Musée de Cluny/Musée du Moyen Age – Review

The Museum of the Middle Ages is situated at 6, Place Paul Painlevé in the 5th Arrondissment in Paris. At ground level you see the 15th century ‘Hotel de Cluny’, but this is built over the remains of Gallo-Roman baths built around 200AD. The highlight is said to be the series of six tapestries comprising the ‘Lady with the unicorn’. I can’t comment on that as they were on tour in Japan when we visited.

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny

But this is still a museum worth visiting if you have an interest in carvings, tapestries or decorative arts of the middle ages.

Now, when you get to the courtyard above, don’t rush inside as you’ll miss a real treat – turn sharp left as as you pass the turret and you will see two sundials on the walls. The complete one – still pretty accurate today – was installed in 1674.

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny – sundial

The carvings are spectacular – among the best you will see anywhere

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny – wood carving

 

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny

And not just the monumental pieces – these chess pieces from the 12th century are reminiscent of the Lewis chessmen

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny – chess pieces

Past the first main display space you will find some stairs leading down into the roman baths. The tepidarium is the most complete, and still has its roof. One small mosaic is displayed, but really this part is largely about the roman construction of the walls and layout of the baths.

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny – Roman mosaic

 

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny – Gallo-Roman baths – tepidarium

Among the decorative works are this equus water jug with tap

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny – Equus water jug

and this reliquary in the form of a dove

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny – Dove reliquary

There were some great illuminated manuscripts too – including some ecclesiastical music with beautifully decorated details

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny – illuminated manuscript (detail)

And of course while I walked around taking pictures and exploring, Sharon was able to focus on her sketch of the day – of some statues related to Notre Dame cathedral, and lost for some centuries – but then Sharon has already discussed those 🙂

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny – Sketching

And we did find a unicorn – just not the one for which the museum is famous. But this too was done by the famous Gobelins tapestry works

Musee de Cluny

Musee de Cluny – tapestry

The Musée de Cluny is well worth a visit – and at €8.50 is relatively inexpensive – it is definitely value for money. It is open from 0930 – 5.45 Wed-Monday. Website is here.


 

Chateau de Versailles – Review

Sharon and I took the Bus Rouges full day tour and it was just what we needed. The price of the tour was about the same as the price of all the entries put together so it was like the transport was almost free. As a ‘booked tour’, we managed to avoid the worst of the horrendous lines, and we got a free audio-guide included in the price. The tour was unguided so we were given tickets for the gardens and the Trianon (Queen’s mini-chateau) and told to meet back at 17.40 (5.40pm). That is our kind of tour – just get us in there and leave us to it – that way we can linger or not as we please. I’m happy with security lines – it was a cursory bag check, and it really didn’t take too long.

Versailles

Versailles

The palace was impressive, but the crowd control was non-existent so we were elbowed and jostled and in places you could almost lift your feet off and still be supported. This coloured our impression of the palace as you could really only see the richly painted ceilings.

Versailles

Versailles

The Chapelle Royale is very impressive and if you can find a gap, and avoid getting elbowed, head to the railing and take in the spectacle, from the huge pipe organ to the gilded details – this ‘chapel’ would rival any decent sized church

Versailles

Versailles – Chapelle Royale

The larger dimensions of the hall of mirrors provided a respite from the crush and only then could we really appreciate what a masterpiece this place is.

Versailles

Versailles

The palace staff were courteous and polite when asked directions, and considering the visitor numbers I thought the staff were very patient, quietly and politely advising people if they got too close or if their cameras flashed (mine didn’t, I hasten to add 🙂 ).

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

Most of the rooms were just that – impressively gilded and painted, but largely devoid of furniture and other accoutrements. Most of the above shots were in the Queen’s apartments – and cropped/framed to remove the people. The Chateau’s scale is impressive, but it lacks the attention to detail of the Hotel de Ville.  Personally, with those crowds I would avoid the palace.

Versailles

Versailles

Okay so to the saving grace of this visit – the gardens are amazing – even in Autumn. Laid out in patterns, with trees sculpted like hedgerows and the many reflecting ponds and fountains – which operate from 3.30pm-5.00pm

Versailles

Versailles

Everywhere you are serenaded with 18th century French orchestral and chamber music which really sets the right mood for the place.

Versailles

Versailles

We queued for a bottle of water and baguette, and had a pleasant picnic in the shadow of the palace.

The fountains are a real highlight, If you walk around them in the afternoon, you too might catch sight of the wonderful rainbows playing within.

Versailles

Versailles

And don’t miss the wild horses among the foam

Versailles

Versailles

– or the walks among shady tree-lined walks with statues, urns and seats along the way.

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles

The colonnade is not to be missed! Get there in the afternoon when the fountains are playing all around the perimeter

Versailles

Versailles

For us, the gardens were the real highlight after the hustle and crush of the palace. That and the amazing variety of lavenders in the Trianon gardens. You can also hire bikes, and boats – to row on the grand canal, or you can scoot around on the inexpensive train to get from one part to the next in this vast complex.


Victor Hugo’s House

If you should find yourself wandering along Rue de Rivoli past the shoe shops, past the Monoprix minimart and on until you are opposite St Pauls church, you might chance to turn left and encounter a small chateau – the Hotel de Sully. This is quite an impressive Renaissance building built in 1624 for the superintendent of finance M. Gallet. He had a private mansion built with a garden and orangery opening onto Place Royale – later known as Place des Vosges right in the heart of the Marais district in the 4th Arrondissment. It now houses the Centre for national Monuments which is part of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, managing over 100 national monuments. We came upon it during the Heritage weekend, so it was open to the public and we took a peek.

Hotel de Sully

Hotel de Sully

If you walk past the forlorn-looking rose window frame sitting in the garden you will find another building – the service quarters

Hotel de Sully

Hotel de Sully

Which will finally let you out onto the Place des Vosges. It was always an upmarket square and was the model for Bloomsbury Square in London. But here is where it gets interesting.

Before his exile to Guernsey in the Channel Islands, the Place des Vosges was home to Victor Hugo from 1832 to 1848 – he rented a second floor apartment in a 17th century building known as the hotel  de Rohan-Guéméneé. These are not hotels as we know them, but rather they are town houses (hence Hotel de Ville means literally ‘Town Hall’).

 

Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges

Once here you proceed to the  end of the street and there you will find perhaps a short queue in front of Victor Hugo’s house. There is a small entrance charge which was waived for the heritage weekend, and we were shown upstairs to the apartment.

The stairs are lined with prints from articles about him, and about his publications – for it was here that he began Les Miserables among other major works, including Ruy Blas, Les voix interiores, Les Rayons et Les Ombres. 

His taste is extraordinary – from the chinese rooms with fine porcelain and lacquer work furniture to hefty Arts and Crafts furniture set against wallpaper not unlike that designed by William Morris.

Victor Hugo's house

Victor Hugo’s house

Victor Hugo's house

Victor Hugo’s house

 

Victor Hugo's house

Victor Hugo’s house – writing desk

Family portraits adorn the walls and the lush furnishings indicate he was well established by the time he rented this apartment.

Soon enough you are heading back down to the street and through an arch into the hustle and bustle of Paris once again.

Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges


 

Review: CityMaps2Go – The one app you need for travel

Is there really one app that stands out above all the rest when it comes to travel apps for your smart phone? For me there is, and it has been my constant companion when travelling since the start of last year.

The app
CityMaps2Go by Ulmon is, as the name implies, a map – and so much more. What is great is that once you download the app, you can then download the maps for the cities/districts/countries to which you will be travelling and you will have them offline – away from expensive international data roaming plans.

What is different?
It provides you with detailed searchable maps of the cities of your choice. It highlights the location you have searched for and then it uses your location service – not the phone or data plan, but the GPS function which doesn’t cost whereever you are – to place you on the map. This way you can see where you are in relation to where you want to go, then get walking or driving or push-biking and you will see that your dot moves on the map relative to your destination.  So it works, even if you cannot decipher the script in which the street signs – if they exist – are written.

How many times have you walked out of your hotel in a strange city, walked a few blocks, got yourself turned around and suddenly you have no idea how to get back to your hotel? It’s happened to me.

Do you mark yourself out as a lost tourist by pulling out a map in perhaps a dodgy area, when everyone else is walking around texting into their phones? Now you can look as though you are one of the locals texting away, but actually you are navigating your way out of there.

What else does it do?
Want to find local places of interest? You can download wikipedia snippets about places of interest in the city to which you are travelling and then you have it at your fingertips. Want to find a restaurant? It’s there.

It has categories for hotels, food, nightlife, entertainment and arts, travel (public transport info), architecture and buildings, shops and services, outdoor (sports facilities), health and medical (pharmacies, hospitals etc), Colleges and education (schools etc), and orientation and geography (like what other villages and towns are nearby)

What’s good

  • It’s a map in your pocket
  • It runs offline – so you won’t require an international data roaming plan
  • It provides heaps of additional information
  • It uses your GPS to show your location relative to your destination in real time
  • It’s cheap at $2.99

What’s bad

  • GPS is a bit heavy on power so you’ll need to recharge a bit more frequently – but only while the app is running.

Where do I get it?

 

Sum up
If I could only take one travel app on my phone, this would be the one. It is the best $2.99 you will spend. You can get it from the Apple iTunes store (follow the link on the app name at the start of this post). And no I have no affiliation with the maker of this app or with Apple. I give this one 4.5 stars – the half is because GPS is a bit heavy on power and will reduce your time between charges – but only when you have the app running, so not a big issue.