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For Spring break 2009, the Valley High School (from West Des Moines, Iowa) combined String Orchestra and A Capella Choir went on a tour of France including some places in Normandy and Paris. This page documents some observations and photos by one of the chaperons, Al Prosser, and his daughter Ariel.
Sunday was the big day.
My day started early. Instead of sheets and blankets like we are used to having, our beds had a duvet, that had sheet like material filled with down. It was very light and warmer than it would seem. Unfortunately, the bed was made slightly short, so the duvet did not cover my neck. So, my neck was cold and the rest of me warm. I woke up at 3 AM and had trouble getting back to sleep.
I woke up in time to be done with my shower by 7 AM when the breakfast arrived. We each got a small baguette, a croissant, a chocolate croissant, some jam, some crème fraise, some apple puree, juice, butter, warm milk and chocolate powder. (There is a picture on the 16th). I did not feel that this would be enough to get me through the morning so I went to the little grocery store across the street from the hotel. I bought a couple kinds of cookies for snacks, and saw that they had sausage, cheese and other good stuff that would be good to have in the morning. I did not know if I had time to get something and bring it up to my room before we left, so decided to wait and try the store later. This would turn out out be a bad move as I will explain later. I wrote some notes about Saturday while waiting for everyone to come down. That was the last time I had time to write notes on the trip.
We took off at around 10 AM to go to the palace of Louis XIV at Versailles.
We were unloading the buses at about 10:40 AM. We met our local tour guides and split up. Versailles was very strict about how many people could travel in a group (20), and they had to get tickets for the adults. Our 150 visitors were split up and scheduled, so that some groups would be in the gardens while others were indoors. Our guide warned us about the souvenir vendors. He said that the price they offered would be at least double what they were worth and it best if we do not talk to them and avoid eye contact. They were only a little obnoxious, and for the most part let us go if we kept walking. He also warned us about pickpockets who would come up to us and ask if we could read something in English, then either pick our pockets or a companion would watch us. I do not remember any of them at Versailles, but did run into them at other times.
It took until 11:15 to get us sorted out so we could go to the gardens for a few minutes before our tour started at 11:30 AM. The formal French gardens had that laser trim look. Our guide explained that when the king would take guests on walks, there would be people hiding to jump out for diversions. Also, the estate is now maybe 10% of the original size. It was still pretty big, and one could easily take more than a day just to explore the gardens. There is a high resolution photo that one can zoom in and see the fancy fountain, lake, and strange trees that look like they could be from a Dr. Suess book. It was still late winter early spring, so many of the trees did not have leaves yet, the fountains were off and some vases and whatever were still covered, but it was still impressive in the few minutes we had.
High res version of Gardens
We all had to go through security and they tried to keep the chaperones out, until our guide came back and explained that we were with the group of young people. Finally inside, we went upstairs and passed by some statues and the king's chapel. There was gold on everything, elaborate paintings on the rest. Much of the subjects of the paintings were Greek or Roman mythology, and all some kind of propaganda (meant to impress visitors).
High res version of statue High res version of painting
The king's chamber had some kind of pink/purple walls and assorted portraits and murals on the ceiling. Our guide told us about how the king had little privacy, with observers for everything from morning until night, and I mean everything.
Apparently, the king, rather than receiving visitors in his chambers, would have them led to the Hall of Mirrors. The long walk intended to impress how important the king was over his visitors.
High res of Al in Hall of Mirrors
The queen's bedroom had a gallery as well. For viewing the queen as well as the art. Later there was a portrait of Napoleon, and it was distorted to make him look taller. The result was that it looked like his legs and feet were exaggerated, like a fun house mirror. The art throughout the palace really was beautiful, and I wish I had time to look more closely. Maybe next time.
High res outside Versailles
All through Versailles, I kept thinking of a story of a young boy in the early 19th century who saw a puppet show about a king and his court, and all the goings on. After the show, the boy saw the puppeteer carrying a large box. The king, all his followers, his armies, all his fancy stuff, in the end, just filled up the box. It felt like I was walking through the puppeteer's box. All that is left after the kings and emperors have left, is just a museum. All their fancy stuff just went to other people when they left this world for the next. I found it interesting that the little boy would grow up to write to Napoleon III in the late 1860s, warning him of his downfall due to his arrogance. This then grown boy also later warned Kaiser Wilhelm I, crowned emperor of Germany in the very Hall of Mirrors that we visited, that Germany would suffer two wars each ending in its defeat.
Our fate was much better, since we went to get some food at restaurants nearby. There was a long line, so I chose something that would not take too long, a Panini. It was good, but not as good as the one I had in Rouen. It was soon time to load up the buses again and head back to Paris.
Our first concert in Paris was to be at a church called Saint Clothilde, not far from the Eiffel Tower. On our way there, we passed the Statue of Liberty in Paris. It is smaller than the one in New York.
We arrived at the church at a few minutes before 3. We needed to be set up by 4 so that people could enter in silence for the 4:30 PM concert. I took some photos of the beautiful flower bed out front. I tried to take pictures of inside while the performers were setting up so as not to disturb anyone later. The place had a bright feel to it, with the afternoon sun showing through the windows behind the performers. There was a giant gold dove. I had to wait for the sun to go down a little to get a shot of that soon after the performance began. There was stained glass and small chapels around and a big pipe organ in the back typical of the other places we visited.
A few audience members snuck in with us before the doors were closed. There was an elderly lady who sat near the front and listened in rapture to the rehearsal. I spoke to her in French a little. She wanted to know how old these students were and did they go to a special school for musicians? She is in a couple of the photos on the right side holding her cheeks in amazement. There was another good crowd, it felt like 60-70% full. This and the subsequent concerts were free, but they still had a good collection for the church. I spoke with the same lady and one or two others after the concert. All I spoke with were impressed.
On the way to dinner, our guide took a poll of who would be interested in a boat ride on the Seine after dinner for 10 euros. This had not been in the original plans, but it was apparent that we would be done with dinner with nowhere to go but the hotel. Everyone was interested, but some of us needed to find an ATM. We stopped by the Opera House so some of us (including me) could go to an ATM. There was some band playing on the step as we went by. I got a couple photos of the crazy traffic. The bicyclists and scooter riders were squeezing into tight places. The pedestrians were bravely walking, just expecting traffic to stop. One almost walked under our bus! Still, everyone was civil, sort of. I did not hear many horns considering how congested it was.
We at dinner at a Hippopotamus Restaurant. Our Salad was mostly tomatoes. Main course was a chicken leg and thigh over green beans. Dessert was some sort of flan or tart with fruit in it. Again, some people liked dinner, and others did not care for parts of it. I noticed that different people liked the food at some places and different people liked it at other places. I think it is good that people got to try different things.
After dinner, we were all whisked off to the dock near the Eiffel Tower to make the 9 PM departure. We gave our money to the tour guides who picked up the tickets and passed them out. There were almost 150 of us, but it seemed like we were less than half a boat. We all ran excitedly through the turnstiles and down the gangplanks. By the time me, my daughter and her friends got to the boat, most of the window seats were taken, so I suggested that we go outside and we were able to get seats on the port side. It was a little chilly, in 40s Fahrenheit, but tolerable. At 9, the lights on the tower started flashing, but we were on the other side of the boat. I did get a picture of them when we returned.
Paris along the Seine is beautiful at night! I had trouble getting camera settings that worked, so had to cut out some of the pictures. The wave from our boat was over .5 meter high from what we could see on the bridges. As we passed, a couple of our passengers tried to get others to wave to us, and had a game to see who could get the most to wave back. There were not a lot of people walking down at river level. They may not have appreciated the attention. Sometimes someone on a bridge or a boat going the other way would wave. I hardly saw any wider smiles than I saw on the river.
The only bad part of the day was that the grocery across from the hotel was closed when we got back.
If you care more about pictures, click on the picture of the day or the date. If you want to read the descriptions, click on the reference to thumbnail versions. The thumbnails are displayed 1/25 the size.
March 16, 2009 - Paris. Choir concert at Notre-Dame. Louvre
Concert at La Madeleine. Dinner
at Monte-Carlo after short walk on Champs Elysees near Arc de
Thumbnail version of Monday March 16, 2009
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