In our travels we have seen many interesting churches (and other places of worship), both large and small. Of course, while in Paris we visited Notre Dame – a fairly unique church.
What hadn’t occurred to me was that Notre Dame is more generic than I had realised before I was hit with the reality as we toured around France. Naturally, if I had thought more about the translation (Our Lady) I would have realised that there were probably as many Notre Dames in France as there are Santa Marias in Italy (well maybe only as many as in Rome).
Every city or largish town in France seems to have a “Notre Dame”. There also seems to have been a competition going for several hundred years to see who could build the most imposing edifice. While Notre Dame Paris is certainly the most famous and the one that immediately comes to mind, it is not necessarily the largest or oldest of the Notre Dames.
Paris certainly holds the interest in terms of it’s gothic architecture and the romance of the building but we came across quite a few Notre Dames with larger naves, or taller bell-towers, more ornate interiors or, for us, more beauty. Surprisingly some of the larger churches (albeit not necessarily as attractive as others) have been in relatively small towns. and some of the more interesting have been smaller churches.
While it is not possible to visit every church in every town, the (relatively) few we have visited each hold their own interest in some way – and not just those named Notre Dame.
Having spent a bit of time wandering around art galleries in Australia (and other parts of the world), particularly when the masters come to town, it was nice to finally get into the galleries in Paris to see some of the artworks there. My emotions on seeing these various masterpieces was interesting but not entirely unexpected.
In the Louvre we headed first for the Mona Lisa (just because we were in early and wanted to avoid the crowds) and then the Venus de Milo. Most people have seen images of the Mona Lisa since early childhood and for me these have never seemed anything special. I have also been told that the painting itself is not big so I didn’t expect to see a large painting but did expect the reality would be different from the various images I had seen. I have to say though the reality didn’t startle me with any other emotions than “okay, so that’s the Mona Lisa”.
The Venus didn’t do much more for me – while it was a bit more interesting, as it is three dimensional and therefore had aspects to explore that are hard to reproduce in a flat image, I found it hard to differentiate it from many other very good sculptures. Like the Mona Lisa, I found it difficult to discern any qualities that make these artworks different from the many other very good paintings/sculptures on display in the various galleries of the world.
However, our visits to the Musee Rodin, the Musee de l’Orangerie and the Musee d’Orsay evoked quite different emotions. These museums are much smaller than a lot of the other museums that house some of the great artworks and as such are easy to manage in a single day. They also provide a much more personal viewing and appreciation of the artwork.
Rodin’s work is fascinating and the intimate environment just highlighted the talent behind the work. In the Musee de l’Orangerie we sat in large tranquil oval rooms surrounded by expansive panels of Monet’s waterlilies – quite special.
My special moment came in the Musee d’Orsay on our second visit when we wandered up to the second level to the impressionists. Here for the first time I came face to face with Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. While, like the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, I have seen images of the art many times, in my mind the reproductions can’t do the reality any justice. Like most of Van Gogh’s work the textures and colours are hard to reproduce in a flat image and I found it hard to pull myself away.
For me the Mona Lisa is relatively flat and colourless – I much prefer the colour, texture and vibrancy of Starry Night but, to each their own.
Our anniversary this year (2012) was extra special as we spent it in Paris. We arrived early enough to also celebrate my birthday and on both days the hosts of the B&B we stayed in (B&B Bouchardon) greeted us at breakfast with champagne and flowers.
The morning of our anniversary, was fine if a little chilly. After our special breakfast we headed for Notre Dam to climb the bell tower. The climb to the top is done in a few stages and while it is narrow in parts it is fairly easy and well worth it when you get to the top.
The view down the Seine and across Paris in the morning light was amazing. While the towers are not tall, the skyline of Paris is fairly flat and you are well above most of the city at this height. Once on the ground again a hot chocolate was in order to ward off the chill before we wandered into the Saint Germain quarter.
At lunchtime we strolled down the Seine and tied ourselves to Paris by locking our names on the Passerella Solferino.
We ended the day with a trip up the Eiffel Tower at sunset (pre booked to avoid the enormous queues). It was magical time of the day watching the light fade from the sky as Paris lit up around us – made even more special by the Christmas lights everywhere. We spent over an hour wandering around the various levels of the tower soaking up the amazing view and feeling very privileged.
It was a magical day, made much more so by sharing the experience with the man I love.