Fourteen years ago, I had one of the most profound experiences of my life – my trip to France with my college alumni group. Our leader, a fellow alumna, had a degree in Art History. Therefore, our trip concentrated on architecture and art works of the masters. Our adventure took us through the Loire Valley where we visited many of the famous chateaux I have only read about.
Chateau Blois was built in the 16th century and was the residence of several French kings. Chateau Chambord was built by King Francis I in the 16th century also and is the most recognizable castle with its French
Renaissance architecture. Chateau Chenonceau was built over the River Cher which flows between the massive arches of Chenonceau. Mary, Queen of Scots, the child bride of Francis II, spent time here before her husband’s untimely death. We were able to tour all three of these chateaux which are now tourist attractions and are currently the property of the French government.
We spent some time at Mont-St.-Michel which is a former abbey off the coast of Normandy and is now preserved as a national historical monument. At the time we visited, Mont-St.-Michel was in danger of being surrounded by water with no means of gaining entrance. I believe this has since been rectified.
When we visited the lace-making town of Alencon in southern Normandy, I was able to purchase some Alencon lace which I turned into window treatments and which are still hanging in two rooms in my home. I understand that the lace-making industry in Alencon is now more or less obsolete, which is indeed unfortunate.
Not far from Paris is the Palace of Versaille, built by Louis XIV. I was impressed with the king’s bedroom which showed a very short bed, indicating that the people of that day were much shorter in stature than we are used to seeing today. The Hall of Mirrors is on the first floor of the Palace and is known for being the site of the Versaille Treaty which ended World War I.
We drove briefly through Tours where I recall a statue of St. Martin of Tours placed prominently in the city. Martin was a soldier, a monk, and later a bishop. The story is told of Martin sharing his cloak with a beggar to the derision of onlookers.
Of course, Paris was the highlight of our trip. I have visited Paris on two later occasions and find that there is always something new to see. We stayed at the St. James and Albany Hotel overlooking the Seine and very close to the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay. In the Louvre, we were able to view the Mona Lisa which was smaller than I expected and enclosed in glass. We were told not to take pictures, but those without flash cameras were able to do so without penalty.
We encountered the famed statue Winged Victory of Samothrace at the head of a stairway in the Louvre. Supposedly dating from 190 BC, the missing head and arms of the figure have never been found. The Musee D’Orsay, on the Left Bank, was across the Pont Neuf Bridge close to our hotel and was within walking distance. The museum is a former railroad station converted into a spacious art museum in 1986 where the works of all of the great Impressionists and Post-Impressionists can be viewed.
A short walk down from the D’Orsay is the Bon Marche, the huge Parisian department store, the first of its kind. Another block down on the Rue du Bac is the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal, where St. Catherine Laboure received visions of the Virgin Mary who asked Catherine to have a medal struck and distributed, which we now know as the Miraculous Medal.
So much to see and so little time. Other places of interest were: The Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame with its magnificent Rose Window, Montmartre, an artist colony which also contains the Basilica of Sacre-Couer, and the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Champs-Elysees. We saw it all.
I loved Paris so much I visited it again on a European Tour with my daughter. But that is another article.