Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French castle located in Maincy, near Melun. Inside you’ll discover silk tapestries draping the walls, hand-made furniture, decadent ceilings, marble statues and paintings by renowned artists. The castle has become a Palace for the Arts and an icon of 17th-century French architecture, design, and gardening; all with a scandalous history…

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A little history:

The charming Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte was built by Nicolas Fouquet, Marquis de Belle Île and Viscount of Melun and Vaux. Later Fouquet would become the general prosecutor of the Parlement of Paris and superintendent of the finances.

The small, original estate was bought by Fouquet in 1641. The ambitious 26-year-old member of the Parlement of Paris had a cultivated personality and a love for the arts. After becoming the superintendent of finances under King Louis XIV, Fouquet began the construction of Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte in 1656.

Fouquet spared no expense during the construction of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. He desired the estate to be an elaborate tribute to the arts. Fouquet enlisted the help of the greatest artists of the 17th century: architect Louis Le Vau, head gardener André Le Notre and painter-decorator Charles Le Brun. The team worked harmoniously to create a beautiful, luxurious atmosphere.

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On August 17, 1661, Nicolas Fouquet hosted an extravagant soirée in honor of the Sun King, Louis XIV at his new estate, Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. The famous inauguration of the château was organized by François Vatel and included the debut of Molière’s play “Les Fâcheux,” a grand dinner, and dazzling fireworks show.

But the party and the château were too luxurious. Though Fouquet had intended to flatter the king, Jean-Baptiste Colbert believed Fouquet’s exuberant château was built using misappropriated public funds. Therefore, Fouquet used royal funds to build his château, then presented it with flamboyance to the King he was stealing from. Trying to outshine the Sun King did not go over well with His Majesty.

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Only three weeks after the party, on Sept. 5, 1661, Fouquet was arrested by d’Artagnan and Colbert organized his trial. The owner was charged with embezzlement from the monarchy’s funds to pay for the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. In 1664, Louis XIV overruled the judgment of the court and condemned Nicolas Fouquet to life imprisonment. Fouquet died in 1680, in the fortress of Pignerol.

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte was seized by the King and Fouquet’s family exiled. The King confiscated tapestries, statues and the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He also used the same trio (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) for his own project- the palace and gardens of Versailles.  A decade later, Madame Fouquet and her eldest son were able to recover their property.

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The estate went to auction in 1875, after 30 years of abandonment, where Alfred Sommier successfully bid on the neglected château and gardens de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Sommier, a great French sugar magnate, took the effort to renovate and preserve the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte.

Patrice de Vogüé opened the estate to the public in 1968 with the support of his wife, Christina de Vogüé. In 2015, the descendants of Alfred Sommier, brothers Ascanio, Jean-Charles and Alexandre de Vogüé become the fifth and current generation of de Vogüés to manage the estate.

FUN FACT: Château Vaux-le-Vicomte was used as a hospital during World War I

During the first World War, the French Health Service realized that their institutions wouldn’t be sufficient and called for private hospitals. Her husband having been drafted, Mrs. Sommier also responded to the call of duty. Using outbuilding of the Château Vaux-le-Vicomte, she established a well-equipped auxiliary hospital and medical team-creating the Auxiliary Hospital No. 23. The first casualties were admitted on October 7, 1914. The hospital treated a total of 1,123 casualties.

Visiting the castle:

This stunning estate is the creation of three debutant legends. France’s “Grand Siecle” (17th century), could not have culminated more exquisitely than what became the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Louis Le Vau, the King’s “Principal Architect,” had already achieved acclaimed fame for his works. Le Vau drew inspiration from the ancient classics and with an Italianate theme, he developed his own style. His first grand piece, Vaux-le-Vicomte, laid the foundations for the next 150 years in French architecture.

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Vaux-le-Vicomte marks a new era in garden art and redefined the French garden. André Le Nôtre, the project’s landscape architect, created the first large-scale scientific and artistic achievement for his time. The science can be seen in the use of geometric lines and tricks of perspective. The notability of the garden was realized during the lavish party on August 17, 1661. The beautiful, intriguing gardens were made to be an optical illusion. When you stroll through the garden, you discover it in stages. From the château you think you’ve seen it all, but, it is much bigger than it appears and has different levels and surprises sneakily built in. Le Nôtre became known as the landscaper of the “Grand Siècle,” and everyone who was anyone wanted him to landscape their garden. Le Nôtre is responsible for some of the greatest classical gardens in France today including Tuileries, Saint-Cloud, Chantilly and Saint-Germain-en-La

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During your visit, you can pay an additional three euros to visit the dome, the highest point of the château which offers 360-degree views of the estate. I recommend you save your three bucks and just walk up to the Hercules statue. Located at the furthermost end of the garden, the Hercules statue is on an elevated hill which has a great view of the garden.

The Iron Masked Prisoner:

The story of the masked prisoner starts at the Pignerol fortress. In 1669, a new prisoner arrived with an iron masked, locked and could not be removed. This iron mask concealed his identity from the first day of his arrest until the day he died.

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In complete secrecy, Nicolas Fouquet communicated only with the Governor of the fortress, Monsieur de Saint Mars, and with a valet whom the Governor attributed to the prisoner. The man in the iron mask stayed imprisoned for 34 years under the name Eustache DAUGER. His prisons successively: Pignerol, Exiles, L’ile Ste-Marguerite, and La Bastille.

Never was there another prisoner who was the subject of so much ministerial correspondence and royal instructions for Monsieur de Saint Mars, who was successively governor of the prisons of Pignerol, Exiles, Ste Marguerite, and La Bastille. The Iron Masked Prisoner’s budget was one of the most important devoted to a prisoner under the old regime. The ministerial instructions specified that the prisoner: Be treated well, does not communicate with anyone, and be killed if his face was seen.

During the old regime, certain nobles condemned to short-term sentences in prisons with frequent visitors had to wear a mask of dark tissue to preserve avoid being recognized and protect their reputation. Kings Louis XV and Louis XVI, though questioned by many, refused to disclose the identity of the Iron Masked Prisoner. Louis XVIII stated, “Je sais le mot de cette énigme: c’est l’honneur de notre aïeul Louis XIV que nous avons à garder.”

“I know the word of this enigma: it is the honor of our ancestor Louis XIV that we have to keep.”

In 1703, the prisoner died at La Bastille, with the iron mask on and his identity never revealed. Niether Voltaire, Michelet, Topin, Mercel Pagnol, Mongrédien, nor any other french historian has ever uncovered the identity of the Iron Masked Prisoner.

How to get there: 

Traveling in France? If you are staying in or near Paris, Château Vaux-le-Vicomte is a perfect day trip from Paris. An inspiration for all other french castles to follow, your France vacation isn’t complete without a trip to this castle that inspired Versailles.

The Vaux-le-Vicomte website recommends that from Paris Gare de l’Est, you take the train Line P direction Provins until Verneuil l’Etang train station. From there, there is a Châteaubus shuttle which travels between this station and Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. The shuttle is located in front of the train station exit. Caution: cash only and trains/shuttles may only be every hour.

rer-svgAn alternative is the way we went. Living in Paris, we all have the Navigo Pass which can be used on the métro, buses, and trams in the city. It can also be used on trains known as RER in the entire Île-de-France. So, we took the RER D from Gare de Lyon to Meluns train station. From there we took an Über to the château. For us, it was much cheaper, quicker, and more reliant as far as departure times were concerned.

 

 

London

I recently spent a few days in London on my way back to Paris from Peterborough. London is a historic, busy city offering many beautiful attractions for the average tourist.

My phone broke the night before I left for the city, what bad luck. I never realized how dependent I was on Google Maps and GPS until I arrived in a new city without them. Not knowing exactly where my Airbnb was located, not having a way to look up a public transportation route (or the nearest station), nor being able to order an Uber, I used a black taxi which was near the bus station. I had no idea my Airbnb was out in Zone 4 of the city, in the suburbs, and that the black taxi would cost more than my bus from Paris! I was shocked at the total, but, live and learn… I learned never to take a black taxi and double check location before you book a place to stay.

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London’s Underground and Zones

The Airbnb, nice and comfortable, was near an underground station on the Central line. Unlike Paris, London uses names rather than numbers for their underground lines. I thought this was interesting and gave each line a little British personality. Similarly, though, each line has its own color. London doesn’t have as many lines or stops as Paris, and, I found that the cars weren’t as nice or rode as smooth.

The city offers free WiFi in the underground. Another useful feature, especially for tourists, is the contactless payment method for the underground. As in most cities, you can use a one-time ticket or reusable card, which for London is the Oyster card. With the Oyster card, the fares are reduced. The fares are also reduced during “off hours,” and is free for children under 11. Fares are more expensive during busy hours and rise the further distance you go. For example travel in Zone 1 is less expensive than Zones 1-4. And now, thanks to modern marvels, if you have a contactless credit or debit card, you can use it like an Oyster card rather than buying an Oyster card you may only use for a week. Also, contactless payment is the same price as the Oysters, which is less expensive than normal tickets and then you avoid paying the deposit for the Oyster. At the end of the day, you will be charged one sum total. Also, there is a maximum fare, known as capping, by the day or by the week for contactless payment cards. Using my contactless payment card was easy and vert convenient. I just used the same card to touch in and out in the underground. Buses and trams you only have to touch in. Navigating the city became pretty simply after learning the system and using a map.

The first day I visited the London Tower, London Bridge and Tower Bridge. The London Tower is an immaculate medieval castle tucked in among the modern architecture of the city. The juxtaposition was beautiful. It sits near the Tower Bridge and river Thames. The London Bridge has not yet fallen and is still standing strong. It is a plain structure, diminished by the Tower Bridge next to it. The Tower Bridge is absolutely beautiful, even more so when lit up at night when the reflected lights trickle across the river.

The bigIMG_20161229_204246.jpg Christmas area was at Hyde Park. I went my first night but left as soon as I got in line, it was extremely crowded and overpriced. There were pop-up Christmas markets across the city, with little vendor shacks. They sold every type of food and an assortment of merchandise and art. I enjoyed a curry dinner near the London Eye followed by mini pancakes topped wit Nutella and banana slices.

My second day, I visited the British Museum, London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster, and Buckingham Palace.

The British Museum, free entry, had impressive collections throughout the establishment. The first exhibit is the extensive collection from the Enlightenment, mostly consisting of artifacts from the personal collections of founder Sir Hans Sloane. The collection is now displayed in a large hall, originally designed by Robert Smirke for King George III’s library, with cases on each wall and throughout the walkway. The sheer amount of artifacts is impressive; bones, animals, bugs, documents, books, art. The Enlightenment was a time during which people explored all aspects of the natural and ancient world. Travel and trade led to new discoveries of antiquities and new cultures. It is a beautiful time period of education and development.

img_20161229_150528The British Museum houses the Rosetta Stone, an artifact discovered by the French. The stone was the key to unlocking and translating hieroglyphs. Other attractions were the Assyrian Lion Hunt reliefs and the iconic Parthenon sculptures from ancient Greece. The sculptures were larger than expected, though I’ve never been to Greece. It was interesting to have to perspective of the huge tablets next to you then to see them on models of the Parthenon, it puts them and the entire structure into perspective. It also causes one to think of the British invading cultures and stealing artifacts, an ancient controversy.

I personally enjoyed the mummies. There was a mummified head of a soldier with his helmet still on, his skull had been crushed. I enjoyed the exhibit of the unknown plaster skull. In the first case was the original skull, mummified with plaster and other materials. The exhibit walked you through the skull’s discovery and the reconstruction of the face. According to depression areas in the skull, the man would have worn headbands to stretch his head.

I also enjoyed the African exhibit area, mostly of modern art. The most interesting pieces to me where the Throne of Guns and the Tree of Life, both made with old guns. The material itself spoke loudly to me about the life in a war zone, a violent life in which guns are such common materials for artists to use. It was heartbreaking and beautiful. The museum also had interesting Native American, Oriental and Middle Eastern exhibitions.

My favorite piece in the British Museum: The Jericho Skull. See article for more about “The oldest portrait in the Museum.”

The most impressive art pieces were the boxwood mini sculptures. They were incredibly detailed, exasperating just to look at. It’s a shame I didn’t have a better camera, the technique is worth it.

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Boxwood Mini sculpture

My trip to London wasn’t very long but if I go back, I will probably invest in a London Pass. I only saw most of the main attractions but the pass allows entry into them all at a fair price. It also includes a hop on/hop off bus tour as well as optional Oyster Travelcard.

For more information:

https://www.londonpass.com/how-it-works/what-you-get-with-the-london-pass.html

https://www.londonpass.com/london-pass-prices.php

Strasbourg

I had the pleasure of visiting the historic town of Strasbourg, France during their annual Christmas market. I traveled with another American au pair. We used the car-sharing service Blabla Car, riding with a couple who owned the car. The voyage was beautiful, we were able to see the French countryside as the car had a large sunroof.

Paris to Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg is located in the Grand Est (east) region of France but is known culturally as the Alsatian region. Near the German border, only a mile from the Rhine, the town is a beautiful mélange of French and German cultures; evident in the architecture, food, and language. Most of the roads and attractions have German names and signs were in both French and German; lasting effects of the German proximity and occupancy before the 17th century and again during World War II.

The charming town appears as if it popped out of a storybook. The old city is full of colorful half-timbered medieval houses, particularly the Petit France quarter, surrounded by the river Ill.

Strasbourg’s Christmas market is one of the oldest and biggest in Europe, dating back to the Middle Ages. At that time, the Klausenmärik or Saint Nicholas market was held around the sixth of December around the Cathedral, now known as Place de la Cathédrale. In 1570, after a sermon by Lutherian preacher Johannes Flinner against the adoration of saints, the name was changed to Christkindelsmärik, market of the Infant Christ. The market’s location changed several times but returned to the Cathedral in 1991 and has spread out from there. Now, 300 quaint wooden stalls can be found across the city centre.

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The historic area is quite small and all the attractions are within walking distance of each another. We began our visit at the beautiful sandstone Gothic Cathedral. The sandstone is from the local area and gives the Cathedral it’s natural pink hue. The material is actually quite fragile and many of the detailed structures have been replaced. The Cathedral, at the time is was built, was the tallest structure in the world for several centuries. Another interesting feature is its single tower. By the time the construction was to begin on the opposite side, the funds and interest for the gothic cathedral had run out. Inside, the cathedral houses it’s famous astronomical clock.

Near the Cathedral is Palais Rohan, an 18th century was built by Armand Gaston, Prince de Rohan Soubise. He acted as Bishop of Strasbourg from 1704 to 1713. Gaston desired French craftsmanship in classic style, such as Château Versailles. He hired the King’s chief architect, Robert de Cotte. The project began in 1732 and was completed in 1742. It was used as residency for four bishops of Strasbourg, all Rohans, until the French Revolution.

The palace now houses three separate museums: the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Strasbourg Archeological Museum, and the Museum of Beautiful Arts. You can buy a ticket for one museum at or a single day pass for all three, which is less expensive than buying each separately.

During my trip, we visited the Museum of Decorative Arts. This area of the palace showed seven rooms decorated as they had been. The first room, Synod Hall, is a large entrance hall and dining room. The second room, Chamber of the Bishops, was used as a gaming room and is set with gaming tables. The name derives from the original decor: portraits of the four bishops which were burned in 1793 by revolutionaries and replaced with figures of the Civic Virtues. The allegorical paintings remain. Above the fireplace, a replicate portrait of Armand Gaston now hangs. On the opposite wall hangs a painting from the First French Empire and displays Napoleon I and Empress Josephine’s monogram. The third room is the lavish King’s Bedchamber. Notable guests include Louis XV and the Dauphine, Marie Antoinette.

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The next room, the Library, — solid mahogany shelves with glided bronze scones and a large dining table in the center. The fifth room was originally used as a closet due to it’s small size (not by modern standards) but was chosen by Napoleon to be his bedroom. Napoleon commissioned his official cabinetmaker, F-H-G Jacob-Desmalter to make the chairs, a sofa, table and bed, all remain in place. The room is named Napoleon’s Bedchamber though Napoleon never had the opportunity to sleep there. The sixth room, the Prince-Bishop’s Bedchamber, was furnished from the Collection of the last Prince de Rohan by Emperor Napoleon I when he used it as his Morning Room. The last room, Decorative Arts Wing, was originally the stables but currently houses a collection of china, jewelry, clocks, clockwork toys, and watches.

Place Kléber, at the center of the city, is the seasonal home of the Great Christmas Tree. It was grown in Dabo, Moselle and peaks at 30 meters (98.45 ft). It is a well-known symbol of the Capital of Christmas and is referred to as “the beating heart of Strasbourg.” Stories say that the locals, in the spirit of Christmas, would lay presents under the Great Christmas Tree for the poorest citizens. Recent times have produced the Sharing Village, where 60 charity stalls are located, giving information about their organization and ways to get involved. I was surprised to see several well-known organizations in  America present.

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The popular dishes of the area display a strong German influence. Choucroute, sauerkraut in English or German, was advertised at many of the Christmas market stands and local restaurants. Not being brave enough to try the choucroute, we found other delicious meals to taste. Our first night we ate at a restaurant near our hotel, which was a little bit out of the city. With our waitress’s suggestion, we split a tarte flambée as an appetizer. It was a very thin crust topped with a white sauce, onions, and ham. Later during the trip, I tried a thick crust, similar to pan pizza style, at the Christmas market-both were very good. For our meal, we split a chicken cordon bleu. I didn’t know previously, but our waitress informed us that it was a traditional Alsatian dish. It was fantastic: a home-made crust on a perfectly cooked chicken surrounding a decadent piece of ham, topped with a mushroom gravy.

The second evening we ate out at a charming, traditional Alsatian restaurant near the river Ill. The dining area was lower than ground level. It was a half-timbered building, decorated with murals depicting rural life in the area, with wooden table and chairs. We tried baeckoffe, another traditional Alsatian meal. It is an oven-baked meat with potatoes and carrots meal served in a casserole dish. The restaurant we ate at offered a variety of meat: pork, beef, and lamb. We ate the lamb, it was delightful and very filling.

At the Christmas market you could find other famous cuisine, particularly the hot wine, pastries, and foie gras- all very French. The area is known for the pain d’épices, a loaf of spice bread of gingerbread. We samples several different kinds, some adding raisins, cranberries, dried pear, or, different types of nuts. If you partook in the hot wine, you were given a reusable, festive cup. The initial charge was one euro for the cup, but, if you returned it to any stand, you were refunded the euro. I thought this to be a great way for tourists to have a cheap, useful souvenir and to minimize waste.

http://about-france.com/cities/strasbourg.htm

Musée national des arts asiatiques-Guimet (Mnaag)

Tickets: Permanent Collections: Full Fare 7,50€ / Reduced Fare 5,50€

-Combo Ticket (Temporary exhibition and Permanent Collections): Full Fare 9,50€ / Reduced Fare: 7€

-Free every first Sunday of the month and for EU citizens under 25. Reduced fare for non EU citizens and teachers.

Hours: Open everyday 10am-6pm (except Tuesdays; Closed Dec. 25, Jan. 1, May 1; Closes at 4:45pm Dec. 30, Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday)

Metro: Line 9, Iéna

Website (in English): http://www.guimet.fr/en/

Guimet National Museum of Asian Art

 

The Ground Floor collection contains artifacts from India and Southeast Asia. This exhibit mainly displays a variety of Buddha statues from these areas. The first floor includes art from ancient China, Central Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Himalayan Kingdoms, and India. The second floor includes pieces from classical Chine, Korea and Japan. The classical China exhibit continues up to the third floor. The top floor, the Rotunda houses temporary exhibitions.

The Lower Floor houses the temporary exhibitions, workshops, café and the auditorium. The temporary exhibition when I visited was “Jade, from Emperors to Art déco.” The exhibition was incredibly beautiful. It was skillfully designed and well displayed the breathtaking pieces of jade. Jade’s beauty has been admired and displayed as an elegant, mystical material for centuries. The exhibit walks you through the development of jade carving; from it’s beginning, to use by Asian emperors, to being an oriental inspiration of the 20th century Art Déco movement in the United States. The use of jade is vast as people became mesmerized by the blue green stone. The exhibition shows a dazzling array of had pieces: tablets, bowls, spears, jewelry, clocks, and more.

My favorite piece

Sphere symbolizing Heaven, Earth and Mankind

China, Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

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The three rings of jade represent Heaven, Man and Earth, and their connection which forms the Universe. Each ring was uniquely crafted. The inner ring, Earth, is decorated with mountains and waves of the ocean. The middle, connecting ring has dragons on it, representing Man and his sovereignty. The outer ring, Heaven, is denoted by symbols of the sun, stars and clouds.

 

Another temporary exhibition at the time of my visit was “Ascetics, sultans and maharajas, Indian pages of the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet,” which included a selection of paintings and manuscripts highlighting the era between the 16th to 19th century. Each artifact was taken from prominent painting schools-Mughal School, Schools of Deccan, Rajasthan, and Punjab Hills. Featured pieces are representations of fauna and flora from India, court portraits, mystical paintings by Mughal artists, and historic and literary manuscripts. 

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Painting of a Maharajah

The rotunda’s temporary exhibit was “Carte blanche to Jiang Dahai.” The dome room contained six recent paintings by Jiang Dahai, a Chinese artist trained at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and the Beaux-Arts in Paris.

 

For more information:

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Bois de Vincennes

During my first few weeks in Paris, I was overwhelmed by the city and all of it’s attractions. Of course I wanted to visit the Moulin Rouge, Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe-all the post card destinations. But, by living in Paris with a host family, I’ve been able to experience an everyday Paris.

I wasn’t acknowledge about Paris before moving here, other than the romanticized idea I kept from books and films. One day, the mother suggested I visit Bois de Vincennes. I looked on Google Maps and found a large green section associated with the name-I had no idea such an area existed in the center of Paris.

The forest is very big, offering several monuments and attractions therefore I did not add a metro stop pin for this site. The Bois de Vincennes pin is forest green and is located in the 12th arrondissement.

The next day I filled up my CamelBak and set out on an adventure. The forest is absolutely beautiful. I followed various paths around a lake with gorgeous swans and got lost walking the soft paths of the forestry. The feel of dirt became a novelty my feet deeply appreciated after tramping the concrete and brick-way streets of Paris. I was astounded by the raw nature I found. There were times I forgot I was in a large city until I stumbled upon a road that cut through or an attraction. Embedded in the forest are restaurants, monuments, and even a horse stable which offers rides.

 

Bois de Vincennes

During my first few weeks in Paris, I was overwhelmed by the city and all of it’s attractions. Of course I wanted to visit the Moulin Rouge, Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe-all the post card destinations. But, by living in Paris with a host family, I’ve been able to experience an everyday Paris.

I wasn’t acknowledge about Paris before moving here, other than the romanticized idea I kept from books and films. One day, the mother suggested I visit Bois de Vincennes. I looked on Google Maps and found a large green section associated with the name-I had no idea such an area existed in the center of Paris.

Bois de Vincennes, 12th arrondissement. The forest is very big, offering several monuments and attractions therefore I did not add a metro stop pin for this site.

The next day I filled up my CamelBak and set out on an adventure. The forest is absolutely beautiful. I followed various paths around a lake with gorgeous swans and got lost walking the soft paths of the forestry. The feel of dirt became a novelty my feet deeply appreciated after tramping the concrete and brick-way streets of Paris. I was astounded by the raw nature I found. There were times I forgot I was in a large city until I stumbled upon a road that cut through or an attraction. Embedded in the forest are restaurants, monuments, and even a horse stable which offers rides.

Navigating the Métro of Paris

The Métro de Paris (RATP) is one of the quickest and most efficient ways to travel across the center of Paris and Ile-de-France. The mostly underground transit system has been a feature of the city for over 100 years and is one of the densest networks in the world. According to ratp.fr, it is “a network denser than any other in the world: nowhere in Paris is more than 500m from a metro station.” The metro stations are denoted by similar architectural structures, influenced by Art Nouveau. Each station is a little different. Some historically significant stations have their stories recounted in the station and others have unique décor and architecture. The system is convenient and transports massive amounts of passenger traffic each day, but plan ahead because it closes at night!

Stats about the Paris Metro:

  • 16 lines (1-14, 3bis, & 7bis)
  • 303 stations
  • 205 km of tracks
  • Over 1.5 billion passengers per year
  • First train leaves terminal station: 5:30 a.m.
  • Last train reaches terminal station (Sunday to Thursday): 1:15 a.m.
  • Last train reaches terminal station (Fridays, Saturdays and days before public holidays): 2:15 a.m.

Buying tickets:

To use the RATP system, you need a t+ ticket or Navigo pass. You can buy your tickets in advance online, from an automatic ticketing machine inside the metro station, or, on the bus if you are taking the bus (2€). There are several travel passes for varying lengths of time, ranging from a weekend to a year. It is best to look at the options then decide which is best for you (http://www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/c_20585/travel-passes-and-fares/). Tickets for children are at a reduced price and the Navigos are reduced for students and others. Also, buying a booklet of tickets is less expensive than individual tickets.

 

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Automatic ticket machine in the mètro

 

t+ Ticket options:

  • One ticket: 1,90€
  • Booklet of ten tickets: 14,90€
  • Reduced fare

Your ticket should look like this:   tt_ticket_t_plus_gf

The t+ tickets or Navigo passes can be used for all transportation within the city (zone 1): RATP, SNCF, OPTILE. The following types of connections are possible, for 90 minutes between the first and last validation, with this ticket:

  • metro/metro metro-m-svg
  • metro/RER
  • RER/RER within Paris rer-svg
  • bus/bus 105px-paris_logo_bus_jms-svg (including between the RATP and OPTILE networks)
  • bus/tram
  • tram/tram 106px-paris_logo_tram_jms-svg
  • IMPORTANT: Metro/bus, metro/tram, RER/bus and RER/tram connections are not possible using the same t+ ticket.

 

Reading the map

You have GoogleMaps. So, why should you learn how to read a map to navigate the metro system?

International service in a foreign country can be very unreliable, not to mention expensive and drain your battery. What if your phone dies, gets stolen or breaks? There’s no app for that.

Each station has a map near the entrance with a “you are here” point, which you can use to navigate your course. The stations also have maps of the neighborhood highlighting nearby attractions. You can find a variety of maps at each station: maps with just the metro, RER and tram lines, maps with the metro lines and roads, maps with buses routes and night bus routes, etc. If you insist on being dependent on technology, there are various navigating apps available, including the RATP app. I recommend always having a map with you, even if it is the downloaded PDF on your phone, just in case.

First, you must decide where you want to go and where you are currently. If you know where you are, take a look at the map to see which is the closest station to you.

The basic metro map:

metro-map

Each metro line is numbered and colored. Stations are marked by a named dot, either the color of their line or white. Whites dots or ovals denoted stations that have connections with other lines.

Getting where you want to go:

You’ve arrived in Paris, checked in to your room and you are ready to explore! For our example, let’s say you are near Nation and you would like to go to the Louvre. The best option would be to take line 1: minimetro mini1 

This is how the individual line looks by itself:
paris_metro_ligne_1-svg
Each line has two directions, the two terminals (starting/ending points in bold). For line 1 the directions are La Defense and Chateau de Vincennes. If you are going towards the Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre station from the Nation station, you’d be going in the direction of La Defense. If you were returning to Nation from the Louvre, you’d be going in the direction of Chateau de Vincennes.
Following our example you’d enter the metro at the station Nation. After purchasing your tickets and go through the gates. You can either feed in your t+ ticket or scan your card. You can only use gates with a green arrow in your direction.
Follow the yellow signs for line 1 La Defense. The metro has clear signage, making it easily navigated.
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The Line 1 sign in Nation leading you to the platform.

Guide yourself onto the platform where you wait. Most platforms have signs above them which tell you the line, direction, and time until the next two trains.
Once aboard the train, this is how the sign for the line will look. It will be placed above each doors. It shows each stop and which connections are available at that stop.
metro_paris_m1-plan-svg

 

On most trains, each stop has a small light. The next stop blinks until you have reached it, the past stops are not lite and the stops on the way are lit until they are the next, then they start blinking. If the train doesn’t have a light system, just pay attention to the station names as you go by. Each station has it’s name clearly posted, several times, on each side of the platform.

Once you arrive to the Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre station, just follow the brown signs for the Louvre. Each station near a main attraction will have brown signes leading you to the closest sortie (exit). The Palais Royal-Musee du Louvre station brings you right next to the Louvre so you should be able to exit the station and make your way easily to the Pyramids entrance of the magnificent museum.

 

Tips:

  • Keep your ticket until you leave the station. Random checks are done by RATP staff and without a ticket you may be fined.
  • Keep slower traffic to the right. It is common for people in a rush to pass on the left, even on escalators.
  • A tone will sound when the doors of the train are about to close, so don’t be standing in between them when it rings!
  • Be aware of beggars and pick pockets, often people will ask for money on the metro.
  • Don’t forget anything on the train! Unidentified baggage will be taken as a safety risk and may halt traffic for over an hour.

 

Other forms of transportation:

The RATP denotes specific metro lines, buses (other option is OPTILE), and tramways. Paris offers other types of public transportation including the trains to the suburbs or banlieue (SNCF), autobus, Vélib’ et Autolib'(Paris’s self bicycling services). Taxis are available at specific stops across the city and are usually around popular areas. Paris also has known car services such as Uber.

 

For more information about using the metro, check out the RATP Transport Guide:

http://www.ratp.fr/en/upload/docs/application/pdf/2014-10/mode_emploi_t.pdf

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Château de Vincennes

Tickets: Free for under age of 26 (self guided tour)
8.5€ for guided tour
Gift and book shop free admission
Hours: From Sept. 22 to May 20: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday (low season)
From May 21st to Sept. 21: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday (high season)
Closed: Jan. 1, May 1, Nov. 11, and Dec. 25
Metro: Ligne 1, Château de Vincennes
Recommended 2 hours for visit. Guided tours are available and audio guide tours are available in French, English, German, Spanish and Italian. Tours are also available to disabled visitors, including visually impaired, handicapped and hearing impaired.

Website: www.chateau-vincennes.fr

Château de Vincennes is a testament to its era: a stronghold of the French monarchy, a reminder of the human fault, but also, a symbol of resolution and triumph. This medieval fortress, located to the east of the center of Paris in the suburb town of Vincennes, is a majestic remnant of the past. It’s structure has endured sieges, remodels, and world wars. Its walls have house French royalty, Parisian courts, and the most heinous criminals-accused traitors of the monarchy. Its dry moats have experienced countless deaths by gunshot, one victim whose remains now rest in the chapel. The architecture is extraordinary and well preserved. Walking through the courtyards and the donjon is the closest to which one can actualize an authentic experience of days of old.

The castle grounds are extensive. The site contains the original walls with medieval towers, the Sainte-Chapelle, the donjon, two pavilions, and an ensemble of annex buildings. The castle is one of the largest constructions of the medieval time period and served as residency for French royalty from the 12th to 14th century. Like many great attractions of Paris, Château de Vincennes had humble beginnings and as time passed, evolved with each distinct generation/cycle of residency. The donjon is Europe’s highest medieval fortified structure–Its six levels measure 50 m high. The free tour includes access to the Sainte-Chapelle, the donjon, and the central courtyards.

 

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The donjon also houses seasonal art expositions. When I visited, the expo was “ZEVS Noir Eclair” (http://www.zevs-noireclair.fr). This exposition used modern and urban pieces placed among the castle to create a great contrast but also links to the past.

My favorite piece was a sculpture of the word “YES” made of the symbol of the yen, euro, and dollar with the texture of melting gold. Though most of the modern art seemed out of place, this sculpture’s significance of money’s power over society seemed timeless after walking through the kings’ medieval treasury and experiencing the luxury of the monarchy during this time period. There is also an exhibit in the annex of the donjon about the renovations of the castle and in the clock tower.

 

History:

Video source: http://www.montjoye.net/chateau-de-vincennes

During the 12th century, the Capétian monarchs (relating to or denoting the dynasty ruling France 987-1328) established a hunting lodge in the Bois de Vincennes (forest of Vincennes) and it served as a royal residency during the 12th to 18th centuries. The first evidence of a French monarch’s stay was an act of Louis VII (1137-1180) in 1178. Later, Louis IX, known as Saint Louis (1226-1270), made Vincennes the official residence.

During the 13th century and the beginning half of the XIV century, the isolated annex buildings of the the capétien manor were developed into a quadrilateral of about 200 to 230 feet (60 to 70 meters) with a central courtyard, in the middle of which was a feeding basin. At this time the rural manor was a moderate aristocratic residence without fortification or defense.

At the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War, Philipe VI established foundations for a new donjon (1336-1340) to the west of the old manor. After his return from British captivity, Jean II le bon (known as John the Good,1350-1364) confirmed the project of Vincennes as a reaction to the threats to the monarchy in Paris from both internal revolutions and the British, construction of the new fortress began around 1136.

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