Musée d’Orsay – The Building

Musée d’Orsay is housed in Gare d’Orsay, an old train station (and hotel) that served as the terminus for the Paris-Orleans Railway.  Gare d’Orsay was the first electrified rail terminal in the world and opened just in time for the 1900 World Fair (Exposition Universelle).  By 1939 the station’s platforms were too short to accommodate the the longer trains now used for long-distance travel; however, it was still used for some suburban trains.  The hotel closed in 1973; the building was reopened in December 1986 as a museum, Musée d’Orsay.  The building is beautiful, and after learning it’s story, I’m so happy that the French government decided to give it new life.

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Musée d’Orsay – Van Gogh Collection

Musee d'Orsay

I’ve loved Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings since I was in elementary school.  My elementary school P.E. coach, Georgia Moore, was passionate about art and literature, and all of her students benefited from her knowledge.  I have vivid memories of our Friday Humanities classes (Humanities replaced P.E. on Fridays).  I remember learning about Shakespeare, Matisse, and Van Gogh.  I remember going home and telling my parents about The Starry Night — they bought me a framed copy of it shortly there after for getting all As on my report card.  In addition to The Starry Night, I specifically remember learning about his sunflower paintings, Bedroom in Arles, and Self Portrait with Pipe and Straw Hat.  At the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam I learned that he painted so many self-portraits because he wanted to practice painting people but couldn’t afford to pay people to model for him.  His work didn’t become highly regarded until after his death.

I had never heard of Paris’ Musée d’Orsay, but upon finding out about their many Van Gogh paintings, I know that the Musée d’Orsay had to be part of our itinerary.  We visited Musée d’Orsay on our second day in Paris, and the museum, as a whole, was fantastic.  We got there right when the museum opened, so it wasn’t very crowded.  I relished being able to examine the Van Goghs in near-solitude (much unlike when I saw The Starry Night at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City).

The photographs in this post were all taken at Musée d’Orsay.  Someday I’ll have to write additional blog posts about the other Van Gogh paintings I’ve had the opportunity to see.

This self-portrait (below) is suspected to be Van Gogh’s last self-portrait.  He painted it during September 1889 and gave it to his beloved brother, Theo.  He died on July 29, 1890.


Self Portrait
September 1889

Bedroom in Arles [third version]
September 1889


Portrait of Dr. Gachet [second version]

1890

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Arromanches-les-Bains – Mulberry Harbor

One of the main reasons for planning our trip to France the way we did was so that we could see several sites related to the D-Day invasion of Normandy (a.k.a. Operation Neptune).  The first stop on our D-Day road trip was Arromanches-les-Bains to see what remains of the British mulberry harbor (a.k.a. Mulberry B and Port Winston).

Mulberry harbors were designed by the British during WWII.  They were temporary harbors that were used to facilitate the unloading of troops and supplies — a truly brilliant feat of engineering.  The mulberry harbors were designed to be able to offload enough supplies to sustain Operation Overlord for three months (the amount of time they thought it would take to capture a French port for more permanent use).

The British built Mulberry B (the Gold Beach mulberry harbor), which remained in use for ten months, at which point the Allies captured Antwerp and were able to use its port instead.  Mulberry B had 10 miles of floating roadways that were used to bring both supplies and troops to shore.  It took 600,000 tons of concrete to build Mulberry B.  According to Wikipedia, Mulberry B was used to offload over 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies — the numbers definitely make it easy to see how important Mulberry B was for Operation Overlord.  The Americans were responsible for building an additional mulberry harbor (a.k.a. Mulberry A) at Omaha Beach; however, it was destroyed by the storm that hit the Normandy coast on June 19, 1944.

Portions of Mulberry B can still be seen in Arromanches today.  Several sections of the 10 miles of road are washed up on the beach.  You can also hike up a nearby bluff to get a better view of the Phoenixes (concrete caissons) that remain there today.

Prior to arriving at Gold Beach, it never really dawned on me that the Normandy beaches are actual beaches — beaches that people swim in and play on and use for boating.

Gold Beach at Arromanches

Mulberry Harbor Remains at Arromanches

Mulberry Harbor Remains at Arromanches

Children Playing


Mulberry Harbor Remains (Arromanches in the Background)

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Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial – Part 2

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This is a continuation of my previous post about the Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial.  The first post focused on the memorial, and this post focuses on the cemetery.

There are a total of 9,387 Americans buried in the Normandy American Cemetery.  Of those, 307 people are unidentified.  The cemetery covers 172 acres.  France gave the United States a perpetual concession to the land occupied by the cemetery (free of charge and taxes), over which the American flag flies.

I felt so many different emotions as we wandered through the cemetery — sadness for the lives lost, anger, awe at the amount of love and appreciation still being poured out by the people visiting the cemetery, and ultimately admiration at the selflessness of all of the Allies who fought during WWII.  It definitely made me proud to see so many American flags flying in a foreign country.

“That road to V-E Day was hard and long, and traveled by weary and valiant men. And history will always record where that road began. It began here, with the first footprints on the beaches of Normandy.” – President George W. Bush


We were lucky enough to visit the cemetery on the day before Memorial Day, so I’m unsure whether or not this large quantity of flower arrangements is there daily or if this was something special because of Memorial Day.

Flower Arrangements


Arthur Porche
Louisiana

In Remembrance

Boyd C. Yount
South Carolina

A Comrade in Arms Known but to God

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Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial – Part 1

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Our France roadtrip included a couple of days in the Normandy region.  The one place that I HAD to visit while we were in Normandy was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.  I wanted to go there for so many different reasons — to pay my respects, to see in person the cemetery I’d seen so often in pictures, to be able to put the horrific loss of lives into perspective, to see if the people of Normandy remember the sacrifices made for their freedom…

Our first stop when we got to the cemetery was the visitors center.  The visitors center contains many exhibits — we easily could have spent more time looking at all of the exhibits.  My favorite part of the visitors center was the video (you can watch it here), that included stories about 5 or so men who are buried in the Normandy American Cemetery.  One part of the video in particular stuck in my mind — a young bride was adamant that her husband’s body be brought home to the U.S..  Her husband’s brother was being interviewed, and he remembered telling her that she should let him be buried in Normandy because, “he earned that patch of land.”  After the video was over we walked down to Omaha Beach and then walked back up to the cemetery to walk among the graves of our American heroes.

One thing that I learned in Normandy without a doubt is that they still remember the sacrifices…and to me, that makes the loss of life a little easier to swallow.  We saw flowers and small, wooden crosses with paper poppies on them frequently during our time in Normandy.  It really touched me to see so many visual symbols of their appreciation.

I wish that there were some way that all Americans could visit Normandy, but I know that just isn’t possible.  I hope that my photographs help give everyone a better picture of the cemetery and help to remember all of the members of the greatest generation lost during WWII.

I had a really difficult time narrowing down which photographs to include in this post, so I decided that it would be best to split this into two posts.  This one will focus on the memorial and a subsequent post will focus on the cemetery.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower Quote

The French phrase book shown below was also in a photograph of two American soldiers hanging in the hallway on the second floor of Churchill Hotel in Bayeux.  Being the curious bookworm that I am, I wanted to see the inside of one of these books.  I ended up buying one on eBay.  A war-time language phrasebook is quite different from a phrasebook intended for travelers.  In addition to normal phrase book contents, this WWII phrase book also contains sections on reconnaissance, landing a plane, weapons and ammunition, and tools and supplies.

Military-Issued WWII French Phrase Book

General Omar N. Bradley Quote

Flags of the Allies

“In proud remembrance of the achievements of her sons and in humble tribute to their sacrifices this memorial has been erected by the United States of America”

The garden walls, below, (The Walls of the Missing) contain the names of men who are missing in action.  In some instances, there are bronze buttons next to the names.  The buttons indicate the few men whose remains have been found.  The walls contain the names of 1,557 men.

E pluribus unum

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The Louvre Palace

While most posts about The Louvre are probably about the art (like my Mona Lisa post and Sculptures & Statues post), I decided that The Louvre Palace is pretty enough to deserve its very own post.  The Louvre Museum is housed in The Louvre Palace.  The palace is 652,300 square feet and holds nearly 35,000 artifacts.  The museum is the most visited museum in the world.

Construction of The Louvre Palace began in 1202, though it was renovated throughout the years, including the controversial addition if the infamous pyramid (completed in 1989).  How the Louvre was named is unclear, though some think it is a form of “leouar,” a Latin-Saxon word for castle.  The Louvre served as the seat of power in France until Louis XIV moved to Versailles.  It continued to be used as a formal seat of government until 1789, at which point it became a museum.  Following the 1870 renovation, Napoleon Bonaparte III became the first ruler to live in The Louvre since Louis XIV.  You can visit Napoleon’s apartments at The Louvre.

Looking back, I wish I had taken more photographs of the buildings, but it was hard to remember to pay attention to the building when you’re surrounded by so many beautiful works of art.  In addition to the photographs in this post, I also took some nighttime photographs of The Louvre.

We ate lunch on a terrace overlooking the area enclosed by The Louvre Palace.  It definitely offered a neat perspective of the buildings, and I enjoyed getting to see the statues up close.

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Amboise, France

Amboise is a small town in central France through which the Loire River flows.  We spent two nights at Chateau de Pray, just outside of Amboise, during the road-trip portion of our May 2015 trip to France.  We chose to stay in Amboise because it was a centrally located neat the chateaus that we chose to see while visiting the Loire Valley (Chateau de Chenonceau, Chateau de Chambord, and Chateau de Chaumont).  Amboise is home to both Chateau de Amboise and Château du Clos Lucé (once home to Leonardo da Vinci), though we did not have time to visit either of them.  If we had had one more day in Amboise, these two would have been on the top of our to-do list.

We spent our days visiting chateaus.  The chateaus all closed fairly early in the evenings, so that left our evenings open to wander around Amboise.  Amboise was a charming city — so peaceful compared to Paris.  One note of warning — the small roads are charming for walking on and looking at, but they were definitely not fun to drive on (at least not for these two Americans)! 🙂

Hot air balloon rides are a common attraction in the Loire Valley; however, we read that the wind is unreliable and hot air balloon rides are frequently cancelled (and rarely refunded).  We opted not to risk losing money, but it looks like we would have been okay.  Regardless, it was fun to see such a cute hot air balloon floating over Amboise.

The restaurant below, L’Epicerie, was one of the highest rated restaurants in Amboise.  We were disappointed that it wasn’t open while we were there.

A cave home!  Troglodyte homes are fairly common in the Loire Valley.  We came across this one while walking to Clos Lucé.

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Mona Lisa

It just didn’t seem right to write a blog post about The Louvre without mentioning the Mona Lisa, so I decided that this painting needed its very own post.

We arrived at The Louvre just after it opened and made a beeline to the Mona Lisa.  The museum gets more crowded throughout the day, and the Mona Lisa is the main-attraction, so we wanted to go ahead and get that out of the way.  Given how crowded the Mona Lisa Room was when we arrived, I’m glad that we didn’t wait until later in the day to see it.

Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa between 1503 and 1506 (while living in Florence), though several people believe that he continued working on it as late as 1517 (while he lived in Ambois).  The Mona Lisa is an oil painting on a white, Lombardy poplar panel.  Though much mystery used to surround the painting, it seems to be fairly well accepted that the Mona Lisa is a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, a member of the Florence & Tuscany-based Gherardini family.  Her husband was Francesco del Giocondo, a Florentine silk merchant.  The Mona Lisa is currently valued at $782 million USD.

Seeing the Mona Lisa without a huge crowd present just wasn’t a possibility, so I decided to embrace the craziness and tried to take pictures that captured the experience of seeing the Mona Lisa along with hundreds of other tourists.

When you enter the Mona Lisa Room, this is what you see.  There are several other paintings in the room, but we didn’t take time to see them because there were too many people in this room for our liking.

After you wade through some of the people, you’re able to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa.  I thought that this photograph of someone taking a picture of the Mona Lisa with an iPhone would be a fun picture to look back on in 30 – 50 years (will iPhones still be around then?)!

A few people, like me, still use stand-alone cameras to take pictures.  Notice the lady on the right-side of the photo taking a selfie with the Mona Lisa.  I’m always amazed at the amount of people taking selfies with artwork.  To each, his (or her) own.

I tried to be polite and spent several minutes waiting for a clear path to the front of the group of people staring at the Mona Lisa, but it became evident that manners weren’t going to get me very far.  Sooooo…I gave up and started acting like everyone else and pushed my way to the front so that I could get an unobstructed photograph.  They don’t let you anywhere close to the painting, so this was the best I could get.

Mona Lisa
by Leonardo da Vinci
1503 – 1506, oil on white poplar panel

After I managed to get out-of and away-from the crowd, I snapped this photo of people viewing the Mona Lisa.  Not exactly the calm, serene, life-altering experience one would hope for while viewing the most popular painting in the world.

The painting across from the Mona Lisa is The Wedding at Cana (1563) by Paolo Veronese.  It is the biggest painting in The Louvre.  This painting depicts the New Testament wedding during which Jesus performed His first miracle by turning water to wine.  The painting hung in the refectory of a Benedictine monastery in Venice for 253 years at which point it was stolen by Napoleon (in 1797) and shipped to Paris.  The painting measures 21.8 ft by 32.5 ft.

I took one last shot of the crowd and the Mona Lisa before we (gladly) vacated the Mona Lisa Room.

The Louvre – Sculptures & Statues

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I’ve been debating whether or not to write a post about our visit to The Louvre.  I have to admit, I’m struggling with whether or not a post consisting solely of photographs of artwork will be interesting.  In the end, I decided to start off with photographs of statues.  Statues seem to photograph better than paintings…maybe because they’re three dimensional…or maybe because I have a soft spot for statues.  How sculptors can take something rock-solid and turn it into something that looks flowing and full of life is beyond me.

The Louvre is HUGE, and I’m honestly not sure how many hours we spent there.  We purchased our tickets ahead of time, which allowed us to wait in a shorter line than the normal line.  We had a general game plan as far as the things that we knew we had to see — The Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, and Venus de Milo.  It was a rather short list because I’m not terribly familiar with artwork from the time period featured at The Louvre.  I read several different “10 Things You Must See at The Louvre” articles before our trip, and most of the items in those lists didn’t really interest me.

I’m fairly detail-oriented, so in addition to taking photographs that show entire statues, I also like to take up-close photographs of certain portions/parts of the statue that caught my attention.  I think this love of and appreciation for detail is part of what fuels my interest in statues.  The building that houses The Louvre is visible in the background of several of photographs in this post — be sure to take in the beauty of the building itself!

Disclaimer: Nearly all of the information placards accompanying art on display in The Louvre are entirely in French.  I did my best to correctly identify the titles, authors, materials, and time period of each of the statues showcased in this post.

Here is a link to an Imgur photo album containing all of the photos in this post.

Winged Victory of Samothrace
by Pythokritos of Lindos
2nd Century B.C., marble

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Diana of Versailles
Bronze

Venus de Milo
by Alexandros of Antioch
Between 130 & 100 B.C., marble

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Jardin des Plantes

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After leaving Luxembourg Gardens, we walked 1.4 miles to the Jardin des Plantes.  The Jardin des Plantes is a large botanical garden located just to the east of the Seine in the 5th arrondissement of Paris.  It covers 69.2 acres and was the first botanical garden to be created in Paris.  Though it was founded in 1626, it did not open to the public until 1640.  It was originally planted by Louis XIII’s physician, Doctor Guy de la Brosse as a medicinal herb garden.

I am currently reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and I’ve enjoyed the many references to the Jardin des Plantes.  I can picture Marie-Laure and her father traipsing through the gardens on their way to the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of locks.  If you, too, are reading this wonderful book, I hope that my photographs will help bring the Jardin des Plantes to life for you.

There were many plants that I had never seen before, and I didn’t do a very good job of taking photographs of all of the name placards (shame on me), so there won’t be much information to share in the post — only pictures of pretty flowers.

Here’s a link to the Imgur photo album containing the photographs in this post.

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Russell Hybrid Lupines

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