduree, is also located on this strip, but more about my favorite dessert place another day. The Champs-Elysees is also known for its annual Bastille Day Parade and for the finish of the Tour de France bicycle race.

The Arc de Triomphe is located at the western end of the Champs-Elysées. It was commissioned in 1806 by the Emperor Napoleon. The actual construction was not completed until 1836. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I lies beneath the vault. As we walked around this monument, I was brought to tears as I read the names inscribed on the inner and outer surface of  this symbolic monument.

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Next, we headed to Hotel des Invalides. The Hotel des Invalides is actually a complex of several buildings dedicated to the military history of France. There is also a hospital and retirement home for war veterans. We headed for the Dome des Invalides. The Dome des Invalides was designated as Napoleon Bonaparte’s final resting place in 1840. It was not completed until 1861. For those interested in architecture, this is one of the triumphs of French Baroque architecture. IMG_1822IMG_1825

Napoleon’s tomb is made of red quartzite and rests on a green granite base. IMG_1827

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This was a weepy day for me. I bawled when I read the saying above. In his will, Napoleon asked to be buried “by the banks of the Seine surrounded by the French people whom I love so dearly.”

Paris in the Summer – Day 2

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After a restful night of sleep, we made our way to Notre Dame. We were in Paris the end of June/beginning July. If you want to visit one of the more popular sites during the peak tourist season, summer, try to purchase tickets ahead of time online. I’ve heard there are bogus web sites out there, so I was careful to choose sites that were recommended by Fodor’s or DK Eyewitness Travel Guide. Both of these guides are available at bookstores online and libraries.

Our first stop the second day was Notre Dame. We arrived early and experienced minimal wait times. This is one of the iconic sites associated with Paris. The cathedral was built in the late 10th century but not finished until almost 200 years later. For great views of the city, and if you do not mind heights, climb the 387 steps to the top. There is also a crypt underground that you can visit.

To travel around Paris there is the metro, taxi or walking. For shorter distances, we chose to walk, since taxis were too expensive. The metro was another option, however, we wanted to stay above ground, so we wouldn’t miss anything. The Hop-on Hop-Off buses are great for tourists. I read numerous reviews and decided to go with the Paris L’Open Tour Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. Instead of going through a third party, we purchased our tickets as we were entering the bus. There are three different lines that hit all the major sites of Paris. You can get on and off at your leisure. Often, we would get on one line, for instance the red line,  jump off, visit a site, walk a couple of blocks and take a bus on either the blue or white line.

After Notre Dame, we walked a short distance to Shakespeare & Company bookstore. This bookstore is supposedly the most famous independent bookstore in the world. It is near the Latin quarter and faces the Seine.

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One of the last sites we visited that day was the Pont Des Arts. The Pont Des Arts is a pedestrian bridges that crosses the River Seine. It links the Institut de France and the central square of the Palais du Louvre. This bridge is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2008, tourists began attaching locks to this bridge as a romantic gesture to show committed love. On June 1, 2015, the locks were removed due to concerns over health and safety. The locks weighed about 45 tons.

 

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Paris in the Summer – Day 1

Three years ago, my husband surprised me with a trip to Paris. An entire week in this beautiful city was a dream come true. Our first stop, after a lovely afternoon nap, was the Eiffel Tower. Since this was a once in a lifetime trip, we decided to splurge by dining at Le Jules Verne. Le Jules Verne restaurant is located on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. It has its own private elevator. Reservations at this restaurant are highly recommended.

My husband and I weren’t sure what to expect upon visiting this restaurant. I was afraid it was going to be an overpriced tourist trap. We were delighted and pleasantly surprised with beautiful food, wonderful service and magnificent views. Yes, it is very expensive–but it was worth it, for us. My husband and I ordered the 5 course with wine pairing. Afterwards, we went outside and took pictures. When we were ready to go back down, we buzzed the restaurant and again descended in the private elevator. I would not recommend this restaurant for families with small children. Most of the ladies were dressed in cocktail dresses with the gentlemen wearing jackets.

If you desire to dine at this restaurant, but are not able to obtain dinner reservations, try reserving a table at lunchtime. The prices are not as expensive and you may have an easier time getting a table.